Monday, January 7, 2013

Blackened Out's Christmas Vacation: Lost in New York

Rockefeller Center.
What The Folk Singer wants, The Folk Singer gets (within reason). As such, with a simple request to visit New York to see all of the Christmas lights, we were off to the Big Apple on the weekend after Thanksgiving, smack dab in the middle of perhaps the busiest time of the year. What follows is a brief synopsis of our 56 hour trip.

We touched down at Laguardia just before noon on Friday afternoon, dropped our bags off in the East Village, and walked over to Ippudo for lunch. Ramen is the name of the game at this sleek "Japanese brasserie," a dish which has not yet gained traction in our fare city. The standard lunch set starts with a simple salad of field greens tossed in soy dressing and a mini bowl of rice topped with morsels of fried chicken. I had the weekly special ramen of Szechuan style spicy pork in an intense broth spiced up with black sesame sauce, ground pork, and shrimp paste. I think that TFS found the winner though with the classic ramen, a less adulterated version with broth that was a drinkable elixir.

Fortified against the cold, we made our way to Rockefeller Center to witness a marriage proposal on the skating rink (complete with Bon Jovi anthem) and snapped the above picture of the iconic Christmas tree, a replica of which TFS felt compelled to recreate in our living room. Yada yada yada, The New York Public Library, something about Carrie Bradshaw, and then it was time for happy hour.

We navigated the subway system toward the Ace Hotel, where we ducked into the John Dory Oyster Bar. The hostess sat us at two stools along the window looking out onto Broadway and West 29th. At 4:45 only a handful of other tables were occupied, By 5:15 there was not an open seat in the dining room and people were lined up three deep at the bar. The happy hour special is a half dozen oysters and a glass of cava or pint of stout for $15. I ordered a full dozen of the salty, plump downright beautiful bivalves from Mermaid Cove, and TFS downed the cava. It's why our marriage works. We made a pass through the hotel lobby and The Breslin (April Bloomfield's other restaurant in the Ace) and marveled at the number of hipsters playing on their Macs and investment bankers debating the size of their Christmas bonuses while imbibing $30 glasses of scotch. It was a great scene that's definitely worth experiencing.

Later that night on our stroll back to home base, we passed a crowd of at least 30 people gathered on the sidewalk outside Caracas Arepa Bar. We decided that it must be worth waiting for, so we put our name on the list and walked around the corner for a few beers and glasses of wine to help pass the 45 minute wait. We returned just in time to hear our name called and were shoehorned into the table immediately next to the front window in the dining room, which is more tightly quartered than a submarine. We each ordered an arepa - mine stuffed with thick disks of spicy chorizo and her's filled with roasted pork shoulder. What stood out the most was the sublime texture of the Venezuelan corn cakes - somewhere between a pupusa and a corn muffin. Excellent.

Following dinner we stumbled in to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop for the most decadent ice cream cone I have ever tasted. Behold the Salty Pimp: vanilla soft serve stuffed and streaked on the sides with dulce de leche, dipped in chocolate, and sprinkled with sea salt. Unreal.
Shrimp and pork buns from Momofuku Noodle Bar.
We slept in on Saturday morning and felt even more guilty for squandering our time after the Parisian Princess sent a text message saying that she had just finished her 8 mile run through Central Park and would be available to meet us for lunch after a quick shower. We headed out on foot through the Village toward Washington Square to see if we could score a walk-in table at Babbo. Dining at Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's flagship restaurant had become a mission for us ever since our attempts at a reservation were thwarted by Hurricane Sandy beating down on Manhattan exactly one month before our trip, which happened to be the precise time when Babbo opens its reservation book. By the time that they started answering the phones again after the storm, our only option was an 11:15 p.m. reservation. We decided to gamble on a lunch walk-in instead.

As we strolled down 5th Avenue, TFS reminisced about the Carnival du Vin Patron Party a few years back when she and Rene's better half caught Mario's eye and then spent a significant portion of the evening trying to force feed him red wine (which he defended against by proclaiming that that he only drinks white wine). As we chuckled at the stroll down memory lane, all of a sudden a familiar looking rotund gentlemen with a red pony tail exited an apartment building and crossed our path. Given the 38° temperature, it seemed odd that he chose shorts and crocs as the proper wardrobe for riding his vespa, which he promptly cranked up and then drove off on with his son clinging to his waist. Very strange.

A few minutes later we arrived at Babbo and were told that it would be no problem to seat our party of 3 for lunch. We waited for the Parisian Princess over pre-lunch cocktails and admired the handsome first floor dining room while a Coltrane track played in the background. Armed with the knowledge that neither TFS nor PP would be interested in a tasting menu, my order had already been pre-determined. To start a towering pile of arugula dressed with shaved parm and balsamic and served with a half dozen sweet morsels of roasted butternut squash. I ask myself, "How can something so simple be so good?" TFS had the same questions after she polished off her plate of thinly sliced prosciutto and fresh figs.

She followed with gnocchi al telefono, which I have to say was the best combination of pasta, tomato, and cheese that I had ever tasted. PP's grilled octopus transported me back to a tiny tapas bar in San Sebastian where I first learned to appreciate how tender this sea creature could be if cooked properly. As appealing as those few bites were, my attention remained tightly focused on the beef cheek ravioli, a dish which defies science when you consider how its possible to pack such a rich flavor inside a tiny pasta pouch.

Over the olive oil cake for dessert, we discussed the best plan of attack to score a dinner reservation for our return trip in the spring.

After lunch we decided that the best way to revive our hunger was a long walk to the Meatpacking District. We checked out the High Line, but Terroir was closed and no one could be seen having sex in front of the windows at the Standard, so it was kind of a bust. Then we headed over to Eataly to make sure that we maximized our quota of Mario for the trip. The scene can only be described as pandemonium. Picture the concourses at the Superdome during halftime, except that everyone is gorging themselves on pizza, pasta and wine instead of nachos, hot dogs, and beer. Things were a little more relaxed at Corkbuzz, where we met a few friends for a drink. Then pre-theatre fondue and half-priced bottles of Burgundy at the Bourgeois Pig.

According to TFS, an evening at the theatre is an absolute requirement for any visit to NYC. For this trip, she convinced me that spending 5x more on tickets to The Book of Mormon would be worth it. She was right. The show was hilarious. Unless, of course, any of you readers is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in which case the show is extremely offensive and irreverent. Actually, those adjectives apply no matter what your religion or lack thereof.

I had pizza on the brain after the show, so we hailed a cab and headed to Motorino for an excellent Neopolitan pie topped with spicy soppresatta, chili flakes, and slivers of garlic. PP met up with us for the walk home, which happened to take us right in front of Momofuku Noodle Bar. This was obviously a sign sent down from above by Joseph Smith and/or Brigham Young, so how could we resist?

I'll be honest, both the ramen and the nugget potatoes were underwhelming, which was a surprise. But the steamed flour buns were out of this world good, and that goes for both the pork belly and the fried shrimp cake. It took every ounce of will power in my body to stop myself from attempting to pilfer a thigh from the fried chicken dinner delivered to the table next to us. Unfortunately, that dish must be ordered in advance. I may or may not have told TFS that I would pay for that table's entire meal if they gave me a southern style leg and a Korean style thigh, which prompted her to immediately ask for the check. Next time.

Sunday was a blur. A satisfactory brunch at Burger & Barrel. A trip to Bloomingdale's a/k/a the ninth circle of hell. More walking. Dinner at Hasaki because TFS wanted sushi and it was one of the few places that was open. A cab ride to the airport and a flight home.

I am tired just writing about it. But I am also now very hungry....


bloggle said...

No chance to get by Guy Fieri's new place in Times Square?

Ron said...

We were there at the same time and are also lucky enough to have a friend in the E.V. What we would spend on a hotel goes to food.

The block of E. 7th between Ave A and First Ave is one of our must do lunches. We start by splitting a lobster roll at Lukes, then cross over and split a porchetta sandwich at Porchetta (highly recomend Sara Jenkins' main place Porsena) and if still hungry pick up an arepa at Caracas. Then after a walk we decide on dessert. Sometimes it is Venieros Italian Bakery for cannoli, sometimes Milkbar for cereal milk ice cream or Crack Pie, sometimes Chickalicious for something fancy. Makes for a great afternoon that rolls into happy hour at Terrior with a free glass of sherry or $6.00 wines by the glass.

Just a few of many great places within several blocks.

P.S. You should have gone to Empellion Cocina. I would have never thought our best meal this trip would be Mexican.