Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pre-Thanksgiving in New York City

From left to right: Nick's Paley Park and Le Mirage Cafe

This year and last, we are spending Thanksgiving with family in New York City.

The great thing about a repeat visit is that the traveler learns more - - more new places and more about existing neighborhoods.

On the way in from JFK, our daughter, Lily, was hungry after flying non-stop from the West Coast. The Belt Parkway does not have any signs for services, as do expressways elsewhere. To find an open restaurant on a Tuesday night required quick reflexes. After missing an exit that may have led to either an Olive Garden or a Home Depot, a box of nails would do wonders for the required daily allowance of iron, we got off at the Flatbush Avenue north exit.

Plan A was to see if King's Plaza had a restaurant with an outside entrance that might be open after the mall closed. As we pulled up at the parking booth, this plan crashed with the attendance's dour announcement that the entire mall was closed.

On the way up Flatbush, Lily saw a brightly lit places called Nick's Lobster. We returned there and when we walked in, the hostess greeted us warmly and congenially - - even though it was towards the end of the night. At this later hour, there were still several groups still in the dining room. We were invited to sit at a table overlooking the tidal creek which flows behind Nick's.

Our waitress was also friendly and well informed about the menu. Nick's has a mix of seafood and non-seafood and she helped us find a set of choices that would be enjoyable and arrive quickly.

We settled on: mozzarella sticks and salad; Manhattan Clam Chowder; broiled sole; crab cakes; and a plate of french fries. The food arrived quickly and was cooked exactly right. Our waitress was attentive without being overbearing.

In milder weather, Nick's has lots of outside seating. But this time of the year, the night view from a well-heated dining room was just the ticket.

On Wednesday, we discovered El Mirage, an excellent cafe and pizzeria in Midtown. El Mirage has: a healthy buffet, with many Mediterranean food choices; sandwiches; hot entrees; and pizza to die for. We ate there for breakfast and lunch. The food quality and service were consistent for both meals.

Later, we walked up and down Fifth Avenue. The big retailers have their holiday windows on view and there are lots of souvenir shops in the blocks between 42nd and 53rd Street.

My favorite part of the walk was a brief period of warm afternoon sunshine. My second favorite part was a visit to Paley Park, a few doors to the east of Fifth Avenue on 53rd Street. Paley Park is a "vest pocket" park that was created in the late 1960's. It has tables, small trees and a beautiful, wide waterfall at the back of the park. Even in the cooler weather, this is one of the most appealing spaces in all of New York City.

Contact and location information:
Nick's Lobster Restaurant and Fresh Seafood Restaurant is located at 2777 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11234. Their telephone number is 718-253-5735. Their website is and it is informative, with the complete menu and information about daily specials.
El Mirage Cafe and Pizza is located at 20 West 43rd Street, in Midtown. It's telephone number is 212-354-1234. The Cafe does not appear to have a website.
Paley Park is located on East 53rd Street, a few doors west of Fifth Avenue - - on the north side of the street.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Aboard Southwest

The Southwest fleet at McCarran Airport, Las Vegas

When the pilot changed the approach to Las Vegas, I got this surprise view of the front of Hoover Dam and the new bridge downstream of the dam.

With modern air travel, there is stirring aviation inside and outside the terminals. Here is The Barnstormer, a larger than life sculpture by Harrison Covington, at the Tampa International Airport. Photo by David Lawrence.

On a recent spring trip, I saw a wall of fog lifting off the Hudson River, flowing across fields and streaming west to the Catskill mountains.

This spring trip was a Southwest Airlines flight from Albany, New York to Burbank, California. At ground level, I have seen the drama of the Hudson pumping out fog. But you need to be thousands of feet overhead to get the full effect of the collision between warm air and cold water.

Southwest is our main airline for traveling between the East Coast, West Coast and North Coast. It has a convenient, yet efficient schedule, particularly between Albany and the West Coast. The prices are reasonable, there are few nuisance fees and the on-time record is among the best in the industry.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of flying Southwest is its staff. The airline’s reservations and check-in are almost entirely computerized. However, if you have a question or problem, there is a real person available toll-free, at check-in or at the gate. In planning for a trip, I found my reservation was muddled. Gail and Deanna helped me put things right and saved me a walk across several states with deserts or humid weather.

Recently on a trip from Burbank to Albany, I benefited from Southwest’s effective marriage of people and technology. My flight home via Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport was going to be delayed. Rather than let me sit in California and miss the connecting flight, Southwest staff found me at the gate and got me on an earlier flight. The seating was more cramped than it would have been on the later flight but I got home in the same day. (In the interest of full disclosure, I had a similar experience three years ago with a United flight from Iowa to Albany.)

Southwest’s flight crews often bring a cock-eyed wit to cabin announcements. On the Tampa/Las Vegas leg of a flight to Burbank, Susan, opened an explanation of using oxygen masks by saying, “If you are traveling with children - - or anyone acting like a child . . .”

According to Brian Lusk, a Southwest public information staffer, “this wit comes partly from training, partly from personality and partly from the situation.”

The food on Southwest is non-descript. However, the assorted snack packs are served in a welcoming manner and the food on other transcontinental flights does not seem to be much better. It is possible to bring food on-board, something I plan to try to get better food than is found airport concessions.

On a recent flight, the pilot changed course on the approach to Las Vegas. This provided a great view of Hoover Dam and the new bridge nearly complete, just downstream. Last fall, inbound to Burbank, we saw a large, white billowing smoke cloud from the Station Fire. The smoke was as high and wide, it seemed as that from the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

One of the best views on Southwest is when the plane is about to touch down on the destination runway. Of course, this view is bittersweet. It’s nice to be heading on vacation or coming home. But it’s also a little hard to go from skilled and caring people to the randomness of the outside world.

For more in formation on Southwest, go to

For information on the Hoover Dam bridge project, go to

For more information on Tampa Airport, go to

Friday, March 5, 2010

Five and a Half More Things We Like About Pasadena

The Norton Simon Museum (top left) and the Rose Bowl (top right)
Left: The Artist's Garden at Vétheuil, 1881
Claude Monet French, 1840-1926
Oil on canvas 39-1/2 x 32 in. The Norton Simon Foundation

This is the follow-up to the January 16, 2010 post about things we like in Pasadena. As in the previous post, contact information is at the end of the post.

1. The Rose Bowl: In addition to the great sports that happen here, the stadium is the centerpiece of an appealing network of running and hiking trails.

2. Norton Simon Art Museum: This gem of an art museum has a wonderful mix of Old Masters, Impressionist and modern art. The collection includes Monet’s bright blue, sunflower-filled painting, The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil, numerous Van Goghs and Picassos and Matisse’s Jazz. The sculpture garden is calming and attractive, a place to enjoy sculpture and rest in between looking at great paintings.

3. The Pasadena Casting Club: South of the Rose Bowl, the Club takes you back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Arroyo Seco was filled with trout, rather than a concrete lining. The Club, a leader in teaching fly fishing and helping conserve California fisheries, is planning to undertake a major renovation of the casting pond and clubhouse in the upcoming months.

4. The Courtyard of One Colorado: One Colorado, a super block filled with restaurants, office, shops and a theater, is on the north side of Old Pasadena. Shops and restaurants are appealing but my favorite part of One Colorado is the courtyard in the middle of it, a great place to rest while shopping or to hear music or see outdoor art exhibits.

5. Sabor y Cultura: This is the Pasadena branch of the famed Beverly Hills coffee house. It has a nice light menu, with many vegetarian choices and breakfast served all day. To be honest, I did not try the coffee, so you need to make up your mind about this. The place has entertainment and we were delighted on a recent visit with the jazz and American standards played by the group 6th Street Jazz.
5 1/2. The Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard by Marriott follow-up: We have been back to Pasadena since our January post and are happy to report both of these hotels remain at the top of their game with excellent service.

Contact Information:

Rose Bowl: In Arroyo Seco Park on 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, California 91103,

The Norton Simon: 411 West Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, 626-449-6840

The Pasadena Casting Club: in Arroyo Seco, south of the Rose Bowl and the iconic bridge over the Arroyo, 626-356-7406

The Courtyard of One Colorado is north of Colorado Boulevard in Old Pasadena, 626-564-1066

Sabor y Cultura: 716 East Colorado Boulevard, 626-793-0251

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Slices of New York

Just as Norman Maclean, the author, was haunted by rivers, I am haunted by pizza. Ever since my father brought home a steel-mill sized eight cut from Santora’s Pizzeria in the Kenmore neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, fifty years ago, I have been a pizza aficionado.

No matter whether I am on the East Coast, West Coast, North Coast - - or even in Europe, I will try the pizza.

Of all the pizza on all the coasts, I like New York City pizza the best, so far.

With so many pizzerias and pizza types, there are probably pizza rivalries as intense as gang rivalries. Think of a Martin Scorsese movie called The Slices of New York.

In some parts of the world, pizza toppings are essential to compensate for weak pizza fundamentals, such as the crust, cheese or sauce.

The City is noteworthy because has so many places where the pizza fundamentals are so strong that no toppings other than cheese are required. I hope pizzeria owners will take this as a compliment, even if they lose the price of some extra toppings.

Pizza comes in four styles: thick crust or Sicilian; pizza without mozzarella cheese but with sauce and Romano cheese; brittly thin crust; and thin crust. This post considers only regular thin crust. We would need more electrons than France consumes in a day to address all variations:

1. La Crosta: This pizzeria is on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. La Crosta’s generous sized slices have a pizza crust that is particularly good; it is light and airy, yet strong enough to carry a generous combination of sauce and cheese.

2. Deninos Pizzeria and Tavern: The first several times I visited this Staten Island pizzeria, I burnt my mouth on the hot smooth cheese and the great sauce. After a few blisters, I learned to pause with a soda or beer first. If you eat in, check out the pool table and great jukebox.

3. Rosa’s: There is a Rosa’s in Penn Station and in Queens, each with different owners. The Penn Station Rosa’s, on the Long Island Railroad side of the station, has generous sized slices which have great cheese and sauce and a strong crust. Wonderfully cold beer is available as well. I have not been to the Queens Rosa’s, but fellow bloggers rate it highly.

4. Joe and Pat’s Pizzeria: The home of the first New York pizza I ever had, Joe and Pat’s has a magical oven that cooks pizza like a wood-fired oven - - but for 40 years before the wood-fired pizza appeared. Crust is crispy on the outside but soft and chewy inside, like the best Italian bread. This place uses chunk mozzarella, instead of shredded. It's so good that my sister and her fiance often detour off the expressway for an eight cut on the way to see my mother - - I’d do the same if Joe and Pat’s was on my way to my mother’s.

5. Sbarro in Times Square: Why, you ask is a chain mentioned with such distinguished local places. Well, Sbarro’s pizza’s crust, cheese and sauce may not be as unique as the places listed above, but they are reliable and tasty. The Time Square branch has the added advantage of being convenient for someone craving a pizza in Midtown when other places are closed.

One last pizza pick, for people who live to the east of the City, is Prima Stella, a few exits to the west of Riverhead. I like Prima Stella’s pizza as the chef brings the crust, cheese and sauce together in an appealing manner. Stella has congenial staff and is has convenient hours, if you are coming or going from Long Island later in the day or night.

Note: I will be adding contact information for these eateries over the next few days. But if you need the info sooner, please leave a post!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Five Things We Like About Pasadena, California

Captions: Laemmle Playhouse 7 (top left), Vroman's Book Store (top right), Yahaira's (right)

Pasadena has many appealing places, restaurants and hotels. It’s home to the Rose Bowl, Julia Child, excellent architecture and Colorado Avenue, the former Route 66.

Fitting Pasadena's best in a single post is a challenge. To give you a sense of the place, I took an unscientific poll of our family. Here is the first of two posts on favorite places. For contact information, scroll to the end of the list.

1. Yahaira’s Restaurant. This intimate, casual restaurant’s menu has a delicious mix of Mexican and America breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Yahaira’s offers fresh food, for vegetarians and omnivores, at reasonable prices with excellent service. On Friday and Saturday nights, Peter Sellers, a local guitar player, adds to the experience with flamenco and American standards as background music.
2. Vroman’s Bookstore. Across the street from Yahaira’s is southern California’s oldest and largest bookstore. On it’s exterior, Vroman’s has one of the best equipped and most delightful outdoor newsstands I have ever seen. Inside is an excellent mix of national and California nonfiction and fiction in hardcover and paperback.
3. Laemmle Playhouse 7. This seven screen movie theater has Art Deco architecture and décor. It has a mix of mainstream and indie films. I had a pleasingly odd film experience here with our friends Joe and Cathy. We walked in from the Pasadena summer into the chilled world of upstate New York, when we came to see the movie Frozen River.
4. The Holiday Inn Express Pasadena and Courtyard Los Angeles/Pasadena. These are two favorite Pasadena hotels. The Holiday Inn Express is east of downtown Pasadena. The Courtyard is located, a few blocks north of Old Pasadena. At the Holiday Inn Express, I was particularly impressed with the hospitality and hard work of Annie Hsu and her team. At the Courtyard, we got a lot of help with special requests. In particular, several of the desk staff helped us, with intelligence and good-nature, to find a safe place to unload a car being shipped cross-country.
5. Cameron’s Seafood. This large restaurant serves delicious salads, steaks and seafood. Thirsty guests will enjoy the bathtub-sized Tanqueray martinis that appear, like a magical mirage, at the end of hot day.

Contact Information:

Yahaira’s Café: 698 E. Colorado Boulevard(Blvd), 626-844-3254

Vroman’s Bookstore: 695 E. Colorado Blvd, 626-449-5320

Laemmle Playhouse 7: 673 E. Colorado Blvd, 626-844-6500

Holiday Inn Express Hotel~Suites Pasadena: 3500 E. Colorado Blvd. 626-792-1363
Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town: 180 N. Fair Oaks Ave. 626-403-7600

Cameron’s Seafood: 1978 E. Colorado, 626-793-3474

Monday, January 11, 2010

Welcome Aboard: East Coast/West Coast/North Coast, about travel and life in America.

I spend a lot of time on or near these coasts for business, family trips and fun. This blog will help me learn from you about the coasts and in return I will share with you memorable traveling, exploring, shopping and dining experiences.

The definitions of “East Coast” and “West Coast” are easy to understand. The “East Coast” in this blog may some day include places as far south as Key West.

“North Coast” is a phrase I once heard that is useful to describe the country along the Great Lakes. Although, if this blog had reports from Ontario, its title would have to expand to include the “South Coast.” (Sorry for this geography humor).

All along the North Coast are productive cities and beautiful country. In fact, I was born in Buffalo, New York. Also along the North Coast are great sports teams, such as the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Indians.

For now, this blog will have a departments for each coast and the catchall departments, “In-Between” and “Where does it Fit?” As time goes on, the format may change.

These departments will chronicle events that happen - - and provide advance notice of events or trips.

So, whether you like roller blading along the Pacific in Venice Beach, casting for striped bass in the Atlantic at Montauk Point or demolishing a plate full of such Buffalo delicacies as chicken wings or beef on weck, welcome to the coasts!