New York in BlueA Brief Stint in the Big Apple (and environs)
Kim and I had occasion to visit the center of the known universe last weekend, and despite the fact that, being a Chicago boy, I tend to haze & disrespect New York mercilessly, we did have a marvelous time. I've lots of wonderful food to discuss and plenty of recommendations. Dig in.
Just up the river from NYC, in Westchester county right off the Tappan-Zee bridge, is the quaint little Village of Tarrytown. Besides being home to Marymount College, it is also the home of The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. The Stone barns is a newly opened (last May) facility, on the grounds of what was the Rockefeller estate there.
Stone Barns Center is a beautiful non-profit farm, educational center and restaurant. Their mission is to *****strate, teach and promote sustainable, community-based food production. They offer a unique experience: a chance to learn about farming firsthand on a real working farm, the only farm open to the public so close to New York City.
The Center is also home to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant by famed New York Chef Dan Barber, that offers guests a taste of the farm and of the bounty of the Hudson Valley. Blue Hill staff is not only there to cook and serve, they are equally excited about the role their kitchen will play in education programs. Stone Barns Center is a four-season operation, producing food even in deep winter in their amazing, minimally heated greenhouse.
Our meal at Blue Hill began with raw scallops topped with a grapefruit granita and a mint infusion. This was followed by a salad of greens picked just moments earlier, with a delicious warm pancetta vinaigrette and the most curious egg. They soft-cooked the farm fresh egg, peeled it (which must have been painstaking work) then rolled it in panko crumbs and fried it very lightly. You can expect to see me steal this idea soon.
Then the entree: a braised and then seared pork belly that was out of this world. Just amazing, even though I did seem to feel faint shooting pains down my left arm as I ate, it was well worth it.
The same restaurant provided boxed lunched for the conference I attended there, great sandwiches and those same luscious greens were accompanied by brownies and a local bottled water. Kicks the **** out of a happy meal any day.
Dinner the next night was at the Flying Pig Farm Cafe, just up the Saw Mill Parkway in Mt Kisco (2 Depot Plaza, 914.666.7445) Most of my meal was wonderful including the lobster pancakes braised in butter and a perfect pork chop. Unfortunately Kim did have to deal with some overcooked lamb, and although she asked for the polenta (to which she is allergic) to be replaced with mashed potatoes, she got the polenta anyway and had a big mouthful before she realized their mistake. Luckily she came out of that OK.
The next day it was time to catch a train. Unlike the rest of the country, trains from the DC are up through Boston are cheap, clean, and punctual, very like most of Europe. The ride from the Tarrytown station on the Metro-North line took just under 1 hour to get to Grand Central, and it only cost $7 each. You'd almost pay that in tolls if you drove, and with the price of gas these days...
Although I hadn't been to New York City for years and years, the one thing I knew I could count on was that the Grand Central Terminal would not have changed, and it hasn't. I had to whisk Kim through, though, so that we could check in and make our next appointment. Not to worry, we'd be back the next day - for lunch.
Our hotel for the night - thanks to some zealously horded frequent-stay points with the good folks at Hilton - was the world-renowned Waldorf-Astoria, at the corner of 49th and (what else?) Park Avenue. Luxuriously but not ostentatiously appointed, the Waldorf still deserves its reputation for understated, effective, classy service. Sadly, a gin & tonic at the bar will set you back $12.50, but so it goes.
No time just then for the G&T, because it was drop-the-bags-and-out-the-door for our afternoon and the brand-spanking-new Museum of Modern Art. Affectionately known as MoMA, the new digs are at 11 W. 53rd St, very near St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and the original Saks 5th Avenue.
On the 2nd floor of the Museum is Cafe 2, it offers seasonal Roman fare, including pasta, panini, pizza, salumi, roasted meats, cheeses, salads and soups. We waited in line next to a sign which accurately stated "don't worry, this line moves pretty fast," and by the time we had looked over the menu and decided on our meals we were through the line and ordering at the very beautifully & efficiently designed counter. Kim ordered a wild mushroom and arugula salad with pecorino, I chose the prosciutto panini with rocket and pecorino. We shared a fantastic platter of salumi & olives, and a half carafe of Arneis. Awesome. Just what we needed.
At MoMA we saw some very famous works af art, such as Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Campbell's Soup. They have Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and the priceless van Gogh masterpiece, Starry Night.
There were quite a few fascinating pieces from artists none of us have heard of, too. My favorite was a collection of bottles, aluminum in a glass matrix, inside a mirrored box. It was called Modernity, Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely, by Josiah McElheny. Also, Matthew Barney is represented with the rather disturbing installation The Cabinet of Baby Fay La Foe, which purports to tell the story of Ms. La Foe, a burlesque dancer (grandmother to Gary Gilmore, who was the first man executed in the US after the reinstatement of the death penalty) and her torrid affair with Harry Houdini, who may well have been Gilmore's grandfather. Eerie stuff.
We walked back to the hotel, past the gaggle of news crews surrounding St. Patrick's due to the Pope's passing the day before, past the expertly appointed windows of Saks 5th Avenue, and through the door held open by the white gloved, trenchcoated doorman of the the Waldorf. A brief rest, and it was off to dinner.
An acquaintance of mine named Ken Callaghan, formerly the chef at the excellent Union Square Cafe, has opened a BBQ joint on 27th Street, just outside of Chelsea in the district known as Flatiron (for the famous building). It is called Blue Smoke, and it's the best BBQ I've had east of the Appalachians and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. We started with what they called "barbecued" mussels (their quotes), which were, strangely, a good match with our Panta Rei Barbera d'Asti Controtto 2000. By the time the entrees came, though, it was time to switch to beer.
Our lagers were from Brooklyn Brewery (a big Slow Food supporter, by the way), and they were the pause that refreshed between mouthfuls of pulled pork, slaw, pit beans, collards and dry-rubbed KC ribs. Dessert was, well, out of the question.
It was a beautiful night, so we walked back to the hotel up Lexington Avenue. Across the street from the Waldorf, we found a bar called Whiskey Blue, 541 Lexington Avenue. If you are really cool, think you are, or would like to be, then this is the place to see and be seen. Packed to the rafters with Wall Streeters and their trophy dates, with a techno beat and centerfold servers, this is a side of Manhattan that should be experienced at least once. Mind your manners, though. The bouncer is built like a cornerstone and looks perfectly capable of making you an offer you can't refuse.
The next morning, Kim wanted to see Times Square. So we walked past 30 Rock and 6th Avenue (it's not Avenue of the Americas, it's 6th Avenue, else they'll make you for an out-of-towner right away) to the world famous source of the Bright-Lights-Big-City appellation. It remains quite the monument to capitalist decadence.
From there we wandered the theatre district. Broadway is "dark" on Mondays, but it was still cool to return to the streets where, 25 years ago, I dreamed they might be putting my name on the marquis. And I'd have made it to, if it hadn't been for all those terrible habits I had to pay for, like eating and staying warm.
Our walking tour of Midtown was nearing an end, but not before we trekked back across town to get a glimpse of the UN. There is a favorite statue there that I wanted Kim to see, of a very proletariat-looking man beating a sword into a plowshare, but ironically we could not get to that section of the grounds due to security concerns.
Again westward up the hill and back to Grand Central, to the one thing I knew would not have changed: the Oyster Bar. There I added to what is becoming a sizeable collection of pictures of Kim beaming before platters of raw shellfish. My oysters were fried (though I did swipe a couple raw Chincoteagues off Kim's platter) and I had fried cod, too, all of it washed down with the other great local beer, Blue Point Toasted Lager. Their description states: "Six different malts including: English Pale, Crystal, Munich, Carapils, Wheat and Belgian Caravienna. Toasted Lager displays a balanced flavor of malt and hop which makes it easy drinking. Special lager yeast is used to produce that long lasting, smooth finish. The "toasted" part of the name refers to our direct-fire brew kettle; hot flames imparts a toasted flavor to our most popular microbrew." Best beer I had all weekend.
We returned one last time to our hotel to collect our bags, and forked over the extra $30 for a Town Car instead of taxi to LaGuardia. A mild extravagance, 'tis true, but we were quite exhausted, and the thought of New York potholes and yellow cab shocks pried my wallet wide open for the roomy leather interior of a Town Car. God bless all concierges.