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New York, Part 1

IMG_3612For ages I have wanted to go to New York.  In my dancing years, I longed to visit The Big Apple and call myself a true artist – one who had made the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Grail of arts and culture in the United States.

In more recent years, while watching cooking and food shows featuring NYC, without fail my husband and I would look at each other and say “We’ve got to go there one of these days.”  After hearing about a trip one of our friends took to NYC, and wanting a vacation destination around my husband’s birthday in October, we finally settled on going to New York.

As one might think, the options in NYC are simply dizzying.  From hotels and restaurants to entertainment and transportation, there are options for every budget, taste and style.  Even traveling to Manhattan, you have three airports to choose from.  We took the first timer’s experience and choose to fly directly into (and out of) JFK.  Leaving the slightly closer La Guardia airport for possible future trips.

We also chose to hire a town car for the trip into Manhattan.  Honestly, the convenience paid for itself and it was only slightly more than a cab.  I had requested a town car, but our driver said he and his limo were closer to the airport, so we arrived at our hotel in a stretched limo.

I feel our hotel choice needs some explanation.  I do not support this man, nor do I watch his TV show or agree with his politics, but the Trump Hotel Central Park met my two NYC hotel criteria: great views of Central Park and a relatively affordable rate.  You really can’t get a much better location.  Located at Columbus Circle in the left hand base of Central Park on the Upper West Side, three major subway lines run just under the hotel (no you can’t hear them).  After staying there, I have to say, the Trump brand operates a great hotel.  The service was outstanding, the amenities were excellent and our room on the 16th floor had fantastic views of Central Park and the NYC skyline.

Speaking of the Trump brand, the name is a branding machine, from the slippers, to the room stationary, bath products and even the room furniture; there was no hesitation to slap the Trump name on damn near everything.  Oddly I didn’t mind, simply because we had more free waters than we could drink, a bottle of champagne in the room upon check in, daily NY Times every morning, chocolate treats and great turn-down service every evening.  The hotel also offers an attaché service for its guests.  Before arriving they sent me an email outlining the service and inquired what additional things I’d like in the room.  They’d even stock the minibar and refrigerator with anything you’d like, but keep in mind you’re paying for it.  The (complimentary) body pillow I asked for was in our room per my request.  The only gripe I had was the bathroom was a tad small for two people.  But our room did have a European style kitchenette complete with small refrigerator, a Keurig coffee machine & coffee packets, microwave, dishwasher, two gas burners as well as cutlery, glasses and plates.  Not that we’d be using it.  Our trip was mostly about the NYC dining scene.

One of the first things we did was to venture down to our Columbus Circle subway station and purchase a seven-day subway pass.  It’s truly the best way to quickly and efficiently get around the huge island of Manhattan.  The subway also travels out to the farther burrows such as The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.  Several weeks before our journey, I downloaded the app Embark NYC, which became invaluable when navigating the labyrinth of subway lines, directions and stops.

IMG_3416For our first full day, I reserved passes to see the 911 Memorial in lower Manhattan.  While slightly confused as to where specifically to go, funneled and ushered through security with the rest of the throngs, once there, the pools where the North and South towers once stood are powerful, yet graceful reminders of that horrific day.  As I did while visiting the beaches of Normandy, France, I chose a piece of classical music to assist in my personal meditation.  Sharing ear buds with my husband, we reflected peacefully while listening to angels sing Spem In Alium.  In some way, I felt my time there was too short, insignificant even.  The quiet and solitary visit I had hoped for was somehow not the same in the midst of hundreds of tourists.  Teenagers beside us were busy acting goofy; people were smiling and posing for photos; making it about themselves and not embracing the solemnness of the location.  It was difficult to have the moment I had envisioned and pay proper homage to all those who lost their lives.  I not only wanted to grieve for them, but I had a strong pull to relive that day.  I quickly realized my song and prayers needed to be enough, if I wanted to enjoy the rest of my first day in NYC.

That evening we had reservations at Mario Batali’s Babbo in Greenwich Village.  Being huge fans of his restaurant Otto in Las Vegas (also in NYC) we knew we couldn’t go wrong.  It was an amazing meal!

Our menu:

Starter             Grilled Octopus with Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette

Starter             Armandino’s Salumi (from Seattle) – Finocchiona and Coppa

K’s Main        Homemade Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage and Rapini

M’s Main       Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles

M’s Sweet      Polenta Budino with Vanilla Gelato

K’s Sweet       Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo

Our dinner reservations were rather early, so after Babbo we returned to the hotel, donned a change of clothes and ventured out to see Times Square.  Believe me when I say, once is enough!  It’s really nothing more than a bunch of billboards, Broadway & TV advertisements, and neon lights.  The shops are nothing remotely interesting.  And please don’t bother with the food scene!  It’s all generic crap like TGI McFunsters, Olive Garden and fast food.  You can find an excellent inexpensive NYC food experience without visiting the same chain restaurants located in most any town. The worst part of Times Square is the tourists.  Times Square seems to attract the nitwits of the world. They are slow-walking, oblivious, stopping and pointing (right in front of you no less), photo-taking, meandering ass-hats!  Wow, I’m feeling like a New Yorker already!

Day Two: Saturday.  We began our day with an adventurous stroll through Central Park.  The one thing I wanted to see in Central Park was the famed Alice in Wonderland statue.  Upon approaching the statue, I realized my desire for a kid-free photo was not going to happen.  Alice and her Wonderland mates were crawling with teens and children.  Parents snapped photos like paparazzi and families surrounded the entire circumference, and no one seemed to be in any kind of a hurry.  I considered calling out a request for ten seconds of kid-free Alice so I could get my photo, but I thought I’d be met with the stink-eye or be stoned to death.  Completely and utterly annoyed, I slunk off muttering and grumbling under my breath.

My mood quickly changed with the wonders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Endless in its collection, we decided to dedicate our time to the Director’s Highlights audio tour.  I always have better intentions with museums than what actually transpires.  I enjoy museums, provided the material is of interest to me, however I can only do about four to five hours max. per day.  Michael and I have coined a term, “museum back” – the dull ache in your lower back that increases over time without Advil, swift walking or a stiff cocktail.  The Met was amazing and I heavily regret not seeing more of it, but I feel we saw the highlights.

IMG_1445Dinner that night was at Chef David Chang’s Ma Peche (Momofuku).  We indulged in reservations for Kappo (chef’s table) which gives a limited number of people intimate bar seating facing the kitchen.  Our own team of Ma Peche professionals hosted Michael, six others and me.  The prix fixe dinner consisting of ten or so courses for $95 pp is one of the best values in the city.  The experience was out of this world.  I had the best seat in the house, right next to the kitchen.  We were encouraged to ask questions about cooking methods, ingredients, textures, temperatures, techniques, anything you could think of pertaining to the food.  The food was outstanding.  One item that happened to stand out was the (made for two) duck fat Challah bread.  You have no idea how wrong it was or just how phenomenal.  I can’t say enough about this event.  The food, the staff, the personal attention, the service, and the atmosphere – the whole package was simply stunning and I highly recommend it!

Sunday we had matinee tickets for Spiderman Turn Off The Dark.  We both enjoyed the show.  However, the technical aspects including the sets, scenery, lighting, flying and projections rather outshined the performers.  The storyline and the lack of precision from the performers led me to believe perhaps a months worth of rehearsals is in order.  Even though it has been in production for two years.  None-the-less, it was entertaining.

That evening we ventured to the Meat Packing District to eat at Iron Chef Morimoto’s Morimoto.  We chose the Omakase or chef’s choice.  I have to say, that having experienced Omakase (for the first time) at Nobu earlier this year in Hawaii, I was less impressed with Morimoto.  I’m unsure why.  I was however, vastly impressed with the Japanese toilets at Morimoto of all things.  They looked more like toilet-shaped armchairs and had a remote control as well.  The bathroom was immaculately clean, so was my stall and the porcelain king 5000.  So, I sat and was met with a rather warm seat.  Seriously, if you’ve never experienced this, it’s a rather odd sensation – a warm bum.  I looked at the remote and noticed buttons like massage, clean – not only self cleaning, but it can clean you as well, front or back.  For fear of not knowing what I was getting into, I didn’t push any of the buttons.  It was my best restroom experience in Manhattan, I think.

I shall end my first post about NY on a rather silly note (the above Japanese commode).  Stay tuned for NYC Part 2 that will include the best pork buns and Ramen I’ve ever had, as well as a birthday lunch at 3 Michelin star Le Bernardin.

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