Sunday, April 01, 2012

Loving New York, one dish at a time

I had a really delicious dinner out last night at Nice Matin, on the Upper West Side; though I had no idea this little French gem was hidden away so close to my beloved Zabar's.  The evening started with bubbles and continued with red wines, punctuated by buttery, garlicky escargots and a delicious roast duck braised in blood orange juice with endives, and a creamy polenta on the side.  We stopped off on the way home for a glass of Pedro Ximenez "Don PX" at tiny Wine and Roses just to round out the rich meal.  Like molten raisins in a glass - this dessert wine was just heavenly.

Only 48 hours ago, I actually told myself I was going to pull back on the eating and drinking particularly since it's all I seem to have been doing since the NYC Half-Marathon two weeks ago.  But as many people know, my Dad (aka Special K) has been staying with me and when one has house guests, one casts one's healthy eating plan aside and throws oneself into playing the 'hostest with the mostest'.  Because when one's family goes away, one gets very sad very quickly.

My healthy eating plan was not the only thing to get cast aside when Special K came to town.  I also neglected to keep up this blog.  So rather than write post after lengthy post I'm going to give you the dot-point recap of our adventure together.  Hold onto your hats, kids - this might get rough:

  • Beecher's Cheese Shop - Now I've been raving about this place because of their grilled cheese martini (which nobody wants to try with me).  But the thing about Beecher's is that they are around the corner from my beloved Italian hangoutmy hair salon and my Pilates studio, so I have no excuse whatsoever to stay away from the store.  I dragged Dad in there the day before the half-marathon so that I could load up on carbs (their mac & cheese is amazing, by the way).  But while we were there, we also watched the guys actually making cheese in these huge steel vats on-site.  It's impressive stuff, and tasty to boot.
  • Union Square - With Special K still on the hunt for an iPad, or tablet or netbook or similar, we headed into Union Square, through the farmer's market, to see what the 24-hour Best Buy store could offer.  Along the way we stopped in at Fish's Eddy and I kicked myself AGAIN for not buying the New York Times Crossword Puzzle book (which they don't sell online but it does exist, I promise).  I pick it up every time I'm in the store and I never buy it.  What's wrong with me, man?
  • Our next stop was Williamsburg, for Special K's first visit to Brooklyn.  I don't know this neighbourhood well at all; in fact, I really don't know Brooklyn well at all.  But I had gathered some intelligence from friends beforehand and Special K was happy just to wander Bedford Avenue and remark on the (very obvious) differences between Manhattan and this part of Brooklyn.  Lots of bearded, skinny-jeaned hipsters to be sure, but just as many young families and local artists exhibiting their wares along the sidewalks (footpaths, for those of you playing along at home).  But Special K definitely liked Williamsburg, and certainly we lucked out with the weather that day, and people were making the most of the gorgeous outdoor cafes and all the parks and softball ovals were being used and it was gorgeous.  By this point, and unbeknownst to me at the time, we'd wandered into Greenpoint and called into a great Belgian beer bar called Spritzenhaus for a cleansing ale (though mine was allegedly non-alcoholic, as I was still pre-race at this stage).
  • Having hauled ass the 13.1 miles of the NYC Half-Marathon route, I was famished.  Several days after the race, once I'd gained mobility back into my legs, I felt entirely justified dragging Special K to Neely's Barbecue Parlor.  I can't watch the Neely's on The Food Network (well, I won't watch them) but I certainly love a good feed of BBQ - and I know Special K does too - so it seemed a good dinner choice.  And it totally was. My Memphis-style ribs were amazing, and they serve margaritas in Mason jars, for heaven's sakes.  I had two of them.  Hmm in retrospect, that was unwise, but at the time it was an inspired idea.
  • Because I was at work during the week, Special K had lunch with me a couple of times.  We went to my local Mexican hangout but I also took him to Macchiato, showed him the Grand Central Market and my new favourite coffee place, complete with hipsters especially imported from Brooklyn (note: disappointing website-in-development, but awesome and fully-developed coffee and mad bagel-toasting skills).
  • With the exception of some pizza and pasta from nearby Patsy's and some Thai take-out, home-cooked meals and lots of cold beers featured prominently when Special K came to stay.  My freezer is now chock-full of delicious leftovers that I refuse to label, because frankly I like the surprises.
  • Our weekend was not exactly a sunny one, though we took full advantage of the Saturday sunshine to get out on the water and ride the East River Ferry over to Brooklyn.  We revisited Williamsburg a bit, enjoying a couple of coldies with Peacock the bartender at a subterranean (but awesome) bar.  Retracing our earlier steps, we got back to Greenpoint and enjoyed a Polish meal at a totally unpronounceable - but obviously authentic - restaurant.  Obviously the dishes were not as good as my Granny makes, but we ate it to be polite.  After all those calories and carbs, we needed to walk.  So we rode the ferry south to Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge back onto Manhattan.  It was fantastic, even though we had to dodge about 3,000 fellow pedestrians and almost as many cyclists.  We then wandered through the Financial District back to the Wall Street ferry station, and rode the ferry northbound back to my place - resting our aching feed and tired brains.
  • I absconded from work this week too and took Special K back to our mutual favourite, Katz's.  This time we didn't need a waiter to take care of us; we ordered our lunch at the counter, just like the locals.  There is just something special about their amazing matzo ball soup, with a half-pastrami sandwich alongside.  I was a very happy little camper.  Ditto Special K, who got through all his pastrami on rye.  Cue that food coma again.
  • I took Special K along to a cooking class with me earlier this week, which I really enjoyed.  We learned how to make basic vegetarian Indian meals, including delicious samosa that I am totally committed to trying at home.  The rest of the menu included braised fish in a tamarind-coconut curry; sag paneer (spinach curry with fresh cheese, that we made from scratch); and chana masala (chickpea curry).  All served up with roti (soft, flaky bread - that we also made ourselves).  It was all really tasty and dead-easy.
  • But of course why cook for yourself when there are thousands of New York restaurants just aching to do it for you?  And so it was that the following night (Special K's last night with us), we went to a wonderful Indian restaurant called Dhaba, not far from our house.  We ate so much and drank so much, we all slipped into food comas shortly after getting home.
It was really great having Special K here again, and I'm so relieved that he is starting to love New York like I do.  As we travelled around together, we always commented how good it would have been to have Mum with us.  But that is a job for next time.  Besides, I don't think we could have got Mum along to see John Carter and The Hunger Games with us; they are definite Daddy-Daughter dates I think.

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