From A Fan’s Perspective: Yuna Wows at #UberSummerSeries at Hotel Indigo in NYC

On the evening of Monday, July 18th, I had the pleasure of attending #UberSummerSeries at Hotel Indigo in NYC’s Lower East Side. The event series is a partnership between Uber, Perrier USA, and Hotel Indigo to highlight the music industry’s brightest talent in an intimate live show at sunset. Last month hosted the souled out sounds of Jhene Aiko, and the July edition featured none other than my favorite Malay songstress, Yuna. For those that have been following the blog and my various social media channels over the years, you would know that I am a HUGE Yuna fan. She is the first artist that I have covered in a From A Fan’s Perspective review twice, and rightfully so, because she deserves it.

Held in Hotel Indigo’s rooftop restaurant & lounge Mr. Purple, the evening was a mix of industry folks and fans alike, who were able to win entrance into the show through requesting “YUNA” in their Uber app between the hours of 6 – 7 PM. Refreshments were provided by Perrier and bites including hand-rolled sushi & kale salad were provided by Uma Temakeria. I was invited super last minute by my buddy Jay from UMG, but was super excited to see Yuna perform tracks from her new LP, Chapters.

Yuna touched the stage minutes after 7:30 PM for a set that was about 30 minutes long. Although many in the audience were a bit loud in their conversations, Yuna’s soothing voice soared over the noise. Not only did she perform songs from Chapters, but from her previous projects Nocturnal, Decorate, and her self-titled debut. I sang along to every word and joked with my friends that I would be available to be a back-up singer if necessary. The acoustic renditions of her songs were perfect for the time of day, featuring guitar, upright bass, drums, and percussion.

My favorite moments of the evening? Performances of the tracks “Lanes” (FAVE), “I Want You Back”, “Crush”, “Decorate”, and oldie-but-goodie “Live Your Life.” Wait, that may have actually been her entire set, with the exception of a song or two. Another key moment of the evening was when my bud Jason, who was there filming for Vibe, handed me his camera and told me to take photos; the ones that you see throughout this post. In my quest to become a better writer, especially music writer & journalist, I oftentimes push my photography skills to the back burner, as my camera is a bit outdated. Working with Jason’s fancy Canon Mark III was definitely a confidence boost, and I hope the photos show that.

In concluding her performance, Yuna was whisked off to conduct interviews with various media outlets that were present. Guests that wanted to hang a little longer were treated to a DJ with the most fire Drake set, more cocktails, and a GORGEOUS sunset.

As I am days away from celebrating my 30th year on this Earth (July 24), I am super grateful for moments like these. Way to start off the festivities right!

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

Need Some Jerk In Your Life? Miss Lily’s SoHo’s Got You Covered Monday Nights

Jerk vibezzzzzzz

Summer in New York City is in full effect, and all of my favorite things are on the radar; free concerts, chilling in the park, dance parties, and of course, a plethora of barbecue options. As a purveyor of everything NYC and Caribbean, summer in the city for me is filled with reggae music, corn, and jerk chicken.

Our friends at super-popular Jamaican restaurant Miss Lily’s (in SoHo) feel my sentiments, and are offering a unique special all summer. Every Monday night in the summer, the restaurant is offering all-you-can-eat jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk corn, and watermelon salad for the awesome price of $25 plus tax & gratuity! This is a great deal as main courses go for about the same price. Peep the info below.

Want to get your jerk on? Make sure to head over to Miss Lily’s on a Monday evening to get your fix for #misslilysjerkfest.

Miss Lily’s SoHo

132 West Houston Street (at Sullivan Street)

New York, NY 10012

 

*Photos courtesy of Miss Lily’s

Celebrating The Launch Of The Laughing Cow Cheese Dippers With A Special Soar & Savor Evening at Trapeze School New York

Laughing Cow Cheese Dippers

To celebrate the launch of their new on-the-go Creamy Swiss Cheese Dippers, The Laughing Cow hosted a unique “Soar & Savor” event at Trapeze School New York, right off the Hudson River for NYC-area press and food bloggers. I attended the event back in May as The Laughing Cow team is awesome to work with, and always provide an awesome experience for attendees. I have never tried the trapeze before, so I was just as excited to try something new, and soar through the air.

The trapeze

The day was quite overcast and I feared rain would appear, but the weather stayed calm for the evening of bites, sips, and high soaring. I was immediately greeted by the team upon arrival and got the lowdown on the evening’s schedule, and was encouraged to have some snacks before my trapeze lesson and experience.

Food galore

I had eaten a pretty hefty lunch prior, so looking at food at this point felt like gluttony, but it was so pretty! There was a crudite platter with various cauliflower varieties, celery, peppers and carrots, potato & tortilla chips, two varieties of guacamole (pea and asparagus based), and miniature sandwiches for all dietary requirements. Cheese Dippers were sprinkled throughout the space, of course.

Beverages

Beverage choices were just as great as the snacks, featuring lemonade, hibiscus tea, citrus-infused water, and basil lemonade. The basil lemonade was my favorite as it had the perfect blend of citrus and sweet, with a hint of herbaceous quality from the basil.

Observe the facial expression

It was finally my time to soar the skies, and we were given all the info we needed from the experts at Trapeze School. They gave us tips on how to stay up in the air and properly dismount. Anxiety slowly started to ease in once I was strapped into my harness, but I told myself constantly that it would be fun!

We added our names to the whiteboard, and of course I ended up being last on the list. I must say, walking up the ladder was one of the hardest parts for me. Once I was up, looking down gave me a small scare, but once I let go, I felt so free!

Letting go

To feel the wind across my body as I moved so freely through the air was a wonderful feeling. I was having a tough few days, so to try something new and truly let go was a great feeling. I managed to do all the turns in air, and dismount safely.

The dismount

The high I got from the experience was totally infectious, and I proceeded to take flight two more times after my initial try. Who would have thought that something so new would end up being so exhilarating. Many thanks to the team at Laughing Cow for putting together such an awesome event with great snacks. Be sure to check out the Cheese Dippers next time you visit the grocery store. Perfect for those busy days, and a great solution for those hungry times we all experience.

 

*All photos, unless marked, courtesy of TheLaughing Cow

#ALifeInTheDayInRhodeIsland: Farm To Table Amplified At Matunuck Oyster Bar

Views

The summer season is finally upon us, and you know what that means; time to plan travel and getaways while the weather is nice. As a Brooklyn girl, I have been spoiled over the years with all the free summer programming NYC has to offer throughout the season, but sometimes, you just need to get away. A getaway does not necessarily have to be a flight or week away, but even a day or two in different scenery right here on the East Coast.

Just last week I was invited by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation for an exclusive day trip for press to explore the attractions in the South County district. Focused on food, shopping, and luxury accommodations, the itinerary was filled with great attractions that were just on time for me as I was in need of a getaway. I was really excited that it was a small group of four bloggers in total, along with our guides Alexa and Jennifer from Havas PR.

I took the Amtrak train into Westerly, RI from Penn Station and was greeted by the crew in a black sprinter van. It was there that I met Alexa and Jennifer, as well as fellow bloggers Asha of Fork Spoon Knife, Martha of A Family Feast, and Richard of The Passionate Foodie. We chatted a bit and were right off to our first destination of the day, Matunuck Oyster Bar.

Located in South Kingstown, Matunuck is special as it is not solely an oyster bar & restaurant, but an oyster farm as well. Upon our arrival, we met with Perry Raso, an oyster farmer for decades and owner of the establishment. He took us on a tour of the restaurant and gave us the history of the land and the oyster farming industry as a whole.

On the boat with Perry

After our mini-tour of the restaurant’s interior, we headed back outside to Perry’s boat that he takes out on the water to farm and catch oysters. The weather was pristine, sunny and in the low 80s, making the temperature on the water somewhere in the mid to high 70s. We set out and got a firsthand glance of all the different types of oysters that the farm raises, as well as a select few scallops.

Fresh oyster

The water itself was quite shallow, with Perry jumping in every few minutes to show us the different types of oysters, along with the method in which they are raised. We were able to hold oysters in our hand, which I thought was really cool, before we put them back in the water.

On our tour of the oyster farm, Perry informed us that the grounds had a vegetable farm as well, making Matunuck not only pond to plate, but farm to table as well.

Vegetable farm

We took approximately a ten-minute ride up the pond to the vegetable farm, enduring a few splashes en route to our destination. Once off the boat, we took a short walk up the hill to be greeted with a sprawling green pasture of fresh, organic vegetables. The farm was so serene, and I snapped away to capture the moment.

Rows of greens

There were rows and rows of greens, including spinach, mustard greens, arugula, lettuce, and edible flowers. Walking around in awe as one day I hope to have my own farm, Perry gave us a sample of a variety of purple asparagus straight from the Earth. I took a bite and was immediately wowed. It was so fresh with a bit of sweetness towards the root, unlike the normally bitter green asparagus.

I could have personally ended the tour after the farm, but you know what was up next, LUNCH!

Like it raw?

We took the boat back to the pier and were seated shortly after our arrival on the outdoor deck for dining al fresco. The restaurant is very popular and had filled up while we were on our tours, on a weekday afternoon at that. Our waitress poured us all glasses of water, and Perry informed us that he would send out a few appetizers for us to try.

We started off with the oyster sampler, which included twelve raw local oysters. The freshness was exquisite and the brininess of the salt water was just perfect.

Trio

Next up was a trio, including from the left, the Clams Casino (eight littlenecks with a buttery bacon & bread crumb topping), Oysters Rockefeller (six oysters baked with Pernod, spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs & fresh herbs), and Bourbon Oysters (six broiled Matunuck oysters with a Bourbon chipotle sauce). The flavors of all three were quite enjoyable, but the Bourbon oysters were by far my favorite as they were a bit lighter than the others, and had a unique, smoky and sweet aftertaste.

Rosé all day

A meal is not complete without a good wine. As we were eating mainly seafood, I felt a rosé would pair well with all the offerings. The rosé was a dryer variety, not too sweet, similar to the varieties of Provence, and paired very nicely with my appetizers.

Scallop ceviche

Now it was time to place our individual orders. I didn’t want to get too crazy, so I figured an appetizer, salad, and a main would suffice, and would save me from a food coma. Up first was the Scallop Ceviche. Being Belizean-American, I am a ceviche snob as my family makes shrimp or conch ceviche when it is in season. When I tell you this scallop ceviche was OUT OF BOUNDS, I mean it.

A generous portion of scallop was served atop a clam shell, paired with mango salsa that included cilantro, lime, and peppers, and crispy wonton chips. The scallop melted in your mouth as you ate it, and the chips provided a perfect textural mashup.

Arugula Strawberry Salad

Up next for me was the Arugula Strawberry Salad, comprised of some of my favorite things: Matunuck Farm’s arugula, fresh sliced strawberries, sherry black pepper vinaigrette, balsamic reduction and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The flavors were splendid and refreshing. As it was a bit breezy out, some of my Parmigiano flew off my plate. I laughed, and continued eating.

Lobster Roll

I went back and forth deciding on a main because the normal menu and specials menu had so many incredible offerings. As I was in New England for the day, I decided to keep it local and go for the Lobster Roll. The meal consisted of chilled lobster meat, lightly dressed with mayonnaise and chopped celery on a grilled buttery split top roll. My eyes widened when I was served as the amount of lobster in the roll was astounding. I took a bite and it was like a lobster explosion; chunks falling onto my side salad and hand-cut fries.

For my first lobster roll in New England, this was off the chain! The lobster was so fresh, and the accompanying flavors were incredibly light, making the lobster the star of the show.

My experience at Matunuck Oyster Bar was just lovely, from Perry and staff, down to every offering on a plate. This will be hard to top! When in Rhode Island, definitely stop by. You won’t regret it!

 

Matunuck Oyster Bar

629 Succotash Road

Phone: 401.783.4202

 

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo for A Life in the Day of Andrea

I received a complimentary trip and meals for my review

Lazy AF But Want A Bomb Margarita This Cinco de Mayo? Try These From José Cuervo

Authentic Cuervo Margarita Flavors

Today is Cinco de Mayo, the day that commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). Although the holiday is generally another day in Mexico, with the exception of the state of Puebla that holds military parades and other festive events, it is a huge celebration of Mexican-American heritage in the United States.

Here, Mexican culture is on full display, mainly its music, cuisine and popular spirit of choice, tequila. Maybe you plan on throwing some shots or margaritas back at a local bar this evening with your buddies, but how about those who like to entertain at home? José Cuervo has the perfect option for you, with no shakers and bar tools necessary.

Enter the Authentic Cuervo Margarita, a ready-to-serve margarita made exclusively with Cuervo Gold tequila. Available in six flavors: classic lime, strawberry lime, mango, watermelon, grapefruit-tangerine, and coconut-pineapple, there is sure to be a variety to suit your taste. The best part? All you have to do is load up your glass with your desired amount of ice, pour, and serve. Check out some of the flavors below.
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Take A Bite & Sip: Dinner & Cocktails at Earls Lincoln Park in Chicago

Setting and menu

Back in mid-November I had the opportunity to head out to Chicago with my cousin Lauren, and some friends. Having never been to the Windy City, I was really excited to head out, although for just two days, to explore a bit of the city’s famed food culture.

I had previously interviewed executive Stephen Andrews about the newest opening of Earls Kitchen + Bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I found this quick trip to be the perfect time to stop into the restaurant to eat, drink, and be merry.

B-flat by Ricky Alvarez, #ArtOfEarls

The restaurant was situated in a hip shopping and dining area in Lincoln Park right on North Clybourn Ave. The space was quite large, with a lovely outdoor dining space, specially equipped with weatherproof furniture, fire pits, and heating lamps to keep guests warm when it is brisk out. Upon entering, the aesthetics of the exterior melded into the main dining room, featuring two bars, one massive with all around seating for those that prefer a more casual outing, and a smaller bar near the entrance to cater to patrons present for a sit down dinner, or more formal outing.

Muddy Waters by Erik den Breejen, #ArtOfEarls

Unique artwork was ever present, including a huge wall installation in the bar area entitled B-flat by Vancouver-based artist Ricky Alvarez, which was created using a plethora of trumpets. Also of note was the Muddy Waters collage by Erik den Breejen in the main dining room, comprised of Muddy Waters lyrics that create a portrait of the famed Chicago musician.

The staff greeted us, gave us the lowdown on the space and Earls as a chain, and quickly seated my cousin and I at a dining table. We were given a full description of items on the menu, and were treated to all courses. Here is what we ate!

Appetizers

We began our evening with appetizers to share, and specialty cocktails. We shared three appetizers including the Korean Hot Wings, Dynamite Roll which was made of shrimp,  mango and avocado sushi, sriracha mayo, black sesame and unagi maple, and a Corn poblano dip topped with jalapeño and served with fried bread. Everything was delicious, but the wings were definitely off the chain, containing the perfect amount of sweet and spice.

Bees Knees cocktail

Cocktails came our way about every fifteen minutes, and I can definitely say that I was tipsy by the end of the evening.  I will highlight my favorites, one being the Bees Knees cocktail above. Comprised of Aviation Gin, Cointreau, honey, fresh lemon, and angostura bitters, I was quite surprised that I loved this cocktail so much as it was gin based. I usually go for rum or tequila based drinks.  I had two of these.

Paloma cocktail

The Paloma cocktail was a not-so-classic Paloma recipe, comprised of Espolon Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice and Jarritos Mexican grapefruit soda. Both Lauren and I enjoyed this cocktail as it was super fresh, not too sweet, with a deep tequila flavor. Reminiscent of a vacation somewhere tropical, like Tulum.

My entree: Salmon

Entrees were so hard to pick as all the offerings were amazing, but our plan of action was to pick two completely different plates so we could share. We went the surf & turf route, with Lauren choosing a Chimichurri Skirt Steak, and me choosing a Mediterranean infused Salmon plate.

The earthiness of my dish muted my salmon in a nice way. The grains, legumes, and tomato-based sauce that the salmon steak laid upon brought about a medley of flavors to the salmon that I was not used to, but in an exciting way.

Lauren’s entree: Chimichurri Skirt Steak

Lauren’s chimichurri skirt steak was just delectable. The Earls chain only uses the best beef, “Certified Humane Creekstone Farms Black Angus Beef free of antibiotics with no added hormones”, and boy does it show. Served in an iron skillet, the beef was so fresh and tender, cooked perfectly with baby potatoes, and pan roasted cherry tomatoes. I can definitely see now why this is a favorite among patrons.

Lemon Meringue cocktail

As with our appetizers, more cocktails came with dinner. A standout for me was the Lemon Meringue cocktail. Comprised of Skyy Vodka, Limoncello, and meringue foam, the cocktail tasted almost as good as Lauren’s mother’s family famous lemon meringue pie. A feat indeed.

Silly Wabbit cocktail

Lauren’s favorite cocktail of the evening, which I also enjoyed, was the Silly Wabbit. Comprised of vodka and fresh carrot juice with a few other ingredients, Lauren described the drink as a “nice cool breeze” and gave her that feeling you get after having a great work out at the gym. The carrot juice makes you feel super healthy, but don’t be fooled; the vodka has a kick!

Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding

And then came dessert. We had a bit of a sampling. The pumpkin pie was delectable and reminiscent of something your grandma would make. Spiced just right and topped with fresh whipped cream, it was a treat. The Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding was a staff favorite, so we decided to try it as well. The combination of warm pudding cake atop chocolate and toffee sauces, paired with vanilla ice cream was pretty much the best of both worlds. I like the balance of sweetness and textures.

Upon completing our meal, we were greeted with, you guessed it, more cocktails, and treated to a unique tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and prep spaces with Senior Sous Chef, Jovahn Sandhu.

Saucy!

Since I am a complete food and kitchen nerd, the kitchen tour may have been even more exciting than the food and cocktails! Jovahn introduced us to the kitchen staff, and showed us all of their stations; every thing from sauce and condiment prep, to meats, to baked goods and more.  It was really intriguing to see how many moving parts are needed to get the final meal on your plate at super fast speed.

Even more exciting for me, was taking a step into the refrigerators. I cannot truly gauge the amount of square footage the refrigerators took up, but with racks and product, you could still fit a small dance party of folks within. Above you see all the containers of sauces, that are prepped fresh each day before dawn.

Zests for cocktails

As I am a bit of a cocktail snob, it was great for me to see where all of the zests for the cocktails you saw above, and more, were stored. These things that may seem so small, are so important to the diner’s overall experience from a taste and time perspective. I was so geeked it was probably embarrassing, especially as my drinks were starting to hit me during the tour. Despite all this, Jovahn and crew were super detailed and helpful, giving me all the information I was seeking, and then some.

Cousins!

We finished our tour with some insight on the bar culture of Earls from Lounge Manager, Taylor Happy, who had been present throughout our meal, helping with suggestions. He showed us the outdoor seating and fire pit, as well as the outdoor seating near the entrance. With a garage door between the inside and outside, summer patrons can feel like a part of the indoor action with a quick raise of the door.

When in downtown Chicago, definitely make a stop at Earls Kitchen + Bar. With a menu to appeal to all tastes and a friendly, knowledgeable staff, it is sure to be a dining experience you will never forget!

 

Earls Kitchen + Bar, Lincoln Park

1538 North Clybourn Avenue, Unit A108, Chicago IL
Get directions via Google maps
tel.   312-929-3952   fax.   312-929-4049

 

All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

I received a complimentary meal at Earls Kitchen + Bar.

Walks Of New York Delights Foodies With The Official Mario Batali™ Greenwich Village Food Tour

Are you a lover of Italian food? Do you love to explore local gems? Do you live in, or will be visiting New York City soon? If you have answered yes to all of  the previous questions, I have got a treat for you. Walks of New York, the walking tour company that helps New Yorkers and tourists alike discover the varied history and culture of the city, has recently launched the Official Mario Batali™ Greenwich Village Food Tour.

I was invited to take the tour myself from the company, and of course, jumped at the opportunity. I have long been a fan of Batali’s work and authentic approach to food, so I was excited to take the tour to discover more about his food and the home to his restaurants, the Greenwich Village.

Washington Square Park arch

The meeting point for my morning tour was right under the arch of Washington Square Park. It was there on that sun-filled morning that I met Simona, my incredible guide for the tour. Originally from Rome and living in New York City for a few years now, Simona was very well-versed in all Italian cuisine from a historical context right up to the present.

I got some insight on the neighborhood of Greenwich Village, and its history as a stomping ground for Italian immigrants. We took a bit of a walk through time, and I am here to share all of my stops with you.

Special menu for Walks of New York

Our first stop on the tour was Batali’s famed pizzeria, Otto. Nestled on the unassuming 8th Street right off of Fifth Ave, the restaurant opened a little earlier especially for us. Upon arrival, we took a seat by a bright window, and had a little tasting of some of the menu offerings.

A glimpse of the offerings

I nibbled on various cheeses, a fresh arugula and cherry tomato salad, sliced salami, perfectly cooked lentils, stewed apricots with chili flakes, and a bruschetta unlike any other. It was really amazing to get schooled on cheese by Simona, and why different varieties get their specific taste. Along with the nibbles  and brick-oven pizzas, Otto has an extensive wine list and education program.

Florence Prime Meat Market from curbside

Our next stop on the walking tour was Florence Prime Meat Market. The old-school butcher shop has been providing the best cuts of meat to the community since 1936. Once inside it feels like you are transported to yesteryear through black and white photos, and some original signage.

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Gogobot Celebrates Five Years With A Special Lunch-Break Field Trip For Adults in NYC

Gogobot CEO, Travis Katz

You are at the age now that you have accepted the fact that you are indeed, an adult. You have your time every now to revert to childhood pleasantries, but when can you say is the last time you’ve been on a field trip?  Popular travel/discovery app Gogobot wanted to recreate this feeling with a special field trip for adults, in celebration of the company’s five-year anniversary. The mission? Invite NYC-based writers and editors our for a lunch-break field trip, to help them rediscover their city, one location at a time.

Hosted by Gogobot founder Travis Katz, our group was chauffeured around in a swanky tour bus provided by The Ride NYCa unique tour bus that has a full side window that passengers face to see the city around them.

My crispy fish taco

While on the bus, we were fed by Camion NYC, a local Mexican food truck with every taco you could ever want. As there were many to choose from, I went for chicken tacos, and the crispy fish taco, which you can see in the photo above. I must say the fish taco was next level! The crispiness paired with the crispness of the radish and cilantro, blended beautifully with the avocado-based sauce. Sooooo good!

Sweethaus founder Tara Koenig

Our group met the bus in Union Square, and once we were off, our first stop was back home in Brooklyn. We drove to Williamsburg to visit Sweethaus; a unique vintage-styled bakeshop/diner concept that was founded in Charlottesville, Virginia. The co-founder, Tara Koenig, greeted us with homemade pumpkin spice lattes in these super cute mini mugs. She gave us a little insight on the location, which is their first in Brooklyn, and the second outside of their main location in Virginia. The Brooklyn location is different in the fact that it serves food like a diner, outside of all their dessert offerings.

We were also treated to their signature mini-cupcakes and a goodie bag of hard-to-find vintage candies. A great spot for the entire family, or those that have a massive sweet tooth.

Learning about Streb

Next up on our tour was Streb, part trapeze & extreme dance school, part performance space. Founded in 1985 by choreographer Elizabeth Streb, her mission for the company since its inception has been to test the limits of the human body. The school utilizes elements of dance, trapeze arts, and gymnastics in its programs. Classes are available for all age groups, and performances are held throughout the year on-site, as well as at various locations.

Taking a sip at Brooklyn Winery

Just a few blocks away from Streb was our next stop, and one that I was really looking forward to, Brooklyn Winery. You may be thinking, “a winery, in Brooklyn?”, and I would answer you with a roaring yes! Upon entering the gorgeous dining area, complete with reclaimed wood furnishing and minimal lighting, we were greeted by a counter full of glasses of 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma. It was here that co-founder Brian Leventhal came out to welcome us, and give us some background on the winery.

The winemaking process

From the dining area, we were taken to where all the magic happens, and were able to see the full process in which their wines are made. Given our location, all of their grapes are transported from the West Coast, but they are fermented in vats in the winery, and all are bottled on site. Won’t lie, I kind of geeked out when I saw all of these grapes. It’s almost unreal.

The goods at Modern Pinball

After leaving the winery, we hopped back on the bus to swing back into Manhattan to visit Modern Pinball on the East Side. A few blocks from our destination at a stop light, we were treated to a special rap performance from a local performer street side. The Ride employs tons of local musicians and performers for pop-up entertainment along your bus tour route.

Upon entering Modern Pinball, it almost felt like I was transported to the past, like I was in Pinball Wizard! The concept is unique as you purchase a wristband for a certain amount of time to enjoy unlimited pinball, as opposed to paying for each game individually. I can’t say I am a pinball aficionado by any means, but the selection of vintage and new machines alike is a treat. A great spot to bring the entire family during a holiday.

I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the Gogobot field trip for adults. I was able to visit a bunch of unique NYC locations that I had not experienced prior, which is always a treat. It’s always a pleasure to discover local gems, and I will continue to do so with the Gogobot app. Happy exploring!

 

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

I received a complimentary tour sponsored by Gogobot.

MANday Exclusive: Stephen Andrews of Earls Kitchen + Bar Talks New Location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Fave Dishes, & More!


Earls Brunch Croquette

In a time where restaurants close as soon as they open, how does one find the secret formula? It seems like the chain Earls Kitchen + Bar has figured it out. Founded in Canada in 1982, Earls Kitchen + Bar was created with the goal of becoming “The Most loved and Best Run restaurant in North America”. The franchise now has 59 restaurants in Canada, and 7 in the United States; its latest opening being in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

We had the opportunity to pick the brain of Stephen Andrews, Chief Development Officer and Vice President, who is driving International Growth for Earls Restaurants through world-class Real Estate Development.


Stephen Andrews, Chief Development Officer & VP of Earls Restaurants

Coming from a senior position at Darden Restaurants, what about Earls enticed you to make the move in particular?

Earls is a restaurant company with scale but without the predictable monotony of a chain. We work really hard to create a collection of innovative and individually compelling restaurants, so the design freedom is intoxicating. Then, seeing the design and personality of each individual restaurant come to life is positively addictive.

Earls Kitchen currently boasts 66 locations across the US and Canada. If you had to choose, what would be your top three locations and why?

Aside from Lincoln Park:

1) King Street in Downtown Toronto for its fantastic energy and patio right in the heart of the financial district.

2) Tysons Corner, VA. Located in Macerich’s jewel project, this location is absolutely breathtaking with panoramic views sitting on the center’s elevated 40,000 square foot landscape plaza.

3) The third is a toss-up between Dadeland in Miami for its spectacular cantilevered patio complete with tropical breezes and one that is still on the drawing boards — the Prudential Center in downtown Boston. Earls Prudential is currently in the design phase and will feature an spectacular 3400 square foot roof-top patio complete with an exterior bar right in the heart of it all and just an eight minute walk from Fenway.

What are some of your favorite items from the kitchen and bar menus?

The bold flavors of the Korean Bibimbap with its crispy rice never fails to impress me, but I am also a huge fan of the authentic Jeera Chicken Curry with coconut jasmine rice. When I am feeling more traditional, there is nothing quite like a Creekstone Farms antibiotic and hormone free New York Strip Steak to fit the bill. I try to leave without dessert, but the Sticky Toffee Chocolate Pudding (it’s actually a caramel and ice cream covered cake) somehow usual finds its way onto my table.


Rendering of Earls Lincoln Park

Tell us, what do you find most unique about the new Lincoln Park location in Chicago?

To be able to deliver a great indoor/outdoor restaurant and patio in an urban location is challenging. At Lincoln Park, we are able to deliver the good– such as open views, open facades and a spectacular patio without the bad– street noise, cars and fumes. The restaurant will be a perfect oasis woven into an urban fabric.

What do you find is most rewarding part of having a career in the real estate development sector of the restaurant business?

Restaurants are very complex creatures — part entertainment, part utility, part social, but they are always experiential from the guest’s perspective. The ability to help create a fantastic guest experience through real estate, architecture, and design is just plain thrilling.

Photo Credit: Earls Kitchen + Bar

Goodness Knows Snack Squares Launches In NYC w/ Goodness Market, Hosted by Whitney Port

Goodness Knows spokesperson, Whitney Port, greeting guests

When you think of the word “goodness”, what are the first things that come to mind? Do you think of doing good on to others? Eating good? Feeling good? Or is a combination of all of the above? The folks at Goodness Knows used this concept to create a one of a kind Goodness Market in late October for New York City lifestyle writers and editors, to introduce their snack squares to the market.

Gabby Bernstein chatting with guests

Hosted by fashion designer Whitney Portthe space was segmented into four main kiosk sections: Good Vibes, Good Strength, Good Food, and Good Work, where attendees could “shop” with their provided tote bag. The Good Vibes kiosk, hosted by lifestyle guru Gabby Bernstein, was a space to tune into positive actions and mindfulness. We were able to shop for a candle, essential oils to unwind, a journal, and box to rid away all of our negative thoughts.

Testing out resistance bands with Adam

At Good Strength, fitness & nutrition coach Adam Rosante gave us a great pep talk on strength and how we can maximize it in our everyday lives. Whether it be something as small as using a resistance band at your desk to improve posture, or lifting weights to build overall core strength, Adam had awesome advice and demos, as you can see in the photo above. We were able to walk away with our own resistance band, jump rope, yoga tune up balls (massage balls similar to a tennis ball), and a gift card to DonorsChoose.org, where you are able to choose a charitable cause to donate your gift to.

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Champagne Taittinger Previews Valentine’s Day With #UncageMyHeart

Champagne Taittinger portfolio

When you are smack dead in the middle of the autumn season, do you ever think ahead to say, Valentine’s Day? You may not, but for the house of Champagne Taittinger and a few select members of the media in NYC, Valentine’s Day came early this year. To preview their full portfolio of sparkling wines and food & dessert pairings, Champagne Taittinger held a special press day devoted to love in a gorgeous TriBeCa loft entitled “Uncage My Heart”.

Guided champagne tasting

Hosted by Vitalie Taittinger, Global Ambassador and Artistic Director of Champagne Taittinger (one of the last family-owned & operated Grand Marque Champagne houses in France), the event served as a platform for both friends and lovers to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It was broken up into three segments, the “bubble bash” which featured entertaining ideas for a group of friends, the “first date”, and “lasting love” for those that have been in a relationship for a number of years.

I started off my time with a guided tasting of the Taittinger sparkling wine portfolio, held by Vitalie Taittinger and sommelier Heidi Turzyn of Gotham Bar and Grill. We tasted five wines, starting with Taittinger Brut La Française, the house’s most popular champagne, and ending with Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2005, the house’s most exclusive blend. It was really great to hear insight from these two women regarding the characteristics of each wine, their age, and the general demographic for each variety.

Dessert pairings

Once out of my session, I was welcomed into the gorgeous dining room area you see in the photo above to try out some desserts. Each section of the table was labeled with the name of the treat on the plate, and paired with Comtes de Champagne Rosé. It was here that I really grew a liking to this particular rosé. Do I have expensive taste? Possibly.

Dinner & hors d’oeuvres pairings

The food of the evening was prepared by Chef Camille Becerra of Navy in SoHo. We were treated to a smorgasbord of delectable small bites, including liver mouse with chocolate cocoa nibs, lettuce hearts with gentleman’s relish, spiced steak, and chocolate mousse.

I stood attentively for the chocolate mousse demo, and believe I am capable of making it on my own. Very helpful that all guests received a little guidebook with recipes included.

Listening to more on the champagne

Post dinner bites, we were treated to a tasting of Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus, a rare blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. The creaminess of this variety is perfect for post-dinner, and pairs well with dessert. The Taittinger team also suggests this bottle for a first date. Sure to impress!

Champagne tower

I circled back to the “Bubble Bash” section to end my evening. This portion of the event was focused on gift-giving amongst friends (candles, games, etc) and an informal bar set-up and photo booth area to attract singles. It was here that I discovered my favorite champagne out of all, the Nocturne, seen being poured in the photo above.

Aside from the bottle looking like a gorgeous purple disco ball, the flavor was right up my alley; not to dry, not too sweet, with the perfect amount of bottles. I look forward to celebrating with a bottle of Nocturne soon. Will you be drinking Champagne Taittinger this coming Valentine’s Day?

 

*Photos courtesy of Champagne Taittinger/Creative Feed

Love Your Local: New York, The Laughing Cow Cheese Gives Us The Goods To Host The Best Dinner Party

Atmosphere at Houston Hall

When it comes to cooking and hosting guests in our homes, there are so many factors to take in. The perfect recipe, the right ingredients, musical selections, decor, crowd, and presentation. What would a dinner party be without a proper presentation on beautiful plates and table linens of our favorite course, the hors d’oeuvres and snacks? The folks at The Laughing Cow have the mission to #ReinventSnacking, and have held a number of Love Your Local events in various markets pairing bloggers with food & entertaining experts to teach us the goods.

I attended the New York City edition of Love Your Local at Houston Hall in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Guests learning stop motion video with Visual Country

Upon entering the massive beer hall, the space was divided into various sections. Beer and a signature cocktail were available at the bar all evening, self-serve small bites were along the opposite wall, the back section had a set-up to learn stop motion video, a communal table near the center had bites, flatware & linens for food styling, and the front section featured a Southern-flavored snack workshop from Chef Sarah Simmons of Birds & Bubbles.

Showing us the ropes

My first stop was the food styling section. Aside from making, searching for, and eating all the food, I love to set up proper photos of meals to snap away and post on Instagram, my blog, or portfolio. I found a spot on the communal table for the session taught by food stylist and photographer Kristen Hess of TheArtfulGourmet.

The area was complete with a wide selection of beautiful plates, boards, linens and cutlery to pair with various Laughing Cow cheeses, charcuterie, fruits, and other small bites to create the perfect spread.

In the zone

I am competitive by nature and have a great eye, so once we we given the foundations from Kristen, it was my mission to create one of the best spreads at the table. In the area of decorating, I love neutrals with a good color pop, so I found a white polka dot hand towel, which I folded on an angle to be the foundation.

Prepping the shot

I used two small plates, one white to display the various cheeses and crostini with micro greens, and one in a tan/white motif in which I featured salami, figs drizzled with honey, and a sprig of micro greens for color and added texture. I originally wanted to include my cocktail in the shot, but it looked a bit cheesy (no pun intended).

The money shot

Once I fully committed to my ingredients and tools, I properly set up my shot, and snapped the beauty you see above. I felt REALLY COOL that the event’s photographer captured various shots of my spread.

Once the session was over, I head over to Chef Sarah Simmons workshop on Southern-inspired snacks.

Chef Sarah Simmons of Birds & Bubbles

A Carolina native, Chef Sarah Simmons is a culinary force; the CEO of CITY GRIT Hospitality Group and Executive Chef & owner of Birds & Bubbles in the Lower East Side which serves elevated Southern cuisine. In her workshop we learned how to create hors d’oeuvres with a Southern flair.

A feast!

We all sat at a communal table with ingredients fit for a king, spanning sliced meats, fruit, fluffy biscuits, crackers, and cheeses. She demonstrated a unique treat which included a slice of ham topped with a smear of Laughing Cow’s asiago cheese, wrapped over melon. Paired with a biscuit, this combo was a winner amongst guests, that I can’t wait to try at home.

We received hefty gift bags which included a full variety of Laughing Cow cheese, jam, water crackers, a New York State-shaped slate board and spreading knife to start the party. A great time indeed.

 

*Photos courtesy of the Laughing Cow

 

#ALifeInTheDayInLA: Carnival Rides & Japadog at the Santa Monica Pier

View of the beach from the Santa Monica Pier

On a bright summer day in late-July, what better way to pass time is there than to take a trip to the beach? During my time in L.A. I had one beach day, albeit dry as I hadn’t prepped my swimwear in advance. With camera in hand, I took a long stroll along Venice and Santa Monica beaches with the family. I was covered in sunscreen as the weather report called for temperatures in the 90s, although it began quite grey and overcast.

The famous Japadog truck

My main goal for the afternoon on the Santa Monica Pier was quite simple; take awesome photos, eat good food, and get on a ride or two at Pacific Park. Within minutes of arriving on the boardwalk, I spotted the Japadog truck. I had first discovered the Montreal-based, Japanese-style hot dog truck while watching A Brit And A Broad on Tastemade TV. I enjoyed the idea of Japanese fusion hot dogs, so I HAD to try one out.

My aunt’s order

The set-up is pretty simple. You can order one of the nine (up to fifteen depending on the location) specialty dogs listed on the menu for ease of mind, or you can create your own. There is something for everyone here as the dogs are offered in All Beef, Bratwurst, Turkey Smoky, Three Cheese Smoky, Arabiki, Kurobuta Pork, and Veggie flavors!

Celeb fans of the food

My aunt ordered the Kurogoma Kimuchi option with a Beef dog, and I got the Okonomi with a Kurobuta Pork dog. It took a little less than ten minutes to get our orders which was awesome considering how crowded the pier was that afternoon. Upon biting into my Japadog, I was immediately taken to FLAVORTOWN; word to Guy Fieri. The combination of the sweet pork dog, mayo and fish flakes was quite divine! Needless to say, I finished my food in maybe seven minutes, and my tastebuds were satisfied.

Looking up on the ferris wheel

We took a left from FLAVORTOWN into Pacific Park to check out the carnival games and rides. As I was with my aunt and 6-year old cousin, I knew there would be a few things to check out here, but I was set on the ferris wheel. I don’t know why I have such a love for ferris wheels, but I make sure to ride them wherever I go.

Overhead views!

Camera still in hand, my goal was to enjoy and capture the views of the beautiful blue Pacific waters on my ride, and boy did I! The Pacific Wheel is 85 feet tall and while in motion, reaches heights of over 130 feet that overlook the Southern California coastline. I was able to get awesome shots as the wheel moves at 2.5 revolutions per minute, ensuring that all patrons are able to soak up the gorgeous views.

A view of the pier from above

Being so high up in the sky made up for not taking a dip in the ocean that afternoon. I was really able to relax and really appreciate the beauty of Southern California one revolution at a time.

If you are in the Santa Monica area, I would definitely recommend heading to the pier. Aside from Japadog and other mobile vendors, there are a variety of sit-down restaurants for adults and family, as well as entertainment.

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

Take A Bite & Sip: Up On 20 at the Hyatt Herald Sq. Offers Food & Drinks With A View

View of Up On 20. Photo: Real Hospitality Group

Let me paint a picture for you. You’re in the middle of Herald Square in Manhattan on a late weekday afternoon. You may be in the area for work, or visiting for a few days. You are in desperate need of food and drink that doesn’t completely break the bank, and isn’t an Applebee’s either. You are coaxed with huge signs from chain restaurants in the area, but how about if you wanted to be slightly off the main street, and able to catch spectacular views while you are it? Let me introduce you to Up On 20.

Located on the roof deck of the Hyatt Herald Square, Up On 20 is the hotel’s rooftop lounge. I visited on a grey Thursday to check out the location’s food and drink offerings, along with its views. As the weather wasn’t the best, the space was not packed, which made me feel better about having a meal solo. I was greeted by a lovely waiter/bartender and told him I was there for a review. He wasted no time to get me seated and really give me the lowdown on the space.

View from my seat of the Empire State Building. Photo: Andrea K. Castillo

The hotel itself opened back in the fall of 2014 and Up On 20 is newly opened for the summer season. I found a cocktail table near the perimeter of the space, to better gaze at the city’s architecture below me, including the Empire State Building.

I snapped a few touristy photos of my surroundings, then got to the menu. The waiter gave me a few suggestions which I trusted as he seemed to be quite the foodie himself. I started with a rum cocktail called “The Old Virgin” which had a base of dark rum and prosecco, with lime and simple syrup. The drink definitely had a kick, but if made with a tad less lime, the finish would have been a little smoother.

All the food. Photo: Andrea K. Castillo

My food platter consisted of white fish sliders with avocado, NYC-style fresh pretzels with fresh sesame mustard, meatballs with hoisin sauce, and shrimp ceviche paired with kettle chips. I would call the cuisine style “New American Fusion” as it melded flavors from both the Americas and Asia alike. So what did I think of the food? Let’s go one by one.

  • White fish sliders with avocado on whole grain bun: fresh flavors and overall great ingredients for a slider. As the fish is quite plain, a smokey or spicy element would have made this top notch.
  • Pretzels with fresh sesame mustard: pretzel consistency and mustard was very good. A bit too much salt on the pretzel.
  • Meatballs with hoisin sauce: great meatball consistency with sauce pairing. No complaints, but had to bring the rest home because of the portion size.
  • Shrimp ceviche with kettle chips: REALLY liked the shrimp ceviche as it had pineapple in it and reminded me of the ceviche back in Belize. The kettle chips were good, but went soggy quickly as I visited on a rather humid day. A good alternative would be fresh tortilla or plantain chips.

Drea vs. Food. Photo: Andrea K. Castillo

I had a lovely experience at Up On 20, and would definitely want to go back on a sunny day. The open atmosphere makes it great for everything from after-work drinks, birthday parties, business meetings, and a casual date. Prices are mid-range, with cocktails in the mid to upper teens, and food made to share. If you are in Herald Square anytime soon, definitely check it out. Address below.

 

Up On 20 at the Hyatt Herald Square

30-32 W 31st St

New York, NY 10001

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

I received a complimentary meal and drinks at Up On 20.

What I’ve Been Up To: More Writing, Fitness, Food & Travel!

Mid “Running through the 6 with my woes”/ Photo: AKC

For the past few weeks, my posts here have been a little inconsistent, so I wanted to update you all on some of the new happenings in my life. Here is an update of my past few weeks in the realms of writing, fitness, food, and travel. It is “A Life In The Day of Andrea” after all!

 

I am a new “Cocktail Culture” contributor Societe Perrier

I’ve been following Perrier and their lifestyle blog Societe Perrier for some time now. I’ve been interested in contributing since 2011, but didn’t think my work was strong enough as I was fairly new to writing and blogging at the time. Fast forward to late December 2014. They start to communicate with me via social media, to me eventually landing a spot as a new Cocktail Culture contributor for NYC! I started in late May. You can check out my first post on antioxidant cocktails here.

 

I ran a great race at the Nike Women Toronto 15 K, and took 3 dance classes after

Dancing in my race shirt/Photo: CDC

On June 14th, I ran my first major race in ages at the Nike Women Toronto 15 K and finished strong! You can read the full backstory with images here. Post-race I decided to take a few dance classes at the City Dance Corps open house in downtown Toronto (because I’m crazy, apparently). I took jazz, ballet, and dancehall (bluck bluck!) classes, all thirty minutes each, and had a blast! The photo above is from my most challenging session, ballet. Thank you so much to my girl/fake sister Celina for having me.

 

A new “Liquid Culture” feature on Large Up

Arcachon Cremas/ Photo: AKC

I’ve been contributing food & drink pieces to Caribbean culture site Large Up since December of 2014, mainly my own Belizean family recipes. This was my first feature, focusing on a fledging Haitian-American cremas brand. You can read all about it here. Photos by yours truly also!

 

*BIG NEWS: I am a Staff Writer at super new journalism platform, SLANT*

I’m super excited to share this news. I am a Staff Writer for newly launched (like one week old NEW) journalism platform Slant. It is innovative as its model is crowdsourced journalism, allowing the ones who are experiencing the “news” to contribute and tell their own unique story. I love this idea, because I am really able to express myself in ways I may have not been able to on other platforms. Stay tuned for awesome music, personal, fashion, art & culture stories. In the meantime, you can read these that are now live.