How to do Oahu Like a Local

Whenever I arrive anywhere tropical, I’m always jonesing to jump in the ocean. That’s why, right after landing on Oahu earlier this summer, we hit Waikiki beach. After years of bribing and threatening, Jimmy and I are stoked Tanner & Saxon finally love to surf. (Although I do not love how they constantly tell me what a crappy paddler I am and how I need Jimmy to slingshot me into waves.)

We hooked up with legendary pro surfer Hans Hedemann. Hans is Oahu born, owns two surf schools (Waikiki and Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore), and is super down to earth. He took us to a mellow spot called “Sandbar” toward the Honolulu zoo end of Waikiki.

The water is so warm and aqua. And you can surf in a bikini! The view—Diamond Head, the highrises and iconic pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel was gorgeous—and gliding over that turquoise glass made me feel giddy.

I tried to get some scoop from Hans about his time on the world tour but he was tight lipped.

hans
Hans throwing out some Risky Business vibes in the ’80s.

He did tell me that he gave Cameron Diaz lessons twice a day for an entire month, and she got so good, by the end he was taking her out into juicy double overhead surf. He also told us about his son, Johann, a musician who attends the Berklee College of Music in Boston.  Jimmy, the bros and I caught a ton of “party waves.”  We even surfed alongside an outrigger canoe on a few waves. After a few hours, we got out of the water all salty and blissed out, and walked past Kuhio Beach Park where locals were hosting grad party BBQs. I asked Hans if I was ready for juicy surf like Cameron.

“Not yet,” he laughed.

IMG_6562
That’s Mr. Hedemann on the right.

With the smell of plumeria and teri chicken wafting through the air, we hopped in the car. As we drove off, Hans’ son, Johann (aka Johann Beach), played us out…Listen to Johann’s perfect post-surf sesh song, “Girl Crazy” here.

One of the best things about visiting Oahu was hanging with our good friend, Rich and his family. We’ve known Rich since junior high and his personality has definitely improved with age.

dixon
Next, it was off to the windward side of Oahu to Kailua with Team Erickson.

IMG_6569

Kailua Beach is postcard pretty. I always feel like I could stay out in the water forever doing handstands and splashing around. The sand is soft and white, palm trees sway in the tradewinds, and the beach is dotted with an eclectic mix of people and dogs including Charlie, the amazing camouflaging Golden Doodle.

IMG_6574

After our beach day,  Jules took me around Kailua, and showed me all the hotspots.

Aloha Suprette was my fave.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

A superette is a New Zealand term for a small supermarket or convenience store. The gem of a boutique features unique wares by different artists. The jewelry draped over chunks of coral and cute neon-trimmed beach togs had me drooling.

samudra2

I was obsessed with this fuchsia surfboard by Travis Reynolds, a Santa Cruz surfer/artist/shaper. Alas, it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase…

IMG_6580

IMG_6583

Luckily, this cool piece did.

IMG_6582

  Travis upcycled leftover surfboard fiberglass to make the “canvas,” even splattering it with neon resin. Reminds me of surfer spin art.

Another happening ‘hood is Monsarrat Avenue near the base of Diamond Head. There are Acai bowl places and juice joints, the order-at-the counter Diamond Head Market with freshly made scones, passion fruit cheesecake and pickled mango by the pint. By far our favorite spot was ARS Cafe. With vintage vinyl spinning on the record player and  industrial chic decor, this espresso/coffee/gelato/art gallery is a charming spot to chill.

food-feat2-1024x576
The avocado toast is a must. The soft bread is so flavorful and comes smothered with beets, arugula, avocado and a poached egg.

Later, it was time to venture into Waikiki. We arrived at House Without a Key at the Halekulani Hotel just in time for sunset. Under a pinky blue abalone shell sky, a trio of musicians played the ukulele and sang about a yellow ginger lei while a hula dancer swayed gracefully.

Could there be a more quintessential Hawaiian experience? Honestly, I think these are the tastiest Mai Tais on the planet. They have the perfect tart to sweet ratio and a little sugar cane swizzle stick you can chomp on. (Try the recipe here.)

I could have pounded 10 so it’s a good thing we had to dash—it was time for dinner.

kimmy with mai tai

 Tiki torches licking the black sky, we took the beach route passing a dude with a metal detector sifting the now cool Waikiki sands for treasure—classic!—to a swell little boutique hotel in Waikiki called the Surf Jack and Swim Club.

It’s the coolest vintage-y hotel. Their motto is “Bringing soul back to Waikiki.” Walk into the covered lobby and the first thing you see is this swimming pool inscribed with “Wish You Were Here”…

Surf Jack.JPG

The center of the hotel is open air so you look up at a starry sky. On the platform bar area above the pool area are cute little cabanas where you can party semi-privately, and on the upper ten floors, 112 guest rooms which seem reasonably priced.

We ate at the hotel’s restaurant, Machina & Sons.

Great food even if the shaka wall paper nauseated poor Jules.
Great food, company and decor. Check out the Shaka wall paper!

Next, it was on to the North Shore. The North Shore is relaxed and lush. Locals have managed to keep it country. Hans has a surf school at Turtle Bay so once again, we hit the waves. Here, Jimmy gives Kelly Slater a run for his world title.

 We cruised into Haleiwa for sushi and window shopping. When we arrived at Matsumoto’s for shave ice, the line snaked out the door and deep into the courtyard. Jimmy wanted to bail. I thought there was no way this place could live up to its hype.

Guess what?

This shave ice is legit. Watching the women create perfect snowballs from an ice block, then drizzle it with tropical flavors—mango, papaya, lilikoi, yes please! and the piece de resistance a touch of sweet condensed milk—was mesmerizing. Plus the taste was nirvana.

IMG_6670

In the end, we didn’t want to leave. Oahu feels so much less touristy even though it’s supposedly the most touristy isle of all. There are fun new restaurants and hotels to explore, along with old school institutions.

After grabbing some tuberose leis from the airport stands, back we headed to the mainland.

Still thinking about all the fun we had and missing these cute little mango sellers.

mango sellers

mo muscles.jpg
Muscle Beach!

This Little Piggy

Recently Jimmy had a podiatry conference in Chicago. He was giving a workshop on PRP injections—whatever that is. I’d never been to Chicago, so I decided to tag along.

What a beautiful city. We loved running along frozen Lake Michigan. And the cool architecture! Jimmy was obsessed with the “corn cob” buildings from the opening credits of The Bob Newhart Show.

But let’s be honest, we were there to eat.

In my hot little hand, I held a list of 30 of our chef pal, Forrest’s two chef pals’ (former Chicagoans) fave places. Thirty restaurants.

So many choices, so little time.

The first night we checked out Girl and the Goat.

I don’t watch Top Chef, but apparently Season 4 winner, Stephanie Izard owns the joint. The place was slammed. As expected goat empanadas and goat stew were on the menu. Also braised beef tongue and the must-order dish, wood-fired pig face. Our bossy waitress told us we didn’t order enough. Truthfully, none of the selections grabbed us. Especially not poor Wilbur’s mug. We were definitely Team Charlotte.

We opted for the sautéed octopus and some other meh dishes that were way oversalted. Had the chefs raided the Morton Salt HQ’s we’d passed on the way in from the airport or what?

As we paid, we noticed our neighbors tucking into a pinkish patty served under an egg sunny side up with shoestring potatoes.

Yep, the pig face patty.
Yep, the pig face patty.

“How is it?” we asked.

“YUMMY!” they raved.

Back at the hotel I perused our list for lunch the following day. Vince and Vani’s cred had plummeted after Girl and the Goat, but Vince is executive chef at Levi’s Stadium, so I figured he knew his stuff.

“Should we go to The Purple Pig?” I asked, yelping it. “Says here, ‘… the chef boldly turns out meaty delicacies like sweet-crunchy pig’s ears with pickled cherry peppers.'”

“What’s with all this meat?” Jimmy asked.

“It’s the nose-to-tail movement.”

“Huh?”

“You know—chefs creatively incorporate every part of the animal from snout to tail into their dishes.”

“Yuck.”

The next day we Ubered to Longman and Eagle located in Chicago’s hipster Logan Square ‘hood. A Bon Appetit darling, the restaurant had made both V&V’s (Vince & Vani’s) top three.

Outside, the restaurant resembled a concrete bunker. A sign read, “EAT SLEEP WHISKEY ROOMS.” We walked into a tiny, dark, gloomy room, the kind of place you’d go after tying up your horse to meet Billy the Kid for a whiskey.

So far not impressed.

We perused the menu. More meat. More pig. Slagel Farms bone marrow with green apple kimchi. Puffed beef rinds, salt and vinegar powder.

Oh hell no. I was still retaining water from the salty Girl and the Goat fare.

Still, with a vintage juke box, vases stuffed with arrows, and a slew of flannel-clad manly men tending bar, Longman and Eagle’s saloon vibe was growing on us.

Our sweet ginger waitress told us there was a three-hour wait on weekends for the coveted 12 tables. She steered us toward the the whole hog crepinette with cheesy grits and collards. Tastily seasoned, the slow braised pork was comfort food heaven.

Stuffed to the gills, we decided to walk the five miles home. It was fun to bundle up and crunch through snow while passing through various neighborhoods. We even spotted several spots included on V&V’s list. By the time we got back to the hotel we were famished. Luckily we had a dinner date with Nina, Tanner’s best childhood pal, who attends Columbia College.

Tanner made Nina's dorm room!
Tanner made Nina’s dorm room!
here's a close up of the picture~Tan 'n' Neens back in the day.
here’s a close up of the picture~Tan ‘n’ Neens back in the day.

V&V, back in our good graces after the superb Longman and Eagle lunch, had recommended DMK Burger Bar so we decided to check it out.

Grass-fed burgers, hand-cut fries and for desert, St. Patty’s Shammy Shakes (chocolate mint ice cream with a Lucky Charms cereal floater). Plus, top notch service. What a score.

Vince and Vani were 2 for 3! Now I wanted to hit their entire list, but the clock was ticking. Our last night was a freebie podiatry dinner at Maestro’s—steaks and lots of foot discussion—but according to our guru, Vince, we wouldn’t leave without visiting The Donut Vault. People line up early, he said, because they run out by 10 am. This hole-in-the-wall was a must.

So the next morning while Jimmy headed to his workshop, I braved the 15 degree weather and bought a box of piping hot, fat, salted caramel old fashioned donuts—worth the frostbite! I also stopped by Eataly, Mario Batali’s sprawling foodie emporium to grab a fresh baguette and charcuterie for the plane ride home. On the way out I noticed chefs in white jackets handing out free pork cheek samples. Pass.

Jimmy and I met in the lobby. “I’m so bloated,” he said. “I can’t eat for a month.”

“Me either,” I said. “By the way, how did your workshop go?”

“Great! I taught 18 doctors how to give PRP injections.”

“What did you guys practice on?”

“Pig’s feet cadavers, of course.”

“Wow, Chi-town chefs really do cook every part of the pig, and they donate whatever’s left to the doctors. Not bad.”

And with that, these two little piggies hopped a plane to Cali and cried wee wee wee all the way home.

Longman and Eagle—we'll be back!
Longman and Eagle—we’ll be back!

The Old Man & the Sea

If you know Jimmy, then you know tends to be a tad full of himself. He’s always posing shirtless for photos, and boasting about his latest triathlon P.R. (personal record).

“I bring it!” he’ll say. Or “Kim, you’re over your skis with me!” And of course, his trademark flex/brag combo, “Have you ever seen a 49-year-old this yoked?”

Recently something terrible happened. Jimmy turned 50. And like Ethan Hunt’s tape, his ego was dangerously close to self destructing.

selfdestruct1966

It was time for a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

Tanner & Saxon threw down the gauntlet… “Yo bro, you need to catch 50 waves for your 50th b-day.”

“Fiddy for fiddy?” he asked. “BRING IT!”

So, Jimbo hopped a plane with his over-her-skis wife (me!) and two teenage sons and headed to Cabo to try and reach his goal of catching 50 waves in 3 days.

Our hotel of choice, Cabo Surf, was located in front of a surf break called “Old Man’s”—how perfect is that?

As soon as we checked in, Jimmy was on it! He slipped into hibiscus print board shorts. No wetsuit necessary—not when the water was a balmy 73 degrees. Just a thin rash guard to prevent chaffing.

Cabo Surf is home to the Mike Doyle Surf School. Along with co-inventing the boogie board, Mike was a champion surfer and paddler in the ’60s. He hung in Malibu with the original Gidget gang. We kept our eyes peeled for him from the get go.

Mike Doyle, Hermosa Beach circa 1963,
“Tiki” Mike Doyle, Hermosa Beach circa 1963,

That first afternoon was windy with texture on the water. Jimmy easily caught 10 waves—1/5 of his quotient. “Not much competition,” he sniffed. “Frankly, I’m more ripped than all these young bucks a quarter my age.”

Located in the center of the resort overlooking the surf, it's the optimal spot to relax after a grueling sesh.
Located in the center of the hotel overlooking the surf, the jacuzzi is the optimal spot to relax after a sesh.

 

With only 36 nicely appointed rooms, the Cabo Surf has an intimate, laid-back feel. Boards are propped against banana trees and cocopalms, and from dawn until dusk there’s a constant trickle of guests, boards tucked under their arms, cruises across the grounds headed for the sea.

On our first day, I awoke at 8 to find Jimmy’s side of the bed empty. Seconds later he came into the room dripping saltwater, clad in his rasta board shorts which perfectly reflected his chill mood. He’d dawn patrolled it, notching another 5 waves in his surf wax case. He was up to 15, and feeling quite confident. “There was some ‘Ed’ wearing lame reef booties trying to snake me, but I shut him down,” Jimmy boasted over huevos rancheros and gluten free French toast at 7 Seas, the hotel’s open-air restaurant.

After breakfast we headed out for a family surf sesh. It was relatively uncrowed—there were beginners taking lessons, local chicks who ripped, and assorted groms. The vibe was mellow and the break has multiple take off points. Unlike other more punishing spots, Old Man’s has a steep wave, but wipe outs are soft and forgiving.  We caught tons of fun party waves.

After a few hours, we took a break. Twenty-three waves in, Jimmy gloated, “I could have caught way more, but I was in instructor mode with you guys.”  Thanks, dude.

We were kicking back on the beach reading our books when we noticed Jimmy’s ripped six-pack was looking more like a seven-pack.

“Dad! It looks like you have a tumor!” Saxon grimaced. Turns out all that board-on-bone contact caused Jimmy’s previously broken rib, an old surf injury, to become inflamed. We started calling him Frankenstein Rib, Frankenrib, then finally McRib for short.

 

IMG_4093

After reading a few chapters and tossing around the football, Jimmy announced he was heading back out for another sesh, his 3rd of the day.

“McRib, you better chill!” we warned.

But Jimmy ignored us. “Oh yeah, you only wish you could be this studly when you’re 50,” he said.

 

I was content to chill on the beach with a Modelo.
I was content to wriggle my toes in the  sand.

By the end of our second day we still hadn’t seen Mike Doyle. He splits his time between SoCal and Cabo, but the supposedly the legendary waterman was in town. I wondered if we’d ever see him in the flesh.

Speaking of flesh, Jimmy accidentally squirted a wedge of lime meant for his happy hour cerveza on his chafed inner thighs. Which didn’t make him so happy. “Sh*t!” he yelled. “That hurt!” Hmm, I wondered.  Was the old man starting to crack?

 The next day was picture perfect. The ocean fanned out before us like a peacock’s tail in stunning shades of cobalt, turquoise and aqua. We had a dream session riding the soft, fun waves. Counting his dawn patrol and our family sesh, Jimmy’s total wave count catapulted to 37!

He had 13 to go. We were leaving the next morning. Who knew what the surf would be like? It could be flat, it could be blown out. McRib could not risk defeat, so he three-peated yet again, dragging himself out for a sunset surf. By the end of the day Jimmy had reached 47.

He came in utterly exhausted, self-medicated with three Modelos and a bottle of cab, and passed out.

He only had three waves left but I wondered: Could he make his goal? Could he bring it?

On our  last morning,  Jimmy stepped gingerly into his Greg Knoll-style black-and-white-striped jailhouse board shorts, a fitting choice as he was in a prison of pain. He shuffled across the room, elbows and knees raw burger, deformed rib protrudint like an angry pink beet. Speckled with blood, his thighs looked as though they’d been sanded with extra coarse paper. He was shark bait.

The teens and I paddled out with him in solidarity. The swell had definitely died down. Jimmy scrapped for one wave. Then another. 49! “Dad! One more to go!” Tanner hooted. Thirty minutes passed. The clock was ticking. From out of nowhere a set came barreling in, and finally Jimmy scored his 50th wave.

As we paddled in, we passed a man with piercing blue eyes, broad muscular shoulders, his big hands cupping the water like oars. Mike Doyle.

From the jacuzzi we watched Mike catch the longest, most effortless wave of our trip. Glding gracefully across the bay, he cross stepped up and down his board from tip to tail, looking every bit surf royalty at 73 years old.

“Oh man! I’m gonna bring it like Mike when I’m 73,” Jimmy boasted.

Jimmy may have a broken rib but his ego will remain invincible until the end of time.

Go, 'Nade, go!
Go, Ed, go!

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream Inn: Stoner’s Paradise

Post-holiday blahs got you down? A getaway to the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, might be just the “medicine” to lift your spirits!

Each room has an ocean view, a mini-bar stocked with Marini’s salt water taffy, and a photograph of the Ferris Wheel which you can ride right down the way at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Santa Cruz’s premier hotel is just a fun, beachy hang. It also happens to be the destination of choice for discriminating stoners everywhere. Let me explain…

When we visited over New Year’s, the first thing we did was crack open the sliding glass doors. Immediately the crashing waves and salty sea air filled our room delighting our senses….but wait. What was that other scent wafting in from the balcony?

Was it W-E-E-D?

Why, yes, it was. And we’re not talking a faint hint of ganja. We are talking full-on, back-of-Spicoli’s-van, mushroom cloud of Cannabis smoke.

Who was staying next door—

SnoopLion

Freakin’ Snoop Lion?

“This happens every single time we stay at the Dream Inn,” I remarked.

 “What do you expect?” said Saxon. “It’s Santa Cruz.” He had a point.

 That night we chilled in the room while Saxon commandeered the remote. He made us watch some super lame Lifetime movie called “The Other Woman.” It stared Winnie from the “The Wonder Years.” We had just settled into our double beds when suddenly there was that smell again.

Not sure if it was the contact high or Winnie’s crappy acting, but soon I was snoozing away. Suddenly a loud noise awoke me with a startle. “MOM!” Saxon yelled. “QUIT snoring! You sound like a leaf blower!”

“Sorry,” I said, readjusting my sleep mask and rolling over.

The next morning our neighbor decided to wake ‘n’ bake, and that sweet, earthy scent permeated our room yet again. No worries, mon. We were up and at ’em anyway. One of the best things about staying at the Dream Inn is walking along West Cliff Drive, checking out the surfers at Steamer Lane.

Somehow our friend, Dwain Christensen, makes the SC H20 look warm and inviting in his gorgeous photos. We're here to tell you that water is freakin' cold!
This is Andrew Christensen shredding. Somehow his dad, Dwain’s gorgeous photos make the SC H20 look balmy…We’re here to tell you that water is freezing!


We are beginners (well, except for Jimmy “Kelly Slater” Ratcliff) so we stick to the long, smooth Waikiki-style “party waves” at Cowell’s in front of the Dream Inn.

Before heading to the hotel’s restaurant for post-surf huevos rancheros, we dashed up to the room to change. “MOM, noooooo!” Tanner shielded his eyes from my bra-and-underwear-clad body as if avoiding a total eclipse of the sun.  “THANKS A LOT! Now I’m scarred for life.” We’ve always shared a room with the boys, but like a whiff of sour milk to the nairs, I realized this cozy arrangement had probably reached its expiration date.

We accompanied Tanner and his burned retina down to Aquarius, stopping to check out the new Jack O’Neill Lounge. Adjacent to the Dream Inn’s Aquarius restaurant (site of the first O’Neill surf shop), the cozy space features memorabilia and cool photos…

Jack became Santa Cruz royalty after inventing the wetsuit.
Jack became Santa Cruz royalty after inventing the wetsuit.

Our second night was a deja vu~the waves crashed, Saxon tortured us with more Lifetime schlock, I got yelled at again for snoring, and Snoop Lion sparked yet another spliff. Good times.

The best thing about the Dream Inn is how relaxed you feel when you get home. We chuckled while recounting our stoney stay to our surfer friend, Larry. Not surprisingly, Larry said the same thing happened to his family once. Only his wife called the front desk to complain, and got some money shaved off their bill. Truthfully the smell doesn’t bother us. It’s part of the charm, like the sandy lobby floor and wetsuits draped over the balconies. In fact, I can’t wait to visit again. But next time I’m gonna coin up for two rooms. That way I can snore and walk around in my skivvies to my heart’s content.

Hope your New Year is sweet!
Hanging in the Jack O’Neill Lounge.

Hope your new year is SWEET!

Love,

The Ratty Pack

Solo in the City

My cousin, Katie, is funny as hell. She lives in Midtown Manhattan, and smells of adventure—that, and the faintest hint of cigarette smoke (she’s forever quitting). I was ecstatic to stay with her last summer.

Until I wasn’t. Right before my visit, sad circumstances pulled Katie to the West Coast.

The thought of spending three days in New York City was daunting, but I was locked in.

My interior design friend, Laura, suggested the swank Crosby Street Hotel.

So chic! But rooms costs a kajillion dollars.
So chic! But the rooms cost a kajillion dollars.

Luckily, I scored a killer last-minute deal at the Soho Grand on Hoteltonight (great app!).

After indulging in way too much orange soda at my Grandmom Rosie’s 100 year-old rest home rager in Philly, I hopped an Amtrak for NYC. I got off at Penn Station, hopped the A train to Canal Street, and arrived at my hotel too early to check in. I dumped my bags, and wondered: What now?

My growling stomach led me to Momofuku Noodle Bar. On the way I got lost half a dozen times. Finally I arrived, sweaty and disoriented.

 Perched on a stool at the counter, the Friday lunch rush swirling around me, I realized I’d forgotten to bring reading material. So I just sat there awkwardly wondering where to look. Should I glance at my waiter drying glasses behind the counter? The guy to my right with his face buried in the Times? Or out on the packed floor, where it appeared everyone but me was seated with a gaggle of ramen-slurping buddies?

Just then a woman to my left turned in my direction, her diamond nose stud twinkling in the light. I perked up. She was going to engage!

“Pass the hot sauce?” she grunted.

“Sure,” I replied.

As I waited for my lunch, I remembered our fun family visit a few years back when we cheered Jimmy on in the NYC marathon, and scored the trip’s best eats—steamed Chinese buns slathered with hoisin and filled with crispy pork belly—right here at Momofuku.

But this time, my taste buds were unimpressed. It could have been my subway pass nestled between that pillowy wrapping. I knew the problem wasn’t the chef; it was me. I’d lost my appetite. The daunting prospect of spending three days—and countless meals—alone in the City had sunk in.

After lunch I rode the subway to the High Line, an elevated subway track converted into a gorgeous mile-long popular park. The path was packed with families and tourists lounging on the grass, snapping Selfies and marveling at the sights. Yet I had no one to ooh and ahh with over the lime green hydrangea, or the “Stop praying. God’s too busy to find you a parking spot” billboard, or the metallic, block-of-ice high-rise that would have made the perfect lair for a James Bond villain.

Hours later I finally checked into my hotel. Plopping onto the bed, I wanted so badly to grab a Corona and peanut M’n’Ms from the minibar and turn on Bravo tv, but it was dinnertime. A friend had recommended La Esquina which I yelped from my bed.  Apparently it was a hip NYC haunt, patronized by the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson.

The minibar was looking better and better.

Then came my inner-pep talk:  It’s Friday night. You’re in NYC. Would Carrie Bradshaw cower in her room binging on M’n’Ms? Hell no! She would strap on her Manolo’s and make it happen. 

So I pried myself from the sheets, donned my cutest outfit and headed down to the lobby to ask the concierge for directions.

 The concierge was a ruffled, Mark Ruffalo look-a-like. He pointed me toward Spring Street, and offered to call ahead and put me on the wait list for the bar.

A wait list? For the restaurant bar? Dorothy, we weren’t in Los Gatos anymore.

“Um,” I balked. “I guess so.”

My heart pounded inside my jean jacket the entire five blocks. Then I turned a corner and saw La Esquina’s glowing red neon sign. From the outside, the former dumpy deli didn’t look intimidating at all—so far, so good.

La Esquina 2

As I stepped through the entrance, a burly bouncer body blocked me at the door.

“Name?” he said.

“Um,” I stammered. “Kim. Kim Ratcliff.”

He eyed me as if I’d come in with a Nikon camera the size of a microwave strapped around my neck…

fanny packers…then called for backup.

“Name?” a second bouncer demanded.

I repeated my name. He stared me down. “Okay, go ahead,” he said. At the bottom of the stairs, a trio of bitchy hostesses awaited.

“Hi,” I chirped. “I’m headed for the ba—”

“That way,” Bitch #1 said, jerking a red lacquered talon toward a door.

Um, are you sure? I thought. Because that looks like the kitchen. I walked through a steam-shrouded kitchen, deeper into the labyrinth. After a few more twists and turns, I entered the subterranean dining room. Candlelit chandeliers illuminated the dim, cavernous space and its Day of the Dead decor.

I sunk into a comfy communal sofa and waited for the cocktail waitress. But guess what? La Esquina doesn’t offer cocktail service, so I took a deep breath, and elbowed my way to the bar.

Fifteen dollar marg in hand, I beelined back to the sofa. After my eyes adjusted, here’s what I did not see: George, Kate or Julia. Still, once I pounded my marg, I fled the boisterous bar for the safety of my hotel room where I climbed into bed with Andy Cohen and my chorizo-yucca tacos.

Compared to La Esquina, brunch the next morning at chic French brassiere Balthazar was a piece of cake—or should I say piece of brioche. Thanks to Mark Ruffalo, who’d secured a ressie the night before, I got right in.

The clink of silverware and soft classical music was mediative. Wall St. Journal in hand, I devoured my eggs benedict, and thought, maybe I can handle this traveling solo thing. Then, after brunch I passed a woman in the West Village walking her golden retriever. I felt a pang of loneliness. Back home I was never alone. I had Jimmy, the boys, a golden retriever glued to my side. Someone was always demanding a ride, or sex, or chewing on my Jimmy Choos. Someone always wanted a piece of me. And I was a bit of a lost soul without my pack, my wonderful, pain-in-the-ass pack.

I dragged my sad sack self back to the hotel, freshened up and rode the subway to 42nd Street. Swallowed by a sea of tourists out in Times Square, I felt ever more alone. At the theatre I waited silently in the long line for Kinky Boots. Inside, I took my seat and greeted the woman sitting next to me. We chatted about my kids and her Arizona garden boutique. Then, the lights dimmed, and for the next two hours, we whooped and cheered in tandem.

If I’d been with Jimmy and the boys, they would have been horrified, shushing me as usual, but I felt so free. After the show I walked to the Flatiron district. Entering the madhouse that is Mario Batali’s Eataly on a Saturday night, I snagged a seat at the Il Pesce counter.

Although I had both reading material and a bird’s (fish’s?) eye view of the chefs in the tiny, open kitchen, a woman from Ann Arbor who was traveling with her 14-year-old, introduced herself.

Sipping our Chardonnay, we shared city stories. After I spied Ann Arbor sprinkle sea salt in her virgin olive oil, I did the same. We dunked our fresh, rustic bread into the concoction, and I swore nothing could taste more delicious.

After dinner I walked back to Soho. Stopping every few seconds to marvel at the Empire State Building glowing purple in the dusky sky, I realized I’d found a rhythm and had finally begun to relax. Yes, I missed my family, but they would be waiting when I got back with hugs and gluten-free dinner demands, so why not milk my time alone for all it was worth?

Of course I wasn’t really alone. The streets teemed with energy. Lovers ringed the fountain in Washington Square Park; a piano man serenaded the crowd on a baby grand.  As usual I got lost multiple times. Two young Frenchmen righted me as I made a wrong turn out of the park, creating the sexiest human compass in the City.

In the end, it took a village—Greenwich Village—to get me back to my hotel.

On my last morning, I woke up early and rode the train uptown. I got off at Columbus Circle, where there waiting on the sidewalk was cousin, Katie, chomping furiously on a piece of Nicorette.

We rented bikes and explored Manhattan, top to bottom. We rode past Central Park, through Columbia University, down the West Highway, laughing, talking, breathing in the City in all its sewage-y, Sunday morning glory.

By the time our adventure ended, I was so famished I was eyeing Katie’s Nicorette as if it were eggs benny at Balthazar. “I’m sorry plans didn’t work out, you staying with me,” she apologized.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Everything worked out perfectly.” And I meant it. During my travels I’d rediscovered the feeling of independence and embraced it. Comfort zones are just that, comfortable, but not always exciting. And we all need some excitement in our lives.

Love you, KT, even if you kicked my ass!
If you ever go to NYC, you gotta look up my cool, cosmopolitan cousin, Katie.

Katie and I hugged goodbye, and I made my way to Ma Peche, Momofuku’s sister restaurant. Sunday Times in hand, I sat down, and ordered.

The pork buns arrived, and the crunch of pickled cucumbers, tang of hoisin, and crispy pork tasted exactly as I remembered—delicious.

I sat and devoured them, at home with myself at last.

Broadway, Balthazar and Camel Balls

Guest blogger: Tanner

It all started with my manic mom. She saw Kinky Boots on Broadway in August, and called us hyperventilating after the show.

“OHMIGOD, OHMIGOD, that show was amazing,” she said. “JIMMY! You have to bring Tanner when you come here for your podiatry conference next month. He needs to see there is more to life than MINECRAFT!”

So, that’s how I found myself spending a whirlwind weekend with my dad in NYC.
We arrived at JFK exhausted after catching the red-eye, and my dad promptly forgot his iPhone in the taxi. Luckily, the guy who got into the taxi after us was a bro. He arranged to meet us at Rockefeller Center so he could give Jimmy’s prized iPhone back!

We dropped our bags at The Days Inn on the Upper West Side, and headed for Cafe 82, which my dad called a “glorified Dennys.” Since I have Celiac Disease, my mom researched gluten-free friendly restaurants before we came. We were pleased to discover Cafe 82 even offered a separate GF menu.

After I finished my delicious GF chocolate chip pancakes, we hopped aboard the subway  headed for the NYU campus for our tour. The campus was absolutely beautiful. Unlike most colleges that have a closed off campus, there is no gate at NYU. It was open to the whole city. We got to see the gigantic library that houses over four million books and the living quarters. The student-guides also showed us a sun-filled, modern classroom, which looked so sophisticated equipped with comfy desks and chairs.

After our tour ended, we walked to a completely GF restaurant famed for its delicious breadsticks, Risotteria. The food was tasty and our waiter was a cool dude who was Tahoe bound!

Later we checked in only to discover my mom had booked us a total 1-star ghetto hotel. We had one bed to share between the both of us. Our room smelled like strong, poisonous house cleaner and was probably infested by bedbugs. I shot off a text: Thanks, Mom, for the shit-shack of a room!!

Room with a view...not!
Room with a view…not!

We had maybe an hour to chill before we had to get back on the streets to go see Kinky Boots. My dad was bitter when he discovered there was no wine opener in our room even though he was paying three bills a night to stay. While I checked my Facebook, he went down and gave the front desk a piece of his mind.

No glassware for Jimbo's vino so a Dixie cup had to do.
No glassware for Jimbo’s vino so a Dixie cup had to do.

The show was phenomenal. Stark Sands and Billy Porter both did an amazing job at their parts. After seeing the show, we were pooped and headed back to our room to relax before the next adventure packed day! Saturday I navigated the City alone while my dad dug into some yummy cadaver feet at his lab in the Bronx—who doesn’t love the smell of formaldehyde in the morning? First, I hit up Cafe 82 again. I was becoming a regular. This time I gorged on fluffy, homemade mashed potatoes and GF pasta with marinara.

Afterward it was time for It’Sugar. Even though I’m almost 17, I still love candy. The place was filled with huge-sized Laffy Taffy, SweetTarts, and Nerds. I got myself some treats, and even brought back a box of extra sour bubblegum “Camel Balls” for Saxon.

Nothing like a big bro who buffs you out with camel testies!
Nothing like a big bro who buffs you out with camel testies!

Then it was time to see Book of Mormon. I had to take the red one line to Times Square-42nd Street. I proceeded to walk the seven blocks to 49th and 8th Street where the theater was located. My seat was so swank, about eight or so rows back, but snack-dab in the middle of the row, perfect view of the stage. Couldn’t ask for better (thanks Katie for the tix!) The show was amazing. It was written by the same people who did South Park, so it was hilarious in a crude humor way. The acting was superb as well, consisting of college-aged men belting catchy tunes that I couldn’t stop singing the next day.

After the show, my Dad, our cousin Katie, and myself went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, Balthazar. I gobbled up plenty of their delicious oysters while Jimmy and Katie proceeded to down several bottles of beer and wine (Partiers!!).

image

The restaurant’s bathroom even had their own employee that would offer you towels after you had finished washing your hands. They also had a small plate of mints, matches, and other miscellaneous crippity-crap in an attempt to achieve a tip.

I am very big into acting  as I have been performing in musicals since the 5th grade. Seeing these shows on Broadway was eye-opening for me to see what it would be like for me if I continue on with my acting through college. I was so impressed by the skills demonstrated by the actors in the musicals.

On our final day, my Dad and I went on a beautiful walk up on the Highline trail. Although the path was packed with deodorant shunning, slow-walking Euros, I enjoyed the unique perspective of the City. We even were able to watch a guy make us snow-cones by scraping ice off a huge block of ice.

image

image

Overall, this trip was one of the most important experiences I’ll ever have. I am so fortunate I was able to go to NYC and see the fantastic city. I’m happy to claim this experience has opened my eyes to many opportunities that I have access to in my life.

At Eataly's Beer Garden. Later NYC! I'll be back. And hopefully I'll be old enough to try the GF brews.
At Eataly’s Beer Garden. Later NYC! I’ll be back. And hopefully I’ll be old enough to try the GF brews.

Kinky Kimmy & the Kandy Kakes

Thanks to some seriously amazing Hungarian genes, my grandmom Rose Wiggins was about to turn 100, so last Wednesday I bid adieu to the rest of the Rattypack.

 “I’m gonna miss you so much,” I said to the boys before I left for the airport.

“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” they replied, barely glancing up from their keyboards.

Five hours later my plane touched down in Philadelphia. I was thrilled when my cousin, Tracy, picked me up at the airport. When we were little, Tracy and I sported matching pixie haircuts, and played school for hours on end in her basement.

That's us circa '68. Tracy's on the right.
Circa ’68. Tracy’s on the right.

We hadn’t seen each other for 15 years, so we had a lot of catching up. Plus I was dying for a cheesesteak. We beelined for Jim’s on South Street.

Tracy warned me that Jim’s counter jockeys were Cheesesteak Nazi’s, like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, so I better get my act together before I reached the head of the queue.  But there were so many add-ons, my head was spinning.

“I’ll take the provolone with sautéed green bell peppers, uh no, never mind,” I stammered when it was my turn. “How about ‘shrooms and onions? Oh shoot, wait a sec.” The guys couldn’t have been nicer. They even agreed to this photo op on the condition I send them In & Out burgers, animal-style, when I got back home.

I'm working on it, guys!
Working on it, guys!
Somehow my cousin Tracy hookwinked me into the Cheez Wiz. Never again! From now on, I'm a provolone purist.
Tracy hookwinked me into the Cheez Wiz. Never again! From now on, I’m a provolone purist.
My other cousin, Kristen, put ketchup on her cheesesteak. What is up with that?
My other cousin, Kristen, doused her cheesesteak with ketchup. What’s up with that?

By the time we finished our meal, the line was wrapped around the block. It was obvious why—the tender, thinly sliced ribeye was heaven in a roll!

Not so heavenly? The smell in my room back at the Holiday Inn. My hair and clothes reeked of grilled meat and onions as though I’d just finished an eight-hour shift at Jim’s, but I didn’t care. I was already fiending for my next carnivorous fix.

I could have devoured one, two, five of those babies for breakfast, but my Uncle Chuck had other ideas. He took us on a tour of the Italian Market. We passed by old school butcher shops filled with all kinds of delicacies…

IMG_2770

One live poultry market was bursting at the seams with furry animals and birds crammed into cages— imagine Death Row for bunnies.

To cleanse our eyeballs from that sad site, we toured historic Society Hill, where I fell in love with the charming 18th- and early 19th-century architecture and brick rowhouses.

Great curbside appeal~American flags, and urns spilling over with flowers.
Great curbside appeal~American flags, and urns spilling over with flowers.

I could have meandered down those cobblestone streets for hours, but it was time to PARTAY! First we had to pick up Grandmom Rosie’s birthday cake from Giants supermarket. Luckily there was a blue light special on TastyKake Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes which I loved as a kid. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups meets moist cakey goodness, these treats are melt-in-your-mouth delish.

mDbUNTeRT-QZzJkrz5TAuFA

Tastykakes are only sold on the East Coast, so I bought like 50 boxes. Kristen stocked up on butterscotch.
Tastykakes are only sold on the East Coast, so I bought like, 50 boxes of PB. Kristen stocked up on butterscotch.

Soon it was time to blow the roof off the Broomhall Presbyterian Nursing Home! Orange soda was flowing, a hoagie tray was brimming, and Uncle Dave was crankin’ out religious hymns on his keyboard.

Nestled in a crochet blanket, the birthday girl wore a slouchy beanie, and beamed at her many well wishers including my sweet cuz, Matt who flew in from Florida for the day.

IMG_2787

 

Hey Grandmom. Kayne called. He wants his gold cross pendant back.
Hey Grandmom. Kayne called. He wants his gold cross pendant back.
The gang's all here.
The gang’s all here.
Put the Orange Crush down, Dad! (aka Grandpa XXL Undies) You'll spoil your appetite!
Put the Orange Crush down, Dad! (aka Grandpa XXL Undies) You’ll spoil your appetite!

Grandmom Rosie’s long term memory is great. She regaled us with childhood stories. Apparently her grandmother (who helped raise Rosie) spiked her tea with whiskey every morning before school because the weather was so frigid.

Her short term memory, though, is shot.

“Hi Grandmom,” I chirped when I first approached her. “It’s your granddaughter, Kim, from California! Happy Birthday, you look beautiful! I’m glad I could be here to help you celebrate.”

“Kimmy? Kimmy!” she cooed. “I can’t believe you’re here. Oh Kimmy, I love you so much…”

Ten minutes later, I checked back in. “Grandmom, you enjoying your party?”

“Who is that speaking? I’m sorry I can’t see so well, I have macular degeneration. Who are you?”

“It’s Kim, visiting from California, Grandmom.”

“Kimmy! I can’t believe you’re here. Oh sweetie, Kimmy, I love you so much.” And on our conversation looped for the rest of the sweet celebration.

Grandmom Rosie starred in all of the Hungarian musicals in her hometown of Bethlehem, Pa. When she was about 17 or 18, the young starlet aspired to move to NYC with her best friend, cousin Mary, to give Broadway a shot. Fearful of the wild city life, however, her grandmother thwarted those plans. Hmm…whiskey before grade school, yes. Broadway, no. Not sure about that logic, but regardless Rosie’s love for the dramatic arts—from attending musicals to her beloved Liberace—never waned.  So it was in her honor I hopped a train to NYC the following day and saw Kinky Boots on Broadway.

Winner of the ’13 Tony Award for Best Musical, Kinky Boots is based on a 2005 British film about a British shoe factory on the brink of ruin that reinvents itself as a maker of eight inch stiletto “kinky boots” for drag queen performers. It’s a big ol’ love story about sons, the families we make and red patent leather. (Disclosure: Cribbed that last line from the NY Times.)

Yes, these are all dudes. Except Cindy Lauper.
Yes, these are all dudes. Except Cindy Lauper.

With music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper, Boots was more delicious than cheesesteaks and Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. The male actors who appeared in drag were insanely gorgeous. When I wasn’t contemplating turning to the excessive cougher behind me and shoving a lozenge down his throat, I cheered for 2 hours straight. And wondered how in the heck those dudes tucked everything—and I mean EVERYTHING—out of sight.

After the show, I stood on the sidewalk with strangers, our hearts still pounding, as we raved about the show. I couldn’t help but think Rosie would have adored Kinky Boots. She was there in spirit for sure.

Happy 100th Birthday to the greatest DIVA of all, Grandmom Rose.

Love,

Kimmy from California.

PS: I said, KIMMY FROM CALIFORNIA!

Tony-award winning actor Billy Porter, the second greatest diva of all time!
Tony-award winning actor Billy Porter, the second greatest diva of all time!