Summer Activity #7: Macondo, Food, Fun, Friend

Macondo restaurant in New York CityMacondo
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
Venue: Latin Fusion Restaurant
Atmosphere: Lounge Vibe
People: Yuppies and Mature Yuppies
Rating: Uzo gives it 5 stars

Of all the things to do in New York City during the summer, Macondo (157 East Houston Street, Lower East Side, NYC) has to be one of the best things I’ve done on my list to-date. Granted, I am way behind and have only done seven things in a month’s time, but Macondo certainly stands out among them—right up there with my review of Qi!

Macondo is one of those restaurants that just looks cool. And for as many times as I have frequented the 2nd Avenue stop in the Lower East Side, from which Macondo is only a few steps away, I had yet to check out this seemingly wonderful venue–and what a mistake it was to wait that long.

I don’t know if it was the food, the drinks, the company or the adrenaline rushing through my body from my own perceived risk of eating food from a place in the Lower East Side, but whatever it was, my evening at Macondo was certainly one that makes me want to go back.

As I said, the food was great. I had the Carne con Yuca, a grilled steak a top Yuca fries with chimmichurri abound. The steak was grilled to my perfection and was damn succulent if you ask me. A top the Yuca fries, which are basically a flavorful play on steak fries, my tastebuds were in heaven for most of the night, but it got even better with the chimmichurri sauce.

Even though I’m starting this diet kick cold-turkey, I definitely failed to accurately assess the amount of calories that dish caused me to consume. Also not helping my caloric-intake was the fact that my friend and I got appetizers and I probably had more than my fair share of the “Mamajuana” cocktail carafe. Nevertheless, the appetizer, which was some kind of chorizo/vegetable/potato mix, was amazing, and the cocktail was equally good.

My friend had actually been to Macondo before, and thankfully, Macondo lived up to the rave review bestowed upon me prior to us choosing this place. Had we not chosen Macondo for our meeting, I don’t know when I would have gotten around to going to a restaurant in the Lower East Side–even knowing that it was on my to-do list. Not to mention, outside of my company for that night, there’s not a long list of people that would have made Macondo as fun an experience as it was.

Company included, the atmosphere there was great. The lighting is interesting, especially up front, where the sun is beaming in through the open-entrance, which has no walls whatsoever. There was always a little music playing in the background, usually of the latin genre, and it really helps give you that lounge/club feel without having to go to the lounge/club. Clientele-wise, being in the Lower East Side helps the venue attract a rather eclectic, outgoing crowd. Business was probably slower than usual since it was a Monday night, but by 7:30 when I sat down, it was beginning to fill up. Thankfully, however, I didn’t have to wait to be seated.

So if you can’t tell, I certainly do recommend going to Macondo if you have yet to check it out. I can’t believe I’ve been in this city for nine years and hadn’t been there yet. But now that I have my first taste of this fine establishment, I can assure you that it will not be another nine years before my next visit!

Summer Activity #6 – Madison Square Park BBQ Block Party

BBQ Block Party Pulled Pork SandwichMadison Square Park
BBQ Block Party
Neighborhood: Flatiron
Venue: The Streets!
Atmosphere: Sunny day
People: BBQ lovers
Rating: 3

I love barbecue. I was born down south and raised in Texas, so I know a thing or two about great-tasting barbecue as well. So as you can imagine, every time I hear about the BBQ Block Party coming to New York City’s Madison Square Park, I get really excited. Unfortunately, something has come up every year, and I was never able to go…until I went to the BBQ Block Party last Sunday!

My list of things to do in NYC during the summer has really helped me tackle things I otherwise wouldn’t do without some sort of incentive. The motivation of doing everything I can to avoid embarrassment on the internet seems to be working, despite the fact that I’m only 6 activities in at the three-week mark. (Don’t worry, I’m going hard in July!)

Anyway, as much as I love BBQ, I really do hate waiting. I knew I was going to have to wait for food here and there, but I was thinking of something more in step with the lunch line at the Chipotle on 26th and 7th, not the gigantic lines I had to endure at the BBQ Block Party. Fortunately, I ran into both friends and a co-worker (who had her own cultural take on the BBQ Block Party), but that didn’t detract much from the 30-40 minute waits for a single plate of food. Sure, you could buy two plates, but the whole point of this event was to try a diversity of BBQ from across the country…not a plate of food from a single restaurant.

That being said, the food was really good. One of the dishes I had was a pulled-pork BBQ sandwich from Ubon’s, and it was definitely an amazing find. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a better tasting pulled-pork sandwich in all of America–and yes, I’m saying that with a straight face. The pork was tender and well-seasoned, while the barbecue sauce was tangy and had just the right amount of flavor so that it didn’t take away from the pork. In addition, I had some coleslaw on the side, so I put that on the second half of my sandwich. Damn that was a good idea! I don’t claim to be an expert on coleslaw, nor do I eat it that often, but a top the pulled-pork, that coleslaw mine as well have been made by God himself.

Still as much as I loved the food and am dying to try some new venues next year, I can’t bare the waiting. So if I can’t muster up the resolve to “pay da five” and get the fast-track pass (estimated value: $100) then I don’t think I’ll hit up Madison Square Park for next year’s BBQ Block Party. Don’t get me wrong, if ever there were a food venue or event worth the wait, this party was it. I just don’t think anyone should wait for just about anything, especially a daily-necessity like food, for that long!

Summer Activity #5: Qi, Asian Fusion Awesomeness

qi restaurant nycQi
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Venue: Asian Fusion Restaurant
Atmosphere: Cool, Semi-exclusive
People: Yuppies
Rating: Uzo gives it 5 stars

Qi is absolutley one of the hidden gems in New York City, only it’s not so hidden. Clearly, my plethora of trips to Italian restaurants and my pursuit of the best burger joints in NYC have kept me bereft of some of the more happening, non-beef-centric places in Manhattan. I say this because Qi is located where everyone can see it, right on 14th Street, and yet I hadn’t heard of the place until just recently.

Let’s just say, I was the one missing out. Qi is probably my favorite Asian-fusion restaurant of all-time, and I have only been there once! That’s saying a lot, because Asian-fusion cuisine is kind of New York City’s thing, and there are chefs across this island doing their best to mold the fine-dishes of the Far East into something even more extrinsic and exotic. Well, I’m calling the competition.

In the words of one of my favorite NBA Basketball analysts, Hubey Brown, “It’s over! It’s over! It’s all over!”

Forget those places like Pranna NYC charging an arm and a leg for two specs of food–specs that don’t even taste that good! Qi, however, is doing the damn thing! And even when it comes to the spectacular atmosphere that a venue like Pranna provides, Qi holds its own very well.

Let’s start with the food first! I had the Kee Mao Spicy Basil Noodles with Beef, and boy was that dish good! I don’t know if it was the bell peppers and onions, the fried rice noodles, the juicy beef or that damn sauce they put on my dish, but all together, I haven’t had a better bowl of anything than what was put in front of me that night.

To top it all off, it wasn’t even expensive–and you know a brotha does not like paying “da five!” My massive bowl of well-prepared noodles was literally $10 plus tax, and it was more than enough to keep me away from the appetizer and dessert menus. I don’t know if that’s good or bad for my summer weight goals (which I’m eerily behind on), but it is what it is.

As for the ambiance, this place really is second to none. Yeah, there may be a few places that are a bit more posh and “Feng shui” than Qi, but 99% of those venues have lines out the door, 3-month waiting lists or simply won’t let an ugly-mug like mine in the place without 10 girls on his arm. Qi, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have much of anything in the way of a door policy. In fact, my girlfriend and I walked right in and got a seat immediately. Of course, seating is probably a bit easier for them since they do this whole communal eating thing, where your party sits at the same table as 1, 2 or 3 other parties. However, with the low-lighting, light music and chic ambiance all-around, I quickly forgot about our neighbors to the right and enjoyed a beautiful and great conversation among a very chic and yuppy-like crowd.

So, if you’re looking for some tasty Asian-fusion food, don’t let anybody scare you away from this place. I know Qi only got 3.5 stars on Yelp, but it’s far better than that. Besides, who are you going to trust, a  review-crazed, opinion-based platform throwing opinions around like dust in a hurricane…or Yelp. Think hard about that one!

Summer Activity #4.01: Fontana’s – Lower East Side

Uzo taking a picture of Fontana's Ping-pong tableFontana’s NYC
Neighborhood: LES
Venue: Bar
Atmosphere: Dive/Seedy Bar
People: Young and urban
Rating: After-work, 2
Proof: http://4sq.com/ihpZiG

While I had been to Fontana’s prior to my trip there this pastTuesday, I had not been there after-work, which qualifies this visit as one-tenth of a checkmark on my New York City Summer To-Do List.

Let me start off by saying that Fontana’s on a weekday night is nothing like Fontana’s on a weekend night. The difference is night and day; albeit, probably no more striking than your typical Lower East Side bar. That said, the lack of people, noise and drunken make-out sessions almost weird-ed me out. I’ve only been to Fontana’s two or three times before, but with each time I went, youth-laden promiscuity was alive and well.

As for the after-work crowd, there was none. When I walked into Fontana’s with my company’s basketball team, I literally saw three or four people at a booth and a bartender. No less, but no more, and it was quite sad. Granted, just off Grand Street, Fontana’s is on the fringes of the Lower East Side, so maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised by the lack of patrons. But given the fact that they were paying at least two people to keep that place up and running (there was a doorman standing outside), one would have to think that their level of business would be a bit higher on weekday night in Manhattan.

But it wasn’t, which really was a drag on our after-work outing. In fact, we had just come from playing our last basketball game of the Spring season, a game in which we won on a go-ahead shot at the buzzer. The last play of the game by a co-worker of mine was a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately, Fontana’s was not.

We stayed there for maybe a good 45 minutes before calling the place dead. I can’t get over the fact that I spent $7 for a drink in that hole in the wall with no people in it. I can only assume it was the adrenalin from the basketball game that made me do it.

On the bright side, I at least know of a place in New York City that I can take it over if I have a large group of people that don’t want to hang out with a bunch of strangers. Seriously, forget renting a space out or having to travel to one of the outer-boroughs for better service. You can go into the heart of the New York City nightlife scene, the Lower East Side, and have one of NYC”s most popular (weekend) bars practically all to yourself!

Summer Activity #2.02 – Black Iron Burger with the Morphites

Black Iron Burger
Neighborhood: East Village
Venue: Burgers, Bar
Atmosphere: Casual, Chill After Work
People: East Village Natives
Rating: Uzo gives it 3 Stars

Visually-speaking, Black Iron Burger (540 East 5th Street) doesn’t stand out at all. While it’s in the East Village, it’s location on 5th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B is fairly clandestine. Currently, it sits not too far away from a building undergoing massive reconstruction, so most people probably cross the street before even walking in front of the place. And even the people coming from the other side of the street are more tempted to walk into one of the two unique-looking places across the street, Ace Bar and Lavagna.

When you walk into Black Iron Burger, the uniqueness is still very much lacking—everything! Upon entering, it looks as if you’ve walked into a saloon. I was truly afraid about the odds of someone challenging me to duel outside. I used the bathroom at this place before diving into my burger and it couldn’t have been creepier if it tried. It wasn’t dirtier than usual. In fact, the bathroom may not have even been dirty at all, but with its location at the back of the restaurant, low-lighting and the lights turned off in what looked more like a dungeon than anything else, let’s just say that I’m glad that all I did in there was wash my hands.

Anyway, on to the “tasty” cheeseburger I had at Black Iron. I know I only gave this place 3 stars, but their burger was quite tasty. It’s probably not going to make my Top 10 list when this is all said and done, but it’s definitely a place I would hit up if I were caught in the East Village, presumably walking out of Ace Bar or somewhere else across the street.

I ordered the Black Iron Horse. Being the greedy glutton that I am, I was a little disappointment. The menu says that the Black Iron should amount to 12 oz. of beef, but I definitely didn’t feel like I had ¾ pounds worth of beef. Size aside, the burger was great. I did have them add bacon to it, so that gave it an edge on previous burgers that I have had at Lucky’s and at The Spotted Pig. But even without the bacon, the Black Iron Horse cheeseburger was going to win hands down.

Much like the place itself, nothing about the burger particularly stands out. The beef wasn’t the best, but it was tasty. The bread wasn’t unique, but it was good. The bacon complemented everything well, but it wasn’t the end all be all of that usually puts the icing on my burger cake. At the end of the day, Black Iron was just tasty. It wasn’t “go out of your way to get it” good, or “stand in line for 4 hours to try it” good. It was just tasty.

However, if you’re ever in the East Village on a weekend night (and who isn’t?), stop by Black Iron if you’re hungry. You can probably skip on the fries, unless you’re sopping up some alcohol, and the wings weren’t bad either. But as one of my fellow Morphites that accompanied me to Black Iron said, “It’s nothing special, but I’d try it again if I were in the neighborhood.”

Summer Activity #3 – NYC’s Intrepid Museum, Columbia Style

uzo nyc at the intrepid museumIntrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen
Venue: A Damn Ship
Atmosphere: Museum-like
People: Family-friendly
Rating: Uzo gives it a unique 5 stars

As part of my 5-year Columbia college reunion, the last 10 classes to graduate from Columbia were invited to take part in a complete takeover of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, which is permanently docked on the Hudson River in the Hell’s Kitchen part of the city.

Having walked directly over to the Intrepid,after spending the past 4 hours that Friday open-bar drinking at Summer Activity #1, the Hudson Terrace, my former classmates and I walked across the Westside Highway and onto a “ginormous” boat that continued to feed us gourmet sliders and serve the attendees unscrupulous amounts of champagne and wine.

Needless to say, it was a hell of a time. There’s nothing like running into people that you haven’t seen in 3, 4, 5, 6 or even 7 years at 1 a.m. in the morning after you have been socially-lubricating yourself for the better part of the night.

To take it a step farther, there is nothing better than running into your former football teammates, who are about as down to earth and unbelievable a group of people that I have ever associated myself with. The immediate camaraderie that returned to my body upon seeing those guys aside, they quickly reminded me that they know how to have a good time. Somehow, during one of the most security guard-filled events I have ever been to, my former teammates and I managed to get an Intrepid employee to give us our own behind-the-scenes trip inside the Intrepid. The employee took us to parts of the boat that none of the other 1,100 Columbia alum got to see that night, and we saw people in some of the weirdest places within the boat having random conversations or doing Lord knows what.

After our “exclusive” walkabout the Intrepid (of which I left some things out for secrecy’s sake), I stayed on that damn boat until about 2am in the morning, dancing, talking, reminiscing, and wishing like hell to the Hudson River that I could get one more semester back in college. My dreams didn’t come true, but my night at the Intrepid was anything but short-lived.

As you can tell, my lone experience on the Intrepid was rather unique; thus, I am certainly not qualified to give a fair assessment of how much fun and interesting the Intrepid Museum can be. That said, it certainly has the potential to be a great time. And if you’re ever on the look-out for a place to throw a thousand-person party, I assure you that the Intrepid is one of the first places you should consider.

Summer Activity #2.01 – Lucky’s Famous Burgers

luckys famous burgers new york cityLucky’s Famous Burgers
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Venue: Burgers
Atmosphere: Nothing special
People: Sports fans
Rating: Uzo gives it 1 star

Lucky’s Famous Burgers was not what I thought it would be. However, let me clarify this element of the “100 Days, 100 Things” challenge first.

So if you aren’t aware of my summer list of things to do in New York City, please check it out. Once you do, you will see that one of the items on the list is “10 New Burger Spots.” Thus, in order to complete that one line item on the list, I must actually go to 10 different places. Hence, the clarification I have made here by numbering my visit to Lucky’s Famous Burgers “2.01.”

Now I digress.

Despite the reviews, Lucky’s Famous Burgers could do a lot better for itself. I read countless reviews that suggesting that Lucky’s has “nice, juicy and flavorful burgers.” However, both the juiciness and the flavor were missing, leading me to question just how nice they are.

Somebody on Yelp actually called Lucky’s burgers “fast and good like a homemade burger.” But if my homemade burger tasted like the one from Lucky’s, I’d ban myself from my kitchen, your kitchen and every kitchen in between.

Those burgers were dry, lacking flavor, had little taste and were a little bit overcooked. Lucky’s prides itself on using 100% natural ingredients and having no antibiotics or hormones in their meat, but does that mean they had to get rid of the taste too? For God’s sake, put some damn steroids in my burger if it means I don’t have to eat another one of Lucky’s famous—I mean infamous—burgers.

Besides, what decent hamburger joint or restaurant in New York City doesn’t use 100% natural ingredients?That’s been a fad in New York City since 2004, when everyone went all Pat Lafrieda beef on me. Lucky’s claim to being “natural” really isn’t anything unique these days–not in New York City anyway.

So as much as I hate to slander an otherwise good-name in the New York City burger community, Lucky’s Famous Burgers gave me the first, and hopefully last, sour taste of my summer challenge. In case you haven’t caught my drift, I won’t be back to Lucky’s—not even if somebody else pays for it. Perhaps the link I gave them will do them some good SEO-wise, because everything else in this post is too negative, and I hope none of my remaining 98 summer activities require a review this bad.

Changes to My Summer List of Things To-Do

Well, there have been a few changes to my list of 100 summer activities to accomplish this summer. Naturally, when you take part in sharing your flawed life over the internet, flaws will be unveiled. My inability to read is the flaw I bestow upon you today.

In my angst, I failed to notice that one of the entries was a duplicate entry. By virtue of starting these duplicate entries off with a different word, I mistakenly listed a trip to The Delancey twice on my list.

With removal of the duplicate, I then had room for another entry on the list. That entry has no been replaced by a trip to the Intrepid.

Other than that, everything else should be the same and should be accurate. Of course, I am human, and apparently am incapable of reading thoroughly, so I withhold the right to correct myself later on this summer if need be.

Summer Activity #1 – Hudson Terrace Extravaganza

Hudson Terrace Rooftop Bar NYCHudson Terrace
Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen
Venue: Rooftop Bar
Atmosphere: Trendy; A bit preppy
Crowd/Scene: Young urbanites
Rating: Uzo gives it 4 stars

We are a week into the summer, and I am already well behind in terms of the pacing of my summer project. There are 100 days during what I’m deeming the “Summer of Uzo,” and if I am to do and write about 100 activities, I am going to have to do a lot of doubling up between now and Labor Day.

That said, I have accomplished one of the things on my “Things to do in New York City Summer List.

On Friday night, I went to Hudson Terrace as a part of the Columbia Class of 2006 Five-year reunion. Thankfully, when you’re only five years out, you don’t have enough time to gain too much weight, or be all that successful, so my embarrassing lack of achievement over the last five years didn’t prevent me from enjoying the evening with my old classmates.

Hudson Terrace (621 46th Street, Manhattan, NYC) is an awesome rooftop space located right near the water. The space is actually quite quaint, as it is no bigger than a brownstone rooftop. However, it’s laid out very well, and can handle 100-150 people comfortably. The side of the terrace with a view allows you to see the Hudson River, a nice portion of the Hell’s Kitchen skyline, and a glimpse the Intrepid, which is docked directly on the other side of Westside Highway.

Hudson Terrace has great drinks and some decent food. It’s all over-priced, so I don’t recommend coming all the way out to the Westside just to check out the scenery if you’re really hungry or planning on setting up shop for the night. But it makes a great date spot for those in the area, and it is one of the few places that far from a subway worth actually checking out.

Luckily, my school was holding it down for us. We got two hours worth of open bar for very little money out of our own pockets. The only problem with that is we had way more than the 150 people Hudson Terrace can adequately accommodate, and with only three bartenders, you can imagine how hard it was to get a drink–especially as we got closer and closer to that two-hour mark.

But to put things in perspective, the crowdidness did not mess up my experience, and it shouldn’t bother yours either. The place was only crowded because the Class of 2006 rolled in deep, and given that I knew a large portion of the people there, it was easy to have a good time even when my glass wasn’t full.

Typically, Hudson Terrace isn’t going to be that crowded, so should you decide to go there on an ordinary Summer night, I doubt you would have an issue with the service there. Again, the food and drinks were great and the staff did the best they could, they just aren’t well-equipped for huge amounts of people. Thus, I wholly recommend not making this one of the stops on your Family Reunions bus tour. But as an afterwork spot during the summer or as a late-night venue for you Hells Kitchen natives, Hudson Terrace is worth a trip. I’m glad I can say that I checked it of my  list.