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Hurricane Sandy: One Year Later

by Louise, Director of Operations

It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since the day we all hunkered down in our homes (or in shelters) without any real idea what this Hurricane Sandy was going to bring our way. Many people were convinced that it was going to be nothing, purposely not preparing, and scoffing the MTA for overreacting. Others were taking it seriously, but being cautiously optimistic.

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Blacked out lower Manhattan during the storm, seen from Brooklyn

Personally, I fell into the second camp and prepared in accordance to the recommendations, and I remember so clearly the feeling of trepidation on the evening of October 28th as I sat on my couch with my bath tub full of water, my battery-powered radio at hand, my multiple flashlights, scattered around and my non-perishable food supply stocked. But I was very fortunate: I never lost power or even internet at home, and my neighborhood was fairly devoid of damage. Here at our office, we were without internet for a week, but everyone was safe, we had power, and we were able to get by. My best friend’s wedding in Brooklyn a week later was able to go off without a hitch.

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Brooklynites walk to Manhattan while the subway is still down

In short, I was one of the lucky ones. And I’ve never stopped being grateful for that, and aware of those who were not as lucky. It’s always remarkable to be in New York City when we’re going through a rough time, to see the way everyone bands together and helps each other out. In the weeks after Sandy, it was inspirational to see so many New Yorkers do their best to help with the initial recovery effort, and buckle down and accept the new normal – waiting in line for hours for buses, walking to work without (much) complaining, and doing what we needed to do in order to keep life going.

Over the past year, for the most part the city has returned to a state of seeming normalcy and for most of us, our day-to-day lives don’t include a constant reminder of what happened. With Ellis Island reopening at last today, we are bidding farewell to one of the most widely-seen remaining effects of the storm. But it’s so important for us to remember that for many residents, the storm still takes a toll every day. There are those who are still displaced – who lost their homes and can’t afford to rebuild or rent new homes, who lost their jobs due to cutbacks, who are suffering from health problems, or who lost their businesses.

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Diana Nyad swims 48 straight hours for Sandy Relief

So what can you do to help? There’s the obvious, of course – donations! AmeriCares has a great program, including sponsoring Diana Nyad’s 48 hour Swim for Relief which helped bring awareness of the fact that a lot of people out there are still in need of assistance. We can’t all do laps for two straight days, but there are plenty of other ways to help. http://www.americares.org/emergency-response/hurricane-sandy-recovery.html

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A Shore Soup Project volunteer makes deliveries

The Shore Soup Project is another very worthy cause – they started in the wake of the storm as an effort to get food out to the affected people in the Rockaways, one of the hardest hit areas, and have since a partner program of the Fund for the City of New York. You can read more about their donation and volunteer opportunities here: http://shoresoupproject.org/

And of course, as always, one of the best ways to help is to visit NYC, and to make an effort to patronize the still-struggling businesses in downtown Manhattan, Red Hook Brooklyn, the Rockaways, and other areas that were hit hard. For more information, feel free to e-mail us anytime at info@newyorkguest.com. And, as always, We LOVE New York!

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Why I think Broadway is a Must

by Louise, Director of Operations

For some folks, it’s a given that if you’re coming to New York, you’re going to go to a Broadway show. Others question why it is necessary – it’s not an inexpensive activity, so really, what makes it worth it? Sometimes I struggle to explain it, but experiences like the one I had yesterday make me remember.

peter2I don’t hesitate to admit that a large portion of my spending money goes to Broadway tickets. Even as someone who has never acted, sung or danced a day in my life (not well, anyway), Broadway has always made me feel a way that nothing else does. There have been many shows that sparked my imagination and warmed my heart, and the 2012 season brought one of the most magical experiences I will ever have – Peter & the Starcatcher. I first saw the show last May, and couldn’t stay away long after that (I returned just 10 days later for my birthday). Last night the cast gave their final performance at the Brooks Atkinson Theater and I was lucky enough to be there (my 8th time seeing it).

From thcast© Monica Simoese moment the cast assembled on stage for the opening of the show, they and the audience acknowledged what an emotional experience this was. The audience clapped for several minutes before the cast spoke a single word. Tears were flowing both on and off stage already. The energy in the room was so overwhelming in the most wonderful way, a feeling that seems more and more elusive in our increasingly isolated world.

And this is why you need to go to a Broadway show. These days we’re always hearing “You don’t even have to leave home!” as though being able to do something from your couch makes it the ultimate experience. It’s just not so. Experiencing something beautiful and heartfelt side by side with a thousand other people, in a theater filled with love and emotion…there’s just no comparison.

cast© Monica SimoesAfter the Peter & the Starcatcher cast took their final Broadway bow, playwright Rick Elice came out and gave an amazing speech, reducing everyone to tears once again, talking about how when you fall in love you are forever changed, and how the experience of bringing this show to life was love from the beginning. Even as just an audience member,  I understood what he meant. The plot of Starcatcher is driven by Starstuff, a magical substance that falls from the sky and changes anyone who touches it into what they want to be. While I (sadly) can’t say I’ve turned into a mermaid or found eternal youth, seeing this show for me was like finding Starstuff; it absolutely changed me. You can’t pass up the chance to let something wonderful change you – you must see a show on your trip!

If you need help deciding which show (or shows) you should see, you can reach me at lgeller@newyorkguest.com. Peter & the Starcatcher re-opens off Broadway on March 18th, so you can still see it if you are visiting this spring!

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Shop Small on Small Business Saturday

by Louise, Community Manager

At New York Guest, we love small businesses – after all, we are one! When you buy from a small business you’re supporting the economy and our country’s entrepreneurs.

Leading up to Thanksgiving we’re tormented by the ads promising “Door-buster Deals” starting at midnight on Thanksgiving, the huge corporations trying to tear us away from our family celebrations early with the promise of absurdly low prices. But there’s a new tradition, that just started last year, designating the day after Black Friday as Small Business Saturday, when everyone is encouraged to show their support for the entrepreneurs of the USA by shopping at at least one small business!

While any trip booked with New York Guest supports a small business (ours), we can also book you an all-around Small Business Package for your trip to New York! Stay at an independent hotel like the Nu Hotel, the Gotham, the Mave, the Park South or the Strand, go on a tour with Urban Oyster or Shop Gotham, make a reservation at one of our awesome local restaurants like Jack’s, St. Andrews, or Benjamin Steakhouse and shop at one of the independently owned shops that make NYC great!

As a special gift for folks who request a trip quote between now and Saturday, November 27th we will include a $50 gift card to one of our favorite NYC Small Businesses with every package booked. Just ask for the Small Business Saturday Special when you make your quote request! You can do so on our website or by e-mailing info@newyorkguest.com

Remember – shopping small helps us all! Find out more and pledge to Shop Small this Saturday at http://www.smallbusinesssaturday.com/

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We are New Yorkers who Care

by Louise, Community Manager

We all want to volunteer, but, especially when you’re trying to pay the bills in NYC, it’s hard to find the time to really commit to something long term. That’s why I love New York Cares. I’ve been volunteering with New York Cares for about six years and it’s such a fantastic organization. New York Cares offers one-off volunteer opportunities to volunteers who are members of the organization, taking away the onus of long-term commitment and allowing people who are normally too busy to volunteer to participate in wonderful volunteer projects all around New York City.

One of my very favorite things that New York Cares does annually (in addition to running the famous Coat Drive, which you’ve undoubtedly seen posters for if you’ve been to NYC in the winter) is a program called Winter Wishes. Every year underprivileged kids across the city gather in their local school or community center and write letters to Santa asking for a special gift for the December holidays. New York Cares takes these letters and distributes them to volunteers, who purchase the gift anonymously, wrap it, and send it to the community center for the child to open at a holiday gathering.

I’m so proud to announce that for every travel package we book this October, New York Guest will be granting an NYC child’s Winter Wish! It’s the perfect time of year to give something back to the city we love, and the perfect way to do it. So if you’ve always dreamed of spending the holidays in New York City, book with us this month and you’ll be making a child’s dream come true, too.

To learn more about New York Cares, visit their website at http://www.newyorkcares.org. You can also e-mail me your questions at lgeller@newyorkguest.com

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The Amazing Hotel Algonquin

By Laura, New York Guest Concierge

During the recent Hurricane Irene event in New York City I spent one night at The Algonquin Hotel. Here is my review of this magnificent “Grande Dame”.

Upon entering The Algonquin Hotel each guest is greeted by a friendly doorman and welcomed to proceed to the front desk for check-in. Staff is friendly,efficient,and very welcoming by explaining the history of the hotel as well as telling the “Matilda” story(I will get to that shortly). After check-in is completed, there is a bellman waiting to take luggage to your room. The amenities are explained and the bellman will answer any questions you have and will direct you for further information to the concierge in the lobby.

The Algonquin Hotel is the oldest operating hotel, dating back to 1902. Its “working lobby” is reminiscent of days when literary types like Dorothy Parker had working lunches here on a daily basis. Hence, the table used is now known as “The Round Table” and is now the name of the Algonquin’s restaurant.

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Matilda III is the resident rag doll cat who roams the lobby and visits with each and every guest. She is also part of the hotel’s unique tradition dating back to when a cat wondered into the hotel and the owner decided to make her the Algonquin mascot!

The room was elegant and cozy with old fashioned decor as well as modern amenities. The literary theme was consistently present from the wall paper to the Dorothy Parker door plaques with engraved quotes. An extremely comfortable bed and ear plugs courtesy of Matilda made for an awesome nights sleep.

Even with the storm raging outside, my stay at The Algonquin was relaxing and stress free, all and more of what every guest desires in a hotel stay. The Algonquin is an amazing hotel with character and history of by-gone years.

 

Want to stay at the Algonquin on your next trip? Check out our Broadway Magic package or e-mail us at info@newyorkguest.com to design your own package including nights at the Algonquin hotel!

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New York’s Best Street Treats

by William Gozdziewski, New York Guest Concierge

As a New Yorker, you pass food carts every day.  Dozens of them.  You don’t even take a second glance at them, and mostly you view them as another obstacle to zigzag around on the ever shrinking sidewalk already overloaded with pedestrians.  Little do you know, you are strolling past a diamond in the rough, a gem, a PEARL, if you will.  That is the concept behind Urban Oyster; a company bent on finding the little pearls of New York City that gives the city its true character which is often masked by huge corporations and modern capitalism.  Urban Oyster is all about educating people about the city’s rich history, especially its culinary history, in a thinking-outside-the-box fashion.

Our tour began in a centrally located meeting area.  Our tour guide, Brian Hoffman, was already waiting for us there even though we were 10 minutes early.  He quickly struck up conversation about what we would be seeing that day whilst we waited for the rest of the group to arrive.  The tour started punctually with a concise history of food carts.  In the early days of New York City, immigrants found food carts to be an excellent way to earn a living.  They prepared foods from their homeland, and sold them on the street.  In days gone by, street food was mainly composed of sausages, knishes, and oysters.  With the new wave of immigrants being mostly Muslim, a whole new world of flavor has found its way into the streets of New York.

Expecting cheap fried food and a pending need for Tums, I was astonished to find the quality of the food on this tour to be superb.  I thought some of it would be good, in that greasy, butter-tastes-great kind of way.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.    After asking if we had any dietary restrictions and if we like spicy or not (the answer was YES!) Brian took us to 6 food carts; 5 savory and 1 sweet.  At each cart, there was a painfully obvious lack of grease, fat, oil, butter – and a deliciously obvious phantasmagoria of flavor!

The first stop was Bapcha, home of delicious Korean cuisine since 2004.  As owner John Lee prepared our food, Brian told us about how his cart came to be, and also went into detail about the commissaries where the carts are kept at the end of the day.  By law, all the carts must be brought to a commissary where they are thoroughly cleaned and properly stored each and every day.  It is also where much of the prep work is done and where the carts are fully stocked up for the upcoming day.  As John Lee finished dishing up the yum-yums, Brian passed them out to us and we dived right into the scrumptiousness.  The sample included galbi, dak galbi, and japchae.  For the non-Korean speakers, that’s marinated short ribs, chicken, and sweet potato noodles respectively.  All this was covered with a touch of chili pepper sauce which gave a nice kick to the explosion of flavor.  Bapcha has become so popular, that John’s food cart is no longer big enough to keep up with the demand, so he had to get a second food cart, and a sous chef to run it.

Next was Trini-Paki Boys, owned and operated by Fatima Khan.  She’s from Pakistan and her husband is from Trinidad and Tobago.  Once they had a few sons, they also had the name for their cart.  Fatima has been preparing food and selling it from her cart for 23 years.  She was the first street vendor to sell Halal food.  When she applied for her permit, the city didn’t even know what Halal was; she had to explain it as the Muslim version of Kosher, which the city was already more than familiar with.  Her food was an overabundant fountain of flavor, and her sauce sealed the deal.  Of course, as a culinary magician she couldn’t reveal her secrets, but the key was the tamarind sauce lightly drizzled over her chicken and rice – out of this world!  It completely set her apart from all the other vendors out there, and was truly amazing to see her revolutionize a primitive dish into an innovative experience.

Right across the street was our next stop, El Rey del Sabor, which translate into The King of Flavor, owned and operated by Rosa from Puebla, Mexico.  As they served up some spicy pork quesadillas with guacamole and chipotle mayonnaise, Brian talked about the near impossibility of obtaining a food cart permit.  There used to be a 20-25 year waiting list, but due to a high volume of requests, that has changed.  Now, one must put their name into a lottery drawing, then, if you win, your name will be added to the 20-25 year waiting list.  Permits may also be passed on after the owner’s death as long as they designate who the permit goes to in their will.  Why would someone go through all of this just to operate a food cart?  I found the answer to this at our next stop.

Mohammad Rahman came to New York City after attending a highly acclaimed culinary school in Toronto, Canada.  He was a sous chef at The Russian Tea Room for many years with the dream of one day opening his own establishment where he would serve up his own creations that were sprouting in his head, begging to come into existence.  However, even one of New York City’s top sous chefs can’t afford Midtown rents.  He finally decided his need to share his passion could wait no longer, and so, he created his own food cart and dubbed it Kwik Gourmet; and gourmet it is indeed!  I was bestowed with a plate of falafel made with both chick peas and fava beans, served up with traditional yogurt sauce and a side of lamb.   As I bit into the falafel, I was blown away by the flavor.  The yogurt sauce was a perfectly subtle accompaniment, and the lamb was decadently tenderized with papaya purée.  Over the sound of my tastes buds humming with pleasure, it was difficult to hear Brian talk about how Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay pilfered Mohammad’s falafel recipe and used it to defeat his opponent on his falafel episode of Throw down with Bobby Flay.  Obviously, Bobby was smart enough to know he could not trounce Mohammad on the show, so he stole his recipe instead.

Strolling on over to the next cart, Biryani, Brian told us about the extreme popularity of this cart.  It won the Vendy award; a people’s choice award given to street food vendors who excel in preparing their foods; 2 years in a row.  On average, this cart goes through 200 pounds of chicken per day at lunchtime alone!  Biryani is the concept of Chef Meru Sikder who hails from Bangladesh.  After many years as a banquet chef, he too wanted to bring his passion to New York City, but had not yet won the Mega Million Lottery, and so Biryani came to be.  We were served a Spicy Buradi Roll, which is a form of kati roll.  As our helpful tour guide Brian informed us, kati rolls originate from India, where a popular street food was kebabs.  When the British Empire took control, they thought of eating meat off a stick as repulsive and outlawed it.  So, the natives put the kebab on flatbread and rolled it up.  Food teaches history!  And it tastes so good!  Chowing down on the kati roll, I had an epiphany about just how bland American food is.

Lastly, but most definitely not the least, we trekked on over to the cart we had all been fantasizing about since Brian mentioned it at the start of the tour; Waffles and Dinges.   Dinges is a Flemish word used to describe something which there is no word for; think the Flemish equivalent of thing-a-ma-jig, doo-dad, or whatcha-me-call-it; and refers to the various toppings that are available to garnish your waffle.  This cart has gained huge popularity over the past few years, mainly through their use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which they use to inform their fans of where the cart will be stationed on that particular day.  Waffles and Dinges is serious about waffles, specifically Belgium Waffles, and not what we Americans call Belgium Waffles, but seriously, the real deal.  No, seriously.  The Prince of Belgium flies into New York on a regular basis to check in on Waffles and Dinges and ensure they are producing genuine Belgium Waffles.  No joke.  They were also featured on Throw down with Bobby Flay where they defeated him with what they have now dubbed “The Throw down Waffle.”  We just had to sample the waffle that put Bobby Flay to shame.  Covered in their signature spekuloos spread and whipped cream, it was phenomenal!!  The spekuloos spread had the consistency of peanut butter and tasted like cookies.  Yum!

Even though we were full to the brim with delicious food at this point, we were still saddened to see the tour come to a conclusion.  We had so much fun, had such great food, and learned so much you would never think there was to know about food carts.  Personally, I was surprised at the quality of the food.  As Brian said, Urban Oyster wants people to know about these pearls; these little food carts that offer scrumptiously satisfying alternatives to the common corporate cafés that overrun the Midtown area.  Throughout the tour, the most expensive item was $10 with the average being between $6 and $8.  The flavor palate produced by these gourmet chefs, turned revolutionaries, far surpassed the blandness of the more conventional lunch spots.  Food carts have often been viewed as a cheap blue collar staple, but I pronounce them a foodie’s delight.  This tour is a must for anyone who enjoys food or is looking for a unique local experience.

Food Cart Tours run on Wednesdays in the Financial District and Fridays in Midtown – carts visited vary according to availability. Want to experience this tour for yourself? Check out our online booking or e-mail info@newyorkguest.com

This tour may also be booked as a private tour – ask your New York Guest travel planner!

Plus check out more tours from Urban Oyster: Brewed in Brooklyn & Craft Beer Crawls

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The New York Mets & Tuesday’s Children

The New York Mets did something special Sunday night at Citi Field.

In a ceremony both emotional and uplifting, the Mets welcomed several hundred family members from ‘Tuesdays’ Children” , the nonprofit  dedicated to helping the children who lost a father or mother.  With a group of volunteers holding unfurling a flag that covered 90% of the outfield (John Williams , President of New York Guest was among the privileged who carried the flag), with a group of 93 bagpipers from several organizations  and with First Responders from just about every spectrum ( Police, Fire, EMS, and even the Coast Guard) ringing the inside of the stadium, the crowd stopped, lit their candles,  and as the lights of the stadium were dimmed,  offered a moment of silence for those lost.

In the midst of an emotional day, the NY Mets organized an event that was appropriate, emotional, inspirational and most of all, helpful to so many family members.

Nice job NY Mets. Go Mets!!

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