Monday Musings: On burgers, hotel beds and backlash.

Good Monday to you. Here are some of the random, wacky things on my mind this week:

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I don’t know if you heard, but I’m trying to be a vegetarian. Except for the cheeseburger I ate this weekend in NYC at Shake Shack. Or the brisket and sausage at Hill Country. But now, back on the horse.

I love hotels. There’s something icky about them, especially if you really think about it: all those people in and out of the same rooms night after night, how quickly you can really sanitize a bathroom or “clean” a carpet. But I relish a nice, upscale hotel experience. For one, I sleep better. I find the orderliness and luxury of the room relaxing, the beds warm, soft and comforting, and when you have few personal effects to distract you, that’s all there is to do: watch TV, read a book, sleep. And then there’s room service. Bliss.

Have you all been following the flack about Anne Hathaway following the Oscars last week? I didn’t realize so many people are annoyed by her. However, she’s always been on my list of actresses I irrationally hate. None of them have ever done anything to me, and I actually think some been amazing and charismatic in certain roles. I loved Anne in Les Mis, Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain AND Bridget Jones, January Jones in Mad Men. But then there’s Scarlett Johansson. Gwyneth Paltrow. Taylor Swift sort of counts, and Kate Hudson and Katie Holmes are dangerously close to being officially included. Who might be on your list?

Who designs most women’s pants? What’s with the weird placement of pockets that make our hips look bigger?

Speaking of Mad Men, I heard a rumor that it returns to us in April. You have no idea how happy that makes me. No idea.

Have a good week, all.

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A culinary tour of NYC, Part III.

Believe it or not, I saved the best for last. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.

Shake Shack — Madison Square Park/Flatiron (multiple locations)

There used to be only one Shake Shack location. I think it was also only open for certain months, and it was so popular that you could easily wait an hour or more in line for its legendary burgers, fries and milkshakes. I attempted that line once or twice, but I just never made it through. Now, there’s a Shake Shake on every corner in NYC. I’ve even heard they’re expanding to locations in London.

At the close of another full day of eating, we ended up at the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The line was short, and there were tables aplenty. Perfect. Except that it was slightly north of freezing — a bit chilly for eating outside. I was quite happy, though, to tuck into a classic cheeseburger with ShackSauce and crinkle-cut french fries doused in this light, creamy cheese sauce. None of that neon-orange, gloopy, chain/stadium-style stuff here. Shake Shack’s selling point is quality — and you can taste it in the freshly ground meat and homemade sauces. My only regret is that it was too cold outside and I didn’t fell well enough to order a milkshake. So, guess I’ll have to go back. Poor me.

After so many years of waiting, I’m glad to report that Shake Shack lived up to the hype. It was dee-licious.

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A culinary tour of NYC, Part I.

Last October, I was able to sneak away for a weekend in New York City. It was my first trip there in two and a half years, and I went with grand plans for great adventures. I returned excited to tell you all about it. Then a little storm system called Sandy hit. It was heartbreaking, and I just had trouble reconciling the city I know with the devastation I saw on the news. Suddenly, talking about all the fun I had just seemed wrong.

So, rather than chronicling every spare second as I am wont to do, I instead offer a much condensed version of my trip.

During my tenure as a New Yorker, I reveled in the food scene. My friends and I tried out all the top restaurants as soon as we could get a reservation — brunch at Sarabeth’s or Balthazar, dinner at Butter, Pastis, Spice Market, Eleven Madison Park, Aquavit, the Rainbow Room, Gramercy Tavern. (The “hot spots” circa 2005.) Exciting trends in food are usually born in or come to the U.S. through New York first. Within 20 minutes, I could sample a Magnolia cupcake, a Jacques Torres hot chocolate or a Serendipity3 ice cream sundae.

My worst realization, coming a couple of months into building my new life down south, was that the food scene moved on quite easily without me. As I left, Pinkberry was becoming all the rage, as was Momofuku. I tried but never had time to wait in the mile-long line for Shake Shack, and Eataly opened several years later. As time approached for this trip, I had built up quite a list of things and places to eat … my own culinary tour of the city, you could say.

Takahachi — East Village

First stop was this little sushi joint (really, it’s tiny) in the East Village. Takahachi was the first place I ever ate sushi, back in 2000. We just stumbled on it one Sunday afternoon after wandering most of lower Manhattan. That meal was spectacular, and I was hooked (har har.) I ate there again several times, and it never disappointed. Until now. Continue reading