Though there may be the enduring coastal feud between LA and NY, and I, being a loyal LA native, should rightfully stand by my coast with diligent rage, I can’t help but fall more and more in love with that damn Big Apple every time I visit. It had been a while, 6 years I believe, and though I’ve slightly outgrown my Sex and the City notion of this great city, the love deepens and grows like any mature relationship or stinky cheese. There’s something about the give-no-shits attitude, the muscles I never knew I had hurting from this thing called walking, and then the notion that because we are walking we are justified to constantly eat. And then, of course, the music. Live music ricocheting from wall to wall in the subway; old jazz cats tearing it up as we pass by an unassuming bar on an evening stroll, the city glistening all around in one, classic tapestry so iconic yet never old.
What made this particular adventure truly wonderful, besides sharing it with three of my best friends, was the local’s perspective offered with meticulous insight by my friend Tiffany who relocated to NY for school — she’s getting her MBA at Columbia, smarty pants. Count on Tiffany to immediately become a true local and in turn learn the locals’ many secrets. I had other obligations bringing me to the east coast, so I made it a point to visit Tiffany with the company of my other LA ladies, Devon and Erin. It was a trip needed greatly by all involved; one of those fortuitous collisions in time where a planned event becomes so much more than just a vacation, but rather a necessity, a remedy, an escape.
Yet with the utmost affection, compassion and love for my friends and our existential woes, there is something I love almost equally. Something that, if push comes to shove, will inevitably take center stage above all else. Food. Delicious, gluttonous, sometimes fatty, sometimes fresh, indulgent, fancy, street, saught-after, unexpected and (for me anyway) vegetarian food. In fact it became the blueprint of the stay, the underlying tone that unabashedly dictated where we went, how soon we went and the necessary means to get there. And in my not so humble opinion, food makes everything a little more dandy.
Please join me as I recap The United Front of Gluttony’s mighty attempt to take on good ol’ New York in 4 days. Guide below…
Tiffany and I share a passion for street art, so snapping photos in front of the many murals around the city was one of the themes of the day. We started in Chinatown, followed by lunch at The Fat Radish, a fresh take on British fare that while tasty, was a bit over-priced. After our first, formal lunch, we found our way to La Sirena at the Maritime Hotel, a stylish restaurant and bar with a lovely outside seating area made for people watching. After cocktails and yes, some appetizers, we made our way to yet another food-themed destination, one I have been dreaming about for years… Eataly.
It’s like Disneyland for Italian food lovers, a market/restaurant so overwhelming in size yet tempting as the mass quantities of cheeses, breads, veggies, pizzas, pastas, meats if you fancy, wine and Nutella engulf you into a madness only remedied by finally eating. So that’s exactly what we did. We ate again. Pizza. And a crepe.
Now I’m a complete and utter sucker for Neapolitan style pizza. But only the real deal, you know, thin crust, piping hot mozzarella oozing and dripping off every slice with a vicious avalanche of tomato sauce erupting like volcanic goodness. And those little floating leaves of basil flirting with you tongue as you engulf the heat and flavor one bite at a time. The perfect pizza should emotionally equate to great sex and in turn burn your mouth because the deliciousness is so overwhelming you can’t possibly wait till it’s cooled down to eat. Greedy bastards always win at this one.
Believe it or not, we had dinner plans after at Hill Country Chicken for Tiffany’s birthday, but lucky for me, it stayed true to its name. It was all chicken. Fried, breaded, boiled — all Southern-style chicken that according my carnivorous friends, is quite delicious.
After eating myself into a comatose on day one, I decided to starve myself on day two. JUST KIDDING! We started the day with a NY tradition, one my Jewish relatives both dead and alive would appreciate — standing in a long damn line for really stellar bagels. Good bagels, like a slice of classic NY pizza, are easily found in the city. But GREAT bagels, the ones locals line up and down the streets for, are another matter. We strolled up Broadway on our way to visit Columbia and hit Absolute Bagels. I ordered an everything bagel with chive cream cheese, sliced onions and capers because it’s my goal in life is to have wonderful breath. We enjoyed our bagel breakfast picnic at Columbian, a stunning campus worth visiting.
The rest of the day took a didactic turn, leading us to the Cloisters museum followed by the Met. This was admittedly my first time visiting both and well worth the wait. Regardless if you’re a fan of Medieval art and architecture, the Cloisters’ grounds spanning 4 acres along the Hudson is an absolutely breathtaking venture from the often manic pace of the city. I need not brag on behalf of the Met, but merely encourage everyone who has a brain and likes art and ancient nerdery to make your way there immediately. And even if you’re lacking in any of these requirements, you should still go. It’s amazing.
Joined bright and early by a sleepy albeit excited Erin and Devon, we started our day with more bagels, naturally, from Barney Greengrass (a NY institution). Personally, I was partial to Absolute Bagels, but these were still quite delicious. And if you’re at all interested in trying the best cookies of your life, stop by Levain Bakery. I’m not going to explain, for no words could, so just go. I promise you’ll want to give me your first born.
We then headed down to Chelsea to walk the Highline, “a public park built on a historic rail line elevated above the streets.” We loved walking along as we sweat our tuchuses off in the scorching, muggy air. Seriously, we had a great time, it’s beautiful, we took lots of pictures, ate popsicles, danced and laughed, but secretly suffered as the humidity swallowed us whole. So it’s good to note that there are only a few shaded spots along this 1.45 mile walk, so plan accordingly, wear sunscreen in hot weather and bring water.
As walking begets a healthy appetite, we made our way down to the Chelsea Market, an indoor space filled mostly with one-of-a-kind food and beverage specialty shops and a few great clothing and arts stores. Though a huge advocate of dessert before dinner, I started savory at Num Pang sandwich shop. I had the Spicy Organic Tofu sandwich glazed in ginger soy-honey with cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro and chili mayo on a Semolina baguette baked fresh daily in NYC. It hit the spot with a spicy vengeance. Sweet was enthusiastically welcomed next, so we indulged and shared a bag of doughnuts from Doughnuttery. I love it when tastes are adventurous, experimental and even sacrilegious, but I can also be a traditionalist craving the simple and classic. These doughnuts parlayed both inclinations beautifully, with exciting new tastes nostalgically beckoning familiar flavors. My personal favorite? Paris Time flavored with lavender, pistachio & vanilla.
Stomachs exploding once again, another walk was in order. This time we took the Brooklyn Bridge, a NY tradition that, though often touristy, is one of those things you just should do. The views are exquisite, the workout fulfilling and, behold, you’re in Brooklyn if you make it to the other side! We accomplished this, but not without a few complaints from blistered feet and grumbling tummies, naturally. What we needed was a drink. A hard one. And, if I may be so bold, another meal.
At the bridge’s end, we Ubered to the hipster haven of Bushwick where we enjoyed some mean, pre-dinner cocktails at Pine Box Rock Shop. You want to experience Brooklyn the way locals do? Try this bar. It’s loud, rambunctious, festive and alive. A fine place to get drunk off of ridiculously strong, decently priced drinks. We stumbled into the street freshly met with warm rain, poetically inebriated in a sort of charming, beatnik way that doesn’t make you a complete embarrassment, only sort of. Fortunately Roberta’s was waiting for us just around the corner, another local joint wildly adored yet standing true to its edgy, humble vibe. The pizza was on point. Dare I say even better than Eataly? I dare and I did. It was excellent, mouth burning, almost sex replacing gluttonous goodness swallowed down with a glass of Grenache. Life never tasted better.
Day four was admittedly uneventful until we summoned enough energy for our final night out. Dressed up to the nines, we traded in our walking shoes for heels, and Ubered our way from Tiffany’s pad uptown to the Lower East Side. We enjoyed a final, celebratory dinner at Stanton Social, a classy joint though a bit too scene-y for my taste, and ended at the fabulous decades-themed bar, Dear Irving. From room to room, you travel back in time starting with a Kennedy-esque 1960s parlor, then to a gilded, Gatsby themed room, followed by Queen Victoria’s bar, wooded and steampunk, and finally, Marie Antoinette’s hideaway. All rooms magical, unique and authentically styled. Cocktails are intense (and pricey), if you’re a light weight and on budget, consider sharing with a friend.
All in all, it was a wondrous time. One that left me wanting just a little more of old New York. My simple, sage advice for experiencing this iconic city? Eat and walk. One justifies the other, and it’s the perfect was to truly take it all in.