Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eating and Drinking Through Manhattan

I spent a lot of last week eating and drinking my way through lower Manhattan. Although I lived in and near The City for eleven years, I had never really spent much time in Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District when I left was just that, neither cool nor trendy. It was a wonderful experience to discover new parts of such a wonderful city.

I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton. While certainly not the hippest or coolest hotel in the area, it is perfectly located. I was able to walk nearly everywhere I wanted to go. It is a bit of a hike up to the Meatpacking District, but certainly not impossible. The staff could not have been more friendly and the rooms were clean and well appointed. My only complaint was that the free coffee tended to disappear from the lobby relatively early, but that could also be a sign that I drink too much of it!

On Wednesday night, we ate at The Spotted Pig. The restaurant does not take reservations, but C and I got lucky and were seated almost immediately. Although there were people waiting for a table the entire time we were there, we never felt rushed or pushed to go. I started the evening with a martini that was perfectly mixed. We feasted on oysters and wonderfully rich pate all washed down with a Sancerre to die for. Because we could, we finished off the meal with a plate of cheese that was good, but not too adventurous.

Feeling in need of a long walk after such a meal, C and I walked all over the Meatpacking District. Eventually, the cold drove us into the Fig and Olive for a nightcap. Wonderful selection of whiskeys, so we indulged in a Talisker which warmed us up very nicely for the hike back to the hotel.

Thursday night was another glut of great food, drinks and wine. C and I were joined by another friend of ours, J, who was on a layover for the night in New York. Because of the snow, it turned out that his layover continued until Sunday, but that only meant I got to spend more time with him. J has spent much more time in this part of the world than I, so I was able to rely on him to lead me to the best places for the rest of the weekend. Thursday night kicked off with a trip to the Top of the Standard. Although the drinks were as pricy as you would imagine (thanks, J!), the views were simply spectacular -- among the best I have found anywhere in Manhattan. Well worth the trip to the top.

After a few drinks at the top of the world, the three of us piled into a taxi and went up to Artisanal, ironically the furthest north I was all weekend. C has been wanting to take me to this restaurant forever as it specializes in cheese which is my idea of the perfect food group. The three of us started the evening with a fondue, I moved on to a starter of lobster for my main while the boys split a steak and then J and I indulged in a huge plate of cheese for dessert. I know, I could feel my arteries hardening as well, but so worth it. All of this washed down with a lovely red that warmed the cockles of my heart.

Deciding after such a meal that it was too far to walk back downtown, we jumped into another taxi and roamed the Meatpacking District, finally landing in DeSantos. A fantastic place for a nightcap. The staff are lovely and the crowd did not make me feel like somebody's grandmother. After all the previous drinks and all the rich food at dinner, one nightcap was all I could take so I said my goodnights early and, I'm ashamed to admit it, took a taxi the ten blocks back to the hotel.

Friday morning, J and I discovered Chelsea Market. A simply wonderful place with all the food one could possibly imagine under one roof. We strolled around and found Ninth Street Espresso that had the best coffee I have had in a while, strong and milky. J had straight espresso that was so strong I could smell it sitting across from him. We like our coffee strong, so we were happy. Saturday morning, we ended up back in the market as well although at Ruthy's Bakery that was not as good as Ninth Street.

For lunch on Friday, we met C at The Mercer Kitchen. It was restaurant week in New York, so a lot of the restaurants are putting on special menus at lunch. The three of us decided to follow the special menu. The food was good, but nothing special. What makes this restaurant worth a stop is the ambiance. We were seated under street level and being able to hear the clop of shoes overhead was a new experience. There were also a lot of ladies who lunch, so the people watching was beyond impressive.

After another long walk and a bit of rest, J and I started up again. We had drinks in Catch. It's a bit tricky to find, but worth the effort. The waitress was beyond accommodating and the drinks we had were reasonably priced for this area. We didn't sample any of the food, but the sushi bar looked amazing. My sister, Kate, has eaten here and told us that the food is as good as it looks. I would definitely come back here to eat.

Leaving J to his own devices, I went up to meet Kate and her friend Heather at Royal Siam. This is one of those restaurants that you would never walk into if a local didn't steer you there. From the outside, it looks dirty and small, but the inside is another story all together. Tables a good distance apart with a wonderfully helpful and pleasant staff. The food is very good Thai with portions that a perfect size. I had a roll and a seafood salad that was actually filled with seafood -- not always the case in Thai restaurants. Simply delicious food that didn't leave me feeling as though I was too full.

Saturday morning, I went up to meet my friend Matt for brunch at Cookshop. Another place that was hopping, even at the early hour of 11:00 on a weekend. I went for the turkey club sandwich that was so huge, I managed to get through about half of it. It was delicious, but was piled so high with turkey I think they need a bird for every two of these things. The fries were good as well, but I could only get through some of them. After all this food, Matt and I walked down to Chelsea Market where I met J and Kate for more coffee. I passed on the food.

I had been worried that the snow would stop my friend Leanne from getting in from London, but she made it. She, Kate and I all joined forces at Colicchio & Sons for dinner. Leanne had found it on the internet and what a find -- perhaps the best meal I had this weekend. We arrived for an early dinner, so the waitress asked us if we were in a hurry to make another engagement. When we told her we were not, she let us sit at her table for hours, never making us feel as though we taking up her time. Lee and I split a bottle of Sancerre, incredibly reasonably priced for the quality of the wine and the food was simply beyond compare. Kate and I each had a crab and sea urchin "fondue" that was just this side of risotto. I was not at all classy and used a piece of bread to get every bit of it. The pasta dishes were perfectly cooked and Lee had a piece of pork that smelled divine. My two companions each indulged in an ice cream dessert that they raved over, but I was too full. Bookending the meal were amuse bouche and little candies -- I simply love that kind of thing.

After we had eaten, J came to join us for a drink. Leanne, being jet lagged, and Kate, being sensible, peeled off at this point but I carried on with my mate. He had made a booking at Bobo, so I went along to keep him company while he ate. Of course, I was able to split a fantastic bottle of Burgundy, so please don't think this was a hardship. I, for obvious reasons, did not have any food, but it looked and smelled amazing and J reported that the food was very nice. The place itself is wonderful. A small, dark hole in the wall that feels as though it has been here for ages. As we sat there, it became less a restaurant and more a bar with a youngish crowd and an increased volume of music so I was ready to leave when we did.

Deciding that it was far too early to call it a night, J and I walked down the road to Highlands. A beautifully lit and well proportioned bar with a crowd in which J and I were neither the youngest nor the oldest people there. In fact, it was a fantastic cross-section of people, all of whom were out for the night but none of whom were embarrassingly out of control. Plus, the music was great and at a volume that I could still carry on a conversation with J. As you can imagine from the name, the bar specializes in Scotch so I indulged in Oban. I went with every intention of staying for one drink, and stayed for several. I finally tore myself away and walked back to the hotel -- helpful for blowing out a cobweb or two.

Sunday started out a bit later than the other days, but still in plenty of time for one more great meal. I met Leanne, J and Kate at the Standard Grill, in the same hotel as the rooftop bar I talk about above. Perfect place for brunch. I had a Bloody Bull (virgin as I had to drive, not to mention the liver had already had enough) which is a Bloody Mary with a shot of bouillon. Smashing take on the old standard. My intention was to have a salad, but the rest of the table shamed me into something a little more substantial. I had the burger, topped with blue cheese and bacon. Perfect comfort food and the fitting end to five days of simply amazing food and drink.

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