Wanderlust 2017: Pasteled Perfection

We had the pleasure of spending the day in Cinque Terre, Italy. We village hopped on the coast from Manarola for pictures and swimming in the bay, Vernanzza for some yummy food with an impeccable view, and Monterossa for beach laying, ocean swimming, and sunbathing. Rather than rambling on and on about how gorgeous the water was and how much fun we had, I figured I’d keep this one short and let the pictures do the talking. Caio!

Wanderlust 2017: Tuscan Leather Smelling Like a Brick

Yes, once again, more Drake lyrics. I can’t be tamed…

After leaving Rome, I was ready for a smaller city, and Florence, Italy was the perfect solution. We had three days slated to be in Florence and I was going to take full advantage of this city. I had heard a lot about Florence because a lot of people I studied with at Marist College spent a semester abroad there, but I had no idea it would a place where I wish I had done the same.

THE CITY

Busy, busy, busy, but beautiful. When I say busy, I in no way am comparing it to Rome. It felt busy because there was always something going on. There were always people looking around at the beautiful architecture, statues, painting, small streets, and shops. The city buzzed at all hours.

And it was hot. Luckily, there are enough shaded areas, but when in the direct sunlight, you start to feel the burn.

My favorite part of the city was definitely Piazza della Signoria. There, you can find the Loggia dei Lanzi where a replica of Michaelangelo’s David, a statue of Perseus and the Head of Medusa, and many other mythical and historical figures are displayed. When you walk down the Uffizi Gallery towards the river, there are statues of the most important philosophical, mathematical, social, and governmental figures to have made an impact on Italy.

And the river! Oh my. Talk about a beautiful view. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which was the only bridge to not be destroyed during World War II. When you look down upon the Arno River and the quay, you see a couple restaurants that have been built in to the hills along the river, with outdoor areas where people were enjoying life.

This city is where you start to see the true relaxed European culture that’s mentioned when people return from a trip abroad. It’s quite inspiring, if I do say so. We as American are constantly on the go, driven by money and status, and we so often forget that life is so much more than climbing the financial ladder. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip – people don’t take themselves too seriously (for the most part).

THE FOOD

As previously mentioned in my post about Rome, I went hard in the paint eating pasta, pasta, pasta! I tried a carbonara that was perfectly al dente and out of this world – I’m day dreaming about it now.

My favorite place to get my grub on was the Mercato Centrale food and goods market. On my “Treat Yo’ Self” night, I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a big ole steak, and a tiramisu that was out of this world. I’m a huge Delmonico’s tiramisu fan and it put it to shame (so much so that I texted my mother about how we had been living a lie).

Finally, the pizza was delicious. Their personal pizzas were basically the size of the average eight-cut from the US, sans NYC. I tried a few different kinds, but mainly with proscuitto as a topper. Cured meat is EVERYWHERE in Italy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

THE HOSTEL

We stayed at the Plus Florence CB Hostel. The place had a pool, bar, rooftop, restaurant, laundry, and good sized rooms. Since the inception of our trip, this was the best place we had stayed. This place was so great that I plan on using Plus hostels on my future European Adventures.

After three days in Florence, I was sad to leave, but also extremely excited to continue our trek to Northern Italy. If you have a chance to see Florence, go for it; splurge! The city is wonderful and you’ll love the culture. Caio!

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Wanderlust 2017: When In Rome…

After an amazing week in Greece, it was hard to believe that I would spending the next nine or so days traveling through Italy. The first stop you ask? ROME!

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Going into this trip, I knew it would be tourist central – something that I am used to since I lived and worked in New York City for more than half a decade – and jammed packed with people from all different walks of life. However, I don’t think you can be completely prepared for this type of tourism. In NYC, we move FAST. In Rome, they move glacially slow. It was definitely a transition period for me, and prepared me for the rest of Italy.

…Experience the History Like the Romans Do

We had the pleasure of touring the Roman Colosseum and Roman Forum. This structure is immaculate and the second you walk in, you start to feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. You can almost hear the crowds, picture men and women sitting separately wearing white robes, waiting to be entertained.

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I did have a sad moment at the Colosseum. Turns out that when they brought the animals from other parts of Europe and the Middle East to fight against, they were starved and locked in pitch dark dungeons, so they never really had a fighting chance for their lives. I got over it very quickly, but it made me very upset.

Also, our tour guide told us that the Romans were not nearly as civilized as we seemed to have thought. Their main entertainment was going to the Colosseum to see death. They also held plays where instead of acting out deaths, they would legitimately kill the actors to get the full effect for their audience. They were quite barbaric.

We also went over to the Trevi Fountain, where if you throw three coins into the fountain, you wish (1) to return to Rome, (2) have a new love interest soon, and (3) get married at some point. I don’t buy into these silly stories, but just to be safe, I may have thrown three coins in the fountain. Here, you can see it was an extremely enthusiastic moment in my life:

We also went over to Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain in the middle of Piazza Navona. Once again, gorgeous fountain, super crowded. But worth stopping over. I did get a chance to see it around 10am when the square was clear, and it was definitely worth seeing again.

The fountains were gorgeous. The city overall was gorgeous.

…Go to the Vatican Like the Romans Do

Those who now me know that I was raised Catholic, but have chosen to live a life sans religion – personal choice; I respect everyone’s beliefs. This however did not stop me from going to Vatican City.

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Vatican City lies in the middle of Rome, but is considered it’s own country – sorry boys, but that wall isn’t really fooling anyone. Also, if you go there, DO NOT get your passport stamped. When you get it stamped, you void your passport.

Anyways, the Vatican was beautiful. The city is perfectly maintained, the architecture has been created with such attention to detail, and the gardens are perfectly kept.

…Eat Like the Romans Do

As previously mentioned in the Athens post, I was no longer on a traveling adventure, but simply a food tour, and Rome did no disappoint. I chose to have pasta for every single meal except breakfast, and gelato at least once a day. And to be honest, the only reason I hadn’t eaten pasta for breakfast is because our hotel fed us each morning and I wasn’t about to turn down free food.

Let me put it this way, every pasta I tasted was delicious and above basically every pasta (I will say Ferarri’s in Schenectady does make a mean pasta and can hang with Italian-made pasta) I had ever tried. I found that the reason why the pasta is so delicious is because they keep the ingredients minimal and natural. They let meats and sauces marinade for a long time, they slow cook everything, and most of all, they put so much love into their food.

I decided to have “Terah Time” where I treated myself to a delicious meal alone at Ristorante Romantica – yes, I took myself there without realizing the name of the place until I had already eaten half of my meal. This is something that is completely necessary to maintain my sanity while traveling the same 30 people for a period of 35 days. I stopped over a quaint bistro, had a glass of the house white, ate an excessive amount of pasta in a creamy red sauce with salmon, then finished off with some Italian lemon cake. I was happy as a clam for treating myself.

…Make Pasta Like the Romans Do

One of the trip “add-ons” was a pasta making class in the middle of Rome through EF College Break. We taxied over to a fourth floor walk up and soon found ourselves sitting in a circle and testing olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited.

We then had a glass of Prosecco then headed to the rooftop terrace. There, we found a kitchen, then a shaded area with tables setup with cutting boards, flour, eggs, and everything else you would need to making pasta from scratch. The instructors were wonderful, the process of making pasta was easy, and most importantly, the food turned out to be delicious.

I had taken a pasta making class before at Brooklyn Kitchen, but it didn’t compare to being under the Italian sun, sipping bubbly, preparing a meal, then sitting down as a group and appreciating our hard work and our instructor’s skills. We ended with an espresso to get us through the rest of the day, since we were stuffed full.

Moral of the story, take a pasta making class at some point while staying in Italy – you will not regret it.

…Travel Like the Romans Do

Upon our departure, it was quite bittersweet. I was excited to leave the busy city to head to Florence, but I was sad to leave a place filled with such history. I would definitely go back for a couple days while touring Italy. My main gripe was how busy it was, but then again, it is summer and people take time off to travel (I’ll get over it).

Wanderlust 2017: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!

My First Euro Trip (Part 2: Prague, Czech Republic)

Sitting on my flight to Athens, I can’t help but feel as if I need to close out my last European trip before I start the next one. As I mentioned in my last post, in addition to going to Warsaw over Thanksgiving, I also did a quick two-day stop in Prague. My favorite part about this trip is that I truly did this independently – from the booking everything and seeking out information, to traveling solo – and it’s a trip not only will I always remember, but one where I grew a lot as a person.

To set the scene, I decided to take a painfully early flight from Warsaw Chopin Airport to Václav Havel Airport Prague. You may be asking me what made me choose Prague? Well, honestly, I was looking for a cheap flight and city where I could see beautiful architecture, greenery, and eat great food – I’m relatively easy to please and Prague seemed right up my alley.

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THE HOSTEL

Upon arriving in Prague, I immediately checked into my hostel, Sir Toby’s in Praha 7. I didn’t spend much time here, but the time I spent was very pleasant. The staff were extremely helpful and gave me some “inside” advice on seeing some sites that tend to be off the beaten path.

The hostel had a bar area that was more than welcoming. Everyone spending time there were sociable, but not overbearing or overwhelming. The server was a lot of fun to talk to because she had a ton of stories about her travels and moving around Europe. I think talking to someone like that can be an eye opener that we are not meant to stay in once place our whole lives.

THE CITY

After checking into the hostel, I took the trolley to walk through New Town to see what lay on the outskirts of the famous Old Town. As you walk into the area, you notice that the architecture is gorgeous; colorful with incredible designs. The trees grow in all shapes and sizes, yet they fit into area’s uniqueness.

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When you walk up to the city circle, the Astronomical Clock draws your immediate attention. The gold clock on the immaculate structure is intimidating; to see to the top, you have to look up so high, you feel as if you’re looking at a New York City skyscraper.

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Once you get over how gorgeous the clock tower is, you start to notice the other architecture around you. You notice that every store and restaurant front is different. You notice that you are somehow in this maze.

Upon realizing there is much more than the circle, you start to follow the maze. Now, we’re not talking a corn maze, but simply size streets with back roads with more side streets and structures that are built to lead you to other parts of the city. It’s quite beautiful. You feel lost, but safe at the same time.

THE FOOD AND BOOZE

It’s pretty safe to say, I ate my fair share of food in Prague. I, of course, had to go for the schnitzel on a couple occasions because, well, when in Rome (or Prague). I also enjoyed some borscht. Like I said, when in Rome.

But, my favorite “discovery” was mulled wine. For those of you who do not know what this it (I had never tried or really heard of it), mulled wine is warm wine with cinnamon, anise, and orange peel. You can sweeten it like coffee or tea with sugar, if you like – I prefer it with one brown sugar packet. This discover lead to quite the hangover, but it was worth it.

There are also a ton of great home brews in Prague, which end up being around $1.34 per pint. Please don’t ask me which ones I tried, I tried as many as I could to ensure I experienced “all” that Prague had to offer.

THE CHARLES BRIDGE

My favorite part of the trip, hands down, was waking up extremely (unnecessarily?) early and walking across the Charles Bridge. As you walk across, there are statues of biblical figures and tales; including all the saints and Jesus Christ. I easily took over one hundred pictures on this bridge, because not only is the architecture amazing, but it overlooks the Vltava River and the towns that exist up and down the river. These towns have houses and buildings in pastel colors that are extremely vibrant, even on the gloomiest of days. This is where I fell in love with Prague.

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Finally, when you get to the Praha 1 side of the bridge, there are picturesque locks with notes carved or painted on them attached to the fence. I couldn’t help but walk along and read as many of the locks as my attention span could hold – for the record, I lasted way longer reading through the locks than I thought I would because they were all so interesting and uniquely beautiful.

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THE ST. VITUS CATHEDRAL

I took 30 minutes to venture into the St. Vitus Cathedral, and it was worth every penny. According to the pamphlet, St. Vitus Cathedral is the most important and largest temple in Prague because coronation of the King and Queen occur there. The Cathedral is also the burial location of several patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen, and archbishops.

Let me start out by saying that I am not religious, in fact, I don’t believe in religion, but this Gothic cathedral could make you believe. There were so many amazing paintings, statues, and carvings that felt so real. You could feel the presence of every story being told in each art instillation, almost as if each structure were alive.

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THE CEMETERIES

One of the recommendations that the hostel host suggested for a quiet long stroll was the Vysehrad Cemetery in Praha 2. It was a very cool and gloomy day, but once again, that didn’t take away from the beauty you find in Prague. The cemetery was more of a garden with headstones and shrines to certain families. All I could think of while there was that this must be a part of The Secret Garden’s movie set. I also thought how cool it would be to be buried in such an impressive place.

The nice thing about the cemetery is that it was surrounded by more gardens inside a park, so I took a nice hike along the Vltava River.

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THE AMERICANS IN PRAGUE

On my last night, I met an American at The Fat Cat bar in Praha 1. We decided to keep hanging out and we went on a bar crawl (pretty sure it was the first bar crawl I had attended since college), where there were a ton other Americans, as well as Australians. I never expected to meet anyone in Prague, and even less likely would I think that it would be an American. After doing some research, I found that a lot of college students study abroad in Prague for its rich history and the inexpensive cost it takes to live there, compared to the United States. I would recommend anyone looking for an “off the beaten path” country in which to study abroad, I would highly recommend Prague.

Additionally, almost everyone I met/approached/spoke to in Prague spoke English. There was one woman who was walking her dog at the ass crack of dawn, who I approached asking for directions to the trolley. She was the ONLY person who didn’t speak English. Let me be clear about something – I did not expect anyone to speak English; I thought I would have to use Google Translate to communicate the entire time. But, it was so comforting to know that there were people who could understand me if I needed help.

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THE DEPARTURE

I can honestly say, I’ve never taken a flight as hungover as I was when I left Prague to head back to Warsaw. I was completely in love with the city. I couldn’t wait to go back. The image of the Vltava River from the Charles Bridge while staring at the amazing architecture will never leave my memory.

For me, one of the best parts about my second European Adventure, which I just embarked on, is that I will be going back to Prague. I love the idea that I will already have a little piece of this city with me. I love that, for the first time, I will not be completely lost in Europe.

Until the middle of the month, when I can see you again, here’s to you, Prague, thank you for the amazing memories.

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Dine n’ Dash: Pokéworks

By: Stella Sitt

Pokéworks, GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!! In light of the recent PokemonGo fad (or is it here to stay?), I am extremely excited to write about poké – the new trend that has hit the streets of the East Coast. But…what exactly is poké? Poké, pronounced “poh-kay” is essentially a Hawaiian raw fish salad marinated in soy sauce topped with yummy goodness along with condiments.

Pokéworks, the first poké shop, opened in Midtown West – Manhattan last year, and after seeing this place on Yelp, I knew we had to check out this new phenomenon. The first time Terah and I visited, we hit the lunch time rush. We waited in a queue outside for ~45 minutes before stepping foot into the restaurant to place our order. There is minimal seating in the actual store and it gets cramped during lunch time, so arrive early (11 AM) if you plan to sit down and beat the line outside. The second time we visited, we arrived by 11:30 and only waited for ~20 minutes.

I would liken Pokéworks to the Japanese version of a Chipotle – a fast food restaurant with an assembly line. You’re prompted to choose your base (white or brown rice), protein (type of fish or chicken), mix –ins (seaweed, edamame, etc.) and a flavor (sauce). For $11.95, you can pick two proteins or, for $13.95 you can pick three.

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Terah and I both loved our poké bowls! The fish was fresh and the toppings and mix-ins were plentiful. I opted for salmon and tuna on a bed of brown rice topped with with shiso leaves, edamame, hijiki seaweed, seaweed salad, avocado, wasabi, sesame seed, spicy furikake, onion crisps, ponzu sauce and soy sauce. Terah ordered the salmon and tuna combo as well ,but spiced up her bowl with crab salad, which she raved about after. With everything mixed together, the combination was absolutely delicious, fresh,and  healthy! The variety of mix-ins and toppings available are a bonus as well.

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We give Pokéworks 4.5 stars! Pokéworks definitely lives up to the hype in our books, but we subtracted 0.5 stars because it was a bit pricy. Although we’re both not fans of the Midtown hustle and bustle, our love for poké will bring us back! For you gamers out there, let’s hope it doesn’t become a Poké stop or else there would be real madness.

Dine n’ Dash: The Mermaid Oyster Bar

This is long overdue, but I guess this is when you say “better late than never”… I’ve had a crazy couple weeks, which includes madness at work and moving my entire life from Queens to Brooklyn. Stella has been extremely patient with my lack of posting.

Two weeks ago, Stella and I went to The Mermaid Oyster Bar in Greenwich Village, NYC, and they did not disappoint.

When you first walk in, you notice a cleanliness. Everything is white and silver. There’s organization and thought put into how the ambiance is set. Though the walls are white, there’s a warmth that comes with this restaurant. Stella and I were seated immediately (honestly, we were shocked. Happy hour in this part of town at a place with such deals and delicious food can be difficult to get immediate seating) and started reading over the happy hour appetizer menu. We look up and nod in agreement that we wanted EVERYTHING.

 

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First came the east coast oysters ($1 each during happy hour). Perfectly shucked. Perfectly paired with a lemon and cocktail sauce. We sucked down 10 each with smiles on our faces.

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Within minutes, our other food arrived. Fried clam sliders ($6.50), mini mermaid fish tacos ($3.00), shrimp & avocado sliders ($7.50), and fried calamari ($7.50); I wasn’t kidding when I said we wanted it all.

We continued with the calamari. We both found that there was too much breading, but we both prefer foods that aren’t heavy on breading in general. I commented to Stella that my brother would love Mermaid’s calamari based on the way it was cooked and their delicious marinara.

Then we were off to the tacos and sliders. The food was delicious. Our notable favorite was the shrimp and avocado slider. We could’ve eaten eight of them had we not ordered the other food and knowing we had planned to order another round of oysters.

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I know what you’re thinking: these girls can throw down. You’re damn right we can. Why do you think we grab a meal at least once a week together?

The other round of oysters were perfect, even though we were ridiculously full. This time, we were able to fully appreciate them. I can admit; we were so excited during the first round of oysters that we may not have appreciated them as much as we should’ve.

Then, something amazing happened. A little chocolate mousse cup was placed in front of each of us. It was whispering sweet nothings in our ears and we couldn’t resist but enjoy every last bite. I love when restaurants provide a free dessert. It was nice and small, and honestly, I think it’s a classy thing to do. For the record, the mousse was perfect.

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When the check came, we were impressed with the overall cost considering all the different food we tried and the simple fact that we were stuffed to the brim.

Overall, we would give The Mermaid Oyster Bar 4 out of 5 stars. The food was delicious, the ambiance was great, and I didn’t even mention how friendly out waitress was. If you’re in Greenwich or downtown Manhattan, I highly recommend stopping over and getting some fresh oysters and delicious sliders. They also have a full menu and other locations!

Finally, Stella and I only found it fitting to play with Snapchat filters while walking off our meal afterwards. Here’s a taste:

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Dine n’ Dash: Up Thai

By: Stella Sitt

Yesterday Terah and I ventured up to Up Thai (get it?) for the second time together. Up Thai is located on Second Avenue between 73rd and 74th Street in the Upper East Side. And now…without further ado, let’s get down to the nomz!

Upon walking into Up Thai, you are greeted with a cement wall engraved with Thai writing on it. The interior is nicely decorated – adorned with wooden accents, greenery, and beautifully strung lanterns with an array of colors. The lanterns themselves cast shadows on the walls during the night (I’ve been here for dinner), which creates a very relaxing and wonderful ambiance. That being said, the design alone was very welcoming, and the lanterns put me in calm, relaxing mood. There was ample seating since we arrived early, and they do take reservations if you’re coming as a group.

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The lunch special (from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM on weekdays) is a great deal for Manhattan standards – for $11, you can choose a soup/salad, small appetizer, and an entrée. We arrived right when it opened – mouthwatering and hungry. Once the restaurant opened, the waiter promptly seated us with a smile. We started out with drinks. Terah ordered the usual Thai Iced Tea ($3.50), whereas, I was feeling a little more adventurous this time with a Lychee Thai Iced Tea ($4.50). Terah described the Thai Iced Tea as smooth, creamy, just the right amount of sweetness. My Lychee Thai Iced Tea came with two lychees, and no milk was added. It was very refreshing for the hot day (close to 80 degrees in the concrete jungle), although I found it a bit too sweet for my taste. Terah had a taste, and agreed, but since I haven’t seen this drink at many other Thai restaurants, it’s a must try and you’ll love it if you have a sweet tooth.  The drinks came in cute little Mason jars, which is always an added bonus for someone like me who is a sucker for cute canning jars.

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We both started with a salad with Ginger dressing, which hit the spot. Ginger dressing is one of our favorites! This was followed by the small appetizer we each ordered. Terah opted for the steamed pork dumplings and I ordered the spring roll. Terah described the pork dumplings as cooked perfectly; a good portion and she liked how compact they were. The sauce that accompanied her dumplings was the perfect amount of zest for her taste buds. The spring roll I ordered was filled with pork and vegetables, and crunchy, and fried to perfection without overdoing it.

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For the main entrees, I ordered the usual Chicken Pad See Ew. The portion was good, and the wide noodles and chicken were scrumptious. The right amount of soy sauce was used and the broccoli was cooked just right. I’ve been to Thai places where the broccoli is often undercooked and hard. I also liked how the dish was not too oily, which is a major turn off because my stomach does not deal well with excess oil. My foodie in crime, ordered a much more interesting dish – the Moo Dang (I’ve heard that Pad See Ew is Americanized Thai). Terah commented that the pork belly was perfectly crispy, the sauce was the right kind of sweet and sticky, and the Chinese sausage had a little spice to it and reminded her of pepperoni (in a good way).

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Overall, the food was extremely flavorful, and we look forward to coming back again! I would give it a 4.5 stars, based on the food, service, prices, location, the fact they accept most major credit cards, and the décor. Compared to other Thai restaurants I’ve tried (and that is many, since I love Thai food), this definitely ranks up there.

Dine n’ Dash: Totto Ramen

Once a week, my coworker/friend/co-foodie, Stella and I grab lunch in New York during an extended lunch break. We have come to realize that it is one of the things each week that keeps us going in our grueling jobs in finance and we want to share our love of food and experiences with you!

The plan: to post about our NYC food experiences. We will rotate who writes each week…and I’m up first!

Today, we went to Totto Ramen on 52nd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Totto’s original location is in Hell’s Kitchen, but its popularity brought it to Midtown. The one thing I will say before talking about the food is this; you will wait at least 45 minutes if you go during the lunch or dinner rush. The place is always packed, does not take reservations, and is CASH ONLY.

The waiter sat us in back where plywood was decorated with Totto inspired graffiti and hung to decorate the walls. The lighting was calming and the aroma welcoming. We started with the Char Siu Pork Bun (two for $6), which were nothing short of perfection. The pork belly was cooked to the proper temperature and fell apart in your mouth. The hoisin sauce was thick, sticky, and smooth, was extenuated with a light swipe of mayonnaise, and piece of iceberg lettuce. That brings me to the bun, which was warm, soft, and delightful.

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The one thing with Totto is, when you go early, you get your food extremely fast. Our ramen came out before we were finished with the pork buns. At times, this can be quite a turn-off, but because we were mid-workday, it was welcome. We promptly received the check without asking which was marked with what an 18-percent tip would be; another situation that maybe off-putting to some.

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When I asked Stella how she would describe her Spicy Paitan with Pork ($12) and Poached Egg ($2), she immediately responded "creamy, rich, wavy, flavorful, hearty". I couldn’t agree more.

I ordered the Chicken Paitan with Pork ($10) and Poached Egg ($2). To piggy back on what Stella said, the broth, though without dairy, was creamy in its own right; the flavor was amazing. The noodles were cooked perfectly and the firmness was just right. The pork and chicken were hearty. I’d never seen such a beautifully poached egg. The nori was deliciously crisp and finally, the scallions and onions were fresh.

I added pepper, based on personal preference, and rather than hiding flavor, it truly enhanced it. I cannot tell you of an experience where I’ve had such delicious ramen.

Overall, I would give this place a 4.5/5 stars. How did they lose the half star? Stella and I both agreed that the poached egg wasn’t worth $2 based on the other item prices on the menu. But, if that’s our only complaint, then I would say Totto Ramen is a keeper.

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