Restaurant Review: Mozzarella e Vino

Mozzarella e Vino    *    33 W 54th Street, New York, NY 10019    *    $$

Nestled among gorgeous townhouses across from the Museum of Modern Art on the Upper West Side is an authentic Italian restaurant that may indeed change your life. If you could not already tell by the name — which is what attracted me to its menu right away — Mozzarella e Vino focuses on dishes made of highest quality ingredients. And when it comes to the Italian dinner essentials — mozzarella and wine, this is of utmost importance.

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I began the meal with a champagne starter and a tasting menu of the charcuterie offerings. From salami to prosciutto the entire cutting board was delicious. The meats were paired with blueberries and walnuts, which gave it a different flavor that catered to a sweet-and-salty palate. The sliced tomatoes were fresh and paired well with the mozzarella plate. I tried the smoked mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella and burrata — the latter being the clear winner. Before we even tasted anything else, Ben and I looked at each other and knew that we would be coming back for more burrata.

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While waiting for our next round of appetizers we started to try a basket of homemade breadsticks and bread. These flavors, combined with a truly delicious plate of extra virgin olive oil reminded us of our month of travels in Italy. Not only did the food taste good, but it tasted like it was made fresh from fresh ingredients — which is the traditional Italian way.

There’s a reason why Italians are known for going to the grocery store or market each morning to get their produce for the day. It takes the quality of the dishes to another level, getting the most out of the flavors of the fruits and vegetables you’re cooking with.

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The next appetizer I tasted was fried calamari— which can be the make-or-break dish of an Italian restaurant. This plate was not too fishy, but tasted perfectly crispy. The marinara was a bit spicy for my taste so I opted for a dose of lemon juice sprinkled on the fish. To Ben, this dish was even better than the meat and cheese, but for me nothing could come close to the burrata.

For the vino selection, the house sommelier helped us choose a bottle of Barbera d’Alba 2014 Deltetto, a smooth pinot noir that had hints of woody sweetness  and paired nicely with our entrees.

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For my main course I selected the Classic fresh fettucine alla Bolognese topped with fresh grated parmesan cheese. Once again the flavors were fresh and blended together nicely. Ben ordered the Slow braised lamb, in red wine and organic vegetable sauce, served with mashed potatoes. The presentation came out different than we were both expecting but the result was delicious. The lamb tasted as if it had been marinated and cooked slowly for hours.

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Last but certainly not least, I tried some of the server recommended selections from the dessert menu— the Torta di mascarpone “tiramisu style,” Vanilla panna cotta with strawberries and Seasonal fruit tart on vanilla custard.

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As far as our favorite dessert went, Ben and I disagreed once again. The tiramisu was absolutely incredible. It was light and fluffy yet somehow creamy. It had more of a chocolate flavor than espresso, which may have been why I liked it so much. The panna cotta was also delicious. The vanilla flavor was so strong that you could tell that it had been made with vanilla bean pods instead of just vanilla extract. Topped with fruit, it made for another great selection. The fruit tart however left much to be imagined.

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If you are in the area, Mozzarella e Vino is a must-try stop after a day of roaming the Museum of Modern Art or Central Park, both located just blocks away. The restaurant is the perfect way to celebrate traditional Italian cuisine prepared with fresh and top-quality ingredients.

Stay Classy! xx

Cocoa V Is The Vegan Chocolatier NYC Has Been Waiting For

Cocoa V    *    174 Ninth Avenue New York, NY 10011    *    $$

Last week, New York City received a gift just as good as any present you could buy yourself. The owner of Blossom du Jour opened her latest vegan business venture in Chelsea. The chocolate shop is located in a quiet area of the city, surrounded by other gourmet and vegan eats and boutiques. The ambience and space leaves little to the imagination with just a few stools for seating and the kitchen covered by a curtain, making the experience truly intimate.

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The chocolates are fully vegan, gluten-free, non-dairy, kosher and organic. They are handcrafted using only the best ingredients to create unique and delicious flavors, including Lavender Vanilla and Pistachio Apple.

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In addition to truffles and chocolate squares, Cocoa V offers a beautiful variety of chocolate bark and brittle. You can mix up the variety to your liking, whether you’re putting together a unique box for yourself or a friend. Because the chocolates are handcrafted, they’re also meticulously decorated with edible metallics, colors and designs. The overall affect is beautiful – and yummy.

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I tried a few samples while I was at the shop and brought some home for later… I ate this box in one sitting, but it’s totally guilt-free so I ain’t sorry. 😉 The piece that I’m holding below is Chocolate Peanut Butter and Jelly… and it was by far my favorite piece that I tried!

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If you’re in the area and are looking to spoil yourself, Cocoa V is the place to visit. In the summer they’ll be offering homemade dairy-free ice cream and ice cream sandwiches, and Belgian waffles. Their ingredients will also change with the season, so you can expect to see flavors like Edamame, Lime and Sea Salt!

Cocoa V also ships nationwide and you can place orders in stores or through their website.

Hungry? Maybe you want to whip something chocolatey up for yourself. If so, try out this guilt-free fruit dipped recipe or treat yourself to  a more traditional recipe for classy chocolate chip cookies!

Stay Classy! xx

Restaurant Review: A.G. Kitchen

A.G. Kitchen    *    269 Columbus Ave. New York, NY 10023    *    $$

It isn’t too often when you have a day filled to the brim with pure joy. In fact, it isn’t too often that we are able to tap into ourselves and feel pure joy in the midst of our daily routines. This was what it felt like on the day that I tried out the menu at A.G. Kitchen.

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I guess it helps when you’re having a delicious meal in a gorgeous restaurant while catching up with one of your best friends, but by the end of our appetizers we were already agreeing that A.G. Kitchen would certainly become a go-to spot for our friend group. The atmosphere of the dining area is airy, full of natural light and enclosed by windows. Pops of bright orange, green and blue could be found along the bookshelf and on the water glasses on each table, matching the uniforms of the waiters, waitresses and chefs. Right outside you can see Columbus Ave. a busy street that’s bordered by bright buildings (like the purple and yellow structures you can see below,) high-end stores and a two avenue walk from Central Park. It made me so nostalgic for Notting Hill and Kensington, London because the similarities in the atmosphere were most certainly there, though the accents weren’t.

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The first things on the menu that caught my eye were the exotic guacamole flavors. Instead of just the plain ol’ avocado (which is always delicious on its own, anyway) they also had options like Papaya and Mint and Pomegranate and Pineapple. The menu offers a guacamole trio – which I immediately ordered and began to devour.

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They made it right in front of our table on an adorable guacamole cart, which I loved especially because then I could see exactly what ingredients were going into it! I ordered it Mild (I still can’t do spicy guys!) but since my +1, Gab is a spice lover, she ordered jalapeños on the side… the waiters were so accommodating to each of our tastes.

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It became instantly clear upon first bite that A.G. Kitchen only used fresh and locally grown produce in their dishes. Everything tasted SO fresh it totally elevated the flavor to another level. This could be tasted in everything that I tried, even the fruit-infused cocktails – Strawberry Fields and Simple Pleasures.

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It is so rare for me to eat out and love absolutely everything that I taste. I just went to one of the “top” restaurants of NYC Restaurant Week and could barely finish my entree to the point where I ended up ordering a side and ate that as my main meal instead. I wouldn’t say that I’m a picky eater, but I do appreciate good and creative flavor in the dishes that I consume. This is the way that I cook for myself and the people that I love and what I’ve come to expect when eating out with friends, family or on dates with Ben.

This is most certainly one of the main reasons why I fell in love with A.G. Kitchen. Their dishes were each meticulously crafted, plated, used fresh ingredients and they were flavorful and CREATIVE.

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A.G. Kitchen actually has a Zagat thanks to their burgers. I of course, being the meat lover that I am, had to try one. I ordered one made with organic grass-fed beef, A.G. Kichen’s “special sauce” and locally grown mushrooms; it was to-die-for. Gab ordered the “Meatless” (being the almost vegetarian that she is) and I tried some… I will be ordering that upon my next visit. Her burger was handmade from fresh veggies and tasted absolutely amazing.

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Something I noticed on their menu is that their burgers automatically come with Whole Grain buns, but this can be changed to a Potato Bun or Gluten-Free bun, depending on preference or dietary restrictions. The entire menu features options for everyone, making it so incredibly versatile, healthy and delicious.

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The creatively delicious taste and beautiful appearance of the food I tried is without a doubt thanks to the restaurant’s owner, Chef Alex Garcia. You may know him from his shows on Food Network, “Melting Pot” and “Nuestra Cucina.” Chef Garcia is also one of the founding chefs of the Nuevo Latino cooking movement. With A.G. Kitchen, he aimed and succeeded at combining Latin and American cuisine to create the ultimate comfort food.

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I’ll be completely honest. We did a job on the first few courses (and our drinks!) The food was SO good that I forgot to leave room for dessert. By now, even if you only know me as a blogger, you know how much of a sweet tooth I have. I did end up asking to see the dessert menu, and the red “binoculars” were what I received.

As if A.G. Kitchen wasn’t already perfect enough, they even got creative with the visual display of their menu. YES. You look through the display and click through to view the desserts on the screen. How adorable is that!?

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Remember how I said we were too full for dessert? Well, one look at the menu was enough to change our minds. For dessert I tried the Hot Chocolate Brownie, which is made to share and comes with ice cream (YUM) and the Banana Mania, which was probably the best banana bread cake I’ve ever had. By this point, I was certainly full and happy, but declared that our meal could not be complete without trying a spiked Mexican hot chocolate.

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If you live in NYC, work in NYC or ever find yourself in the vicinity of NYC, do yourself a favor and make your way to A.G. Kitchen on the Upper West Side. I can pinky promise you that you will not leave disappointed. And when you do try it out, especially if you manage to eat as much as me, be sure to go for a stroll through the West side of Central Park, it’s so beautiful, quiet and peaceful there, and your full and happy tummy will thank you.

Stay Classy! xx

Budapest, Hungary Day #3

Looking for somewhere to go on your next vacation? Maybe even spring break? Budapest’s natural beauty, exquisite architecture and relaxing thermal spas are definitely calling your name. Get ready to pack your bags, because the final post of the Budapest travel series is here!

To recap from my first two days in Budapest (which you can refresh yourself on here and here) I pretty much instantly fell in love with the city. The romantically detailed architecture, gorgeous river and landscapes, friendly people and *warm weather* automatically won over my heart. The overall affect reminded me of Italy (hint, hint that’s where I ended up next!) and for this reason, almost felt familiar.

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The morning of my third and final day in Budapest was spent recovering from the Hungarian ruin pub bar crawl that I went on the night prior. Part of the bar crawl was that there would be a drink (or shot) waiting for you at each pub you went to, and the night finished at a huge and incredible ruin club filled with maze like rooms with fully stocked bars (part of the room shown above). It was a night filled with so much fun which made the morning a bit of a drag. 😉

When Ben and I had taken a walking tour around Budapest, our tour guide had suggested the Lukacs Baths as one of the thermal baths and spas to visit. Because we had already been to the Széchenyi Baths on our first night in Budapest – though it was for a Sparty (yes, exactly what you think it means) not relaxation – we decided to try out another spa that was deeper in the city.

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The grounds of the Lukacs Baths were simply gorgeous. Not a branch was out of place, not a chip on the brightly colored paint on any of the buildings. The aura was entirely relaxed, people were patient and kind as they waited on “the Americans,” us, to change into our swim suits and put our belongings in a locker.

We first went to the indoor rooms which reminded me of the Roman bath houses one sees when walking through Pompeii. The intricate tile details and mosaics and the relaxed steam coming from the warm and hotter pools made for the perfect atmosphere to simply just sit and be. However upon sitting down in the first pool, we realized that we may have chosen the wrong place to relax. It seems that what our inevitably sardonic tour guide had failed to mention was that the Lukacs Baths were a popular favorite of exclusively men and women aged 60+. We were in the company of mostly men in very small swim trunks, which can make the experience much less relaxing and incredibly awkward.

We switched from one pool to another – the traditional way to do it is gradually increase the pool temperatures as you go, first sitting in the freezing cold bath and gradually making your way to the hottest bath and virtually sauna. The company did not change. We were greeted with grumpy and unpleasant looks, as well as inappropriate looks, and decided it was time to go outside. The outdoor pools were large and beautiful. We sat and tanned (sunshine! a luxury coming from a drab weather winter in London) before heading out in search of lunch.

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Our second touristy stop for the day was St. Stephan’s Basilica. The large domineering Roman Catholic church located in the center of the city. Adventurous as always, once a bit of convincing had taken place of course, we chose to take the 364 narrow and winding staircase up to the dome of the Basilica… instead of the fully functioning elevator.

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The climb was certainly worth it. We arrived at the top and were embraced by the gorgeous 360 degree view of Budapest. We also had the entire dome to ourselves, which make the experience really special and reflective.

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One of the most beautiful parts of the city, to me, was the blend of what remained from a great and antiquated society and the majestic mountains and landscape that it was built upon, and is still surrounded by. This can be seen from any angle of the city, but especially from above. I am always in awe of the detail that was put into such structures.

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The day would not have been complete without snacking on ice cream in front of St. Stephan’s, on our way back to the hostel. If you haven’t yet noticed how passionate of an ice cream lover I am… just you wait. The next travel series takes place in Italy (next stop, Roma!) and I believe the motto is “a gelato a day keeps the doctor away.” 😉

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The day would also not be complete without getting happily lost down a few adorable side streets. From even the simplest snaps of my camera you can get a sense of what the life is like in the heart of Hungary. It makes me want to go back ASAP!
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We ended our final day in Hungary by watching the orange cream sunset go down over Buda. The end of this trip reflected the swiftly approaching end to our semester in London and the five months we had spent going on weekend getaways all over Europe. It was bittersweet and beautiful, as most wonderful things in life tend to be.

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Stay Classy! xx

Brunch Spots We Love: ZUMA NYC

Zuma NYC   *   261 Madison Avenue New York, New York 10016   *   $$$

If you’re lucky, brunch reservations are the plans that get you through the week. There’s nothing like waking up on a Sunday morning feeling the motivation you may have been lacking towards the end of the week to head into the city and brunch so hard, because let’s face it, you had a rough few days and need to #TreatYoself! Now if only we could brunch just about every day of the week… 🙂

This particular Sunday morning my wonderful date and I hopped on the Metro North and walked down Madison Ave. You can tell that ZUMA NYC is a classy restaurant from its appearance on the outside. The external decor is subtle, dark hued and makes it difficult for pedestrians to take a peak in and see what they are missing out on. Once you’ve stepped inside, it is hard to escape the feeling that you’ve just walked in on an incredible meal and a warm, creative atmosphere.

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The brunch menu comes with a fresh and delicious variety of options. There is the special menu that for a fixed price of $59, you can order a drink, an appetizer platter, an entree and dessert. And of course, you can take on the extra charge ($55) for unlimited drinks if you’re really looking to let loose.

To start, we tried the edamame, watercress and avocado salad with wasabi and cucumber, seasonal oysters, salmon sake, rock shrimp with lime and tofu, yaki and chicken skewers with baby leek. Oh yeah – we tried EVERYTHING. And instantly fell in love with the place.

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We had a tough time deciding what we wanted for our main entrees. Eventually, I decided on the “tori no munaniku teriyaki” aka chicken breast teriyaki with shiitake and shiso – this is actually meant to be a sharing dish, but I was already starting to get full from the incredible appetizers (and I knew I’d dig into some of the sushi)! Ben decided on an option off the regular entree menu, the premium sushi “chef’s selection.” Which was just as pretty as it was delicious (see below.)

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The platter above was hands down the best and most beautiful sushi I’ve ever eaten!

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Chicken terayaki skewers were actually to-die-for. Juicy meat cooked to perfection and marinated in terayaki sauce made for the perfect dish. It was extremely hard for me to be nice and share this with Ben!
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For dessert, we ordered the Zuma dessert platter (yes, to share). And were presented with this dreamy bowl above! Everything from fruit to macaroons to ice cream to cheesecake was included in this dream-come-true dessert. It’s a good thing I didn’t take an after picture, because there really wasn’t much left! x

Stay Classy! xx

Budapest, Hungary Day #2

The morning after the Sparty I woke up in a daze. The night prior had been so surreal, swimming and drinking in one of the oldest thermal baths and spas in the country to strobe lights and a DJ had been one of the most extraordinary nights of my life. This being said, it wasn’t a surprise that the only thing I felt like doing the next morning was munch on some breakfast and float around in another thermal bath and spa.

These plans were met with opposition by my boyfriend, who kept reminding me that it was our last full day in the city and we still had so much to see. Agreeing to go out to breakfast and join a walking tour (which was close to four hours long!) I downed a few Advil and we were on our way.

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The walking tour began in the main city center of Pest (“Pesht”), which was where we were staying. We walked away from the city center, where there was a children’s puppet musical going on in the square and marketplace, and headed down the East bank to admire the view across the Danube that stretched out in front of us.

The walk around the main streets of Pest were gorgeously eerie. The architecture of the buildings could be compared to those in Rome. Full of meticulous detail, marble and magnificent statues, the streets home to the opera house and parliament buildings were adorned with the majesty of the past, yet glazed over with the emptiness of the present. It is clear, just by a quick stroll, that Pest was once a prosperous and bustling city, which has now been reduced to a low-populated yet beautiful tourist attraction.

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This emptiness became a cause for reflection, however, and added another layer of mystery to the unsung natural and man-made beauty surrounding us. The tour continued along the Danube until we came to the incredible bridge that connects Pest and Buda. The walking tour guide spent the entire bridge walk spinning a story about the famous architect and his tragic death only to end with the possibility that none of it was true – strange.

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It wasn’t long before we had reached the hill-filled and mountainous side of the city. While Pest had the opportunity to build upwards through architecture, Buda had the natural advantage of higher ground. We took a quick break for lunch and then took the Budapest version of the Italian “funiculare” up to the top of the hill.

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This had been where the royalty had resided years and years ago, and it was still the center of government on that side. Embellished with beautiful flowers, statues and a breathtaking view of Pest, the main center of Buda left little to want for. The main church and cathedral were at the top of this hill as well.

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The roofs had been adorned with yellow and caramel-colored mosaics, stationed on a teal base. The overall impact of this architectural surprise was delightful and we took in the beauty from all angles of the cathedral.

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Our last visit on Buda was an abandoned monastery close to the cathedral, that overlooked the Danube and Pest side of the city. Everything in Budapest is simply gorgeous.

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This side of the city was more expensive than Pest by far. It seemed as if the Buda residents felt their higher ground gave them justification for higher prices. After the tour had ended we splurged on $15 ice cream cones and decided that it was time to head back to other side.

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After making it across the bridge two things became indelibly clear. The first was that we were starving and needed food right then – if you know me, this is a frequent occurrence, especially after I started doing HIIT workouts… #alwayshungry. The second thing that was clear was that in the time we had been exploring Buda, Pest had been overcome by a triathlon, and many of the main streets had been closed to both cars and pedestrians. Hungrily, we ended up following along with the marathon in search of an open side street that wasn’t guarded with police. After another 40 minutes of walking we found our opening… across the street and across the marathon. Waiting until the quicker runners and bikers had passed, Ben and I sprinted through the marathon onto the other side of the road.

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We began walking in that direction, happy to be able to follow our own route instead of one marked by blockades and marathon tape. It was not long before we came across an authentic Hungarian restaurant, where we gobbled down some very heavy goulash, gnocchi dumplings and beer.

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As is customary after eating a heavy Hungarian meal, a nap was penciled into the agenda. A few hours later we made our way back to the main square on Pest, which had been transformed from puppet show hub to nightlife center. We joined in on a Hungarian pub crawl, which brought us to many incredible ruin bars and pubs in the Jewish quarter. It is truly a shame that I had not been able to snap better photos of the atmosphere, but the lighting was dim and the images were unable to come out clearer.

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However, the ruin bars were one of the amazing additions to the mysteries of Budapest. The buildings had taken a hit during WWII, yet had never been demolished. Instead of tearing them down and building up brand new exclusive bars and clubs, the Hungarians had taken to redesigning the homes and spaces into gorgeous yet ghostly nightlife havens. Ruin pub after ruin pub, I wondered what the building had been like a hundred years ago. Who had lived there? What had it been used for? And of course, what had happened there?

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The sheer magnitude of the semblance of the past connected with the attitudes of the present gave the ruin pubs a special quality that I haven’t come across before or since. The night ended at a ruin night club, deep in the Jewish quarter yet surprisingly close to our hostel. Just before going in, we realized we needed a snack and snuck away from the group and into a “halal” restaurant. Ordering Ben’s favorite, “chicken over rice” we sat down and waited for our food. A few minutes later the waiter came over with chicken over fries, apparently mishearing us. We didn’t complain, it was actually pretty good and tourists and Hungarians alike came over to our table to ask what we had ordered… heehee.

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The ruin club was truly incredible. There were at least five different floors, whose walls were covered in colorful graffiti and vintage art work and décor. Each floor had a different atmosphere and the entire club was a maze. It was nearly impossible to find a room again after leaving it, because there were so many others to explore.

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Each room played different music to a different crowd. There were people dancing in groups of bachelor and bachelorette parties, old people, young people, tourists, locals, DJs… There were different game rooms where you could play “escape room” where you had to find your way out of the pitch black room in small groups, foosball, pool, ping pong… People dancing, people engrossed in intellectual conversations, people sitting at the bars, on the couches, standing in the middle of the dance floor. It was the type of place that could make time stop for hours, that could merge past with present in one fluid motion, that could connect one person to another though they had absolutely nothing in common. This was one of the most diversely European experiences I had come across in the last few months.

Stay Classy! xx

Budapest, Hungary Day #1

Before jumping right into Budapest and the 7-hour journey to get there, I feel like we need to rewind a little bit back to Prague. In my last European travel post I left off with my last night in Prague, spent at a few casual bars and ending at Anonymous Bar. Ben and I trekked through the gorgeous Jewish quarter back to our hostel to get ready for the long journey ahead of us the next day.

We woke up a little before seven a.m. to get to the bus station. The hostel was amazing and scheduled a cab to pick us up the day before, warning us that the drivers sometimes try to charge exorbitant fees to tourists. As we were sleepy and out of Kroners, we got lucky that our driver not only accepted card payment but also was more interested in what we were doing in the Czech Republic and why we would ever leave New York City, instead of charging us extra. We made it to the station with time to spare, unlike in Amsterdam where we almost missed our bus because we had somehow skipped passport control. This ride would be shorter, but only by a few hours.

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Like any lengthy trip taken on public transport, little room is left for belongings and the space that is left is reserved for frustration. There were about 15 stops before we arrived in Budapest and contrary to popular belief, the driver did not permit passengers to exit the bus unless they were getting off for good. This led to 7 hours sans a bathroom break (the bathroom on the bus was so gross it was not worth it) and sans lunch – or in our case, breakfast and lunch. By the time we arrived in Budapest, our body’s hated us for rationing three Belvita bars and two apples over the course of the 7 hour ride, plus the time it took for us to wake up and arrive at the bus station… It goes without saying that I ALWAYS carry a snack with me now, even if I’m just going out for a few hours.

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Despite all of this, the 7 hours also went by quickly at times, while we were napping or taking in incredible landscapes as we drove through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Windmills and lush green terrain swept across the outer areas of Bratislava, Slovakia and through the hill and mountain towns outside the main city. As I have ancestry in Slovakia, this is a trip that I hope to come back and do fully; spending more time soaking in the country’s beauty, food and culture.

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Unloading the bus we listed our priorities and set out for the nearby metro station. We tackled the bathroom and ATM before figuring out that there was zero chance of us figuring out how to reach our hostel by train sans an Internet connection, so we defeated (and hungrily) took a cab.

We stayed in the Essential hostel, a converted apartment building with a spiral staircase, marble floors and a gorgeous exterior. The staff was incredibly helpful and when we asked where to go for lunch they directed us to a traditional Hungarian buffet a few blocks away…

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Already used to the heavy potato-based dishes of the Czech Republic I was hoping to find something on the lighter side in Hungary. Yet it seemed that the further south in Europe you go, the heavier the food is made. The buffet offered simple and traditional Hungarian dishes such as Goulash and blood sausages – something I ate without realizing what it was for the first few bites, as the labeling signs were in Hungarian and I was unable to decipher them. I had a sampling of these foods as well as pasta that looked something like mac and cheese but tasted nothing like it, and a selection of yummy deserts and beer. In total, for two people to eat all of this food and alcohol was a grand total of about 5,620.00 Forint – which though seemingly exorbitant, when converted into USD was about $21. What a nice break from the crazy Pound to USD conversion rates!

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Tummies full (and starting to hurt) we walked around a small downtown area before heading back to the hostel for a nap. Our room – a four bed dorm – was the largest hostel room we had stayed in and it had a lovely view of the street below. After a quick nap we changed and decided to go out for some nighttime exploring in a nearby part of the city by the Danube River. It was this short hour of casual sightseeing where I fell in love with Budapest and it became the favorite trip I took outside of London.

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Along the waterfront, Budapest at night is simply incomparable. Each side of the river represents half of the country. Across from where we were walking on the West Bank was “Buda” and the side on which we were walking on the East Bank was “Pest” – pronounced “pesht”.

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Originally a Celtic settlement, the two cities, along with “Obuda” or “Old Buda” fought between one another to see who could build the tallest, most relevant and most beautiful city. Each side of the river tried to outdo the other, eventually becoming one united country in November 1873 and the result is an unfathomably splendid sight to see.

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The deep gold lights on Pest’s Parliament buildings reflected into the Danube and connecting with Buda is something so beautiful that it made me wonder how I had been so blessed to see it for myself in person. Budapest is truly a place of surreal beauty.

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After our stroll Ben and I stopped at an outdoor beer garden for appetizers and a pint or two – the Hungarian version of a pint is the equivalent of a huge German beer mug… a lot of beer! We had just another half hour before hopping on the Metro and going to the event we had decided to splurge on… the Sparty.

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I will go more into detail about the history behind Hungary’s thermal bath culture in my next post, but the country’s thermal spas are a huge draw for people from around the globe.

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The “Sparty” is a huge party that happens just a few times a month on Saturday in Budapest’s largest thermal bathhouse – Szechenyi. It is an experience that is truly once in a lifetime. There was a DJ in the pool and people from all over the world stripped down to their bathing suits and swim trunks and swarmed the bar and the pools.

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I feel like this was the epitome of a crazy European college kid experience and had so much fun that for the first time I forgot to get a picture of myself in front of the craziness. However just before heading out I did take a few photos of the Sparty but not even a picture can capture how cool the experience was.

Stay Classy! xx

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Let’s Go Mets! Let’s Go Mets! Let’s Go Mets!

There’s a lot going on with last year’s World Series Champion runner-up team and I had the opportunity to see everything first-hand last week. With strong pitching, solid fielding and a batting lineup that left room for improvement on that particular Friday night, the Mets are still looking good – yet have much room for growth.

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Anyone who knows me will understand that there is no way I can write about the Mets without mentioning David Wright. Especially during a game at Citi Field, the presence of the captain is missed by both the people sitting on the bleachers and those sitting in the dugout. Even while playing through the pain of his back injury he gave the team a boost in morale during the games that showed a difference in their abilities on the field. He believed in himself and in the team and there is not much more you can ask of a captain than that.

The stadium reacts differently without him – there’s something empty about third base although the position has been filled. What the team really needs is #5 to come back healthy and ready to play.

There’s some big news in Wright’s life as of yesterday. He and his wife Molly welcomed a baby girl into the world at 8 pounds 11 ounces. Olivia Shea is an adorable and perfectly fitting name for the daughter of the man who helped his team get where it is today and do as well as it did last year. I hope that David (and his family!) will make an appearance before the end of the season.

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At the Friday night game I still sat on the third base line out of habit. Although the Mets did not play their best and the game went downhill by the fourth inning, the fans still brought themselves to their feet to cheer on the new favorites.

Reyes is back after a short stint in Miami and the fans welcomed him with the old chant “JoseJoseJoseJose.” The Mets star pitcher Syndergaard or “Thor” always receives unwavering support while he towers over the mound. People have begun to say that Nimmo may slowly become the new team favorite. And Bartolo Colon, who made the All Star Team this year, is able to accomplish so much with an air of ease, putting him in that category as well because of his ability to awe the fans.

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Although the team was unable to pull through for the win on this rainy night, I found some solace in the good-hearted nature of the Mets fans and the new and much improved selection of food and drinks at the snack stands throughout the stadium. Citi Field now offers an incredible selection of drinks including frozen margaritas and a variety of craft beers. It is home to a bright new Shake Shack and offers your standard baseball game food; hot dogs, hamburgers, fries… and also a wider new selection that includes tacos and sandwiches.

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The Citi Field experience is certainly changing, but one thing that is certain is that the fans bring the energy to Mets home games and they make the franchise proud. I can only pray that Wright will make a healthy recovery and be back on the field sooner than later and in the meantime hope that the Mets continue to play their best ball against St. Louis the next few days.

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Stay Classy & LGM! xx

Romagna Ready 2 Go – A Restaurant Review

Romagna Ready 2 Go – 182 Bleeker Street New York, NY 10012

When you hear that a secret Florentine garden recently opened as part of an authentic Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, your first question should probably be how soon can I get there…

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After visiting the Italian region of Tuscany just a few weeks prior – yes, as soon as we get through the Budapest series Italy posts will be on their way! – I never thought I could taste Bolognese sauce and homemade pasta the same way again. The flavors of the food in the birthplace of tortellini and Bolognese sauce were so fresh and beautifully seasoned that I had since been wary of tasting Americanized Italian food.

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Fortunately, Romagna Ready 2 Go is located in the Village and owned and run by Italian chef Lorenzo Lorenzi – and he imports all of his meat and ingredients from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy where he was born, just a short train ride away from Bologna and Florence.

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I arrived at the restaurant with my wonderful plus one close to 6:30, to find it virtually empty of patrons. The restaurant/bar across the street had a line out the door made up of NYU students, who were somehow oblivious to the delicious menu awaiting them on the other side of the street. We were seated in the brand-new outdoor garden that Lorenzi put together himself. The idea of it is lovely, and it certainly does add a rustic feel to the atmosphere with tables made from old doors and the walls and trellis full of potted plants and flowers.

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What I found unfortunate was the abundance of fake plants and flowers and even an unnecessary wall half-covered in plastic turf. This is something that would rarely be found in authentic restaurants in Italy, and when it is present, only in those which are geared towards tourists. The décor shows that Romagna Ready 2 Go is still trying to figure out its customer base – with a stage for live music, BOGO wine nights and beer pong tournaments on the weekends despite a classy imported menu with ingredients shipped from the homeland – yet once it chooses who to cater to, it will be the go-to spot with a line out the door, without a doubt.

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That being said, the menu is simply divine and the prices are more than reasonable, especially considering the restaurant’s location and the fact that most ingredients are imported from Italy. I spoke with Lorenzi who said he was inspired by his upbringing in the Emilio-Romagna region of Italy. His extensive Piadina menu is a direct result of this, featuring 22 different sandwiches. I tried the Genoa, the flatbread with Pesto, Bufala Mozzarella and Prosciutto Crudo and the flavors immediately took me back to Tuscany. There is no doubt that the ingredients are fresh, the Prosciutto Crudo imported and the Bufala Mozzarella homemade in Lorenzi’s kitchen. Romagna Ready 2 Go puts as much meticulous effort and importance in the way their food is created as the best restaurants in Italy do.

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Next, we were served a cheese plate and a meat plate with glasses of Lambrusco wine, also typical of the region and incredibly balanced flavor. The cheese plate consisted of Burrata, Truffle Mozzarella and Chamomile-Infused Pecorino. Each cheese was delicious, fresh and served a top arugula and olives. My particular favorite was the Chamomile-Infused Pecorino, which had a hinted aftertaste of chamomile and was stand-out special. The meat plate was Prosciutto, Bresola and Porchetta. I had tried my first Porchetta a few weeks prior in Tivoli, Italy and had realized what I had been missing out on. The Porchetta on the meat plate was just as delicious, with a poignant and rich flavor of juicy pork.

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It is questionable how there was still room in our stomachs, but it was not long before the main courses came out. We tried the Seafood Gnocchi and Lasagna della Nonna. The gnocchi was handmade in the Romagna Ready 2 Go kitchen and you could taste the difference. It blended nicely with the creamy seafood sauce, featuring shrimps and scallops sent over from the Italian Emilio-Romagna coast. It was a heavy dish but the flavor was wonderful.

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The Lasagna della Nonna was one of the best lasagnas I have ever had. It was made with homemade and very finely sliced layers of square sheet pasta and the sauce included beef, pork and veal – most sauces only include the first two. The added veal and delicate pasta created the perfect tilted tower of lasagna topped with fresh grated cheese. The flavors melted together in my mouth, the way only authentic Italian cooking can encourage, and I began to ponder how the Village needs to discover this gem of a dish.

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The dessert menu was extensive as well. After some thought, I decided on the “Chocolate Salami” something I had never heard of, but Lorenzi had described the process of how it was made and it sounded right up my alley. It was made with a medley of chocolates and cookies, frozen and then sliced. It came served with strawberries and was absolutely worth it. The dessert really did look like salami, and the mixed colors could be allotted to the cookies in the ingredients. Washing it down with a cappuccino was the perfect way to end the meal.

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If you are in the NYC area, Romagna Ready 2 Go is certainly a must-try.

Stay Classy! xx

Prague, Czech Republic Day #2

It had never occurred to me that zoos in different parts of the world would hold varying animals. In the United States I had been to zoos in New York and Washington D.C. and the animals they housed did not differ too much. Only when I walked into the Prague Zoo did I realize how eclectic the animal collections were in zoos throughout the world – as well as how different the set up was too!

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The Prague Zoo is one of the top 10 zoos in the world. At this point in my study abroad experience, I knew there would only be a few more museums that I could muster the desire to go into. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely a museum person, but going to multiple exhibits every week can definitely be exhausting and draining – especially when there are so many cool things to explore outdoors!

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I was especially ecstatic to go to the Prague Zoo because it was home to a baby elephant who had just been born a few weeks prior and anyone who knows me knows how much I adore these trumpeting creatures.

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The weather managed to clear up by the time we reached the zoo, on the outskirts of the main city where we were staying, and we walked around looking for the elephants and giraffes. The elephant family was kept inside for some unknown reason, while another elephant roamed the grounds on its own. The baby elephant was so adorable, picking up sticks with its trunk and trying to talk to its parents. It was such perfect timing that we had been able to go see it as an infant.

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Later in the day I tried my first “goulash,” a traditional Czech dish full of meat and potatoes. It was absolutely delicious, but super heavy, especially when combined with another mug of beer. It was certainly a carb overload but it was worth it. Dinner was followed by a trdelnik – a typical Czech dessert food made from a cinnamon sugar-coated freshly made donut filled with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. So delicious!

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Later that night, with the possibility of missing our 7 a.m. bus to Budapest the next morning, Ben and I decided to make our last night in Prague a relaxed one and explored the bars in the Jewish Quarter of the city.

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It wasn’t long before we stumbled across “Anonymous Bar,” a venue inspired by the “Anonymous” organization and the book V for Vendetta. The vibe of the bar was especially cool because of the quirky antique furniture as well as the dark musty lighting, accented with portraits of the “Anonymous” mask in frames on the walls throughout the room.

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It reminded me of a 1920’s Gatsby party full of intellectuals and interesting characters drinking creatively mixed, lit on fire and plated cocktails. It was a really cool way to end our way-too-short few days in Prague.

Stay Classy! xx