Taking a Few Bites from The Big Apple

I went to New York City recently for the Les Dames d’Escoffier International conference. I’ve learned from past conferences to see the city when I can because I barely see the light of day during the actual conference. So, we took the first plane in, the last plane out and here’s what we did in between.

We hit the streets soon after we arrived and walked 20 blocks to lunch at Gramercy Tavern in the Flatiron District. “You can never go wrong starting the trip with a lunch at Gramercy Tavern, Danny Meyer’s Michelin-starred restaurant,” my friend Kathy G. Mezrano says. Happens, she’s right. We ate in the Tavern with its beautiful fall flower and gourd arrangements, lively bar and open wood-fired grill. We loved the lumache pasta (shaped like snail shells) with chorizo, gold bar squash and Grana Padano and the grilled corn flatbread with calamari and shishito peppers. The burger with duck fat potato chips and a smoked onion aioli was just fantastic. For dessert:  a caramel quince tart with brie ice cream. Yes, brie ice cream.

Then we visited the 9/11 Memorial. We didn’t get there in time to visit the museum, so that will be another trip. But walking around the memorial was an experience, too. This is, of course, a tribute of remembrance to the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993. This was the first time I’ve seen this space, and I was awed by the sheer size of this memorial. It’s a moving and beautiful place.

The next day, we joined a guided tour to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and then explore the food options in the DUMBO area.

We started our Brooklyn tour at The Common/City Hall Park (this is where Alexander Hamilton gave his first major public speech in support of the Boston Tea Party). From there, we followed our tour guide to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Stop at one of the vendors on the bridge to pick up a Brooklyn hat ($5)—the best souvenir! 

The bridge is 1.1 miles long, and when it was built in 1883, this “hybrid cable-stayed suspension bridge” was the longest such structure in the world. It spans the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn and offers spectacular views of the bridge itself and its steel cables, the Statue of Liberty and the city. 

We learned that this bridge was completed by a woman. Emily Warren Robebling, an engineer, spent 10 years supervising the bridge workers in their efforts to complete the bridge after her husband, the chief engineer, was stricken with decompression disease.

We left the bridge on the Brooklyn side and entered the exciting DUMBO area (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) for a movable feast that started with crunchy, yet pillowy, hand-rolled bagels from La Bagel Delight. We ate them at some picnic tables under an overpass. We had cookies from Dawn’s ‘til Dusk, beautiful croissants from Almondine Bakery and authentic New York coal-fired pizza from Juliana’s Pizza (consistently among the top pizza places in New York). And we stopped in at the trendy TO (Time Out) Market for a drink, empanadas and some great photos on the patio.  

The group walked down toward the river and marveled at the restored carousel near the expansive green space, which is something developers must include in their projects in this area. 

We could have spent an entire day here just wandering around. The DUMBO area is quite exciting with trendy boutiques, beautiful art galleries, gourmet markets, but we took the ferry back to Manhattan, and it was a great way to see both Brooklyn and Manhattan from a different perspective. We landed near Wall Street, so, of course, we went looking for the Fearless Girl. We found her! Then, we took the subway back to Midtown where we got off at Grand Central Terminal (and admired that fantastic space) before returning to our hotel.

While my fellow conference attendees went to dinner at One Fifth, I walked from the hotel, through Times Square (selfies!) to see Hamilton at the Richard Rogers Theatre. I know all the songs of this musical from road trips with my youngest child, but I had not actually seen the show—not even on Disney+. I waited for the real thing, and it was worth the wait—better than I ever imagined. I had a cocktail party to attend after the performance, so I tried not to cry. Impossible. I loved every minute of this evening, including the bag of Lays potato chips I had for dinner during intermission.

Next, I walked to a semi-private fête at The Skylark, an upscale lounge 30 stories above the heart of Times Square, and the bright lights of the big city were the perfect, sparkly, backdrop for a fun party.

The rooftop, indoor lounge is sophisticated and comfortable with plenty of communal sofa seating in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. Stylish lighting illuminates modern art on the walls and books and objets d’art arranged on consoles. A DJ kept the vibe upbeat and fun with music ranging from Prince’s Raspberry Beret to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama. You can venture to the outdoor viewing areas for spectacular photo ops of some of New York’s most iconic scenes including the Hudson River, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and the Chrysler Building.

Our dedicated bartenders made drinks to order, and there also was a batched maple walnut Old Fashioned—one of The Skylark’s signature cocktails, it was deliciously seasonal with fall spices. Passed savory hors d’oeuvres showcased a world of flavors: delicious Wagyu sliders with onion jam; crispy duck confit empanadas; umami-rich, miso-glazed king mushrooms; and earthy beet and goat cheese crostini. And sweet treats included little strawberry and chocolate sandwiches and dark chocolate bites.

Our event at The Skylark was a private party, but you can go there, too. It’s a perfect way to enjoy New York in truly high style.

Dinner another night at the lively, beautiful SoHo brasserie Balthazar, with its French fare, was a treat. We started with escargots in garlic butter and the seafood ceviche. The Balthazar salad featured haricots verts, asparagus, fennel, avocado, ricotta salata and truffle vinaigrette. The bibb lettuce salad was simpler with shallots, chives and Dijon vinaigrette, but just as delicious. I loved, loved my huge serving of moules frites!

Late Saturday night we headed to The Django, a cave-like, Paris-inspired jazz and cocktail bar under The Roxy Hotel. I cannot tell you who was playing in the quartet that night, but they were awesome. The vaulted ceilings and exposed brick walls made for perfect acoustics. So were the drinks—from the Manhattan (had to!) with rye, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and amaretto to the tonic-lengthened Herbal Hancock with gin, basil-infused vodka, green chile and lemon. Oh, and we shared a Django burger with onion jam and black pepper mayo. Reservations are a must.

On Sunday morning we had brunch at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem and when to church with the Sing Harlem choir. I cannot recommend this highly enough! These young people starred in the 17th season of America’s Got Talent and they are the breakout musical group from the Mama Foundation for the Arts (a Harlem legacy nonprofit institution that nurtures its intergenerational and interracial community through music and more). Starting with that day’s brunch, this choir has resumed their brunch entertainment every Sunday with two shows at 12:15 and 1:45 p.m. And Samuelsson’s food was everything I dreamed it would be. The fried chicken would have made my grandmother proud, the collards were some of the best I’ve ever had—anywhere—even at her house, and the mac and cheese was simply amazing. 

Finally, before our early-evening flight, we hit the drizzly streets and did some additional sightseeing. We ended up at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Tin Building of marketplaces and restaurants—in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. We tasted cheese and fresh vegetables, marveled at hand-painted live orchids, perused the amazing Asian market (strawberry gochujang!) and would have eaten at the hidden restaurant House of the Red Pearl had we not still been so full from brunch. (Another trip!) The Tin Building also houses a lively oyster bar as well as a bakery, a pizzeria, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant, a breakfast café, a taqueria, a colorful candy store and more.

Then we did what I always do on my last day of any trip:  We found a fun, busy place to sit with a drink (a local craft brew from Harlem Brewing Company at Beer Here!) and people watch.  And … we saw Jean-Georges! This was weirdly, our first and only celebrity sighting of this trip (Queen Latifah was shooting The Equalizer in our hotel), but since this visit was so food-centric, it seemed perfect!

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