The moment I stepped foot outside my hotel in New York, I became Buddy The Elf. I could not stop ogling the sights, giggling at the simplest things (oh my god, there really are hot dog stands on every corner and shoe-shiners outside every building) and taking pictures at every step.
I found beauty in buildings….
I found art in shopping…
I found talent in hidden places…
But more than anything, I found food. Yes, the first thought of every day was – what am I going to eat and where? I must fit it all in – food trucks, coffee shops, Greenwich Village cafes, and at least one fantastic mind-blowing dinner. And guess what? I did. I did just that.
I’ve recorded all my memories, as best as I can remember them, for you here. If any of you ever visit New York, you’ll most likely feel the same anxiety I did – there’s so much to do, and so little time. You’ll think, I want to only experience “the best” spots. But guess what? You will. And you can’t worry about what you’ve missed when you leave. Because New York is about following your senses, and finding what speaks to you. It was built to serve all tastes, diets, ethnicities, and yes, even pocket books. Remember this and I promise you – you’ll have an unforgettable time. Because it’s inevitable.
Swedish coffee shop. Known for their espressos, fresh ingredients and decadent chocolate truffles. I had an egg salad wrap and an espresso. The egg salad was incredibly fresh. The espresso, anti-climactic. They assumed I wanted it to-go. And when a tiny shot of espresso is served in a paper to-go cup, it really ruins the taste and the effect. The best part was how close it was to the Plaza Hotel, where I discovered….
The real Tartinery is actually a fine French cuisine restaurant located in Nolita, but this location is more of a wine bar/juice bar/breakfast bar located in the open-area Food Hall of the Plaza hotel. I ordered a Healthy Elixir mixed with carrots, kale, ginger and some other good stuff. It was smooth and refreshing and totally hit the spot after my mildly disappointing espresso. But more than anything, my eyes got to experience gourmet food heaven. The Tartinery was one of many food bars. It sat amongst a lobster bar, a coffee bar, a chocolate bar, a frozen yogurt bar, a sushi bar, and countless bakeries with beautiful pastries lit-up in elegant glass cases. It was bright and lively and decadent – a casual yet luxurious environment that made me wish I was a real guest of the hotel, but also happy just to bask in it for a little while.
The next morning, I was determined to spend the day in Greenwich Village, walking every street and poking my head in every boutique and cafe. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain. I consulted my Fodor’s Guide, which took me straight to Joe’s for their works-of-art-lattes. I was so excited to get out of the rain and enjoy one that I ordered quickly without thinking. Of course, the default-order for any latte is whole milk based. I took one sip and knew – even if I was on vacation – that I couldn’t stomach rich, creamy whole fat milk. I exchanged it for a soy latte, apologizing profusely and offering to pay for it, and they refused to accept it and quickly made me another masterpiece. It was most definitely beautiful, and did taste good, but I must admit, didn’t blow my mind. With no egg sandwiches or substantial breakfast food in sight, I also had an Apricot scone on the side. I left hungry for real food (exactly what I was hoping for).
My encounter with Alice’s Tea Cup was true serendipity. I never would have went there had I not run into a lady from London named Suzy. I was lost and a little flustered when I found an older, well-dressed, kind-faced woman on the street. My experience with New Yorkers so far had been wonderful in helping me find my way so I didn’t hesitate to stop and ask this lady for directions. Ironically, I found out that she was actually more lost than me, looking for a place called Alice’s Tea Room. After hearing her accent and her gentle demeanor, I felt compelled to help her find her way. And hell, I was curious about Alice’s Tea Room too (my Mom is British and I knew she would love a picture of it). By the time we had found it, Suzy decided to invite me to join her for a spot of tea. I enjoyed Apricot Brandy tea and shared the most amazing scone I ever had in my life with Suzy (Pumpkin Caramel Glaze). We talked about England, family, and the scary similarities between her daughter in Los Angeles (also an only child) and me. By the end, I felt I had just made a good friend. We exchanged emails and have actually corresponded since my return. Suzy, also enamored with the scone, took it upon herself to get the recipe from Alice’s. I promise, if you are a scone-lover, or even if you’re not, this will put you over the edge. Just contact me and I will send you this life-changing recipe.
By day three, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t consult a travel guide, a friend’s suggestion or Yelp to find my way. Just my senses. After walking in the rain around Greenwich Village for the better part of the afternoon, passing cafés, wine bars, combination café/wine bars, lobster bakes, sushi bars and organic hot spots, I finally settled on the Hummus Place. And I couldn’t have been happier with my decision. As a former vegan, I can still whole-heartily appreciate a really quality ingredient vegan meal. I ordered the Eggplant sandwich, which came with side salad, with a homemade lemon vinaigrette, a side of falafel and spicy dipping sauce and a glass of red wine – all for a measly $12. The eggplant sandwich was soft, savory, pickled, full-of-flavor and compacted into fresh-baked pita bread. The falafel was crunchy on the outside with a soft, green center on the inside. But my absolute favorite part was the green dipping sauce – spicy, herby, lemony, and did I mention spicy? In conclusion, it was a perfectly paired, gooshy concoction that was ridiculously satisfying and probably the healthiest meal I had had since I’d arrived (there’s only so much decadence I can handle). I took my time eating it at the best spot in the house, positioned in-between two tables of good friends on lunch dates and in place for the perfect view of 7th avenue and Bleeker street to watch West Village-ians in their natural habitat.
On day one, I searched high and low for the perfect lunch spot. I went so far as to step inside one bustling organic cafe, sit down with a menu, and get served water by a waitress. But after being left alone too long, I hesitated that it wasn’t going to be the perfect New York lunch. So I kept walking, and I am so glad I did. Because if not, I would never have accomplished this true New York experience – ordering delicious truck-made food on-the-go. Comme Ci Comme Ca was fifth in a line-up of trucks on 52nd street at Park Ave. There was a gyros truck, a taco truck and even a lobster food truck, but when I saw the brightly-colored Comme Ci Comme Ca truck with the words THINK DIFFERENT printed across the side, I knew I had found the one. I ordered a Vegetarian Cigar – grilled seasoned vegetables, marinated in soy sauce, wrapped in fried, crunchy filo dough. I literally ate it with one hand, and held my umbrella with the other as I ran through the pouring rain all the way back to my hotel. The intention was just for one bite until I got to my room, but it barely made it to two blocks. Quite simply, it was relatively good-for-me awesomeness.
I feel that I am doing this restaurant a great disservice by reducing its review to a short paragraph in a sea of other reviews, but it most definitely belongs on my list of New York dining experiences. The gist: Five courses, four of them to die for, and one sommelier that made my night. The theme is Austrian cuisine with a twist – all of it in season and will change the moment it is not. This meal was one of those in which you wish you could recall what you ate in the days following – but when asked, all you know is that it was heaven in your mouth. Bright orange liquids being poured over crunchy seeds, an egg mixture of some sort atop lobster and sprinkled with crumbs of pumpernickel, cauliflower that you didn’t realize was cauliflower until you asked because it was disguised as an earthy, crumbly base to a porkbelly so soft and juicy it must’ve been marinating for days, and textures that ranged from creamy to crunchy to crumbly. Best part was, the incredibly educated yet unpretentious sommelier overheard me rave about the taste of coffee beans in my duck. He stopped in his tracks to tell me, “I’ve worked here for five years, and I’ve never known anybody with the palate to detect coffee. You’re absolutely right, there is coffee in that dish.” Night: made.
Note: I made a “no pictures promise” to myself during this meal so I could enjoy the experience without distraction.
This cocktail bar/restaurant came highly recommend to me by my foodie boss who takes his dining very seriously so my boyfriend and I knew we had to try it. Freeman’s is the epitome of the New York hidden gem, literally tucked in an alley in the Lower East Side. If I hadn’t been told about it, I NEVER would have found it. We were greeted by a beautiful, flowy-skirted hostess, sat at the bar till our table was ready, served toxically delicious cocktails by a midriff-showing, curly haired, tough-as-nails bartender, and eventually sat in a very dark corner where taxidermy hung over our heads. Our waiter served me a honking piece of silvery trout and my boyfriend pork loin with roasted apples. To be completely honest, the food was good, but did not blow me away – my trout had bones in it and was slightly tougher than I like it. But the experience was so fantastic that I walked away incredibly satisfied that I just experienced the night of a true, in-the-know New Yorker.
My boyfriend and I were whisked away on our first night out by an old friend who took it upon herself to show us a good night in New York. Besides feeling blessed to reunite with this friend, if only for a night, she really knew her stuff and I am forever grateful for her taking us under her wing while we were there. In the hospitality industry herself, she knew the best restaurants and bars in midtown (beyond the tourist traps). Andaz 5th Avenue is a hotel that happens to have one of the coolest bar/restaurant setups I have ever seen. We first went to The Shop – Andaz’s main restaurant – where we enjoyed a glass of wine and appetizers. A look at their farm-to-table menu made me want to stick around here for the rest of the night. It was so cozy, even with a packed house, and our waiter was very friendly. But before I knew it, we were called for our table at the Bar Downstairs. Which quite literally took us downstairs, through a hallway with glass walls, and into a bustling underground with large open kitchen and drink space. My friend knew the bartender, told him to serve us something special, and from then on, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else. My drink consisted of ginger (my favorite), orange peel and deliciousness (since it was made up by the bartender, I have no idea what it really was). We then ordered crinkly, fire-roasted peapods (my friend is vegan) and house-smoked pork belly for my boyfriend. The place was packed and full of energy, but still allowed for good conversation with my old friend and my boyfriend. It was the perfect first night in New York (thank you again, Pami).
The best part about Freeman’s (dinner review above) is where it took us afterwards. After learning our love of good wine, our hostess took it upon herself to poll the restaurant on the best wine bar in town. She slipped my boyfriend a piece of paper with the word Amuse scribbled on it, and we promptly followed her direction. We sat front and center at the bar where we were greeted by our laid back, Chicago-loving bartender who, of course, was an actor on the side (or rather an actor first, and a bartender on the side). We talked Bears, wine, acting and traveling for the rest of the night. We closed the place down, only to be joined by the owner who was just as friendly as the bartender, and in no hurry to kick us out as soon as he heard we were from Chicago. The wine as I remember it was very tasty, but at that point, I was countless drinks in so I don’t feel I can give an honest review. All I can say was that Amuse confirmed this night to be my most unforgettable New York experience.
LATE NIGHT GRUB
99 Cent Pizza
Oh wait! How could I forget? The night did not end there. As previously mentioned, my boyfriend and I were countless drinks in, and that meant we needed something to soak it all up. It was time for my first SLICE. We jumped in a cab and told the cabbie to take us to his favorite New York pizza place that was still opened at this hour. Without hesitation, he took us to 99-Cent Pizza. I honestly think that was the name of it – although I really can’t be sure at this point. We felt that the line of people confirmed that it was a popular choice. We each got a slice to go and literally ran with it down the street in the rain. When I finally opened the piping hot, personal pizza box and bit into it, I discovered, hands down, the best pizza I’ve ever had. I know you’re not going to believe me here. One, because I already told you my judgment was clouded by countless glasses of cocktails and wine. Two, it was 99 cent pizza. But I swear to God, it was chewy, doughy, fresh, cheesy, toasty goodness. I’m not going to say it out loud because I don’t want to be a traitor to Chicago pizza, but Damn.