Getting the Most Out of 2.5 Days in New York (or… We Ate Manhattan)
Categories: 6° ... Stories, Raves & Rants |
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Thursday … Arrive at La Guardia a little before 5 pm
I was in New York this past weekend with my husband and our friends Mike and Linda West. The day after we got back I read an article in the Times explaining how Uber and its ilk are making Manhattan traffic noticeably worse – by delivering a neverending bolus of vehicles into the city’s already clogged arteries. It was a bit of an aha-in-hindsight moment. Now I know why it took over an hour and 45 minutes to get from the airport to midtown. It was rush hour, and I expected it to take an hour, but at least half of our time in the cab was spent inch by inching our way over the last four excruciatingly-long miles. Ironically, the two times we tried to get an Uber the ride was cancelled by the driver after we’d stood around waiting for five to 10 minutes … time we did not use to hail cab.
We had our first NY meal at Txikito (chi-kee-to) (in Chelsea) and I had a good feeling about the dinner to come as soon as we arrived. Txikito is small, clean, simple (as in not a place where the décor gets press), and very neighborhoodish. It felt like a bit of an oasis after dealing with traffic. I couldn’t help referring to the meal as tapas – and that’s what we had in the modern, small-shareable-plates definition of the term. The food is Basque – so the term pintxo vs. tapas is more apt.
My favorites among the dozen or so dishes we tried were the meltingly tender salt cod, marinated boquerones (white anchovies), paper thin octopus, shaved mushrooms, Fairy Tail Eggplant – almost sweet in their tiny tenderness, and lamb meatballs. If I lived in the neighborhood I’d be a Txikito regular.
There are times when it’s important to stack the deck in your own favor. On Friday we went to Ground Zero. We saw the memorial pools – a matched pair of deep wells, each a footprint of a tower that fell. They’re identical, immense, powerful and serene all at once, and each has a can’t-see-the-bottom well-within-a-well in its center. Over a half million gallons of water fills each pool, with upwards of 50,000 gallons cascading every minute, creating a cacophony of white noise that nearly drowns out New York, in the way that the events of 9/11 created hushed silence amid chaos.
The museum is below ground. Like the fountains it is cavernously grand. Ceilings are seven stories high in places and many of the artifacts are oak-tree tall, beams of twisted metal curated like Picassos. But the smallest memorabilia often stand out; eyeglasses, shoes caked in dust, firefighting equipment, a watch. Among the hardest to see were the preserved fences, papered with hundreds of tattered photos, the image of each face annotated with desperate versions of “Have you seen…” Standing in the place where those pictured were seen last, and knowing that none of the desperate who posted an image of a missing loved was rewarded by a reunion, creates an immense and very present sense of loss. Tissue dispensers dot the museum.
And then you leave. You cross the plaza, and ascend into the tallest of the tall, the shining new silver spire that is One World Trade Center. New York rose from the ashes, it’s still capable of the biggest and best, and for a few touristy minutes you can be a part of it, New York, New York. The view is grand, everything everywhere is dwarfed, but I found the elevator trip 1/3 mile straight up claustrophobic, and after about 15 minutes on top of the world I wanted nothing more than to descend. I wanted to be someplace else, someplace closer to earth.
So, how was going to ground zero a form of stacking the deck in our favor? We chose to go as early in the day as possible. The museum opens at nine, and that’s when we arrived, already having seen the pools. Then we visited the new tower, and then we went to lunch. We had reservations at Narcissa, and when we arrived we were pretty somber. Good food, nice service, and a cocktail have a way of rejuvenating. Having them lined up in advance allowed us to return to the present and enjoy being in the City. Everyone should visit the memorial and the museum. When I made our lunch reservation I didn’t think about the effect the museum would have on us. In retrospect, having a place to return to the present was a bit of an antidote.
Narcissa is a comforting blend of warm wood and clean modern lines, with touches of rusticity. A painted wood block 3-d wall installation is an enjoyable backdrop.
The Cucumber Ribbons with salt baked kohlrabi and crab-citrus vinaigrette is a plate of whimsy and subtlety. It’s visually striking, but none of the flavors overpowers. You taste cucumber, crab, and citrus.
My Potato Gnocchi was seared – which added a toasty flavor and a hint of gentle chew to the browned side of the pillowy dumplings. The small dusky rich mushrooms (they looked like tiny shiitakes – and I spent some time online trying to figure which mushroom type they most resembled) were abundant and made a nearly perfect sauce. Morels would have been better – mostly because the menu said morels and that’s what I expected. Green garbanzos added a nice gentle balancing texture. Duck Leg Schnitzel won over our table as well.
My favorite part of the Rhubarb-Hibiscus Pavlova was the refreshing, crisp and delicately crunchy Viognier Granita. The Maple Sundae was a blend of the comfortingly familiar with a bit of the unexpected – Green Strawberry Sorbet and black walnuts.
Friday night we went to Bâtard. For me, the standout dish was the English Pea Tortellini; exquisitely delicate in every way. Paper-thin pasta bundled a gentle pea filling. Wisp-thin Caraway wafers melted in my mouth. Butter-soft burrata, and fresh peas and pea greens finished the dish. A close second was the swordfish – it was juicy as a ripe pear and crazy-tender. In terms of texture it set the standard by which I’ll be judging all swordfish. The the ginger-citrus sauce, chunks of melon and thinly sliced Castelvetrano olives was an inspired mix of sweet and salty, a well-balanced combination of the unexpected. Who knew that olives and melon belong on the same plate? Service was slow. We arrived at nine and I’m guessing that the kitchen took a break before making our entrees.
It’s a good day when you hang out with Jim Parsons out at Studio 54 and then head to a place down by Times Square to spend time with Darren Criss. This bit of semantics describes the non-eating activities of our Saturday.
We saw Jim Parsons in An Act of God (and got a very big bang out of the experience) … and then we saw a gleefully buff Darren Criss in his next to last Hedwig and the Angry Inch performance. Puns intended. Pad the itinerary with lunch at Momofuku Má Pêche and a late dinner at Red Farm and it was an incredible day.
Momofuku before Jim Parsons turned out to be an apt sort of pairing. We got what we expected (at the restaurant and the theater), and were pleasantly surprised at the same time. Mike W. loves his passion fruit, and his Passion Fruit Pie made him shut his eyes for a few Harry-met-Sally seconds after the first bite. Crack Pie is on the weekend brunch menu, but the salty-sweet dessert was too sweet for Mike, so I ate finished his share as well as my own. It’s a dense, almost chewy confection – like pecan pie without pecans or corn syrup. I can’t get enough of that pie or Sheldon, I mean Jim Parsons. The Chorizo and Noodles was my savory favorite – the sort of fusion that I was hoping to find.
Red Farm is all raw wood and gingham checks, plus chopsticks and dumplings. The menu is Katz’s Pastrami Eggrolls and deep-fried dumplings (some are in fact steamed).
Braised meats like short rib and oxtail fill many of the dumplings (and many of the patrons). The Crispy (as in corn starch-dusted and deep-fried) Beef is a crispy-chewy-tender-salty powerhouse of a starter.
I’m glad we went. I’d go again on a future visit – their 11:45 P.M. closing on weekends makes after-theater an easy option. I’m also glad that they’re not in Arizona, because a steady diet of Red Farm would clog my arteries. There were some salads and a vegetable or two … but the menu sings a tasty well greased song.
On Sunday we got up – had breakfast at the hotel (oatmeal) and went to the airport.
That’s it: our 2.5 days in New York.
This week, I’m upping my cardio as a sort of penance for eating a bit more than was good for me. It’s a small price to pay.