Monday, August 19, 2019

Where to Eat: Chicken & Waffles...and Much, Much More @ Sweet Chick (NYC & Los Angeles)


The Eats: Chicken & Waffles and other upscale soul food options, all in a laid-back, earthy vibe

The Location: Mid-City in L.A.; Manhattan in NYC

The Vibes: Mid-City – airy, laid-back, trendy  // Manhattan – earthy, cozy, intimate

Good for: Alone, Dates, Groups (small and large), all ages

When-To-Go: Mid-City – Daily, 10/11 a.m. - midnight/2 a.m. // Manhattan – Daily, 10/11 a.m. - 2 a.m. 

The $$ Factor: Cocktails, $13; Entrées, $13 - $21; Starters, $10 - $13

The Names behind the scenes: Investor / Entertainment Mogul Nas and Restaurateur John Seymour

The 4-1-1: While this post specifically only compares the Mid-City and Manhattan locations, there are actually four additional locations worldwide: three more in NYC (Queens, and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Prospect Heights) and one in London opening Fall 2019. 

I’ll Be Back…:  For Big Booh’s BBQ Chicken and a sweet corn waffle!

Los Angeles vs. New York City

It’s a timeless battle-of-the-best that’s ingrained in every aspect of life imaginable. 

Musically, can we ever forget the Tupac vs. Biggie debate of the 90’s? Or culturally, the constant comparison of L.A.’s alleged laid-back airs to NYC’s purported uptight, aggressive approach? Even in fashion, NYC is considered to be more conservative than it’s L.A. counterpart, and in everything from museums to the performing arts and more, both cities have no shame claiming they’re better than the other. 

I decided to bring this friendly coast vs. coast competition to the culinary scene, posing a simple question: Sweet Chick’s Mid-City or Manhattan location — which one is the absolute best? 

In case you’re not familiar with the restaurant, here’s a little background for context: initially opening in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg in 2013, three more NYC locations — including Manhattan’s Lower East Side spot — popped up over the years. Sweet Chick expanded into L.A.'s Mid-City neighborhood in 2017, and, there are even plans to open one in London later this year. Entertainment mogul Nas came onboard as a business partner, too, directly involved with the later locations such as Queens and L.A. Across its handful of global locations, Sweet Chick’s serving up glorious chicken & waffles and other soul favorites that have an upscale flair. A heavy rotation of R&B and hip-hop along with a bar offering artistic libations are other staple characteristics. 

Personally, I’ve only been to the Mid-City and Manhattan locations, hence the focus on these two specifically. So here’s a look at what sets them apart — and, what they have in common, too — to determine who comes out on top of this L.A. vs. NYC duel. 

All the feels: The Ambiance 

Both locations fit within one room with high ceilings, hanging market lights, exposed brick, vintage knick-knacks on display and a laid-back appeal. Yet the difference is that L.A.’s location (first photo below) feels bright, open and airy, probably thanks to skylights that emit lots of natural light. Vibes at the Manhattan location (second photo below), on the other hand, feel more cozy, compact and intimate. I also find myself ogling more over the décor — including iron caskets and quirky bird portraits hanging from the walls — here more so than in L.A. However, I also tend to notice the incredible R&B playlist more often than not, at the L.A. location, subconsciously swaying to jams from the 2000s as I sip a cocktail.  This is a tough one, so I’m going to give them both a point on ambiance. 

Manhattan (NYC): 1 // Mid-City (L.A.): 1




When to go: Night vs. Day

I’ll typically visit Manhattan’s Sweet Chick late on a weekday night, while reserving a trip to the Mid-City location for weekend brunch. Like any respectable brunch destination in L.A., it can be hard to get a reservation (especially with a larger group), it’s jam-packed and waits for food can be looonnng. Alternatively in Manhattan, at least on any given weekday night, it’s fairly effortless to grab a spot and food with minimal wait time — even with a decent crowd, (of course, it may be a completely different story at brunch!). For the ease of grabbing a seat and food, the Manhattan spot for weekday dining wins in this category. 

Manhattan (NYC): 1


The food: Brunch vs. Dinner 

Technically, both Sweet Chicks have very similar menus, and both bring out an incredible trio of butters — rosemary, strawberry and plain — with waffles. At brunch, there are six different waffle options, including the classic, bacon’n’cheese, spiced pecan and dried cherry. They can be ordered solo or with fried chicken. But the variety doesn’t stop with dinner options either; in fact, it increases! In addition to these waffles, there are six more specialty chicken and waffle combos. These include Big Booh’s BBQ Chicken with a sweet corn waffle (first photo below), the Nashville Hot Fried Chicken with a milk jam waffle (second photo below) and one in particular I’m curious to try, General Tsao’s Chicken with a rice flour and broccoli waffle. Dinner wins in this category for the plethora of options, but since it’s featured at both locations, both get a point. 

Manhattan (NYC): 1 // Mid-City (L.A.): 1




The libations: L.A. vs. NYC 

Just like with the food options, the cocktails are pretty much the same at both locations. I’ve enjoyed boozy slushies with my brunch as well as classy libations at night. Expect what you'd find at many hip dining establishments these days: a well-thought out, mature cocktail program, creative combinations of ingredients (i.e., Thai chili mezcal mixed with roasted rice vinegar) and cheeky, pun-filled names (i.e., the Side Chick, Christopher Wallace, Purple Drank, etc.). A point for both here, too. 

Manhattan (NYC): 1 // Mid-City (L.A.): 1




The Service: L.A. vs. NYC 

Service at both has been on point, but for some reason, I tend to remember the people who helped me the most at Mid-City…Like the server who patiently answered my group’s gazillion questions without ever looking fazed, just with a nonchalant smile. Or the bartender who addressed my girl friends and I as “Queens” as we sat at the bar. I guess as the saying goes, we are friendlier than New Yorkers right? A point for L.A. 

Manhattan (NYC): 1 


The Tie-breaker – Overall Impression

We’re down to the final category — overall impression — with both Sweet Chicks currently tied with four points each. I had to quickly consider: were there any other aspects I wasn’t taking into consideration? What was my gut feeling saying?? And while clearly it goes without saying in general, the West Coast is the best coast, when I think about overall experience, Manhattan’s Sweet Chick wins the glory. Perhaps it’s because of that uber cozy setting and that NYC is the original home of Sweet Chick, but there’s truly something magical about this space. Manhattan takes the point, coming out victorious in this friendly contest. 

Manhattan (NYC): 1 - WINNER - Manhattan (NYC)

All in all, both are #WilsonsGuide faves and most certainly worth a visit. So the next time you find yourself either in L.A. or NYC, swing by a Sweet Chick. See you there soon!

What’s your fave Sweet Chick to visit? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below! 

For more information: 

Me with a dear friend at the Midtown location 



Me with friends at the Mid-City location


A sample of the postcards given out at each location


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Where to Be Merry: Connecting with Nature @ The Sequoia Bayview Trail (Oakland)



The Merriment: 2.8 miles of trails in a thick forest that comprises redwoods and oak trees, all within Joaquin Miller Park

The Location: Oakland

The Vibes: Outdoorsy, nature, rejuvenating, adventurous

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), all ages

When-To-Go: There doesn’t seem to be any posted open / close times, so my recommendation—use your discretion

The $$ Factor: FREE

The 4-1-1: In addition to trails, the park also has multiple picnic areas, an amphitheater and even a horse arena

Parking Situation: I’ve parked along Skyline Blvd. to get to the entrance to the Sequoia-Bayview trail; parking here is free and alongside the road

I’ll Be Back…: To try some of the other connecting trails, including Chapparal, Big Trees and Cinderella!


Since moving to the Bay, I’ve never walked this much in my entire life!

No matter if it’s for work, exercise or simply for fun, it seems like I simply have to use my two legs... all. the. time. I sprint power walk to work and find myself taking laps around Lake Merritt as a great stress reducer. And recently, thanks to a dear friend who took me here, I’ve been trekking on the Sequoia Bayview Trail.

Located high above in the mountains, this 2.8 mile trail is a windy path with dozens of additional trail offshoots. It's nestled in the massive Joaquin Miller Park, amongst a forest comprising centuries-old redwoods and oaks, and other foliage. You can choose-your-own-adventure in the sense that you can make your time here as easy or as hard as you want it to be. There are literally families taking leisurely strolls together, solo sprinters and joggers, pet owners walking with their dogs and cyclists of every level whizzing by. Some routes are pretty flat, while others are more strenuous, where you’ll really have to watch your step and may even have to climb over a few rocks. 



What I love about this well-kept trail is that it’s relatively close enough — only about a 20-minute drive from downtown Oakland on the scenic (and hilly!) 13 highway — to feel like you’re escaping the grind of the city, and transported into a woodland oasis. So much greenery envelopes you at every twist and turn! Inhale the fresh, earthy smells. Feel the soft brown dirt crunch beneath your shoes. Relax in the relative quietness and sounds of the forest — sounds like chirping birds and rustling leaves. 



There are also incredible views. It’s hard to tell from this picture below, but you can definitely steal breath-taking glimpses of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay.



Plus, there’s so much to see inside of the forest, too, like this cute little bridge, pictured below. And I even saw a doe! (OK, so it was only for like a millisecond. She came out of nowhere. We looked at each other and startled, we both completely freaked TF out. She dashed away and with my heart pounding loud for enough everyone to hear it, in that moment, I realized that I prefer to keep my nature sightings to creatures under 10 pounds). 


Depending on when you go, in addition to bumping into wildlife, you may (or may not) run into people, too. One packed weekend morning, I saw other visitors about every five minutes, while one Sunday closer towards the evening, I hardly ran into anyone.

All in all, the Sequoia Bay Trail is a very easy way to escape into nature for a few hours without having to worry about the time commitment or physical exertion that other outdoor activities like intense hiking and camping typically require.

So the next time you’re looking to de-stress and reconnect with nature, consider heading out to the Sequoia Bay Trail. If you’re in the East Bay, it’s not too hard to get to, and the time spent there will leave you feeling rejuvenated.

See you there soon!

Tips:
- This May be obvious, but make sure to pack water...and maybe even snacks!
- Think in layers. It’s pleasantly cool underneath the shade of the tree canopy, but the minute you step out onto bare trail, it feels like the sun is baking you alive.
- Snap a photo of the map at the entrance (
pictured to the right) to help guide you along the way. I also like to take shots of the sign posts I pass, so I don't get lost. You can also find an electronic version of the map here.
- You share the (narrow) trail path with cyclists, too. Some, who unfortunately come zipping out of nowhere with no warning signals whatsoever. Be on the lookout so you don’t get ran over! 


For more information: 





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Monday, July 15, 2019

Where to Be Merry: The “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” Exhibition @ Skirball Cultural Center, Westside



The Merriment: A temporary art installation featuring the works of Kwame Brathwaite, a Harlem-based photographer who helped bring the “Black is Beautiful” cultural movement to the masses through his visionary artistic direction and captivating photos taken in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Location: Westside

The Vibes: Informative, historical, beautiful

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), the kiddies

When-To-Go: Weekends, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday – Fridays, noon – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays. This exhibition officially wraps up Sunday, September 1, 2019.

The $$ Factor: General admission, $12; Seniors, full-time students and children over 12, $9; Children 2 – 12, $7

The Names behind the scenes: Photographer Kwame Brathwaite & the Aperture Foundation (exhibition organizer)

The 4-1-1: The Skirball boasts one permanent gallery and four temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are FREE on Thursdays, and free daily for Skirball members and children under two. 

Parking Situation: Complimentary onsite parking

I’ll Be Back…: When the exhibition travels to San Francisco, later this year! 

 Earlier this summer, during a trip to scout the Skirball Cultural Center for a potential upcoming event, I stumbled upon a hidden gem. 

You see, what I had always known about this prestigious indoor-outdoor complex is that it’s been a go-to destination for the city’s classy affairs for decades. Nestled right up against the Santa Monica Mountains off the 405 freeway, it's housed sophisticated graduations, ritzy class reunions, elegant weddings — you name it — since first opening its doors in 1996.

Yet what I didn’t know was that this expansive cultural center also has both permanent and temporary art exhibitions! 

Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” Exhibition, during my site visit. I learned that Brathwaite, a Harlem-based photographer, established the African Jazz Art Society and Studios (AJASS) collective of various artists in the 1950s and also created the Grandassa Models group for black women in the ‘60s and ‘70s. His photos uplift and celebrate African-American beauty, through snapshots of snazzily dressed models, prominent artists and every day people in ordinary situations. 


A larger-than-life, black-and-white photo of a Grandassa model on the Harlem Apollo Theater stage (1968) greets guests, right before entering the exhibition (first photo in this post, up top). And throughout the handful of exhibition rooms, Brathwaite’s photos, dresses from the era, African-inspired jewelry, music records and other knick-knacks are proudly displayed. 


I think what I loved so much about this exhibition is that I felt like I was coming "home." Immediately, as I stepped into the room, I was greeted by smiling faces framed by powerful Afros and with beautiful brown skin, often adorned in Afrocentric attire. These women looked like me! And, they were beautiful!


To some degree, I also felt like I was looking at intimate family portraits — that just so happened to be blown up and hung onto a wall. These women could’ve been (and probably were) somebody’s wives, aunties, lovers, mothers, sisters, best friends and daughters. I love how Brathwaite captures their effortless grace, whether when posing while adorning the latest fashion, or while casually (and confidently!) sitting on the hood of a car. It’s grace that feels natural, genuine and truly within the moment.


What also struck me as interesting is how the issues of today are so similar — if not the same — that Braithwaite captured 40, 50 years ago. Even now, there’s still continued efforts to support local black-owned businesses and a need to exalt Afrocentric beauty in spite of it not being publicized in mainstream channels. 

It’s easy to breeze through the exhibition in about 30 minutes or so, and admission also includes access to two other temporary exhibitions —“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” and “Spotlight: Andy Warhol” — and the permanent collection, “Visions and Values” (there’s another temporary exhibition, Noah’s Ark, that is an additional fee to access). 

“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” highlights the life of this fashion designer who created first-ever pantsuit for women, wireless bra and other apparel firsts. It's a wondrous, colorful display of his timeless clothing, and I'd definitely rock many of those outfits, to this day. 


“Spotlight: Andy Warhol,” on the other hand, showcases 10 modern, colorful portraits of “Jewish geniuses” according to Warhol — from Franz Kafka to Sigmund Freud. I love how he uses such vibrant colors on the black-and-white photos to paint these luminaries in a different light. 


I haven’t been to the “Visions and Values” collection but it’s on my list to visit soon! 

So the next time you find yourself caught in Friday evening traffic on the 405, in between the Valley and Los Angeles, swerve over to the Skirball Cultural Center to relax and be inspired by all the incredible art there. But hurry and don’t wait too long — they’ll be gone before you know it. 

See you there soon!

For more information: