Zuma Restaurant: Zuma is an upscale Japanese restaurant, located in midtown with 3 kitchens, 2 floors and internationally recognized Asian food. I do recommend coming here on a Friday night instead of a mid-week dinner or a quiet Sunday night because it does get pretty lively. I got a very similar feeling as TAO here; the overall ambiance is really “happening” with good music, very lively crowds, and lounge décor; except Zuma focuses more on unique Japanese dishes as opposed to the standard sushi rolls and teriyaki skewers. Everything we ordered tasted fresh, delicious, and seriously on point, but I should note this place is a little pricey. You are definitely paying extra for the trendy environment, but I was so happy with the quality of food that I didn’t mind. My favorite dish was the Yaki Toumoro Koshi, which is sweet corn with shiso butter. The mini grilled corns were so sweet and tasty, that even though everything is recommended to share, I kept that dish all to myself! The other highlight for me was the Salmon & Tuna Tartar which comes mashed up in a wooden box over ice and served with crispy rice crackers! This is a great place to come on a date, a night out with friends, or to celebrate a special occasion! It’s in a convenient location and makes for a really good meal. My one caveat is the lighting is super dark, so if you're looking to get a picture of any of your special dishes, definitely USE FLASH!!
Middle Branch: Middle Branch is a subtle but cute and impressive bar with a great variety of drinks, about a 12-minute walk from Zuma! The bar has 2 levels, and I recommend you make a reservation for a table upstairs because the lower level does not have any actual seating. Due to the nature of the area, any bar in Murray Hill has the expectations of a “Tonic” or “Brother Jimmy's”, however, Middle Branch is the exception. Middle Branch is very much a speakeasy (especially since I walked past it 4 times before I found the entrance!), so it really is a hidden gem. The bartenders take pride in their wide variety of creative drinks; if you want the “authentic Middle Branch experience”, we recommend telling the bartender to surprise you! They have funky metal straws and mixing spoons as well as atypical ice cubes to make your drink more photogenic! This is a perfect place to stop by after dinner to continue your night of fun!
Cadillac House: Daniel Arsham’s famed Lunar Garden installation is currently on display within The Gallery at Cadillac House, located at 330 Hudson Street. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will run from September 5th-November 5th so make sure to mark your calendars before it’s gone! Since opening Cadillac House more than a year ago, this spot has run a diverse range of cultural activities and showcased creative minds within the contemporary art world. This specific exhibit is inspired by Arsham’s travels in Japan where he explored the dry gardens in Kyoto. Here you will see different sculptures, a nine-foot light orb resembling the moon, and bright pink sand – get your camera ready!
Story: Story, an innovative retail store, is about a 20-minute walk from the Cadillac House on the west side. Story’s concept is that it “changes like a gallery and sells products like a store.” This means that every 4 to 8 weeks, the store completely reinvents, including everything from the design to the merchandise, with the goal of bringing attention to a new theme or trend. Currently, Story has just launched it’s first ever beauty theme in collaboration with beauty brand Coty! Play around with Coty brands such as Covergirl, Sally Hansen, and more using an iPad app that lets you try on and share your looks without lifting a finger or makeup brush! It doesn’t stop there, because you can also walk to the other side of the store to learn about the latest beauty advancements by exploring innovative skincare products curated by Space NK. My favorite part? You can simply stop by to freshen up with a custom facial by Heyday (a well known NYC salon) that has set up shop right inside! Thanks to the power of Instagram, there is even an arrangement of lipstick, nail polish, and mascara wands, which burst off the walls, making the perfect backdrop for your shareable photo moment!
Cookshop: Cookshop, a popular Chelsea restaurant, is a 30-second walk from STORY (I think that’s the closest we have ever gotten!!). So, if you check out the above places in the late afternoon, you can then hop right over to dinner without traveling back and forth. I first tried this restaurant for brunch, but I then came back for dinner and was pleasantly surprised that both meals lived up the hype! If you come on the early side, I have always gotten a table without a reservation, but if you want to come later into the night, I would go on OpenTable and check the availability. The service is always friendly, and although the menu isn’t particularly expansive, they offer all different kinds of food, including vegetarian options, in their “New American” cuisine. They also have great outdoor seating, but with this recent fall weather, inside may be your best bet. The menu does change seasonally, but a staple they always have (and I always order) is the roasted farm chicken with marinated summer squash, carrots, red onion, garlic, and salsa verde. I also want to mention, being so close to the Meatpacking District, the price point is not bad for the location, which always makes the meal more enjoyable!
Smorg Square: Good news to all my Manhattan peeps who don’t want to brave the L train, long lines, and limited seating at the usual Smorgasburg locations in Brooklyn! The outdoor food market has now opened downtown, on 76 Varick St. Now called “Smorg Square”, it has taken over the corner of Varick and Canal Streets with all the vendors (new and old) that we love! The location is set to run for 2 years and will have about 20 stands, ample seating for over a hundred people, a full bar, and an outdoor deck! Some of the vendors I noticed right away are original hits such as Ramen Burger, Red Hook Lobster, and The Good Batch Ice Cream Sandwiches. Right now, Smorg Square is only open Friday through Sunday, (Sunday hours are 11 am to 9 pm), and now that it’s much closer, you can count on this replacing a lot of our weekend brunches!
MNDFL: MNDFL is a popular meditation studio about an 18-minute walk from Smorg Square. Meditation has proved to be an important trend because it includes health benefits such as increasing happiness and reducing stress levels. Whether you are new to the practice or a complete pro, MNDFL is a relaxing spot that everyone can take advantage of. I took my first class for $10 (great price point!) and really enjoyed the instruction, guided thoughts, and peaceful space. I want to mention that the space in particular is beautiful, comfortable, and can put anyone at ease when you walk in. Make yourself some (free!) hot tea and take a look around at the greenhouse plant walls. Meditation does take intricate practice (my thoughts always wander!), so if you’re a beginner like me, I would start off with the 30- minute session. I especially recommend any of their “sleep” classes, which help you unwind from your packed weekend and is meant to put your sunday scaries at ease, while allowing for a smooth transition home and into bed!