For Andrew’s birthday this year, he decided on a trip to New York City. He would be 31, and a weekend of walking, shopping, eating, and drinking was exactly how he wanted to celebrate.
NYC is one of my favorite cities, and I have so many memories there: going for the first time with my mom on a girls’ trip during my senior year of college, visiting twice in college for internship interviews and then a mission trip, celebrating my 23rd birthday there with my family, and then returning with Andrew the summer we were engaged.
This particular trip was booked for the first weekend of March, and thankfully, the forecast was filled with sunshine for those days. We didn’t have any plans aside from dinner reservations, and we were looking forward to relaxing together in another city.
Andrew and l checked into our hotel late in the afternoon on Saturday. The Peninsula was glamorous and serene — a true urban oasis, tucked just off Fifth Avenue. I instantly marveled at everything I saw: the impressive Beaux-Arts architecture, the twinkling chandelier in the grand foyer, the little pillbox hats atop the “Peninsula Pages.” (All Peninsula locations have these “Pages.” They are the employees who act as ambassadors for the hotel and sport crisp white uniforms with matching hats.)
We changed into fresh clothes and said goodbye to our beautiful room, opting to do a little window-shopping before dinner. It was brisk, but not freezing, so we walked from store to store. Andrew enjoys shopping — sometimes, I think he likes it more than me! — but whenever I spend too long in the women’s sections, he starts to shift from foot-to-foot.
Soon, it was happy hour, and we meandered back to our hotel. The rooftop bar had been transformed to a winterized snow globe with cozy chairs, a smokey fireplace, and the Peninsula’s masterful touch of elegance on everything from the drink menu to the cocktail napkins.
Our reservation that night was at a buzzy French bistro in SoHo: Balthazar. We dined here two years ago and swore we would return. Andrew and I ordered onion soup, lobster, coq au vin, and we ate enough house bread to feed an entire family of five.
After our decadent meal, we slept soundly that night.
The next morning, we grabbed coffees to-go and went for a walk. It was a chilly start to the day with the temperature somewhere in the forties, but the sun felt delicious on my skin.
We eventually strolled into Jams, a restaurant inside 1 Hotel Central Park that wasn’t far from where we were staying. It was Sunday brunch, and the menu had exactly what I was craving: classic eggs and whole wheat toast, my go-to comfort food. Andrew got his favorite: a bagel loaded with cream cheese and lox. We ate happily, then headed back to the room so I could take a few work calls.
As afternoon turned to evening, Andrew and I got ready to go out again. We headed to the West Village, the dreamiest Manhattan neighborhood. The streets here are “off the grid,” meaning they were constructed long ago at an angle, rather than following the traditional straight-line streets you’ll find everywhere else. What’s more, the real estate is breathtaking: colonial brownstones, historic co-ops, and charming walk-ups. I couldn’t help but feel envious of the realtors who get to sell such places!
One of my clients had recommended we try Aria, an intimate Italian wine bar on a mostly residential street. It was absolutely packed by the time we showed up for our reservation. The hostess escorted us to two tiny barstools. “This OK?” Andrew asked me, always looking out for my comfort. I told him it was fine, and we studied our menus.
Aria was one of our best dates ever, from the wine to the food. Here, we ordered an octopus salad (one of the specials that night), crab and shrimp cakes, sautéed mussels in a white wine broth, and spicy shrimp rigatoni. Plus, another basket filled with house-made bread. I couldn’t stop talking about how fantastic everything was.
Somehow, after a stroll around the neighborhood, we found room in our stomachs for ice cream at Van Leeuwen’s, where the line stretched out the door. (That’s when you know something must be good.)
We woke up to a knock at our door. It was Andrew’s birthday, and I pretended to be confused as I hurried to open it. I had arranged for a surprise breakfast, to be delivered at exactly 8:45 that morning.
A very kind room service attendant wheeled in a table of goodies. There was a stack of buttermilk pancakes with “Happy Birthday Andrew” written in chocolate on the plate, an egg-white frittata, muffins with jams and jellies, a pot of coffee, and a cocoa-dusted truffle cake with a glowing candle on top. Andrew grinned from ear to ear.
I loved that morning. Andrew opened his card, we savored our meal in robes, and we took our time sipping coffee from the little porcelain mugs. Before we knew it, the clock blinked 12:00. We put on our workout clothes and headed to the hotel gym.
The rest of that day went by too quickly. We had lunch at a dive bar with the fluffiest pizza crust, picked up desserts from Milk Bar, bought Andrew a new outfit from Lululemon, and hurried to meet up with Andrew’s cousin and her family for happy hour. (They happened to be there that same weekend!)
Our last dinner in NYC did not disappoint. Andrew had picked Quality Meats, a renowned Midtown tri-level steakhouse with a menu right up his alley. We started with the U7 shrimp cocktail, which I learned meant giant shrimp the size of my face. They arrived on a plate with three dipping sauce and disappeared in less than a minute — they were that outstanding. For dinner, we went all out: Oscar-style bone-in sirloin, chilled lobster, chopped salad with green apples and sunflower seeds, grilled asparagus, and herb-roasted baby potatoes. We both agreed it was the best meal yet.
We had one last stop before heading back to the hotel: The Polo Bar. This Ralph Lauren restaurant is an NYC hotspot; it’s the sort of place where you can’t even stop in for drinks without a 30-days-out reservation. (You also wouldn’t be able to get through the front door, since there is an intimidating but stylish bouncer standing outside!)
Luckily, we had a reservation for drinks at the bar. The bouncer stepped aside to let us in, and we were ushered to a tiny but beautiful table across from the stocked bar. My eyes took it all in: the classic Ralph Lauren equestrian decor, the leather seats, the charming waiters in classy white jackets. I could have stayed forever.
Our last hurrah was dessert — two cookies and a slice of birthday cake, purchased at Milk Bar hours earlier. It was one of Andrew’s favorite birthdays on record, I think.
It feels surreal to write about this particular weekend. We came home just over two weeks ago, and since then, the world health crisis of COVID-19 has escalated in ways I could never have imagined. Looking back on our NYC trip, I am grateful we had “one last chance” to dine out and explore together before everything began to spiral. On Monday of this week, all restaurants in Chicago and NYC (and many more cities) closed, only available for take-out or delivery. Small shops and department stores have shut their doors as well. Andrew and I are staying inside our home, only leaving for fresh air.
I know it won’t be this way forever, and I know God is sovereign over all things. For now, remembering Andrew’s birthday weekend brings me joy and reminds me not to take anything in this life for granted.