Sunday, September 23, 2007

New York Minutes ...

Yep, this is a long mutha, but I haven't posted for days. Grab a beverage and settle in.

First off, I didn't get pizza.

Thanks to those of you who wrote with suggestions. (Marc, thank your friend for me. Next time I'm in Brooklyn with a bit more time, I'll make the pilgrimage, indeed. Jeff, to respond to your comment, it wouldn't have mattered where I was staying. I'd travel for the best slice in the city.)

But speaking of where I was staying, it wasn't part of the original plan, but I ended up staying at The Bowery Hotel again. I think I'll just make this my New York hotel. I love it. It's charming. Walking back from dinner on Friday night, my cousin Barry asked, "Have you seen anyone famous?" Apparently, this hotel is the new "it" spot, along with its restaurant, Gemma, which wasn't open the last time I was there, but which was crowded every time I walked past it, and it was easy to tell that it was crowded, as there had to be at least 21 tables outside. Tables for four. Beautiful wooden rectangular tables, not the usual four-tops.

I just did a quick Google search and was pleased to find the hotel getting such overwhelmingly positive reviews on I'm very protective of this space, apparently, because my feathers got a little ruffled when I saw a few 4.0 ratings amid the veritable sea of 5.0s. Truly, if you can find fault with this hotel, you are trying way too hard. I'm a self-professed hotel snob, and I can always find at least one thing wrong in a room. (I once found several in a room at The Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, egregious enough that I wrote to management about them, and they must have agreed with my gripes, because the manager of the hotel replied with a letter offering to comp my next stay.) But I can find nothing wrong with The Bowery.

Oh, no, wait, that's a lie: It would be nice if the turndown service included a chocolate.

That, seriously, is the worst thing I can say about this hotel.

We (that'd be mom and me) had to wait for our room, but that isn't a knock against the hotel, as we were a walkover from another property (that didn't meet with my satisfaction) and Gina, who I met on my last trip, sent over cocktails on the house (along with cute little dishes of almonds and shelled pistachios) while we waited in the stupidly gorgeous lobby that is so stunning, it truly could be mistaken for the set of a '30s film noir. I looked over at a potted palm and expected to see someone hiding behind it.

Oh, I'm gushing again, aren't I? I can't help it. I love this hotel. So does Vanity Fair.

If you need a hotel in New York, look no further. Yes, there might be slightly cheaper rooms to be had, but I promise you that your experience will not be half what you'll have at The Bowery. I know, I know, you're just there to sleep, but it's your home away from home and they've thought of everything. There are even condoms (three will set you back $15, but in a moment of passion, what's $15?) in the mini bar, which is really a specifically designed closet, not one of those little refrigerators stuck in the TV armoire. Eric and Sean wouldn't participate in anything so pedestrian. (And I love that they include a signed letter in each room, asking for comments, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.)

Anyway, there was more to the trip than the hotel.

My cousin Patty met us Thursday night and we went to The Mermaid Inn (Dave, dig the tune that loads with the site; you should add this to the band's repertoire for next season), not too far from the hotel. Totally charming. We tucked into a table in the back room and the lights got very dim. Good date place. In a rare moment of carnivorousness, I opted for the double pork chop. Yes, I know I was in a seafood restaurant, but my body wanted meat. The warm Yukon Gold potato salad with cayenne dijionnaise was better in concept than in execution, but it was yummy enough to eat most of it.

The restaurant doesn't offer a dessert menu, but presents each customer with a demitasse cup of chocolate pudding with a piped star of whipped cream on top and, adorably, a fortune fish, a fish-shaped piece of red cellophane that you put in your hand and whose movements "mean" things. According to mine, I'm "in love" or "passionate" or "false." Or all three, I guess. My fish kept moving.

Patty returned to the hotel with us to help plot some strategy for the next day, and when the next day arrived, mom and I made our way down Broadway toward Battery Park. We would have gotten a cab at the hotel, but I thought she wanted coffee, and she had changed her mind, so we were walking, looking for a cab, when we heard, "Kujawskis!" from across the street.

It was my cousin Barry. So this made two times in three trips that I ran into him randomly in the city, the last time being in the subway. Craziness. In a city of nine million people, I keep running into my cousin. He helped us hail a cab (always the gallant one, that Barry) and we made it to Battery Park with mere moments to spare before the first ferry sailed for Liberty Island.

In all my years of visiting New York (I was trying to figure out if this was my seventh or eighth trip), I'd never done the Statue of Liberty thing. And I might not have this time, either, but mom really wanted to go to Ellis Island to see where my grandfather arrived back in 1910 when he was 5. But Liberty Island is the first stop, so we stopped, skipped the main part of the tour and opted to just walk to the front of the statue (when mom started crying, in anticipation – I get my waterworks trait from her – and where I snapped a few obligatory shots) then to the "restaurant" for some juice and water and coffee and then we sat and looked at the water for a while before hopping the next ferry to Ellis Island.

I must admit that I got choked up, too, thinking about trodding where my family has tread. There's a beautiful monument on the grounds, a low, curved wall, onto which are affixed steel plates engraved with the names of immigrants who passed through the island. It's not hard to think back to their huddled masses on the decks of ships, after a long journey, seeing Lady Liberty for the first time, glimpsing the shore of New York City, and feel their excitement and trepidation. But for the sake of my mother, I tried to keep it together. She, I can report, was remarkably composed. More composed than I would have been in her shoes.

We didn't stay long. We didn't do research. We didn't take the guided tour. She just wanted to set foot on that soil. So we made our way back to Battery Park and then walked up Broadway to DiPaolo's, a must-see Italian market, according to Patty and Barry. They figure that if we lived in New York, mom would be in there all the time, and the owners would adopt her (and I figure I'd probably weigh 400 pounds). It was the height of lunchtime when we walked in, and the store is tiny, but the smells. My God, the smells. We inhaled a few times, made a quick pass of all the offerings and decided we needed to come back at like 3 in the afternoon. Which we didn't. Next time, though. I'm sure we need some proscioutto and cheese and olives and olive oil and pasta and ... . Where else you gonna go when you have a hankerin' for puttanesca at home but don't feel like making it yourself?

But seeing as how it was lunchtime, and our breakfast consisted of a Kashi Tasty Little Chewy bar and a Slim-Fast granola bar with our beverages on Liberty Island, we made our way to Balthazar in hopes of scoring some quiche. Balthazar has life-changing quiche. There was a crowd out front. Sigh. We stepped inside to inquire as to the wait for lunch. Forty-five minutes for the main dining room or they could seat us immediately in the café, the small-tabled space just off the bar, if we wanted something light. Yes, please.

So we sat, and waited. And waited. And when our server finally showed up (the place is always a madhouse), we asked what they were serving, and he said, "Oh, we're serving lunch now. Didn't you get menus?"

So yes, basically, we just jumped ahead of all those people outside. But we figured, with all the travel travails we endured the day before, we were owed a stroke of good luck.

We asked our server if there was any quiche left from breakfast and he said that he wasn't allowed to serve breakfast items, but that he'd check.

"I don't want to get you in trouble," I said.

"Oh, they might yell, but I don't care," he said.

We never did get quiche. Alas. Next time.

But my inner carnivore continued to shine. I ordered steak frites. I never order steak frites. "Do you recommend the butter or the Bearnaise?" I asked our server/would-be quiche scammer. He smiled somewhat sheepisly. "I like the butter," he said. "But the Bearnaise is good, too. I can bring them on the side."

Let the record show that Bearnaise is basically extra-fancy hollandaise. Hollandaise is egg yolks and butter. Bearnaise is egg yolks, butter, shallots, tarragon, and chervil.

So, yes, I'd be topping my steak with egg yolks and butter or herbed butter.

Let's repeat that: I'd be topping my steak with egg yolks and butter or herbed butter.

Who the hell am I? I don't eat like that.

I dipped a couple bites of steak into the Bearnaise lightly. Tasty, sure. What's not to like? But the butter. Oh, the butter. Butter on steak is good (think Ruth's Chris Steak House, where steaks are dipped in butter, I believe) but this herbed butter melting on top of a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak? Holy mother of God.

Mom had the pork Milanese, a pounded piece of pork the size of her plate, breaded and fried and topped with a gorgeous mountain of salad. At least she had salad. My butter-soaked steak was paired with frites. Though no mayo for dipping. And I don't mean that there was mayo but I refrained. I mean there was no mayo offered.

Which is a good thing. Because if there had been, I'm pretty sure I'd be lying a morgue right now.

Back at the hotel, I plotted the afternoon, the Patty-Can-Get-Away-From-Work track and the Patty-Can't-Get-Away-From-Work track. Happily, she was able to meet us, at ABC Carpet and Home, one of the reasons I took mom to New York this time. Along the way, mom and I stopped into an antiques store, but not like mismatched-china-teacups antiques. No, like salvaged French and English pedestal sinks for $3,800. OK. Moving on. At ABC, I bought a lovely throw/wrap/shawl/something that I thought would look perfect on the foot of my bed. I've since decided (upon arriving home and putting it on my bed) that I don't like it there after all, but I'll certainly find a use for it.

We hopped the subway and then wandered around SoHo (or was that Greenwich Village or is Greenwich Village part of SoHo?) where I spied, in a little shop window, the coolest card case which I decided would be the perfect Christmas gift for Dave. So I went in and asked the proprietor if I could see it, and he managed to reach it for me, and I eventually discovered that it was $180. So I handed it back to him. Dave and I don't spend upwards of $200 on Christmas gifts for each other. Besides, I figured that the price was inflated because those stores have to pay their exorbitant rents somehow, and I was sure I'd find it elsewhere for less. Well, not much less. I found it for $170. This afternoon. On Gaa! It's about a million times less special if you can buy it on But I still think it's cool.

Dinner was at Giorgione (the restaurant doesn't seem to have its own site, hence no hotlink). It was a very pretty space, very grey and white and silver. The space was opened by Giorgio DeLuca – yep, the DeLuca of Dean & DeLuca, whose colors are white and grey, hence the palette of the restaurant. Patty's pomegranate martini was super sugary. My mojito was super minty. Neither are good things in my book. But the frito misto she ordered for us to nosh on while we waited for Barry was outstanding. My salad of arugla and endive and pine nuts and roasted beets and goat cheese was good but not sensational. (I was hoping the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts.) My risotto of mushrooms and roasted peppers was likewise, though the glass of Barbera was nice. Giorgione's sin, though, was dousing my panna cotta with chocolate syrup. Panna cotta needs nothing, in my book, but if the pastry chef insists, I can abide a few fresh berries. The dessert menu said it was paired with a fruit sauce, but it was not. It was drowned in chocolate syrup. If it was an amazing chocolate sauce made with Valrhona and brandy or something, I might have been more forgiving, but it was very much of the Hershey's variety, like they popped the top and squirted. Sad. But Patty ordered the roasted peaches with mascarpone which handily won the dessert prize. Mom's tiramisu was very standard. Barry, wisely, ordered an espresso and just had tastes of each of our's.

We made our way back to the hotel. (That's when Barry asked if I'd seen anyone famous. I thought, for a half a second, that I saw Sting there on Thursday while we were waiting for our room, then I thought, "Why would Sting be here? He has a house in New York." Besides, Sting Not Sting was too short to be Sting.) Mom and I tried to sleep, but our tummies were too full so we slept somewhat fitfully, which meant that we were in no hurry to get on our way Saturday morning.

But we did, eventually. We went to Balthazar to try again for quiche. No luck. Turns out, the quiche is only part of the continental breakfast, which must only be served early. We ended up at Dean & DeLuca for coffee and pastry while standing in the store window, watching New York go by.

And then we headed to the subway to head uptown to MoMA. Mom wanted to go, which I found odd, as mom strikes me as more of the Metropolitan type, but we were there to do Mom things, so MoMA it was. Six. Floors. Of. MoMA. I was surprised to see Van Gogh's Starry Night there. I think of modern art as a movement, not a period. I was expecting (and saw plenty of) art that makes you laugh at its "artiness." Like the piece of paper, torn into smaller pieces, under a Lucite box. Were the pieces of paper affixed in that configuration, or were they just loose pieces of paper? And we were supposed to think that was some kind of statement on man's destruction of that which it creates and the randomness of the universe? Um, maybe. But it's also just a piece of torn-up paper.

Likewise, I can't get into Blue Monochrome (I think that was the title), a canvas painted blue. Just blue. Solid blue. A pretty electric blue, but blue nonetheless. Lemme guess: It's about mankind's sameness, our collective despair, our refusal to think for ourselves and stand out? Um, maybe. But it's also just a canvas painted blue.

But I can totally get behind Picasso or Magritte or Pollock. Yeah, sure, he drizzled paint on a canvas, but it hadn't been done before. Or Calder, who created kinetic sculpture. They might just look like wires or rods, but they move and cast shadows and the experience that you see changes. That's cool. That takes thought. Painting a canvas blue does not take thought.

And Patty and Barry disagree with my assessment of Matisse, but I still don't get why the guy is so famous. I'm not a great artist, but I've drawn a few things in my day (as an adult, even), one of which is hanging in my mom's dining room, and people seem surprised when they find out that I drew it. I'll have to take a picture for you someday.

It started raining while we were absorbing culture, but the rain abated by the time we left, so we started walking north. I thought we'd stroll up to H&H for bagels. Until it started raining again. We camped out under a patio umbrella just off Columbus Circle at the entrance to the park. The rain finally abated and we ended up grabbing a cab north only to find a line outside of H&H. You gotta love a bagel store so great that there's a line on weekends. But it was also Yom Kippur. Lots of people procuring noshes for breaking the fast, I'm sure.

The line moved swiftly, I called Patty to see if she wanted her usual (though we couldn't get our hands on any walnut raisin cream cheese), and we walked out of the store with a baker's dozen of bagels that were still warm. Really warm.

We hopped the subway and made our way to Brooklyn and noshed on our afternoon snack at Patty's place then poked around Park Slope for a spell. She had made reservations for us at a place in Red Hook called The Good Fork (the menu looks great), but Patty took note of mom's comment about not sleeping well and presuming the cause was eating late, and changed course, opting instead to visit the farmers' market and stock up on provisions for a cookout. Ah, perfect!

Patty's apartment was built on top of a building and has a deck. We learned last night that there are two doors in her apartment leading out to the deck because the apartment was going to be two apartments. That is funny. Patty's apartment is a one-bedroom, but it's a small one bedroom. It's basically a studio with a partial wall so it can be rented as a one bedroom. Patty has done a masterful job at fitting her entire life into this apartment, but the notion that her apartment might have been two apartments is laughable. You'd truly have room for a bed and a chair and maybe a small desk, presuming the inclusion of the tiny bathroom and kitchen.

But the point is, it's just one apartment, with two doors onto a very nice-sized deck with views of New York City and, if you look closely, the Statue of Liberty.

She has the deck outfitted with lots of plants and twinkle lights and we lit several candles, so it was extra twinkly. And Barry grilled bread for bruschetta which we built with the garlic-rubbed bread and thick slices of beefsteak tomato and arugula and olive oil and salt and pepper. And then dinner was the most-perfect white corn on the cob and barbequed chicken and a salad of mixed greens and a salad of fresh mozzarella and yellow tomato and basil. And, as my friend Gemma would say, it was the temperature where there is no temperature. A perfect night.

After visiting Barry's apartment (which he and Patty rented together until she got her own space) so mom could see it, we hopped a cab (which Barry hailed for us again) and headed back to the hotel.

I saw no one famous.

But we slept reasonably well, we had H&H bagels and schmears this morning, and then we headed to the airport.

And now we're back to our usual lives.

I love New York. And when I'm there, I think, "Hmm. Maybe I could live here." But I couldn't. It's just too much, all the time. Maybe I could move there for a year. Like an experiment.

But I couldn't afford it anyway.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So no Rembrandt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

9:38 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Nope. After MoMA, I'd reached my culture saturation point for the day.

Met the next time, for sure.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out "Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move" by Katherine Lanpher. She was a successful newspaper columnist and radio personality in St. Paul, Minn., who shook up her life and moved to New York City to basically start new. It's an exhilarating story of trying on new places and starting fresh, even if you're not sure you have it in you. And it's an especially fun read for people who love New York.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Groovy. Thanks. I ordered it from Amazon tonight, along with Springsteen's new album! Woot!

10:22 PM  

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