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House Hunting in Manhattan

House Hunting in Manhattan
via Virgin America and American First Class
April 2017

It's been nearly a year since we moved from Denver, and Mrs. SFO777 has decided that the sticks of southern Orange County and its dearth of good restaurants isn't for her.  So where to next?  LA?  No.  San Francisco?  Nope.  Back to Denver?  Not yet.  Paris?  Not practical.  So, here we are at LAX Saturday morning heading to New York.  We've always loved visiting and thought, what better place for an urban fix and great restaurants.  So we decided to check it out and see how it felt and how bad the prices are for a lot less space.  Crazy airfares this weekend but I lucked out and was able to find two 25,000 mile Virgin America saver First awards on alaskaair.com.  Unfortunately, VX operates from the armpit of LAX, Terminal 3.  

Fortunately, T3 is about to be renovated as Delta will move from the its current T5/T6.

With 20 minutes to spare before boarding, I left Mrs. SFO777 in the gate area to check out The Loft.   

I guess this is the back door as took the "head up the staircase" option.

Lounge dragon took a look at my boarding pass and reservation and advised that my fare didn't give me access but I could buy a day pass for $30.   LOL.  I declined but was given the OK to take a quick look around.  OK, not many are going to miss this place when VX moves to T6 in a month or so.

Heading back downstairs where renovations have already started. 


Virgin America VX 406
April 22, 2017
Seats 2DF

Proper priority boarding today as only First Class was invited to board first.  Not like United's everyone but the kitchen sink Group 1 nonsense.  Despite pushing 10 years old, the cabin is still very attractive.  And the First Class seats still beat most domestic premium seats.  Yeah, it's no longer competitive with the lie flat competition on this route, but still comfy for a just over 4 hour flight.

Great crew today with one of the FA's lip-syncing to the VX safety musical.  Very creative.  

And we're off.

Shortly after take-off, our First Class FA Logan jumped into action starting with closing the galley curtain to shield pax from the galley activity.  What a concept which no major US airline thinks of doing with its Airbii.

Showtime, Virgin America style.

My Crudité with Edamae Pesto Hummus starter was delicious. 

For her main, Mrs. SFO777 went with the Chickpea Masala, which she said was flavorful and enjoyable... although she did admit that she misread it to be Chicken Masala.  LOL. 

I went with the Beef Filet with roasted tricolor potatoes, sautéed wild mushrooms, grilled asparagus and scallions, Burgundy demi-glace and horseradish chive creme fraiche.

Despite being well done, the filet was melt in your mouth delicious... unlike the crap that I was served in AA First on our return.

The Lemon Pistacchio tart was a tasty finish to a very nice meal.

Not sure it pairs well with another Anchor Steam though.

After the carts were out of the main cabin aisle, access to the F lavs was restricted and admirably enforced.

Although VX's IFE is the a litle dated, it is still adequate.  And features live satellite TV. 

Goodies from the Dean & Deluca snack basket.

We arrive 20 minutes early to close in Gate 2 and thanked Logan for taking good care of us today.  Sadly, Alaska will be killing off the Virgin product in the next year or so.  It's been a great ride while it lasted.

... and outside where our driver has just pulled up.

About 50 minutes after we left JFK, we arrived at Columbus Circle and the Trump International Hotel.  We chose Trump because it is the home of two fabulous Jean-George restaurants and we got a good rate using Amex FHR which included daily breakfast for two, a $100 food and beverage credit, guaranteed 4pm checkout on Monday... and a upgrade at check-in to an executive city view suite.  Very nice although a little dated.  The staff was simply superb.  The biggest complain was the lilipuchin sized bathroom.

Even a kitchenette.

Yeah, the name is everywhere.  LOL.

Jeez, even your basic Sheraton has a bigger bathroom.

We unpacked and then headed downstairs for our 9:30pm dinner rez at one of favorites restaurants, Nougatine.

And some early morning pics.

With the sheers open, a beautiful morning in the city.

Still on Pacific time, Mrs. SFO777 was sound asleep.  So I headed out across the street to Central Park.  What a gorgeous morning. 

Back in the room, for our "free" FHR breakfast.

Down to the lobby and out the door, we met Chito, our Empire CLS driver for the day and headed out to explore the different neighborhoods on our list, and stop by a few open houses.   First stop was a 10:30am appointment just up the street at 25 Central Park West.   Nice art deco building.

But OK, this is a lttle small and unexciting.

Then to the Upper West Side.  Nice feel, lots of neighborhood restaurants and bars.  

The across Central Park to the Upper East Side and then down to Midtown East...

 ... and the Sutton Place enclave where we have an appointment tomorrow.

Then back up to E. 68th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue for an open house.  OK, this is nice.

Then down to E. 51st Street and 1st Avenue.  Nice building, good space and terrific city views.

And a lively, fun looking neighborhood.

Next we headed up to another open house that was advertised as Upper Carnegie Hill.   Turned out to be about 12 blocks north in a neighborhood that I'll charitably describe as "scruffy".  We passed on even stopping and turned back south on Fifth Avenue, then over to tony Park Avenue. 

And down to 20th Street for an amazing late lunch at iconic Gramercy Tavern.

Mrs. SFO777's poussin was incredible.

My pork was exquisite.

What an wonderful and very reasonable meal.  In the face of the NYC $15 minimum wage, Gramercy has switched to a no tipping policy.  Our prix fix lunch including 3 glasses of wine was only $124 including tax and service. 

After lunch, we continued south to take a look at Greenwich, Tribecca and finally Battery Park City.  Interesting but not our kind of neighborhoods.  As Mrs. SFO777 opined, too many effing millenials.  LOL. 

Some gorgeous apartments at the Ritz-Carlton residences, but Battery Park City is just not a real neighborhood.  Plus you can't walk any restaurants worth visiting. 

Time to head back north to the hotel.

We relaxed for a few hours and then headed out for the short walk to Marea, one of the City's best Italian restaurants.  And only a 3 minute walk.

Wonderful ambience, great service and exceptional food.

By the time we left around 11:00pm, the bar scene had calmed down. 

With nothing on the schedule until an 11am appointment, we slept and even passed on breakfast since we were still full from yesterday's food orgy.

With three specific appointments today, we decided to Uber or taxi our way around the city.  First stop was Sutton Place and a "pre-war" building with a manually operated elevator.  Whoa.

Very nice, but the owner really wanted to rent the place furnished.

Next stop was back to the Upper East Side and the corner of Madison and E. 77th.  OMG, what's not to like about this?? 

Oh yeah!

Our noon appointment at a lovely 2nd floor apartment.

... with a view of The Mark and yet another Jean-Georges restaurant.  How cool.

OK, we really, really liked this place and we liked the Upper East Side.  With lots to think about, we walk a block south on Madison to The Lowell and Daniel Boulud's fabulous Café Boulud.

Then Uber to our 2pm appointment in the heart of midtown.

This is cool and in the heart of the action with loads of restaurants nearby including Le Bernandin just a block away.

Then back to the hotel to pack and head to JFK for our 7pm flight home.

We left the hotel just before 4pm and it still took nearly 75 minutes in rush hour traffic to get to Terminal 8 and American.   Since I was using Business Extra upgrade certificate, we stopped at the new Flagship First Class Check-in area where a check-in dragon had a list of all First Class passengers that day.  After finding our names, we were permited to pass.    

A little spartan compared to some other airlines, but certainly a pleasant oasis especially since as we were the only passengers while we were there.

Battle ax like agent checked us without any smile although her colleague was much more pleasant when she walked over.

The grey door at the far end leads directly into the PreCheck queue which was a nice design and set up feature.

The International First Class Lounge is still a work in progress as the plan is to have a sit down dining room for international and transcon First passengers.  AAgent estimated another month which is New York speak for "we don't have any idea".  I'd been inside the new IFCL once before and my impressions this time are no different.  New space, new design, new furniture... but what was the point of renovating?   I think that the old First Class Lounge was nicer.  

And then there was the food and beverage counter.  Meh.  Not very much and very inspiring.  OK, I get that is may be temporary since there is supposed to be a dining room coming.  But still, the was pretty weak.

Apparently, the Admirals Club snack mixes are beneath the First Class Lounge so I wandered over to the new Admirals Club to get something for Mrs. SFO777.

The new AC is simply depressing and about 1/3 the size of the old one.  

At around T-45, we headed out for the long walk to the satellite concourse.

New York JFK to Los Angeles
American 21
April 24, 2017
Booked 4/10
Departed 10/10
Seats 3A and 3F

7pm on a Monday and AA can only sell 2 First Class seats max, 1A and 2A?  And they don't release award seats any more so the cabin winds up being filled with employees.  Real smart AA.

Although this cute employee was dressed to the nines for her free F seat to the coast.

Mrs. SFO777 liked this plane and seat, at least at the start.

The AA amenity kit.

Double meh.  Yeah, that's exciting.

Crew eventually got around to offering a pre-departure beverage, choice of water or cheap champagne.

Tonight's menu.

I hope they are paying Sam a lot of money to put his name on this menu, because no one is going to think "this meal was great, let's visit one of Sam's restaurants"

And then there's the laughable wine list.  Why not just go with Charles Shaw?

I takes a while for the system to reset. 0 hours and 0 minutes to destination...

... and 167 feet below sea level.

Showtime AA style.  LOL.

Starting with the plush AA towel.

Last year, AA used to place a table cloth and each item on the table individually but not any more.   Why go to all that trouble when it's mostly fellow employees on free passes?

The Spicy Crab starter with sushi rice, avocado and wasabi aoili was actually pretty good.

But it was downhill from there.  Salad with zesty chive vinaigrette was meh. 

For her main, Mrs. SFO777 chose the Pan Roasted Coconut Lime Chicken.  When I asked her for opinion, she said "it tasted like airplane food".

For my main, I went with the Beef Oscar.  Looked great on paper with crab, asparagus, béarnaise sauce and smashed potatoes.    In the real world, it was gross and inedible.  The sauce did not even remotely resemble béarnaise, the crab was unrecognizable and no doubt fake.   The Australian Merlot was wretched. 

But the worst part was the "beef", a disgusting cut of industrial grade meat of some sort, cooked beyond well done.   A couple of bites was all I could take and I sent it and the wine back to the galley.

On the other hand, the raspberry tart was delicious.

The snack basket came in handy mid-flight.

It's no wonder American can't sell many First Class tickets with this kind of service and catering.   Even Mrs. SFO777 wants nothing more to do with this, insisting that she wants JetBlue Mint next time.  And so it is as we are headed back in two weeks and have booked Virgin America on the outbound and JetBlue on our return.  Thanks for following along this report.

Three weeks later, Mrs. SFO777 and I are on our way back to New York to spend more time before we decide whether we're really going to do this.
As Mrs. SFO777 said, we're either going to love it or hate it.   And one more time on Virgin America with by fare the cheapest price this weekend, at 25,000 miles.
This is the big LAX airline shuffle weekend as Delta moves to T-2 and T-3 and T-3 airlines make the move to T-5 or T-6.   That is great news for us as Virgin has finally vacated the third world outpost that is T3.  Parking was easy on the 1st level of the T6 garage.

Quiet afternoon at T-6 as there was no one in line for security, let alone PreCheck.

Bad weather in the northeast and in particular in New York was causing lots of delays and our 3:35pm was already pushed back to 5:05pm.  So we had plenty of time to explore.

Our gate.  Indeed, a 90 minute delay.

But right next door is the Alaska Lounge, where our Virgin First Class ticket get us access.

Nothing fancy with what appears to be way too many seats for such a small space.

Nice small bar with TVs.

Great plane spotting from our window seats.


At around T-45, we headed downstairs and arrived just the Gate Agent invited First Class to board.
Los Angeles LAX to New York JFK
Virgin VX 416
3:35p-11:55p (sked)
5:05p-1:00a (actual)
May 13, 2017
Seats 2DF

Yep, looks just like three weeks ago.

The Virgin America amenity kit...

... which consists of a cheap eyeshade and even cheaper pen.

We pushed back at 5:00pm and made the long trek around to the north side of the aiport.

Ooooh, how I wish I was on that plane today.

With wheels up at 5:15pm.


Today's menu, the same as 3 weeks ago.

After take-off our First Class FA Lindsay closed the galley curtain and prepped a somewhat-challenged service process.  I had overheard her telling another FA something about "my first time".  Didn't think much about it until she started the comical meal service.

Drinks came out out fine although nuts took another 10 minutes, and forget about round 2.

Mrs. SFO777 went with chicken salad for dinner.  She apparently was the only taker as this came out at 6:01pm.

Ten minutes later, she was the only one who had been served dinner.

Lindsay then started with row 1 which took 20 minutes.  Indeed, 1C was done with dinner and dessert before she got to serve row 2, or the rest of row 2 besides Mrs. SFO777 who has long since fihinsed her dinner.

Still waiting for my refill.

And finally at 6:35p, my dinner, the beef fillet with horseradish creme fraiche.

The crudite with hummus was delicious.

The beef was good but not great like 3 weeks ago.

The lemon tart desert was excellent.

After a "you get what you pay for" few moments with Dial7 and their close-to-useless app and worst-of-New York dispatch attitude, we arrived at Madison and East 77th Street and The Mark just after 2am.   We received a Virtuoso upgrade at booking to a very attractive Deluxe 77th Street King room. 

What a lovely surprise waiting for us in our room... SFO777Jr's thoughful Mother's Day gift of Billecart-Salmon and chocolate dipped strawberries.  

Whoa, now that's some decor. 

And one of the scariest mini bars I've seen in a long time. 

Since we finally went to sleep at around 3am, we didn't exactly wake up bright and early on Sunday morning.   Breakfast just before noon.

The Mark on a sunny Mothers Day.

And lobby pics, with the same black and white stripe decor.


When we visited a few weeks ago, we had pretty much narrowed our search to the Upper East Side... and one apartment in particular, on East 77th.   So we decided to stay at nearby The Mark, spend time in the neighborhood and see how we felt three days later.  While Mrs. SFO777 was getting ready for the day, I headed out for some fresh air.  Up Madison... 

... then west on 78th...

To Park Avenue and Central Park.

Then back on East 77th to the hotel.

A little later, with Mrs. SFO777, north on Madison and back over to Central Park.

It was a perfect 65 degree spring day and we decided to just sit, relax and enjoy the park and the great people watching.

Oh come on sweetie, it's only a little bird.


And back to The Mark where we met our Pedicab driver Bobby for the scenic ride to Times Square and West 45th theater district.

To the Hirschfeld Theatre.

And the Sunday matinée of the wonderful Kinky Boots. 

What a fabulous show.  No pics during the performance but I snuck one during the finale.

After relaxing back at the hotel and enjoyed SFO777Jr's gift of champagne and strawberries, we headed down to 23rd Street in the Flatiron district and The Clocktower Restaurant which is located in the New York EDITION hotel. 

The hotel bar in the lobby...

... and upstairs to the retro decor restaurant, from restauranteur Stephen Starr and Michelin-star British chef Jason Atherton.


OK, gotta love the tableware.

A great meal and a quick 20 minutes later. our Uber driver dropped us off at our hotel some 54 blocks up Madison. 

We both slept in this morning as our bodies were still on Pacific time.  After room service and a few calls to real estate agents to set up appointments for later in the day or tomorrow, we headed out for some exercise and exploration... down Madison to 69th Street and then over to 1st Avenue for lunch.   Daycare central, surprisingly with no locks on any scooters or strollers.

For a New York Pizza at Patsy's, recommended by both our concierge and our pedicab driver Bobby.

Such a comedian... except when she wanted arugula on her half and apparently got the entire bag.  Keep it on your side.


After lunch, we headed back to Madison Avenue.   Yeah, you know the dog walker is not into when he's on the phone and dogs lie sit and lie down. LOL.

Lots of window shopping on Madison Avenue, where "they have everyone here".  Uh-huh.

We got back to The Mark around 4:30pm, freshened up our room and then headed downstairs to the Mark Bar to take advantage of our complimentary Virtuoso cocktalk and hors d'ouvres.  Although is one of the strangest and dopiest hotel bars we've seen in a long time.  Three bar stools and seating for maybe 12 people.

With no apparent limit on what is included in our "complimentary cocktail", I had the $39 Basil Margarita with Don Julio “1942” Extra Añejo Tequila while Mrs. SFO777 had... I have no idea what it was but it was tasty.

Jeez, more dogs.  Everywhere you turn on the Upper East Side there are dogs.  Seriously?  

And Birkenstocks to go with her doggies and Chardonnay.  Yikes.

The back to the room to rest up before dinner.  

And then back downstairs to Jean-Georges at The Mark for a lovely dinner.   Major props to sommelier Aiden who brought out an amazing and inexpensive
"off the winelist" Domaine Ramonet Burgundy after I inquired about some other reasonably priced for Ramonet selections. 

Mrs. SFO777's Linguine alle Vongole starter.

And my delicious angel hair pasta with asparagus and morels.

Mrs. SFO777's halibut, perfectly prepared.

And my wonderful Dover Sole, although not as good as at Nougatine.

And sweets to finish.

Profiteroles and Salted Caramel Sundae.