Summer Nights In NYC

One of the best parts of living in New York is stumbling upon someplace wonderful where you least expect it–especially when it comes to culinary delights.

Back in April, a Google search led me to Il Punto. And a few weeks ago, my cousin Alexandra and I returned to this gem of a restaurant. It didn’t disappoint.

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Il Punto: an Italian gem in Hell’s Kitchen (photo courtesy: ilpuntoristorante.com)

Located on the corner of Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, Il Punto is an inviting bistro with delicious pasta and seafood dishes and a host who exemplifies Italian charm. We were well taken care of by both him and the wait staff this second time too.

Alexandra and I split a bottle of Collio Sauvignon Blanc, which we were introduced to during our April visit.

After a complimentary amuse bouche, we savored our entrees, capped off by panna cotta for dessert and a complimentary round of limoncello. It was a truly epic night, with nearly six (!) hours of soul soothing conversation and laughter made even more enjoyable by the setting.

A very different but equally engaging venue provided the backdrop for Thursday’s night out with gal pal Lauren. We met up at Skylight Modern in Chelsea for Travel +Leisure‘s party celebrating its annual World’s Best Awards.

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The scene at T+L’s World’s Best Awards party

The swanky soiree featured a fashionable crowd, on-site sand artist and award winners dressed in authentic attire representing various destinations. In addition to signature cocktails, the menu included passed hors d’oeuvres (empanadas, mini grilled cheese, caprese sticks, tuna tartar) and food stations (paella, lobster rolls, fried clam sandwiches, crab cakes). Delish.

While savoring both the menu and the people watching, Lauren and I caught up on summer travels, work and home makeover projects.

Two fantastic nights on the town with two of my favorite ladies. Summer in NYC simply doesn’t get any better than that.

Two All-time NYC Favorites

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with two friends I hadn’t seen in awhile–over dinner at two of my favorite NYC restaurants.

First, I enjoyed a night out in the neighborhood with gal pal Lisa. We headed to Ko Sushi, a cozy Japanese eatery on the UES that never disappoints (best shumai dumplings ever and yummy sushi rolls).

An accomplished magazine editor and travel writer, Lisa shares my lifelong passion for NYC and I always love hearing about her latest adventures in and out of our hometown. We also talked about the profound blessing of being happy in our respective careers and never taking it for granted.

My good Stacy and I reconnected over drinks and appetizers at Pershing Square. This laidback bistro and bar right across from Grand Central serves up delicious bistro fare in a comfortable setting ideal for conversation.

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Pershing Square Cafe (photo courtesy: pershingsquare.com)

We had plenty to talk about — from memorable concerts and developments at work to the soul soothing joys of travel.

As Stacy shared her recent jaunt to London, I felt a wave of nostalgia for my other favorite city–the only place I love as much as NYC.

Well, almost as much.

Catching Up With A Dear Friend

Friday, I headed out to New Jersey for a night out with my Ohio-based friend Marilyn, her daughter Karen and son in law Russ. Marilyn was in town for her grandson’s high school graduation, so we were celebrating.

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Marilyn and me

We went to dinner at Ursino, a fabulous restaurant located on the campus of Kean University. Featuring a farm to table menu and picture perfect views of fountains and greenery, Ursino is a truly delightful experience. Both the food and service are fantastic.

Over a delicious meal (kale salad, halibut and angel food cake, yum!), we talked about European travel, how romantic relationships develop and city versus suburban life.

As the evening progressed, I couldn’t help thinking about how much has changed for me since I last saw Marilyn in September.

At the time, I was very much at a crossroads, considering a move out of New York and feeling pretty down. Now, I can’t imagine leaving my beloved hometown — and it has given me so much since I recommitted to staying here.

Work remains a tremendous joy, as I enjoy juggling three hotels and my new title of Complex Marketing Manager. Family and friends nearby continue to nourish my spirit. And I’m nearing the completion of my home makeover. With summer officially here, it truly feels like a new season on several fronts.

Aren’t new beginnings just wonderful?

A Trio of Weekend Getaways

Anyone who knows me knows travel is one of my greatest passions. And over the last month, I set a personal travel record–three back to back weekend getaways. Each one afforded the opportunity to reconnect with beloved friends and family for milestone occasions.

First, I headed to Mount Holyoke for my 20-year college reunion. A happy wave of nostalgia and pride in my alma mater infused my return to campus. There is something magical about being part of this sisterhood of uncommon women. That feeling was deeply present as we participated in the laurel parade, a longstanding MHC tradition in which reunion classes are followed by the graduating seniors. The seniors then weave a laurel chain around MHC founder Mary Lyon’s grave before singing the moving anthem “Bread and Roses.”

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Snapshots from my 20 year reunion: MHC women rock.

At reunion, I had the pleasure of catching up with dear friends Traci and Dana, reuniting with dorm neighbor Cristina and seeing first year floormate Aimee. Two decades fell away as Aimee and I talked about how our lives have unfolded since graduation. Amazing.

Getaway #2 took me to Toronto, for a girls weekend with dear friends Jackie and Belgium-based Cindy.

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Girls weekend fun: (from left) Cindy, me and Jackie

Taking advantage of picture perfect weather, we explored some top attractions in my former hometown: the CN Tower, Toronto Island and historic public buildings offering complimentary admission as part of Doors Open. Along the way, of course, we enjoyed wonderful conversations about life, love and the importance of good friends in navigating the trials and triumphs of life.

Last weekend, my beloved cousin Alexandra and I headed to Jersey City to celebrate her college graduation. Our home for the weekend – the fantastic Westin hotel. I  won the stay here during a regional Starwood employee event and it was just as rejuvenating as I anticipated. We were welcomed with a suite upgrade and wine and cake pops.

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All smiles: Alexandra and me

After spending hours chatting the night away, Alexandra and I headed across the street to Battello, a lively, sprawling bistro along the water with spectacular skyline views. Alexa is more like a sister than a cousin to me and I treasure the bond we share.

All of weekend getaways nourished my spirit and gave me much-needed quality time with some of my nearest and dearest. Traveling so much in a short span of time also reinforced that old and ever so true adage – there’s no place like home.

Cruising Around NYC With CitySights

One of my favorite things to do is play tourist in my hometown. I recently got to do just that, thanks to an invitation from Citysights NY to try one of their sightseeing cruises.

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Even with overcast skies, NYC’s skyline never disappoints

Though the weather wasn’t ideal (overcast and chilly), the trip more than made up for it.

BFF Sara joined me for the 90-minute twilight cruise, which covers every borough except one (the Bronx) — and offers fascinating insights into the past, present and future of NYC.

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NYC’s majestic Brooklyn Bridge

Our tour guide Michael, who proudly informed us he hasn’t missed a boat ride in 15 years, was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. An engaging combination of Manhattan moxie and salt of the earth charm, Michael couldn’t be a better ambassador for this great city.

As we approached the Statue of Liberty in the distance, he encouraged passengers not to stand up right away.

“We’re going to get close enough to her that you can ask for her number if your wife will let you,” he quipped, adding. “It’s we the people, not me the people.”

All smiles in front of Lady Liberty

He regaled us with historical facts, pop culture trivia and poignant reflections on such defining moments as the first immigrants to come through Ellis Island and 9/11.

When we thanked Michael upon disembarking, I informed him we were locals and had a great time.

“Praise from Caesar!” he said without missing a beat.

Well deserved.

Whether you’re a native New Yorker or just visiting, a Citysights NY cruise is a great way to see the city. For tickets and more info, click here.

Two Memorable Nights With Members of My Tribe

One of the great delights of living in NYC is experiencing something new right in your neighborhood. I enjoyed exactly that during a recent girls night out with my dear friend Crystal.

We met up at Jones Wood Foundry, a gastropub that made me nostalgic for my other favorite city, London. The cozy venue has British knickknacks on the walls (i.e. signs from the London underground) and affable staff — including a great bartender with that charming UK accent.

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All smiles in Central Park

After drinks, a delicious cheese plate and dinner, Crystal and I headed over to Central Park, just in time to catch the sunset. We walked around for awhile, savoring the beautiful spring weather and our good fortune to live in a city with such a horticultural jewel.

Gratitude was also part of the conversation when I caught up this week with gal pal Carla at Latin-Asian fusion eatery Zengo in Midtown.

A supermom of four who juggles family and work and always looks fabulously stylish, Carla is an inspiration in addition to being a good friend.

Over sangria, shared dumplings and dessert, we talked about work, recent travels and the importance of friends. Carla mentioned a blog post that talks about how an amazing woman we both knew who recently died unexpectedly cultivated a tribe of wonderful friends.

As she said that, I thought about my own tribe, of which Carla and Crystal are cherished members. My tribe of friends have seen me through so many trials and triumphs. They are, to paraphrase one of my favorite sayings, the family I have chosen for myself.

I couldn’t have chosen any better.

An Evening In Times Square

When it comes to Times Square, I’m one of those rare New Yorkers who actually likes it. Between working in the Crossroads of the World and being a Broadway aficionado, I appreciate it as an apex of hustle and bustle — and great dining if you know where to go.

During a recent girls night out with my work BFF Lisa, we headed to two of my favorite Times Square spots. First stop —The Lambs Club, a cozy bar and restaurant at the Chatwal Hotel that is equal parts swanky and boutique-style charm.

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The Lambs Club’s upstairs bar. Love the NYC-themed light fixtures! (photo courtesy: Facebook.com/TheLambsClub)

Over cocktails and a tasty plate of hot mixed nuts, we talked about old friends, new beginnings and taking chances. Then, it was off to Café Un Deux Trois, a delightful French bistro that never disappoints. I departed from my usual picks here, enjoying the pâté starter and a perfectly cooked salmon burger.

It was a short stroll from dinner to the Sondheim Theater for Beautiful: the Carole King musical. Beautiful is a richly entertaining journey through King’s life and work. Packed with 25 pop hits like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “So Far Away” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” it’s also a fascinating look at the stories behind these classic songs, soulfully performed by the cast. Catch Beautiful before it closes in September.

A Trio Of Must-See Shows

One of my favorite parts of living in the Big Apple is having access to amazing theater. This weekend, I had the pleasure and good fortune of enjoying this cherished form of entertainment not once, but three times.

Friday’s Broadway experience took place at The Westin New York At Times Square, a first class hotel that makes every workday I spend there a thoroughly delightful and exciting one.

All smiles with my colleagues Ali (center) and Chris

Through Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) partner Audience Rewards, the Westin has teamed up with the beloved blockbuster musical WICKED for a two-month activation featuring exclusive packages and a lobby display of show costumes and memorabilia. Friday afternoon, we welcomed cast members to perform three songs from the show.

#WICKEDAtWestin: Wonderful!

As I stood there newly smitten with this beloved musical (which I saw in London years ago), I felt blessed all over again to have a job that makes such incredible moments possible. And to work with such a smart, fun and dedicated group of people.

The fun continued on Saturday, with a matinee preview performance of Something Rotten. Set during the 1590s, Something Rotten is the infectious tale of two writers desperate to create a hit play as Shakespeare continues to steal the limelight. When a fortune teller suggests they create the first-ever musical, hilarity ensues. Something Rotten playfully pokes fun at musicals while also showcasing what makes them so irresistible when they’re done so well.

After the show and cocktails/appetizers at Sardi’s, I met up with my cousin Carla and Titi Lydia for part two of my Saturday double header — the Radio City Spring Spectacular.

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Derek Hough and Laura Benanti are magical together (photo courtesy: Gannett-cdn.com)

The dazzling 90 minute production is a love letter to NYC. Starring Tony Award winner Laura Benanti of TV’S Nashville and Dancing With The Stars‘ Derek Hough, it takes you on a journey through NYC’s iconic places, with majestic staging and beautiful choreography featuring the Rockettes.

My face almost hurt from smiling so much — that’s how much I loved the Spring Spectacular and Something Rotten. Both are must see entertainment now that spring is slowly, finally arriving!

Girls Night Out In Long Island

Last night, I headed to Long Island for a night out with gal pals Tasha, Mimma and Theresa.

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Mimma, me and Tasha

Tasha was visiting from LA, so this was a special reunion, made even more fun by the presence of Theresa’s hubby, siblings and friends who know and love Tasha too.

We piled in to the Rockville Centre location of Croxley Ales Great American Ale House, a lively bar with a great crowd. Over drinks and apps (mozzarella sticks, wings, chicken fingers–classic bar food, yum), we caught up on each other’s lives and shared a lot of laughs. Among the topics of conversation: Beverly Hills 90210 versus Melrose Place, precocious children (Tasha, Theresa and Mimma are all moms) and dating dramas created by texting. We also reminisced about Theresa’s awesome bridal shower awhile back.

As we talked, I found myself feeling so thankful that our mutual dear friend Caroline introduced us years ago. Tash, Mimma and Theresa are amazing women – smart, fun, kind and sassy.

With spring finally upon us, they mentioned the possibility of visiting some of Long Island’s many wineries. Looking forward to that and many more fun times with these great ladies!

Catching Up With A Cleveland Friend

Yesterday, I headed over to Bed, Bath and Beyond, where I had the pleasure of catching up with my Cleveland-based friend Ryan.

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Ryan and me

Ryan was in town sampling his delicious Inca Tea. Ryan and two of his college friends were inspired to create Inca Tea after hiking a 16,000 foot Peruvian mountain trail. During their journey, they learned about an ancient Incan tea recipe including antioxidant rich purple corn.

As a longtime tea lover, I love that all Inca Teas are non-GMO and made with 100% natural ingredients. Each individual tea bag is also twice the size of what you get from other brands. Inca Tea currently offer four varieties–black, mango, peach and my personal favorite, the top selling spiced berry. New flavors coconut ginger and chamomile will debut next month.

Ryan’s visit to sample Inca Teas in NYC and New Jersey coincided with a significant anniversary — five years to the day since my Great Dating Blitz.

Ryan was one of several fun, friendly singles I met in Cleveland, the first stop on my eight-week, eight city adventure. As we reminisced and caught up about life, work and dating, I couldn’t help thinking about how much I’ve grown because of everything I experienced during that eventful trip.

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Cleveland rocks: (from left) Locals Diana, Ryan and Kim showed me a great time during my Great Dating Blitz visit (March 2010).

I’ve written and spoken a lot about what I learned of both the similarities and differences of dating in each city on my itinerary. And I’ve shared often one of the major takeaways from the trip — that the best thing about being single in New York is also the worst: there’s no pressure to settle down. But the greatest epiphany I had is one which has taken me all of these years to fully act on.

After my first dating blitz ended (a European sequel followed a few months later), I realized that a pair of ghosts — my deceased parents and first love Mark — were holding me back. I was so stuck on mourning those losses that I had little emotional bandwidth to move forward. I was also living in the past (literally) in a home defined by furniture, art and knickknacks inherited from Mom and Dad.

Now, at long last, I am completing what I started five years ago. I am embracing the present, buoyed by a decluttered mind and heart and newly redecorated home. I am appreciating exactly where I am in life, mindful that it’s different from where I expected to be but no less wonderful because of it.

A few days ago, I came across this quote–

“The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.”

Amen.

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