A gastronomical weekend in Philly & NYC
28.05.2010 - 01.06.2010
Everything exists in NYC. You can get anything you want at any time of day. The city is ablaze with energy no matter the hour. The sun shines, but you never seem to see it, blocked in the sky by the towering giants of the skyscrapers. Smells of exhaust, old trash, pizza and flower stands mix with the song of the musicians on the street corner and the screaming rant of the crazy guy in front of the hotel across the street shouting, “Marriott Sucks! Marriott Sucks! Marriott Sucks!” Storefronts dazzle, horns blare, and the heat comes off the sidewalk in waves as the street vendors hawk their fake Guccis and I "heart" NYC t-shirts.
I "heart" NYC.
This was a long weekend split between Philly and NYC. It was about shopping, eating, and spending time with two of my favorite people, my husband and my best childhood friend, Sam. Some things we did were old favorites and some quickly became new favorites. The high points, in no particular order:
1. The Vista Suite at the London Hotel. Our super spacious suite was not only gorgeous and comfortable, it had a sweeping view of Central Park. The room screamed “Super cool rock star posh!” and I loved everything from the walk in closet to the semi circle sofa to the tiny lights in the curtains.
2. The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien. The last thing you expect to find inside the posh and swanky Le Parker Meridien Hotel is a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon dive decorated with faded out movie posters and handmade signs scribbled in marker on cardboard boxes, but that’s exactly what The Burger Joint is. Hidden behind a long curtain, you would know it was there unless….well…you know it’s there. The only thing indicating anything is back in that dark little corner is a small neon sign with a hamburger on it.
The walls are covered in the scribblings of 1000 patrons despite the sign (handmade, in marker, on a cardboard box, of course) that says, “We don’t spit in your food…don’t write on our walls.”A sign at the counter reads:
Step 1: Hamburger or Cheeseburger
Step 2: How d’ya want it cooked?
(rare, med-rare, medium, med-well, well)
Step 3: What d’ya want on it?
(Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mayo, mustard)
With everything, call it “The works”
Be ready to order or else you go to the end of the line.
They meant serious business. Get it wrong and I am pretty sure a huge trap door opens in the floor and sends you away to the “No Burger For You” chamber of Hell. But the burgers are seriously worth it. Tightly wrapped in paper you’ll find a steaming mound of hot grilled beef and creamy melted cheese. Burger perfection.
3. Always Tacky, Always Awesome: Times Square. I never stop in Times Square, because I hate its tacky, touristy shops and restaurants, but I love to walk through. There is nothing quite like it. The giant billboards, dazzling in the afternoon sunshine, the street performers filling the air with music, the freak show of people passing by….it fills your eyes and ears with a sense of wonder. It’s like watching a giant show pass you on the sidewalk.
4. A Behanding in Spokane starring Chistopher Walken. It might have had something to do with the fact that our seats were second row center in a very small theater, putting us close enough to Christopher Walken that he could spit on us if he wanted to, but this show was AMAZING. The man is a genius and the play is darkly hilarious.
5. Anything at Balthazar Bakery. From the workers in their crisp white aprons and hats to the stands of thick, luscious cakes and pastries, Balthazar is like a grown up candy store. A feast for the eyes and the stomach, this little bakery makes my heart smile.
6. Shopping in SoHo. I have to say that NYC shopping leaves me dazed and confused, mesmerized and breathless. “Totally confused” comes in at the Prada store where a room the size of a high school gym has only 2 handbags in it…plus a guard to watch over them. “Totally mesmerized” comes in at Armani Exchange where a giant store opens before you like the heavens filled with beautiful clothes and beautiful people shopping to the high energy tunes of their very own DJ. I love a store with its own DJ. The music just screams, “Buy something! Buy something!”
7. Carnegie Deli Cheesecake (and pickles). I LOVE the Carnegie Deli cheesecake. It is enough for at least 7 people and they bring you a bowl of pickles with it. Where else do they bring you pickles AND giant cheesecake?
8. Nobu 57. I knew I was in for a treat when the schizophrenic shouter out front screamed, “Enjoy your dinner with the rich and beautiful!” as we walked inside. Nobu is dark and sexy. You are welcomed by low slung settees and polished wood, wavelike chandeliers of silvery abalone shells, while soft candlelight glimmers and winks from every table. The place is noisy with laughter and music.The cocktails are creative, like the Champagne 95, a delightful blend of Delamotte Champagne, Torres Orange Liqueur, Crème de Peche, & Pineapple Juice. Matt had the Pina Martini with Vincent Van Gogh Pineapple Vodka, Fresh Pineapple Puree, and Fresh Lime Juice. For dinner, it was mini lobster tacos…..crispy little shells filled with delicate lobster, crab miso soup, and assorted sushi. Everything was delicious, enhanced by the sleek décor and flickering candlelight.
9. The rooftop Ava Lounge at the Dream Hotel. Having stayed at the Dream Hotel during the hideous Dove Photo Shoot experience, I remembered the beautiful and breezy rooftop lounge. You can sit at a cozy corner table overlooking the Manhattan skyline and order up some of their special cocktails. I believe I had something called a Lolita Lemonade and a Brazilian. Ava Lounge always has a very creative selection and the drinks are strong….which takes a little of the sting out of the $16 pricetag. I could never be a drunk in NYC. I’d be broke first.
10. Central Park, the Lungs of NYC. Central Park is an oasis in the city. I go there to breathe. I love to stroll and watch the colorful people, listen to the street musicians, or watch the artists on the sidewalk.
11. Yankee Stadium Suite Seats. Sam had scored suite seats for the Yankees game. I am not that much into baseball, but I am very much into baseball food, and suite seats came with unlimited nachos, hotdogs, popcorn, peanuts, and ice cream. I spent the next two hours eating myself into a chili dog coma. I think there was also a baseball game going on, but I can’t tell you very much about that.
12. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sometimes bigger is better. I think this is the case with the Museum of Art. It seems you can walk forever. I think you could live here and never see every nook and cranny. Despite the maddening crowds, this place is an inspirational one.
The Big Bambu exhibit on the roof is wild. You can even climb it. And the views from the rooftop bar are extraordinary. This is a museum for the ages, a museum to get lost in, a museum to go to when you have a day to spend wandering aimlessly through beauty and history.
13. Little Italy. When you ask a New Yorker to recommend the best Italian Food in Little Italy, most will tell you there isn’t any great Italian Food in Little Italy, and while it’s true that NYC has some amazing Italian culinary experiences elsewhere, they don’t come with the tacky charm of little Italy. Only there do they string up the lights and pull the tables onto the sidewalk, covering them with the expected red & white checked tablecloth and baskets of bread. Only there do gelato and cannoli vendors line the streets next to tables where you can get a Statue of Liberty or a Statue of Saint Francis....both in the most lifelike plastic resin that $3 can buy. I can’t help myself. I love Little Italy. It reminds me of the Gwinnett County Fair from my childhood except that they have spaghetti with meatballs instead of corndogs. A dinner of warm bread, prosciutto di parma with melon and Pepperoni Ripieni (sweet cubanelle peppers stuffed with sausage, endive, mozzarella, and cherry tomato sauce), and gnocchi with Bolognese sauce does a body good.
14. The subway. Am I the only person that loves the subway? I love the subway. I like the sound of it, the neat old tile work in the tunnels, the confusing signage, and the odd people you meet along the way.
15. The interesting people. One of my favorite things about a visit to NYC are the interesting people you'll see. There's the guy on the subway in tattered clothing and dirty hands who can sing like an angel. There's the girl walking down the street with neon pink hair, 4 inch black stillettos, and a face to die for. There's the guy in the flamenco dress with a parrot on his head pushing a tie dyed poodle around in a baby stroller.
16. Amtrack. I LOVED the train. LOVED, loved, loved. We took the train from Philly to NYC and back. Clean, comfy, and fast. This would be my preferred means of travel if I could take it everywhere!
17. Downtown Philly. I love walking through downtown Philly. The great neighborhoods, like Old City and South Street, are fun places to eat and shop. There is also so much history steeped in its streets with landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. We spent a day just walking, looking, shopping, and eating our way through downtown Philly.
18. Amada. I’ll save the best for last. We had reservations at Amada for Matt’s birthday. A Spanish Tapas restaurant in the Old City, Jose Garces’ Amada gets rave reviews and tops out most “best” lists in Philadelphia. I wanted something special for the night and it was beyond special. The interior is warm with wood and candles. The sangria is fruity and delicious. We had a carafe of the Blanco (white wine with pears, apples, and peaches) and a carafe of the Tinto (spiced red wine with orange, apple, and cinnamon). We even tried some of their inventive cocktails like the “Dark Habit,” made with lime, strawberries, and gin. We ordered 12 small plates and each was enough for 4 people. I can’t begin to tell you how delicious and special each one was. Each small plate was like a bite of magic….all different….all tantalizing our tastebuds. Some of my favorites were the Gambas al Ajillo, delicious shrimp bathed in a savory garlic oil with sourdough toasts; the Ensalada Verde, a virtual mountain of salad with asparagus, favas, and green beans; the Costillas de Ternera, a flatbread topped with boneless beef shortribs, horseradish, parmesan, and bacon; or the sirloin slices with spinach, membrillo, and goat cheese. The meal was an evening of perfection topped off by a sweet fried Vanilla Cream topped with Chocolate Hazelnut Sauce and Hazelnut Ice Cream.
A sweet ending to a sweet trip!