2013 – New York City
The Summer of Thirteen
New York City has been said to be one of the cities to help define what a cosmopolitan city is. Not many cities have the cultural depth and ethnic diversity as New York City. As an expatriate, trips to ‘the city’ have become special, especially visiting places that I grew up around.
Our adventure began in New Jersey. For this trip we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Bridgewater. The Manager (Andrea) was pleasant and helpful by suggesting restaurants and other places in the area. One suggestion was to visit the Liberty Village Premium Outlet Mall, a retail complex laid out as a small village. The stores in the Liberty Village are high-end stores like Polo/Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Izod, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger and others. We don’t usually enjoy the experience of shopping but this particular complex made it pleasant. Shopping can be tiring and we worked up an appetite, we ate at a small restaurant called the Crepe & Grill for lunch, we had salads. A nice surprise was The Mixing Bowl, a small bakery that specializes in homemade cake, pies, pastries and cookies!
When we visit stateside we try to visit one of our favorite supermarkets, Wegman’s. We were first introduced to Wegman’s in Erie, PA. We adore the buffet as it offers near-restaurant quality international food. The eating area is pleasant and provides free WiFi! Oh, and we also love their great stock of grocery items where we find many things not easily found elsewhere.
Family suggested that we meet for dinner a Spain 92, a Spanish restaurant near our hotel. A nice touch we appreciated was the complimentary soup; unfortunately, it was a too salty for our tastes. The mains were also not as inspiring as we had hoped, they were of average quality.
New York City
New York City is a city of neighborhoods, or as some people refer to them as, ‘small towns.’ The people of New York City have a great sense of loyalty and attachment to their neighborhoods. It’s a pride that celebrates their individual identities but also bonds them together in community. Even those who have left to live in other places usually hold a special place in their hearts for New York City. Returning to NYC for an expatriate is special, it’s a chance to see friends, relatives while rekindling your love for the city.
Just like our last trip to the region, we had rented a car and would return it in the ‘city.’ This, of course meant I drove in Manhattan traffic which is an adventure in itself. You see driving is not an easy task for someone not used to the New York state-of-mind, a combination of passive/aggressiveness coupled with a bit of ambivalence and awareness. On the way into the city we decided to try out some ‘American’ Five Guys Burgers. We hadn’t yet tried the Canadian version and thought it would be good to try them stateside first. The kitschy red-square diner atmosphere was clean and fun. The burgers were one of the best we had for a ‘chain’ and the fries were super fine and the serving was more than generous (as is the American way).
We dropped off the car and walked six ‘city’ blocks through Times Square to the Hotel St. James which is located at 109 W45th Street, between 7th and 8th. Joey,one of the hotel staff, was a particularly great help by being available to make suggestions. Since the hotel is nefariously close to Times Square, the action is always within walking distance.
The night we arrived we met a cousin and her boyfriend who came in from Long Island where they live. They suggested we eat dinner at La Palapa, a Mexican restaurant in the St. Marks section of the East village. Off we went, grabbing a cab and hightailing it to the Village!
It was good that we called ahead and made reservations, La Palapa is a popular restaurant on the St. Marks strip. We began our meal with their dynamite house-made guacamole and a pitcher of old-fashioned Margaritas. Once the main course arrived we were knew we were in heaven, Mexican New York style. The ENCHILADAS FUNDIDAS DE CARNE ASADA (grilled skirt steak enchiladas in arbol salsa melted queso chihuahua, avocado, romaine, sweet onion, crema, queso fresco w/ red tomato rice) was scrumptious. Another dish chosen was the CAMARONES con MOLE ROJO DE MORELOS (shrimp with red guajillo chile mole from Morelos, red tomato rice, refried vegetarian pinto beans), it was equally superb. What stood out to us was the care and attention to each dish. The mole was particularly fantastic! Another dish that I to sampled was the PATO al MOLE NEGRO OAXAQUEÑO (grilled duck breast in rich black mole typical of Oaxaca ~ made from 26 magical ingredients), it made me speechless. Needless to say, our first night in the ‘city’ was incredible.
What would be a trip to New York without visiting one of their famous delis? One of our favorites is the iconic Carnegie Deli, located on 7th Avenue just north of the landmarks of Carnegie Hall and Central Park. If you can get there early, you might not wait too long to be seated. The Carnegie Deli is practically always packed with people so don’t be shy, you’re almost guaranteed to be sharing great conversation with people from all around the world, not only from the USA.
On each table, a small plate of ‘new’ and ‘old’ pickles are provided free! The ‘new’ pickles (lighter green) are incredibly crunchy and a bit more delicately flavored as one would expect. Browsing the menu it’s almost a no-brainer, we needed a Pastrami Sandwich, and that’s what we had. Even if you’re very hungry, I’d still suggest you share a sandwich. These sandwiches have about a pound of meat piled up so if you want to eat anything else, don’t fill up on a whole sandwich. We also ‘highly’ recommended the potato knish, it’s a mammoth too, so you may want to share it as well! To wash these lil’puppies down try an Egg Cream, a chocolate/seltzer/milk drink made famous in the late 1800s in Brooklyn. If you’re still hungry, as you have saved space, have some coffee and a slice of Carnegie Deli’s cheese cake! After all this a good walk in the park will do you good!
This year’s food fad, or craze, is all about the Cronut®, a hybrid croissant/doughnut ‘designed’ by premier pastry chef Dominique Ansel. There are others who make various interpretations of the Cronut® but we wanted to try the original. We decided to walk to the Dominique Ansel Bakery, which was a nice walk through Manhattan, we stopped several times to window shop and to enjoy a couple of the city’s small parks. As expected, the Cronuts were sold out, their popularity and small daily production make it nearly impossible get one.
Italian Ices are one of the many childhood memories I hold dearly. Since we missed the opportunity of the Cronut®, we decided to have Italian Ices from Famous Ben’s Pizza of Soho which was a few doors down from the Ansel Bakery. This sweet summertime treat, typically served in ‘crushable’ paper cups, brought back many memories. We sampled Pistachio (my favorite) and chocolate. If you’ve never had Italian Ices, I recommend you try them. They have a similar texture and consistency to gelato but without the dairy. A highly recommended authentic New York City treat!
Brooklyn Bridge & Pizza
You’ve seen pictures but it’s a great experience to see the iconic and storied Brooklyn Bridge closeup. We decided it would be good idea to walk across the bridge to Brooklyn and sample an authentic Brooklyn pizza at the famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. Located ‘under-the-bridge,’ Grimaldi’s serves the real-deal Brooklyn pizza made in their coal-fired brick oven. Brooklyn pizza joints typically sell slices, due to it’s popularity they only serve pies.
South Street Seaport & the Fulton Street Fish Market
I remember visiting the South Street Seaport with my Uncle John many years ago. At that time the port had a couple of tall ships, one of which was the ‘Old Ironside’ named the USS Constitution. Unfortunately there were no ships of that caliber docked, most of the area was still being rebuilt and revitalized due to aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We wound up spending our time walking around the mall and ultimately through the are where the old Fulton Street Fish Market used to be. The whole area, including the Fulton Street Fish Market is now pedestrian only. There are many shops and events happened their all the time.
We were invited to have dinner with friends in Astoria which is a neighborhood in Queens. So, across the Queensboro Bridge we went. Once the taxi dropped us off we went on a nice walk through the neighborhood to found a a nice place to eat. We chose a Thai restaurant named Leng Thai and had a casual dinner with great conversation in the backyard patio of the restaurant. After dinner we continued our walk through Astoria, it’s quite nice and the typical New York City homes reminded me of my old neighborhood and Brooklyn.
It was great to see relatives and even better when we took the opportunity to sit down and share a meal. This time we had the pleasure of meeting with cousins who still live in Brooklyn. They came into the city and took us back to the Lower East Side, this time to a Southern-flared restaurant named The Redhead.
The pub-like decor and atmosphere hides a real gem. The food here was top-notch, superb in fact. Our meal included the Squash Salad (grilled and shaved summer squash, greens and hazelnuts), Roasted Flat-Iron Steak (w/fried green tomatoes and buttermilk ranch dip) and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken (w/market greens, strawberries, almonds and cornbread). If you get a chance to see the Redhead, you just might fall in love.
Eataly is the emporium for all things Italy and was founded by Oscar Farinetti. Partners include the Mario Batali, Joe and Lidia Bastinanich’s B&B Hospitality Group as well as Adam and Alex Saper. The establishment is set up as a market that one is meant to wander. There are piazzas set up as well. Our impression on Eataly was generally good, it was nice to wander around but felt it a bit overwhelming. Most of the items are easily found in our neighborhood in Toronto so we weren’t overly impressed. We did sample the Pistachio Gelato which was tasty but also a bit underwhelming as it was prepared a bit too sweet for our liking. This is not to say that Eataly is not awesome, because it is. It’s an Italian oasis in the middle of Manhattan and that’s all good!
What’s a trip into the city without a walk through the park? Central Park is so massive, even if you spend the whole day strolling around you will never see all of it’s wonders. It’s best to take several days and take your time, if you have the time but there’s so much to do we usually can’t afford to spend a whole day, let alone a few days. So let’s agree that we’ll visit it again on our next trip into the city. I recommend visiting the park on your last full day in the city if you can. The oasis that is Central Park is a great way to let your trip come to a beautiful ending.
On the south west-side of Central Park, across from ‘the Dakota,’ is Strawberry Fields. Strawberry Fields is the 2.5 acre tribute to John Lennon and the Beatles. If you’re a music fan this is an important place to pay visit and pay tribute to one of the most prolific songwriters of our time.
A fitting cap to a trip to New York City is attending a Broadway musical on the night before you leave. We picked up two tickets for Jersey Boys at the box office of the theater on 52nd and Broadway! The performance was a wonderful joyride into the world of Frankie Vale and the Four Seasons.
There are many things to do in New York City, you can NEVER do it all in a single trip so don’t try. Of course, the city merits more visits as one trip is only the beginning! The city has changed over the years and is now more friendly for people to walk and mingle. The city still has it’s dangerous areas but the general vibe is much better than it had been in years. I salute the people of New York City because they helped clean up the neighborhoods and brought the city back to be one of the greatest cities in the world!
The Grape Gourmet
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