Also: When Did We Start Naming Our Winter Storms?

Despite the ominous-looking, but not at all ominous-sounding Winter Storm Nemo, and the accompanying weather-related hysteria that swept most of the Eastern Seaboard, my personal chauffeur XFE and I went to New York this past weekend for our Global Entry interviews.

winter-storm-nemo_61

Well, XFE went for the Global Entry interview. I went with a secret wish in my heart to accidentally stumble into one of the New York Fashion Week shows, or at least see a ridiculously dressed fashion blogger or two (Mission: Perhaps Accomplished? I’ll explain further down).

Global Entry, for those of you who don’t know, is kinda like the self-checkout lane at the grocery store for Americans returning from travel overseas. You get to skip the line at customs, go up to this high-tech kiosk and self-check yourself on through. Also, you don’t have to fill out that customs form on the plane. It’s all done at the kiosk.

I’m telling you, teleporting must be right around the corner.

future

Anyway, we applied online for Global Access about a month ago and got approved within days. The next step is to go to an airport to get interviewed by the lovely Homeland Security folks. However, the next interviews at Dulles Airport weren’t until May. So, we looked at our options and decided to drive up to Newark, and spend a night in New York before driving home.

This whole plan got a bit iffy with Nemo on the warpath. We went back and forth and fretted about whether we should drive into a storm. I’m sorry, a BLIZZARD. Watching the Weather Channel on Friday night did not help our decision making. I was pretty firmly in the “no way” category, while XFE was in the much more reasonable “we’ll decide on the morning of” category.

Sure enough, Saturday morning we learned that New York had not been hit as hard as expected. So we loaded up the car with snow boots, and a makeshift-emergency-living-in-your-car-kit and hit the road.

Oh, what’s in a makeshift-emergency-living-in-your-car-kit, you ask?

  • One fleece blanket for staying warm
  • Car charger for cell phone (for tweeting, obv.)
  • Several varieties of Kind bars (so we don’t have to resort to cannibalism)
  • Several bottles of water (sparkling, naturally)
  • Bottle of wine (Celebratory; as in ‘rescuers are on their way,’ or last hurrah, as in ‘they’re not on the way.’)

I think there were other, more practical items in there, like shovels or flares or something, but XFE packed the kit, so I’m not sure. My contribution was several recent celebrity magazines. Because gossip doesn’t care if you’re stranded.

Nevertheless, we never drank the wine, nor had occasion to break into our kit because the roads were totally clear. And totally empty. We saw maybe two dozen other cars the whole 3.5 hour trip, an unheard of situation. (We did see, however, lots of electricity repair trucks, snow plows, and for some reason, cement trucks.)

We arrived at practically empty Newark a full two hours before our appointment time. It was so weird and creepy to be walking around what is probably one of the busiest airports on a Saturday morning, and see only a few other living souls.

After watching a short video and answering a few questions, we were done and on our way to New York. We went to the Breslin at the Ace Hotel for lunch and that’s where I saw the maybe fashion blogger. In the middle of our lamb burgers, this blonde Asian girl in a swirling oxblood cape and matching fascinator came sweeping in and joined a table of Asian guys next to us. She’s exactly what I imagine an Asian fashion blogger would look like.

Not pictured: Blonde Asian girl in cape and fascinator.
Not pictured: Blonde Asian girl in cape and fascinator.

We had a similarly interesting lunch experience on our way back to DC on Sunday. One of us really, really wanted to get on the road and made the mistake of thinking that we’d just get food somewhere on the road. (Not me, by the way. I’m all about eating first. Pretty much before any activity, really).

Thus, we ended up at a Ruby Tuesdays somewhere in southern New Jersey. The service was a bit lackluster, and we spent at least 15 minutes in a practically empty restaurant reading a table tent promoting their seafood fondue. The tent promised that if our server did not offer us the option of ordering the fondue while taking our drink orders, we would receive a fondue for free. Alas, when our distracted waitress finally arrived to take our orders, she did suggest fondue as well. (We passed. I’m not fond of seafood in my warm cheese. Blech)

free app

But it wasn’t just the lackadaisical service and odd-tasting lime-chili sauce (I had the chicken tacos, XFE the quesadilla. Both came with chili-lime sauce) that made this lunch stop so entertaining. No, it was the brilliant conversation that was being had at the next table over.

The waiter—let’s call him Jim—was training a would-be server, and he apparently recognized the patrons sitting at his table. After introducing his trainee, Jim launched into a loud and friendly chastisement of how he had not seen these elderly patrons in quite some time. He was laying it on pretty thick.

That’s when we heard the elderly gentlemen explain that his wife had been very sick for a while.

After an awkward pause, Jim began to backtrack and apologize for teasing them.

Another awkward pause, and Jim changed the subject with a cheery, “OK then, so what are we thinking about as far as drinks?”

Pretty sure the training manual doesn’t cover this scenario. I also don’t think I heard Jim offer the couple the seafood fondue.

orange crush

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The Ups and Downs of Bachelorette Dining in New York

I still have a few more Australia posts to write (nope, not letting go of vacation), but I did want to talk about this past weekend’s trip to New York and specifically the food before I forget it all in a work-and-life-in-general-induced haze.

Lucky Cheng’s not surprisingly, was not very good on the food front. But then, why would it be? Nobody’s there for the food. Or the service. Let me tell you. As one of the girls said this week, “Those drag queens waited tables like men.” And it’s true. The fine ladies of Lucky Cheng’s put the word “wait” into “waitressing.”

Unfortunately, when the food did arrive, it didn’t really put the glitter in my platforms either, if you know what I mean. We had five forgettable appetizers. Oh wait. Not entirely forgettable. I remember the butternut squash soup tasting not-so-mildly like soap. Soup/Soap/Let’s call the whole thing off. And let’s give a round of quiet clapping to the fine dishwashing staff who must’ve done their jobs so admirably well that we could taste the results of their hard work. Bravo.

This was followed by four platters of supposedly “tasty Pan Asian cuisine” to share, none of it very good or easy to eat. I remember wrestling with a quarter-chicken drenched in some dark sauce and served on what I think was mashed potatoes. I don’t know. At the risk of sounding like a cranky, near-sighted old lady (which might all be accurate), the lighting was turned down so low you really couldn’t see a thing. Which might have actually been a blessing in disguise.

There definitely was some dry fried rice with indeterminate meat products involved. I had a spoonful of that. Overall, there was much food left on the table after it was all said and done.

I guess we were sort of warned about the food quality. When we called to confirm gluten-free options for the bride-to-be, we were told to call back when the chef got in at 7 pm. Considering that the first show began at 7:30, we all thought this was a pretty laid back approach to dinner prep.

The next morning, we dragged our starving selves to brunch at Balthazar. This incredibly popular hotspot is very Paris bistro chic. The interiors are gorgeous, with lots of old mirrors, wood floors, and milky light fixtures. It’s massive, and yet, crowded beyond belief and fairly noisy. We had reservations for noon and the place just got busier from there.

Three of us had eggs Florentine with spinach and artichokes, another girl had steak and frites, and our gluten-free friend had a simple omelette. The eggs Florentine came in these adorable little skillets, and each was perfectly cooked according to our stated preferences (I like mine a little on the hard poached side, which I know is an insult to chefs everywhere).

The only problem with these adorable little skillets is they didn’t really hold a lot of actual food. And there weren’t any sides. Amy’s omelette came with home fries cooked in clarified butter (she can’t have dairy either), so we swooped in and ate those little delishiousnesses as well.

The service was pretty good, when we could distract our waiter from looking at himself in the oversized mirrors behind our banquette. I will say, once we got his attention to place our orders, things came out very soon after and they were very quick to clear away our Bloody Mary glasses the minute we put them down.

It was ok, as far as $22 eggs go. Next time, I’d come at a less busy time, park in a corner with some café au lait and a book and just soak up the vibe. Also, the location—near all the shopping in SoHo—can’t be beat.

Finally, for Saturday night dinner we went to Mario Battali’s Babbo. This was definitely the highlight of the weekend eating. We had 9:30 pm reservations and again, the place was packed. Babbo is inside a tiny New York townhouse, complete with a large staircase in the middle of the downstairs dining room.

Even with reservations, we had to wait about 10-15 minutes, but once we were sat in our upstairs corner table, we understood why. The service was impeccable. Not at all rushed but everything came out perfectly timed. The pacing was just perfection.

We started with fragrant blood orange cosmopolitans, which were recommended by our very helpful waiter. After a tasty crostini topped with chickpeas and balsamic vinegar reduction, we moved on to appetizers.

I was a bit disappointed in my carciofi romana (Roman-style artichokes). They were four small grilled artichoke hearts topped with a single little crostini with goat cheese. It would have been better reversed: four goat cheese crostini’s topped with the artichoke hearts.

The real appetizer winner was our friend Linda’s grilled octopus. It was so nice and smoky and had a lemony vinaigrette and was just amazing.

We split a few pasta dishes including one of my favorites from our trip to Rome, bucatiniall’ Amatriciana. Again, I was just slightly disappointed. They made the wonderfully spiced sauce with pork cheek instead of bacon and I personally feel like the heat of the sauce could have used a more fatty, salty, bacon-y contrast.

Far better was the pumpkin “lune” (basically little raviolis) with sage and browned butter. I wanted to lick the plate, it was so good. I was actually sad that I had to share it with the other girls. I almost ordered one for dessert (what I’m saying here is that I liked it.)

For a main course, I had braised beef. It was salty and tender and extremely satisfying.

Finally we came to the desserts. I resisted the urge to order more lune and instead we split three desserts amongst us, including the marscapone cheese cake, the chocolate hazelnut cake (which I thought would be my favorite), and the pistachio and chocolate semifreddo (which actually was recommended by our waiter and again, he didn’t steer us wrong. It was my favorite). But honestly, none of them were bad and in fact, they were very, very good.

And with that, five very stuffed girls tottered out on their high heels into the night.

Sometimes Pictures Suffice

So, there was a little thing called Amy’s bachelorette party this weekend.

She is the last in our group of five to get married. Well, technically, there’s still me, but I’m not getting married, so that left Amy. And that explains why we went hard on the bachelorette front.

Some nice girls just taking the train to New York.
The Bride to Be
Our room at the W Times Square. Which had a cannabis problem in the lobby on Saturday night. Whole place stunk like skunk weed. We quickly escaped to our rooms.
We made friends with Sal the Limo Driver on our way to Lucky Chengs.
The bride to be outside Lucky Cheng's.
These lovely drinks are called "small orgies."
Us plus one.
Amy seems intrigued by the balloon artist.
She's talking about wearing this as her headpiece at the wedding.
There was a dance contest. I did not win, which considering my awesome moves is really unfathomable.