A Hot New York Minute
The only thing that isn't fast in New York is the traffic. Everything else about the city of cities travels at warp speed, a phenomenon I was reminded of during my 29-hour jaunt over the weekend.
I practically beamed myself up north -- or so it seemed -- on an Acela ride that was just 2 hours, 45 minutes long. Minutes after the train rolled into Penn Station, I was on a subway car going east and disembarked at 57th Street, a scene of more-than-average Big Apple chaos that included a seemingly endless motorcade escorting heads of state in town for the U.N. General Assembly.
And then, poof! with the whoosh of a hotel door, I was in yet another universe, the I.M. Pei-designed lobby of the Four Seasons hotel. There I met my friend Jeff and CulinaryCorps colleague, who was joining me for lunch at 57, where our CC pal Sandy is the executive sous chef.
Our dear friend had arranged for one of the sous chefs to organize a surprise tasting menu, five petite yet decadent courses that included tuna tartare, pea risotto and foie gras with figs. I was beginning to feel like Eloise, the children's story book heroine who lived at the Plaza Hotel.
Flash forward just a few hours and a group of us was in the Village, at Butter a cool kitchen under the watchful (and playful) eyes of Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who's also the daughter of renowned cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli. Part nightclub (horseshoe-shaped banquettes, dance music from speakers, basement level bar), Butter, named after the "It's Like Buttah" skit on "Saturday Night Live," (confirmed by Guarnaschelli) is a beautiful space, with lots of cedar and a giant photo mural of a forest for at-table daydreaming. I had a terrific plate of Hudson Valley duck breast, crispy confit and cherries that I think were dried and then reconstituted. Wow! Courtney and I shared a starter of goose confit with concord grapes and arugula that was doing a dance in my mouth. Sandy's bowl of veal cheeks were rich enough to be a full meal. We washed everything down with a very funky bottle of Cabernet Franc that worked well after some breathing time.
There was time for a little bit of shut eye, and then just after seven the next morning, Jeff and I were up and in the car with his gray poodle, Gracie, headed for the Green Market at Union Square, the farmers' market extraordinaire. My how it's grown in the 11 years since I was a neighbor, bleary-eyed on a Saturday morning after a long week at cooking school. All these years, I had been hearing reports about how big it become, but man I had no idea. So inspiring.
Jeff stood in line to buy local scallops and I picked up a jar of raw honey from Twin Spruce Apiaries in Climax, N.Y. and went in search of some locally pressed apple cider. I was hardly ready to eat again after Friday's feasting frenzy, but nonetheless great fun to be out early among folks doing their early morning local-food shopping.
Just after one, I made my way to Columbus Circle for my first visit to the Time Warner Center, the much talked-about mall with a foodie accent. Christine suggested that I meet her at the elevators by the Whole Foods, housed on the ground floor. In the five minutes that I waited, I couldn't get over the numbers of people swarming in and out of the grocery store. I'm talking hundreds. It was crazy.
We went up to the third floor to check out Bouchon Bakery, the bistro/boulangerie concept of Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame. Up on the next floor is Keller's Per Se, just one wowie-zowie component of an uber high-end dining enclave that includes
CafÃ© Gray (Gray Kunz), Bar Masa (sushi maestro Masayoshi Takayama) and Porter House (Michael Lomonaco).
The waiting list was a tad long for a sit-down experience, so we sauntered over the take-out counter for some of Keller's famed sweet treats and one of his ham and cheese baguettes, which tasted just like Paris. With our bags of goodies in tow, we headed outside for an ad hoc urban picnic. I bought a few sweets to take home for Mister MA but on the train ride home couldn't resist tearing into a brioche with dried cherries and pistachios, which I'm still thinking about.
My final stop on the whirlwind tour was in Chelsea, where I met my old pal, Margit, whom I know my days at Philadelphia City Paper nearly 20 years ago. Margit suggested CafÃ© Grumpy, a nondescript-looking storefront in the middle of 20th Street that's easy to miss but is putting out some darn fine coffee. There's little else but tea and coffee, all of which is brewed to order, and that is just fine with me. We caught the tail end of Grumpy's "All-Ethiopian Coffee Month," which featured six varietals, as a way to celebrate the Ethiopian millennium, the birthplace of coffee and yes, the home of 2,500-some coffee bean varietals. I chose amaro gayo, to which the barista gave a thumbs up; it was rich, chocolatey and almost chewy, "like food," said Margit.
For years, New York has had a reputation for lousy coffee, and it's encouraging to see artisanal, single origin beans finally being put into practice in a city that has perfected nearly everything else on the menu.
And then, poof! I was back on the train, heading home, watching the sun fade into the Jersey turnpike. Nothing like New York for a magic carpet ride.
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