Winter in NYC with Lynne

Stop the presses!  Alert the media!  The Smileys posted to their blog!
But don’t get your hopes up, fans of Eliza and Matilda, it’s Kirk with another NYC-related post.  Since Lynne is still way behind reorganizing our photos and blogging about family events on here (yes friends, please guilt her into doing it again, it’s been almost a year since she’s posted).  At least this time it isn’t just another chapter in my personal adventures – it actually involves Lynne, too!
Since Lynne has made a trip with me to NYC every summer for the last few years, I thought it would be fun to bring her out in the winter.  She’d never spent that season in the city, so there was lots we could do, and since I had a staff conference to attend, we decided to make an entire seven-day trip out of it a couple weeks before Christmas.
Lynne flew out to meet me on a Tuesday, and while I worked she got to enjoy some NYC thrift store shopping, the Frick Museum, macarons at Laduree (a relatively new site of the Parisian bakery that we loved when we were there), and time with one of my former coworkers who she really enjoys hanging out with.  But our weekday evenings were packed full of fun.
On Tuesday, we had our annual staff holiday party, so it was great for Lynne to meet more of my colleagues and actually get to have conversations with them.  She’s met many in passing on some of her visits, but since it’s been at the office, there was never much time to converse.  Fortunately my coworkers didn’t embarrass themselves (or me!) too much, although they all seemed to really like Lynne and constantly ask me when we were moving to the city (don’t hold your breath, but we’ll always visit!).
On Wednesday, following my meetings we had a wonderful small team dinner of Korean BBQ (Lynne’s first time), and then we headed to see the Tony-award winning best musical Once on Broadway.  Having Lynne available during the day is great, because she was able to wait in line for rush tickets to this sold out show, which not only were in the second row but also about 25% of face value.  We had tried to see Once this last summer, but it was sold out, so we were thrilled to get to see it now.  The show was spectacular with amazing musicians, a great script, and superb acting.  It’s not like your average show tune-heavy Broadway musical, since it’s music from the Swell Season and closely follows the plot of their 2006 indy film.  Also, since it’s partly set in an Irish pub, before the show and at intermission, the audience is invited to come up on the stage to have a pint of beer.  Since we were in the second row, you know I jumped on that opportunity during intermission (Lynne was sadly waiting in a long rest room line.  Sacrifices people!) and was the first one on stage, for a while standing by myself looking out on the audience.  Surreal and, for me most likely, a once in a lifetime experience.  Best excuse I’ve ever had for an overpriced beer.
Another nice thing about the trip was that we rented a really quaint apartment in Chelsea via Airbnb.  I am a huge fan of Airbnb, which lets you find apartment rentals in cities across the country, and I use it frequently when traveling.  You can find spare rooms or entire apartments based on amenities or location.  I found us a private apartment that was owned by a woman our age, so it had all the comforts Lynne would need and expect.  In the late evenings we were able to really relax and enjoy some wine and macarons.  Almost like when we were in Paris, except the apartment was much nicer (and our legs weren’t quite as tired from walking around all day).
On Thursday, the final day of my conference, after work we both had Thai Yoga massages thanks to an office health and wellness challenge I won* earlier this summer (*winners were drawn randomly from a weighted list, don’t give me too much credit).  The massages were so relaxing (and stretchy as anything I’ve ever done), so afterwards we enjoyed some Pho and had a nice, relaxing evening.
On Friday, I took the day off so that we could have more time to explore the city.  We shopped at Chelsea Market, walked the High Line, checked out the Christmas displays and windows at Macy’s, watched people ice skate at Bryant Park (we didn’t wait in the incredibly long line), walked through the Union Square holiday market, and had the best dinner of all my trips to New York.  It was partly a surprise for Lynne (since reservations take over a month of advanced booking), but we finally dined at ABC Kitchen.
Chelsea Market

Spices at the market
Enjoying raw oysters from the huge seafood market
Lynne had French toast from Sara Beth's, where the old lady herself was cooking a meal for her staff
Highline park
Skating rink at Bryant Park
Bryant Park's tree
The restaurant is amazing (and not terribly priced compared to other restaurants of its caliber) and situated inside the ABC interior decorating store near Union Square.  It was calming and meal of perfectly cooked food with robust flavor, and now I want to eat there every time I’m in the city.  I really can’t recommend it enough.  Check out the pictures to see what we ate.

Pretzel-dusted calamari. Puts all other "fried calamari" to shame

Crispy squash with maple syrup and grated goat cheese. Really unique but really good!

Arctic char with roasted cauliflower and salsa verde. I chose very wisely.

Flounder, market potatoes, and greens

Lynne's sneak photo of the $108 white truffle pizza ordered by the ridiculous couple next to us. They spent most of their meal talking about truffles.

After dinner we actually had tickets to another Broadway show.  Because we saw Once for such a low cost and earlier in the week than I had anticipated, we decided to see another show we were interested in last summer.  On Friday morning when the theater box office opened, we were able to get student rush tickets for very cheap to Nice Work if You Can Get It, a Gershwin musical staring Matthew Broderick that had also won a couple Tony’s this year.  Student rush tickets mean you have to show a valid student ID, so Lynne and I proudly brandished our Purdue IDs (circa 1998 and 1999), which did the trick.  If anyone ever looked at the photo, I don’t know if they’d even recognize me as the same person.  The show was fun, but it was a very different experience sitting in the second-to-last row of the balcony as opposed to the second row on the floor at Once.  Another fun thing I realized, back in June we made a list of four shows we were interested in seeing.  We saw one on that trip, two on this trip, and the fourth I saw right before it closed this Fall.  That’s a pretty perfect cover rate!  Right before the show we saw the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and after the show Lynne had some perfect New York cheesecake while I enjoyed a shake for a late dessert.


On Saturday we headed for Brooklyn.  I’ve enjoyed a few excursions into the borough on past trips, but Lynne had never been.  We planned on having brunch at Talde, the Park Slope eatery of Top Chef star Dale Talde.  I was very excited, so we had a brief walk through Prospect Park and then arrived when it opened and had a brunch that I would replicate every Saturday, if I had the appetite, budget, and lived near Park Slope.  The men is a lot Asian fusion and features so many delicious options that we had trouble choosing.  Lynne went traditional with the apple pancakes with Surryano ham.  I was a bit disappointed that of all the fun options she chose one that seemed boring, but the waiter promised it would be the best pancakes she ever had, and they were.  We also enjoyed pork and chive dumplings that are made in a pretzel wrapper, which now I want all of my dumplings to be made in that style.  The most atypical thing was the shiitake mushroom and scallion Chang Fun, which were incredibly spicy with lots of sliced red chiles.  I enjoyed them, but it was a little too much for Lynne for “breakfast.”  My main dish, and the award for “most creative thing I’ve eaten in a long time” was the breakfast ramen.  I love ramen, but wasn’t sure about it for breakfast.  The waiter convinced me after explaining how they make the broth by cooking and straining liquefied buttered toast.  Toss in some thick chunks of bacon and egg, and it’s very “breakfasty,” and so delicious I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
The dumplings

Chang fun



So obviously we ate a ton of food, and it was all so amazing, but the best part was the end of the meal.  I was ready to go walk it off, but Lynne had to use the restroom.  While waiting for her, Dale himself walked in to chat with the guy at the front of house, so on our way out we were able to briefly say hi, thank him for a fantastic meal, and shake his hand.  Pretty cool, even if he was making eyes at Lynne (can I blame him?).  I really want to go back to try the other things on the menu, but I’m not sure the next weekend I’ll be in the city or Brooklyn.
We walked for a while in Park Slope, visiting little shops and a yard sale outside a school, on our way to the Brooklyn Flea – a giant flea market housed (in the winter) in a giant old bank.  It was a very eclectic mix of vendors (including the brother of the former coworker I referenced above), but a little too crowded inside (even though it was nice and unseasonable warm outside).  After that we went to some cool Brooklyn thrift stores (and found some great items) and happened by a Thai restaurant specializing mostly in ice cream but also northern Thai cuisine.  We had dinner plans later, so we each had a couple scoops of ice cream (I recommend the durian and the lime), and continued our walking adventure.  Before we left Brooklyn to return to Manhattan for dinner, I had to make one more stop to let Lynne try some poutine at Sheep Station.  Despite it being a trendy food, it’s not that popular in New York (maybe because it’s so unhealthy?), but I had enjoyed some a few years ago at a location near where we were.  Nothing like spoiling your dinner with some cheese curds, fries, and gravy, right?
The new Barclays Center (home of the Brooklyn Nets)

Brooklyn Flea

Thai ice cream!

We met up with my friend Orchid and her fiancĂ© Eric for dinner at Pig and Khao on the Lower East Side.  To make our day even more Top Chef themed, it was the new eatery of TC alum Leah Cohen.  It was a fun meal with friends, and although we don’t have any pictures, we enjoyed the sisig, green mango salad, and khao soi (which was so spicy the others didn’t really like it, but I did!). Then we joined our friends for a holiday party (it was the last day of Hanukah) that their friend hosted at her large East Village apartment.  Nice to hang with locals after a few days of being an ultimate tourist.
On Sunday morning it was a bit rainy, but we had exciting brunch reservations.  Yes, you guessed it, another Top Chef contestant’s restaurant – the winner of season one, Harold Dieterle.  We both really enjoyed his Thai place, Kin Shop (I’ve been twice, it’s that good), but we had never been to his first restaurant, Perilla, which is more like a neighborhood joint.  We had apple French toast, shrimp and grits, and a plateful of thick-cut bacon.  Since the rain wasn’t going to allow us to enjoy a trip to Central Park, we headed downtown to the 9-11 Memorial, which was quite sobering.
French toast



World Trade Center Memorial

It was a great trip, and I’m not sure if the girls or Otis even missed us since they had a lot of fun of their own.
(some of these photos are via camera phone, some are with the camera – bet you can spot the difference!)


A Day at the US Open

I was incredibly excited to attend the US Open when I was in New York last week.  After attending the French Open back in 2010, I thought I knew what to expect at a major tournament, but it was a constant sensory overload of tennis, in a really great way.  I talked some coworkers into going with me, and we took work off on Tuesday to watch a full day of action.  I arrived before the gates opened so that I could save front row seats on the grandstand court (the third largest court), because it promised some of the best early matchups.

First we saw former world #1 Ana Ivanovic take on Elina Svitolina.  Since this was the second day of the tournament and still the first round, most of the matchups featured seeded players against heavy underdogs.  Ivanovic played well and won in straight sets (6-3, 6-2), and later on in the tournament she’d make it to the quarterfinals before losing to Serena Williams (who I expect to win the tournament today).

Just like my experience the weekend prior in Cincinnati, it was so much fun sitting so close to the action from the baseline.  Fortunately some colleagues saved our seats so that in between matches I could walk around the grounds.  I was able to see lots of matches being played on every side court, including Tomas Berdych (ranked #7, and eventual semifinalist), Ivo Karlovic (used to be ranked in the top 20, but really interesting to watch because he’s almost 7-feet tall), and former world #1 Lleyton Hewitt practicing and cracking jokes.

We hustled back to the grandstand court to watch Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga (ranked #6 in the world) take on Karol Beck.  Tsonga is an imposing figure, but also a crowd favorite due to his demeanor and sense of humor.  He won his match in straight sets and looked quite dominant.  It was disappointing that he’d be upset in the next round, but it was likely due to a knee injury that had been bothering him this summer (he pulled out of the Cincinnati tournament due to rest the injury before the US Open).

Next, we headed into Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis venue in the world, just to go in and see where are actual seats were located.  Ashe is such a huge stadium, that it’s really not a great place to watch tennis, because you’re just too far away from the action.  Fortunately, buying a ticket for the stadium gives you access to all the other stadiums and grounds, so early in the tournament, very few people are in Ashe, since it’s more fun to see the action closer on the other courts.

I was really happy we popped in though, because I got to watch Andy Roddick play for a bit.  Roddick announced the next day that he would be retiring from professional tennis after the US Open, so this was the last time to see him play.  Roddick eventually lost in the 4th round, and he’ll always be known for a career that was good, but not great, having never led US tennis like his predecessors, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.  Roddick was just never as good as his contemporary greats, like Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.  Still, Roddick is a hall-0f-famer, and one of the coolest things about his career was his commitment to playing for his country in the Davis Cup, a yearly tournament that pits nation against nation.  Erik and I travelled down to Birmingham, Alabama to see the US play Switzerland in the Davis Cup in 2009, and we saw Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryan Brothers dominate. Also, Roddick and I are BFFs after we hung out at the GQ Super Bowl party, so I’m sad to see him go.

I made it a point to stop and watch a match on every single court throughout the day and here are some of the highlights from the day session:

  • American Sam Querrey, playing on Louis Armstrong (the second largest court) lost the first set but eventually won.
  • Juan Monaco (#11 in the world) played an epic five-set match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, which we watched until its conclusion.  After dropping the first two sets badly to Monaco, G. Garcia-Lopez (who we began calling G. Ga-Lo, say it aloud a few times to get it) fought back to win the next set and then took set four in a tiebreak.  The crowd was really into it, with lots of Spain vs. Argentina flair, and when the fifth set went to a tiebreak, we were on our feet.  Garcia-Lopez, the clear underdog, won, which made the match even more fun.  The US Open is the only grand slam tournament that lets the final set be decided by a tiebreaker.  The other tournaments make the players continue to play it out in normal format (which can lead to crazy long matches like this), but the US Open doesn’t do that to help (TV) scheduling.
  • Seeded American Christina McHale losing to Kiki Bertens in the last match of the night.
  • Alexandr Dolgopolov (seed #14) playing young American Jesse Levine in five sets.  Late in the evening I had yet to make it over to the brand new Court 17, a small circular stadium with a really fun vibe, so I literally sprinted over when I learned (via the awesome US Open phone app) that Levine had surprisingly won the first two sets and was up two breaks in the third set (4-1).  You can only enter the courts during changeovers, which occur after odd-numbered games have been played, so I barely got inside before the match had a chance to conclude.  Since it was the last scheduled match on Court 17 that night, I was relieved that I hadn’t missed my chance.  Little did I know that the match was hardly close to over.  Dolgopolov broke back and won the next five games to take the third set 6-4.  He then won the next two sets to pull out the victory, to a stunned crowd.  It got pretty intense with the fan interaction since it was late in the evening (and clearly people had been drinking), and there was a great deal of heckling both players, as there was a lot of people rooting for the American but many others rooting for the more accomplished Ukrainian.  I felt horrible for Levine after that loss, since he had a big upset in the palm of his hand and it disappeared mainly due to Dolgo stepping up his level of play significantly and playing with reckless abandon successfully.
  • Nicolas Mahut (of the marathon five-set Wimbledon match linked to above) took Philipp Petzschner to five sets but eventually lost.  Mahut sure must love that the US Open lets you play that fifth set tiebreak!
  • American Vania King fell in straight sets to Yaroslava Shvedova.  We were rooting hard for King, who is a college friend of one of our coworkers, but she couldn’t compete with her opponent’s power.  King excels more in doubles.
  • #14 seed Maria Kirilenko easily dispatched Chanelle Sheepers
  • Former world #1 Jelena Jankovic had no trouble beating Kateryna Bondarenko
  • We only got there in time for the last few games, but it was exciting to watch young Americans Jack Sock and Steve Johnson defeat the #1 doubles team of Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.  After losing the first set badly, the US duo won the second set in a tiebreak and get a couple breaks to win the third set 6-2.  The small crowd that had found the match over on Court 4 were lively, cheering on the upstarts.  Mirnyi and Nestor are probably two of the best dozen men’s doubles players ever, but have been around the block at ages 35 and 40, respectively.  Sock and Johnson would unfortunately lose in their next match, but it was a huge win regardless.   Sock, playing in his first US Open as a 19-year-old wild card, won his first two singles matches, upsetting a seeded player in the process, before losing to another top seed in a hard-fought match.  Johnson, playing in his second US Open, also won two matches before losing to a seeded player in the third round.  Expect big things from Sock (and maybe Johnson) in the future.
  • In a battles of the Czechs, Andrea Hlavackova defeated Klara Zakopalova
  • I actually saw bits of all three matches on Court 7.  Ivo Karlovic (referenced above) lost to Jimmy Wang (who is a full foot shorter than him), Dominika Cibulkova (seeded #13) defeated Johanna Larsson (who I saw in Cincinnati), and Marcos Baghdatis topped Matthias Bachinger in five sets.
  • Stanislas Wawrinka (who I’ve now seen play three times (Davis Cup, Cincinnati, and now)) defeated Sergiy Stakhovsky

One nice thing about a day session ticket at the Open is that you can stay through the night session.  During the first week of the tournament, there are so many matches to be played that the evenings always have matches happening on the side courts.  Later in the fortnight, the night session only features a couple matches on Ashe, so I took advantage of the opportunity and stayed on the grounds until there were only employees left.

I hung out behind the ESPN broadcast booth, which was on the air until 11pm, and I got to meet Hannah Storm, Brad Gilbert (who signed my hat), and Pam Shriver (who used my DonorsChoose.org pen to sign some programs for the other 3 fans that were still there.  I made Hannah laugh and had a nice Purdue vs. Notre Dame exchange with her.  On that note, I took one more stroll around the grounds and headed back to the train.

It was such a great experience, fun to go with some of my great coworkers, and I hope to do it again next year if my work schedule allows.  Two grand slams down, two to go!

Jo Tsonga warming up.  I love the shirt.


Ana Ivanovic


Ivanovic serving



Ivo Karlovic, all 6’ 10” of him


Tsonga during his match




Lleyton Hewitt warming up


Looking at the grounds, you can see a few of the side courts and Court 17 in the distance


Halfway to our seats at Arthur Ashe.  Roddick looks so tiny down there!


American Sam Querrey


Jelena Jankovic (in pink)


My colleague Dave at the Court of Champions walkway


Vania King


Maria Kirilenko




Jack Sock (right) and Steve Johnson with the huge doubles upset!



Daniel Nestor (foreground) and Max Mirnyi


Jesse Levine


Alexandr Dolgopolov, who makes same crazy faces when he hits the ball (and always gets some air)



Good night, Billie Jean King National Tennis Center