Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New York City, No Holds Barred: Part 2

More about our recent vacation….

First, just a quick note about yesterday’s post: going to the Metropolitan Opera does not have to bust your budget. If you’re willing to wait in line, there are same-day rush tickets available in the orchestra that cost only $20. And there’s a standing area. And obstructed view areas. However you get there, do get there.

Also to note: Did you notice that we skipped dinner on the night of the opera? That’s another reason we don’t each weigh 1000 pounds right now.

And, on with the self-indulgent rest of it:

I wanted to see the Abstract Expressionist exhibit at MoMA—Steve didn’t think he wanted to see it, but we decided that he did. It was nice—some amazing pictures (duh)—but, to be honest, I was slightly disappointed. This is one of my favorite periods of art, so I was expected to be wowed. Part of the problem is inherent in these sorts of exhibits: TOO MANY PEOPLE! It was very crowded, and I’m happy for people to be enjoying and learning about masterworks…but I’m less enthused about people pushing their way through, pointing and quickfire snapping their cellphones at each painting, one after the other. Really? Is that the best way to experience art? Ugh. Then Steve wanted to see some photographs, and I was very pleased to stumble into a wonderful exhibit about female photographers. Some really amazing stuff—and shameful that I was unfamiliar with many of the photographers. I would recommend that show for sure.

Lunch (finally!)—well, okay, there had been a babka muffin from Barney Greengrass to tide us over (and the bowl of hotel chocolates). We went down to the Village to the original John’s Pizza (established 1929), which was as excellent as we’d remembered. Medium or large? You can guess—and we ate the whole thing!

Time to walk off our lunch. We strolled over to the new High Line Park, built on old, elevated train tracks. What a masterful concept, and a beautiful park. I’m no gardening expert, but the grasses and flowers seemed exceptionally well-chosen. No dogs and no bikes made for a pleasant strolling experience. The park is only partially completed at this point, and I’m looking forward to a return visit.

More walking—all the way back to midtown. (A fashion note: black boots everywhere.) Then a stop at Zibetto Espresso Bar (truly, just a tiny shop and a bar—no tables) for great espresso drinks. I’m not normally a big coffee drinker, but even I could tell this was several cuts above the rest. I liked that there was only one size—as in, “this is the proper size for a cappuccino, not that giant behemoth sold in the chains.” No soy milk, no half this, and literally I was afraid to order decaf—which didn’t matter, because such a pleasing size, and such good coffee, did not turn me jittery.

I went to one of my secret fantasy stores, Bergdorf Goodman (founded in 1899), where I was eyed by the security guards, but I still had a lovely time, especially when I discovered the Christmas shop and had a fun time selecting a black and white cookie ornament, which the very kind sales clerk put in a beautiful silver box, in a lavender shopping bag. Take that, security people! I’m not a shoplifter, but a SHOPPER! And it was fun to spy on the woman shopping for a Judith Leiber bag…I like the tiger, myself. (Note: Very nice bathrooms, and a cute little restaurant/bar on the seventh floor with windows overlooking the park. I’ll be back!) And what store still has a stationery department (bookmarks = $15)?

Back to the room, and a little champagne before dolling up for our big dinner at La Grenouille (opened in 1962), a French restaurant in midtown famous for its flowers and high society vibe. I will say that walking into the packed townhouse dining room—noisy, powerful feeling—even though we looked great (if I do say so)—was a bit intimidating. But the restaurant people were gracious, and the minute I got my first dish—Les Quenelles de Brochet "Lyonnaise" (like a lush, fish mousse, made of pike and about a quart of cream), served on an eye-catching black plate—I relaxed, because the food was AMAZING! So rich and creamy…ummmm, I lapped it all up—and the following lamb chops and Grand Marnier soufflĂ© were also incredible. Steve had foie gras and then the best Dover sole on earth (really; so moist and flawless). His calvados soufflĂ© was less successful, but fortunately there was a “free” plate of cookies to ease the pain. Such a delectable dinner and experience.

Back to the King Cole Bar, where we almost witnessed a bar fight!

The next morning…and I’m not sure I dare reveal this, but Steve is a secret fan of "The Today Show" (though he’s the kind of fan who more times than not complains about how vapid the show is…even as he keeps watching; he can also do an excellent Ann Curry imitation). So, we didn’t kill ourselves getting up early, but we got up early for us and went over to Rockefeller Plaza (where I did my “30 Rock” opening credit imitation too many times to count). We hung out with the crowds screaming “We want Matt!” and were almost on TV; the camera swerved away just before it got to us, though we didn’t take it personally. And we saw Matt and Natalie come outside for one segment.

Then we took the super-fast elevator 70 stories up to the Top of the Rock, a great place to view the skyscrapers, as there are several outside observation levels and way shorter entrance lines than at the Empire State Building. The day was clear, and the friendly guard pointed out the Tappan Zee Bridge way off in the distance—something he said wasn’t often visible.

I have a secret fascination with Kathie Lee and Hoda, so we watched their show getting filmed for a short time; Kathie Lee got her hair sprayed about every two seconds. Then we couldn’t remember where our favorite Japanese pastry shop was located, but happily we were steered to a branch of Magnolia Bakery, where we bought some cupcakes for later. Another stop for cappuccino at “our” place, and then back to the hotel to get ready for our late lunch.

Steve had been to Keen’s Steakhouse (since 1885) for business lunches several times and wanted me to see it. It’s a manly place, with thousands and thousands (yes, really) of clay pipes hanging from the ceiling. Dark and woody, it’s just the place for a hunk of meat and a stiff drink. I had the “legendary” mutton chop, which looked like something Wilma Flintstone would cook up for Fred—and it was delicious, though a bit tricky to manage. Steve got a giant filet. We were too stuffed for dessert, but also too curious to pass up Red Berry Bibble—which was a light, lovely compote of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries and a teeny layer of cream. We really didn’t want to say goodbye, so we stepped into the adjoining bar, enticed by the menu of MORE THAN 250 single malt scotches!! The very helpful bartender steered us to some good selections, and we enjoyed a relaxing hour or so, drowsing, sipping, and digesting.

Walking, poking in stores, and finally back to the room to relax before heading out to the late show at The Algonquin Hotel (now owned by the Marriott, but the lobby cat is still there!). Playing at the Oak Room was Karen Akers, someone I’d longed to see back in the days when she was a regular in DC. And here she was, singing a tribute to Rodgers and Hart! There is definitely something to that whole spontaneity thing…. Lucky for us (but not for her, probably) there were only about 15 people in the room, so it was like having a private concert. Especially memorable were her versions of “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “I Wish I Were in Love Again.” She was fantastic! (Note that there was no dinner, only sharing a very embarrassing cheese plate with cheese that would be better off in a mousetrap.)

Oh, no…the dreaded day of departure. Packing, finishing up the bowl of chocolates, stealing all the very cool St. Regis swizzle sticks, and then one last New York meal: Shun Lee Palace (established 1971), an elegant Chinese restaurant with excellent, caring service. Steve is not always a fan of Chinese food, but he loves this place. We shared some steamed dumplings, a one-person size portion of Beijing duck and something called Crispy Prawns with XO Sauce—all of it fantastic and beautifully presented.

But wait: One last stop before hopping on the train. Carnegie Deli (opened in 1937) for four black and white cookies and some rye bread to take home. Outside on the sidewalk, quick discussion and a return trip inside: cookies, bread AND also now please add a pound of corned beef. Finally, our trip was complete.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.