(This post is dedicated to my husband, who has been patiently and uncomplainingly waiting while I shopped and carrying my bags for the last ten years.)
I’m not so organized that I had blog posts ready to go while I was away, but I did know not to post from New York, thanks to Todd Pack (who writes one of my favourite blogs) who pointed out that there’s no reason to let people know you’re not at home.
(It’s taken me ages (work, domestic chaos) to get round to posting this; and now I’m anxiously watching the news as Hurricane Sandy floods lower Manhattan. My sister and her husband have fled to friends uptown, thank goodness. They let me know that they have beer and wine, so they’re covered in case the worst happens. I can rest easy.)
So, before the New York/New Jersey area was lashed by gale-force winds and rain:
This fall was our tenth anniversary; we decided to visit New York, without the kids. Romantic! Except that we elected to stay with my sister and her husband, sleeping on an air mattress in their living room. Their bedroom was right above us in a loft that is accessed by a construct that is more ladder than stairs. It was just like being in bunk beds!
My sister and her husband live in New York’s Financial District, less than half a block from Ground Zero. We figure it must be one of the safest places in New York, as it is absolutely crawling with police. From this area, the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island, you can easily access about 3 subway lines that radiate up the island; most convenient. We took the one that went up the eastern side, essentially underneath Broadway, to go to Soho. Shopping, food, etc. I do like the southern end of Manhattan; Soho, the West Village, Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District are all fun areas to walk around in.
We surrendered to the fact that we were tourists and bought tickets to go up the Empire State Building. If you’ve ever seen Sleepless in Seattle and watched Meg Ryan run in off Fifth Avenue, straight into the building, into an elevator and directly up to the 86th floor, then you might imagine it’s actually like that. Don’t you believe it. Buy the express tickets. These enable you, once you’ve entered the building and gone up the escalators to the second floor, to bypass the long back-and-forth line to take an elevator to the 80th floor. Once on the 80th floor, you line up again for another elevator to the 86th floor. Express tickets holders are exempt from this line too, as are tourists from countries where lining up is not a valued cultural habit and if you snooze, you lose. On the 86th floor, if you bought tickets to the 102nd floor observatory you can line up again and this time the express tickets don’t help you at all.
After all the fun identifying landmarks and taking pictures through other people’s armpits, we walked up Fifth Avenue to see a few more sights. The New York Public Library was a happy one to a book lover even though we didn’t go in due to time constraints. I was just glad to be there.
I took Justin to Rockefeller Centre next, to see all the other tourists. And also the ice rink and NBC building, etc. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was next.
I love cathedrals! And St. Patrick’s is lovely. Bonus: there was a Mexican wedding going on, with groom dressed in formal black and silver thread and bride in much fluffy white organza. Wonderful. Many pictures taken here, while Justin sat in a pew, surrounded by shopping bags.
Of course we ate; fabulous ramen at Ippudo which was probably my favourite meal in New York. We had a cucumber appetizer, crispy chunks of small Japanese cucumber with a sort of tasty oil dressing which I had trouble identifying but which I think was sesame oil. Not the dark roasted sesame oil but the light kind. Plus salt, I think, but I’m not sure, and shichimi (Japanese multi-spice powder). It was loaded with umami and incredibly more-ish, with a slick mouth feel, so addictive. Crunchy, fresh, salty, juicy, spicy! It gives me a shiver just to remember it. We also had some pork belly tucked into steamed buns, and fried Japanese chillies with yuzu salt for dipping. And then big bowls of handmade noodles with rich broth, barbecued pork, eggs, and I don’t even know what else except that it was tasty, multi-textured, hot, and completely satisfying.
In the West Village we visited Móle, a fantastic Mexican restaurant in the West Village. I didn’t bring my camera to this dinner and it’s a good thing too because there was really no room for anything extraneous. We were wedged in so close to each other and to other people that I had to keep my handbag on my lap and breathe shallowly. So, let’s say the ambience was intimate. Also loud. We shouted at each other over the menus and then over our appetizers (guacamole, tamales, and and meals. One star dish was tacos chuletas, which has pork loin and bacon and cheese and is so good your eyes roll up into your head when you eat it. I also, unfortunately, had a cucumber margarita which had enough tequila in it to make me quite sleepy and foolish by the end of the meal, my tolerance to alcohol being roughly equivalent to a canary’s. I can’t in fairness comment on the service as it was a busy night and we only went the once. It was difficult to get a server, let’s just leave it at that. But we managed to get everything we needed and pay at the end and that’s the main thing.
We also enjoyed a meal at Traif, a hip place in Williamsburg, in itself the newest hipster locale in New York. I suppose all the young hip people are priced out of Manhattan and are creating hipness in Brooklyn, which paradoxically draws people out of Manhattan. Traif serves tapas-style dishes, of which we are very fond. I would provide pictures except that Williamsburg was too hip for me to bring my camera bag. Justin refused to carry it, anyway. Strawberry-cinnamon baby back pork ribs were sticky deliciousness, sautéed broccoli rabe came with a savoury truffly toast thingy and a fried egg. I always order anything that comes with an egg so that was a no-brainer. I can’t remember what else we had but it was all very tasty. Service was very good. We found a bit of plastic in one of the dishes and mentioned it to the server just to let them know, but it made them quite anxious. Then we had to reassure them that we just didn’t want it to happen again, we weren’t interested in suing anybody or being unpleasant. I mean, we’re in the business, we get it. Stuff happens and frankly, it’s a good thing if, in a good establishment, it happens to me and not to someone else, who might be unpleasant and litigious and consider an accident an opportunity.
Another nice Brooklyn restaurant was Vinegar Hill House in DUMBO, an acronym which stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass and means Brooklyn. We took the ferry across which only took a minute, and then visited friends and their gorgeous twin babies and giant Great Dane:
Right, Vinegar Hill House: lots of pleasant food here too, the standout appetizer being the Chicken Liver Mousse, smooth, creamy, flavourful and served with toasted bread, mmmm. A most delicious pappardelle with a lamb ragu was also worth a mention. For our mains we had various proteins which were consistently underdone; I can’t say I’m in love with this trend. My pork was, well, quite pink. Tasty, and I didn’t get sick afterwards, so that’s good, but I was nervous the whole time I was eating it. The other three diners shared a large rib eye for two which was undercooked again – rib eye should be more medium as the connective tissue doesn’t get broken down enough if it’s rare and the result is a tough chew. We had the rib eye cooked a bit more and it was better if still quite rare. Rarer is not always better, that’s the lesson.
New York has some amazing ethnic food; I love Italian food and vastly enjoyed a meal at Bocca, an Italian restaurant a few blocks north of Union Square. We had light salads then pasta. A simple pasta of homemade square spaghetti (tonnarelli cacio e pepi) had a spectacular presentation: the server brought it up on a huge wheel of Parmesan – the pasta was swirled around in a depression formed in the top of the cheese, lavishly peppered and served with a smug twirl and flourish. And rightly too, as it was insanely delicious. I love simple pastas and this one was simple yet amazingly luxurious. Gnocchi al “telefono” – gnocchi with tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella, was also excellent. I had a cocktail before the meal and in the resulting befuddled state forgot to take pictures, however. Yes, I know, one drink and my memory goes. We had another amazing meal at Max’s in Little Italy. Burrata cheese caprese salad, porcini ravioli in truffle cream sauce, pillowy soft gnocchi….this all added up to a bout of indigestion that lasted until about 5:30 in the morning. I am mildly lactose-intolerant and apparently it’s ramping up. Such good food, so much pain. Was it worth it? It’s hard to say. I’ll say this though; I’m avoiding fresh cheeses for a while.
I took Justin to Times Square (“That’s it?”); he was expecting something more like Tiananmen Square or Red Square so I was sorry to disappoint. What can I say? We were there during the day; it’s much more impressive at night when everything’s lit up. He got over his disappointment in the Yankees shop and it was my turn to wait, although I’m much less patient than he is because all those shirts look the same, they just have different guys’ names written on the backs. We then took a creaking pedicab through Central Park. Our driver had kindly lent his larger pedicab to a colleague who had a 3-person fare, and was dismayed to find that his colleague’s pedicab was in less than stellar condition. We had trouble following his spiel, given his Turkish accent and the groaning of the axle. But it was a beautiful day, our driver was charming if hard to understand, and it was a quick way to see a bit of Central Park. I took a few unremarkable pictures with my iPhone which I won’t bother to share here.
I stopped in Trump Tower to see if there was a bathroom and also to have a peek round the lobby, as Bill Bryson described it as like being inside someone’s stomach after they’ve eaten pizza and I needed to see this for myself. (Does that man have a way with words or what?) I found the bathroom eventually (it’s downstairs), and was stunned by all the pink granite and glossy brass everywhere. It’s quite awful, I’m afraid, and once Bill’s planted his suggestion, it’s impossible to see it as anything but a digestive tract.
I’m going to end with a few more photos and a caution: due to airlines charging for checked bags, everyone brings on larger rolling hand luggage. The people in the back get to board first; they fill up the overhead compartments right down to the middle of the plane. Then they watch the last passengers’ faces as they realize that there’s no space for their hand luggage and they’re going to have to gate-check their stuff. It’s a nightmare. If, as on our flight out, you are deplaned due to a toilet refusing to flush and the mechanics can’t fix it so they need a new plane, you can experience the stampede as all the passengers, determined to secure an overhead spot for their large rollies, jockey for position to reboard the new plane. It’s quite exciting, like running with the bulls at Pamplona, if the bulls had large rolling suitcases.
So, book yourself into the last 10 rows of the plane.
And that was New York for us!