Tuesday, May 31, 2011

(Food) Adventures in New York City

Sometimes, it’s a wonderful thing to take a vacation from everything and just be able to do exactly what you want.

This weekend, I had that opportunity and I have to say it was perfect.

I spent the weekend in New York with my friend, Saz. We haven’t been on a trip together in years and after being friends for 20 years, we figured it was time again.

So, off to Manhattan we went.

The beauty of going back to a place you’ve been to before is that, most likely, the touristy stuff is out of your system. That was true in our case. While it’s nifty to see the Empire State Building and Times Square, we didn’t feel obligated to go up to the top of the building, see the Statue of Liberty or take a tour in one of those buses with the open tops.

Instead, we did exactly what we wanted which, I find, is the best way to experience a city.

We both arrived late Friday morning and we spent the first part of our day wandering towards NYU, stopping for New York pizza for lunch and enjoying a beautiful spring day. Then we decided to get half-price tickets to a show since we both like Broadway and it seemed like a good idea.

We had trouble deciding on which tickets to get. Saz and I are both fans of musicals and there were several we were open to seeing. There was also a play we’d both heard about that had Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Noth, Jason Patric, Brian Cox and Jim Gaffigan in it. It was called That Championship Season and was supposed to be good. Since the show was closing two days later, we finally reasoned that tickets to that would be our best option since casts like that don’t come along too often whereas musicals are always around.

Well, I think that maybe a musical would have been our best bet. While it was interested to see the actors live, it wasn’t a very good play. For one thing, there were two intermissions which was weird because the play wasn’t even two hours long. Also, while it was nice to see the actors working so hard to be stage actors, I felt a little tired to see how hard they were working. In all honesty, I felt like I was back in college watching actors try to be very serious and show their craft instead of, you know, just acting. It was a little painful at times. Also, there was a portrait of who I think might have been Teddy Roosevelt over the fireplace that was part of the set and I couldn’t help wonder through the entire play why they had a picture of Ricky Gervais hanging up because from our seats, eleven rows back, it REALLY looked like Ricky Gervais. Also, the play was rather…boring. It was all talk. At one point, I started actually hoping someone would die. Then, as things got a little duller, I started to fantasize that Kiefer Sutherland would morph back into Jack Bauer, grab one of the hunting rifles they had as props and liven things up.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I saw the play. I would always have wondered. I think Saz enjoyed it a little more than I did because she’s a little more forgiving.
Our next day, we had another low-key start. We did some shopping which is always a lovely way to spend the day. We did head over to where the World Trade Centre had been because there was a store we wanted to go to there but, also, having last been to NYC when the Twin Towers had been there, it felt right to go back. The site is under construction and it’s nice to see a new building going up.

During a break from our shopping trip, Saz and I discussed other things we could do in the city. At one point, we thought we might try to see another show on Sunday. Then we started talking about food since, you know, I’m a bit of a foodie. We finally came to the conclusion that we’d rather pay the money we’d have spent on theatre tickets on good food so, within minutes, we had a Sunday lunch reservation at Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, Colicchio and Sons, and a dinner reservation for the following night for Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. As I’ve previously blogged, we already had reservations for that night at Babbo, Mario Batali’s restaurant.

I could probably blog for weeks about Babbo, honestly. It’s an unassuming little place, close to NYU. It’s crowded when you go in. It’s busy. You need reservations at least month before. Many a group was politely turned away by the concierge while we waited for our table.

When we finally sat down, the service began. It was flawless. We ordered the traditional tasting menu with the wine pairings and each course was introduced and the wine pairing explained. There were separate people to replace silverware, wine glasses and scrape crumbs between each course.

Then there was the food. As a Mario Batali groupie, I was expecting good food. Instead, I got great. Really great. Quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

Here’s the menu for the foodies out there:

Course 1- Copa with Pickled Chili and Meyer Lemon
Course 2- Pappardelle with morels and thyme
Course 3- Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto”
Course 4- Pork Tenderloin with Asparagus, Cipolline and Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette
Course 5- Coach Farm’s Finest goat cheese with Fennel Honey
Course 6- Toasted Sesame Panna Cotta
Course 7- Salame di Cioccolato with brandied cherries
Course 8- “Torta di Orzo” with Malted Milk and Honey Gelato

Each course wasn’t huge- it was just enough to make you want more until the next course came along and wowed you. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite although the fresh made pappardelle with morels and thyme might one of the most amazing things I’ve ever tasted. However, the pork tenderloin and the panna cotta course might give it a run for its money.

This is not to say that everything else wasn’t fabulous. It’s like comparing a BMW to a Mercades: Both are excellent and have their merits but they’re not the same car and they can’t really be compared.

he wine pairings were perfect and each glass was enough sips to make you appreciate the pairing without being too much.

In short, if I could hug Mario Batali, I would do it right now for creating food that made me stop, think and truly appreciate how things are composed and presented. There’s a reason while he has the renown he has and I’m very, very thrilled that his food tasted as wonderful as I expected. When you’ve seen as many episodes of Iron Chef America as I have, there’s a certain level of expectancy and hope and I am very happy that Babbo exceeded my expectations.

Like I said, I could probably write a novella about Babbo but, well, I’m not sure anyone but me would read it.

After Babbo, we were too happy and keyed up to go back to the hotel. We wandered over to Bleeker Street to a music club a friend of Saz’s had recommended. The band that was playing when we arrived were very good- very Long Beach, California type of music. Unfortunately, they ended an a funk band took over.

I’m not a huge fan of funk. This band were good but they’re one of those bands that believes in jamming which means their songs went on and on and on. I think one of them lasted over ten minutes.

We left and headed back, exhausted, full and very happy.

On our last day, we headed over to Chelsea to have brunch at Colicchio and Sons. We were a little disappointed that they only had a brunch menu rather than their full lunch but it was pretty good stuff. I had a ricotta frittata with caramelized onions, arugula and honey. It was tasty but, well, it wasn’t Babbo. We ate in the Tap Room which is the more relaxed area of the restaurant. Maybe if we’d have gone in the dining room we’d have been more wowed. This is not to say it wasn’t good food. Saz had a burger that she said was one of the best she’d had. It…just wasn’t Babbo. It’s really like apples and oranges though and to compare the two really isn’t fair. Babbo is a special occasion, very very rare sort of experience. Colicchio and Sons is a place you go for a high quality lunch and a really good beer.

We spent the rest of that afternoon exploring the fabulous Chelsea Market and laying in Hudson River Park, drinking Prosecco and enjoying the beautiful day.

When we finally got up and moving again, we headed to Eataly- the Italian marketplace/eating place that was set up by Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, Joe Bastianich and Oscar Farinetti.

Eataly made me wish I had a kitchen, right then and there. It is a store filled with ever Italian ingredient you can imagine. Within the store, there are areas that serve food, all made from the same ingredients you can buy. There are meats, cheeses, produces, pastas, olive oils….aisle and aisles of them. While I could have spent a fortune, I restrained myself. The practicality of air travel is that it’s not practical for transporting fresh ingredients home and keeping them fresh. Still, I wandered, fondled a few ingredients and generally felt like I’d found my mothership.

During all this time, Saz was very patient. She enjoys good food but isn’t as into cooking as me. However, she indulged my foodie love with patience and laughing at how I couldn’t help but fawn over the mushrooms and 25 year-old aged balsamic that was being sold for $220.

We finally left Eataly with a t-shirt and a need for fresh air. We headed back to the hotel, took a break and then got ready for Mesa Grill.

Mesa Grill is not the same as Babbo. It’s much more relaxed. It’s a lot bigger or seems that way. It was very, very good.

I have to admit, I’m a fan of Bobby Flay so eating at his restaurant gave me a bit of the same thrill as eating at Babbo. Mesa Grill is southwestern in flavours. I decided that I wanted to be daring and finally try rabbit. Until I became a foodie, like so many people, I viewed eating rabbit as eating Thumper the bunny. Then I learned to appreciate food and now try to separate cartoon cuteness with the tastiness of meat.

The rabbit was cascabel chile crusted and came with toasted cous cous, fava beans, smoked red pepper sauce and queso blanco. It was, in short, absolutely delicious. It was almost a cross between pork and chicken. Saz had the green chilli cioppino which she, too, loved.

Our final review of Mesa Grill is that it was tasty. It still wasn’t Babbo but we didn’t expect it to be. Mesa Grill is more of a regular type of place, somewhere you’d go to get a craving fix. It was fabulous food but very approachable. Like with Mario Batali, I’ve seen Bobby cook on Iron Chef America and it was awesome to try some of the food I’ve seen him make. It was delicious.

That was pretty much the end of our NYC adventure. Three days goes fast, particularly when you measure it in food. Saz and I had made a pact when we arrived that we wouldn’t feel bad if we ate non-healthy food. Saz has been exercising and dieting since last year and has managed to lose 60 pounds. She looks great. She’s also been trying to eat well. Me, I’ve lost 15 pounds and try very hard not to eat too badly.

This weekend, we ignored our health-eating inclinations. It was worth every calorie. Granted, it means I’ll be eating lots of healthy stuff for a while but when you’re presented with heaven-on-a-plate like we were at Babbo, life is too short to care about fat grams and calories.

I was sad to come home though it’s nice to be reunited with the pups. They missed me and I missed them. I had a great time in New York. I had a great time with Saz.

However, as is the case with all good vacations, they must come to an end. So, here I am, back to reality and back to work a couple of pounds heavier and a few cares lighter.

It was worth every penny and every moment. How often do you get to say that?

Happy Wednesday!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

It was an AMAZING weekend, Captain Monkeypants! Thank you for introducing me to the best food I've ever had and for the good conversation and laughs. My cup runneth over - la vita abbondante!