Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eating the Big Apple

Last week, I marked something off my bucket list: seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade live and in-person. It. Was. Amazing. Since I was little, I love watching it. Mostly because of the Rockettes. I secretly aspired to be one, I think. I am the right height, but I don't think I can do those eye-level kicks anymore. At one time, like maybe when I was 14, I could though.

Every year for the past few years, I would tell my mom, "Next year, we're going." This year I decided to do something about it and make it happen. And US Air was having a fire sale or something, so I got airfare for crazy-cheap. Out of CRW even.

I think my mom likes travelling with me because I plan meticulously. Of course I researched all the places to eat. I poured over reviews from Yelp and recommendations from friends. In a city that has just under 19,000 restaurants, most of which are on par with the best in the world, I didn't want to be wandering around aimlessly looking for some where to eat and hope I stumbled on a good one.

The hard part was fitting everything that I wanted to see into three days. My mom and I have both been to New York City twice before, and with a limited span of time, I didn't want to duplicate sightseeing.

We arrived around lunchtime on Wednesday, and after checking into our room in Long Island City, and a short subway ride into Manhattan, we hit The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal for lunch. Based on what I'd read, this establishment was a bit touristy and had some unfavorable reviews for food other than oysters. But, my mom wanted to try it, and I never turn down an opportunity to eat raw oysters, especially at a place with such a huge selection. We started with six raw oysters, and I chose local offerings: three Long Point and three Montauk. I couldn't believe the difference in taste. When you order two different kinds, you can really tell the differences. They were all DELICIOUS. The Montauks tasted saltier, but were still exquisite.

We also ordered seafood entrees, and I have to say that we were not disappointed with the food, like some Yelp reviews indicated. Mom had scallops and I had wild-caught salmon. I don't eat salmon very often anymore because the most widely available salmon (especially restaurant entrees) is Atlantic salmon. This is actually farmed salmon, which is NOT a sustainable source of seafood. I was happy that the menu proclaimed that it was wild-caught Alaskan salmon, so I jumped at the chance. I had a local beer, Bluepoint Toasted Lager, which was an amazing compliment to the seafood.

After lunch, we walked down Museum Mile and through Central Park. The weather was gorgeous--sunny, but brisk, and perfect for strolling through Central Park. We headed down to Columbus Circle and did a little shopping in the Time Warner Center. I drooled all over the only LK Bennett store in the United States (For those not in the know, LK Bennett is the beloved shoe brand fo Kate Middleton.). The other reason for the stop at the Time Warner Center was because I figured that location of Bouchon Bakery would be less crowded than the Rockefeller Center location. The man behind the bakery is Thomas Keller, who is also at the helm of the famous restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Thomas Keller is also probably responsible for the recent elevation of the macaron in America. I had to see what all the fuss is about. Macarons are cookies, but they are not to be confused with macaroons, the heaps of toasted coconut, egg whites and sugar. Macarons, are French sandwich cookies made of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar, with a creamy filling. They are almost always a dazzling rainbow of pastel colors, and come in flavors like vanilla, mocha and pistachio.

The pastry case at Bouchon Bakery.

Mom and I split a pistachio macaron and a nutterbutter cookie. The macaron was way better. I wish I'd gotten two instead.

After getting a sugar and coffee fix, we marched on down to Rockefeller Center and to Times Square, taking in the eye candy that is Fifth Avenue along the way. We hopped back on the subway and travelled on down to Union Square, to see the largest farmers market in New York City, the Union Square Greenmarket. This place was unbelievable! If I lived here, I don't know how I could resist stopping here everyday and buying as much as I could carry away. The only thing that stopped me from buying it all was I didn't know what I'd do with it at the hotel or in my luggage.

 The smell of those carrots was amazing. So pretty! And neither mom or I have ever seen brussel sprouts sold on the stalk like this. The only way I've ever bought them fresh is in a bag at the grocery store, or from the farmer's market, already cut off the stalk. How interresting!

It was getting dark, and being two country girls, we didn't want to be wandering around much in the big city after dark, so we headed on to Eataly for shopping and dinner. Eataly is a huge Italian market, with a handful of casual sit down restaurants inside, each with a specialty. There was a pizza place, a pasta place, a seafood place, a little more upscale restaurant, specializing in meats, and a wine bar with light snacks. We chose the vegetarian restaurant, and it was spectacular. I could have easily spent all afternoon wandeirng around Eataly. There were hundreds of kinds of olive oil, along with every shape of dried pasta you can imagine. They had a fresh pasta station, where skilled pasta makers were making orecchiette, my favorite. We bought a small loaf of bread studded with fennel seeds,  some pesto and a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel room to snack on during the rest of our trip.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn to get to our spot for the big parade. We chose 66th and 7th Avenue, near the start of the parade route, hoping it would be less congested than Columbus Circle and south. We got to our spots around 6:50 am, and the crowd was already three people deep to the street. It didn't make any difference though, we could still see everything since the floats are so big and the balloons are a few stories high. And we're both pretty tall. It's hard to tell in this picture, but that's Chef Geoffrey Zakarian on the front of the Food Network float waving. Again, the weather was absolutely beautiful, and we got some great pictures.

We had a few hours to kill until our reservation for Thanksgiving Dinner at Pappardella at 3 pm, and not much was open on Thanksgiving Day. We took the four-minute tram over to Roosevelt Island and explored for a couple hours. It was so peaceful and quiet, compared to the crowds and chaos we had just left surrounding the parade route. Neither of us had heard of Roosevelt Island before this trip, but I would encourage anyone to check it out. You can spend a few minutes or a few hours there. The tram ride was free with a Metro Card, but otherwise, only costs $2.25. The southern tip of the island is the FDR Four Freedoms Park, inspired by a speech given by the late president.
We headed back to Manhattan and toward Pappardella, for our Thanksgiving Dinner reservations. I didn't want to miss out on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, even though we were away from home, and I decided a prix fix dinner would be best. I did some research, and found prix fix Thanksgiving Dinners at every price point. I stumbled on this place from Yelp, and with a $35 price tag, $55 with wine pairings, I was sold. The restaurant is rustic Italian, and the dinner had a bit of that twist, but didn't stray too far from traditional Thanksgiving. It was free-range (bonus points) turkey, both light and dark meat, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry relish and sauteed brussel sprouts, for the main course. There was a choice of a soup, salad or pasta for the first course, and pecan pie or pumpkin bread pudding for dessert. I had the pasta, which was butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage, and Mom had the warm lentil salad with prosciutto. The wine was amazing, and just the right amount--about half a glass with each course. Actually, the wine pairing for the main course was from a winery we'd visited on our California trip, Black Stallion Winery! Our travels came full circle!

Dinner was amazing, and we were both full by the time the dessert and coffee were cleared. We headed down to the 9/11 Memorial, which we reached after dark. I would recommend anyone see it after dark, if possible. It was absolutely stunning. The waterfalls and the names of the lives lost are all lit from behind. It was truly beautiful.

The next morning, we slept in a little bit because after two days of getting up before 6 am and walking ourselves to death, we were exhausted. On the agenda for Friday, was the High Line, which is a wonderful park. It is a retired elevated railroad that has been converted into a walking trail with greenery and art along the way. It was quite crowded on Friday morning, but still preferrable to walking along the street for navigating Chelsea. I took the High Line right to Chelsea Market, another place I could spend all day in just browsing. Don't miss Artists and Fleas, if you have a fetish for unique jewelry, like I do. I also bought some flavored salts at The Filling Station, which specializes in olive oils. The variety of oils they have is dizzying. And if you buy a bottle, you can bring it back and refill it for a discount. I bought smoked salt for myself, and bacon salt for my brother, for giving me a ride to the airport.

I had lunch at one of the many eateries in Chelsea Market, The Green Table, which is a farm to table restaurant. It took me forever to decide what food to order for lunch, but I knew what beer I wanted right away: Mother's Milk Oatmeal Stout from Keegan Ales, a local brewery.

I finally decided on the beet and goat cheese stack and a side of macaroni and cheese. I think it was because goat cheese was mentioned in both the descriptions. I find it hard to resist. Both were very good, but the beet stack was amazing. There were watermelon radishes on bottom, and it was dressed with an orange reduction. I practically licked the plate.

After an amazing lunch, I walked it off in Greenwich Village. I wandered down to Washington Square from Chelsea Market. I'd been there before, but it was a beautiful day and Greenwich Village is such a neat place to visit. I walked along Fourth Street, and even snapped a picture of Jones Avenue, because I'm a huge Bob Dylan Fan. He was walking down Jones Avenue on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album. Specifically, in Greenwich Village, I wanted to check out what's known as the North Village. The North Village is a little pocket of Italian culture in Greenwich Village, kinda like a mini Little Italy.
I went in both Murray's Cheese Shop and Faicco's Italian Specialties. Both were amazing. Murray's has an eye-popping variety of cheeses and other Italian staples such as olive oil, pasta, honey, pastries and sauces. Next door, I bought a rice ball at Faicco's to take back to the room. I wish Charleston had these kinds of places. The were just so steeped in history and had so many choices. If we did have shops like that, I'd either never be able to make up my mind, or I'd just buy it all.
Up the street from Murray's and Faicco's, is Pasticceria Rocco, a landmark Italian pastry shop that has a take out counter and table service. I wanted to relax a little, so I opted for a table. I had a classic canoli and a pumpkin cappuccino. The pastry display was amazing, and all the pies were half off. That's the problem with only being in New York City for three days and not checking any bags...

From the North Village, I wandered on down Bleeker Street, the heart of Greenwich Village, past several historical night spots such as Marie's Crisis and the Bitter End. Bleeker Street runs south and into NoLita, which then bleeds into Little Italy. I stumbled on a Tory Burch shop! And it was "Black Friday!" But I didn't buy anything, as tempted as I was. I shopped at a couple other small boutiques, working my way down to Mott and Mulberry Streets, the center of Little Italy.

I weaved my way up and down the streets of Little Italy until dark, browsing in boutiques and through a street market with jewelry and trinkets. I wanted to go to Lombardi's for dinner, but it was packed, and they don't sell pizza by the slice. Lombardi's claims to be the oldest pizzaria in the United States, dating back to 1905. Authentic New York style pizza was on my list for this trip, and it was my last night. Luckily, I was in Little Italy, and the are any number of good choices for pizza. The opposite corner from Lombardi's is Pomodoro Pizza, advertising that it was home of the famous vodka pizza. And it sells it by the slice. Sold.

The vodka pizza was the bomb. Just fresh mozzarella and vodka sauce. I need to try to make this at home. And the slice was massive. Like the size of a baby. The staff couldn't have been nicer either. I am fascinated by pizza dough tossing. Always have been since I saw that Visa commercial a few years ago. You know the one I'm talking about.
Anyway, this dude wasn't really throwing it in the air, but his technique of just stretching it over his knuckles was still quite impressive. I was trying to snap a good picture of him in action. I could watch pizza dough being made all day long. I'm not even kidding.

I came home exhausted, but at least well fed. We really had an amazing trip. New York City is one of those places where it's just impossible to see everything, even on your third trip. So many more things I'd like to see and do and eat there. Maybe next Thanksgiving...


  1. Vodka pizza sounds like something right up my alley :) It was nice to meet you this weekend :)

  2. If I had been with you we would have belted out showtunes at Marie's Crisis while Mike the Bartender tended to us ;)