This was merely meant to be a trip to drop off my car to be repaired (by my brother who lives north of Manhattan), and while it was being fixed, I thought it would be nice to take my daughter, who had just escaped from school for the summer, to the city for a quick over-nighter to visit our friend Bird.
Ide (the sweet daughter!) had been to the city tons of times, but we rarely spent the night, (me always opting for the comfort of my own bed after a day of jam-packed city-ing!). The plan was to drop of the car, take Metro North to Grand Central station, spend the night, and then hijack my friend back with us to rural Pennsylvania for a few days in my newly fixed-up jalopy.
Not exactly how it turned out. Here is the story of how this city, (my home for 8 years) lured me into its charismatic arms for 3 whole days and nights! It’s nothing I will ever regret, but more especially, something my daughter will forever remember.
So, dropped of the car and had an amazing lunch with my brother and sister-in-law. I will wait to wax on about this marvelous little restaurant in Briarcliff Manor, NY, when I go back to eat there again, only this time, with my camera (the one time I leave it in the car – honestly!). Then, it was up to the house to hang out for a few hours with my crazy and cute nieces. In defense of the crazy nieces; it’s not really their fault. I blame a dad who installed a zip-line in the back garden hefty enough for rain forest travel!
As I perused the train schedule to NYC with Jennifer (the sister-in-law!) I mentioned that Pascal (the brother in question) expressed an interest in dinner in the city. My brother loves nothing better than sitting in a nice restaurant being fed, so I harangued him into leaving work early and be our dinner companion, (as well as our transportation!). Off we went with Pascal, Ide, Eve (the most adept at zip-lining and oldest of the nieces) and I to Eataly in Chelsea, the now famous (made so by all the previous blogs about the place) bustling Italian market created by superstar chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich.
When you find a restaurant serving a dish that makes you fall in love with the place, it is a mistake to go anywhere else. I wanted pizza and so our destination was La Pizza La Pasta in the heart of this market. Besides the pizza being reminiscent of the pizza I enjoyed while living in Tuscany for 3 months a couple of years earlier (God, I sound like a pretentious, puffed-up bragger – I’m not!!!), I knew it was the perfect place for Pascal. The culinary delights it had to offer would satiate all of his senses, while also distracting my young niece who was ravenous and tired.
While waiting to be beeped for our table (very cool idea: get your name on a list at one of the 9 restaurants and then leave to have a drink, shop or people watch until your table is ready!) we drooled over the fresh fish, bread and pasta, as well as hit the newest addition to Eataly, NYC Nutella. I have dedicated a post on my blog (click THIS) to Nutella because it has been my favorite thing to put on toast since I was a teenager (yes, quite a time ago).
And, I am not the only addict – the Eataly market opened a “Creperia” dedicated to this thick hazelnut chocolate-y spread a month ago, and now here we were standing in the doorway minutes before our dinner reservation. What to do…..try a pre-dinner crepe of course!
The walls of the Creperia were surrounded by mod wooden shelving on which rows upon rows of Nutella from the smallest jars to the biggest were stacked from the floor to the rafters. It was a thrill to see such a quantity of Nutella in one place, and of course impossible for us to leave without trying one between us. The crepes are made to order on hot plates and folded into neat steaming triangles. We all got a bite before dinner and it was an amazing appetizer. If you ever make it to Eataly, leave room for one of these (we most certainly did!).
Dinner was sumptuous and my brother made sure to get a bite from each plate.
That night, Bird, Ide and myself stayed up late nattering on her bed. I felt like I had entered my daughter’s world, the one where thinking about the next day is not important when there are so many more important things to discuss (which we did into the wee hours). That of course meant getting up late and deciding that the only thing to do was go to Pain de Quotidien for Berry Tarts and coffee (a great chain of french cafes, which I have already written about here).
The big dilemma for my daughter was whether to have the raspberry or mixed berry tart? As we ate, we made a plan to visit the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, and we decided that the best way to get there (or most interesting and fun way) was to walk from where we were (57th st and & 7th Ave) through Central Park until we reached our destination.
The berry tarts were amazing and the walk through the park was momentous. It had rained earlier making the paths, grass and trees feel luminous and magical. Everything felt worth exploring, down to the trash cans!
We met lots of dog walkers and petted as many as we could (the dogs of course), and climbed on rocks and marvelled at how the city skyline would suddenly appear above the trees and rocks, and the rolling perfectly manicured hillocks of Central Park. We walked winding narrow paths and traversed magnificent tree-haloed avenues until emerging right below the Metropolitan Museum on 5th Ave and 80th st.
The Met steps were, as usual, thronged with people sitting around and it was hard to pass and not scoot in for a few minutes (impossible to leave once inside!). But I really wanted to take Ide to The Guggenheim. She had seen it so many times in pictures and knew that Frank Lloyd Wright was behind its magical turret-like structure and it really didn’t matter what exhibit was on the walls – it was all about the building itself!
There is really nothing quite like it and it sticks out like the most wonderous sore thumb in a city full of amazing buildings.
The current show was called Italian Futurism, and as cool as it was to see it, the real thrill was winding our way up the spiraled wall to the top. The feeling of intimate space around you disappeared when you looked out from the cement banister across the museum. Looking out gave you the feeling of a vast and never-ending space; a crazy contrast that serves to make us feel both big and small at the same time.
We were feeling a bit sad when we left as the next part of the day included leaving the city. I called my brother and as luck had it, the car was still not ready. I think he knew that I needed more time with this city and gave me an excuse to stay. When I told Ide that the car was not ready, she jumped for joy and confessed she wanted to go to Eataly for dinner AGAIN – which we did!
And this time it was more superb than the last. I think this was because last minute we decided to order a sort of appetizer pizza that turned out to be the best thing I had tasted on the menu to date. It was like a pizza salad, and set us up for the robust pasta dishes that followed.
So given that we had more time, my daughter figured she could keep us up late two nights in a row and convinced us that going to a movie, which started at 10.40pm, was a reasonable request. Bird and I looked at each other and thought it would take toothpicks (for our eyelids!) and a good dose of caffeine to keep us awake. We managed to get a second wind and rallied.
At 10.25pm we left her apartment and walked to the theatre via the Lincoln centre (which was lit up like a Christmas tree) and saw a movie called “Chef”. Luckily it turned out to be entertaining, and bordered enough on the quirky side to keep me entertained.
We strolled home at 1am in the morning and decided right then and there that we needed 1 more day. After all, there was the lower part of Manhattan to explore! We made a plan to take the Staten Island Ferry (great way to see the city, as well as get a great view of The Statue of Liberty) and have lunch in China town…which we did.
The Staten Island Ferry is such a part of the city for me. When I arrived in Manhattan in 1986 with very shallow pockets, the cheapest thrill in the world could be had via The Staten Island Ferry. It was from the outside rail on The Staten Island Ferry I got my first view of lower Manhattan, the skyline at that time being dominated by the World Trade Center (or Twin Towers) and also my first real live encounter with The Statue of Liberty.
I have taken this ferry countless times since with family and friends and the The Statue Of Liberty still takes my breath away each time I sail by her. So many people ride the ferry for just that look, and it is impossible not to think about all of those immigrant eyes sailing to the new world searching for comfort in the face of this giant sculpture standing in the middle of New York Harbor.
Since 1905 the ferry has been taking passengers to and from Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal, the southernmost tip of Manhattan (close to Battery Park) to St. George’s Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. This 5-mile commute runs 24/7 365 days of the year carrying 75,000 passengers per day.
Last Saturday we became one of the 75,000 waiting for the huge doors at the Whitehall Terminal to open which led to the gang plank of the ferry, and I got to take my daughter on a trip I had made over 20 years earlier. Pretty Special.
We made sure to get a spot by the rail, and the 25-minute ride was full of famous, unforgettable views of Manhattan, Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, as the wind whipped around us and the plumes of white water from the ferry misted our faces.
Such a monumental ferry ride left us ravenous, so after disembarking we made our way over to China town (via City Hall) for a feast at a delicious hole-in-the-wall that Bird knew about. It is a very handy thing to have a few places in mind when wanting to eat in Chinatown as the hodgepodge of restaurants, fish markets, vegetable stalls and shops selling all manner of trinkets from lucky Chinese cats to fake Gucci watches can bamboozle the most experienced of travelers!
We arrived back to Bird’s apartment right before most people are thinking about dinner and fell on the bed exhausted and spent. This is how the city beats you up and the idea of another midnight movie came in second place to me cooking dinner and watching a movie in Bird’s cozy little home.
I cooked a lovely pasta from ingredients I had bought from Eataly’s market and we settled in for our last night.
The day after we got home we decided that we had to replicate the Nutella Crepes from NYC Nutella in Eataly for dessert for the whole family, and I must say Mario Batali would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between his and ours (I will post the recipe on its own very soon, so look for it if you want to add something easy and different to your repertoire).
All in all, this was something worth remembering, and so worth writing about. I can read this later and know not to envy anyone’s life but my own.