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Trip recap!


The setup

It was a birthday-ending-in-zero year for my my mother, so we lived it up a bit. First there was the week in Hawaii with the extended family (protip: in order to have the beach and pool to yourself, stay in a resort three weeks away from declaring bankruptcy! Gorgeous, quiet, well-maintained, and you’ll go days without seeing another guest), but that was in September, a full month before her actual birthday. Clearly, something else must be done.

Happily, the actual day coincided with a federal holiday weekend, so I proposed we meet up in New York. We first went as a family mumbledymumble Octobers ago for my sixteenth birthday, and my reinfatuation with the city was kicked off by a girls’ trip of the women in my family escorting my grandmother for a long weekend in April 2008. That trip was delightful and hit all the major touristy things - evening boat ride around the Statue of Liberty, hop-on-hop-off bus, Broadway show, top of the rock, carriage ride in Central Park, etc etc etc. Since then, I’ve been back, erm, mumbledymumble times (hey - the bus is cheap, yo), and I’ve done a bit more non-touristy poking around. I wanted to share a bit of what I found with my mom, so off we went!

(And by "off we went," clearly I mean "cue weeks and weeks of me obsessively stalking hotel deals, reading pages and pages of restaurant reports on chowhound, making spreadsheets of menus, developing a custom google map of shops and restaurants, and my normal travel prep overkill." in which I delight. for serious.)


Thursday

For a whole host of reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, I ended up in New York a day before my mom, arriving late afternoon on Thursday, leaving me just enough time for my perennial obsession with Sleep No More and a couple of meals. (What, you mean you don’t fit in two meals after five pm when traveling? Clearly you are not trying hard enough.) I ended up at a hostel right around the corner from Sleep No More, and it was, you know. Functional. Mostly hygienic. Industrial and IKEA not-so-chic. No soap in the shower, just the dispenser over the sink. Fourth floor walkup. Me and a bunch of European backpackers. Tres cool, non? (Non.)

Whatever. I was inches from the High Line, and I ambled down 10th Ave in search of food (with a preliminary stop for highly necessary caffienation in the form of cafe au lait at The Art of Coffee, which was quite lovely. Tiny, overheated, but lovely). Time Out, Yelp, and various other internettian purveyors of opinion swore by Artichoke Basille at 17th and 10th, so I bypassed several other tempting options (a ye olde fashionede diner where Ladies Who Lunch wearing real pearls were snacking? the locavore amazing brunch spot? the place with indoor trees and ravioli?) for the pizza joint.

Yeeeeeeeeeahmistake. I got the wedge of the margherita, and it was a giant pile of awful. Not, like, Papa John's awful, because there is a time and a place for their cheesy bread and nuclear garlic sauce. Just, you know. Bad. Crust that was both too thick and too thin at the same time, a little dry, wildly too sweet. There were no crispy edges, no nothing. The cheese was splotchy and weirdly melted, and if it was noted on the menu as something other than mozzarella, mea culpa for being a dumbass and ordering anyway. That so rarely goes well for me. (I’m looking at you, smoked gouda. For serious.) Nor was the sauce very good, but it was really the way the sourness of the tomato sauce clashed with the sweetness of the dough that I did not like. Blergh. But, um, the basil wasn’t terrible? The beer (their artichoke special, which involved artichoke liqueur in some inexplicable fashion) was inoffensive?

Ehn. Keep walking. Or turn around and go back to the diner. Still, it was a congenial enough place to sit quietly and finish my book. (Yes, this is another instance of When Introverts Travel!)

Post-first-dinner, I ambled back along the High Line, enjoying the relative temperateness, the not-really-sunset (due to the recent rain and impressive fogginess), and a mango-chile paleta (the chunks of mango were a little too chunky and solid frozen, the chile was not messing around, but altogether it was far more delightful than the pizza). The High Line really is that charming. Recommended.

At that point, it was already time to line up for Sleep No More. Here is where I reveal my inner fangirl (or, you know, fangirl-flag-wrapped exterior) and admit I’d seen SNM three times already, but, well. I had an evening. There was a ticket available. I am Jack’s inability to say no to temptation. I snagged me a 7 pm ticket and a 10:30 reservation at Gallow Green, the affiliated roofdeck bar/small plates/speakeasy/thing next door, and I considered myself well-suited.

I’d only ever been to a weekend late night performance before, and let me just say - the neighborhood and SNM audience are both very, very (very) different at 6:30 than at 10:30. The galleries are still open at 6:30, and the restaurants are just revving up, as opposed to shuttered galleries, quiet restaurants, and clubs just getting started. With SNM, it’s much more tourist, much less local, though I was v. pleased to see more people in sensible shoes. Depending on how you choose to run it (and it really is "run" at times), you should maybe also, I don’t know, do some deep knee bends or quad stretches or something beforehand.

I also strongly recommend a pre-show cocktail, not just because the bartenders have always been universally lovely and creative at me. One is all you need/want, because trying to follow a plot thread is hard enough without interference, but the slight fuzziness and willingness to indulge the ridiculous and/or fantastical that accompanies that first glass is perfect for SNM. After my lackluster beer, I was all waffly and indecisive, and once again the McKittrick bartender nailed exactly what I wanted but couldn’t quite figure out: St. Germain and prosecco. Crisp, bubbly, a little deeper and boozier than just prosecco - perfect for a humid, not quite hot evening. Elderflower beats artichoke hands down.

Gallow Green

Post-show, I pried myself out of the McKittrick crush and ambled next door. Even with a reservation, even for one person, it was still almost a twenty minute wait. Ah, well. By myself, I’m able to indulge my penchant for slightly twee, slightly over the top, delightedly self-aware ridiculousness, even if it means waiting in a ridiculous-in-the-not-fun-way line. For me, it was worth it to creak up slowly in the elevator with an honest-to-god elevator operator, creak up yet another flight of stairs, and emerge into the deliberately sculpted rooftop garden-and-train-tracks-and-bar of Gallow Green. It was pleasingly cool, with just a hint of breeze, after the stifling, sweaty confines of the McKittrick, and I never fail to be delighted by people out and about at midnight on a school night.

I could’ve done the bar thing; it actually seemed the right level of raucous and easy-going, but, well. See above re: Traveling With Introverts!, and I knew I had four days of nonstop With Another Person time, so me and my book nabbed a table by ourselves. (Well, kindle, not book, if I’m being scrupulous. And flipping back and forth between Some Do Not... and A Fault In Our Stars, if you must know.) And thence to the drinking!

I started with the Pimm’s Other Cup (Pimm’s #1, rum, lemonade), and it was delightful. The rum cut the sweetness of Pimm’s that can run to cloying, and the lemonade was tart and sparkling and thinned the whole thing out to make it appealingly sippable, instead of tongue-coatingly thick. Recommended.

For food, I did the warm, homemade pretzels in homage of the pretzels I had after finishing the bar exam, which will always be an Epic Food Memory, not necessarily because of the quality (though the beer cheese sauce was pretty damn awesome), but because of the context. These were lovely and dense, and they were served with a sinus-clearing horseradishy "dijon" mustard and a honey mustard that was heavy on the honey. Pleasingly so, because it was actual honey, with the attendant complexity of flavor, as opposed to just SWEET SWEET SWEET andalittlebitofmustard.

I also did the crudite with the stilton dip (which, by the by, was also excellent on the pretzels). Carrots, yellow and green beans, radishes, endive (which always makes me think of Aunt Beru from Star Wars), and cucumbers. Altogether, it was perfect for holding a book in one hand, dipping things idly as the spirit moved me, and enjoying the evening.

If I were smart, I would’ve stopped there. But nooooooo, I just have to try new things. Noooooo, I have to cram as many tastes as possible into an evening (another bonus of the various dippy things - many flavors and textures!). This is not a tale of drunken excess, no. This is a tale of damn well knowing what you do and don’t like, then flagrantly ordering in disregard of that.

It was the Blonde in Peril. It was vodka, grand marnier, lemon, lillet, and port. It was revolting. Oh, sure, it was beautifully crafted and in balance, but it was flavors that made me do the same face you get when you accidentally swallow some of the cherry toothpaste gunk at the dentist. I don’t know that I’ve ever held my breath in order to finish a cocktail before, but this definitely called for it. The evening didn’t end on a sour note, just a overly-floral, sticky medicinal one. Alas. Alas alas.

At that point I decided discretion was the better part of valor, made a tactical advance to the rear, and ensconced myself in my concrete-IKEA digs.


Friday

The next morning did not get off to perhaps as swift a start as I might have liked, but I was still out of the door by 8:30. Mom had already landed at the airport, so I opted out of elbowing away Europeans from the tiny boxes of cereal and limp pastries and started hoofing it to the new hotel. Let me just say - 11th Ave to 5th with luggage is, erm, interesting. Especially when you start to get your first inkling of how very, very poor your shoe choice has been.

Mom emerged, resplendent, from her cab within ten minutes of my arrival, and we hugged, ditched our luggage, and embarked upon our Grand! New York! Adventure! I’d planned the first couple of days pretty firmly, left a bunch to chance, and we were off to a roaring start. We had a couple of hours to kill before our (v. v. early) lunch reservations at Babbo, the first of my internet reservation victories. We meandered over to Eataly, literally right around the corner from the hotel, acquired lattes (iced for me) and a chocolate hazelnut croissant (pleasingly flaky, not too sweet, and with a strong hazelnut flavor - recommended), then walked up decidedly unscenic Broadway to Macy’s and Lord and Taylor for those little necessities one inevitably forgets on travel.

Little necessities are also inevitably more distracting than anticipated, so I dragged us on a speedwalk any mall would be proud of in order to make it from Bryant Park to Washington Square in, like, 20 minutes. We were saved by my nigh-inevitable New York Error - the classic "what? this is an express? I...totally knew that" moment. Fortunately, the station we needed was not one we skipped.

Babbo

We ended up a few minutes early (which we learned by barging in before the restaurant was open, to be met with deer-in-headlights waitstaff), so we lurked suspiciously outside (where we were swiftly joined by other earlybirds) and preemptively ogled the menu. Babbo is a funny little mix of casually comfortable, like a cottage you find somewhere in the country that’s a bed/breakfast/bistro/pub, depending on the time of day, all rounded corners and well-polished dark wood, with white tablecloth, lots of forks, impeccable service dining.

We started with a glass of prosecco, because yes. (Shockingly, it was a far better vintage than what I’d had the night before at Sleep No More, though no slight at all to the McKittrick. Right place, right drink.) We also opted for lots of different flavors, splitting things willy-nilly left and right, and hat tip to the lovely, lovely service who pre-divided stuff whenever possible and brought things out in a stately four courses.

First was - well, first was actually the amuse bouche, which seemed to be pretty much lightly cooked chickpeas and olive tapenade, heavy on the vinegar, mooshed together and served on top of tiny toasts. I am avowedly Not A Fan of chickpeas, no matter how hard I try to like them, but this was good enough to have me chasing escapee peas off the toast with a fork. Happily, it seems a relatively easy proposition to recreate this at home. Shall reports back. Also, it may as well be noted here that the bread, butter, and olive oil provided were lovely, especially for soaking up extra bits of sauce.
Our actual first course was a shrimp appetizer (complete with heads!) - gamberoni all'"acqua pazza" (i.e. "crazy water") - a mixture of white wine reduction, limoncello (the "crazy" part, I suppose), fennel, and chili flakes. As a fennel fan, I loved it. As a fennel...not fan, Mom loved it. The sweetness of the shrimp meat was delightful with the sauce, but the sauce was really the star. (Deploy the bread!)

Second course was beef cheek ravioli. When we asked the server about his feelings on the various pastas, we barely got the question out before he vigorously suggested the ravioli. I was unsure of how I felt about cheek meat (which I presume is the, you know. cheek.), but it’s hard to turn down such enthusiasm. He wasn’t wrong. This dish was easily one of the best of the entire trip - relatively simple ingredients of utmost quality executed cleanly and in balance. Perfectly al dente handmade ravioli, with enough oomph to the pasta to not just be the vehicle for other deliciousness. Meaty, delicious goodness inside, with just enough texture contrast to that of the pasta. Topped with shaves of black truffle, because yes, and an italian cheese, all done up in a simple white sauce (wine reduction? butter something? dunno. just licked the plate).

Third course was the first tragic disappointment of the trip. I was intrigued by the description: "black spaghetti with fennel, jalapeno, and bottarga." Pasta! Jalapeno! Intrigue! Ehn. Turns out I really don’t like squid ink as much as I thought I did, and you couldn’t really taste the jalapeno or any real complexity in the sauce. Oh, it was again perfectly al dente handmade pasta, and the taste wasn’t offensive per se; it was just aggressively blah. Life lesson? If you have to choose between the squid ink pasta and the agnolotti with brown butter and sage, always go with the agnolotti. For serious.

Our main course was grilled skirt steak with black truffles (more! yes!), crispy bitter greens, roasted potatoes, and a wee bit of au jus. A sense of sauce without being an actual runny mess. It was lovely, but it was (and here I start to feel almost as pretentious as I actually am) not really anything special. Okay, yes, truffle, amazing, etc etc, and everything was executed brilliantly, but there was nothing about it that I feel like I couldn’t have gotten somewhere else. In comparison to the ravioli, which just felt Babbotastic and like something inherent to that place, that moment. I dunno. Tasty but not miraculous.

We debated long and hard over dessert, but nothing looked extraordinary, and we reminded ourselves this was a marathon, not a sprint. Must pace. Also, they served little coconut meringue thingies with the bill, and it was just the right amount, that perfect hit of almost-sweet to round out the meal.

The Modern

Off we sauntered in the last unfettered sunshine we’d have for several days, and Washington Square obliged by being ridiculously photogenic, all charming quirkiness prettied up in the gorgeous weather. We passed no less than three jazz combos. A bit of shoe shopping, a bit of wandering, and back to the hotel for a brief siesta.

All gussied up, we headed out a titch early for dinner/theater, so’s I could snag a new umbrella. The forecast for Sunday was disastrously dreary; I’d left my eensy popup umbrella in my desk at work, and the MOMA gift shop had a ‘brella I’d had my eye on for some time. Convenient, this, as we had reservations for the bar area of the restaurant attached to the MOMA, obscurely named The Modern. The formal dining room is a Michelin one-star French capital-e Experience, and the bar comes from the same kitchen but is more laid-back, Alsatian-French small plates. I’m learning more and more that formal and fancy is lovely, but nine times out of ten I’m going to prefer short-attention-span small-plate casual dining. It’s all about as many tastes as possible in as short a time as possible, and if you get to do so in clothes that don’t require dry cleaning, well, so much the better.

We started with drinks, like you do. Like we do. Whatever. They had an intriguing cocktail list, so Mom got the South by Southwest (tequila, hibiscus syrup, mint, and lime), and I got the Via Per Le Indie (gin, benedictine, ginger, lemon, and honey). We sipped each other’s drinks, sipped our own, and promptly switched back. Mine tasted a bit like a candle ("but a delicious candle!" - Mom), and hers was very, erm, tequila-forward, and those are both things that luckily the other person enjoyed.

This maaaaaaybe should have been a sign of things to come. We split several small plates - two soups, a tarte/flatbread thing, and the tragedy of the evening - lobster in a jar. (More on that later.) I got the mushroom soup, served with fried chorizo ravioli, and it was...nice. Very clear mushroom flavor, simple, well-executed, etc. However, I ordered it out of my persistent (failed) attempts to recapture an amuse-bouche I had at the Chateau Fairmont at Lake Louise, Alberta, in December 2007 (yes, I could provide you with the date and probably time; it was that good), and it was, shockingly, not nearly on the same level. Still. Basic. The chorizo was excellent. Fine.

But ooooooooh. Mom got the Alsatian country soup with ham and shrimp and holy shit oh my god this was epic. EEEEEEPIC. Much heartier than the mushroom soup, with all sorts of delicious chunky things, hammy but not overwhelmed by PIG PIG PIG, creme fraiche on top, A+++ would order again.

We should have stopped there. The next course was the tarte with bacon, onion, and yet more creme fraiche, and it was just overwhelmingly piggy. Not smoky, not an accent, just all pig, all the time, with slightly underdone onion. The texture was a little off, and the whole thing was distinctly underwhelming.

It STILL wasn’t the worst dish of the evening. No, that honor (and the honor of being a point of reference for Most Disliked Dish for years to come, most likely) is reserved for the lobster in a jar. According to the description, it was a slow-poached egg in a jar with lobster, mushroom, and parmesan foam. THESE ARE LIES. Well, no. Not lies. All those things were technically present. What was ALSO present and not disclosed was SEA URCHIN...foam? broth? unclear. Instead of creamy, eggy, lobstery, umami-heavy mushroom goodness, it was like drinking goopy, chunky aquarium water that the lobsters are kept in at grocery stores. And I say this having had actual sea urchin before and enjoyed it. Partially it was the bait and switch of the whole thing, as the heavy sea-funkiness is not indicated on the menu, but partially it was, you know, heavy sea-funkiness. I consider myself a not-entirely-uneducated palate who enjoys a wide variety of flavors and textures, but that was just an unexpected, unwelcome gift that just kept on giving.

On the other hand, the entire experience had us laughing, more than a bit hysterical. It should have been SO GOOD. It SO WASN’T. We finished our second round of drinks (wine for Mom, a Duvel beer for me - thank god for the Belgians) and bolted, vaguely terrified of dessert. We left sort of full, a little tipsy, and replete with a brand new standard to judge food, furnishings, life experiences, etc etc. ("Would you say the play was more like beef cheek ravioli or lobster in a jar?" "Put down that throw pillow; it is totally lobster in a jar!")

I’m sure there are many other lovely dishes at The Modern, both bar room and dining room, but I’m afraid that neither Mom nor I will ever darken their doorstep again. Godspeed, and good luck.

Once

The theatrical interlude that evening was the musical version of the movie Once, a perennial favorite of my mother’s. We had lovely balcony seats (after making it through the crush of opinion-sharing tourists "I’m from Texas! Let me tell you how it’s better than where you’re from!" "I’m from Florida! Let me tell you about Jesus!" Oh, sweethearts, could we maybe be a little less stereotypical?), a lovely glass of wine, and a lovely view of the pre-show (clearly rehearsed) jam session by the musicians. Also, having the bar onstage actually function as a bar? Kind of genius, if only for the intensely awkward standing around by audience members, drink in hand, all of whom could have had a thought bubble above their heads reading, "Holy shit, I am on an Actual Broadway Stage."

After that, though, I have to say the evening went downhill. The musical was mostly competently executed (even if the understudy for the Guy had an acceptable voice but was, erm, perhaps not the most effective actor to trod the boards), but for me, as an aficionado of the movie, it just. didn't. work. It was all...gussied up. And spit shone. And charmingly whimsical! And easy to love! And, dare I say it, chirpy!

Once-the-movie was many things, but it was not chirpy. The characters were many things, but they were not whimsical. Part of the joy of them was how prickly and difficult they could be in moments, but it was about how you loved them anyway. HOw things were not a simple, straightforward love story about people who are easy to love. How they found love anyway. How people play different sort of roles in each other's lives, how people can love each other, and how that love doesn't always look the same. And the musical took that complexity, took those prickly, occasionally uncomfortable characters, and made them look like everyone else. Sure it's sweet, but you can get sweet almost anywhere. Sigh. A disappointment all around.

After the theater, I had a moment of total! and complete! vindication! Two days before we left, one of the ever-popular daily deal sites had a sale on a v. posh, v. trendy hotel for roughly the same price we were paying for our clean, comfortable (minuscule) chain hotel room. Except, see, the v. v. hotel was near Times Square, and our chain hotel was in Chelsea. I debated for a long moment, but I ultimately went for location over poshness. AND I WAS SO RIGHT. Granted, it was ten thirty on a Friday night, but Times Square is just a little slice of fresh hell. THE PEOPLE. THE PEOPLE. Who cannot walk on sidewalks! Or with any sort of awareness of people around them! We bolted to the subway, and it was a physical relief to emerge aboveground at Madison Square Park.

A full day, with highs (beef cheeks) and lows (lobsters and Once), but all in all, I called Friday a success.


Saturday

I started Saturday by dragging Mom to a place that had sort of been the genesis of this whole drag-mom-to-New-York-and-take-her-neat-places plan: the Doughnut Plant on 23rd. Because, you see, they have a creme brulee doughnut. And it is the most ridiculous food delight I have placed in my mouth in some time. It's custard-filled, and there is caramelized, hardened sugar on the top, AND there's a doughnut involved. Mom has had a long-standing love affair with creme brulee the world over, and I immediately thought of her the first time I crunched through the sugared top to the custardy, doughnutty goodness inside. Clearly this was something she needed to experience in person.

We walked out with four doughnuts - two creme brulee, a coconut cream, and an orange blossom/cashew cake. Yes, the creme brulees were excellent. The coconut cream - a perennial Mom favorite - should have knocked it out of the park, but in comparison it was just okay. (In comparison to other Doughnut Plant doughnuts, of course. Compared to regular doughnuts it was stellar.) But the orange blossom cashew. Oh, the orange blossom cashew. Was amazing. It was distinctly orange blossomy, all floral instead of citrus, light without being overpowering There was a distinct nuttiness in addition to the little crunchy bits of cashew on top, and it was cakelike and dessertlike and satisfying, all without being OMG SWEET. It was, if you will, a Once-the-movie of doughnuts, in comparison to the Once-the-musicalness of a grocery store Krispy Kreme. (A hot-doughnuts-now Krispy Kreme would be, I don't know, the musical version of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle - unrepentantly over the top and proud. And that is a thing which should totally exist. Broadway, I'm looking at you.)

Doughnuts and coffee in hand, Mom and I wandered back down 23rd, indulging in some of our favorite tourism: poking through local grocery stores. There's a European market type thing between 6th and 7th, and we spent a happy twenty minutes ooohing over salt-packed capers, bean assortments, and a plethora of rolls. It's truly a pleasure to travel with someone who understands the joy of ogling unusual assortments of canned goods.

We wandered in and out of a number of other places, many food-related (acorn, tree, etc.) (also who knew that Safavieh has an actual physical store and not just endless sales on daily deal sites and overstock.com?), but our next intended destination was ABC Home on Broadway just north of Union Square. Dude. I mean. Dude. People (and the internet) had told me it was a marvelous emporium of all sorts of home things at comparatively reasonable prices, but I was expecting, I don't know, the fancy version of Ikea. Instead it was this overwhelming, gypsy caravan, gauzy draperies, fabulous potter, all things sparkly, perhaps not as reasonably priced as hoped emporium of even more home things than ever imagined. It's like Pinterest came to life. In awed, hushed tones, Mom said, "Your father is so glad he's not here right now." Which, well, yeah.

The cool stuff just went on and on and on. It was all the pretty things the internet tells you are out there, but, like, live an in person. I found my ideal stoneware on the ground floor - naturally, it was handcrafted by, I don't know, three ninety-year-old monks in the French countryside, so an espresso cup was a hundred dollars and an actual plate required a second mortgage. Still, it was lovely, and I found ten-dollar knockoffs at Anthropologie six months later. (And when is Anthropologie ever the cheaper choice? Never, that's when.) We played with the silk scarves in the Thai exhibit. We fondled the leather goods. Then it was up to the sixth floor to work our way down, through rugs and bed linens and individual designers' showrooms - some ornate and Versailles-esque, some with roughed up leather goods and canoes hanging from the ceiling, and everything in between. There was an adorable stuffed llama in one of the kids' sections. We found gorgeous watercolored silk bedding, which was only slightly outrageous in cost. We admired, and I imagined exactly how much destruction six-month-old kittens could wreak on it. Still, I wrote the name of the designer down. Just in case.

Eventually we bid a fond (temporary - of course we'd be back) farewell to ABC, as we had a Goal and Destination in mind. But first - a wander through the farmers' market in Union Square. (More food tourism, yay!) I say this as someone who attends a fairly pretentious, overly earthy/organic urban farmers' market on a near-weekly basis - Union Square is still the one to beat. They have more unusual vegetables, more random homeopathic mixtures, more hand-raised, hand-crafted, hand-farmed stuff than you ever even dreamed of wanting but suddenly can't live without. Mom took pictures of amazing multi-sized, multi-hued carrots that I think nearly came back to the hotel with us. You know, just in case.

Brooklyn

Then we hopped the L to the very heartland of hipsterdom: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Bedford Ave it was, and at that point we were in need of a little sit-down. (Or at least I was. I was reaping the misery of poor shoe choice on Friday morning by that point, as I would for the rest of the weekend. Nothing but my hiking sneakers for the rest of the trip, although they were at least marginally cool-looking. Other plus side: I broke them in for Peru. Yeah. Plus sides all around! Sort of.) Where was I? Yeah, food stop. And here is where I made the right choice in the moment but perhaps the wrong choice overall - I took us to a little pizza joint I'd been to a couple of years ago, where we had a wonderful salad and two creative, satisfying wood-fired pizzas to the first of many excellent restaurant and store soundtracks. (A little Spirit in the Sky, a little Bob Seger, the whole shebang. The pizzas, for the record, were a rustica with guanciale and shiitake mushrooms and a special whose ingredients I cannot now find but which I believe contained fig and/or pear. I do remember the well-balanced sweet-saltiness of it, though.) We got to sit for a bit, and overall it was lovely. So why the overall wrong choice? Because one of our ultimate destinations that afternoon was the Brooklyn Flea Market, which on Saturday incarnation in Williamsburg is actually Smorgasburg - a collection of forty or fifty different food-related tents of incredible variety and substance. We gawked and marveled and maybe even drooled a little...and were ultimately too full to take even a bite. There was barbecue! And kimchi! And Indian burritos! And jerky of all kinds! And (of course) cupcakes! Yet we were too full of pizza-y goodness to even really want to try anything, other than on a purely intellectual level.

We did stop at the Brooklyn Brewery stall for a bit to pick up a Christmas gift for The Brother, where Mom had a lovely conversation with a young man from North Carolina with extremely creative facial hair. They recognized each other by their not-quite-accented Southern speech patterns, and we all bonded over the fact that the Southern barbecue joint and Cajun food stall had the largest lines. Southern food - still doing it right.

But the crowds got crowdeder, and it started to threaten rain, so we hoofed it back to the subway and Manhattan, after a brief, vain detour in search of caffeine. (Hand-poured single origin fair trade coffee joint in Brooklyn on a Saturday = unbearably crowded. Who'd've ever thunk?)

[EDITED TO ADD: OMG, I nearly forgot the entire reason for our journey to hipsterdom in the first place: a pilgrimmage to I hate perfume. Mom introduced me to them when she first ordered a sample pack, oh, years ago, of some of their more intriguing, ineffable fragrances (the burning leaves, the leathered-up library); I ventured to the store by myself a couple of years ago and gorged myself on all the smells, and I knew we had to come back and play together. We smelled EVERYTHING. It was awesome. They're known for doing non-perfume-y smells, so even then when they go wrong, you rarely end up smelling like an old lady mummified in a powder room the way so many traditional perfumes go. (Chanel No 5, I'm looking at you.) I also thoroughly enjoy their wall of their "base notes," which include your traditional flowers and spices and such, but they also have things like "wet pavement" and "roast beef" and, like, fourteen different kinds of leathers. Mom left with one of their archetype series, which smelled marvelous on her for the rest of the trip, and I left with a list as long as my arm for samples to try from the Perfumed Court.

And now your narrative may resume.]

We planned on another siesta back at the hotel, but we were unpleasantly surprised to find our room had yet to be cleaned (at four-freakin'-thirty) when we returned. Another fruitless, crowded quest for caffeine in Eataly (a horrorshow of people on a Saturday afternoon, dear lord), but we found solace in another pop-up food extravaganza in Madison Square Park. More Korean tacos, fried dough of many cultures, and cupcakes beckoned, but we grabbed beers from the beer-and-chocolate stall (I kind of love them!) and discussed the plot of Sleep No More. By which I mean Macbeth. By which I mean apparently I'd still been bubbly-fangirly enough about my lovely Thursday night romp through the McKittrick that Mom wanted to give it a go. During our downtime on Friday, I emailed and begged for tickets; the McKittrick came through, and we had 7:15 entrances on Saturday. I babbled happily; we enjoyed our beers with post-rain sunshine peeping through the skyscrapers (we managed to miss the rain while on the subway), and all in all it was a perfect little slice of an afternoon. Once back in our freshly cleaned room, we had just enough time to change into clothes that allowed us to move well (while still, you know, being cute), do some limbering up (I kid - mostly), and figure out what to do for dinner. We weren't super-hungry and didn't want to do anything too fancy, but yet another fortuitous fortuitousness happened upon us that I did not know when I booked our hotel: the Hill Country chicken restaurant was around the corner.

Now, I have a long-standing fixation on the DC edition of Hill Country. I'd say they have the finest brisket in the greater DMV area, but that, while true, is a bit damning with faint praise. It's not the greatest barbecue you'll ever have, but it's some of the best all-around in DC, even if it is kind of stupidly expensive. I'd heard about their fried chicken outpost in New York, and it ended up being the perfect thing at the perfect place at the perfect time. Cafeteria style, fast, good. Again, not the most amazing fried chicken I've ever had anywhere (hi, Coops in New Orleans!), but well seasoned, not greasy, and the sides were marvelous. Here's where I commit a grave food-trip-recapper sin: it's been long enough since the trip that I a) can't remember if we actually got pie or just talked about it dreamily and 2) if we DID get pie, I can't remember which ones we got - probably the coconut cream? the whiskey buttermilk? In any case, if we did get pie, consider it folded into the generally positive-and-pleased memories I have of the place. (So far the rankings are probably beef cheek ravioli, hipster pizza, fried chicken, Alsatian soup, lobster in a jar, for those of you playing along at home.)

Sleep No More

Thence to a cab (where I had to give directions THREE TIMES before the dude would listen to me) and off to the McKittrick for Sleep No More. We checked our stuff, sidled up to the bar for another round of prosecco-and-St.-Germains, and waited for our cards to be called. To remedy my lack of earlier description: SNM is an "immersive theater experience," in which the masked, silent audience is allowed to wander at will through five floors of a refurbished warehouse, all done up noir-style like a 1930s hotel, or ballroom, or saloon, or taxidermist's, or PI's office, or insane asylum, or rave, or dozens (literally) of other rooms/scenarios/creepy things. Actors--who dance and move dramatically but speak rarely--roam throughout, and you're free to get as close to the action as you want. (Though I suppose there are Stripper Rules in effect: they can touch you, but you can't touch them. You can, however, touch any of the sets and props you want, up to and including taking candy from the candy store.) It's half Macbeth, half Hitchcock, half dreamy creepiness of their own making. You tear up and down stairs, trying to follow plot lines, only to get sidetracked in the twists and turns and other stories going on simultaneously. It is by far one of my favorite theater experiences ever, though admittedly not for everyone, and for me it only improves on repeat viewings. (I'm just an amateur with my five shows; poke the internet a little, and you'll find people who've seen it easily ten times as many as I have.)

So, yeah, totally my bag, baby, though perhaps a bit less for Mom. (For example, I rank a night at the McKittrick as ranging from hipster pizza to beef cheek ravioli. Mom's ranking was more lobster in a jar to fried chicken.) We stuck close for the most part, and I did my best to track interesting story lines, but a) crowds and 2) no matter how well you think you know the McKittrick, there's always a new trick in store. At one point, in a giant crowd pounding down three flights of stairs, I grabbed onto Mom's sleeve and hauled ass. Except when we got to the right floor, I 1) lost the actor we were following immediately and b) realized it was not Mom's sleeve I was holding. Sorry for the awkward moment, stranger! This is easier than might otherwise happen, as all audience members wear deathshead masks and are generally wearing dark colors in a v. dark environment. It took about half an hour (of the three hour total experience) for us to find each other again, but we made it to the big finale together at the end.

The Saturday post-show crush was even crushier than Thursday's had been, so we escaped and meandered off to find a quieter spot for drinks and maybe a little food. We ended up strolling behind other Sleep No More patrons, who were that distinctive brand of enthused and confused. We peeled off at the Red Cat, a lovely little French bistro known for tempura-frying things that you never thought should be tempuraed but turn out brilliantly, but it was still early enough (i.e. just after 10) that it would be at least a twenty minute wait for a table. So we ambled off again, ending up at the Ladies Who Lunch diner I'd spotted Thursday evening.

This ended up being one of my favorite moments of the trip. Sure, it was too hot inside and the service was a little lackadaisacal, but the bartender poured with a lovely hand, and there were truffle fries, and we started out chatting about SNM but ended up covering the whole range of everything, hanging out for two (three?) drinks, and it was just one of those perfect moments you can't ever really plan but seem to end up happening for me more often than not at the most unexpected times in New York City. We ambled back to the hotel, foregoing a cab for the welcome briskness of a stroll down 23rd, half the street shutting down and half the street revving up for the wee hours of Saturday night into Sunday morning.


Sunday

(Later that) Sunday morning, we went to another spot that I'd first thought, "Oooooh, Mom will love this place," when I'd first visited it: Chelsea Market. All exposed brick, running water, eclectic food spots (yes! more food tourism! try not to look too surprised!). This, however, was in some ways a less successful venture than Doughnut Plant, just because it gets SO crowded, so quickly. It was fine when we first got there and wandered through the kitchen supply store, marveling at the endless array of spoons, or at the Artists and Fleas boutique (where I got my new favorite canvas bag to hold my electronics chargers that says BACON IS MY FUEL), but by the time we were through with breakfast, it was a tour-groupped, baby-sling-toting-family-shopping madhouse.

The breakfast, though, is worth a particular mention. It's the little creperie behind the Jacques Torres chocolate stand (<3 u 4eva, wicked hot chocolate!), and while my apples-and-brie crepe was perfectly done and lovely all around, Mom's Thai chicken concoction was outstanding, to the point where I think it may have outranked the beef cheek ravioli for her. Yay for cuisine-blending! Delicate and crisp crepe, sinus-clearing chiles, the sharp crispness of cilantro - breakfast of champions, baby.

Then we were off for a toddle through the Meatpacking District and West Village, all through drizzly greyness occasionally bursting out into legit rain. The market stands were interesting but outdoors - not ideal. We windowshopped longer than we might have otherwise at the v. v. expensive boutiques, just because they had an enormous awning. Thence to Arhaus, where we sat on everything, judged their taste in arranging furniture clusters, whispered about what a steal I got off craigslist for my Arhaus sofa and couch - almost 80% off retail! - and had a marvelous time out of the rain. We then went on a quest for Korres mascara (like you do), leading to my fine, fine moment of staring intently at my iphone looking for directions to the nearest Sephora while standing roughly thirty feet from the doorway to said Sephora. We indulged in time-honored cosmetic store shenanigannary - giggling at terrible lipstick choices, redoing eyeliner, experimenting with noxious celebrity fragrances.

Onward we ventured through the West Village! Tiny boutiques, ho! We went in them all! Another tiny kitchen goods store? Check! A microscopic furniture store having a clearance sale? Check! A store selling nothing but travel and flight accessories, all of which I immediately desired? Check! A Jonathan Adler boutique? Check! The CG Bigelow store, complete with cat and all sorts of interesting perfumes you never get to smell in person, take that terrible celebrity perfumes? Check, check, and check! We took another well-deserved caffeine break at a local coffee dive (you know, the kind where they serve your to-stay orders in mismatched World's Greatest Nephew mugs, etc), in which we again chitchatted and solved all the world's problems. Rejuvenated, we visited an epic cheese store (no, really) and a tea store that has become one of my favorites.

We had dinner reservations and a bit of time to kill, so we decided it made sense(?) not to try anything new but to go bask in the glory of ABC Home one more time. It turns out that one of the other epic home/kitchen goods stores I had on my list to check out was right across the street from ABC (Fish's Eddy, home of gloriously mismatched diningware); we'd just missed it the first time through in our laser-like focus on the betassled glory of ABC. We rectified our error immediately.

Eventually we decided we needed a little pre-dinner fortification, so off we ambled to Booker and Dax, David Chang's LES bar attached to Ssam. We were pre-dinner-crowd (even on a Sunday) enough that we were seated immediately and got to contemplate their extensive, charmingly - I want to use the word hipster, but I think I'm overusing it - precise? obscure? needlessly yet amusingly detail-oriented? bar list. Turns out that they don't really mix drinks off-menu, so forget your gin and tonic request. Instead get their hoighty-toighty, with genever, sweet vermouth, and cynar. I ended up with their homage to Indiana Jones (what? how am I supposed to resist that?): the first date (get it? bad date? yeah.), with bourbon, dates, bitters, and clarity (no, not that the drink imparted some grand vision of how to lead my life (though three or four might have); it's some sort of molecular gastronomical wizardry). These concoctions were served with the fanciest version of ritz crackers (homemade and artisanal, I'm sure) and cheese (organic, single source, local cheddar, I'm sure) I've ever had. My only regret is that our dinner reservations didn't permit us to try their steamed pork buns, which I hear are legendary.

Ko

Our dinner reservations? Oh, yes, our dinner reservations. My grand coup of the trip. It took me three tries on multiple different days, but I managed to score us seats at Ko, David Chang's twelve-seat tasting menu restaurant. (So, like, the drinks were a continuation of a theme.) This required being at a computer precisely at ten am ten days before the desired dining time, agreeing to an arcane series of regulations (no notes, no photos, and an involved cancellation process), and clicking like lightning. Still, I was triumphant and got us seats our last night in town. For being such fancy food and such a high-desired, high-ticket item, it's remarkably casual. We totally rolled up in (cute) jeans. You're seated on stools overlooking the (microscopic) kitchen, not that dissimilar from sitting at the kitchen counter while Mom whips up tasty little bites as we drink and laugh. Though, you know, Mom doesn't usually include foie gras in our nibbles at home. She was treated it to it that night, though.

I couldn't take notes at the time, but I wrote down everything I could remember as soon as we got back to the hotel. We opted for the wine and liquor pairings for all the (eight? ten?) courses, so forgive me if my memory is a wee bit fuzzy. It's such a small place that the service is remarkably laid back, if impeccable. You have four chefs crafting stuff right in front of your face and making chitchat as time allows, with at least two servers/hostesses talking to you knowledgeably about wine and sake and whiskey and beer as the night progresses. It's certainly not an everyday event, but I'm thoroughly, thoroughly glad we did it.

We started with a cocktail of chanterelle mushroom-infused vodka with white tea and something carbonated (yay, carbonation!). Like so many things from this evening, trust me; it tasted way, way better than it sounded. And, you know, wacky stuff like that is the benefit of going with both the food and drink tasting menu; there may be a few busts, but you're gonna try stuff you might otherwise not have tried, and some of it's gonna be amazing. The appetite-spurring cocktail was followed closely by a series of five amuse-bouches: chicharrones with something spicy, a fluke nibble (fluke as in the fish, not something random, though one might argue that a nibble of fluke-the-fish is, in fact, something random) with a soy sauce something-or-other and a radish hat, salmon roe with green apples and a champagne foam (maybe my favorite), tomato consomme with bacon and something (I told you my notes were vague), and sweetbread fried with salsa verde.

As you may have guessed already, Ko is all over the culinary map, mishmashing different cuisines together and playing with texture as much as flavor. It was not so much about leaving you with the desire to have had an entire plate of the small bites you had but rather how the experience of each of the tiny bites - from scent to flavor to mouthfeel - all play together to create a total package. Again, not an everyday sort of thing, but it's the sort of meal that makes me feel like I have the slightest more inkling of what is going on with the judging in Iron Chef.

The first official course was scallops crudo with sticky rice, chipotle nori powder, tomatillos, and something vinegary. This was paired with a v. nice sake. Mexico and Japan - better friends than you might've otherwise thought.

Second course was a red pepper broth soup (allow me to directly quote my notes: "AMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZING") with langoustines, orange gelee, heart of romaine, brioche, and marjoram butter. Again, if you hadn't already guessed, it was sheer artistry to watch the four chefs put together this many ingredients for even twelve diners, all impeccably timed. It was like very confined, very sweaty ballet.

My notes get even fuzzier from here on out. There was a smokey beer pared with perhaps another soup, egg, with onions underneath, and black caviar teeny tiny potato chips with herbs.

Then there were oatmeal chips with ribeye tartare, the foam of deliciousness (your guess is as good as mine, folks), a little popcorn sprinkled on top, and stuff.

Forty-eight hour smoked ribs, with stuff.

The fish - the not as good fish - with the cauliflower and mushrooms, with the wine that tasted like drinking a barnyard. (Win some, lose some.)

Again I quote directly from my notes: "Something had wheatberries on top. It was amazing." Later my notes correct this to perhaps buckwheat. In any case, it was a later course, so the wine pairings were likely doing my memory in.

Then there was the much-written about foie gras course, in which a giant lump o' foie gras, shaped not unlike a sausage in a plastic tube, was frozen and grated over a riesling gelee and a brittle (probably not peanut). Perhaps the most amazing texture combination I've ever put in my mouth - the crispiness of the brittle, the squishiness of the gelee (neither of which were overwhelmingly sweet), and then the giant pile of shaved foie gras, which melts away into meaty nothingness on top of the other textures. Crazy. Just the sort of thing you're never going to make at home.

There was a palate cleansing course of a canelle (shaped one-handed like the badasses those chefs were) of concord grape sorbet, with macadamia nut and white chocolate not-quite brittle, with some sort of rice krispie thing. This was paired with a cassis lambic, and despite all sorts of things that should have been cloying (concord grape, white chocolate, cassis), it was remarkably refreshing.

Dessert was a little cake with buttermilk ice cream and pickled carrots, another cake doused in pickling juice, and other things I didn't write down.

My notes also indicate there were popovers served with a smokey butter at some point (the egg thing with the smokey beer? maybe), a grenache-syrah-merlot rose wine early on, something else with black caviar, a madeira... So many wonderful things, such a faulty memory.

My one regret for the evening was that my dad and brother weren't there to share it with us. All in all, a pretty spectacular meal, even the courses that I wouldn't rush to eat again. A+++ would recommend the experience.


Monday

We only had a bit of time on Monday, as we both had middle-of-the-day return transportation (bus and plane). We hit Doughnut Plant one last time, glorying in yet another orange blossom and cashew while remarking on the difference of the crowd on a Monday versus a Saturday. Mom got some doughnuts to take home to Dad and The Brother, and we shamelessly people-watched. We did one last cruise through Eataly (again, Monday crowds are way, way, way better than Saturday) to admire all the Italian foodstuffs, and then it was down to Soho. I dragged us shoeshopping in the plastic shoe extravaganza that is the Melissa store; Mom found more really excellent perfume at the space.nk apothecary; we made a pilgrimage to the nespresso shop. As so often happens with Soho, I only get there when I have not a lot of time to spend, so we saw many interesting places we didn't get to investigate. I see this not as a disappointment; I see this as a reason to go back. In the end, we had just enough time for me to lead us on a forced march down Houston to Katz's in order to obtain pastrami sandwiches for the trips home. We subwayed back to the hotel, grabbed our respective luggage, and squeezed in one last hug before Mom's lightning-fast ride to Laguardia and my stroll up 7th to the bus stop.


Wrap up

All in all, I have to say it's one of the best trips I've ever taken. A nice mix of planned-to-make-sure-we-get-in and unplanned-magic-moments-that-just-happen, and it is always a pleasure to travel with my mother, one of the people who helped form my traveling style and preferences in the first place. It was delightful to get to show her places that I've discovered traveling on my own ("See? See?" this trip tried to say. "Look what I've been able to do with the tools you gave me! See how I've learned to seek out reservations and find places off the beaten track and relax into enjoying a place beyond tourist attractions! See what I've found, and thank you for showing me how to find it!" I think--I hope--at least a little of that came across.), and it was even more delightful to discover entirely new places with her. I've been back to New York since, and I've dragged people to the epic cheese shop and tea store, among others. It was a trip perfectly encapsulated in itself, while at the same time making me want to do it all over again. How many trips, and how many traveling companions, can you say that about?

A++++ would travel again.

on 2013-05-12 04:05 am (UTC)
dine: (bacon - psychoticspy)
Posted by [personal profile] dine
wow, that does sound like almost the ideal trip - what a nice break from daily life, with all sorts of cool places and amazing food to explore! it was fab to read about, and I'm sure even better to live.

I think I need that bacon is my fuel canvas bag - it's a motto by which I definitely live

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May 2013

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