Tag Archives: New York

New York, New York: Day 3

15 Apr

The weather stayed beautiful for our third day in New York. We went to Balthazar, a breakfast place that Jules recommended from his last time in the city. On the way we saw a street blocked off for a photo shoot.

They had a whole bunch of people setting up and we had to move because they were getting our reflection in the glass. The people doing the shoot were really polite about getting us gawking tourists to move (and even nice about asking James not to take anymore photos). In general we were surprised by how friendly the New Yorkers we encountered were.

But anyway when we reached Balthazar it was doing a brisk trade in takeaway pastries. It had a separate (much less busy) entrance for dining in and we had no trouble getting seated at a booth. Inside it had this very French bistro vibe.

The breakfasts were pricey but very well done. I ordered a gruyere herb omelette ($16) which was super fluffy and a freshly squeezed orange juice ($6.25).

James ordered some buckwheat crepes ($17) and a couple of coffees ($4.50 each). He and Julian both agreed that the coffees here were very good – James couldn’t remember if they were Melbourne quality but he said they were much better than in Seattle, and again he wondered where Seattle had gotten the impression that it had great coffee.

The crepes were delicious but super cheesy, which would really come back to haunt James later in the day (foreshadowing).

Balthazar was a very upmarket breakfast place – there was even a toilet guy, which is totally my worst tipping nightmare. Fortunately it was James who found out – he went to the bathroom and came back looking slightly disturbed (maybe that’s me projecting) and told us. Intrigued, Jules and I both quizzed him, and James said that the guy turned on the tap for him, handed him a towel afterwards, and he put $1 into the guy’s basket.

I still can’t get over how weird that is. Seriously has anyone ever gone to the bathroom of a fancy restaurant and been like “aw man I have to turn on my own tap??” There is no value added – and you have to tip for the dubious privilege of someone listening to you go! I don’t tend to carry cash to the bathroom so if there’s a toilet guy I have to make sure I take my bag and have money. I am squirming at the awkwardness. The awkwardness!

*ahem*

Anyway after our early breakfast we went to the Museum of Modern Art. We got there about 20 minutes before opening time. There were heaps of people buying tickets but we got to go in the shorter Explorer Pass queue. People were milling around but we waited at the gate so when the lady said to make 2 lines we were actually first in line.

The strategy I’d read online was to get there at opening time and go straight to the 5th floor where the popular exhibits are. Most people make their way from bottom to top, so if you reverse it there are fewer people around. It worked out really well because we got to see the best exhibits when we were fresh and with hardly anyone else around. By the time we left the 5th floor there were small crowds around all the paintings.

The 5th floor was undoubtedly the highlight. They had The Scream by Edvard Munch, some Matisses, Rothkos, Picassos, Dalis, Monets etc. The Warhols seemed to be split between the 4th and 5th floors. The 4th floor was a bit more contemporary and had some paintings and artists that even I’d heard of.

As we descended the floors it got progressively less interesting. The 3rd floor had some architecture designs and photographs – I liked the photographs but the architecture section was dead boring. There wasn’t anything memorable for me on the remaining floors and I reckon if you’re pressed for time you could just do floors 4-5 and the special exhibit on floor 6 and be perfectly satisfied. Being a completionist in New York is just too difficult.

After our dose of culture it was time for some Grimaldi’s Pizza.

Again our off-peak eating strategy paid off. I think we got there around 3pm and although the place was packed we only had to wait a couple of minutes. Julian said that Grimaldi’s has expanded a fair bit since he last went 3 years ago.

Something I noticed with a lot of the restaurants we went to was that the customers were mainly tourists. I don’t know if that means we wandered into tourist traps or whether it’s just a by-product of there being 530,000+ tourists a day in New York. I can’t remember how much the pizzas were but they were neither crazy expensive nor cheap. It was cash-only and the service was very average.

We ordered one large pizza with Italian sausage, ham, peppers and olives (the pizza above) and another with pepperoni, mushroom, onion and anchovies. Again, note the cheese content of the meal.

The pizzas were very good (though getting soggy towards the end) and we stuffed ourselves with 5 1/3 slices each. The guys made much mock of me for being able to keep up with them.

Julian said that the pizzas were better before they expanded. They were still better than any I’ve had in Seattle, but not the best pizza I’ve had in my life, which is what I was promised! New York probably has enough excellent pizza places that it’s not really worth going out of your way to eat at Grimaldi’s unless you want to make an afternoon of it and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

You can walk across the bridge both ways but the view walking into Manhattan is much nicer. For ultra romance I bet it would be even nicer during sunset.

It’s a really nice walk (though quite busy) and the bridge is gorgeous. Why does James’ head look oddly tiny?

The walking area was suspended over the driving part of the bridge.

There was a subway station after the bridge so we got on that to go home. Well, Jules went home for a nap and James and I did some additional shopping. We dropped by the Rick Owens boutique to see if they had the leather jacket I wanted (unfortunately they didn’t) and then we went home to sleep before our late dinner. This blog post has gotten pretty long so I’ll do a separate post about the dinner, which was at a steakhouse that’s been rated the best in NY for 24 years in a row.

Oh and just to put a bookend on the dairy foreshadowing thing, for dessert that night James ate most of an ice cream sundae. Afterwards we went to a bar, which was where he started to feel really sick. He was probably really glad there wasn’t a toilet guy there cos that would have cost him a lot of money.

New York, New York: Gramercy Tavern

14 Apr

Gramercy Tavern
42 E 20th St, New York

For dinner our second night we went to Gramercy Tavern. Although it was a pretty fancy restaurant we got a same-day booking.

We had to all choose either the tasting menu or a la carte so we went with the tasting menu (mainly cos James and Jules didn’t care and I wanted to try the tasting menu). Julian was tasked with choosing the wine and he went with a 2007 Movia pinot noir ($98) which we all really enjoyed.

They started us off with some ricotta in puff pastry. It was very good; light and not greasy.

Peconic Bay scallops, clams, pickled mushrooms and cilantro broth. I thought the colours were beautiful and the cilantro broth offset the seafood very well (James was also very fond of the broth).

The next course was a warm lobster salad with carrots and chicory. The lobster was very tender but I don’t remember much about this dish, sorry! What I do remember is that the waiters would replace our cutlery for every course – the tip on a $100+ meal (plus wine!) is significant but they earned the tip a lot more than some other restaurants where they basically give you the food and disappear for the rest of the night.

Next was halibut with shiitake mushrooms and parsnip lobster sauce. The sauce gave the fish an almost meaty taste and I enjoyed this a lot more than I was expecting to – I don’t normally care for fish but this was fish that tasted like lobster!

The next course was sweet potato agnolotti with kohlrabi and pine nuts. This tasted pretty much as you would expect from the description.

Then we had the final savory course, which was roasted duck breast with quinoa, lentils, celery root and hazelnuts. I am normally not a fan of how white people do duck – to me Chinese BBQ duck is perfection and everything else is a distant second.

But I have to admit this duck was excellent. It was succulent and for some reason reminded me a little of pork. The quinoa was a bit eh but I loved the addition of hazelnuts.

There was only one dessert on the tasting menu but they brought us an additional dessert. Yay! This was a mandarin orange panna cotta with a marscapone disc (we all agreed the disc tasted like meringue though). This was super light and refreshing.

Our second dessert was a chocolate Pecan coconut cake with butter pecan ice cream. The cake wasn’t particularly memorable (I’m not a huge fan of the chocolate/toasted coconut combination) but OMG the ice cream was out of this world. It was light yet super rich and tasted of caramelized pecans. I wonder how hard it would be to recreate – I need this ice cream in my life.

After dessert they brought us some petit fours. The macarons were coconut but I don’t know what the others were because I was in the bathroom. Everywhere we went I was terrified that there would be a bathroom attendant that I’d be expected to tip. Luckily this wasn’t the case here (though James and Jules did encounter one at another restaurant – more on that later).

Julian was getting really full at this point, I was pleasantly full and I think James was just shy of full. It all felt very genteel nibbling on our petit fours after dinner.

They also brought us some after dinner mints. The two blueish ones were mints and the round one was a caramel.

Overall it was a very competent meal. Julian and James said that they weren’t wowed for the price (including the wine, tax and tip it ended up around $200 a person) but I thought that everything was very well done. I probably wouldn’t go back, but only because there are so many other fine dining options in New York that I want to try.

After Gramercy Tavern I was in that happy bubble that I’m always in after a really great meal. We walked to the subway, which was decorated with mosaic tile hats and took stupid photos.

Oh yeah, at the end of our meal we each got a complimentary muffin to have for breakfast the next day. I actually ate it a couple of days later when we went on a boat trip and it was great! Toasted coconut (which they seemed very fond of as a dessert ingredient) and a delicious chocolatey centre.

So that was the first (of a few) expensive meals in New York. Honestly though, New York wasn’t as pricey as I thought it would be. I think part of it was that I had always figured in a $2000+ plane trip from Australia, but Seattle is more like a $200-300 round trip. The food is about as expensive in New York as it is in Seattle (which in turn is comparable to Melbourne) but just worlds better. 

My theory is that if a restaurant isn’t excellent there’s just so much competition around that it goes out of business. I could cry when I compare it to Seattle, where even mediocre restaurants are raved about.

The restaurants were only a part of why we loved New York so much (James was talking about maybe looking for a job there in a couple of years) but they were a significant part! If New Yorkers didn’t do so much walking I’m sure they would all be huge from all the awesome food.
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New York, New York! Days 1 & 2

12 Apr

New York is such an amazing city. James, Julian and I packed a whole bunch of touristy stuff in 5 days, and let me tell you I am freaking exhausted. We walked pretty much all day every day, occasionally taking power naps and sitting down for food.

OMG the food.

We ate so much. Seriously. There is no food left in New York because we ate it all.

Day 1

James and I arrived at our apartment around 5pm. Julian came from London and was stuck in customs for 4+ hours – his wait was almost as long as our entire flight!

Pretty much the first thing we did was buy a 7 day unlimited subway pass. We were only there for 5 days but the pass paid for itself by day 3. I didn’t realise just how big NY was – you know how Melbourne has the CBD and Seattle has Downtown? NY has a Downtown, Midtown and Uptown! It’s all linked by the subway, plus there are a whole bunch of cool neighborhoods in between. Stuff that looked walkable on Google Maps was really, really not!

We didn’t have anything planned for the first evening so just walked around Midtown taking in the stores. We went to the NBC store to have a look at the Community merchandise.

But you can just buy from the NBC website and James said he’d rather pay shipping than have to lug it all back, so fair enough! Then we hit up Uniqlo where James bought some long-sleeved shirts and socks. Uniqlo was enormous and maze-like – I got lost more than once.

And then our first meal! Apparently Halal Guys at 53rd and 6th is a NY institution. It was pretty crowded when we got there but the guys were really efficient and we had our food in no time.

It was $6 a plate – ridiculously cheap for such deliciousness. I think in terms of value for money in NY it would be pretty hard to top Halal Guys.

James and I both preferred the gyro (lamb) plate. I really wish I’d tried their falafels – next time! Both plates came with very generous serves of a garlicky white sauce.

We went to a nearby construction site to eat (oh by the way that’s one thing that the TV shows don’t show you – it seems like at any given time half the buildings are covered with scaffolding). I ate so fast I gave myself hiccups. The most expensive city in the world and you can still get a great meal for $6 – amazing. =)

Afterwards we walked to Magnolia Bakery and got some cupcakes to take back to our apartment.

I ordered the red velvet and James got the Michael J Fox Foundation cupcake (vanilla with white vanilla buttercream, orange sprinkles and a white chocolate disc). They were OK but no different from any other store cupcakes I’ve had and not worth seeking out IMO.

Day 2

On our second day we met up with Julian and had hot dogs for breakfast at Gray’s Papaya.

The hot dogs were on the small side and not particularly gourmet, but you can’t go wrong with 2 hot dogs and a papaya drink for $4.95!

The first tourist attraction we hit was Top of the Rock. We went fairly early in the morning (though not right at opening time) and it wasn’t too crowded.

A lot of people online say that if you only do one of the “view” experiences, that Top of the Rock is better because it’s less crowded. But we did Top of the Rock during the day and Empire State at night and enjoyed both. Of course the key difference with Top of the Rock is that you can see the Empire State building.

James said he was surprised by how much he enjoyed Top of the Rock. You really get a sense of how freaking enormous NY is and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. It has a cool elevator too – the ceiling gives you a bit of a light show as you’re going up and down.

We walked to Central Park and on the way was the famous LOVE sculpture, so of course we had to get a photo.

We rented some bikes nearby and cycled around Central Park. As with the rest of NY, I didn’t realise that Central Park was so enormous – it would have taken us the whole day to do it on foot! It was full of cyclists and runners (there was actually a race going on at the time) and people walking their dogs. I am insanely jealous of the people who live close by.

This is the view from Top of the Rock. Do you see that lake at the top? Note the size relative to the park.

Here is that lake (or part of it at least) from the ground.

Geez. Run around Central Park a few times and you’ve probably done a marathon.

We cycled our way to the Guggenheim museum. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the building is a work of art in itself.

And the inside: (the coloured water in the plastic isn’t normally there; it’s part of the current exhibit).

We saw all the major museums except for the Museum of Natural History (which Julian had already seen, so James and I will do it another trip). We all thought that the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art were better – the Guggenheim had some weird art, likes giant pieces of paper that the artist had thrown himself through, etc.

All this before lunch! Though in all fairness we did have a late lunch. Our plan was to eat at off-peak times to minimise how long we had to wait in lines. Smart eh? We went to a place called Burger Joint which was tucked away inside Le Parker Meridian hotel. Even though we were there at like 2:30 the lines were still pretty long and we were very lucky to grab a booth.

The burgers were very juicy and very good.

You can see James making his burger face as he takes his first bite.

We went to Fao Schwarz, which has the big floor piano that Tom Hanks played in Big and is also the inspiration for the toy store in Home Alone 2. I’m sorry to say that the piano was super overrated. The keys were not as responsive as Big had led me to believe (damn you movie trickery!) and the black keys were just decorative.

Nobody is even pressing that key at the end! WTF. Also Julian said that it was out of tune.

James had his own wacky hijinks. He explored the lego area:

The candy section:

And the freaky baby area.

James thought he was just posing with the babies; he didn’t realise that the scary nurse had crept up next to him. After I took the photo he looked to the side and did a double take.

For dinner we went to Gramercy Tavern, which I’ll do a separate post about because it was a pretty long dinner! Our first full day in New York was jam-packed with stuff and the pace didn’t let up for the next few days.