6/24/15

Rediscovering the "De-chained" CPK and Loving It

Ever since I moved to NYC, I've had a very strong aversion to chain restaurants. Why should I eat at a place that I can eat at anywhere in the country when I have the best restaurants in the world mere footsteps away?, I thought. 

However, California Pizza Kitchen has always had a special place in my heart as it used to be the go-to birthday spot when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. I always knew about the CPK, as it's affectionately known, at 30th Street and Park Avenue, but have never been nostalgic enough to visit during my almost 7-year NYC tenure. But that all changes now.

California Pizza Kitchen NYC

Monday night I had the opportunity to visit CPK--the only location in Manhattan (so is it really a chain? Haha!)--as they celebrated their 30th anniversary and their new mission to "dechain the chain."

I first got a tour of the newly redecorated space, featuring a chalkboard and a wall of herbs at the entrance, reclaimed wood table tops, and scenic NYC photos adorning the walls. The space already feels more welcoming than your typical, cookie-cutter franchise.


Next, I was given an apron and whisked into the kitchen with Head Chef Brian Sullivan (who developed the iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza more than 20 years ago!) and NYC pizza chef Juan who both taught me how to make a pizza and (here's the best part) TOSS THE DOUGH! My first attempt ended up with me breaking holes in the dough, but try number 2 got some serious air and I transformed it into CPK's Wild Mushroom Pizza ($13.49) with 5 different types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses, garlic, and scallions. Yum!

Stretching pizza dough at CPK
Juan teaching me to stretch the dough
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
Oops! Popped some holes!
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
That's a winner!
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
At this point, I was finding flour in my hair and covering my arms--tis' the life of a pizza arteest!--but I was having a blast. Then I sat down with CPK CEO G.J. Hart, one of the nicest people I've ever met, who along with Chef Brian walked me through some of the new menu items and cocktails.

The first drink I tried, my favorite of the evening, was the California Roots, a Svedka vodka concoction with muddled avocado, mint, and agave sour rimmed with fennel salt. Talk about unusual! I also tried G.J.'s creation, The Executive Decision, which has Casamigos tequila blanco, muddled mint, fresh agave sour, Monin organic agave nectar and fresh lime, and I thought it was like vacation in a glass. Lastly, I sampled the Blueberry Ginger Smash, which cleverly mixes Jack Daniels with agave nectar, Domaine de Canton ginger, fresh blueberries and lime and cranberry juice into a delightful fruity libation. I told G.J. I could see these drinks going for upwards of $16 at some Manhattan hot spots, but he told me the price point was about half that depending on which CPK you were visiting!

California Roots cocktail
California Roots
The Executive Decision cocktail
The Executive Decision
Blueberry Ginger Smash
Blueberry Ginger Smash

Next, the food! Delicious, delicious food! When I used to come to CPK as a kid, I would always reliably order the BBQ Chicken Pizza. While the old classic is still on the menu, the items that surround it are new, improved, and focused on seasonal ingredients. Case in point, the California Fields Salad (half $9.99, full $13.49) is comprised of gorgeous field greens with fresh watermelon, sweet strawberries, feta, and California pistachios, topped with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette.

California Fields Salad
California Fields Salad

I also tried the new Maine Lobster Flatbread ($10.99), a wonderful dish for sharing, it features real Maine lobster meat, mayo, fresh herbs, arugula, and shaved red onions on a parmesan flatbread. It's like a pizza version of a lobster roll, and I LOVE lobster rolls.

Maine Lobster Flatbread
Maine Lobster Flatbread

For main entrees, I sampled the Tricolore Salad Pizza ($12.99), which is a salad lover's dream! It features a different take on the crust--caramelized honey and parmesan lend it to be thinner and crispier--cooked and then topped with field greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan tossed with housemade Dijon balsalmic vinaigrette.

Tricolore Salad Pizza
Tricolore Salad Pizza
I also had a clever take on a gluttonous dish, their Shrimp Scampi Zucchini ($14.79), which had half regular pasta and half noodles made from zucchini (aka: zoodles!) sauteed with lemon, garlic, and white wine. This entire dish is only 470 calories!

Shrimp Scampi Zucchini
Shrimp Scampi Zucchini

Lastly, my favorite entree of the night was the Hearth-Roasted Halibut ($23.79) served over grilled asparagus and butternut squash farro and baby kale. I could eat this morning, noon, and night, and it's a good thing too because the size of the piece of fish they give you is ginormous! Definitely enough for 2 meals for me. And the farro adds a truly unique touch.

Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Of course they didn't let me skip out on dessert, and neither should you. Both the salted caramel pudding ($4.99) served with black cocoa cookie crumbs, whipped cream, and sea salt and the Butter Cake ($6.79) served with ice cream and whipped cream are decadent options to end your meal.

Salted Caramel Pudding
Salted Caramel Pudding
Butter Cake
Butter Cake
I go to a lot of restaurant events, and I must say the hospitality I received at CPK was top notch. You could tell the people who work there enjoy the company for more than the fact that it gives them a paycheck--there's true passion behind the food and drink. Their prices are also fabulous! Lunch specials range from $9-11 from M-F, 1-4pm, and they also have happy hour specials.

Me with CPK's head chef and CEO
From Left: Head Chef Brian Sullivan, me, and CEO G.J. Hart

G.J. also told me that CPK is committed to the communities they operate in, offering fundraising events as often as they can. They are also relaunching their grocery store branded items, so keep an eye out for those in the coming months. I also took home a copy of the CPK cookbook, so maybe I'll be trying some of their creations for my next dinner party!

The CPK Cookbook
The CPK Cookbook
CPK Cookbook inscription
Love the inscription!

It's official, I've been converted (partially) back to the chain. CPK, you have thoroughly impressed me and I'll be singing your praises for a long while.

Disclosure: CPK hosted me for this event and paid for my food, but all opinions are my own.


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6/23/15

Your New Go-To For Snack Attacks

Searching for a snack that will get you through your afternoon, or even a nice, no-mess addition to a picnic in Central Park? I recently came across Crispy Fruit by Crispy Green, specifically the mango and Asian pear flavors, and I loved them so much I had to share. 


Each snack pack comes in a convenient tear-open packet and what you get is 100% pure fruit. It's been dehydrated of course, but don't confuse this process with the typical drying method we've seen produced by several supermarket brands. The way Crispy Fruit is made preserves the true flavor of the fruit with no added sugar. The result is a light, crispy texture with maximum taste.

Crispy Fruit are available for purchase throughout NYC at stores like Gristedes, Garden of Eden, and Balducci's. Comment below which is your favorite flavor!


Disclosure: I received free snack packs of Crispy Fruit but all opinions are my own.

6/22/15

Get Your Greek On at Eons

The Chipotle model has obviously proven so successful for Mexican food, so it's no surprise we've seen numerous other cuisines steal the build-it-yourself meal restaurant and make it their own. The Greeks have done it this time with Eons in Murray Hill (633 Second Ave @ 34th Street) and it's bound to be your new go-to for fresh, flavorful food.

Eons Greek

Walking in, you get the view similar to what you seen in Chipotle--a line of people waiting to choose their base (here you get you meal served as a pita, over rice, or over salad), protein (chicken, pork, shrimp, octopus, steak, lamb, salmon, or veggies), and toppings (tzadziki, garlic spread, feta spread, eggplant, humus, or something called lado sauce). Then you can choose from a variety of veggies and condiments to top off your meal.

We met the owner Anoush and she sweetly walked us through our options and made some recommendations.


Eons Greek counter and menu

Anoush making my lunch
Anoush making my lunch
Proteins!
Proteins!
More proteins!
More proteins!
Toppings!
Toppings!
Prices range from $7-$15 (with octopus by far being the most expensive). I opted for salmon over rice and have been craving it for lunch ever since! The fish is super flavorful and you can tell that it hasn't been sitting there for days just waiting to be served. The tomatoes which topped my bowl were some of the reddest I've ever seen and I would definitely recommend you not skip the lentils! Also they serve Boylan's sodas, so Eons officially gets 2 thumbs up.


Anoush also brought us a sample of Eons' spreads. The humus was, well, not my favorite, but all the others were great, especially the garlic spread! Mmmmm. No vampires here!

A spread of spreads
A spread of spreads
Our lunches
Our lunches
If you live or work in the area, Eons would be a great place to pick up lunch or dinner. And if you're anything like me, you'll even have leftovers! Don't be afraid to splurge for bigger ticket items like the salmon because they are fresh and definitely worth the few extra bucks.

Click to add a blog post for Eon's Greek Food For Life on Zomato

6/19/15

AWESOME ALERT: Free Antigravity Fitness Classes Next Week in NYC

Don't fall over, but one of my favorite (and most unique!) workouts of all time will be free to all newbies in NYC next week. Antigravity Fitness, is an exclusive program that combines aerial arts, yoga, pilates, and plain old fun into several different classes designed to push your boundaries, increase your flexibility, and generally make you more aware of your body and it's capabilities.

I've been taking classes for more than 5 years and there's not much more to be said than I LOVE IT!

Antigravity Fitness Creator Christopher Harrison and some yogis
Antigravity Fitness Creator Christopher Harrison and some yogis

To celebrate International Yoga Day on June 21, AntiGravity invites you to take flight with AntiGravity Fundamentals: Open Level classes at no cost from June 22-27, 2015. NO COST people! FREE! 

You don't need to have a current yoga practice to join, so everyone will take something away from this class (and more than likely get hooked and want to go back again and again). The patented hammocks are rated to hold more than 1,000 pounds, so no need to be scared. The trained instructors will walk you through your first inversion step by step and you'll be amazed at how good the world feels upside down. Bonus: there's no compression on your head and neck like there is with traditional yoga inversions!

To sign up, contact: labmanager@antigravityfitness.com to reserve a space. Just specify your Fundamentals class preference after selecting your preferred class time by clicking here.  Spaces are limited and are confirmed on a first come, first serve basis.

And one more time to show you how much fun it is, here's me and my friend Rachel just hanging last year:

Antigravity Fitness

Have fun flying!

Satisfy Your Crustacean Craving at Ambrose Beer and Lobster

Last month the Seaport got a new venue that has our vote for awesome summer hangout spot. Ambrose Beer and Lobster (18 Fulton Street) hosted a fun-filled event featuring the longest lobster roll I've ever seen, music by DJ Kalkutta, and an appearance by Dashca Polanco from Orange is the New Black.

Ambrose Beer and Lobster

 First things first, we headed for the bar. Vaction-y drinks we sampled included the Starboard--Absolut Mango, watermelon juice, and Saint Germain--and the Shipwreck--Sailor Jerry rum, Malibu, Bacardi, lime juice, and grenadine. Just add sand :)

Ambrose Cocktails
Ambrose Cocktails
The decor is great. Very shipwreck meets fun times. There's even a giant lobster!


Ambrose Beer and Lobster


Ambrose Beer and Lobster

The food was just want you'd want while sipping a beer outside on the cobblestones. We tried the giant pretzel with spicy honey mustard and cheese sauce, lobster avocado lettuce wraps, truffle fries, and the aforementioned lobster roll. Can you tell they like their lobster here? Dascha Polanco likes it too (see below!).

Giant lobster roll
Giant lobster roll!
Awesome in New York with Dascha Polanco
Look who we met!
 lobster roll
Lobster roll
Dascha Polanco loves the lobster roll too!
Dascha Polanco loves the lobster roll too!
Lobster lettuce wrap
Lobster lettuce wrap
Giant pretzel
Giant pretzel
Truffle Fries
Truffle fries

Check out Ambrose Beer and Lobster for a warm summer evening of fun and let us know what your favorite menu items were!

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6/18/15

Fall In Love Further With New York (And Enjoy a Film Outside!)

Looking for something cool to do tomorrow evening? Rooftop Films is presenting a showing of "New York Nonfiction" in partnership with Spin and Juul at Industry City (220 36th Street. Sunset Park, Brooklyn) at 9 pm (doors at 8).

Rooftop Films

The film follows unique characters from the Upper West Side to Brighton Beach, from the Civic Center courts to Red Hook’s baseball parks. Bootleg toy‐makers, pickle‐selling skaters, taxi drivers hurt by life: they wouldn’t have anything in common if they didn’t share the same city. Each of them has a story to tell, and as unbelievable as they may sound, their chaotic pasts, uncommon ways of life and weird pick‐up techniques are very real. They’re what makes New York, New York. For more info, click here.

Stick around after the movie for an after-party sponsored by New Amsterdam Vodka and Ommegang Brewery. There will also be live music at 8:30 pm by Jojo Abot.

Tickets are $15 online or at the door and include live music, film and after-party. In the event of rain, the show will go on indoors at the same location.

6/10/15

AWESOME ALERT: Free Iced Tea Today at Teavana

It's hot out there and iced tea sounds like the perfect refreshing drink to tame your dehydration. So why not stop by Teavana today and get some FOR FREE!?

Free iced tea from Teavana today

To celebrate National Iced Tea Month (who knew right?), Teavana wants to give you a free 16 oz. Pineapple Berry Blue iced tea (no purchase necessary!). Just stop by one of their 3 NYC stores TODAY June 10:
  • Greenwich Village (63 E. 9th Street)
  • Upper East Side (1291 Lexington)
  • Upper West Side (2261 Broadway)
One free tea per customer. Enjoy!