Without Oprah around to share her favorite things, I figured I ought to pick up the slack. Here are some of MY favoriate things.
MONKEY BUSINESS by Tony Asaro (Composer/Librettist)
Recently, I was asked to recommend a restaurant to a friend. My answer was very thorough, as you might imagine. I take both giving advice and food very seriously. Her response surprised me:
"Tony, you are such an expert on this city."
I was taken aback–the exact opposite is true. There's so much to do, see, and know in NY. After six years of living here, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface! But while I may not be an expert on New York, I am an expert on MY New York.
The Big Apple is a different city for everyone. I have my own version of it, as do all of my friends, as does that guy who MetroNorths in from Connecticut for his Wall Street job, as does the homeless lady on 32nd and 10th, as does Nicole Kidman, and Tim Gunn, and Mayor Bloomburg. If you’re here, you have a New YOURk.
Despite all of the foot traffic, and how common it is to run into people on the street or subway, these New YOURks can be completely separate from one another.
I just learned last night that Dolce of Dolce and Gabanna just bought the top three penthouses in a building on 23rd and 12th where there is a car elevator, so you can park in a space just outside your apartment. He, of course, lives most of the time in Milan—this is just for when he’s in NYC for meetings or Fashion Week. Mr. Dolce’s New YOURk doesn’t resemble mine at all.
Where I live, it isn’t quite posh. No, my New YOURk has no car elevators, (nor any elevators… nor any cars...) I try to think of the strength I’m building in my quads as I walk across town, then bound up the stairs of some 6 story building. I prefer to use the word “bohemian” instead of “impoverished” or “squalid”. Sure, it would be awesome to have some expendable income and hence a whole new New YOURk, but there are a lot of wonderful things about mine as it is. Here is a compilation of some of the monkey’s favorite things in NYC!
• OK, so if you know me, you know I bitch ad nauseum about New York City Mexican food. Until two years ago, you could not get a good burrito. (No, East Coasters—Chipotle is NOT a good burrito.) But two years ago, two brothers from Berkeley, CA, (Leo and Oliver Kremer) decided to open up a burrito place modeled after the burrito joints in the Bay Area. The result:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Burritos—Dos Toros Taqueria
Now with two locations: 4th ave between 13th and 14th st just south of Union Square, and 11 Carmine St. in the West Village (on Father Demo Sq. off of 6th.) You will NOT find a better burrito in New York City.
• Right now, NYC eateries love to throw around words like “organic” and “local” and “grass-fed”. Of all of these, there is one restaurant that stands out above the rest:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Healthy Eats—Westville
Three Locations—The original Westville on West 10th between Bleecker and West 4th, Westville East on Ave A and 11th, and Westville Chelsea on 18th between 7th and 8th.
The food is always fresh, simple, and delicious. Try the Brussels sprouts! They’re amazing.
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Date Spot—26 Seats
On Ave B and 11th.
Delicious French food and the most adorable decor. There are literally only “26 seats” so if you’re planning on going on a weekend, make sure to make a reservation!
• If it’s good enough for Al Sharpton, it’s good enough for me!
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Chicken and Waffles—Amy Ruth's
On W116th st, just West of Lenox.
The perfect fried chicken. The perfect waffles. How can something that will make you so heavy be so light?! The only problem with Amy Ruth’s is that it’s too damned close to my house!
• New York has TONS of Italian restaurants. I’ve tried so many, from Il Posto to Otto to the crazy mobster infested restaurants on Mulberry. I’ve had some amazing gnocchi. Unfortunately, my former favorite location, Tanti Baci on w10th, closed, so I’m forced to pick a new one:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Italian restaurant—Pepe Giallo
On 25th and 10th
I have had many delicious pastas here. Make sure to sit in the back garden!
• There is only one restaurant for which I will gladly and consistently make the trek to Queens. The food is SO good, that it’s worth that trip on the 7 train to Jackson Heights. I first found this restaurant in 2000 when I was just a visitor, staying with my friend Veronica in Woodside. I’ve been a loyal customer ever since.
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Indian—Jackson Diner
Location: Queens. Somewhere off the 7 train. I have no idea what the address is. It’s a Queens address, so even if I looked it up, I wouldn’t understand it. It’d be like 76-83 31st blvd. or something equally nonsensical with hyphens. Just get off the 7 at Roosevelt and walk up the street where all the stuff is. It’ll be to your right.
When I can't get out to queens, I go to a place I know only as "Up and to the left". On 1st ave just south of 6th St, there is a quadraplex of Indian restaurants. The one I go to is literally up (the stairs) and to the left (hand side). Tell them it's your birthday and you get free mango ice cream.
• One night a few years ago, I had just gotten dumped by a boy. Friends of mine, who had planned a romantic night out for themselves, took pity on me and brought me to dinner with them. It’s not my fond memories of my friends’ good will that keeps me coming back. It’s the FOOD!
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Kebabs—Afghan Kebab House
On 9th Ave between 51st and 52nd. (Yes gays, there are other things north Vynl besides Arriba, Arriba).
• My favorite burger place was a pub that closed their kitchen. My 2nd favorite burger place closed down completely. I'm looking for another. Please loyal readers, give me your recommendations for a good burger in this town. A place that knows that "Extra Well" means NO pink.
I will take this opportunity to give a shout out to Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien Hotel on West 56th (east of Carnegie Hall). I can’t honestly say that the burgers are fantastic, but this place is a burger speakeasy!!! It’s literally hidden inside the lobby of the hotel. Le Parker Meridien is a chic, midtown hotel, and trust me, you’ll feel uncomfortable walking through in your jeans and sneaks. But once you pass the front desk, look to your left down a dark hallway for a small neon sign in the shape of a burger. That is your only clue to find this cloak-and-burger establishment!
Technically, desserts are food. But I feel like they deserve their own category.
• So, most people know Billy’s as the cupcake place started by the guy who broke off from Magnolia. What most people don’t know (save me and a few Chelsea muscle queens with eating disorders) is that their cupcakes are NOT their best item—I find them dry personally.
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Cake—Billy's Banana Cake
Three locations—The Chelsea store on 9th ave between 21st and 22nd, The TriBeCa store on Franklin between Broadway and Church, and in NoLiTa on Elizabeth just south of Houston.
OK , so you’re a chocoholic like me and love fudgy chocolate cakes. GET THE BANANA CAKE. Uh huh, you prefer carrot cake typically. GET THE BANANA CAKE. You’re really can’t eat a whole slice of cake. GET THE BANANA CAKE (and I’ll eat the rest.) Moral of the story: GET THE BANANA CAKE!
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Brownies—Roni-Sue's Chocolatier
One location—at the Essex St. Market on Essex and Delancy on the LES.
Yeah, I know: you have no reason to go to the LES. WRONG. You now have one reason, and it’s the only reason you need. $2.50 buys you a delicious, fudgy brownie, two and a half inches square that will keep you coming back. I promise you this. I call them “Life Changing” brownies, and you’ll see why. If you go, tell them that Tony sent you. You won’t get a discount (they’re only $2.50!) but it’s good for business. Oh, and while the ones with walnuts are great, I say get them plain.
• If you live in Brooklyn, you’ll have an easier time hunting down the next choice:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Cupcake—Robicelli's Cupcakes
Robicelli’s doesn’t have a store. Their cupcakes are sold at various locations. In Manhattan, there are only a few locations. Check the website!
These bad boys aren’t cheap, nor should they be. They are artisanal, after all, and flavors like these don’t come cheap! I’ve had everything from blueberry port, to Irish car bomb, to chicken and waffles (with a real chicken nugget on top—I kid you not). You won’t believe the buttercream frosting on these things!
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Frozen Dairy Dessert—Shake shack concretes
So many locations! It’s like Starbucks!
Madison Square Park
Southeast corner of Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. and East 23rd
Upper West Side
366 Columbus Ave. at 77th St
Citi Field (Shea Stadium)
12301 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing
691 8th Ave, Southwest Corner of 8th Ave & 44th St
Upper East Side
East 86th St, between Lexington and 3rd Avenue
Battery Park City
Murray St, between West St. and North End Ave
409 Fulton Street, corner of Willoughby St and Adams st.
At Shake Shack, they make “concretes” which are like DQ Blizzards—the custards with toppings blended in. Each locations has different signature concretes, or you can design your own!
Three NYC specific blogs that I frequent, each written by a good friend of mine:
• How do you think I found out about all those desserts above?
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Dessert Blog—EatSomeSweets.com
The site has all entries sorted by type of dessert and by neighborhood, this is a great reference site for big gurls, like me, who eat their feelings.
• If you’re a gay man, (and if you’re reading my blog, the odds are pretty high) you should also be reading this blog:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Faggotry Blog—ThisIsFYF.com
The tagline for ThisIsFYF is “Selections for the New York Homosexual”. It ranges from thought provoking discussions of gender, and assimilation, and celebrity within the gay community to less thought provoking things like the perfect penis aesthetics. JoeMyGod ain’t got nothing on this site.
• So a few months ago, I read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities", the book that basically gave birth to modern urban planning. From the science of building projects, to what makes cities different from suburbs, right down to how Ogelthorpe designed Savannah, I am fascinated with urban planning. If you’re like me, this site which deals very specifically with the current urban development of NYC is a must read!
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Urban Planning Blog—Urbanitis.com
Here, you can find out about public art installations, new green technologies in architecture, design contests, the Highline expansion… You name it, Urbanitis has covered it. Written with a strong, witty and often acerbic point of view, this site is for the lay people, like myself, that have an interest, but not a lot of technical knowledge.
• Let it be known that I have not tried many yoga studios in NYC. Frankly, when you’ve found one as good as I have, you don’t need to shop around.
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Yoga Studio—Laughing Lotus Yoga Center
On 19th just east of 6th
A beautiful facility, wonderful teachers, reasonable prices, and a philosophy of spirituality through movement and song are the reasons to join! If you’ve been thinking of trying yoga, or getting back into it, START HERE!
There's the monkey getting a back bend assist from Laughing Lotus teacher, co-owner, and co-founder, Dana Flynn in the new Lotus Dance Hall!
• OK, western medicine can kiss my butt. I started seeing an acupuncturist, and I swear, so many of my chronic health problems have disappeared! The guy I go to is GREAT (and while it is irrelevant to his work, he’s also very easy on the eyes.)
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Chinese Medicine Practice—Ryan Smith Acupuncture
250 West 57th St., Suite 2128
Go ahead! Try it out! Back pain, bladder infection, gangrene... I'll bet you Ryan can help!
• My right ankle and left knee hurt every time I run now. I haven’t done my 10k run in a while. (Maybe I need some Ryan Smith…) In any case, there is no better run in the city than this:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Run Loop—Central Park Reservoir Run
I run from my front door, through the park to and around the reservoir, and back again. It takes about 52-56 minutes. It’s really great. And Charlotte does it on Sex and The City (though she doesn't start in Harlem...)
Really, I’m NOT the best person to ask about fashion. However, I do have a few favorites.
• Though I’m no fashionista, there is one brand of clothing that makes me feel like I could be one:
Monkey’s Favorite NYC Retail Clothing Store—Original Penguin store
Though their clothes are sold at other outlets, there are two Original Penguin retail locations: SoHo store at 103 Green St., and just south of Bryant Park on 1077 6th Ave.
Their clothes are dapper—that’s the word for it. Thank god I don’t fit in most of them or I’d be homeless.
• I never wore hats before coming to NYC. But now, because of this store, I’ve got Hattitude!
Monkey’s Favorite Hat Shop and Milliner—The Village Scandal
On 7th st just east of Bowery.
Their hats are great, their customer service is the best around, and if you lose a hat you love, but have a picture, they can rebuild you another one! This place stays open because their customers are loyal.
So there you have it: just a few things that make up my New YOURk. As I typed out this list, I realize that almost everything on here is a recommendation from a friend. They shared with me a little bit of their New YOURk, and now their suggestions have become part of mine. Really, a person's life in New York City is defined by the people they collect along the way. I've collected some amazing friends, and therefore have had some amazing experiences and tried some amazing things. So if you live in NYC, I encourage you to try a few of my picks; what are we if not friends? Patronize the stores, eat the meals, read the blogs—maybe they’ll make YOURk list too!
Oh, and don't forget to send your burger recommendations please!