Monday, May 30, 2011

Beignets Down The Bayou and Green Smoothies!

I just got back from a weekend jaunt to Baton Rouge. This was my second visit to Louisiana, the first one being to New Orleans a little over a year ago. While that visit was for a work-related conference my husband and I spent the vast majority of our time scouring the city for its best food. The food in New Orleans is unbelievable. From the Fried Oyster Po Boys at the famed Acme Oyster House to more sophisticated Creole fare like the pecan-crusted Gulf fish with Creole Meuniere suace at the more upscale Palace Cafe, we indulgently savored it all. The highlight of our culinary adventure was a pit-stop at Cafe Du Monde, a coffee-house famous for its chicory-laced coffee and divinely decadent beignets. Beignets are square pieces of fried dough that are generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Cafe Du Monde
When one of my closest friends chose Baton Rouge as the location of her wedding I quickly began mapping the distance from Baton Rouge to the French Quarter location of Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. One hour and 10 minutes, according to Google Maps. Totally do-able, right? Not so much when you are there for a wedding. There just was not enough time to make the trip to New Orleans and back and be ready for the 2pm wedding. So I moved onto Plan B. There had to be beignets in Baton Rouge! So began another Google search for the best beignets in Baton Rouge. That is how I came upon Rue Beignet, a cosy little cafe with very friendly servers. The beignets were made fresh, as soon as we placed our order. They were heavenly! Slightly crusted on the outside with chewy moistness on the inside and a light dusting of powdered sugar. I topped that off with a cup of their chicory-laced coffee. Happiness!

Coffee and Beignets at Rue Beignet
The beignets at Rue Beignet in Baton Rouge were amazing, as good as those that I remember having at Cafe Du Monde, and in fact, some online reviewers have reported that they are even better.

Unfortunately, the beignets were not my only indulgence this weekend. The wedding festivities ensured that all guests were well-fed. From a rich crawfish etouffee to moist red velvet cake and a fish'n'chips dinner I am trying not to think too much about, I was not feeling very healthy once I was back at home. I was craving greens so this morning for breakfast I made myself my own version of a green smoothie.

Ingredients (makes 2 large glasses):
2 cups of spinach
1 cup frozen strawberries
A handful of cashews
3 tablespoons of non fat Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of organic honey

One blended it looked like this:

And it tasted pretty good also.
For dinner I decided I was going to continue my healthy eating pattern and so I made yellow split-pea Dal (lentils). Dal is super-nutritious and a staple in South Asian kitchens and this one is my mother-in-law's recipe (albeit with a few deletions on my part to make it a tad healthier!)

1 cup of split peas
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 chopped tomato
Salt according to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)

1. Soak the split peas in water for 1/2 hour, and then discard the water.
2. Add fresh water, (enough to cover the split peas) and bring to a boil.
3. Add the spices and chopped tomatoes and cook until the splits peas soften (I cooked them for about 30 minutes at medium heat)

Done. Super healthy and super delicious! You can eat it with rice, pita bread or even on its own.

My dinner
My husband vetoed my decision to eat healthy and made his own dinner. Boo!
My husband's dinner

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Food and Fitness: Some Hits, Some Misses

This week has been kind of 'meh'. I have been feeling tired, a little low on energy and I have not been sleeping well. Workouts this week have been hit or miss. Some were great, like yesterday's Refine Method boot camp-style class, chock-full of mountain climbers and jumpbacks, performed to the point where I thought I would die; but there have also been some workouts where I just wasn't feeling it.

I took a spin class with a teacher who I had not tried before. While she taught a great class she played music that did not resonate with me. For a spin class, the music is key, and if its all going to be top 40 then that's going to be a problem. My knee was also beginning to get irritated with the repetitive cycling motion so it all added up and I ended up wishing I had taken the day off.

This was not the case this past weekend when I attended another one of Physique 57's workshops. This one was called "Trim and Tone Your Trouble Spots" and in a 90-minute frenzy, it did just that. The instructors, Tanya, Alex and Stephanie, led a tough class that was also fun as hell. Each time they would demonstrate a contorted move we were expected to emulate I would look at them quizzically and mouth, "Really? You really want us to do that?" I am not going to give an in-depth review of the class because honestly, I was enjoying it so much  that I zoned out, and so do not have a lucid recollection of the actual sequence. What I do remember is that we targeted every aspect of the seat and thigh - definitely my trouble spots!

On Monday, the husband and I went out for date night. I had forgotten how hard it is to a score a reservation in this city, and this is a week in advance! We tried all the hot spots du jour: The Dutch-5pm and 11pm slots available (um, no thanks); Maialino-11pm (you're kidding, right?); ABC Kitchen- fully booked for the night and the next two days (who are these people taking up all the reservations on a Monday?!). Slightly annoyed, I kept going down the list of all the places I have been wanting to try. Finally, I was able to get an 845pm reservation at Osteria Morini - Michael White's hot, new, Italian restaurant in Soho. I loved his old restaurant L'Impero, which later had its menu spruced and was renamed Convivio (closed now). Osteria Morini is his newest venture and has been getting a lot of buzz so I was excited to try it.

Source: Osteria Morini
The first thing that struck me when I entered the dark, cozy space, with its terracotta floors and wooden rafters hanging from the ceilings, was how casually everyone was dressed. One guy was even in flip flops! Hoping for a glamorous night out I had dolled up and so felt a little silly in the mix of things! It's my own fault. Morini does not have a dress code and in fact "Osteria" means inn or tavern so the restaurant is going for a casual vibe.

Source: Osteria Morini
But still, flip flops?

Well, let's move on to the food. To start with, I had the Sformato, described as parmigiano-truffle cheese custard with wild mushroom sugo.

Verdict: Delicious! The braised mushrooms on top really brought out the umami in the dish and the cheese custard was just as decadent as it sounds!

Next up, the main course: I had the Creste: pasta crests, with mussels, shrimps, scallops and parsley e aglio.

Verdict: The pasta was good. Was it finger-licking-I-don't-want-this-to-be-over good? No, but I enjoyed it.

For dessert I had the Torte, which was a plum cake. 

Verdict: Delicious!

Overall: The food here was pretty good, however, the service we received was not. Our server was impossible to get a hold of and one of the sides we ordered showed up after we had already finished our main course, and so I sent it back. Also, the place was LOUD! Not ideal for a romantic date night, as we were hoping. I probably won't be back since there are so many other great Italian restaurants in the city where the service is not sub-par. I do feel bad saying this since the food itself was good but, for me, going out to eat is an experience where everything matters, from how long you have to wait to be seated, to how promptly someone fills your glass of water and so on and so forth. I'm a tough critic, I know.

There's going to be some travel in the next week or so and therefore I may be missing in action. But I shall return! I have some new exercise classes that I will be trying out and reviewing in the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Not The Bee's Knees: My Running-related Injury

It's official. I have my first sports-related injury. Before I go any further, I want to preface this post with the following: While I am a physician who is licensed to practice in the state of New York, please do not use my comments in this post to make an attempt to diagnose or treat any knee pain you may be experiencing. Nothing can replace the value of a good clinical history and physical examination so please see your family physician, physiatrist, or physical therapist in order to be accurately evaluated.

Now that a disclaimer has been placed, back to me. Last week I wrote about the knee pain I experienced at the most recent race I ran, the UAE Healthy Kidney 10k. This was the fourth race I ran since taking a year off from running, and also corresponded with my fourth episode of sharp left-sided knee pain. In the previous three races, my pain started vaguely, around mile 2, and progressively became worse, especially when downhill segments of the race course were encountered. The pain resolved over the next 24 hours as I limited physical activity, iced my knee and intermittently wore a knee brace. Rapid flexion or extension of the knee, as occurs upon getting up to stand from a seated position, or vice versa, caused excruciating pain. It was all very debilitating, as you can imagine.

At the UAE Healthy Kidney 10k, pushing through, "I will complete this race. I will complete this race!"
At my last race, the pain started much sooner, within the first few minutes, in the early part of mile 1. Alarm bells started to ring, but the competitor in me wanted to complete the race. Although I did run/walk/limp the 6.2 miles to completion I decided that I could not keep doing this anymore, especially if I wanted to run the 9 New York road runner races to guarantee NYC Marathon eligibility for 2012, and so I made an appointment to see a physiatrist.

When you decide to go to a teaching hospital, as I did, you should be prepared to repeat your clinical history twice, and sometimes even three times, before you will be seen by your actual doctor. I was first seen by a nurse, then a resident (physician-in-training) with a medical student in tow, and finally by the physiatrist.

While some may find this system this annoying, I don't mind it. I have been on the other end, as both a medical student and a resident; nervous that the patient will see through my cool physician facade and realize that I am, in fact, merely, in-training; anxious about blanking out when quizzed about the diagnosis by the attending, and just overall apprehensive of making a fool of myself. The system serves a purpose, and that is to teach the residents and medical students the ability to autonomously and confidently make a diagnosis, and thus pass the threshold into becoming a real doctor.

The resident asked me many questions, which I answered as thoughtfully and accurately as I could. She then examined me. This did not yield much as my painful episode had subsided by this point. She just had to go by my description of where the pain was located, how bad it was on a scale of 1/10, and so on and so forth. Afterwards, she rubbed the side of her forehead and said "I really don't know what it could be..."

I knew she had to go and report her clinical impression to the physiatrist so I decided to cut her some slack and say, "I think its iliotibial band syndrome." (I had researched my symptoms beforehand and had a pretty good idea of what was going on with my knee). Her face lit up and she nodded, "Yes, that's probably what it is," and left the room, promising to return with the physiatrist.

When they returned, I repeated my story to the physiatrist. After he finished examining my knee, he turned to the resident, beaming, and said, "I completely agree with your diagnosis of iliotibial band syndrome."

I tried to catch the resident's eye to give her a conspiratorial wink but she did not look me. Well, at least she will always know how to diagnose an iliotibial band syndrome!

Iliotibial band syndrome is a common cause of knee pain in runners. In this condtion, the iliotibial band, a thick band of fibrous tissue connecting the hip and knee joints (see above), for a variety of reasons, becomes inflamed, causing pain on the outside of the knee. The cause, in my case, was increasing my mileage too quickly. After taking a year off, I resumed running in the beginning of March, running short distances, never taking it beyond one or two miles. Since I ran regularly before the hiatus, I felt invincible enough to tackle a 10k in April, with no proper training. Bad idea apparently. So the take-home lesson is: Always train for your races! It is not worth getting injured.

Crossing the finish line (far, right, in the green t-shirt)
I start my 4-week treatment plan with a physical therapist this week. It is a bit disheartening not to be able to run especially now that the weather is getting nice. But hopefully I should be back, hitting the Central Park concrete, in July. Until then I shall live vicariously through the race recaps of all my favorite bloggers!

Have you ever had a running-related injury? Or dealt with iliotibial band syndrome?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plies and Rond de Jambs: Review of Figure 4 At Pure Yoga

I spend an inordinate amount of time on Well and Good NYC, the popular health and wellness website. Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula, the women behind it, are always at the forefront of all that is health, fitness and beauty-related in New York city. From time to time the two ladies arrange free classes for their loyal readers. In the past these highly popular classes have ranged from a spin class at Flywheel Studio to a Barre3 class (led by its founder Sadie Lincoln, Madonna's trainer) at the Lincoln Square Lululemon store (which I also had a chance to attend) to yesterday's Figure 4 class that took place at Pure Yoga on the West side. Needless to say, spots in these classes are highly coveted!

So what is Figure 4 exactly?  In essence, it is Kate Albarelli's interpretation of a barre class, melding aspects of classical dance training, Pilates, yoga and free weights. The name "Figure 4" itself comes from the stretch that ballerinas perform.

Figure 4 stretch. Source:Velo News

Kate has a formidable dance and fitness background. She has danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet (Farrell is my all-time favorite ballerina and it totally slipped my mind to ask Kate what working with her was like), and the Met Opera Ballet, and has also been a fitness instructor at Physique 57 and Core Fusion, the two main barre class studios in New York city.

Kate Albarelli
Kate created Figure 4 exclusively for Pure Yoga, and the class made its debut in early April to glowing reviews. This was no surprise as Kate had a reputation for being one of the more popular instructors while at both Physique 57 and Core Fusion.

Currently, the class is only offered at Pure Yoga West. With yesterday's torrential downpour, and the mess that is the subway during rush-hour, it was a miracle I made it to the studio in time. I wrote about my experience at Pure Yoga East earlier this week and the west side location was no less impressive. Walking into the serene space immediately made me feel tranquil.

Source: Pure Yoga

Thirty or so Well and Good NYC readers waited patiently outside the studio as Kate and a few assistants were setting up for the class. The walls of the studio are lined with two barres six inches apart from each other and each spot at the barre is equipped with a ball and a yoga strap. Mats were laid out in the center of the room, and next to each mat was a set of heavy weights (4lbs) and one light weight (2lbs).A soft cushion and a "Pilates magic circle" (a spring circle that functions as a resistance training tool) lay on top of each mat.

The Pilates Magic circle we used in class

Kate instructed us to take off any socks as the class is done in bare feet. She then asked us to find a spot at the barre as that is where the class would begin. We started with a warm up at the barre with some side stretches and leg lifts and then plunged straight into the thigh section. This sequence differs from the standard barre class which traditonally starts with arm exercises. Kate explained her reasoning for this as follows: the thighs are the body's largest muscle group and working them  in the beginning will jump-start your metabolism, keeping it high throughut the class. Works for me.

We started the thigh section facing the inside of the room, with our backs to the barre, in a demi-plie with our heels together and feet apart. Once positioned we began a series of pulses and holds, first with our elbows on the barre for support and then with our arms up in the air, all the while engaging our core for balance. Next we turned around and faced the barre and repeated the sequence. Pulsing and holding. Going deeper into a plie. Again pulsing and holding. Then going into our deepest plie and pulsing there and holding for 10 seconds.  It is as painful as it sounds, but in a good way! We transitioned into the flat back chair pose (in this position the arms are stretched out holding the barre and the body squats into a chair position, while keeping the back straight) and again performed many many pulses and holds. The thigh section in a barre class is the hardest part of the class and this class was no exception. Any time Kate would sense a dip in morale she would immediately urge not to give up, provide gentle encouragement, and promise that it would be over soon!

After a well-deseved stretch we moved to our mats and commenced the arm series. We started out with triceps kickbacks with the single 2lb weight, along with other variations of triceps exercise, before moving onto the 4lbs weights to work the biceps and shoulders. I have a new appreciation for 2lb weights which I don't think I have ever used before. The high number of repetitions left me sufficiently challenged, and this morning my triceps actually feel sore.

After some push-ups, planks and triceps dips, we lay on our mats with the cushion supporting our lower back and the magic circle gripped between our thighs and started the first of the two abdominal sections. We  began by keeping our shoulders slightly elevated off the cushion, also known as the curl position in barre class terminology, and holding our abdomen in this contracted state we started to raise, lower and cross our arms in front of us. This was followed by small crunching forward movements of our upper abdomen, all the while keeping a tight squeeze on the pilates magic circle. Not only were we strengthening our core but the simulataneous action of compressing the pilates magic circle allowed for a fantastic inner thigh workout. I like exercises which target more than one body part at the same time and this exercise really hit the spot for me.

Source: NYTimes

Next we moved back to the barre for gluteal work which in this class consisted of leg lifts which were performed bent over at the barre and then the remaining exercises in this series were performed lying down on the floor. I love doing gluteal work on the floor. One would think that it would be easier since you are working against less of your body weight while lying down, but I have never felt this to be the case. It may be because it's easier to properly position yourself while on the floor and that way you feel you are effectively working the correct muscles. When I am standing against the barre, there is so much more to think about; tucking your hips, holding your core, making sure your hips are not drooping to one side, before I even start feeling my seat. Either way, by the end of this section, my glutes were on fire! Definitely my favorite part of the class.

The second and last abdominal series was done at the barre with us lying on the ground with our legs straight up in the air, pulling down on the yoga strap (which is hanging off the barre) for support and raising and lowering our hips. This tough exercise targets the hard-to-get-into lower abdominal muscles. After a few more moves for our core we ended the class with pelvic tucks or hip lifts, but these were done with a slight variation, with the magic circle encircling our upper thighs. We pushed outwards on the circle as we tucked our hips. This small variation gives the exercise an extra kick.

I loved the class and thought Kate was amazing. She is so upbeat, and super-friendly with a smile at all times. Her cues were spot-on. All I had to do was listen in order to get into and transition between positions. This is not always the case in barre classes as positions are very precise and verbal cues are not everybody's forte. I have been to classes where I have to constantly sneak a peek at an instructor to make sure I am positioned correctly. Kate also paid a lot of attention to form, walking among us, making gentle corrections. She seems to have put a lot of thought into the sequence and choreography and this is evident when you take the class. The music was great also and really helped to keep us going. I loved the addition of the pilates circle in the pelvic tilts-the extra resistance really made it more fun.

The Good:
1. Instructor: I can see why Kate was such an in-demand fitness instructor at her previous jobs. Not only does she lead a great class with well-timed cues, she is super sweet to boot. She really seems to want you to get the most out of your workout, and you keep going because you don't want to disappoint her!

2. The class: While the class is similar in its fundamental make-up to other barre classes, Figure 4 is distinguishing itself, firstly, by the switching up of its class sequence and secondly, by the use of its own particular choice of props. The class was fun, set to great music and ended too soon.

3. Facility: The Pure Yoga West space is gorgeous, and it seemed less crowded than its east side counterpart but that could have just been a function of the rainy weather we were having that day.

The Not-so-good:
1. Membership-only: Figure 4 classes are membership-only. However, there will be a 6-month membership option for those who do not want an annual commitment.

2. Location: Currently offered only at Pure Yoga West but when I spoke to Kate she told me that classes are set to begin at the east side location in July

I really enjoyed this class and loved Kate's positivity and upbeat nature. I would love to take another class. I think this particular class was toned down a little in its level of difficulty because it was for a special event and most of the attendees were taking it for the first time. I was told by a Figure-4 regular that normally class is much harder.

On a final note, I just want to say what a great job Melisse and Alexia from Well and Good NYC did in planning this event. Not only did we all get to experience the phenomenal Figure 4 class, but there was a fun little after-party. I got to meet fellow bloggers Melissa, Ashley and Kristene (all of whom write fun and inspiring health blogs and I am sure will be writing their recaps of the class). Aestheticians from Tata Harper were on site giving mini-facials. Yvette Rose from the boutique cleanse company, Joule Body was also there handing out cups of green juice and brownie samples. Needless to say, I cannot wait for the next event!

With Melisse and Alexia, post-workout

Monday, May 16, 2011

Forrest Yoga at Pure Yoga East

If you have been reading my blog regularly you can probably safely assume that I like to work out. Also, that I like to work out hard. While I did once enjoy yoga (my preferred style was vinyasa), it has taken a back-seat in the scheme of all things fitness in my life!

Last week I was invited to try out a class at the east side location of Pure Yoga. Of the classes I was being offered the only one which worked according to my schedule was the Forrest yoga class. Not knowing too much about it other than that it sounded very earthy and grounded, I decided to give it a try. Best case, I would find something else to fit into my workout schedule and worst case I could still write about it on the blog. Also, I had been wanting to check out the east side Pure Yoga facilities so off I went.

Pure Yoga East reception desk. Source: Pure Yoga
Pure Yoga East is a calm and serene oasis off the bustle and chaos that is 86th street. There are six yoga studios located over the studio's four floors. My class was going to take at a studio one flight below the reception (see above). At 730pm the place was bustling with yogis! The women's changing room was really large with a lot of lockers (bring your own lock though) and showers. The waiting area outside the yoga studio was very zen with wooden floors and was lined with seating arrangements in neutral colors. 

Waiting area. Source: Pure Yoga
The studio itself was lined with maroon yoga mats which we claimed as we entered the room.

The studio. Source: Pure Yoga
I chose a spot in the front row so that I could see my instructor, Erica Mather, clearly. This being a studio for hard-core yogis I expected the instructor to be regimented and intimidating but Erica had an ease about her that made me like her immediately. She also gave great direction and explained the philosophy behind Forrest yoga. Forrest yoga was created by Ana Forrest, who, as per her website, "took poses and modified or created new ones to address today's lifestyle physical ailments." At the beginning of the class Erica went over the basic moves we would need to familiarize ourselves with for this practice. The first one she made us do was 'active feet' where you raise your toes off the ground and keep them that way. She added that it is very hard to do continuously and is meant to increase awareness and concentration. She was right! Next she taught us about 'active hands' which involves spreading your fingers apart. The aim is to open up the bones and stretch out the soft tissue in our hands and, again, have a greater connection to our whole body.

The class involved holding poses for long periods including the longest warrior one I have ever done! At least that's what it felt like. There were backbends, dolphin poses, abdominal crunches with side twists, all while staying in "active hands and feet." This added a more challenging element to the class. There was a set of sun salutations that we performed near the end of the class and ofcourse the class ended with savasana (corpse pose). 

The difference between this class and the traditional vinyasa classes that I have taken in the past is that Forrest yoga is slower paced, but involves holding positions for longer periods which can get really challenging. We also held poses such as tilting our head sideways to our shoulder and staying that way for a while. Initially, I was concerned that I would not get anything out of this pose but after coming out of it I immediately noticed how open and stretched out my neck area felt. 

The class lasted an hour and 15 minutes and while I did not leave dripping in sweat, I did feel stretched out and limber especially around my neck and shoulders. Neck and shoulder pain are two of the "lifestyle physical ailments" that Forrest yoga aims to address, and based on the one class I took, I would say it did its job. Erica placed a lot of importance on breathing and alignment and that helped me get more out of this class than I initially thought going into it.

The Good:
1. Instructor: Great instructor who knew exactly what she was doing, gave great cues and was watchful of the clients' alignment.
2. Studio: Beautiful space offering tons of classes with umpteen different yoga styles to choose from.
3 Location: Being on 86th street it is easily accessible by both subway and bus.

The Not-so-Good:
1. No Drop-in classes: Pure Yoga is membership-only. For someone like me who likes to drop in for the occasional class, this is not ideal. However, if yoga is your thing, getting a membership would be worthwhile.
2. Music: My Forrest yoga class was music-less. This is a personal preference and I prefer music.
3. Slow pace: While I appreciated the slow pace and poses held for long periods, I think I still prefer the faster-paced vinyasa style.

Pure Yoga East is a great studio offering many different styles of yoga. While Forrest Yoga was a little slow for me I did appreciate feeling more elongated and calm after the class. There was also temporary relief of the neck and shoulder pain I deal with daily (constantly having a baby attached to your hip does that to you...). Additionally, my instructor was great- she was knowledgeable and provided a lot of hands-on corrections. Since yoga is not something I practice regularly, obtaining a membership would not be worthwhile for me.  However, I left feeling taller,with my neck long and my shoulders pressed back, and that has made me reconsider the back-seat yoga has taken in my life, and because of that I am glad I tried something I ordinarily would not have.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My weekend: UAE Healthy Kidney 10K race + Cupcakes at Sprinkles

It never ceases to amaze me how far the UAE has come. When I was growing up on the tiny island, in its capital city of Abu Dhabi, the population of the entire country totaled less than 1 million, and we lived in relative anonymity from the rest of the world. When visiting foreign countries, the phrase, "I am from Abu Dhabi" evoked quizzical looks and shrugs each time I was asked where I was from . "...In the UAE...., " I would further venture. More shrugs. "It's a country in the Middle East," I would finally concede. Nods would follow but I hated having to constantly explain it that way. "The Middle East" always conjured up images of Scheherezade, women in veils, political unrest, and that was so not what my life was like. "I am just like you!" I wanted to scream. I loved Punky Brewster. I listened to Madonna. Judy Blume's books lined my bookshelf. LA Gear sneakers were strewn across my bedroom floor. Note: I was 9 at that time. My tastes have since become a touch more sophisticated. Although Madonna is still awesome.

Abu Dhabi
Nowadays, the UAE is not as obscure as it once was, its signs everywhere. From the "Jumeirah Essex House" sign seen on Central Park South (Jumeirah is a neighbourhood in Dubai, and also the name of a Dubai-based company dealing with luxury hotels and residences), to Emirates (the official airline of Dubai) being an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, having its logo emblazoned on the stadium sidelines, to yesterday's race, the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K run in Central Park, sponsored by The Embassy of the UAE. This popular race (I was one of 8000 runners participating) benefitted the National Kidney Foundation, to honor American excellence in the field of kidney transplantation. Sheikh Zayed, the country's founder and late ruler dealt with American physicians first-hand when he underwent his kidney transplant. The first place prize this year was $25,000, the highest of any 10K race in the world, with an additional $20,000 being awarded if the winner broke the record held by the previous record-holder. This happened yesterday and Leonard Patrick Komon of Kenya left $45,000 richer after speedily completing the race in 27:35!!

It's always fun poring over the goodies that runners get prior to the races and this race was no exception. Dri-FIT t-shirts are always a plus and this one had the colors of the UAE's flag (red, white and green), which was also printed in the middle of our bibs.

I like running 10Ks, as they are a great test of endurance. This one started out well but a few minutes into the race I noted a sharp pain in the outside of my left knee. This pain has occurred in each of the three races I have run this year, and usually happens after about two miles. In this race, unfortunately, it started sooner than that, in the early part of my first mile. My heart sank. I had hoped to try and complete the race in under an hour, like I did in my first 10K, the Mini 10K race two years ago.  Not wanting to suffer an irreversible injury, I slowed down my pace and ran steadily for three miles. The Harlem Hills were no match for my debilitated knee at that point and from then onwards till the end of the race I stopped to walk (read limp) every few minutes. I sped up when I saw the "800 feet left" sign and bounded once the finish line was in sight. I completed the race in 1:06:57, my longest 10K, slightly disappointed but I immediately lit up on seeing the chocolate chip bagels being distributed to the runners! For some reason I always end up getting the plain (read boring) bagel at the end of these races so this was a nice surprise!

Anyhow, I have decided to hold off the running for a while and have my knee checked out. I have been procrastinating this because I know I will be asked to cut back on working out but the fact that the pain occurred earlier in a race really jolted me. And writing about it on the blog will make me more accountable about taking care of myself!

After the race, I came home and negated the effect of the race by inhaling the cupcakes my darling husband waited in line for 20 minutes for. Yes, people, only in New York do we wait in line for cupcakes! Sprinkles Cupcakes opened a block from my house this past Friday and the lines have been snaking around Lexington Avenue since with people who cannot wait to get their sugar fix!

The scene from the line outside Sprinkles
He got a whole box but unfortunately only two cakes survived long enough to be photographed by me! Here's the strawberry cupcake and the coconut cupcake...

And then...

So what's my verdict? While the cupcakes are smaller in size than their counterparts at Magnolia Bakery or Buttercup Bakeshop, the selection is large with interesting flavors such as strawberry, banana and lemon coconut,and as the picture above is testament, they are unbelievably yummy!

The remainder of the weekend has been spent icing my knee- hope you all had a good one!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lotte Berk Method with a Twist: Nalini Method Review

Earlier this week the Nalini method opened the doors of its new location, and, to the delight of fitness enthusiasts all over the city, is offering pay-as-you-want classes for the remainder of the month. Over the years, the Nalini method has held residence at a few west side locations, including a recent, short stint at Pure Yoga West. Its new home is an 18000 square foot space, and is comprised of two studios where its signature class will be conducted. The Nalini method is the brainchild of Rupa Mehta, an MBA graduate who has extensive training in yoga and the Lotte Berk Method. The class is her take on the barre-work intensive Lotte Berk Method albeit with elements taken from pilates, yoga, aerobics, and resistance training. The studio opened for classes this Monday (May 9th) and on hearing that Rupa herself was going to be teaching the Wednesday 930am class, I decided that I could not let this opportunity go by and signed up to take a class.

The studio is located on a quiet stretch of 60th street, close to the west side highway. On approaching the studio, its bright and cheery blue lotus logo is equal parts striking and welcoming.

I went inside and Rupa came up and introduced herself. Her warmth instantly won me over. Prior to class we were told that NBC would be filming our class for an upcoming segment. Had I known, I would have been dressed in something other than the ubiquitous black!

The studio itself is bright, filled with sunlight that is coming through from a large window overlooking 60th Street. Mats were laid out prior to our entering the studio. We were all asked our names, which were written behind each spot at the barre. A lot of props are used in this class but for today's class we were asked to pick up two sets of weights (I opted for 8lbs and 5lbs), a set of ankle weights, and two yoga blocks. We were also handed a smartbell, an oval, curved, weighted disc ergonomically designed to be easily held with both hands.

Outside the studio
Ordinarily when I take a class for the first time, unsure of the format, I avoid being in the front, preferring, instead, the secluded anonymity in the back where I can quietly observe my peers and follow along in their choreography. Thinking Rupa was going to stand at one end of the room, I chose a mat only to subsequently realize that I was in the first row, smack center in the room, inches away from the lens of the NBC camera-man. Thoughts of my uncoordinated flails being broadcast on NBC flashed through my head, but alas, it was too late to choose a different mat as they were claimed exceedingly fast. Since Rupa was teaching it pretty much guaranteed that the class was going to be full!
Inside the studio. Source: Nalini Method
The class started off with the traditional barre class warm up of leg lifts which flowed into arm work (bicep curls, shoulder presses etc) using the heavy weights. We also placed a yoga block between our legs for simultaneous inner thigh work. A good number of repetitions were performed with quick transitions into different arm exercises. I suddenly regretted my decision to use the 8lbs! It did get challenging. I was relieved (believe it or not) when we moved onto the push-up/plank section, however, we were asked to strap on our ankle weights, which we kept on for the remainder of the class. Pelvic tucks were next and the ankle weights provided an extra resistance to this exercise which I greatly enjoyed. We then got up from our supine positions and did plies and lunges, only these plies and lunges were performed while simultaneously holding the smartbell and raising it and lowering it, or pushing it in and out from our chests. Thigh work was done at the barre. I was familiar with the exercises we did such as flat back chair, and parallel legs with high heels. I would have liked more thigh work but I do admit that the addition of the ankle weights provided a different, more challenging sensation.

Source: Nalini Method
We then moved back to our mats for seat work which was performed on all fours and we did numerous bent and straight leg lifts. For the abdominal section we sat in a "curl" position keeping our shoulders off the ground (see picture below), placed our heavy weights on our feet to keep them grounded, and held the smartbell either out in front of us, up above our heads or behind our heads (in increasing order of difficulty) and performed abdominal crunches and contraction holds. This was probably my favorite part of the class. I could really feel my abdomen contracting and I loved how the smartbell added more resistance.

The Curl section. Source: Nalini Method
The class ended with another plank and a stretch. I really enjoyed the class. It was fast-paced, fun and I felt like I got a good workout. I never once got bored and the 60 minutes whizzed by. Rupa's energy and enthusiasm was infectious and permeated through to all of us. She walked around making corrections,and uttering motivating words of encouragement. This particular class had a team of Rupa's instructors (Meghan, Ida and Shannon) assisting her who were equally enthusiastic and helpful in getting us deeper into poses. I would like to try a class with each one of them.

The Good:
1. The instructors: Everyone is so upbeat and enthusiastic that its hard not to get swept up by their energy.
2. Unique: I really liked the props such as the ankle weights and the smartbell. It added another dimension to the already challenging class.
3. Juice bar: While not currently functioning at its full capacity,the juice bar located right outside studio will soon feature juices and organic food, providing a nutritious post-workout snack.

The Not-so-Good:
1. Location: For an east-sider like me, the studio's location is inconvenient to make this a regular part of my workout schedule. Having said that I would like to take a class from time to time.
2. The workout: As I already mentioned I would have liked more thigh work. Normally the thigh section wipes me out in these classes. In this class, I was definitely challenged, especially with the strapped-on ankle weights, but I felt like we could have spent more time here to really feel the burn.

Overall: The Nalini method is a variation of the Lotte Berk method, the class providing its own unique twist with the addition of interesting and unconventional props. The energy of the instructors is infectious and they will make sure you are challenged. I highly recommend it. Definitely try out a class this month-I have already signed up for a few more!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Downtown Chic: Review of The Bar Method Soho

The Bar Method is a barre-based body sculpting class which has more than thirty studios all across the country with many more in the pipeline, and numerous dvds, including the newly released Super Sculpting Workouts. It opened its New York city studio, the Bar Method Soho, exactly one year ago. Curious about checking out this wildly popular fitness method, I made my way down to Spring Street in the heart Soho late last week and took an elevator one flight up to the studio. The elevators opened into an expansive, loft-like space. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful it was. The studio is bright and airy with an exposed-brick wall to one side and rows of white lockers with keys on the other side. There is a small kitchen area located in the corner.

Source: The Bar Method

As I entered I was warmly greeted by Kristin, one of the owners and also an instructor, Amy, the second owner and my instructor of the day, and Ashton, one of the instructors-in-training. Ashton gave me a tour of the studio prior to my class. There are three studios, each carpeted and equipped with balls, straps, small foam rectangles, mats and weights. The changing rooms are really spacious, more so than at other fitness studios, and are also lined by lockers each with their corresponding keys.

Once it was time for the class to begin we all filed into the studio, hung our locker keys on a key-holder attached to the wall (pretty nifty, I thought!) and were asked to pick up two sets of weights (2lbs and 3lbs were suggested). The clientele was composed of mainly women although two men were also present, and there was a wide range of ages. I was one of two clients taking the Bar Method for the first time. I also want to mention that the instructor made sure she knew everyone's name prior to class, which was a nice touch.

Source: The Bar Method

Now, the class itself. It started off with a warm up which then flowed into the arm work series. Only three exercises were done in sequence (extended arm lifts, bicep curls and tricep kickbacks) but each exercise involved numerous repetitions. The philosophy, I felt, was to perform the same movement to the point of exhaustion. Push-ups were next and we were asked to do thirty in a row with slight variations thrown in after every ten push-ups. After a set of tricep dips and the first of many stretches, we moved to the barre for thigh work. Again, we only did three exercises albeit with numerous repetitions. We did the high heel parallel (where you keep your knees, thighs and feet together, pick your heels up and pulse up and down) with a piece of foam between our thighs for added inner thigh work; we did the flat back chair (where you hold onto the barre with your arms extended and your body as a human chair and pulse your hips up and down) and we ended the thigh section with another high heel parallel set minus the foam, with our legs hip-width apart. There was a great attention to form and Amy and Ashton walked around and were making a lot of changes, which I appreciated. However, I did not feel the burn in my thighs and also would have liked the pace to be faster.

After another stretch we moved onto seat work where we did numerous hip extensions while standing at the barre and then folded over the barre. Another stretch and then the abdominal series. The abdominal series differed from other classes I have taken in that there is a lot of attention to breath work and how it should be coordinated with contracting the abdominal muscles. Ashton, the instructor-in-training led the last of the abdominal exercises (the curl section- where you lie with your shoulders raised and abdomen contracted in an "abdominal curl.") I enjoyed this abdominal series the most as I felt my core work more than in the other sections. After another stretch, back dancing (pelvic tucks) was done followed by the last stretch of the class.

The class was definitely slower than other classes I have taken and I did not feel my heart rate increase the way I think it should have. I would have preferred more cardio. I can see how their method of doing fewer exercises with more repetitions can be effective but I found myself getting bored repeating the same thing again and again. Also, since I was taking class for the first time the instructor was watching over me very carefully. Because of that she must have said my name out loud at least ten times over the microphone asking me to correct my form. While I appreciated the attention to form, after a while I found myself getting irritated and it took away from my workout experience. I think after calling out in public a few times the instructor should walk over to the client and make hands-on corrections. Its more discreet that way. There were also times in the class where I felt that cues were not given appropriately and I had to look at the instructor to see exactly what she wanted us to do.

The Good:
1. Facility: Gorgeous studio
2. The people: Friendly owners and staff
3. Alignment: A lot of attention to form
4. Music: I thought the music was fun

The Not-so-Good:
1. Slower pace: May not be as challenging for some people
2. Multiple repetitions: This is a personal preference, I feel. Some may prefer multiple repetitions and include this point in "the good" but I found myself getting bored.
3. Lack of discretion: Constantly calling out in class can get uncomfortable for some as it did for me. It may be more discreet for instructors to walk over and make manual adjustments and thus avoid drawing too much attention to the clients' incorrect form.

The Bar Method Soho is a beautiful studio employing the sculpting principles of the Lotte Berk Method. The class places a lot of importance on correct alignment and proper breathing, and as result is slower-paced. While I did not feel the workout to be very intense, the constant repetitions can be challenging. Classes are $35 and currently there is only one studio in New York city.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Personal Bests and Firsts: Japan Day Run and Mother's Day

Yesterday I ran a 4-mile race in Central Park commemorating Japan Day. This race is special to me because it was the first race I ran when I started running New York Road Runner races two years ago. At the time, I set two goals for myself. First, I wanted to run the entire four miles without stopping and second, I did not want to go any slower than a pace of a 10-minute mile. I remember being really nervous the day before the race as I was really feeling the pressure of my pre-set goals. Luckily, the weather was gorgeous that day. As feared, I did not get a side cramp, my knee did not act up, and not only did I run the 4 miles without even stopping for water, I ran at a pace of 9:06 which is still my personal best.

The race yesterday was different. Things have changed over the last year. I have had a baby and have pretty much stopped running, or at least have not been running as regularly as I used to. As you can imagine, I am quite out-of-shape as far as running goes. The difference is evident when the pace/mile in the pre-2011 races is compared to that in the 2011 races (See Below)

So anyhow, I have reconciled with the fact that I need to become a stronger runner and so for this race my goal was to try and run without any stops and overall, just have fun, which I did. The hills on the east side of Central Park at the race start are always tough for me but once that hurdle was passed I kept a slow and steady pace and really enjoyed myself.  My pace did end up being one of my slowest but right now it's about getting the endurance back. Speed will come later. Baby steps!

After my four mile run, my husband took me and our little baby to Norma's to celebrate my first mother's day. If you have never heard of Norma's then know this, it is a New York city landmark known for its fabulous brunch and its $1000 omelette! We opted to savor more modest but equally decadent fare such as Chunks of Lobster Swimming in Cheesy Macaroni...

and the Super Moist French Toast with an Orange Infused Honey Drizzle..

Not to mention the free shot of their smoothie-of-the-day which was some guava-strawberry concoction.  De-lish! I was in a food coma for the rest of the day but it was so worth it!

Hope you all had a great Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Physique 57: Amped Up Abs Workshop Review

If you know me at all, you will know that I love Physique 57! If you don't know me, let me preface this post with this: I fell into it almost four years ago and am still pulsing my legs and tucking my hips through the pain with a smile! I have always been into working out. It started off with video tapes of Jane Fonda's New Workout which transitioned into Cindy Crawford's Next challenge  in the 90s. During the 2000s, I experimented with pilates, hot yoga, and cardio kickboxing. But there was an almost mindlessness to the way I worked out. I didn't particulary enjoy it. I did it because I felt I should but there was no a mind connection to it at all. I also did not get the results I felt I should have attained. Physique 57 really changed all that for me. I saw changes in my body within one month of starting it and it really changed my whole outlook to fitness and health. It was not just about looking good but it was how I felt afterwards, strong, healthy, alive! I also credit it with getting me back into pre-pregnancy shape within 10 weeks but thats a whole other post!

So now that I have an effective lead-up, let me get to the actual review. From time to time Physique 57 holds workshops. These classes are 90 minutes long, longer than the traditional 60 minute class, and usually have a particular theme. There was the Broadway-themed workshop which led choreography to showtunes, the So You Think You're Advanced workshop which promised to challenge you even harder than your standard advanced class and the one I took yesterday afternoon, the Amped-Up Abs workshop. As described on the Physique 57 website this class :
 "Follows the sequence of a PHYSIQUE 57® class and is designed to deepen your understanding of how to use your core muscles more effectively while doing PHYSIQUE 57®’s most challenging, waist-chiseling, hip-twisting choreography to your favorite tummy-tucking tunes. Taught by three PHYSIQUE 57® instructors, this workshop is hands-on to help you improve your alignment. You will leave with a slimmer center and a stronger connection to your core."

Armed with this knowledge, I went to the 57th Street studio yesterday afternoon. I was especially excited as this class was going to be led by three of my favorite instructors, Alicia, Karen and Mandy. So I knew it was going to be a  great workout, with creative and challenging choreography. Each instructor led the class for a 30 minute segment and each provided their unique take on how to effectively use the muscles comprising our core.

Source: Physique 57
At the start of the class we were all given an elastic band and asked to claim a spot at the barre. After a warm-up and push-up/plank/side plank series. we moved under the barre to start the first abdominal segment, the flat back series. In this position you lie flat on the floor with your legs extended up. In a typical class, at the same time, you grab onto a yoga strap that hangs off the barre for support. In this class an elastic band was used (something new!) and we pulled down on the elastic band as we crunched and twisted our torso while scissoring and darting our legs. The addition of the elastic band really allowed me to move deeper into the crunch and the movement felt smoother than when it is performed with a yoga strap. Also, the concurrent  pulling-down motion allows for working out the upper back (latissimus dorsi) muscles providing a more complete upper body workout since the back muscles also function in supporting the core. I really liked the addition of this particular prop and hope it finds its way into a regular class.

The next abdominal segment was the round-back abdominal series. This was not very different from the same segment in a typical class. Here you sit with your back against the wall and pull your legs towards you and perform different moves such as pulsing in with your legs shaped like a diamond and scissoring your legs etc. Usually this position does not work for me as I have tight hips and I do this segment lying on the ground with a ball underneath my head. This is my least favorite abdominal exercise and I think its partly because I cannot comfortably get into the proper position. But either way, by this point in the class my abs were really feeling the burn!
Source: Physique 57
The last segment was the hardest! I guess they were saving the best for last. Here, we sat on the ground with the ball behind our lower back in a curl position and used light hand weights (3lbs) to do some arm work (bicep curls etc) while keeping our abdominals contracted. So far so good, I thought to myself. I spoke to soon because we then moved onto what I think is one of the hardest abdominal exercises on the barre. We lay down on the ground and put our feet up on the barre and performed numerous crunches and twists, amongst other moves. We were advised that we could hold onto our legs for support while doing this but the challenge was to let go and utilise your maximum core strength. This is tough exercise because it can be hard to get into the proper position but once you understand the exercise you can really feel your core work. While the instructors did a fabulous job with corrections throughout the class ensuring that no one was performing the exercises incorrectly, they were especially vigilant during this last series.

While the focus was definitely on the abdominals in this class, between each abdominal segment we had a mini-reprieve and worked the thighs or gluteal region. The class ended with back dancing (lying on your back and doing pelvic tucks), back extensions and, finally, a long stretch.

Source: New York Times
The Good:
1. Hands-on Correction: Because there were three instructors someone was always there to correct your form. This is really important in abdominal work since incorrect form can quickly lead to injury.

2. Fun and high energy: I run the risk of getting bored in 90 minute classes but this was not the case here, mainly because of the upbeat energy of the three instructors and the constantly changing choreography.

3. Thorough: The abs are often hard to zone-in on but this class targeted the abs from every angle - upper, lower, and obliques were all worked to the point of exhaustion.

The Not-so-Good:
I am at a loss here. I am not sure there was anything specifically about the class I did not like.

A really great class with a strong focus on strengthening your core. It emphasized challenging ways to work your abdominal muscles but did this within the framework of a fast-paced, high energy strength workout that is the hallmark of a Physique 57 class. Another workshop, the Trim Your Trouble Spots workshop is taking place on Saturday May 22nd at 130pm at the Spring Street studio.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An action-packed Weekend!

This weekend has been super-busy. I have done/will be doing some fun workouts and have also managed to check out a fun new restaurant. On Friday I took a class at the Bar Method Soho, then today it was Physique 57's Amped-Up Abs workshop. Then I am running the Japan Day 4-miler tomorrow in Central Park. Not to mention its my first mother's day tomorrow so I'm going all out on a carb-fest at brunch! More updated posts on all of the above are to follow this week. Stay tuned and enjoy this gorgeous weather we are having in New York city!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Refined Morning: My Review of the Refine Method

There are few things that can make me wake up at the crack of dawn of my own volition. The promise of an ass-kicking workout is one of them. That is precisely what Refine Method is capable of doing and is precisely the reason why I hauled myself out of bed bright and early this morning, bleary-eyed, to make the trek a few blocks north to its intimate Upper East side studio.

Refine Method opened its doors in November last year and, in a relatively short period of time, has established itself as an effective, hard-core, and results-driven workout, won New York magazine's best new workout 2011 award, and thus reached a popularity whereby new teachers (there are 8 teachers as of right now) have been acquired and extra classes have been added to its ever-expanding schedule. The creator of the Refine Method is Brynn Jinnett, a former ballerina with the New York City Ballet who has also trained clients in variations of the Lotte Berk method at Physique 57, Core Fusion and Sports Club/LA. Awesome, I thought excitedly, when I first read this, another barre class for me to try! Could not be further from the truth! I should have read the numerous excellent reviews on this class written by other fitness bloggers such as Dori and Jess. This is not your typical barre class. In fact, I would not even call it a barre class. Sure, there is a barre and some classes have utilized moves that I am familiar with from barre classes but this class would best be described as boot-camp style with circuits and a bit of pilates/yoga thrown into the mix. Mark my words, this is a hard class!

Brynn Jinnett, in front of the proprietary Pulley system. Source: Refine Method

The class is essentially a circuit that is repeated three times and in between the circuits there are bursts of cardio designed to raise your heart rate. Refine Method does not use free hand weights, instead employing their proprietary pulley system which works on the principle of progressive elastic resistance, where your resistance increases in proportion to your strength. Other props are also used including weighted medicine balls, sliding discs and resistance bands. The exercises that comprise the circuit vary from class to class and that is one reason I enjoy this class so much-it always keep me guessing. Some days you use the medicine ball, other days you just use the pulley system and the sliding discs, and there are even prop-less days. The class always starts off with a warm up of leg lifts, and some yoga poses. The circuit in today's class included rows using the pulley system, side lunges, side planks, forward lunges using one disk, tricep pushups while snow-angeling your legs and mountain climbers! Phew! This was repeated thrice punctuated by cardio bursts in between the three sets. I was dripping in sweat much before we reached the cardio burst but nevertheless had to do the rapid squats, rapid side-to-side moves and jumpbacks (where you squat, jump into a plank position and them jump back up and then repeat-I hate this exercise but am trying to love it!) in succession.

The cardio bursts are switched up also from class to class. Some days there is skipping in place involved, or jumping with high knees or jumping jacks. Needless to say, this is a very challenging class. Once the circuits are completed there is a mat section which could be pilates-inspired abdominal or outer thigh work. Often, but not always, this is followed by pelvic tucks, moves that go on and on until you cannot feel your gluteal region anymore.

The class ends with a long stretch at which point you can ruminate over what just happened. The one-hour class flies by and you leave feeling energized, your metabolic rate stoked for the rest of the day. While it is a hard class I want to note that there is significant variation in ability levels within a class, so do not be discouraged if you feel you cannot keep up. Everyone works at their own pace with gentle encouragement from the instructors.

The Good:
1. Fast-paced, challenging class that incorporates cardio, strength-training and sculpting moves, efficiently packing them into a one-hour class.
2. Small classes so there is a lot of personal attention. You really cannot slack off because the instructors are diligently watching, encouraging and commending. There is a lot of hands-on correction taking place and this is something I like a lot.

The Not-so-Good:
1. Changing room: Currently there is one bathroom/changing room so there can be a mad rush for this at the end of class.
2. Waiting area: There is a narrow waiting area outside the studio which can get cramped if you are waiting for your class.

Refine Method is a fantastic workout, especially if you are looking to challenge yourself. Definitely try it out-the first class is complimentary. But be warned, it is addictive!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Motherhood First + A Spectacular Dining Experience

This past weekend was eventful because it marked one of the many nerve-wracking "firsts" that a new parent undergoes. There was the first time my baby projectile vomited on me in public. The first time I had to change a soiled diaper in the middle of a snowstorm at a Denny's off the highway. Saturday marked another first, while not as traumatic as the above, equally nerve-wracking! It was the first time I left my baby with a babysitter. This time last year my husband and I were discussing how we could resume our 'regular' life post-baby and reasonably concurred that a babysitter would feature prominently in our lives. Cut to the present day, four months post-baby, and no babysitter has entered the picture. Don't get me wrong. We had family helping out for the first few months who let my husband and I sneak out for the occasional date night. But this was always within a few blocks radius of our neighborhood and leaving your child with grandparents versus leaving your child with a complete stranger are two entirely different things. Like any new parent I felt very protective. Umpteen different scenarios kept clouding my ability to reason. What if the sitter does not respond to my baby crying? What if she does respond and terrifies my baby who was expecting mommy's smiling face? What if what if what if?

This weekend I decided to bite the bullet and just do it. I found a great sitter through a friend, put my baby to sleep and the husband and I met some friends and went out for dinner at an adult restaurant! Which brings me to my review of Soto, a Japanese restaurant in the West Village which recently acquired its second Michelin star. Soto has been around since late 2007, and has been getting rave reviews since. On the higher side of the price spectrum, it's a special place, to be reserved for a special occasion.

Located on sixth avenue, there is no sign outside the restaurant. You walk into a space with wooden panels and a very minimalist feel. The sushi bar is to your left where the chef Sotohiro Kasugi is at work with a few assistants, and according to our server, "is involved in at least 90% of the preparation of all the dishes being served." Luckily for him, only 42 patrons can dine at one time but still thats a lot of work! So was it worth it? I have one word for the meal that I had. DIVINE! It was the best Japanese meal I have had, and in the top five best meals I have ever had. The sushi was good but what really stood out were the small plates composed of raw and slightly cooked seafood. Uni (sea urchin) is the specialty of the house, so one should definitely get a few uni dishes.

Some of our meal's highlights:
1. Sea Trout Carpaccio: Cured Tasmanian sea trout with black truffle sea salt and sweet miso mustard sauce

2. Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri: Sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction, arranged with thin strips of seaweed.
The picture below does not do it justice but underneath the quail egg and the seaweed nest lies a marriage of creamy uni and pieces of squid! This is a must-have. It is so unusual and so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that it would be a travesty to come to Soto and not try this.

3.  Steamed lobster with uni mousse: Steamed lobster and uni mousse in a lotus wrap, garnished with smoked uni and caviar.

Everything on the menu was highly inventive and a testament to the creative genius that is Sotohiro Kasugi. It is a quirky and playful take on traditional Japanese cuisine and was a remarkable and unforgettable dining experience!

Also, I am over my babysitter hang-up.