Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumn in New York

[Apologies to local readers who have no interest in New York City. It's all we have to blog about for a few posts.]

The good thing about making our fifth trip to NYC in the last four years is that we have already done the this-is-cliche-but-I-have-to-do-this-while-I-am-in-New York City stuff like riding the Staten Island Ferry, taking a carriage ride through Central Park, hanging out in Rockefeller Center, etc. We take the same approach to New York as we do our own city, we look for unique and tasty eateries, we look for beauty, and we look for history. New York City is overflowing with all of these things which is why we always come back so exhausted.

We've stayed at the Washington Square Hotel the last 4 times that we have been to New York and we highly recommend it. It's reasonably priced (by New York standards), out of the midtown craziness, right by gorgeous Washington Square Park, and close to many subway lines. They even offer a free continental breakfast (with tasty mini- scones) which is rare for a New York hotel. Of course, we love the art deco decor and felt right at home in our room with Indiana native Carole Lombard's photo above the bed.


We went with such a huge list of foods that we wanted to try that it was impossible to get to them all but we did a pretty fair job of it. We decided to get our New York City bagel at Russ and Daughters because, not only are they acclaimed, they have been in this spot since 1914! It was bustling early on a Sunday morning with regulars getting their fish and spreads for brunch. We both ordered plain bagels; one with caviar cream cheese and the other with a veggie tofu spread. There was a ton of schmear on the bagels and the caviar one was decadently good without being overpowering and the tofu one was a dead ringer for cream cheese and chock full of veggies. There's no inside seating in this tiny place but there are nearby benches or you can be like a real New Yorker and eat it on the go.

We didn't eat at Yonah Shimmel's this time but we did a couple of years ago. It's another institution Houston Street (since 1910!) and everyone needs to try a knish in their lifetime.

Speaking of legendary eateries on Houston Street, we finally had the pastrami at Katz's Deli during this trip. The place was rocking but they were very friendly and there was so much to take in- a lot of history accumulates in 121 years! They make everything themselves here- right down to the mustard. The pastrami was so tender that it dissolved in our mouths. It is hard to resist the temptation to re-create the famous "When Harry Met Sally" scene here but, not wanting to look like tourists, we did.

Vendors and restaurants will make the coffee however you like it but it seems that the New York standard is with cream and 2 sugars. We generally prefer ours black but, "when in New York...". We have to say, with all of the walking, the sugar energy does come in handy.

This is the interior of the Gray's Papaya on 6th Avenue, very close to our hotel (which is another reason we love our hotel's location). There are several hot dog/papaya drink places in New York with passionate fans who will debate the superiority of their favorite. We've tried a couple of places and Gray's is our favorite.

We didn't get a picture of it, but we had a lovely breakfast on the Upper West Side at the Popover Cafe. We made the trek uptown just so that Mr. WYA! could try their Eggs Benedict Arnold and he was so glad that he did; a popover instead of an English muffin- BRILLIANT! They also endeared themselves to us by playing Gershwin the whole time that we were there. We always associated him with New York so it was just perfect.

Little Italy is pretty much getting taken over by an expanding Chinatown and locals consider it a touristy area and will direct you to better Italian restaurants in other parts of the city. Ferrara, however, is still a must on a New York City itinerary. It was established in 1892 (!) and is spacious and beautiful inside. There were so many tempting pastries but we finally decided to split a chocolate cannoli. Paired with a divine espresso, we were pretty much in heaven.

On another day, we got our chocolate fix at Vosges Haut-Chocolate on the Upper East Side on Madison Avenue. We were served our wonderful spicy hot chocolates in tall, elegant glasses and we couldn't help buying their Mo's Dark Bacon Bar which is Applewood smoked bacon and Alderwood smoked salt dark chocolate. Mmmmmm, order one now.

The Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich has become an obsession with New Yorkers so we had to try one. We chose the Pate banh mi at Saigon Vietnamese Deli which was served on a crunchy baguette with fresh cilantro, pickled carrots, and cucumbers.

We're not sure why Indy doesn't have some arepa street vendors. We've made them at home but they don't quite taste like the sweet corn varieties that we find at every NYC street fair.
Caffe Reggio has been in Greenwich Village since 1927 and we're so glad that we finally had an opportunity to enjoy some espressos there. As we sat there and sipped, we couldn't help but to think about all of the creative artists, writers, poets, musicians, and beats who had probably been there.
Last year, we went on a wonderful Foods of New York tour through Greenwich Village and were introduced to halva from Ali Baba's. We loved it and it is just one of those things that you have to eat fresh so, while we've seen boxed versions of it locally at Saraga, we only get it here while we are in New York.

Sometimes, Mrs. WYA! drives Mr. WYA! crazy by having done so much pre-trip research and knowing very specifically what she wants to eat where- despite the fact the place might be several subway stops and walking blocks away and we might have passed a dozen places that serve the same thing on our way there. Sometimes it is worth it, sometimes it isn't (it turns out Kossar's Bialys have nothing on Indianapolis' own Bagel Fair). The schlep to City Bakery for a pretzel croissant was totally worth it. Somehow it tasted like a pretzel but was flaky and airy like a croissant should be- divine!

Al Yeganeh, who was portrayed as the "Soup Nazi" in Seinfeld, now has franchises of The Original Soup Man restaurants. We generally shy away from a franchise but we had to go back for some more after trying it a couple of years ago. In actuality, the employees are very nice and you need not worry about getting kicked out if you are a little slow to order. There were many soup options of the day and we were so glad to see a crab bisque and mulligatawny among them. Our recommendation for a perfect autumn lunch in New York is to go to the Soup Man location on 42nd Street at Fifth Avenue, get your order to go, then take the short walk to Bryant Park and enjoy it there.

Sometimes, the city can get the best of you. Even though we're pretty adept at using the subways, even though we tried not to cram too many activities in, eventually the foot pain, crowd prompted rushing, and extended periods with a lack of personal space get to a person. That is when it is time to visit another historic landmark, P.J. Clarke's. Their website states that "the modest building at 915 Third Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has stood on the northeast corner of 55th Street for appoximately one hundred and twenty-nine years". A scene from The Lost Weekend was filmed there, it is referred to in Mad Men (most prominently in season one, episode 8 when the office gang twists there), and it used to be Sinatra's last stop on his pub crawls for goodness sake! We enjoyed cocktails expertly made by Bartender Mike at the bar one afternoon. A Manhattan at P.J. Clarke's; frankly, we just don't think it gets any better than that.
We originally thought that, for our music fix, going to one of the famous, legendary places like Birdland, Blue Note, or Village Vanguard (pictured here) would be a great experience and have the most cachet.

However, the show that interested us most during our stay was at the Jazz Standard in the basement of Blue Smoke restaurant. To paraphrase a line we read somewhere online about it, "who cares if Coltrane never visited the men's room there". It is a quintessential jazz club room- dark and in the basement with a stage that had a red background. Blue Smoke restaurant is upstairs so you can order from that menu or you can choose to not have any food. There was a $25 fee for the show but we went ahead and had dinner there too. We don't generally equate New York City with BBQ but they did it well. They also made a good veggie burger and sweet potato fries with maple dip. We went early so we could have time to eat before the jazz started. They also made a divine Old Fashioned. It was a "Mingus Monday" with the Mingus Big Band and it was a great show full of energy and definitely one of our favorite activities of our trip.

We wanted to go to a Broadway show but not to a musical. There were several shows that interested us but we decided to see A Steady Rain with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. Yes, we hate to be those touristy people who are lured by Hollywood stars but there are a lot of Hollywood stars on Broadway right now (Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Julia Stiles, James Gandolfini). The Schoenfeld Theatre is intimate and historic so, of course, we loved it. We were in the third row and found both actors completely compelling. There were no other actors and very minimal backdrops so it was exactly the spare, it's-all-about-the-acting kind of show that we wanted to see.

The High Line Park is a really ingenious idea that we are glad that we got to see. What those clever New Yorkers have done is take a former elevated freight train track and make it into a park/walking trail. It is extremely cool and it will eventually be even longer.

Street view looking towards one of the access points, the Gansevoort stairs:
Another street view showing the Standard Hotel (which is becoming a bit infamous due to its uninhibited guests).

Landscaping mixed in with the trail:

Remnants of its past life:

Generally, we like the old stuff, but this building that we saw from the High Line was really eye-catching. Once we got home and did some internet research, we found out that it is the IAC building designed by none other than Frank Gehry.

You can get some great views up on the High Line.

We thought this was an interesting parking lot:

To be continued in our next post...


Rebecca said...

Wonderful tips! You have me itching to go (and NY isn't exactly my favorite place - my brain overloads there).

It's so cool when you've been somewhere enough that you can forgo the tourist "must dos" and get a real feel for the city.

Kevin said...

Very nice. I also tried those bialys you mentioned and wasn't too impressed. Not sure what the fuss is.

The High Line looks like a must-see on my next trip. That Gehry building is actually pretty cool...I'm usually not a fan.

Does part 2 have Brooklyn? Rebecca you may like's more low-key and neighborhood-y if you like that kind of thing.

Man, this post makes me want to plan my next trip. It's been well over 2 years now.

Anonymous said...

Loved reading about your trip! I've never been to Gray's Papaya-- but have always wanted to go there!

Indianapolis Amy

New York hotel said...

Your post is so nice, it really made me smile, i'm just on the way to book some Last Minute Travel tickets and your post made me even more exited about the trip! I'm really intrigued about the elevated freight train track that you wrote about-it sounds fabulous!i'm so going there! :)