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New York Roundup

October 30, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few days ago I described in painstaking detail my flight from Seattle to New York last Saturday, my arrival at the Hotel Wales on 92nd and Madison, my room, the dinner downstairs at Joanna’s, and complementary breakfast on Sunday morning in the hotel. Here’s more on the trip, but with much less detail.

Sunday afternoon was family time, which I’ll skip over. We (my sister and brother-in-law and nephew, in from France, and I) returned to the hotel in the late afternoon and a little later I headed out for a neighborhood walk. It was beautiful out, close to 60 degrees and sunny, as I headed up Madison a few blocks, over to 5th, and down past the Jewish Museum on 92nd and the Cooper-Hewitt between 91st and 90th. At 90th, there’s an entrance from 5th Avenue into Central Park, the Runner’s Gate leading to the Central Park Reservoir (now officially the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, but I don’t know if anyone actually calls it that). I headed that way, made a right turn, and joined the hundreds of others making their way along the reservoir’s circumscribing 1.58 mile running track. Most people were going counter-clockwise. I followed suit, both to minimize collisions and to avoid looking directly into the low sun and its reflection off the water. A ways down the path, I saw a small sign announcing that counter-clockwise was the proper direction, so I had made the right choice, but some 15% of the people out there seemed happy making the wrong choice. It was really stunning, walking along an urban lake with views to the upper east and west sides and down to midtown.

I doubled back through the park to 90th along a path below the track, so that trees could block a direct view into the sun. As I did so, I decided that I could happily live in the neighborhood, with museums and restaurants nearby and with the track available for daily walks.

We ate dinner at Sarabeth’s, which like Joanna’s is in the hotel, but even more so, with a rear door leading to the hotel’s elevator area. Sarabeth’s, I learned, is a local hotspot famed for its brunches. My sister and her family ate breakfast there every day, while I made do with the hotel’s complimentary breakfast one floor up. (The next day when my nephew mentioned the odd cornbread blueberry muffin he had at Sarabeth’s that morning, I suddenly realized that we were getting the same choice of muffins upstairs, since I too had tried such a muffin that morning.) But they also serve lunch and dinner. For dinner, I went with the Echo Valley Farms Chicken Pot Pie with pearl onions, baby carrots, English peas, fingerling potatoes and fresh cream topped with puff pastry. It was good, but way too hot for the first 10 minutes, and as I waited, I sure wish I ordered the other dishes at the table. My sister and her husband had Grilled Long Island Duck Breast with dried apricots and cranberries, port wine sauce, wild rice scallion pancakes, sautéed haricot vert. Those green beans looked perfect, and the wild rice scallion pancakes were inviting. After I finished my chicken pie, I was almost too stuffed to eat more, but I did try one of the pancakes. Delicious. My nephew had the special. I can’t remember the details anymore, except for the mashed sweet potatoes, which also looked unbearably inviting. Oh, also, we all started with Sara’s famous Velvety Cream of Tomato Soup. I don’t know how famous it is, but I do know it was great.

On to Monday. Here’s the view that morning looking north from my hotel room.

The View from my Window

The View from my Window

The tall residential building is on the east side of Madison, just below 94th, with me looking out from the east side of Madison between 92nd and 93rd.

We start our day outside the hotel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 11:00 AM, joined by my mother, and go up to the 2nd floor to see the newly-opened exhibit The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisition. There is no single artistic theme, of course, with pieces ranging across all cultures and thousands of years. But it’s magnificent. And one can see everything in it thanks to the superb online catalogue. In particular, by going to Exhibition Images, one can see photos of each object, along with the same curator comment that appears on the wall. For example, have a look at Krishna Killing the Horse Demon Keshi, from 5th century India (Uttar Pradesh). Be sure to enlarge it so you can examine the “balls of dung emitted at the moment of death.” And see, too, what is probably the most prominent museum acquisition of the de Montebello years, Duccio’s Madonna and Child. There are so many wonders. See the show if you can. Review the website otherwise.

Lunchtime. We go to the favorite restaurant of my sister’s family, Eli Zabar’s E.A.T., just a block down on Madison, between 80th and 81st. Such a dizzying array of choices. I have their upscale turkey club, with proscuitto in place of bacon. Mom goes with their matzoh ball chicken soup. My nephew has his personal favorite, the chicken salad sandwich. As I review the menu, I can’t for the life of me remember what my sister and brother-in-law had, but I sure see a lot of items I’d like to have right now. Next time.

On the way back to the museum, we stopped at my mother’s apartment. After a few minutes, my sister and family continued to the Met, but I stuck around. Then, around 4:15 PM, I headed out to walk back to the hotel. When I got up 5th Avenue just past the Met, I realized I was now even with the south end of the Central Park Reservoir, so I could cross over 5th, enter the park, and walk along another portion of the track. That’s what I did, starting at the south end by an old pump house and going counterclockwise to the gate at 90th.

Central Park Reservoir, looking northwest from the south end

Central Park Reservoir, looking northwest from the south end

As I exit the park at 90th, I am facing two imposing buildings — the Cooper-Hewitt on the north side of 90th and the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on the south side. This church is built on land acquired in 1925 from Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, who lived across the street at what’s now the Cooper-Hewitt, and opened on Easter Sunday, 1929.

Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest

Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest

I head up 5th Avenue to 93rd, cut over to Madison, have a look at the private girls school just east of Madison on 93rd. I became aware of it at 8:50 that morning, when I heard a horde of screaming girls, looked out my window, and saw them running around and climbing over the icosahedral-like play structure that’s just below my east-facing hotel window. This is on the roof of an extension of the building, and I had wondered what family got to use it, not realizing that it’s intended for a school of kids, not a family of kids. So in the afternoon, I wanted to see what school it was. I arrive just as school is letting out, with mothers and nannies and who-knows-what assortment of caregivers standing outside waiting to have their girls appear and be checked off on the clipboard held by one of the staff. It’s a pretty wild scene. But the school is anonymous. I can’t find the name anywhere.

After a break in my hotel room, I go down to meet my family and we’re off by taxi to Whym, the restaurant my cousin has suggested for dinner. It’s on 9th Avenue, between 57th and 58th, in the shadow of the Time Warner Center‘s two towers that now dominate Columbus Circle. My cousin and his wife are late, as he texted me that they would be, so we take a short walk around the neighborhood before heading in at around 6:35 PM. We are seated in a large booth in the rear, a cozy setting for what will be a lovely meal. My cousin and his wife arrive about 20 minutes later and we stay until 10:15. With my cousin in charge, we start with drinks and an assortment of appetizers, deferring ordering for quite a while. The appetizers include tuna tartare, calamari, chorizo meatballs, one item I can’t seem to find on the online menu, and a special flatbread offering that the waiter later explains they are experimenting with as a possible replacement for the listed flatbread appetizer. This one comes with sweet potato, a few other things, and buttermilk topping. The two I try, the chorizo meatballs and special flatbread, are excellent. For dinner, I go with Blackened Chicken and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya: “our creole classic”. Excellent again. And for dessert, I initially ordered the Apple-Raspberry Empanadas creme anglaise, vanilla bean gelato, but the waiter was urging some of the chocolate-based desserts on us, so I dutifully switched to Warm Chocolate Cake, vanilla bean gelato. It was good. The cake was souffle like. But I couldn’t eat it all.

The Whym logo may be worth a word or two. Here it is:

Whym logo

Whym logo

As you can see, it’s symmetric under 180 degree rotations, thanks to the stylized lettering. The doors to the two bathrooms both have the w and the m on them, one below the other, a momentarily confusing way of announcing that each can be used by both sexes. Since the w doesn’t look like a real w, it does take a moment to sort out what is being communicated.

A large portion of the dinner conversation was taken up with a discussion of the presidential election, my cousin giving reasoned arguments to my nephew that I seemed unable to give without getting emotional. My nephew had already voted, from France before the trip, so changing his mind on anything would have no effect on his vote, but we did want to broaden his understanding of US politics.

We walked over to Columbus Circle, parted from my cousins, and took a taxi back up to the hotel. By the time I thought to check on the 5th game of the World Series, just after 11:00 PM, I discovered that there was a rain delay. I went to bed not knowing the game was stopped for a day or two, but when the heavy rains awoke me a couple of hours later, I was able to pretty well guess that those same rains, down in Philadelphia, must have made continued play impossible.

Tuesday: my final partial day in the city. Final breakfast downstairs, pack up, check out, leave the suitcase at the hotel, head down to lunch with my mother, where we meet my sister and family, coming from the Frick Collection. Lunch is at noon at Sant Ambroeus, on Madison Avenue between 77th and 78th. And what a great lunch it was. And what a beautiful restaurant. In front is a coffee bar area to the right and a counter to the left with a gelato section, then a pre-made fancy sandwich section, then a dessert section. Once one gets past all that, one reaches the dining room, gorgeously decorated. We have the booth straight back. The on-line menu is pretty close to the one we have. I order the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese — tagliatelle in a light veal ragout. It might just be the best dish I have had in my 5 restaurant meals in the city. Highly recommended.

I say goodbye to my sister and her family, head over to my mother’s apartment for just a few minutes, say goodbye, go back to the Wales for my suitcase, and get a taxi to JFK. Traffic is light, even on the Van Wyck, so I’m at the American terminal way ahead of time. But unlike in my trip east, no first class upgrade is available. I have over 2 hours to kill, and then a crowded flight home, surrounded by sleepers, presumably continuing on after taking flights into JFK from Europe. The couple in front of me gets their seats back the moment the plane takes off and keep them that way. I can barely see my tray. I can’t hold a book up So I watch Kit Kittridge: An American Girl, listen to music, keep occupied, and eventually we’re landing in Seattle. There’s much more I could say about the odd behaviors of various passengers, one crazy guy in particular, but I will leave it at that. The trip is over.

Categories: Food, Travel
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