Monday, May 09, 2011

Fleas, Beads and Pork Bellies

Having hosted a very casual and laid-back Mother's Day brunch at the apartment on Saturday morning/afternoon, we wandered up our street to The Affordable Art Fair, just opposite the Empire State Building.

Now I don't know anything about art, and I don't even pretend to, but I found it really amusing that "affordable" really is a fluid concept in New York. The set up for the AAF was very similar to the art & design shows I'd seen at The Merchandise Mart in Chicago, so I was hoping to find some legitimately affordable pieces amongst the more expensive items. There were a couple of exhibitors with unframed prints on sale for about $100, but most of the pieces were easily hovering around the $400-$1,000 mark.

Despite my disillusionment at the cost of things, I really enjoyed the fact that artists and galleries had come from all over the US, Europe and even Australia to exhibit their work. The lady from the Brisbane gallery had some lovely Indigenous Australian art (mostly dot paintings) and the colours were particularly beautiful. Unfortunately the price was just a little - or maybe a lot - out of my reach. Next time, maybe.

After the AAF we crossed the street and went into The Morgan Library & Museum - well more accurately, we went into the Museum gift shop. Now I'm a sucker for libraries but an even bigger sucker for Museum gift shops, and this one is gorgeous. Their collection of reference books for sale is just lovely and I happily browsed for a while in there. I'd like to go back to the Museum and see its latest exhibition of private diaries - Jane Austen, Mark Twain and others are apparently in there. Mrs H said the Museum is architecturally gorgeous too, so I'd like to check it out. When we went there, the main Museum space was being set up for an event (a wedding, we presumed - given the sheer amount of flowers being arranged). What a lovely venue for it...

We were all starting to fade by this time so as we headed for home we called into The Nordic Center - again, to check out the gift shop. Meatball fans that we are, I know K and me will be back for brunch at the cafe - plus I think I will need to buy a jar of those lingonberries that I picked up and put back a couple of times.

Dinner on Saturday night was a cheap and cheerful affair at a BYO Asian restaurant up the street from our place. I think I was almost asleep on my feet at this point, and when we got home we stayed up long enough to greet Mr H and then we all just crashed.

Sunday morning was full of promise - bright sunshine, a hint of breeze - just gorgeous. We had decided to spend the whole day over in Brooklyn, browsing the antique shops and the flea markets.

We caught the subway and rocked down to Atlantic Avenue, home of some lovely antique shops. It was funny snaking through the piles of vintage chairs, tables, and assorted home decor items. Everywhere you looked in those antique stores, there was a dusty hidden gem. I had my eye on a lovely mahogany writing desk and matching chair but as with my experience on Saturday, these items were not as affordable as I had hoped.

It's amazing how quickly you can work up an appetite in those antique stores though! We had a quick bite to eat at a little Middle Eastern place called Bedouin Tent. We got lucky enough to find a table for 4 outside in the restaurant's little garden space and it was just beautiful out there. The food was really tasty too - delicious fresh salads, straight-from-the-oven pita breads and my leg of lamb sandwich with minty mayonnaise was just yummy. The peppermint tea and slice of baklava finished the meal beautifully.

But there was no rest for the wicked yesterday and we caught the subway to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens in the hope of seeing the cherry blossoms. The festival was over of course, but the trees were still in bloom so we thought it would be a good spot to walk around and enjoy the sunshine. None of us had remembered that the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens charges a $10 admission fee and we really didn't feel much like paying that, particularly not when Prospect Park is pretty much right next door and is totally free. K was very helpful in reminding us that Prospect Park is the perfect dump site for bodies in "Law and Order" but we didn't see any corpses yesterday. Phew!

I loved walking around Prospect Park yesterday; not just for the weather, but families seemed to be out enjoying the sunshine and having picnics and playing frisbee and playing with their dogs - it was lots of fun. A perfect Mother's Day really. We wandered along the footpaths just soaking up the atmosphere at a very leisurely pace. A quick stop for a restorative icecream across from the Park, and we were back on the subway bound for the Williamsburg neighbourhood.

The view of Manhattan from Williamsburg (or Billyburg, as some people know it) is just beautiful. You really can't beat that panorama. On a much smaller scale, people had spread their picnic rugs out on the patches of grass and they were set up to enjoy the view. Right next door to their makeshift picnic ground is the newly-expanded outdoor Brooklyn Flea Market. Just as we arrived it was getting close to 5pm closing time and the vendors were starting to pack up. But we stil got the chance to see the sorts of wares on offer - furniture, old books, vintage clothes and handmade jewellery. Wandering up towards the Bedford Avenue pubs & bars, we called into the indoor Market, and browsed some more of the vintage clothes and handmade jewellery stalls.

By this time our feet were throbbing and we desperately needed a nice cold drink and an opportunity to sit still for a while. We walked over to Rye, a great little spot with a lovely wooden bar and old NY filament light bulbs and even an antique-looking cash register at the bar (which turned out to be purely ornamental, but still looks pretty cool). I had a couple of vodka, lime & sodas and they were very strong, but very refreshing. Just what I needed!

Just as my feet and calves had relaxed a bit, we were off again to walk to our restaurant for dinner. K had made reservations at Dressler, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. A Michelin-starred restaurant, Dressler is a really beautiful place. The service is excellent and we were well taken care of, as we sat at the bar and enjoyed some wine and oysters before dinner. Once we were seated, we shared a delicious octopus starter and then I had the pork belly for my main course. I could not fit dessert in, but we did share the rhubarb/meringue special and also the banana tarte tatin, both of which were sweet and delicious.

By the time we finished our meal, I think the pace of our day had finally caught up with all of us. As we piled into the taxi to head back to the apartment, sure we had sore feet, but we also had full stomachs and contented smiles. A really great day out.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Tipping my Sombrero to NYC

For this, my 1005th post on this blog, I need to bring you up to speed on last night's Cinco de Mayo celebration.

A friend on Facebook summarised yesterday's 5 May anniversary as the day that the Mexicans kicked Napoloeon's ass. Succint, and true.

I suspect the original Cinco de Mayo celebrations were just as rowdy as the ones I've experienced over the last few years, firstly in Chicago and now here in NYC. And Cinco de Mayo is a bit like St Patrick's Day, in that you don't need to be from Mexico to join the fiesta.

My Cinco de Mayo date this year was K's mum, who is visiting us at the moment. My neighbourhood is full of Mexican restaurants (for no other reason than coincidence I think) and naturally I didn't think to make dinner reservations because I can be a bit useless like that. And so in rather optimistic fashion, we hit the streets to see if we could just get in anywhere.

Drunken revellers were spilling out of the crowded bars selling $4, $5 and $6 margaritas and drinks specials on Corona beers. Some people were looking a little worse for wear even early in the evening, but you could tell that a good time was being had.

The closest Mexican place to us, El Parador was chock-full and showing no signs of slowing down. Ditto several other places that we visited. By this stage I was getting hungry and suggested to Mrs H that we just eat anywhere and maybe enjoy a post-dinner margarita on the walk home. Suggestion accepted.

So in we went to Cavatappo Wine Bar and I absolutely loved it. Browse the website at your leisure but do not go to the restaurant itself because then you'll love it too, and then everyone will go and I'll never get a table. Cute and straight waiters - an extensive wine list - yummy food menu - it was all there. We split a carafe of easy-drinking red wine, and I had a delicious baked pasta dish (duck ragu).

After our meal, the pubs - and the crowds - were still pumping, but we took another chance at El Parador for a tequila-flavoured digestif.

Again, browse the El Parador website as much as you want, but do not go to the restaurant. I never want to miss the opportunity to have their margaritas. They are so, so good. The staff there are always lovely and last night, as we sat on our barstools downstairs in the event space, Mrs H and I happily sipped our drinks and watched the Cinco de Mayo chaos reign all around us.

Like most cocktails, margaritas are like eyes - one is too few, three is too many. An aside, why do I never remember this cautionary phrase when I'm actually imbibing the damn things? I woke up today feeling quite human but admittedly I've been getting foggier as the day wears on. I don't actually blame the margaritas for any of this though. I think it was the shots of tequila mixed with pineapple juice that really did the damage. I mean seriously, why would you taint tequila with pineapple juice anyway?! Its muy loco, muchachas!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Walk This Way, Talk This Way

No alarm necessary this morning - some nearby disaster brought with it the lights & sirens of the NYPD so that was enough to get me out of bed fairly early today. Nothing that a strong coffee couldn't fix though.

I caught the subway up north to the Upper East Side today and walked along Fifth Avenue in the dappled sunshine along what is known as Museum Mile. It's not a very creative name when you think about it, given that the forty (or so) blocks are home to some of NY's most iconic arts and cultural institutions. In fact, during my walk I saw a flyer for the Museum Mile Festival in June 2011 and I have to go back and check that out. The whole area is a beautiful part of NYC - particularly in spring time with all the flowers in bloom and the weather putting on a fantastic show. Even with my horrible Lego hair and dirty sneakers, I was in a great mood. PS - I am totally fixing my awful hair next week - I have an appointment and everything. Phew!

Before long, I had walked from East 96th Street, all the way along Central Park and down to The Plaza Hotel at E58th-59th Streets. Not a bad walk at all. I sat in the shade at the Pulitzer Fountain and did a bit of reading and people watching. It was great to look across at the Apple Store and FAO Schwarz toy store and realise that I didn't have to be part of those crazy touristy crowds, unless I really wanted to be, of course. The pedestrian traffic on Fifth Avenue was pretty nuts today but everyone seemed to be in a good mood which I think really helps.

I got up and wandered the couple of blocks along Fifth Avenue into Tiffany & Co, just for a bit of a look. I headed straight up to the silver jewellery floor (much easier to blend in up there, than downstairs with all the blingy jewels). I didn't need the emotional uplift of the silver department but hey - who ever needs an excuse for Tiffany's?!

After getting my fix of shiny, pretty things I headed back out into the sunshine and over to the very cute Paris Theatre to see Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu in their new movie, "Potiche" (The Trophy Wife). From what I could tell there is only one cinema in the whole place and even that's not very big. There were not too many people in the theatre either, so it was quite nice to just lose a couple of hours in there.

Emerging from the darkness after the film, I walked home and now my legs are starting to feel the after-effects of all my exercise but I am really pleased I got out for the day.

Again, today was one of those days were I didn't have to be anywhere or do anything in particular. I could have quite easily detoured into some of the museums I walked past this morning, but in a way I'm glad I didn't. It just felt really nice to walk past them this time, confident that I will come back to them one day soon. I am starting to get a bit more oriented in the City and that is cheering me a great deal. I even gave some girls directions to Park Avenue today, and I was 100% sure that I was pointing them the right way (we were 2 blocks away, so it wasn't that hard). I still have a lot of this island to discover, I'm under no illusions about that, but while these weekend walks are aimless, I still feel like I'm getting somewhere.