Eating our way through New York

Tonight is our last night in Manhattan, at least for this trip. I’m not ready to go home, but circumstances (like the need to earn a living) leave me no choice.

The original plan for the trip started when the National Trust for Historic Preservation sent Diane a flyer for a Hudson River Leaf-Viewing Cruise, optionally preceded by a five-day trip to “New York City: A Work in Progress”. Diane’s been a member for a few years, and we normally toss the travel brochures, but this one caught our eyes — and we realized that:

  1. I had to be in Orlando for the IBM Academy of Technology meeting the week after the New York City tour, so the travel made some sense, and
  2. We could go, because Jeff was going to be away at school.

So we sent our deposit in and waited for more information.

The deadline for final payment passed with no word, so I called the travel coordinator, who said that they were having a hard time getting enough people together for the trip, and asked us to be patient. It’s fairly easy to be patient keeping money in my hands instead of sending it away.

Finally, they called while we were in Denver for Worldcon — the trip was almost certainly on. So we did some research on flight options and when we got home, they confirmed the trip and I booked Diane’s flights both ways and my flight to New York — I had to wait for the Academy travel information to book the rest of my trip, though. Eventually, that came in, and we were all set.

Then the credit crunch hit, and the Academy meeting got cancelled. So I had to scramble to book my flight home to match Diane’s (if I’d been thinking, I would have tried to move to a later flight home, but at least our flight is at 9:45am and not a really early flight). All was well.

Until Diane got an infected toe the week before we were to leave. Her doctor put her on antibiotics and wanted her to come back in a week — when she told the doctor about the trip, the doctor was dubious. And two days later, Diane returned, because her foot was looking worse, not better. But the doctor doubled the dose of antibiotics, and Diane improved, so we flew out last Sunday.

Sunday

Since we had to leave a day early to meet the first activity on the trip, we decided to take advantage and go visit Diane’s mom’s grave at Calverton National Cemetery, out in Suffolk County. And the smart thing seemed to be to stay at the Marriott Long Island in Uniondale; Marriott hotels are always reliable.

Not this time. We had to change rooms at 3am due to noise and a bad bed, after arguing with the night supervisor who wanted us to repack so we’d only have one room. I finally won that argument, and eventually, we got to sleep, but I am not a happy customer, and have a letter of complaint to write when I get home.

Monday

The trip to Calverton was uneventful, fortunately, and we even got a cache in after the visit. That ate into our time, though, so we didn’t make the other pilgrimages I’d planned, to Ralph’s or to Diane’s old house (though I have to admit that I was slightly worried about the latter, given the difficulty the buyers had had in getting a mortgage — I didn’t want to see the house vacant). We did manage a diner for lunch Baldwin Coach Diner, but it wasn’t anything special. A quick dash to JFK to return our car and a quick taxi ride later, and we were at our home for the next week, the Roosevelt Hotel.

And a short time later, we met our group in the lobby for our first activity, a walk to and tour of Grand Central Terminal and the surrounding area.

GCT's clock

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Then back to the hotel for a welcome reception — the wine and cheese were tasty, but insufficiently filling, so we took one of our companions’ recommendation for a quick, cheap, fairly tasty dinner at Curry in a Hurry; naturally, we walked both ways.

Tuesday

Tuesday dawned early, and we had our first of many breakfast buffets at the Roosevelt. I’m glad I didn’t have to think about the bill (it was included in the cost of the trip), but the food was good, and there were many choices — in fact, I never did try everything I wanted (the lox and bagel were just too good to pass up). Then it was into our “private motorcoach” for the longest day of the trip.

We started with a failure — we were supposed to have a tour of Masonic Hall, but the volunteer guide never showed up, so about all we saw was a waiting room, the restrooms, and this plaque.

Masonic Hall plaque

We couldn’t wait, because we had an appointment with another volunteer guide, this time for a tour of City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse. Fortunately, this guide volunteers for the city, so she showed up. But first, we wandered around City Hall Park, where I saw the day’s first reminder of 9/11:

Science marches on

City Hall Park was very pleasant; I especially enjoyed the fountain.

Fountain, City Hall Park

City Hall and Tweed Courthouse were interesting, but not terribly picturesque. Then we walked down into the financial district and had lunch at Les Halles. This was the first of our group meals, most of which had semi-set menus in the interest of speeding the meal along (not really rushing us, but keeping on schedule). I’d go back happily.

Lunch was well-timed, because it had started to rain just before we got to the restaurant, but the storm was over by the time we left for Federal Hall, Trinity Churchyard, St. Paul’s Chapel (where we saw the 9/11 exhibits), and finally a tour of the area around Ground Zero with volunteers from the 9/11 Tribute Center. One of the volunteers had worked on the 102nd floor of the South Tower but had changed jobs a few weeks before 9/11; he still lived in the area, and suffers from respiratory problems as a result. Of course, that wasn’t the most moving part of his story, but it’s all I can relate without distortion.

By the time we’d finished, it was 6pm, and our “private motorcoach” had a lot of traffic to fight on our return visit — I’m not sure but that the subway would have been a better choice. We got back to the hotel far too late to go to a show, so we went to dinner instead, at Angelo’s Pizza on Second Avenue, choosing the place by its four-star Yelp reviews. I wasn’t terribly impressed, and added my own review to help others in the future — there was nothing wrong with the pizza, but I was sure we could have done better.

Wednesday

We started Wednesday with a tour of the Tenement Museum, which included an interactive interpretive session; I got to play the role of the paterfamilias of a turn-of-the-20th-Century Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant family, asking questions of a teenaged Sephardic Jew who’d been in the country for a couple of years. It helped me appreciate what my grandfather had gone through when he came to America.

Tenament Museum (97 Orchard Street)

Then we walked down Rivington Street to Schiller’s Liquor Bar for a “light lunch” (only two courses); the neighborhood was a bit on the quiet side because it was Simchas Torah (Ashkenazi spelling deliberate, given the area), so some of the stores were closed. Schiller’s was fun and filling, but not so filling that I wasn’t interested in making a stop at Economy Candy, where I bought more than I should have but not as much as I wanted to.

Back on the bus for a trip up the East Side to Gracie Mansion for tea (and dessert) and a tour. We just missed the Mayor, who’d been there for a reception for the Consular Corps. Gracie Mansion is worth the trip; in previous years, the tour omitted the upstairs private quarters, but since Mayor Bloomberg decided to live in his own home instead of at the Mansion, the whole house is shown. And now that New York has lifted term limits, the odds are good that there will be four more years where you can see the whole place.

We returned to the hotel with plenty of time to visit TKTS and score tickets for Spamalot. They’d announced that they were closing in January earlier that day, so I’m glad we went when we did (I hadn’t known about the closing until I saw it printed on our ticket). On the other hand, I have to say that comparing the play with the movie shows the value of a limited budget — I far preferred the movie.

We tried to go to Akdeniz Turkish Cuisine before the show, but they were full, so we went next door to McAnn’s, which was a perfectly serviceable bar, with decent food and beer.

Thursday

Thursday was downright chilly and windy, which was a shame, because our first stop was outside, at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens.

Artist at work!

Michael Berens gave us a great tour of the exhibit (EAF08: 2008 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition, there until March 1, 2009); his comments and energy added a lot to my appreciation of the exhibit and kept me out in the wind until we were dragged away to join the vast majority of the tour, who were waiting patiently on the bus for us.

We made a quick stop in Astoria Park to admire the underside of the Triborough Bridge

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We then continued on to the Noguchi Museum, where we had a low-energy tour.

Lunch was at Taverna Kyclades in Astoria. It gets rave reviews on Yelp and in Zagat, but I thought they were only average; being in a group didn’t help, I’m sure, but the salmon was overcooked, and that didn’t jibe with their reputation. I might try them again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do so.

And that ended the organized portion of the day; we had decided to go see The 39 Steps if we could get tickets at a decent price. The lines at TKTS were long, but we’d found a half-price flyer on the way over, so we hiked the extra three blocks to the box office and took care of our business that way. Then we took advantage of IBM’s corporate membership in MoMA and went in for a short visit (because two museums just aren’t enough for a day in New York). After that, we cast about for dinner and ended up following a Twitterpal’s recommendation for Bukhara Grill, which was quite tasty but more expensive than I expected (note to self: if the menu in the window has opaqued prices, beware). I wish we could have brought our leftovers back, because they were too good to abandon — but without a refrigerator, abandonment was the only option.

The 39 Steps was great fun, though a bit hard to follow at times; I guess it would have helped to have seen the movie or read the book first.

Friday

Friday was the northern day of the tour. We started at Van Courtlandt House in the Bronx, not far from where the subway ends; then we visited Poe Cottage, which is about to undergo significant restoration, and then the Bronx Museum of the Arts where we had a well-guided, but too short, tour of the “Street Art/Street Life” exhibit.

After that, we journeyed to Harlem for lunch at Londel’s. They failed badly on the service side (Diane didn’t get her meal until 20 minutes after the rest of us were served, which was about an hour after we’d sat down), as well as not having the sweet potato pie that had been prearranged. And the food wasn’t very exciting anyway. I did enjoy the “local” Sugar Hill Beer while I waited for my food!

The slow service cost us the chance to walk around Striders’ Row, but we finished the afternoon at a high point, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, including an interesting ghost story.

Then it was back to the hotel to rest for a bit before the grand finale, a trip to Top of the Rock

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and a farewell dinner at the Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center.

Saturday

We had our last “tour” breakfast at the hotel and said goodbye to a number of folks who we saw there, then set out for a day of touring Manhattan on our own. There was much geocaching in the morning, not all of which was successful.

Lunch was at an old haunt of mine from my 1980 trip to the late, lamented IBM Systems Research Institute. Well, almost. In 1980, it was known as the Electra Coffee Shop; now, it’s the Morning Star Cafe, but it’s still a great New York diner.

After lunch, we walked up to Central Park for more geocaching, and then to the Metropolitan Museum (thanks, IBM!) to admire some European paintings and the current Chinese landscape exhibit, along with some quick trips through the Egyptian collection, the “New York, N. Why” exhibit, and some shopping.

Then we walked over to Beyoglu for another shot at a Turkish dinner; this time, we had no deadline, so, of course, they seated us immediately. This was another Yelp pick, and it was a winner — the vegetarian meze plate was great, as was the doner kabob. I’d go back cheerfully.

We decided against baklava for dessert in favor of Pinkberry for Diane and Sedutto for me — that was probably a mistake, because it had started raining while we were at dinner, and the rain really picked up while we were at Pinkberry. It eased up by the time we left, and wasn’t too bad on the way to Sedutto — but then the wind hit. My umbrella didn’t survive, and I wound up throwing it away before we got back to the hotel (sure, we could have taken a taxi — there were plenty available, despite the rain — but what fun would that have been?), and we were quite soaked. But it was fun anyway, and I felt virtuous, having walked over 30,000 steps for the day (which probably didn’t make up for the caloric intake).

Sunday

Today, we decided against the hotel breakfast; instead, we walked a block to Smiler’s, where Diane and I had breakfast for under $10. Total.

We had another reason for eating at Smiler’s instead of the hotel; we were having brunch with an old friend at Noho Star. After Saturday, we didn’t want to walk quite as much, so we picked up a MetroCard Fun Pass for the day and took the subway to NoHo, arriving early enough to do more geocaching (again, not all successful).

Brunch was very pleasant, as was catching up; Ed said that if the day was clear, we could do worse than to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and so that’s what we did (with a not-so-quick detour to the hotel to pick up my jacket).

I took a ton of photos on the bridge and in DUMBO, posting many of them on Twitter as they happened; Ed saw my tweets and arranged to meet us again, giving us some very useful tips on the local area, including the suggestion of having pastries at Almondine.

After that, we made a brief visit to Bloomingdale’s, and finished the evening with stops at two pizza places, Portofino on Second Avenue and Two Boots in Grand Central. Portofino was much closer to “real” New York pizza, at least given my choices (mushroom slice at Portofino, “Earth Mother with cheese” at Two Boots). And then a little Ciao Bello sorbetto to top off the evening.

Tomorrow, we get to see JetBlue’s new Terminal 5 — it’s going to be the first Monday the facility has been open. I hope security there works better on a Monday morning than it does at San Jose.

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2 Responses to Eating our way through New York

  1. Dwight says:

    I can’t tell if you got to any of the City’s great beer bars or if beer is of any interest. If it is at all, for your next visit, I recommend checking out BeerMenus.com. Finding a good beer bar is a great way to meet the locals and get some good tips . . . and just chill between planned events.

  2. David says:

    Hi, Dwight — Beer is, indeed, an interest, but not a major one (food comes well ahead of beer, at least domestically; England is a different animal). I will keep BeerMenus.com in mind for our next trip to NYC, though.

    Cheers!