Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New York In 5 Days - Day 3

Day 3 - Our original itinerary changed slightly for day three. I had planned to spend the day in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, but after seeing a billboard for How to Succeed in Business, a favorite of my daughters, we decided to add that to the itinerary, limiting our time in Lower Manhattan.

We started our day again very early, grabbing a bagel at Time Square Bagels and then hopping a train to South Ferry. (The bagel was pretty good, but I have never had a bagel before so I don't know what a bad bagel may taste like.) Our timing couldn't have been better, as we came out of the subway and into the ferry terminal the ferry just arrived and was ready to board. We started out on the left, port side, of the ferry, taking in the views of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

After taking as many pictures as we could of Brooklyn, we walked over to the right side, starboard, to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty looked so much smaller in real life, and didn't seem as amazing as I thought it would be. I was glad that we decided on the free ferry instead of the Statue of Liberty tour. We came, we saw, we walked to Brooklyn for lunch.

We walked from the ferry terminal along the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was quite a walk, about 3 miles, and it was hot and humid that day, but the views from the bridge were beautiful.

Our first stop in Brooklyn was just under the bridge at Grimaldi's. I read many reviews on yelp on where to find the best pizza and Grimaldi's sounded like the place. Obviously we weren't the only ones that heard about it, because outside the restaurant people were lined up waiting to be seated. This restaurant was not like others where you put your name on a list and waited to be called, this place treated you like cattle, corralled by a rope on the sidewalk. Once we made our way to the front of the chute line we were pointed to two open seats at a large crowded table and handed a menu with no words spoken.
I had been told that New York makes a pizza called a white pizza that I should try. It is suppose to be delicious and yet plain enough for a picky eater like myself, made with only crust and cheese. My daughter wasn't interested in the white pizza at all and since they were too big for just one person, we compromised and ordered a peperoni pizza from the uninterested waiter. The pizza was absolutely amazing, I have recently turned into a super picky pizza critic and this had to be the best pizza I have had. The crust was thinner than I typically like, but it made up for it's thinness with flavor, and the sauce was delicious as well, but I think what really made the pizza delicious was the soft gooey mozzarella cheese,  a far cry from the rubbery cheese you typically get on pizza. I would gladly be treated like Flossie the Cow to have just a slice of Grimaldi's pizza again.

Although we were stuffed after finishing the entire pizza, we had to have dessert at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is only several yards from Grimaldi's and on a small water taxi pier in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. The shop was small and crowded, but the employees were friendly and beyond efficient. I ordered a Chocolate Chocolate Chunk and my daughter ordered a plain Chocolate, it was delicious. When they claim they use the finest ingredients, they are right, it was rich and creamy and you could taste the high quality chocolate. It was so good, I finished the entire ice cream cone, even though I was completely full from the pizza.

Even though we were absolutely stuffed, and already had our dessert, we were in the neighborhood of Jacques Torres Chocolate, so we had to go in. Jacques Torres is the person responsible for my passion of making sweets. My first dessert cookbook was his Dessert Circus, and my first recipe I tried was Cotton Candy. (I have never been one to start slowly.) The shop was like walking into a box of chocolate. I was ridiculously full and completely overwhelmed when I walked in, and the only thing I could remember was that their chocolate chip cookie had a good review. I have to say, it wasn't very good, if it had been something out of the ordinary I would have found a way to eat it, but instead I took a bite and threw it away. It was such a let down.

After all of the food we ate we could have used a walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge, but instead we found the nearest subway and went back to Manhattan to the site of the World Trade Center. The large opening between the buildings and the construction work was a little eerie.  When we went into the temporary 9/11 Memorial Museum,  it really hit me. I have avoided Pearl Harbor every time I have been to Hawaii for a reason, so why did I think I could handle something like this. My eyes teared up instantly and then my stomach started to turn. I quickly went to the store area to keep myself busy as my daughter continued to looked around.

It was a strange transition from something so somber to shopping, but it was the next thing on our itinerary. We stopped by Canal Street but were too creeped out by the pushy knockoff vender's, literally grabbing my arms, that we continued on to the more relaxed West Village. After buying some adorable Lulu Guinness accessories, the sales girl told us that we should go to Magnolia Bakery, just across the street.
I had been wanting to try Magnolia since we got to New York, and now we could finally taste the famous cupcakes. It sure wasn't what I expected. Inside the tiny shop was a small sad looking self-serve table with a few cupcakes surrounded by unappetising crumbs. I make it a point to stay away from self-serve food, people touching everything with their dirty hands, coughing or sneezing on the food, hair falling onto it, no thanks, but we were in New York and this was Magnolia, so I ignored my inner health inspector and picked up the best looking vanilla and chocolate cupcake. (Luckily I don't own a black light.) We walked to the nearby park and bit into the worst vanilla cupcake I had ever tasted, my daughter's exact words were, "I don't like it. It's dry and gross". The chocolate was even worse, I had to spit it back out into the box. What were people thinking raving about these cupcakes and buying giant bags full of them, have they never used a box of Duncan Hines, because a box mix was better than what they were selling. The lesson I learned from this, don't trust what you see on Sex in the City :)

Unfortunately I didn't have time to shop at the boutiques in Soho, we had to get back to the Theater District to see another Broadway show, we had added to our itinerary.
Just this past year, my daughter saw her high school's performance of How to Succeed in Business, and loved it, so when we saw a billboard advertising the show I had to get tickets. It was a fun show, staring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette, who played off each other and the audience brilliantly. Although Chicago remained my favorite, my daughter thought this was the best show we saw our entire trip.

It was another late night dinner after the show, this time at Carmine's. I was still amazed that at 11:30 at night restaurants still had 30 minutes waits. The food at Carmine's is served family style, so like the pizza for lunch, we had to both agree on something. We chose the basic spaghetti marinara, and like most of the other food we have had in New York this was close to the best pasta I have had. (They have some competition in the Cook Islands.) I was so impressed by their food I bought their cookbook, and even the spaghetti and meatballs I made from the book were quite impressive.

* Tip - CVS has Dr Scholls foldable flats that fit into your purse and come in handy 1/2 across the Brooklyn Bridge.
            Stay away from Canal Street knock-offs, they are not cheap and kind of scary.

* Cost - Grimaldi's: peperoni pizza & 2 sodas = $18.00
              Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory: Chocolate Chunk & Chocolate = $8.00
              Jacques Torres: Chocolate Chip Cookie = $3.00
              Magnolia Bakery: 2 cupcakes = $5.50
              Carmine's: Marinara = $25.00

Friday, July 1, 2011

New York In 5 Days - Day 2

Day 2, were up and out of our room by 7am and off to breakfast at Bouchon Bakery.(Yes the same Bouchon Bakery I am obsessed with in Napa.) This Bouchon was a lot larger than the Napa location and felt more like a Starbucks, missing the bakery feel. The Napa courtyard was replaced with a large windowed wall with bar stools facing the Today Show Plaza, where we could enjoy our breakfast and make fun of the people trying to get on TV.

The menu was very similar to the Napa & Vegas shops, the only thing that stood out to me as different was a delicious looking Mint Pie and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaron. I had a little bit of a sugar hangover from the night before so I had to pass on those and stick with my standard Chocolate Croissant, which was not nearly as good as Napa.
After breakfast we headed towards the American Museum of Natural History, by way of Central Park.
Central Park was beautiful, and I have to admit I was a little surprised. Being smack dab in the middle of this huge city was a peaceful oasis, clean and green, with only a hint of city peaking out above the trees. Depending on when you ask me I might say Central Park was one of my favorite places we went to in New York.

After following the trails through the park, we walked out right in front of the American Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately there was construction on the front of the museum so it lost some of its architectural beauty.
Inside the museum was amazing and we could have spent an entire day there if it wasn't for our tight schedule and the hundreds of bratty kids running amuck. For this trip we focused only on the dinosaurs, but next time I would spend the day (non-school field trip day), to really see everything, including the planetarium.

Once we finally found our way out of the museum, it was time for lunch at the Shake Shack, which was right around the corner from the museum. I was looking forward to their corn dog I had read about, but it turns out it is only seasonal, so my daughter and I both got cheeseburgers, a order of fries and shakes. The burgers reminded me of a burger I had at Smashburger, good, but nothing supper special. The shakes on the other hand were definitely the BEST EVER. I had ordered the caramel and my daughter ordered the peanut butter. The caramel was really good, with just the right hint of caramel, but the peanut butter was out of this world, rich and creamy and perfectly peanut buttery.

After the cheeseburgers and shakes, it was time for an afternoon dessert. A few blocks down from the Shake Shack is Levain's Bakery, home of the giant palm sized cookie. I saw them on Throwdown with Bobby Flay a while ago, and decided to give them a shot since even Yelp loves them. The bakery is so obscure I would have walked by it if my daughter didn't point it out. Inside is just as understated as the outside, a small room with a tiny counter displaying a few cookies, with the majority of the small space devoted to the kitchen. We ordered one chocolate chocolate cookie and one chocolate peanut butter cookie. I awarded these the title of, BEST COOKIES EVER.  Soft and chewy, with a rich chocolate flavor and slightly melted chocolate chips. YUM! They were so big we put them back in the bag and nibbled on them throughout the rest or the day.

The next stop on our itinerary was the New York Library, and to get to there, we took the subway for our first time. (It was actually my first time to ever use any form of public transportation, unless you count the bus on Rarotonga that only goes clockwise or anti-clockwise.) I was a little intimidated but it was so much easier and less scary than I had expected. We bought a $20 MetroCard and were off on the 7 Avenue Express towards New Lots Station. It is definitely the way to get around New York.

We left the subway, passed Bryant Park and up to the New York Library steps. It was the most beautiful library I had ever seen, and down on the ground floor, inside the children's section, the real Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals are displayed. Not ever being a big Winnie the Pooh fan, it was still interesting seeing the inspiration behind such a classic book.

From the library, we walked down to Grand Central Station. Not a lot to see there, it is basically what you see on TV and movies, but we had to go, just so we could be annoying and say "we've been there".

Next on the list was the Empire State Building. Before we even left for our trip to New York I purchased a Empire State Building Express Pass online for an extra $10, and it was well worth the money. The Express Pass let us walk past everyone else in line and get directly on the elevator, saving us a good 30 minute wait. The view from the 86th floor was amazing, you could see everything, Central Park, Brooklyn, the Statue of Liberty. The 102nd floor I felt was somewhat a waste of time, you are inside and only have windows to look out, and the view isn't much different. The only thing you really get from going to 102nd floor is bragging rights that you have been to the top of the Empire State Building.

With the major attractions out of the way, it was time to go shopping at Mood fabric, and then a snack at The Little Pie Company.  The Little Pie Company was definitely little and didn't have much of an atmosphere. Having excellent reviews, I ordered the cheesecake in a sad little plastic box. I must say, I am not a huge cheesecake person for two reasons: (1) I don't like food the color white, with a few exceptions, (2) I don't like cream cheese. Since we were in New York I felt I should have cheesecake at least once, and I was so glad I did. This little cheesecake was light and fluffy and didn't have an overpowering cream cheese taste, it was surprisingly good.

With our feet a little sore and everything on our itinerary checked off, we walked back to our hotel to re-energize before our first Broadway show.
I had never seen a Broadway show before, so I thought a classic like Chicago would be the perfect starting point. It was amazing to see it live, and only 5 rows from the stage. Christie Brinkley as Roxie Hart was terrific, although a little annoying that she can sing, dance and look amazing at 50. My daughter thought it was fun as well, but she felt, they were all too old. (She is 14, 30 year olds are old to her.)  

After the show we went to a late night dinner at Virgil's Barbecue, had some ribs, mashed potatoes, and delicious macaroni and cheese. Then we danced our way back to our hotel (Pop!Six!Squish!Uh Uh!Cicero!Lipschitz!), hoping to get a few hours of sleep before our alarm clock woke us bright and early the next morning.

* Tip - get a little extra money on your MetroCard, we went down to the wrong train two or three times :)
       - Buy the Empire State Building Express Pass, and skip the 102nd floor.

 * Cost - Shake Shack: 2 cheeseburgers, french fries, lemonade, 2 shakes = $25.10 (the shakes were more than the burgers)
              Levain Bakery: 2 cookies = 8.00
             The little Pie Company: mini cheesecake = 4.25 (I think)


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