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!

Mystery of the Movie Theater Scumbag

 
 
Sit down and buckle up…you are NOT gonna believe my recent traumatic movie theatre-going experience.
 
 
So Sunday night, Jimbo, Sax and I head down to a nearby, newly redone theatre to catch “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” (Indian family opens a gaudy but delish Indian joint across the road from Helen Mirren’s stuffy, Michelin-starred French restaurant in picturesque French countryside.)
 
 
The theatre is packed. (First bad omen.) But we find some decent seats up in the front—not great but not neckache-inducing either.
 
 
After the movie starts, this 20-something guy comes and sits next to me. RIGHT NEXT to me. (Second bad omen) I detest sitting next to anyone in the theater, but I figure it’s time to get over my phobia and just deal for the next 2 hours.
 
 
 
Soon my neighbor pulls out a bottle of red wine and takes a swig from the bottle. Which I didn’t love, but since Jimbo and I have been known to sneak in libations occasionally, again, I tell myself to chill out.
 
This guy is pretty rude throughout the movie. Texting, swigging, rumpling his freakin’ popcorn bag and his CANDY bag he snuck in from the candy shop next door. Not fun.
 
 
Twenty minutes toward the end—CLINK!—he drops his wine bottle. Red wine torpedoes up my leg, soaking my white pants and sandals/bare feet.
Not wanting to make a scene, I hiss:
“Dude! You just spilled your wine all over my pants. NOT COOL.”
He mumbles something smart assed.
 
By the end of the movie, steam is pouring from my ears. After the lights come up, I read him the riot act. He is belligerent. His mom (sitting one row behind us) actually comes to his defense and shushes me.
 
Jimmy calls him an f**ing dick. Not wanting the situation to escalate,
I tell Jimmy to ease up. The punk tells us his name is “James Doe”
(name changed to protect the douchey),
and his dad owns the theatre, and boohoo if I didn’t enjoy my movie going experience.
 
Then he says to Jimmy, “Yeah, bro, you better keep walking!”
Jimmy wants to shove the red wine bottle where it don’t shine, but shows restraint. 
 
 
As I am reporting him to the supervisor, James Doe strides up and repeats his story to the supervisor. Obviously hammered, this guy has NO FEAR. He plays like a drunk, entitled kid proclaiming to own the theatre, and tough shit if I spilled wine down your leg.
Deal with it.
 
 
So! I get home and call my friend who, in fact, owns the theatre. (She has partners so I don’t know if this punk is telling the truth.)
 
 
She says absolutely not, and she is going to get to the bottom of this. She asks me to describe him.
That’s when we go all CSI!
I ask Saxon (known for his attention to detail) what the guy looked like.
He doesn’t miss a beat: “Aloha shirt. A’s cap. Jeremy Renner with baby fat.”
 
BOOM!
 
Next day my friend pulls his image from the movie theatre surveillance cameras, sends it to her partner, supposedly the kid’s “dad.”
 
Her partner recognizes the punk as a kid his son went to school with but hasn’t seen for several years.
BUSTED! James Doe gets an unexpected phone call.
 
Writes a grammatically atrocious apology letter to the “theatre owner” (doesn’t bother to research the owner’s name—nice.) and offers to pick up my dry cleaning bill to get my jeans “back to normal.”
 
I am tempted to tell him my pants are permanently damaged and demand a $200 gift card to my favorite boutique, but instead savor the fact that justice has prevailed,
and we royally busted James Doe!
Also, I take solace in knowing that he must have one hell of a candy/red wine hangover.
 
I am thinking of going into the P.I. biz.
 
spilled wineWhatcha think?
 
 
 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Bieberlocks and the Three Colleges

IMG_3897Once upon a time there was a high school junior named BieberlocksIt was time to start thinking about colleges, but Beiberlocks’ parents worried he didn’t have eye of the tiger. Everyone was stressing about SAT’s and GPA’s and AP’s—that was everyone except for Bieberlocks. He just sat around tossing his blonde mane, playing Grand Theft Auto, strumming Sweater Weather on his guitar. 

Then along came winter break. Mama and Papa arranged a little SoCal college tour in hopes of lighting a fire under Bieberlocks’ butt. 

First they visited Chapman University. Intimate and charming, located south of L.A. in the quaint town of Orange, Chapman boasts state-of-the-art Dodge College of Film & Media Arts. 

IMG_3861

There were grassy lawn as far as the eye could see, piazzas with gurgling fountains, even an artfully displayed chunk of the Berlin Wall.  Mama smelled the orange blossoms wafting through campus. “Oh, I like this school,” she exclaimed. “I really do.” But when the perky tour guide said Papa would have to pony up $50K a year, he growled, “TOO EXPENSIVE!” 

“Anyway, it’s TOO SMALL,” complained Beiberlocks when he heard the student population was only 5,000.  Mama was heartbroken. She envisioned Beiberlocks becoming a famous screenwriter and thanking her from the podium at the Oscars. But when she passed a bust of Ronald Reagan on the way out, a shiver ran down Mama’s spine, and she said under her breath, “TOO REPUBLICAN.” 

Next, the trio visited University of San Diego. Located on a hill with sweeping views of Mission Bay, the university features Spanish architecture, fabulous succulent arrangements, and a library study nook straight out of Hogwarts. There was even a five-star restaurant with valet parking for co-eds with really rich parents, which unfortunately was not the case with Bieberlocks.

Luckily, Bieberlocks did not dig USD. “TOO SLEEPY,” he said.

“TOO TRAFFIC-Y,” agreed Mama, noticing the shuttles and traffic coursing through the campus thoroughfare.

“TOO EXPENSIVE,” growled Papa.  

And so they headed up the 8, past Mission Valley and Hotel Circle to San Diego State. Mama worried that this school was too big for Bieberlocks. She hadn’t been back since the ’80s, and barely recognized her alma mater. “IT’S SO DIFFERENT!” she gasped. Instead of a Walkman, every student had a cell phone glued to his ear. The crunchy health food store she’d frequented in the Student Union had been replaced by a Starbucks 

Bieberlocks took one look at the hot co-eds soul cycling in the mack daddy fitness center with the 50-foot climbing wall, and the bronzed bros long boarding through campus, and he said, “JUST RIGHT!”

Mama looked at the tropical campus, lush with banana trees and birds of paradise. She thought about surfing in the warm La Jolla waters while visiting Bieberlocks. SDSU even offered a Film/Business major. Maybe she’d go to the Oscars after all. Mama smiled and said, “JUST RIGHT!”

IMG_3872 (1)

And when he heard the $20K price tag, Papa, too, said,  “JUST RIGHT!”  Then he told mama she better start job hunting STAT.

Bieberlocks was so ecstatic at the thought of attending such a fine institution he promised to NEVER play Grand Theft Auto again, and spend ALL his time studying for the SAT’s and making straight A’s.

Well, not really. That would truly be a fairytale.

Where will Bieberlocks wind up? Stay tuned. After all, there are more colleges to explore. Can’t you just hear it now…

Colorado State University? “TOO STONEY!”

UC Santa Cruz? “TOO SLUGGY!”

images

UC Santa Barbara? “TOO MUCH TALENT!” 

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.

Trottin’ with the Baby Daddy

Guest Blogger: Jimmy

Every Thanksgiving we run the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 5K which benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank. Not only is the race a good way to get a little exercise before you indulge, but also it’s great way to help those in need.

The night before the race, I carefully pinned our numbers to our bright purple jerseys and laid them all out for easy access during the following morning scramble. “Don’t forget, we have to get a picture of us wearing our race shirts after the race!” chirped Kimmy.

As always the race was epic. Cruising through the deserted streets of downtown San Jose, serenaded by Taiko drummers, cheered on by bystanders, running alongside chicks dressed like hot pilgrims. What’s not to like?

 After we finished, we met in front of SAP Center and headed back to the car, cutting through St. James Park on the way.  There it was Thanksgiving, yet sprinkled though out the park were folks bundled in blankets drinking Coke and eating PB& J’s. Some were obviously homeless. It was heartbreaking. I knew I would go home and enjoy a great meal in a warm house with family and friends, but these people were obviously not as fortunate.

Halfway through the park, we saw a guy chilling on a bench smoking a cigarette. “Hey!” he called. “Where’d you get that shirt, man?”

“We did the Trot, dude!” I called.

“Huh?” He didn’t seem to know what the Trot was.

“You know, running?”

“Oh! Did you have to pay for that?”

“Yeah, man. We had to sign up and pay.”

We were halfway to the car when Kimmy said, “We should give that guy one of our shirts!”

“No way, Kim. Let’s go,” we all balked.

“Come on!” she pleaded. “Mine’s an extra small—it won’t fit him. Sax, quick give me yours.”

Saxon grudgingly took his shirt off. I gave him my sweatshirt. We waited at the car while Mother Teresa ran back through the park.

A few minutes later she arrived at the car out of breath with a huge smile on her face. “He loved it!” she said. Her smile faded, however, when Tanner said,  “Nice job, Mom, now we can’t get a photo of us wearing our shirts.”

“Shoot!” she said. “We’ll just have to go and ask if we can borrow it back for a second.”

We all shot Kim down. “NO WAY, Forget it!”

But she insisted. So back we drove. We got out of the car and headed toward the dude.  His name was Marvin. Marvin introduced us to his lady friend, Esperanza, who was drinking a super-sized blackberry ice tea from the can. “Are these your boys?” she asked.

“Yes,” Kim replied. “These are my sons, Tanner and Saxon.”

Esperanza pointed at me. “That the dad?”

“Yep, that’s my baby daddy.” We all cracked up, Marvin and Esperanza included.

Marvin told us had two daughters, 6 & 7, and boy, were they were a handful. Esperanza said her son was a wrestler at Independence High School.  We stood there for a few minutes, laughing and chatting about the agony and ecstasy of raising children. Then we asked if Marvin would join us for a photo. “Sure,” he said.

Meet Marvin, the newest Rattypack member.

Esperanza snapped the photo, eyeing our shirts admiringly. We told Marvin we hoped to see him next year at the Trot and suggested he start training and ease up the smokes immediately. Right before we walked away, I took off my shirt and handed it to Esperanza. Her eyes lit up in gratitude. (Or maybe she was just checking out my studly naked upper torso.)

Truthfully, it was me who was grateful. They may have gotten the shirts off our backs but in that moment, our family interacted with people we’d normally never engage with in our daily lives. That cool moment turned out to be the highlight of my Thanksgiving.

As we walked away,  Esperanza called out, “You better keep an eye on your baby daddy!”

IMG_0952