HOLIDAZAED: CHIC CHRISTMAS CHEESE PLATE


It's been a while... Since my last cheese plate, which is crazy given it's the one and only culinary contribution I feel confident about feeding other people! But given the recent circumstances such as my wedding detox this summer and the simple fact that I haven't had a kitchen since August, let alone a finished space to host friends, perhaps it's not that surprising. So as you'd expect I was quite excited to create something festive and yummy as my contribution for a holiday potluck and this was the final result! Enjoy!



As always, I started with three different cheeses and build the rest around them. To make it festive, I started with a cranberry infused hard cheese and fromager d'Affinois with garlic and herb, which worked perfectly because they checked my salty vs sweet and hard vs soft variety I like to have on every cheese plate I make. I added the Irish cheddar, cut in small cubes as a safety net for anyone scared of messing up the plate or looking for a more approachable, easy grab.



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My other cheese plate staple, raw honeycomb, which is fully edible by the way, stayed relatively still with my border of rosemary garnish. Rosemary is perhaps the easiest of all garnishes to find and add to any dish to make it instantly more festive! Same with the cinnamon sticks and faux cranberry garnish, super easy additions to dress up anything you make! Other accoutrements I used were candied pecans, blackberries and figs. As for crackers, I went with some classic breadsticks and my favorite thin and perfectly salted crackers I always end up with at the store. 



-MGN

CLASSIC STYLE: THE BEST MONOGRAMMED GIFTS


Make it personal... This is the easiest way to show someone some thought, hence why I love monogramed items. They just make my favorite things feel more special knowing it was made just for me and I always appreciate the thoughtfulness of a monogrammed gift. So here are my favorite picks, but also below are a bunch of great monograming shops that you still have time to order from before Christmakkuh! You're welcome!

MORE TO LOVE


MY FAVORITE BRANDS THAT MONOGRAM


-MGN

DECEMBER INSPIRATION


IT'S HERE... I know we say this every year, but how did time fly so fast?! It's December and as excited as I am about the full on holiday festivities, I am also getting more and more anxious about our condo remodel getting finished. It's this weather (50 degrees in LA) and season that makes me crave the coziness of a warm, and at this point, just completely finished, home. Aside from living in absolute chaos, the most difficult part of the build has been our separation from our little frenchie Pierre, who unfortunately we haven't been able to be primary caregivers to since August. Turns out that dust, nails and unfinished flooring is unsuitable for our Piggy and so he's been having a fun time with his dotting grandparents, while we regularly have full on, 30 minute conversations about how much we miss him and what he really thinks about the change. One particularly heartbreaking theory I have come up during a self-induced worry session, is that I stole his father away after the wedding, which would absolutely kill me if Piggy really thought that! Hopefully he's too consumed with finding crumbs, flirting with the hard-to-get, English Bulldog neighbor and when his next home cooked cod dinner is. On that note, I hope you are all able to snap into a cozy situation more comfortably than me and keep sane during this frenzy of holiday crazy! If you haven't read my #HOLIDAZED post, I highly recommend. Anyone else excited for the third season of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?? 


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-MGN

{Image Sources}
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HOLIDAZED: MY HOLIDAY TO-DO LIST

It's truly Chrismakuh this year... As Hanukkah starts on December 22nd, I am over the moon excited to have a legitimate joining of my two favorite holidays, which Seth Cohen and I like to refer to as Chrismukkah. For me, this is a way to honor both sides of my family's heritage, but also a reminder that the holidays are actually very individualized for each person. I know for many of us the holidays center around our own religious beliefs, but for me, it's a time to honor the traditions from my childhood I most enjoyed, time with the people I love and celebrating life really. Having a holiday that so many of us participate in one way or another is essentially a way we join together, even if we have different reasons behind what we do. I believe it's one of the most unifying seasons in this country and the rest of the world. And to me that is so special and so exciting. Of course nothing is perfect, and I have written extensively about just that for many years now, but one of the main ways I deal with that is about attempting to really value how I spend my time and maintaining a consciousness around taking care of myself. 


Each year I try to find an evening in December to become a tourist again and walk around the famous Rodeo Drive because let's be honest, Beverly Hills just has to do everything bigger, brighter and better than you. And they do just that for the holiday season. With every glamorous storefront decorated beautifully and some of the prettiest lights and displays, I have to give credit where credit is due. My plan is to grab a hot cup of something from Ladurée in a cozy big, slightly unnecessary coat, and walk all over the downtown area. Some of my favorites from past years is the big red bow on Cartier, the done up staircase at 2 Rodeo Drive and of course the Santa sled that often hangs across Wilshire Blvd. It's a marvelous display of festiveness and I just can't get enough. After a brisk walk around I usually stop at Nate'n Al's Deli or head the Fountain Coffee Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel (also the home of the famed pink jacketed Nutcrackers). More about Rodeo Drive's Holiday Celebrations here




It's safe to say this event has become a staple in my annual holiday celebrations, where the tree lined storefronts host the community with sales and treats. For anyone not familiar, Montana Avenue is a nice little street with retail and restaurants in Santa Monica, a place I tend to frequent fairly often. What I love most about it is it's proximity to Brentwood, it's quiet, laid back vibe and of course, all the places I have come to love. Caffé Luxxe, Sweet Lady Jane and Forma, to name a few, which is where I usually make a reservation for the night of this event, so my friends and I can enjoy a delicious, cheese induced, pasta dinner after perusing the street for free cookies and mulled wine. To be clear, only one real estate agency tends serve the mulled wine, however most shops offer something for kids and of course, the adult still trying to grab complimentary sweets when possible. More info about the event here. 

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Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills & Christmas Tree Land in Pasadena

This is a perfect activity for little kids, given you won't have to leave your car. I found this lovely little drive through street, properly referred to as Candy Cane Lane, one year when my mother was visiting for the holidays. A friend of mine who grew up in LA had told us about it, a gathering of a few streets which according to my friend, residents are required to decorate their houses for the holiday, just to keep up with the standard set by the outwardly festive community. It's only a few streets but it's a nice little activity, especially if you live anywhere close to the 405 freeway and or live in the San Fernando Valley. So we grabbed some Starbucks and purchased homemade cookies being sold in support of a veteran's charity and rolled on through. More recently, a tour guide at the Huntington Gardens, another absolutely beautiful place I might add, told me about a similar drive in Pasadena. It's a pristine, deodar cedar tree lined street, perfectly lit for the holidays. I have not yet been, which is odd given I have spent every Christmas in California in Pasadena! So my recommendation of course is to pack the car with warm drinks and perhaps something sweet. Christmas music optional, but my pick would likely be a classic; *NSYNC's Home for Christmas


Beverly Hills Menorah Lighting at Two Rodeo Drive, December 29th 

Every year I try to attend this event as it makes me happy to see how welcoming the city of Beverly Hills is to the Jewish community that tends to make up a very significant portion of the population here and in the rest of Los Angeles. This year the ceremony is taking place at the end of Hanukkah, which is a bit disappointing, however I will likely still attend because it's such a beautiful celebration of perseverance. Usually there's a Rabbi who will lead the event and light the large menorah, reminding us of why we celebrate and the importance of traditions like these. I also can't remember a year in which there weren't delicious latkes given out, so that in itself is enough to look forward to! 



I have only been once, however, it was really fun. I had hot chocolate (that I might have added a little Bailey's to) and toured the zoo at night, fully decorated for the holidays and glowing. It was a really fun experience, even without children. I have to say Chicago's Zoo lights are a bit better, however, it's been a few years since I have been so perhaps that have stepped up their game? Definitely a must see with the little ones! 


Mason Jar Hot Cocoa Gifts


Every year I continue to give my interns and co-workers and sometimes friends these very simple DIY mason jar hot chocolate kits. They are extremely simple to make and so festive that I've stuck to the same recipe for the last seven years! You can also swap the hot cocoa mix for any type of baked good or non-perishable recipe. I typically start with a hefty layer of hot cocoa powder, then add mini marshmallows, chopped candy cane and top it off with chocolate chips or smaller pieces of chocolate if I can find them. I garnish the jar with a red or plaid ribbon and sometimes a cinnamon stick for extra flair. The tags are optional but tend to add a nice personalized touch, with space for a little message too. Here are items you will need to recreate, linked below. 





-MGN

HOLDAZED: HOW TO DEAL, SOME THOUGHTS

Because the holidays aren't always merry and bright... Beyond the mistletoe, classic movies, enticing treats, ornate decorations and overhaul of lofty expectations for happiness, altruism and gratitude, lies the not so jingle worthy reality that holidays can also be hectic, stressful, overindulgent, lonely and expensive. When our friends, families, partners, kids and coworkers can bombard us with unattractive small talk, uncomfortable political discussions, the overconsumption and ugliness of too much food and booze. Or when we are reminded of those who've passed or are no longer are in our lives in the way they used to be. Or the tendency to overlook or instigate the differences and separations between family members, being forced to face old wounds or stressful memories of the past. The simple reality is that a picture perfect holiday doesn't exist no matter what Instagram and the Bergdorf Goodman windows tell us. So today I'm offering a little room for us all to be real about the part of the holiday that hasn't always been so celebrated, but has always had a seat at the table. I originally wrote this post now three years ago and my intention every year since has been to write an updated version, but it seems like pretty much everything here still applies. So I tweeked a few things and added some new thoughts, but for the most part, these were the main themes I considered when thinking about the holiDAZE we can all easily fall into around this time. I write this post with a lot of honesty, empathy and of course, love. I hope some of it resonates with you. Enjoy. 

1. Mindfulness around the food and booze... but seriously, so hard. This, I believe is one of the most difficult things for me to maintain mindfulness about during the season of nonstop feasting, cheering, and nibbling on salt and sugar. If you are only planning to attend one celebration then by all means go all out and consolidate the cookie and alcohol combo hangover, but for those of us attending multiple holiday parties/events; it's a slippery slope. And let's be real, I often find the yummy cheese plate and festive sugar rimmed cocktail as a reward for doing 20 minutes straight of small talk with a girl named Sara who hates her boss and is considering a retreat in Bali, no offense to any Sara's out there or Bali retreats, I'd love to do one too at some point. It's just so tempting sometimes to calm our social anxiety with a lot of cake and wine. But at the end of the day I will often ask myself, is it worth the lull, the bulge, the lack of energy, the headache, the hangover? To be clear, I try to always ask myself these questions from a place of love and acceptance of my body, and not shame and resentment for my choices. I ask myself these questions to create consciousness around the way my body feels and my part in fostering the good, rather than attempting to scare myself skinny. I try sometimes to think of all the cocktail parties as a marathon, instead of a sprint, trying to think of other ways I can manage some of the temptation by nourishing myself maybe before I go to a party with foods that make me feel good, so I'm not starving and consuming large amounts of stuff that won't feel good the next day. It's not an easy task but before alternating between nonstop fasting and feasting for several months, it might be worth some consideration. Our bodies and minds are so incredibly impacted by what we feed it but I also want to enjoy myself and embrace the traditions that come with seasons. So the awareness is not so much a restriction as it is a point of consideration and care. 



2. Family comes first, but...  The holidays are also supposed to be enjoyable, so why do others have to dictate what that looks like exactly? I know, I know, this is hard one. But I really believe we need to stop apologizing for wanting more for ourselves, especially when it comes to our own happiness. If you don't enjoy seeing Aunt-oh how are you still single?- then don't. I understand people have commitments to see family for so many different and complex reasons, and sometimes it's just not feasible. I wonder, however, if is at all feasible to cut some of the guilt out and do what's best for yourself, your partner, or your kids in any small way (for example limiting the time with difficult family members or planning something separate and special for yourself or loved ones). Life is just too short and the holidays too special not to enjoy some or all of it the way you'd like. And if you can't avoid cousin-I'm so much better than you- than at least set some boundaries. Don't engage in the criticism or negativity, rise above what is essentially someone else's problem to the best of your ability. It's your holiday too, and if that means asking Uncle Fred to talk about something else other than Trump, that's okay. 

3. Can we just say no... Like the last thought but a tad easier sometimes with friends than with family. Saying no to "omg I haven't seen you in forever, let's do brunch", saying no to more than two secret Santa parties, saying no to the entire cookie making station, just take your snap of the cute holiday party invite and Instagram that custom hot chocolate making station and get the hell out. Saying no to whatever you don't want to go to and stop feeling bad about it. It's not selfishness, it's common sense. Remember, the holidays are about being happy, right? 

4. #Holiday on a budget...Let's face it, way easier said than done and I am no expert in managing finances. We all want that understated but ultra-luxe and on trend New Year's Eve dress, the substantial donation to our favorite charity, the extra pretty gift wrap option, the $70 ugly Christmas sweater (I wish I was kidding), that gift that makes our partner go wow! And with social media it's hard to re-wear the expensive ensemble and not be a tad jealous about what model Range Rover kid car the Joneses' got Timmy. It's the thought that counts and I'll admit that it is sometimes very difficult for me to understand that fully. So in the spirit of supporting the opportunity and meaning behind giving this season, making a budget for everything involved, not just the gifts and donations, but the real cost of each event, the holiday cards, the last minute/overpriced bottle of champs, the beauty regimens, the Uber surge pricing, the outfits, the secret Santa gifts you forgot about until the night before, and all the little extra details that add up, aka the $8 ornate, but oh so convenient  wine gift bag nobody will ever use again. Of all the holiday hangovers, getting a terribly huge credit card bill in January will never be worth it, so instead of putting it off, plan ahead and try your best to stay as close as possible to an amount you know you will be comfortable with come the new year. 



5. Don't just do it for gram...I know, I know, I'm a TOTAL hypocrite. But I do constantly tell myself this all the time and for the most part it reminds me why I gather and plan before the gram (haha that wasn't meant to rhyme but I like it). Remember that you can Insta at anytime and often it's the photos we don't post that make us look cooler. If you're having a good time, the photo can wait, if it has to happen at all. Heather Dubrow said on her podcast that she only takes photos at the beginning of an event so she can enjoy the rest of her time without worrying about it. Clearly she isn't a blogger, but I think the principle still applies. Some of the best photos I have taken required the most work and stress. I am clearly still thinking hard about this one but I try to avoid any spontaneous photoshoots so that I can truly enjoy the night without worrying about missing the good light. 

6. Exercise, exercise, exercise... A general rule of thumb that's been particularly useful for me in this last year. If I can't make time to relieve the stress, then I don't make it. AKA if I know I'm going to be in a frenzy going to three events in one week and won't have time to recover (aka workout or relax a night or two in between) then I just don't go. Its kind of like putting gas in the car, if you are constantly on empty you won't be able to get very far! I also have listened to my body and it just does better when I get a work-out in. Even if you don't have a lot of time, doing something as simple as jumping jacks at home before getting in the shower can make a difference in how you feel. I will often move through a few yoga poses just to release some of the tension from the day before an event in the evening, since I tend to work out in the mornings and need more blood flow to get me pumped up. Every little bit counts and remember it's about how you feel that is the most important. 



7. Honoring those who've passed... Perhaps one of the hardest parts about the holiday is being reminded of those who we have lost, those who played significant roles in our celebrations in past years and remind us of how much we miss them or the relationship even if the rest of the year is more bearable. As a therapist I often encourage my clients to acknowledge the loss in the safest and most bearable way possible. This can vary from reading a poem or quote, playing a particular game, sharing a fond memory, eating a special food, visiting a grave site or special place they used to love. Often times allowing a welcomed space, that may come with some sadness and difficult memories, feels better in the long run then avoiding the loss entirely. One of the most beautiful things about the seasons is the comfort of the old but also to opportunity of the new. It's up to us which one we choose to listen to most. This also applies to non death related loss too. Perhaps we are mourning a separation, ours or our parents. It could be a significant life change, moving to a new place, a financial situation, loss of status or a job. There are so many types of losses in life, however, there's also so many different ways to embrace change. Whatever path you are on, I hope you can conjure some trust in your process. That loss can evolve beyond just sadness, and perhaps add something to your life at some point. I know it's so hard, but if it means anything, I truly believe in it already for you. 

8. It's okay to be sad... As a matter of fact, maybe we can even plan for it, just a little. Like I mentioned before, as much as the holidays are fun and filled with happy memories, they are also stressful and emotionally draining. We tend to know ourselves well enough to sense when we might have an extra hard time putting up with a parent who might not change, a recent breakup, or a change in life circumstance beyond our control. And when everyone is forcing cheerfulness and gratitude down your throat it can often leave us feeling extra sensitive to the things we don't have, or did and lost. It's never a bad idea to have a little plan in place for these days — maybe promising yourself no guilt in saying no to a party invitation, or treating yourself to a massage/movie/SoulCycle class, having a friend on speed dial who is comfortable with just listening or watching a re-run of Friends. We all have things that make us hurt and often times the stress or pressure that comes with this season brings it up a little more for us, and for what it's worth, I'm here to tell you that is so okay. Congratulations, you're a real human. 

-MGN

CLASSIC STYLE: EXQUISITE ACCESSORIES


FEATHERS, FUR AND BOWS
Not to play favorites but this is where I'm most excited right now. Given that I'd gladly wear either all over my body, putting them in small accessory format it no big deal. SPICE IT UP. 



COLOR
The easiest way to dress it up. Forgive me for my pastel passions right in fall/winter, but I just couldn't resist these candy colored shades. 


PEARLS
Do I need an explanation for this one? Fortunately pearls are in right now, but really never out for myself and every other lady of distinguished age. They are classic for a reason people. 



TORTOISESHELL
Another staple that needs no explanation. It's forever stylish and always exciting. I actually had a pair of pumps with tortoiseshell heels, one that sadly broke off one New Year's Eve, but were such an easy way to elevate a causal outfit and work with almost every color, pattern and print. 


TEXTURE
Straight up, wearable art. Adding dimension makes all the difference, from subtle to loud, these are all major contenders for additions to my non-existent closet. 


SPARKLE 
It's the holidays, the perfect excuse to straight up wear your decorations. And that is essentially what accessories translate to moi. 



-MGN
{ photography by Elena Cuellar }

DATING IN THE DIGITAL AGE: SOME THOUGHTS

Oh how I love the topic of tech... As people close to me know, this is one of my favorite things to talk about. Perhaps because I am always so intrigued by both relationships and technology as topics on their own, but even more so together. As a therapist, I present to children, parents and other service providers on internet safety. As a blogger, I am obviously very grateful for the opportunities I've been afforded in pursuing my creative outlets online. 

However, the internet has also created a lot of not so beautiful things for us all. It's made itself so important that we often rely on it too much and it has the power to consume us in unprecedented ways that can only lead us to question our ability to live safely within it. This is the core question I am always asking, because the internet isn't going anywhere, so how can we navigate it in a way that helps us more than it hinders us? This is a topic I am constantly evolving within and I am eager to start sharing about it on this platform. But today I want to hone in specifically on dating. As you may know, I met my husband on a dating app (shout out to Jswipe) and so full disclosure, I had mostly positive experiences, therefore I am a bit biased. But my success was not just about meeting my life partner, it was also about doing it in a safe and meaningful way. So when we talk about dating online, let's start with the most important thing; safety! 





So what is safety, really? I want to just start off with the idea that dating has had it's safety concerns well before the internet came along. It's important to recognize that technology is simply a medium created by people. Meaning that people being terrible online is not because of the internet, it's because they are capable of doing terrible things in general, even if technology makes it simpler or helps people disconnect from the gravity of their actions. There is certainly literature to support the idea that empathy can decrease with higher levels of internet use, but we need to continue to hold people accountable for both their behavior on and offline. So, how do we connect online safely? After my initial start to using these apps, I quickly realized that it was hard to tell who was actually worth meeting in person. I also didn't want to jeopardize my safety or standards so I set some boundaries. To be clear this is not one size-fits-all advice, these are just some of the things that worked for me. 



Assess before you invest: A cheesy phrase, but it's quite sensible. After spending enough first dates wishing I was still at home, watching Bravo in my sweatpants, I finally decided to be more particular about my precious time. So whenever someone asked to go on a first date, I'd suggest they give me a call first to make a plan. Then we both would have a chance to talk a little and get a sense of one another before committing to a date. Most of my friends like to cringe at this one and I realize we are living in a time where people just aren't as comfortable talking on the phone as they used to be. I actually had a friend freak out when a guy called her that she was communicating with only via text message and I'll admit it was hard for me too. But I just don't know why I'd choose to physically meet someone in person, if I wasn't comfortable talking to them first over the phone. So this became a HUGE dealbreaker for me. 

That simple request for them to call was a game changer and honestly helped me weed out a lot of people I knew I didn't want to date. If a potential partner wasn't willing to set aside some time to call me and make a plan, then I knew he also wouldn't wake up for a baby at 2am or scour my Pinterest board before my birthday. (Still unsure if my husband even knows what Pinterest is come to think about it, but he would certainly wake up for a baby, given his commitment to our little Pierre). Not everyone online is looking for a serious relationship, but I was, and I wanted any person I would consider dating to feel the same. But even if you aren't looking for a serious relationship, getting a sense of who a person is before meeting them in person is always a good idea, especially when you are connecting first online. As for the pre-date phone call, I wouldn't necessarily talk for longer than 10-15 minutes, but you would be surprised how much information you can get in that short of time. People can't craft perfect messages as easily over the phone and more importantly it takes a certain amount of vulnerability that is typically lost over text. And I also believe it changed the dynamic between myself and that person, because they were able to see that I cared about myself and my safety, that my time was important, all via one simple request. This was such a minimal thing to do, but set such a a strong foundation for any relationship. 

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Meeting in person: It's probably not a great idea to give out your address to someone you don't know. No judgement if you do this, but don't we all deserve to be safe? Meeting someone in a public place and having people who care about you know where you are helps increase safety dramatically. It also gives you a way out if you feel uncomfortable to leave the situation with ease. I heard somewhere that there is even a cocktail you can order from a bartender that is code for help, called the Angel Drink. I also think you could just ask someone who works at the establishment to assist you if you feel uncomfortable or need help leaving a situation. 

Time spent: Another major thing for me was differentiating how I valued my time. Going on dates was important because finding a partner was important to me, however, I was never willing to sacrifice my life outside of dating or time with my friends and family. So I set limits on when and how many nights I was willing to go on dates. I typically wouldn't meet someone for the first, second, even third or fourth time, during the weekend because I chose to reserve that time for myself and the people I had already built meaningful relationships with. Some weeks were really busy due to having engagements with friends, for my blog, for my work; but I did my very best to prioritize my nights off so that I could be more present for the nights out. This ties in again to the general premise that our relationship with ourself should come first, before we create ones with other people. Even though I can't imagine my life without Arthur, I will never only be a half of a relationship; I felt whole before I met him and still feel whole as an individual. This is something I have struggled with before and I learned to look inward first, to value myself as an individual, before expecting anyone else to validate me in a relationship. 

Ongoing Communication: If I have anything to say about dating specifically in the digital age, this is it. Ignoring the chatter technology creates was helpful for me. The chatter being all the random, unexplained behavior we interpret as important, for example the likes on social media, the emojis that replace words, anything that replaces substance online, is not meant to be taken seriously offline. Just because someone watches your Instagram stories, or "leaves you unread" or God forbid pokes you on FB (if someone does this, say thank you, because it's the clearest sign you will ever get that this person is NOT for you). I hear time and time again, "Well he hasn't asked me out but he always likes my photos and snapped me a heart eyed emoji after I posted my Miami trip." So many of us tend to think that technology has created confusion for this very reason, but it's not that confusing. If you think about it, indirect communication might mean someone has an interest, but the real question is it that is good enough for you? Does it match what you are looking for? We all know how difficult it can be to put ourselves out there, to be vulnerable and show how we feel to others, but isn't that what love is about? Why spend your time with someone who does the bare minimum: I don't know you, but I do know you deserve better. Do you know that? 



It all comes back to connection: Getting back to connection is key. Especially when you are looking for someone to have an in-person relationship with, you might want to assess how much of your relationship involves the shield of technology. If you start your relationship communicating mostly via text, just keep in mind the new challenges face to face communication may highlight. Perhaps a person appears better or worse online, therefore someone who comes off cool via text and posts great pictures might not necessarily be that way in person. Most of us are all looking for something real, whether it's for one night or forever. So when we think about how we use technology, let's remember that it's merely the introduction point, a medium for simplifying life, not a forever strategy for real connection. And I think we all want real, right?  

-MGN

CHIC PLACES: WHERE I ATE PASTA IN NYC

If you know one thing about me... it's likely to be my obsession with pasta. Pasta, is truly the absolute most delicious thing I can eat. It's why Italian is my favorite cuisine and perhaps why I chose to study Italian in high school/college and study abroad in Verona, Italy for a semester. It's also my favorite item to order at a restaurant, which is funny because I actually enjoy it when I make it myself, despite the fact that I hate cooking and am pretty terrible at it. Perhaps it's because the bar has now been set so very low? Or because I can almost be certain it's going to be really, really good when prepared by a professional? The jury is still out on that one.

What I will say is that every time I make dinner reservations at home in Los Angeles or before a trip somewhere else, I do my best to find somewhere that's perfected my favorite food group. So naturally I asked many friends, did my online research and checked my outstanding lists before heading to New York City this past October. I came in with a lot of information, some disappointment from hard to book spots, and lots of optimism for my next trip. Here's what I found. Enjoy!


1. Sant Ambroeus, (multiple locations)

I love this place for many reasons, the first being how legitimate it feels. There's something about being here that feels safe and enjoyable. It's a no fuss, traditional, upscale spot where you can easily go for any meal or just a coffee and something sweet. But despite the dark wood, white tablecloth and otherwise classic decor, they added a little pink accent that I feel connected to. It's a simple, yet powerful piece of marketing that is clearly working on me. So since I have become so eager to eat a proper meal here I decided I'd make it a mission to try some pasta, even if it meant eating alone in the early afternoon. Luckily my husband was game and we found a perfect spot outside, right in front of the entrance at the West Village location, perfectly positioned to people watch and relax while I got my middle of the day, pasta fix. I went back to basics and ordered the cacio e pepe, which I must say is always a reliable pasta choice at pretty much any Italian restaurant. Even if it's not on the menu I have always gotten it by asking since it's so simple for them to make. I honestly can't say I have ever had a bad one, but how can it be bad when you combine pasta, butter and pepper? But back to Sant Ambroeus, the pasta was delicious! I really wish I had been able to come back every day of the trip and try more of their pasta dishes, but unfortunately I wanted to branch out. No worries thought, I will most certainly be coming back next time.

2. Il Mulino, Greenwich Village 

We came here on our last trip to NYC with friends and honestly, I wish we had chosen to come back this trip too. Even my husband, who tends to devalue eating out at restaurants, was impressed, given how much free food they give you before you even order anything off the menu. First things first, you need to go to the original location in Greenwich Village, as it's just so legitimate, I am scared to try the newer locations and be disappointed. Every waiter appears to be a distinguished Italian man who seems to know food well. We ordered a bunch of things to share but of course my favorite was the pasta. We had the Capellini Il Mulino and I believe another pasta dish too, however, the Capellini was my favorite. We also ordered a delicious chicken parm and a few other things for the table, but whenever I go back I will be solely ordering pasta, likely the gnocchi which looks to die for!!


3. L'Artusi, West Village

Okay, so I need to be really honest here. I didn't really love it. And to be honest, I was actually very disappointed because this place was overly recommended to me by so many people, particularly for their popular pasta dishes! I ordered the garganelli after so many great reviews and due to a very enticing menu description, the mushroom ragu, how genius is that for any mushroom lover like myself!? Arthur got the other very popular pasta, a simple spaghetti with garlic, chiller's and parmesan, which was very good, but not life changing by any stretch of the imagination. This was one time where I regretted taking my own advice to just order a cacio e pepe, and I am sure it would have been absolutely delicious had I done so. To make matters worse, we were pretty disappointed finding out we had ordered the more expensive bottle of brut rosé, but I will say it was delicious and fueled a fun night for us, so in the end it was worth it I suppose. Aside from the less than great meal I was hoping for, I also wasn't really a fan of the ambiance in the restaurant, even though it was packed with people, dark and modern, it just didn't feel authentic or cool or particularly fun. Perhaps I just went on an off night, but that was my honest experience unfortunately. 


4. Palma, West Villlage 

This place was also heavily recommended, and appeared consistently beloved on social media given how equally enchanting the space is, in addition to the menu. Tucked away on a quiet cobblestone street in the West Village, this shabby chic restaurant has the most charming little courtyard with candlelit tables, surrounded by ivy covered walls. It's no surprise they frequently host private events and some of the most intimate weddings. Smartly, the courtyard was covered, which I appreciated given I met some girlfriends there for dinner on a cold, rainy night. I sat at the romantic bar before our table was ready outside and ordered The Garden cocktail, of course, while waiting for my friends. I knew they too would appreciate how pretty the place was and I couldn't help but think how perfect it must be for a date night. {more photos from Palma below}

But aside from how lovely the decor was, I did also love the food. We started with the delicious arancini before shamelessly ordering three pasta dishes to share. We had the cacio e pepe ravioli, fettuccine fungi e tartufo (mushrooms and truffle) and the agnolotti ricotta e spinaci; all of which were delicious. I wasn't as impressed by the agnolotti, however, I am also not a huge ricotta lover so I'm not the best judge, but both the fettuccine and ravioli were absolutely amazing. Overall, this is now one of my favorites for sure. 

STILL ON MY LIST

1. Carbone, Greenwich Village

I still can't believe I haven't been here yet, but given the difficult reservation system, perhaps not? Nonetheless I really hope when I do ultimately go, it's worth the hype. I keep hearing about the spicy rigatoni, which I assume is quite similar to the spicy fusilli, also a vodka based sauce, at Jon & Vinny's in Los Angeles, which I love. 

2. Nello, Upper East Side


This place has always been on my list as another reliably good Italian spot in New York. The only thing that's held me back is it's not exactly the type of place my friends want to go before a fun night out, it seems to be of a ladies who lunch type of spot. This is perfect for me however, because I was born 50 and quite frankly love an older crowd. 

3. Lilia, Williamsburg & Misi, South Williamsburg

I've had several New Yorkers recommend I head to Brooklyn, where admittingly I have not been yet, to try these spots. At Lilia, Instagram has me drooling over the cappelletti and the mafaldini and Misi's occhi looks so good, similar to a tortellini but wider and perhaps stuffed with something different. I'd also be open to trying the fettucine there, which looks simple but yummy. If you have been to either, send me your recommendations! The next time I head to NYC I will definitely prioritize a trip over the bridge, for pasta of course, among all the other wonderful things I have heard about. 


4. Elio's, Upper East Side

Elio's seems to be a pricey, but reliably good, reliably classic Italian restaurant that everyone seems to love. From most reviews it sounds like a nice spot for group, an older crowd perhaps, but a lively one, which I am all about. I have heard really good things about the chicken parm but as for pasta, this is the kind of place where I am almost certain the red sauce must be good. But if I am wrong, please do tell me!

5. Sorbillo, Noho

I found this place on Instagram and even though they seem to focus mostly on Neapolitan pizza, I couldn't help but obsess over the images of the gnocchi in a vodka looking sauce and the carbonara that I would order without the meat. It's a bit more casual but appears to be quality nonetheless. 





Going to stop here before I end up booking another flight to NYC for another full-fledged pasta tour! 

-MGN