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As a 5th generation Clevelander on both my paternal and maternal sides, I enjoy the slower pace of life, the low cost of living, and even our underdog sports teams. Every now and then I venture into NYC to try out the amazing kosher food available there and to remind myself how much I enjoy not living in a bustling city. But I also appreciate everyone who does live there for making it such a great place to visit for a couple days 🙂
Last Wednesday I had a couple of meetings in NYC, Paid tickets between Cleveland and NYC can cost a small fortune, so of course I used 7.5K Avios to fly to LaGuardia and used 10K United miles to fly back home.
I got nervous as Delta and United took off on time while my American flight was delayed. I can’t even recall the last time I flew American where my flight hasn’t been delayed or cancelled. Luckily though it wasn’t too bad of a delay and we were on our way.
I didn’t have my camera at my seat, but the approach into LaGuardia on the clear day made for nice pictures on my Galaxy Note8:
Izzy’s Smokehouse in Crown Heights makes some of the best kosher BBQ on the planet and is a staple when I’m in NYC. This Whatsapp viral voice-note in Yiddish sums it up pretty well:
Pitmaster Sruli Edelman and Jose Soto recently teamed up to open Izzy’s Taqueria next door to the smokehouse, so I had to check that out.
I invited DDF members to come hang out for lunch at noon and despite the short notice and time of the DO, more than a dozen showed up. Zalmy Silver also stopped by to make sure that things were safe.
Some of the crew:
I didn’t really know what to order, but I figured that you have to order Tacos when at a Taqueria. They were out of Steak/Carnitas, so I started with Fish tacos, that were very good:
I didn’t care for the lamb tacos, which were too dry and spicy:
The pastrami tacos were very good:
I didn’t think the empanadas were as good as the ones in Izzy’s smokehouse:
I felt that the food was good overall, but if I have the choice between eating here or at the smokehouse next door, it’s certainly going to be at the legendary smokehouse.
After lunch it was into the city for a full day of meetings with American Express and WeWork. One interesting tidbit that I am able to share is that since Business Platinum cardholders were given complimentary access to WeWork offices, there have been more than 24,000 workspaces booked across 400 WeWork locations in 100 cities and 28 countries. The WeWork space we went to was pretty amazing and I’d certainly take advantage of it, if only they had offices in Cleveland. I do plan on enrolling in the benefit and taking advantage of it on a trip, but I’ll wait until closer to the 12/31/19 signup deadline.
There are lots of great dinner options in NYC. Meat restaurants like Allenbi, Mike’s Bistro, and Reserve Cut and dairy restaurants like Abaita and Noi Due are all phenomenal.
I asked DDF member AJK if he wanted to go out for a late dinner and we made up to try out Barnea Bistro, which would be new for both of us.
We arrived at 10pm and it was still packed inside. The temperature was perfect outside, so we asked to eat al fresco.
I’m a sucker for anything passion fruit, so I ordered a Golden Eye cocktail, made with Russian Standard vodka, passion fruit, ginger, spiced syrup, and tiki bitters. What a great drink!
AJK took a sip of mine and had to get it for himself. And then we each proceeded to order another one later in the evening:
The lamb riblets appetizer was the best lamb dish I’ve ever had. Succulent and melt-in-your-mouth goodness:
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Dinner @barneabistro was simply out of this world. I have heard mixed reviews, but this was a 10! Succulent lamb riblets, perfect red snapper fish tacos, delicious braised brisket sliders on an incredible baguette (offered as a substitute as they were out of Arancini), unbelievable short rib gnocchi, an out of this world aged Delmonico steak with the perfect crust, insane olive oil strawberry shortcake, and a phenomenal golden eye passion fruit cocktail. Wow! Plus it was a perfect night to enjoy dining #alfresco Well done #BarneaBistro Some photos from 📷@ajkaplan on his amazing #pixel3 camera
After having fish tacos earlier in the day I wasn’t running to try that again, but our waiter insisted that their red snapper version of the tacos would be memorable.
He wasn’t kidding, they were perfection:
We ordered Braised Beef Arancini, but our waiter came back and told us they were all gone. He recommended an off-the-menu substitute of braised brisket sliders. Neither of us were in the mood of washing for bread, but once again he promised that we wouldn’t regret it.
And once again he was on target. These were truly delicious brisket sliders on an absolutely perfect thin and crispy baguette. Wow!
Next up was short rib gnocchi. My favorite gnocchi is the duck gnocchi from Mike’s Bistro, but these are also unbelievable and right up in the same league:
After all of those appeatizers we shared an entree of 28-day dry aged delmonico in a peppercorn sauce. Out. Of. This. World. Quite possibly the finest steak either of us have ever had with a spectacular crust and cooked to juicy perfection:
For dessert we ordered the olive oil cake with lemon whipped cream and strawberries with strawberry jam. There are no words to describe this other than insanely good:
We were discussing how neither of us could recall eating out at a place where every single dish was perfect. What was even more surprising was that we had heard mixed reviews about Barnea. Chef and owner Josh Kessler came over to our table as we told him how impressed we were with every dish and he noted that he was on the station for the night, so make sure he is on the clock if you go here as well! He came over from Mike’s Bistro, another excellent restaurant, so it’s no surprise that his restaurant is amazing.
I daresay that I found a new favorite restaurant.
At midnight I finally headed over to the TWA Hotel at JFK. It was opening day, but they promised that the rooftop pool would be heated and open:
I flew on TWA from JFK to Tel Aviv as a 6 month old in 1985. Although I don’t remember the flight, my father always reminds me that he walked across the Atlantic Ocean on that flight carrying me, so that I didn’t cry. I was excited to see how they had turned the old TWA flight center into a hotel.
The retro look of the lobby is amazing as the hotel tried to keep things to the time period of the 1962 opening of the terminal:
Check-in was a bit of a mess. To my left was someone who was told that his reserved room type was not available. To my right was someone with a toilet in their room that was not operational and that wasn’t able to report it as nobody at the front desk answered the phone. Yikes.
I checked in and asked about the pool hours. I was told that the pool and observation deck were closed and there was no ETA for when they would open.
I rarely pay cash for airfare or hotels, but I decided to make an exception to check out the TWA Hotel. I had reserved a base room with an $224 advance purchase rate and when there was an issue processing my card, a hotel rep called me the evening before to confirm my payment. I told the front desk that I had confirmed that the rooftop pool would be open just the day beforehand and that I specifically booked the hotel for that reason.
At first they offered $60 off but when I balked they offered 50% off, which I accepted.
I walked past the sunken lounge on the way to my room:
The room itself is small, but serviceable:
The shower has shared toiletries in the name of being green (or is that saving green?):
There is only a half door on the shower and the water in the shower only got lukewarm. The effect of this made for a very cold shower as the air blows in and the water isn’t hot enough to keep you warm:
I loved flipping through the 1962 issue of LIFE magazine:
Which had gems like this ad:
The hotel is a playground for aviation geeks and I set about exploring it. From the lobby you can go to the Hughes Wing or the Saarinen Wing. The lobby is actually the 4th floor and if you go down to the 1st floor of the Hughes Wing you can find lots of cool TWA throwbacks:
If you take the elevator down from the Saarinen Wing to the 1st floor you can walk outside to the mock runway between the flight center and the JetBlue terminal:
View of the Connie, the lobby/TWA flight center, and the “runway:”
By now it was past 3 in the morning and I hit the sack. I briefly registered that the mattress seemed comfortable, but the sheets were rather scratchy.
Less than 4 hours later I was woken by the sound of loud construction, likely from the observation deck on the top of the Hughes wing where my room was. Talk about a double whammy of the observation/pool deck not being on time as promised!
I was upgraded to a view room as the base rooms were not yet finished.
The view looking down is not worth paying extra for:
I forgot my toothbrush at home and looked around the room for a phone to call room service. But there was no phone to be found. I tried calling the hotel from my cell phone, but nobody answered.
The shower still didn’t give water any hotter than lukewarm, and with the open shower door it’s just not a pleasant experience.
Clearly the hotel wasn’t ready for prime time, though it was surprising to see damaged exit signs, random items outside rooms in the hallway, and dirty flooring.
Back to the lobby for the morning view:
And I went back out to see if Connie was open, but she was not:
At checkout I let them know about the issues like:
- Rooftop pool being closed
- Construction noise
- Lack of hot water in the shower
- Lack of a phone in the room
- Nobody answers the phone when you call the hotel
- Several elevators were out of service
- Scratchy sheets
They apologized and offered to comp the room.
The hotel is in a great airport location, but I’d be hesitant to return until I learned if those issues were resolved.
There are day rates available, which is great for time between connections at JFK. If you stay at the hotel for a night or day rate I’d love to hear if things have improved.
If you just want to check out the hotel you can walk right in and look around. No need to spend the night to explore.
In the end I didn’t wind up getting a credit for the offered refund of my room and I called and emailed the hotel to no avail. I realized that I should try calling the hotel rep that had called me for my payment and sure enough he processed the promised refund. If you are offered compensation for issues, be sure to get it in writing in case of issues with a refund.
I checked out of the hotel and then went to daven Shacharis at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel near JFK.
After that it was back to Crown Heights, where I went to Bakierie and picked up some delicious dairy croissants and a milk chocolate mousse salted caramel cake for my wife back home:
Then I walked to Gombos where I picked up some mouth-watering chocolate and some cinnamon kokush cakes and packed them into my carry-on to bring home. My kids gobbled one up on Shabbos and we froze the rest:
Finally I walked to Izzy’s where I picked up 4 slabs of Dino ribs that I had ordered the day before and had frozen. You can reheat them in a pan with some Dr. Pepper and they taste nearly as good as they do fresh from the smoker!
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After wrapping up in Crown Heights, it was off to Le Marais for lunch. I used to be obsessed with the burger at Clubhouse Cafe (which was owned by and was located across from Le Marais) before they closed and some DDF members tipped me off that Le Marais’ burger is very similar to the Clubhouse burger.
Sure enough it was fantastic and it’s a great value at $17.50 for a big juicy burger along with grilled onions, delicious fries, and their house salad:
I’m also obsessed with Le Marais’ peppercorn steak. They charge $42 for it at the restaurant, but their butcher sells them raw for about $16 each. I ordered a couple dozen of them frozen and stuffed them into my now bulging carry-on for some grilling this summer.
I flew back home using 10K United miles from Newark.
New Kosher Special makes delicious Chinese food and delivers it for free to Newark Airport with a $40 minimum order. In the old days you had to pay with cash, but now you can even order online and pay with a credit card, so I earned triple points on my Sapphire Reserve card. I always order from them when I connect in Newark, but I decided to bring home dinner and have them meet me at checkin. See my tips for the best meal in the Instagram caption below 🙂
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Who cares if your airplane KSML stinks when New Kosher Special offers free delivery to EWR. Pro tip 1: Sesame chicken special combo with white meat, extra broccoli, and an egg roll, heaven all for just $10!!!! Pro tip 2: Pay with a credit card by downloading the beyond menu app. Pro tip 3: Never ever walk into the restaurant itself. At least that’s what people tell me 🙈 #NotAnAd #JustAFan
Cleveland might not have any amazing kosher restaurants, but my carry-on bag was about to supply it with food from Bakerie, Gombo’s, Izzy’s, Le Marais, and New Kosher Special.
With United Global Services status I was whisked to the front of the long security line and made it through security in less than a minute. The time savings is probably the best benefit of that status as I can show up to Newark Airport half an hour before a flight and not worry about missing it.
As usual for NYC though, the flight was delayed and the lounges were packed, but soon enough I was on my way home.
Until next time NYC!