IT’S ALL ABOUT SERVICE WHEN YOU’RE IN A NY STATE OF MIND

IMG_7453 NYC Sightseeing

I’m more of a country mouse than a city mouse, but I prefer to think I am a country mouse with visiting privileges. The city this week was New York and virtually everyone can tell by the smile on my face that I’m not “one of the city-folk”, so when I arrive I take a defensive stance to ward off people who might prey on tourists. I try to sound very knowledgeable and practice rattling off streets and cross roads for cabbies while at heart I know despite the number of visits I make to New York, I will forever be the wide eyed tourist. Just check out this tourist photo gallery slide show, if you need proof.

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Regarding New York  service…

Our hotel DoubleTree by Hilton on West 36th between 8th and 9th is in a section known as Hell’s Kitchen which doesn’t sound very inviting at all. http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/new-york/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-new-york-times-square-south-NYCSQDT/index.html . But the DoubleTree is well located and affordable in an up and coming neighborhood near the Javitz Center http://www.javitscenter.com/ The Javits  Center is an enormous venue for shows and expos that is large enough to host both last weekend’s boat show and travel show simultaneously. But back to the hotel…..it has horrible elevator service – we were on the 8th floor and mostly walked down rather than wait for the elevator. My room had a view of other less glamorous buildings, though I did enjoying playing voyeur peeping through the windows at designers working there.  My shower door couldn’t be opened all the way without confronting the toilet. But I’d go back again.  Why? Service and value.

Walking back to DoubleTree west 36th Street between 8th and 9th (see flags) as snow starts to fall

Walking back to DoubleTree West 36th Street between 8th and 9th (see awning) as snow starts to fall

The front desk gave us three recommendations for excellent and affordable restaurants, worked through the quirks of my antivirus-ware to get me internet on my tablet and lap top, and regardless of the hour we wandered back into the hotel someone always greeted us with a smile, a warm cookie, and kind word. Most impressively, when we decided last minute to leave early to avoid the pending blizzard, they took off the charges of our last night on both of our rooms without hesitation and packed us up some warm cookies for our 5 hour drive home. Nice.

There is a saying that water seeks its own level and so it was with the recommendations for restaurants we received from our hotel front desk. Especially for newly opened Oovah http://www.oovahnyc.com/tablet/index.html. Chef/Owner Giovanni Morales and Owner Stephen Hoover transformed their previous venture Market Cafe into Oovah barely two weeks earlier and the transformation is complete. I whipped out the camera to capture the unique beauty of the restaurant before we’d even had the recommendation to dine there.

Oovah Tapas and Wine Gallery http://www.oovahnyc.com/

Oovah Tapas and Wine Gallery http://www.oovahnyc.com/

Our party of three arrived on a tough night – a broken water main meant the staff of  Oovah could have been biding its time expecting to close after the last cocktail guest left. We, however, showed up hungry. Right before we headed elsewhere an owner came out and said “Don’t go. We’ll make you dinner.” It seems they sent someone out to buy the gallons of water they would need to be operational. We had no restrictions on what we could select and the decision was tough. The food is influenced by Guatamalian cuisine and other than a dessert or two is gluten free. We never missed the gluten and didn’t realize that until later.

Enjoying crisped pork tacos

Enjoying crisped pork tacos

We selected tapas-sized courses and shared: Kale caesar salad, shrimp ceviche, crisped pork tacos, the best fries in the world (aka Hand cut papas fritas with white truffle oil, parmesan and herbs), and waiter Chris’ recommendation of Mama Sonia’s pepper stuffed meatballs. We were hooked. Really hooked. Especially when accompanied by an excellent Carmenere Reserva, Tres Palacios 2012, and despite the fact they were out of a chocolate cake we’d all wanted to try. No one looked askance as we requested individual checks with the liquor separated out. Alcohol is not expensible – so we cover our own costs there. Ultimately our dinner costs were less than an entrée in most other places.

According to Answer.com there are about 24,000 restaurants in NYC. We were in town for 4 nights. But the food and service was so good at Oovah we went back the next night to see what they could do without being hampered by pesky water mains, and because we wanted those fries again and a second chance at the cake we’d missed.

Oovah Team provides exceptional service

Oovah Team provides exceptional service

We were even more impressed on dinner #2. Everyone welcomed us back  like old buddies and we hit the menu hard but were forewarned that the chocolate cake was still not available. Brussel sprouts, bistec y papas (steak and fries) for two of us, another round of crisped pork tacos, pan seared scallops and the dish that will live in our memories as of one of the best combinations of flavors: Cassava gnocchi with cassava, pork lardon, garlic sauce. The sauce was so good combining the brightness of lemon, the savory lardons, and other fabulous herb tastes that came forth in turns, that we could leave none behind. We liked the scallops as they were but took them out of the original sauce and added the cassava and they were better still, and we ate every smidgen of cassava sauce.

Creme de Pamplemousse Rose Grapefruit cordial

Creme de Pamplemousse Rose Grapefruit cordial

As dinner came to a close my friends wanted an after dinner cordial so I asked for a Grand Marnier. The owner came out with a couple of samples of other options both straight and on ice and apologized for not having Grand Marnier. Something I’d never tried before Creme de Pamplemousse Rose from France was sweet and smooth and very definitely grapefruit for those of you who have forgotten your French. So my choice was made.

 

 

 

The worth waiting for chocolate cake - Abuelita Chocolate and Nutella drizzle

The worth waiting for chocolate cake – Abuelita Chocolate and Nutella drizzle

And as we were served the cordials, the floor manager, Jonathan, brought out the elusive chocolate cake. Jonathan had whispered to me earlier in the evening that they were trying to make it in time for our dessert, but we didn’t tell the others for fear our timing might be off. Surprisingly Oovah came through again. They’d made the cake in the time we’d had dinner so we wouldn’t go away disappointed.

While the restaurant is still so new, there was no line waiting to get inside. I think and I expect that to change if they keep offering the superior guest experience that we enjoyed.

People always talk about service with a smile. And that’s fine although grinning staff can feel a bit perfunctory – I think the smile part of that phrase should be the one left on the customers’ faces and in the case of DoubleTree and Oovah….the smiles were sincerely shared.

(c)2015 by Alison Colby-Campbell

RESOURCES:

DoubleTree http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/new-york/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-new-york-times-square-south-NYCSQDT/index.html

Oovah Tapas and Wine Gallery http://www.oovahnyc.com/

Javits Center http://www.javitscenter.com/

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A friend came by with a 6-pack of saws (always have the right tool) to help us bring it down to size while also creating a bonus, pine-scented yule log. Continue reading

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The Panic of Tracking Santa

IMG_6455 Santa Claus at Haverhill Fair

Bradford Church Fair Santa

By all accounts, as a young kid, I was a “follows the rules” type of girl and when my mother turned on the black and white tv on Christmas Eve and we saw on the evening news  that radar had tracked Santa and he had left the North Pole, I went into panic mode. Must get carrots for reindeer (animals have always been the priority), cookies for Santa (with milk or would he prefer gingerale), hang stockings by age and specifically do it with care whatever that means, must get to bed, must be asleep or Santa will pass us by. That adrenaline burst, of course, did nothing to induce the requisite sleep.

I’d implore my siblings to get to bed as they dillydallied; they were so dangerously slow that they put us at risk.

CCI12212014 (1) Christmas 1959 Kids Bobby Karen Alison Grandparents Ora Donald Parents Walter Nancy ShirleyEventually we’d go upstairs in our new Christmas pjs, and my mother would read, or rather perform, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. She gave each of us the chance to tear open the shutters and throw up the sash, a process that resulted in a direct view of the night sky from my bed next to the window as the spring-loaded shade unsprung and typically flew off its perch in the process, and we couldn’t take the time to fix it; WE…HAD…TO…SLEEP!

Invariably a light traveled across the sky. It’s him, it’s him, he’s getting close. Must sleep NOW!!!!!!!! But just can’t.

CCI12212014_0001-001 (1) Christmas in the 70sSomehow we did, and we awoke at what must have been midnight (or 8:00 pm if you knew how to tell time) to the distant ringing of sleigh bells and my parents loudly proclaiming “Wake up, wake up, Santa has been here, Santa has been here.” With the grace and cacophony of  thundering buffalo, four kids charged for the staircase that led to the gift obscured tree. Then mayhem.

CCI12212014-001 (1) Christmas On Santas knee at Jordan Marsh KarenThis is one of my favorite holiday memories. As a Christian, I know now and knew then that Santa was never the reason for the season. He was more the clown who showed up to entertain the kids at the birthday party.  Yet his role was not insignificant. He was like a parable, he reinforced messages of joy, giving and receiving, of gratitude, the possibility of miracles and for every kid who asked for a pet monkey, a real baby tiger, and her own reindeer, he showed year after year by living example that not everything we ask for will be given to us, that for reasons we can’t always understand, what we want is not always what is best.

And so this year on Christmas Eve after the family revelry and meal, we will drive home and I will keep an eye on the sky looking for the star in the east and the traveling light across the horizon that both signify that He is on his way.

Merry and blessed Christmas, to all and to all a good night.

(c) 2014 by Alison Colby-Campbell

PS we can now track Santa on the American/Canadian NORAD system on line:  http://www.noradsanta.org/.

 

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Nailed It – Fingernails and Style

I’m the kind of girl who the fancy ladies come to when they want help opening a can of zero calorie Coke. I’m sized up in minutes with my flat heeled shoes, real albeit sparse and short lashes and natural colors on the end of my fingers as the type who has no concerns about the manicure risk involved with popping a pop top.

Nail Polish 11211416581

 

My sister always said as she passed her can to me: “My nails are jewels not tools.”

Mine are decidedly tools. I want to be able to retrieve a heads up penny from the pavement, to replant (without gloves)  a bulb that pops out of the ground, to dig into the vast and treacherous terrain of my over-sized pocketbook without care. It is perhaps the last vestige of my years as a tomboy, well that and my preference for bare feet. I don’t really get the whole girl/shoe connection. Most of those expensive things hurt like mad in minutes.

I realize I may vex the fancy ladies because my nails are strong and rapid growing, something I’m sure they think I do not deserve based on my negligence of them. My nails sprout as easily as weeds. Okay maybe not like weeds exactly, I’ve seen weed-like nails on the web, but maybe like a well maintained lawn. Too slow to see grow, but needing a weekly clipping

nail polish ac9748a14fb9641b7ffcc8acdb38ee3f

These are weed-like nails. Found pinned on Pinterest from The Chive.

 

For a while, given my role as  a public facing ambassador for a number of companies, I tried; I really did. I got manicures that chipped and looked worse than naked nails. Then I tried long-lasting gel nails and the process of removing them by soaking the fingers in acetone, a harsh chemical that dries skin and is sometimes poisonous if the liver can’t break it down, and this metal tool that’s kind of like a nail hoe that scrapes and scrapes away the polish and a good part of the nail bed ultimately made my strong nails sensitive to touch. Ridges formed in my nails and the tops started splintering and flaking. You wouldn’t know this if you continually applied gels to your nails. But I stopped for a while and noticed the havoc wreaked on my natural jewels. I experienced another epiphany as the last of the gel wore off. I like my nails better in living color than all the hopped up ultra bright or ultra dark colors. Not to mention all the “Nail Art” options out there.

Guys never have these concerns, do they? What do guys think of bright manicures? My husband once said he preferred I didn’t have blue nails, and I get that – dead or soon to be dead people have blue nails, but what about all this other stuff. Is it indicative of a high maintenance woman or of one who takes good care of herself? Is it ugly or as personally expressive as a tattoo?

Nail polish 11211416561

It took months for my re-naked nails to return to normal, so I swore off gels. I do want my hands to look professional and a little less beastly, so today right before another business trip, I had a lovely and relaxing manicure.  But I now lean toward the sport manicures or a clear polish after a clean up and shaping. The advantage of natural polish is that in dim light, it’s nearly impossible to tell I picked up another penny in the parking lot. And I am in fact feeling mighty lucky.

(c)2014 by Alison Colby-Campbell

For a report on the minimal dangers of acetone click here:  http://www.healthline.com/health/acetone-poisoning#Overview1

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