Sunday, June 26, 2011

NYC Adventures 2011

It’s that time! For a NYC excursion. Planned with the ‘Ya-Yas’, my friend’s crazy mom and mom’s best friend, the ‘Ya-Ya’s in Training’ (aka. Ya-Yits) are all that remain. We made the best of it, slinging raincoats in tow, to seek out our own adventures in the city that never sleeps. And yes, managed to get a nap in.. the city that never sleeps. Oh yeah..

I got here Thursday night. When isn’t transportation in the city an adventure, you ask? Certainly not when the electricity in the train system is down. So, Bussing it I went, as trying to get a cab from Newark to the upper east side seemed a little, oh, I don’t know, INSANE. It took a bit of time, which gave me the time I need to think about the kindle that I left resting comfortable in the seat pocket in front of me. Is Southwest as honest as they are friendly? We may soon learn, however, it has been beyond the 24 hours in which I was promised an answer. Moving on..

I saw the city lights for quite some time before making it in, only to learn when I got there that el Pres is in NYC, in the very area, for a fundraiser. Finding a cab was a joyous adventure, but finally with comfy shoes and perseverance, I did. 20 blocks later with my bag in tow. Made it to the apartment and we took the liberty of kicking up our feet and ordering in. The only memorable part of the meal was our black and white ‘half moon’ cookies that you simply must get when here.

The next morning we went to the diner around the corner for a speedy and traditional breakfast. We recognize all of the wait staff, even though my last visit here was two years ago. With a gruff ‘take any seat’ we sat down and ordered some great eats. I got blueberry pancakes and a gallon or more of coffee to get my day started well. The coffee kept coming, and my smile grew with every pour. When we were leaving, we got a gruff ‘see you tomorrow!’ and of course, we did. Nothing like a two block crawl for breakfast.

We headed down to Canal street for the shopping and people-watching. With the 'magic' raincoats in tow, the rain stayed away except for a light mist that did, ahem, wonders, for our hair. ('Magic' raincoats being the phenomenon when you are prepared for foul weather, like the 70% chance of rain expected, it doesn't happen. It's strangely more likely when you are entirely unprepared for it.) I got a couple of things, and no, we did not get stuffed in a back room for the knock-off coach bags. Instead, they carry a laminated copy of the pictures of the bags. Thought that was an interesting change. The recession has apparently hit hard here too, as the folks with the knock-offs were quite persistent, and downright assertive in some areas.

We found our way to Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy, and ate in a lovely little restaurant that reminded me a lot of Rome. Tables spilling out onto the street and all facing the street, they served up amazing dishes of fresh-made pasta. Lisa got lasagna and I got cannelloni, which is just as good as I remembered it from my visit to Rome. We them went to our favorite pastry place (that I have yet to remember the name) and got sweets: lisa a cannoli (pre-piped, which gave us pause). I got tiramisu as it was so beautifully displayed, with a tiramisu center surrounded by lady fingers all around. Yum! We went back for a nap in the city that never sleeps (ha!) then dined in Eataly, Mario Batali’s market concept restaurant complex. There are 5 or 6 restaurants, and a complete market with everything including a fishmonger, butcher, dairy and cheese area, gelato, chocolates, breadmaker, fresh pasta, dried goods and canned/bottled goods. There are quite a few restaurants but since we had a big lunch, we decided to split a pizza. It was a brick oven ‘za and quite good.

Today I went to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, probably the last touristy thing left in the city that I hadn’t previously done. The sun started to shine between the clouds (unfortunately after I left our room, and my sunscreen behind.) I cabbed it to Battery Park, got a ticket and proceeded to stand into what appeared to be the longest line I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, as always in New York, there was excellent people-watching and some entertaining musicians to keep my mind occupied.

It was a short ferry ride to Liberty Island, and worth seeing. The statue is quite large, and just so impressive up close. The island offers a wonderful view from all around the base of the statue. The sun was shining now so it was truly beautiful. I then took the ferry to Ellis Island, which was incredibly interesting. You walk up to this huge building with the though of the millions of immigrants who’s first glimpse of the Unites States was this building. With the hoards of people, how intimidating it must have been! I did do the audio tour and was glad I did. The tour starts you at the large exhibit of bags and trunks, talking about the people who came through there with their most prized possessions stuffed in the small bags.

Next you walk upstairs to the registration room. It’s simply huge, and the tape describes the thousand-plus people coming off the ship to be routed through the hall. Going through medical inspection, where the inspectors wrote in chalk on their jackets if they had any concern. There was a legal inspection and others, ultimately pulling out around 2% of the people going through to be deported back to their country of origin. It could be for things like insanity and medical issues that were not treatable (otherwise you might be detained until healthy), or if it was believed you would be unable to find work.

People had to have somewhere to go and to essentially be claimed before they could leave. The tape described the families coming over, and that the journey even for third class passengers was the current equivalent of $2000. So often a man would go over, and then send money back until the family could come, or possibly they would come individually.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like for a person, alone, not understanding the languages around then, being poked and prodded, quizzed and interrogated in order to enter the country. I think of my great-grandfather who came in and wonder what it was like. I wish I asked my grandfather for more details, and wish I wrote down what he did tell me. I believe he had said he came over in one of the last boats from Poland before WWI. His name was changed to Abrams (he had a long Polish name ending in ‘sky’, go figure, and Abrams meant ‘friend’ in Yiddish and was a common name given.) He ended up in Philadelphia and was a cobbler. I saw a picture of him years ago with my grandfather and a great-uncle, standing in front of a wall of shoes. What was the journey like? Did he talk about it? Sadly, I’ll never know.

The museum was very well done, and one of the rooms showed some of the family items that passed through Ellis Island: woven dresses and blankets, religious items like books, crosses, and other items. It also talked about some of the people and families that came through. There also was a wall of people and their pictures: Sarah, Hungarian, 19 years, servant, Charles, Scottish, 23 years, mason.

It was a really amazing and interesting morning. I made my way back on the ferry, deep in thought, when a man sitting next to me asked for some restaurant suggestions in the Time Square area. How funny that I was able to help him!

I met Lisa at Pipa, one of my favorite little Spanish tapas restaurants that I recommend to people frequently and we enjoyed several tapas (the dates were amazing!) and a glass of red sangria. Ahhh! I went on a mission to get my macarons, a French confectionary treat of amazing goodness that I get every time I’m here as, until recently, I never found them outside of NYC. (I just found a little café 2 minutes from where I work with a French-trained chef who makes them… ooh lala!!) I found our usual place, and to my discontent, they sold out of everything except for vanilla and passion fruit. Bah! I got a nice walk in, of course, meeting several lovely dogs and missing mine quite a bit!

We made reservations at Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant, and were really looking forward to it. It’s a French brasserie, and walking in very much reminded me of Paris. Sadly, that’s where the similarity ended. I will say that I LOVE Bourdain and everything about him: his caustic wit, his intellect, his snobbishness about, and passion for, good food. Bourdain and French cuisine: how could you go wrong? Well, it started with waiting over an hour to get our entrees. Everyone around us seated after us got theirs, and the waiter came over twice to say it would only be another minute. Finally a woman came over to apologize for the wait and that it was coming. Ten minutes later, it did.

I got a steak, which I only eat once or twice a year, figuring that it would be amazing here. I got a sirloin with a red whine shallot butter. It was a decent cut, though not impressive by any means, cooked medium, not medium-rare, and didn’t have the red wine sauce on it. I did say something to the waiter but wasn’t interested in waiting another hour for a steak. Someone else came by to examine the steak and agreed that it was medium-rare, but offered to get me another. Lisa got macaroni and cheese French-style, but didn’t like it and barely ate it. Then they did offer us a free dessert, but offered us a choice of two and not the dessert menu, which I thought was interesting. Anyways, I won’t openly bash the place as they did attempt a recovery, but would absolutely not recommend it as I’ve gotten a better steak at Outback for much less! I will say that the crème brulee was spectacular.

Today, on our last day in the city, we walked around Rockefeller Plaza area so Lisa could do some shopping. On a mission for ‘our’ macarons, the French pastry made of two meringue cookie shells filled with a flavored crème covered in ganache.. my passion started in Paris, and until recently, NYC was the only place I’ve found them. So my trips to NYC have become on obsession to find macarons and pizza, as only NYC can do well. Yes, we’ve eaten our way through the city, but such in the fun of it! We took a cab down to a new place that was open on Sunday (according to their website) only to find they lied and were not open. So we found a café and had breakfast, then headed to Rockefeller. I was pleased to find a new French place opened, called Bouchon, and was quite pleased with their macarons. We sat overlooking the plaza and the flags, eating the macarons making ‘num num’ noises and savoring every bite. I’m not quite sure why I’m so obsessed with these confections—they are good, don’t get me wrong, but still. I drooled over one of the new Movados while Lisa look at shoes, then we made our way over to Radio City Music Hall to pursue my other obsession: Cirque.

This show, Zarkana, marks my tenth Cirque show. I’ve never been to this venue so was curious, and we were not let down. Zarkana is unlike any other Cirque show I’ve seen. It’s coined a rock opera, and the music was very different. The colors were bold and gem-like, vibrant and beautiful and the music was wonderful as well. For those Cirque ‘virgins’, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen: artistry, beauty in music, voice, costumes, music and bodies performing amazing acts of strength, agility and flexibility weaving creativity and plot. Ahh.. Cirque.

We left to find a pizza shop to enjoy the city’s finest ‘za, you know, the kind that stands straight out when you hold the crust so you can fold it over to eat it, then lisa headed back via cab while I walked back to the apartment. On the way I found that “The World’s Best Chocolate Cake’ was open, though the website said closed on Sunday! Too tempting to resist, I bought two pieces, a milk and a dark chocolate. They certainly don’t give it away, and $18 lighter, I staggered home, thinking that these tiny slivers of cake certainly should be the BEST I’ve ever had. Made of a mixture of chocolate cake, mouse and meringue, they were good and interesting, but sadly, I wouldn’t say the BEST. Harumph. Good advertising, though.

Today was a perfect day in NYC and definitely easy to fall in love—it was a bit muggy, but around 80 degrees with a nice breeze blowing. I heard it’s supposed to be 116 in Phoenix tomorrow, so I’m tempted to stay here. Maybe I’ll collect a fund to see if any of my readers will send money for a good cause… Hell, I did give a guy with a sad story on the street today $5.. I’ll work on it!!