I have a few friends that are visiting NY this summer and asked me for restuarant picks. I usually repond with a bewildered expression, wondering, do people go to NY to eat foods? I guess they do! And I have a few, and some bars, and some fun things that I need to get down for posterity anyway. So here are my best pics for a NYC visit.
Bryant Park for lunch/coffee
My first destination in the city was Bryant Park, the stuff of Project Runway dreams. What I didn't know is that when its not fashion week its the most charming public park right in the middle of midtown, littered with tiny cafe tables and chairs which are free to use. You can see people playing boccie ball, having work lunches, enjoying their children and the sun (when its out).
NYC Library Visit at 5th & 42nd
I saved this for nearly the last day and I wish I hadn't, because I would have spent more time there. Was suddenly jealous that I was not once a student in New York as I would have loved to study there, taking breaks on the grand steps to get some sun and admire the lion statues. Smells like old books and history and smarts. Also, you can see where Carrie realized Mr. Big was not coming - I didn't think of it until I left, which is a credit to me as a woman, I suppose.
Midtown lunch options can vary from some newfangled food that made its way from a popular food cart (schnizel sandwiches, anyone?) to $.99 pizza. But for a nice break from the midtown din go downstairs from Grand Central and choose from a variety of great NYC foods - pizza, deli, sandwiches, Chinese. I love the dimmed lighting in Grand Central, as if it were still lit by gas lamps.
If you really want to splash out a bit in Grand Central try the Oyster Bar. I had wanted to go and got a co-worker to go with me, and upon looking at the newspaper sized menu I realized that absolutely everything on the menu involved fish. And I don't eat fish! However, I do eat fried calamari, and it goes nice with a Sauvignon Blanc. Also, I heard if you sit at the bar you can watch them make the clam chowder, if you're into that kind of thing. Its a beautiful space though, with the curvatures and subdued lighting of the rest of the station.
Zabar's on the UWS
On the way to a rooftop party on the Upper West Side my friend Jen had us stop in Zabar's - which I knew I had heard of but had never been able to place. Its a deli, right? Oh lord. The cheese section was an entire expanded aisle, piled with cheese in refrigerated shelves on one side and a cheese counter staffed by at least three busy people on the other. Meats, fresh bread, jams and delicacies of all sorts. Worth a stop in if you're in the neighborhood. I wanted to live upstairs.
Once I realized that walking down W. 47th street before 10am was much easier than navigating multiple lanes of foot traffic on 42nd street I started getting off the F line at '47th-50th Streets Rockefeller Center.' I have no idea why this train stop name is so complicated but emerging from the underground you are immediately in the heart of Jewish jeweler's heaven. You can see Hassids bustling to and from work, regular Jewish dudes, hispanics and arab hawkers trying to get you in off the street and into the shops and malls. I didn't find it but my friend Susie swears there's a diamond mall which, at the very back of it, has a bonafide Jewish deli that serves the most delicious sandwiches. Just don't ask for cheese or milk with your corned beef.
While I've never really been a big fan of Williamsburg, already being a bit too old to enjoy the manic sense of its fashionability (the girls and their slouchy boots all looked the same to me, and the dirty hipster boy thing lost its appeal some time ago), there are a few reasons to go. There are a few good thrift stores, after a tour of which I decided that good old Beacon's Closet Williamsburg was the clear winner, and there is Spuyten Duyvil. My friend Susie's childhood friend owns it with her husband, so we always get a warm welcome and it brings back memories of previous trips with A. They have amazing Belgian beers on tap, lovely meat and cheese trays, and a back yard that has now expanded to two lots so you can actually bring all your friends. Get there in the afternoon to beat the hipster traffic. And if you're really brave you can try waiting in line for some delicious BBQ across the street at their sister location Fette Sau. They are also planning to open yet another restaurant next door (this is why the yard is now so big) - check to see if this place is open and report back svp!
Once my friend Deb mentioned taking me to someplace called the Redhead, the onetime (and some time) redhead in me was intrigued. When I told my roommate Susie that I was headed there she was instantly jealous and excited. "We love the Redhead!" We went for a post thrifting drink and nosh and it was just plain lovely. Sitting at the bar, the owner was showing off his new infant baby, we were served craft cocktails and savory snacks and chatted amiably with the bartender who was originally from WI. Do try the bacon peanut brittles (which look like bar peanuts, but no you may not share with the stranger next to you because they are just too damn good - and you have to order them!) I'd love the chance to go back for dinner sometime.
McSorley's (just the once)
My friend's dad, a long life Manhattanite, made fun of me for going to McSorley's for drinks - its touristy, the beer is terrible (even though you get two for every order, its flat and not really cold), and the other patrons in there are loud and often stupid. But I had to just go the once, because the place is a historical landmark for NY. Nothing has been removed from the walls since 1910, the wickipedia page is a good read in itself. The historian in me could not pass it up.
Headed to NY on the plane from Chicago, I looked up my new neighborhood to be Red Hook on wikipedia, and saved the entry in my phone so I cold read it before the wireless cut off. I was surprised to see that Red Hook was once one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. Filled with violence and poverty and crime. But now it is being gentrified and I really fell in love with the industrial/waterfront nature (being the daughter of a tugboat captain can have that effect). What also piqued my curiosity was this small entry about the new Ikea in Red Hook, and the free ferry offered from Manhattan. Well, as it turned out the ferry didn't start running until 11am on weekdays, and it was only free on the weekend, so that is when I used it. Who needs the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty tour when you have a free Ikea ferry? It takes you from the Ikea to the 11th street pier which is near Wall Street. A short bus ride will get you to the heart of the Lower East Side. Or similarly you could just take the ferry to Red Hook and back but it did look like they made all passengers disembark and each port and get back in line, so on a busy day you might not get that same ferry back. I heart Ikea ferry!
My friend Jen highly recommended this tour of a restored tenement building on the lower east side. Although grandparents, all from Ireland, did not come through Ellis Island or stay in NYC very long (I'm told they had their paperwork done in the old country and probably hopped on trains for the midwest as soon as they arrived in NY), I found this tour really fascinating. Tenement to us is a bit of a dirty word, but back in the late 19th/early 20th century it was where middle class working people lived. You have your choice of tours to take, and the giftshop and small video center are a nice way to kill time before your tour.
Hidden restos around LES
On our way to the museum we needed to stop for a hangover brunch, and once you walk away from Allen Street its starts looking a lot less Chinatown and more hip heaven. We wandered into a random spot called Little Giant, and it was one of those tiny overcrowded bistros but the food and service were both divine (farm fresh, sustainable and delicious). We left feeling refreshed and stimulated. Check out any of the good stuff near Orchard & Broome.
Hotel Metro rooftop bar
One night Susie met me after work and she had a flash of an idea - her and A. used to go to this hidden gem of a rooftop bar at the top of the Hotel Metro on 35th street. Ask the bellboy or front desk to direct you to the express elevator and enjoy the view of the Empire State building. I love hotel bars because locals often overlook them, and the few hotel guests will not overcrowd you.
Susie was walking around town and ended up here, texting me a picture of a Corona, on a boat, with a view of the water. I shut down my work computer, got on a train and a crossown bus within 15 minutes. Its one of the few spots in the city where you can sit on the water, facing New Jersey, and watch the sunset. The Frying Pan is an old red working boat that sits on this larger restuarant/bar complex called Pier 66. Get there early to avoid the crowds and then have a leisurely walk down to Soho.
Ok I have a really unhealthy crush on Les Halles former executive chef Anthony Bordain, who I now know only gets better with age. I watch his show, read his books, follow him on twitter. So although this is kindof a typical French bistro with plenty of out of towners, its worth a stop, and you can get steak frites for $20, and half price wines on Monday nights. I had some lovely pork tenderloin and my friend had the cassoulet which was pretty heavy on white beans and made her a bit gassy later. But all in all it was a lovely meal, so really not a bad deal at all.
Minca Ramen Factory for rainy night noodles, LES
Best udon noodles ever. Makes super leftovers too if you can't finish. We all just went for the Minca noodles with pork. Perfection.
Brooklyn Social, Smith Street Carroll Gardens
For an excellent craft cocktail nightcap, check out this nice little spot in the north part of Carroll Gardens.
Great Lakes Bar - Park Slope
This is a classic nieghborhood bar, friendly staff, good beers, fantastic jukebox. The kind of place you can wander in at 4pm and then at 2am wonder what happened to the night. Always met interesting people here too, like Eugene Mirman!
Abeline - Carroll Gardens
After trying some of the more trendy restos and bars around Brooklyn, this place was more my speed. Loads of big open windows, formica covered kitchen tables, friendly bartenders (well watch out for the young guys they are a bit snotty when its closing time). Food is standard bar fare, but a satisfying grilled cheese and tator tots is to be had.
Bait & Tackle, Red Hook
I was only in here once, and it was very late at night, but it had really interesting decor. Motoboy and I somehow got served (we shouldn't have been, really) and sat up on a little stage watching all the red hook citizenry finish their Friday nights.
Ice House, Red Hook
This is probably Susie's local if she had to choose one. Very laid back, low key, wood paneled one-bartender run place. You can get a pulled pork sandwich or a corned dog and take it out to the ample back yard, a little smokers haven as well.
Sonny's Red Hook
Ah what can I say about Sonny's? Its a little neighborhood beer joint near the waterfront that will make you fall in love with whoever you are with (thankfully for me it was motoboy, and we just went all goo goo eyed all over again). There was music in the back room, then music in the front bar. An amazing alt country band that would have commanded a crowd of 200-300 people in Chicago, and they played right next to our bar stools. When we went outside for some air the bartender gave us cowboy hats to leave on our stools and kept an eye on our drinks too. It was absolutely dreamy.
What are you favorite spots? A. wrote this up for Eva once too. Leave notes in the comments, and travelers please to report back! I will be back in the NYC maybe soon.