Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I learned doing the JetBlue Family Pooling

(updated March 2017)

As I mentioned before, my husband and I both gave up on United and on chasing status with "the big 3" a couple years ago. Since he flies NYC-SFO a lot for work, he ended up settling into a pattern of flying JetBlue Mint since it's hands-down the best domestic Business Class and is often the cheapest (his employer requires him to fly on the lowest-priced flight within $100).



Since we both fly quite a bit, we decided to do take advantage of JetBlue's unique-in-the-US family point-pooling program. The big advantage of a Family Pool is that you can avoid the situation where, for example, two of you want to go somewhere and you need 30,000 miles each, but one of you has 45,000 miles and the other only has 15,000. (Most airlines won't let you transfer miles between accounts without a hefty fee).

Another big advantage of Family Pooling is that it's easier to redeem for a single ticket that includes multiple family members. During bad weather or other service interruptions, being on the same ticket together can help keep all the members of your party together during automatic re-bookings and cancellations.

I'll skip the long tale of how I screwed up and just get to the important things I learned:
  • If one person in the family travels a lot more than the others, it's best to make that person the Head of Household
  • Everyone in the family elects to contribute some percentage of their existing and future earned miles into The Head of Household's account (i.e., the Family Account and the Head of Household's personal account are one in the same)
  • Family members traveling without the Head of Household do not have access to the Family Pool for upgrading to Even More Space with points (even if everyone has Mosaic elite status).
  • Further, non-Mosaic Family members traveling without the Head of Household can only upgrade to Even More Space with cash even if the Head of Household books the ticket through their account
  • You can't upgrade to Mint with points if you bought the ticket with dollars (even if you're Mosaic)
  • You can only change your Family Pooling preferences once a year
  • You can't book a reward flight where one person is in Mint and the other person is in Economy. You have to book 2 separate tickets for that.
  • If you have the JetBlue Plus MasterCard, ONLY the primary cardholder receives the 10% rebate on point redemptions.
  • If you have Mosaic status, JetBlue allows you to make changes to your family pool, and can change the head of household, but they won't do this for non-mosaic members.
Also note that the Mint network is expanding. Seasonal service to Aruba and Barbados, and year-round service between Boston and SFO starts March 2016. My Mint reviews are here, and here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

New York City food

Intro

Lots of folks ask me for tips on food in my neighborhood and NYC in general so here's a few of my very Lower East Side-centric tips. There's tons of info online about the restaurant scene here – you don't need me to tell you that Per Se and Le Bernardin are great places to eat, but check out EaterNY or the Michelin Bib Gourmand list if you want to read up on some places for yourself.

A great watch on the plane ride here is The Sturgeon Queens – a documentary about the legendary Russ and Daughters appetizing shop. Lots of celebrity cameos including Ruth Bader Ginsberg!

Doing schmaltz shots with Nikki Russ at the Russ and Daughters Cafe!
Speck and peach pizza at Bruno

Food

Food and drink in this neighborhood change very quickly. My favorite things right now are:
  • Bruno Pizza on 13th and 3rd. All of the pizza is fantastic, but the peach and speck is my favorite. Scarr's pizza on Orchard is less fancy but, like Bruno, they're also grinding their own flour from local grain.
  • Raku on 6th Street in the East Village has fantastic Udon that's exactly like the stuff I ate in Japan. 
  • Mission Chinese's kung pao pastrami and the thrice-cooked bacon are amazing. So are their pickles. And sansho pepper beer. And the lamb ribs.
  • A long, sake-filled meal of a million tiny seasonal things from Yopparai (chawanmushi, oden, house-smoked duck, tsukune, shioyaki of whatever fish is in season, house made tofu, sake pudding and yuzu shave ice)


Buzz

New York and Tokyo both have a perverse love of restaurants with huge lines and lots of buzz. Personally I hate waiting, so I try to eat at like 5:30pm (or 11pm) when you can usually sneak in. Some places will give you the, "ok but someone has this table at 7..." spiel but just roll with it and you can save yourself hours of waiting. Some of the more buzzworthy places (Mission Chinese) will let you book a table with the Reserve app, but usually they only have a small subset of their tables on there, and they charge you for the privilege of making a reservation. But again, $5 to save hours of waiting is totally worth it. 
  • New York has reached Peak Poke! It seems like every day I see another restaurant offering this Hawaiian dish that was originally created to put fish scraps to good use.
  • David Chang (of Momofuku) opened a casual fried chicken sandwich and booze place called Fuku. He's serving the new meatless Impossible Burger to huge crowds at Nishi during lunch.
    Momofuku Nishi serving the Impossible Burger
    • Cosme is big right now. Mexico’s best high-end restaurant, Pujol, opened an outpost here and it’s making big waves. I think it’s an easier sell in New York because Californians/Texans have strong opinions about what "authentic" Mexican food is even if they’ve never been to Mexico.
    • Cronuts are still going strong two years later. They have an online ordering system now so with a bit of advance planning (2-4 weeks), you can just walk in and pick one up. I've had several knockoffs and nothing comes close – not worth a 2 hour line, but definitely worth the no-hassle online thing. For fall, they have 100-layer cinnamon buns that are poised to be "the next cronut". You had me at "applejack frosting"...
      Green tea and pineapple cronut
    • Shigetoshi Nakamura opened a ramen place on Delancey. Big lines, but, hey, someone has to give Ivan Ramen a run for his money! 
    • Japan's Ichiran Ramen opened in Bushwick and is also super hot right now. 
    • No tipping has been sort of a perennial topic, but it seems to be gathering some steam. Dirt Candy banned it. So did Joe's Lobster Shack, I Trulli, and Bruno pizzeria. Shake Shack's Danny Meyer is banning it from 13 of his high-end places. So are 11 Madison Park, and Masa -- two of NYC's most expensive restaurants. All four places in the Marlowe group did too. The menu will tell you if service is included (nearly all New York restaurants will automatically include 20% tip if your party is larger than 5). 

    Lower East Side Jewish brunch

    • The Lower East Side is the spiritual home of the bagel.  Kossars on Grand Street is the best bet for getting fresh warm bagels in the morning, but Davidovich in Essex Market is a decent stand-in. A few steps from Kossars is Pickle Guys. I love their "new pickles" and the half-sours. Also the pickled radishes and the pickled pineapple. 
    • Doughnut Plant is next to Kossars. Their crème brûlée donut is amazing. So is the coconut-filled one. 
    • Black Seed has Montreal-style bagels but usually a really long line. 
    • Russ and Daughters has bagels (trucked in from Bagel Hole) and an amazing selection of lox, smoked whitefish and pickles to go with your bagels. They also have fresh squeezed orange juice. Get the chocolate babka. You're on vacation, it has no calories, right? If you wanna go all the way to 11, make the chocolate Babka into French toast. Have your cardiologist on speed dial. 
    • Put all of those things together and you have an amazing Lower East Side breakfast
    • If that's too much work, you can just go to the new Russ and Daughters Cafe and have them make it all for you. (Get an order of Babka French Toast for the table to share!)
    • If you want less fish in your jewish breakfast (or lunch), Katz's Deli is awesome if you can get there in between the tour buses. Cash only, and do NOT lose the ticket they give you when you enter! Eat the pickled tomatoes!
    bagels with whitefish and pickles
    the classic with lox – Russ and Daughters has a dozen kinds...

    Babka french toast, the traif is optional :) 

    Katz's pastrami reuben

    Drink

    My favorite bar is Angel's Share. There's a good chance whatever amazing artisan cocktail bar you love back home can trace its roots back to what the folks at Angel's Share have been doing since the 90s. No parties larger than 4, no exceptions. No ordering until you're seated. Go at off hours to avoid the crowd. Nitecap and Bar Goto are also good. So is Pouring Ribbons. The hidden speakeasy gimmick is still alive and well so make sure to read the Yelp reviews so you know how to find them. On a cold weeknight, I love sitting by the fireplace and drinking Armagnac at La Lanterna*. On a warm summer night I love taking the L train out to Nowadays* for some outdoor picnic-y drinking. (Their Mister Sunday parties are legendary!)

    If you're buying liquor, September Wines and Le Du* are my favorite local shops. Astor Wine and and Liquor has a huge selection and Michael Towne* has hard-to-find whisky.
    Quick note about NYC liquor: grocery and corner stores can only sell beer. Wine shops can sell wine and liquor, but not beer. Confusingly, we call our corner stores "bodgeas" (sorry about that, Spain). Be careful! Bodegas sell things that LOOK LIKE wine but are basically wine-flavored malt liquor – Chateau Diana is its own punchline here in New York.

    My Top Picks by Category

    (i put an asterisk* if it's outside the Lower East Side/East Village area):

    • Dim sum: Jing Fong before 3pm, Nom Wah after 3pm, Vanessa's for take-away

      Dim Sum at Jing Fong. Make sure you get chrysanthemum tea!

    • Pizza: Rubirosa, Motorino, Luzzo's. The infamous Artichoke Pizza should only be eaten a 3am drunk

      Only eat Artichoke pizza when you're really drunk :)

    • Sushi: Kanoyama, Nakazawa (if you can get in)
    • Izakaya: Village Yokocho, Azasu, Sakagura*, Lucky Cat*
    • Fancy Japanese: Kyo Ya
    • Ramen: Ippudo is great but insanely crowded. Nakamura or Minca are good alternatives
    • Mexican: Mission Cantina, Fonda, Hecho in Dumbo, or Cosme* 
    • Chinese: the aforementioned Mission Chinese or Vanessa's Dumpling for cheap
    • Thai: Pok Pok* is amazing. In the neighborhood, I'd say Zab Elee.
    • Greek: Snack Taverna*, Kyclades Taverna, or Pylos
    • Filipino: Jeepney, Marharlika, Pig and Khao (get the Sissig), or Kuma Inn (get the Adobo pork buns!)
    • The Sissig at Pig and Khao is fantastic!
    • German: Lorelei has decent warm pretzels, schnitzel, Kölsch on tap, and a beer garden. 
    • French: Lucien is decent, but I go there more for a late-night Fernet than I do for dinner. I've heard good things about Dirty French, but I've not been myself.
    • Korean: take the subway to Koreatown* and go to New Wonjo. Or Gaonnuri if you want fancy. 
    • Steakhouse: Buenos Aires, Peter Luger*, St. Anselm*, or Sammy's Roumanian if you want a side order of schmaltzy Jewish culture and comfort food with your steak. "It's an institution!" (i.e., read the reviews before you decide if it's for you!)
    • Indian: Babu ji. Or MasalaWala if you're just doing Seamless (they have great Malai Kofta)
    • Brunch in NYC usually involves all-you-can-drink mimosas. No liquor can be served on Sundays until Noon, but that doesn't matter because brunch doesn't really get going until 1pm and then it bleeds into football and early dinner. If you're going for all-you-can-drink, you don't need any recommendations because they all serve crap sparkling wine and you're going to be puking your food up on the sidewalk by 4pm anyway.
    • If you'd like a civilized brunch: Clinton Street Bakery's blueberry pancakes are amazing. Prune's brunch is legendary. So is Balthazar's. I'd also recommend doing Dim sum instead... 
    • New American: Little Owl*
    • 24 Hour Diner: Remedy. I actually like their Cuban sandwich even though I shouldn't
    • "I need a drink after seeing a Broadway show!": O'Lunney's Times Square Pub*. 
      Good Guinness and Fernet. No crowds, no bullshit.
    • Bakeries: Balthazar, Maison Keyser, Dominique Ansel, Patisserie Tomoko*
    • Ice cream/Gelato: Morgensterns (Black Walnut + Fernet, or Black Pepper Pine Nut), il laboratorio del gelato (Black Sesame or Corn). I don't like Van Leeuwen but people here love it. If you get dragged there order Earl Grey ice cream and skip everything else. 
    • Dessert: Momofuku milk bar, Chickalicious
    • "I miss the Soup Nazi thing! Where can I go where the staff will treat me like shit!": Shopsin's in the Essex Market. Read the reviews before you go – it's NOT for the thin-skinned! Get the macaroni and cheese pancakes. 
      Mac and cheese pancakes at Shopsin's
    • The "I can't deal with NYC crowds anymore" dinner: Seamless and Caviar. The latter has delivery for some of the city's best and most popular places.

    Other resources

    • I’m briankusler on Instagram and I basically only post food pix with corresponding restaurant check-ins
    • My occasinally-updated google map is here: https://goo.gl/85KNhE
    • Michelin's Bib Gourmand (i.e., their "cheap" eats list) for NYC is here.
    • Lodown's LES guide is here.
    • My Puerto Vallarta guide is here
    • My Tokyo food guide is here.

    Important note for visitors from other countries:
    • Please, please, please if the service isn't already included, TIP your waitstaff at any restaurant with table service. 20% is customary. There’s a place on the credit card receipt to write one in, or you can leave it in cash on the table. 
    • Unless you order your food at a counter, you don’t seat yourself in a restaurant. A host will seat you or will make eye contact and say “sit wherever you want".
    • In bars, it’s customary to leave at least $1 per drink as a tip (more if it's expensive or time-consuming to make). The law doesn’t require shots to be measured, so tipping well on your first drink is usually to your own benefit!
    • While walking around town if you accidentally bump into anyone, immediately turn around, look them in the eye and sincerely say, “excuse me”. I've seen several tourists in Soho end up in violent altercations for not saying sorry. 
    • New Yorkers are surprisingly friendly and helpful as long as you’re not delaying one who’s in a hurry

    * Not in Soho/LES/East Village


    updated Nov 2016