Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spring Break New York, pt 1

While others might make their way to Daytona Beach or St. Pete for Spring Break, in search of sun, sand, and sin, we headed to New York, in search of, well, spring (that would be nice), sun (that would make things even better),

Untitled fig. a:  the gang's all here

and fine dining (always important).  And good wine.  And specialty foods, especially Italian.  And, last, but not least, some quality social time with our friends R & MA.

Turns out, we picked the right weekend.  It was downright warm, with plenty of sunshine, all weekend long.  And, apparently, it was the first time New York had had such nice weather since 2013.  It sure seemed like it.  It felt like the entire city was out on the streets and in the parks, taking it all in.  And the first signs of spring started to appear on the landscape.

Untitled fig. b:  spring comes to Manhattan


Sullivan Street Bakery still bakes some fine flatbreads, and when you're heading to East 57th via the Henry Hudson Parkway, it makes an easy stop.  We picked up three different kinds this time, but our favourite was the potato pie once again.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant remains one of New York's great dining rooms and one of our favourite places for seafood & beer--plus, the service is always classic.  All it took was a few dozen oysters, some clams casino, a smoked fish platter, a couple of pan roasts, and a few cold ones to make us forget we'd ever been on the road that day.

We'd been to the Chelsea Market plenty of times back in the day, but it turns out we'd never been to the elaborate food court version of the Chelsea Market.  The Chelsea Market claims that its shops, restaurants, and stalls attract somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5 to 6 million visitors every year to its repurposed and reconditioned former National Biscuit Company factory location, and, having visited on a busy Saturday afternoon, I don't doubt that figure.  It felt like a teeming hive in there, but at least there was just cause for those throngs:  there were definitely a lot of tempting treats to be had.  But we already had lunch plans in the works, so we put the blinders on and focused our attention on two places:  Buon Italia and The Lobster Place.

Buon Italia had a great selection of Italian specialty items, but what we liked about it the most was its no-frills approach and its reasonable prices.  Actually, that's not true--what we liked about it the very most was its Sardinian pane carasatu.  And its Easter displays, like its marzipan fruits (and mushrooms).

fruit platter fig. c:  Easter treats

We had to keep our purchases at The Lobster Place to a minimum, because it was early in the day and it was going to be hours before we returned to our accommodations.  So all we got, really, were a few cans of Spanish canned anchovies, but the place was driving us nuts because this was the very best, freshest, most beautiful selection of seafood we'd seen since Cape Cod.  If the circumstances would have been different, we would have gone to town.

Michelle has had to listen to me wax poetic about Umami Burger for a few years now, and L.A. has proven elusive since then, so when I read that they'd opened up shop in New York City, we decided to make a visit a priority.  Man, am I ever glad that we did.  I didn't love the location as much as the Hollywood one, but the burgers--three Originals and one green chile-laced Hatch burger--sure tasted good.  And the fried pickles and onion rings were pretty choice, too.  Our entire party was hugely impressed.  In fact, I had to physically restrain Michelle to keep her from ordering a second Original burger (parmesan crisp, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house ketchup) "for dessert."  That, my friends, is the power of umami.

Flatiron Building, Summer, New York, 1947/1948, Rudy Burckhardt fig. d:  Flatiron District

Later that same afternoon we found ourselves inside that multi-ring circus that is Eataly, just off Madison Square Park and right across the street from the Flatiron Building (you can see there in the photograph above, off to the right).  I thought I'd never been there before, but, as it turns out, I had:  I was in that very same location over a decade earlier for a wedding, back when it was an event space.  With the drinks flowing, a red-hot band on stage, and some dirty dancing on the floor, that wedding had been a pretty crazy occasion, but, I dare say, Eataly on a Saturday afternoon is even crazier.  The gelato line alone was about half a mile long.  Elsewhere, the store had the feel of a department store on Christmas Eve:  pure mayhem.  But, once again, if you hung in there and kept your wits about you, there were amazing finds to be had:  more pane carasatu, anchovy juice, artisanal mostardas, and every style of pasta imaginable, including a number of different kinds of our favourite, corzetti.  We were seriously tempted by the notion of having a late-afternoon snack at Il Pesce, the in-house seafood restaurant that's under the oversight of Dave Pasternack.  And the charcuterie section was pretty tantalizing, too--voracious diners were downing beautiful platters of cheese and cold cuts with their wine.  In the end, we decided to replicate the charcuterie section back in the comfort and splendour of R & MA's apartment--so I picked up some mortadella, some prosciutto, some salumi al finocchio, and a selection of cheeses and we were off!

To be continued...

Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 W. 47th Street, NYC, (212) 265-5580

Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, NYC, (212) 490-6650

The Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue, NYC

Umami Burger, 432 6th Avenue (a.k.a., Avenue of the Americas), NYC, (212) 677-8626

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, NYC, (212) 229-2560


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