Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pure Yoga

April 11, 2010
Ok, as a follow up to my previous post about Bikram yoga, I went for a free trial class at Pure Yoga on 86th Street and Third Avenue.  I took the "Basics 1" class at 9:15 on a Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of scaffolding happening on their street, so the entrance is kind of obscure.

But once you step inside, it has a minimalist zen sort of feel.  You descend a set of stairs into the main area.  The locker room is really great.  It does not feel sweaty and steamy like the one at Bikram and it is quite spacious.  Many lockers are available, many showers and many sinks with little toiletries and such.

The class description is "An iyengar inspired introduction to the fundamentals of yoga with an explanation of the postures combined with correct breathing techniques. Class is conducted at a more relaxed pace where students are encouraged to ask questions. Ideal for first timers to yoga."

I entered the dim studio and all the mats were spaced out appropriately.  I was told that there was no need to bring my own mat, because theirs were very high quality and very well maintained and cleaned.  The instructor was a young thin gent that had a very calming affect.

I really enjoyed the class and did not feel like I was going to expire at the end of it.  Definitely more my speed.

Now the only problem is that they only offer memberships that require a bit of a commitment.  The minimum required is a 6 class per month commitment.  I will have to think about it hard before I get into another situation like last time at New York Yoga.  This does seem like the superior studio though, in terms of cleanliness and modernity of the facility.  And, they offer quite an assortment of classes, including hot yoga.  More to follow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crema Restaurant, Chelsea

April 11, 2010
A few weeks ago we were watching an episode of one of most frequently viewed TV programs "Iron Chef America".  I always get excited when there is a chef from NYC on the program because of New York pride :).  Well this one nite, they featured a young Mexican chef as the competitor from a restaurant down in Chelsea called Crema.  Her name is Julieta Ballesteros.  Apparently, she is from Monterrey, Mexico and came to New York to attend the French Culinary Institute.  Afterwards, she started this establishment which is meant to be traditional Mexican cuisine with French influenced technique and flare.  Well Roberto is always interested in trying Mexican haute cuisine, so after we saw the matinee Magic Flute with our friend Jodi, we decided to go for drinks and an early dinner.

The restaurant itself is lovely.  You step down into a sort of galley layout.  It has a modern feel, but still a color scheme that reminds one of Mexico.  In the back, they have a small terrace/patio which is right next to the small, open kitchen.  I think the chef keeps her eyes on the clients from there.

We started with drinks; I ordered a Margarita Imperial and Roberto a Michelada. The "mixologist" did a good job.  We were there in the late afternoon, which was a perfect time to while away a few hours drinking and eating, especially, since it is now still sunny out in the evening and the place had a really bright and pleasant feel.

We then ordered some appetizers.  Roberto ordered the Quesos Flameados and I ordered the Ceviche Veracruz.  As a bonus, the chef sent us a small "amuse bouche" of black bean soup which was served in a demitasse cup.  The soup was sort of whipped, very creamy and delicious.  Both of our appetizers were really tasty.  Mine was served in a glass and on the side was a scoop of homemade mango sorbet.  The mango sorbet was killer.  It tasted like the sweetest mango that was just reconstituted into a chilled form.  It didn't have that icy feeling that a lot of sorbets have that may be due to the water content or something.  There was also guacamole which was quite tasty.

For our main course, Roberto ordered Ribeye con Chilaquiles and I ordered Empanadas del Mercado.  Roberto's dish was really excellent. I think of chilaquiles as this sort of peasant leftover concoction and she had it plated in a mold so it looked so neat and elegant.

Unfortunately, neither Roberto nor I really liked what I got as a main course which was essentially a mixture of seafood within a pastry shell.  I think it was a little over-seasoned and it was tough to tease out the individual flavors of the seafood components as they were disguised within a heavy red sauce.

Although overall it was a good and positive dining experience, neither of us felt that we were going to race back there again soon.

Here are a couple of other Mexican "Haute Cuisine" places we've tried:

My favorite so far, although it is right in the middle of tourist laden midtown/theatre district

Also very good.  Does a good job of feeling authentic, but still high end.  Makes the crossover that way which Rosa Mexican chain and Dos Caminos lacks.

Nice, upper west side, good meal.  Lots of tables, but manages to maintain an intimate feel.

Over-rated, more of a scene for the single partying set with high exposure.

Have tried two locations, 1st Avenue and Lincoln Center.  The food is good, but also has similar feel to Dos Caminos.  It is very sterile feeling and lacks a cozy feeling that is part of the appeal of Mexican food.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bikram Yoga

In an effort to start leading a less stressful and healthier lifestyle I decided that I wanted to re-incorporate yoga into my life.  My mother has been doing yoga as long as I can remember and it is a great way to gain core strength and flexibility as well as have a little "me" time to meditate and inwardly focus.

Well, a couple years back I had been a member of one of the upper east side yoga studios.  I made the mistake of joining for a year without reading the fine print of the contract.  Apparantly, in order to stop being a member you have to give them 30 days notice via registered mail or fedex and if you don't do so they will automatically re-renew your contract for another year.  You can see where this is going...I thought that after a few months of inactivity my membership would have been terminated.  Unfortunately no.  I ended up having an unpleasant end to the relationship and vowed never to return.

The only problem is that it was actually a pretty great studio.

Now I have that itch to practice again and am stuck finding another studio that won't break the bank.  I decided to give Bikram a try...

In case you never heard of it, this is the studio where they practice "Hot" yoga.  Namely, they crank the room heat up all the way to round about 100 degrees and then over the next 90 minutes you do about 26 Hatha yoga poses.  There is no beginner, intermediate or advanced.  You just develop your own proficiency level with same poses.

The studio itself was pretty nice.  Had the sense I should use foot fungicide afterward though because of the high humidity in the place...

The workout nearly killed me though!!!!  The instructor welcomed me and told me that my goal for the day was to survive the room.  Little did I know how true those words would ring.  Honestly, the first forty minutes or so I thought were going really well, as I happen to like it warm typically.  But then I realized that I should have taken the woman at the reception desk's advice not to eat much.  I started feeling nausea, dizziness, and like my brain was melting.  I kept staring at the clock hoping the minutes would tick by faster toward 3:30 when the time was up.  The last half hour we spent a lot of time on our back and stomach and I hoped that it would make things better, but it only got worse.  Like the added blood to my brain made it get even more swollen and throbbing.

At the end, the room gave me a round of applause for finishing the class.  I had to slowly reacclimate to normal room temperature.  But my brain wouldn't stop boiling.  I think I gave myself a fever.  Today is more than 24 hours later and I still have a dull headache.  Needless to say, when I got home I though my brain might explode.  My face looked red like a tomatoe. 

That being said, the rest of my body felt great!  I don't know if I have the courage to go back.  Perhaps I don't have a strong enough constitution to deal with the heat.  How I long for my old studio's nice Vinyasa classes again!  Do I try to sneak back in?  Hopefully I wasn't blacklisted in the computer.  I have one other option to try first, a new studio called Pure Yoga.  I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Attila at the Metropolitan Opera

I had the displeasure of being at the Met opera on Saturday evening to see the new production of Attila.  This is a fictionalized story of Attila the Hun put to opera by Giuseppe Verdi.  Attila is supposed to be conquering Rome and Italy.

The first scene is actually a stage full of concrete rubble with visible rebar sticking out through the pieces.  The scenery is so negatively distracting that it was hard to focus on the singing and music which was actually quite good, as is usual at the Met. 

The show itself was also pretty un-compelling.  The singers for the most part just stood in one spot and sung.  I honestly would have been happier listening to a CD in the comfort of my home.

The second half was dominated by a set that consisted of a wall of greenery.  At one point a hole was made in one half.  In a later scene the hole was switched to the other half.  I mean come on.  This is the Metropolitan opera.  The scenery looked like it was done by an elementrary school play designer.

Furthermore, the costumes consisted of largely T shirts and pleather.  I don't know what is going on over there at the Met.  I know that not every production can be a Zeffirelli Traviata, but this was simply awful.
I am not inherently against modern productions.  This year I saw the Damnation of Faust which was visually so interesting in many ways.  Leagues better than this Attila production, if the two can be compared.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Michael Buble at Madison Square Garden

We got tickets to see the Michael Buble concert on March 20th at MSG and this was one of the greatest concert experiences I have ever had.  I have always wanted to see him ever since getting the album "It's time" and seeing him on the Today several years ago. 

Well first off, getting the tickets makes one wonder why there are not some laws being made or enforced regarding the ticket clearinghouses on the web these days.  Of course there were no tickets available on Ticketmaster.  All the tickets on Stubhub and the like were all jacked up in price.  We donated to WNET Channel 13 to get tickets, which worked out swimmingly as we got great seats, did a good deed, got a tax deduction and said F&%! U to Stubhub.

The concert was worth every penny.  It felt like he was singing in a much smaller venue.  Not only did he have such a great sound with a voice like butter, but he also had a really warm stage presence.  He is so young and cute.  He told everyone about his recent engagement to an Argentinian woman.  Hopefully, he will have a long life of concert giving to come, because I can't wait to go see him again.

Highlights of the show included when he sang "Home" in the middle of the orchestra section near the sound board.

Also, his tribute to Michael Jackson:

Lastly, I can't find an upload of it, but he did a wonderful encore with his famous cover of "Feelin Good".  He had such love and appreciation for the audience; he deserves all his success.

I had been having some doubts lately about staying in New York City, but this concert has reminded me of why it is so great being here.  After the show we walked a little to enjoy the remainder of the beautiful weather we had that day and caught a cab home...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

One of my colleagues from work bought this book for me because she was so excited about it and thought I would love it.  And sure enough, I really did enjoy it.

The book is written from the perspective of a dog named Enzo.  His owner, Denny, is a race car driver with a young family.  The dog chronicles his own life alongside the lives of his family and details the many tribulations that they endure through lifes many challenges. 

The dog is intelligent, philosophical, insightful and wise.  A true dog-lover's dog.  He believes that he will be re-incarnated as a human in his next life which is apparently a belief of ancient Mongolians.  There are many metaphors made in the book between life and racing a car, which the dog knows lots about due to his owner and many lonely hours of TV watching on the Speed network. 

I don't want to give too much away, as I think one of the things I liked most about it was the storytelling aspect and the way the whole turn of events unfold in the writing.  It also is very evocative; both my colleague and myself were crying at different parts.  From a language/writing perspective, it is a really easy read and chapters seem to fly by.  The realism of the book, taking place in contemporary times was another quality that I found compelling. 

In short, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a great, quick read.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trouble Getting Home from Steamboat, CO

Yesterday, Roberto and I departed from a short mountain getaway in Steamboat, CO from their local Hayden airport. We were met with lots of aggravation on our journey. I guess we're not so special, probably much like many folks who have been travelling this winter.

A fun time snowboarding had been had by all - despite numerous spills on my part off the magic carpet and preview ski lift (pathetic!). And no, Roberto will not be vying for the oldest Mexican Olympic snowboarder title despite starting to get the hang of it at the end.

After taking the expensive GoAlpine shuttle from our hotel to Hayden airport ($50 pp each leg), we stood on a crowded line only to finally reach the counter and be told that our connecting flight from Chicago to LaGuardia had been cancelled. We figured that getting to Chicago we would have more opportunities to get home then we would have staying in Hayden. We needed to get back to NY that day. I had to get to work on Monday, as did Roberto; Ellie was being boarded and we needed to get back to her.

Unfortunately, because of that brilliant individual who had to do that diabolical stuff with liquids on a plane, I was stuck checking a bag. The flight itself went smoothly. When we arrived at Ohare, Roberto went to baggage claim to retrieve my checked bag while I started the uphill battle of trying to get us a flight back to New York. First, I headed to United "Customer Service" at the B gate. There weren't any humans at the station, despite a long counter. Instead, there were a bunch of phones and kiosk screens. I started at one phone which hung up on me twice. By the time I figured out that it wasn't working, of course others were trying to do the same type of thing so I had to wait.

Eventually I got through. A pleasant woman on the phone got us on standby for a flight to Newark. But because in Hayden the woman at the counter re-booked us on a flight the following day to NY at 7:30PM, we weren't yet able to print boarding passes from a kiosk. We needed the passes to re-enter the secure part of the airport, as Roberto had to cross over because of the checked bag.

???Are you getting all this???

So,after I hung up with the virtual customer service rep, I went to meet Roberto at baggage claim. From there we were told to go to the ticket agent. By now it was about 5PM and the standby flight was at 6:30 pm. A woman directed people onto two lines. One for those needing an agent and one for those who needed to check a bag but could use the kiosk. There was this extremely long line to see a human mostly because there were only three people to actually see the travellers at the counter. At a certain point, a parallel line was also there and none of us on the long line could figure out what exactly qualified one for the other line which went a lot faster. There were a few more agents for those individuals. From our slow line, we didn't actually get to the counter until about 6:50 pm, just short of two hours later. Of course we missed any chance of getting onto the standby flight to Newark.

The agent was able to get us on different standby list for LaGuardia on a 7:53 flight. She told us that if we didn't make it onto that flight, our names would be rolled over to the following flight list for 9:05. Furthermore, if we got stuck in Chicago, we could get a hotel voucher because the cancellation was mechanical, not due to weather.

And speaking of weather, meanwhile, some rotten weather had rolled into Chicago - snow, ice, etc. We didn't make it on to the first standby flight (about 140 people were on that standby list and we were numbers 56 and 57), but we did narrowly get onto the second, and finally, to New York by about midnight. The plane had to be de-iced and inspected by the first officer and everyone was remarkably silent for the first twenty minutes in flight as we ascended into the stormy weather.

Despite the bureaucracy, I was grateful for the safe flight and to have gotten home. I am sorry for frequent travellers' sake that United Airlines has decided that people are too expensive to be a mainstay of the equation in the facetime aspect of their business. I also found myself wondering what other corners might have been cut by the same corportate bigwigs which could impact the safety of our flight. I kept telling myself that this was probably why people flew first class and why they bothered acquiring frequent flyer miles.

Roberto's take was "God is trying to tell us to move to Chicago." All I could hear Him saying was "You stupid fool for ever leaving New York".