Yellow Cabs, Pretzels and Two Weeks in New York
In September 2012 I celebrated my 40th birthday by leaving behind my husband and three children, taking the hand of one of my oldest girlfriends and heading to New York for the trip of a lifetime. It was my first time to NYC, my expectations were high and it did not disappoint.
We are both foodies but had two rules for our trip: no Asian cuisine (surely they can’t do it any better than us?) and secondly no fine dining (this holiday was about no time constraints so no having to change into high heels and no rigid bookings).
When we first stepped out of our yellow cab and onto the corner of Broadway and 48th (basically Times Square) the assault on the senses was overwhelming. The smells … gas, pretzels, dirty rain, hot dogs. The sights ... flashing lights, police on horseback, enormous billboards, PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE. And the sounds – the constant whirring of the NYPD cars, the beeping of taxi horns and the theatrical spiel of a nearby street performer. We were immediately hooked.
What was to follow were delightful days of endless walking, finding ourselves lost amongst throngs of people in big department stores, wandering aimlessly and discovering charming little boutiques on Bleeker Street, discovering quaint little eateries - all offering something unique to help them shine in a city with too many options. After a walk along the High Line we picked fresh lobster from piles caught that morning and waited minutes while they were cooked and served simply with clarified butter and Celtic sea salt at the Chelsea Markets … heaven. We scoffed pastries from Amy’s Bread, stood undecidedly at the salad counter of Dean & Deluca and picked out delicacies from the famous Zabar’s Deli to share with the squirrels in Central Park. We took the tube to Harlem thinking we wanted to sit in on a local church service but feeling strangley uncomfortable about it when we got there. Instead we headed to local resataurant to try out real fried chicken served with gritz and gravy while a gloriously dressed African American lady sang gospel tunes and played the electric keyboard.
The tepid boiled eggs at the Balthazaar Bar followed by dinner was sublime. After wandering the streets of Dumbo during an Arts Festival, we embraced the soft burrito and washed the chilli down with jugs of margarita at Gran Electrica in Brooklyn. A random night in a sports bar intoduced us to pizza by the slice – something I thought I would never enjoy. It was exactly as you see it in the movies – oversized, of no nutritional value and just delicious. We sat in the capacity crowd at a Yankees games and despite my efforts to find a nice glass of wine, eventually settled into a huge mug of beer and some Crackerjacks – I decided you simply can’t do it any other way.
David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar was, in our opinion, hardly in second place to its fine dining sister restaurant. We loved it. And Little Italy was just that - a little neighbourhood nestled in SoHo that comes alive at night with gingham tablecloths and matre d's lining the streets to entice you into their restaurant with their Italian charm. It worked!
What struck us the most was the fact that with a population so large, businesses can boom out of doing one thing well. While off Broadway for a show we came across a tiny shop call Pomme Fritte selling just that … and nothing else. There were three staff – one peeling potatoes, one frying potatoes, one putting them into cones of newspaper and offering every kind of mayonnaise, gravy, salt you could imagine. No chairs, just little cut out circles in a long bar where your cone would sit so you could conveniently devour them during intermission. Genius.
Another favourite was the Shake Shack. It was novel sitting in the park with a delicious burger and fries while enjoying a Californian wine by the glass. It turned fast food into an all-round experience. We visited Eatily where we were served buffalo mozzarella freshly rolling out of the cheesemaker’s hands and watched in awe at the master pasta makers rolling orecchiette. We ate real guacamole, real pickles and real pastrami.
As if there weren’t enough fixed food addresses - the vans parked in throughout the city squares offered a multi-cultural feast in a little cardboard box. And then there were the food stores – Balducci’s was pure eye candy to a foodie not to mention the Amish grocers dotted around the city, Wholefoods, Chobani in Soho, Dean and Deluca, Williams Sonoma. Even Dylan’s Candy store was a thrill with three levels of sweet heaven …
I could forever describe an incredible trip full of not only fabulous food moments but permanent sensory stamps that will be with me forever. Instead, I will continue to try and re-create them (much to the frustration of friends and family) and smile occasionally at the pure joy they bought.
I know that anyone who has visited NYC will have their own stories to now go away and smile about. For those of you who have not … just do it … it is one trip that will never let you down.