In New York freedom looks like too many choices
Eduardo and I spent four full days in New York City before flying to Boston to visit my college best friends and their son, our Godson the Younger, for Thanksgiving. Although we made several day trips to the city in 2009 while E was completing a work assignment in New Jersey, this was the first time we stayed there together for longer than a weekend.
The first part of the New York trip report includes our lodging, breakfast, and lunch picks. I’ll take care of dinner, entertainment, and meeting a special blogger on a separate post next week. I can’t stress enough how much we relied on websites like Yelp and MenuPages. We also uploaded a lot of our findings in Oink, a new social media application that lets you find recommended things (rather than places) near you.
We stayed in the Affinia Dumont on East 34th St between Lexington and Third Avenue. It was a reasonably priced hotel for Manhattan standards, a block and a half from the 6 subway line. The suite-style room was large and had its own kitchen, including a tiny gas 4-burner range/oven. We were lucky and got assigned a corner room in the 32th floor, with lovely views of the East River and the Midtown skyline! We would definitely stay here again next time we are in the city.
FAVORITE BREAKFAST – Penelope is one of my favorite Yelp/MenuPages finds on Murray Hill. Located on Lexington Avenue and East 30th St, they offer a prix-fixe brunch menu that includes a choice of entree and drink for around $15 per person. We arrived around 9am and waited about fifteen minutes to be seated. By the time we left, not only was the entrance crowded but a line was forming outside the restaurant. To make up for the wait times, the restaurant has a small complimentary coffee station (a nice touch!). I ordered the pumpkin waffles with apple cinnamon butter, pecans, cranberries and warm apples. Eduardo had sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich with pesto on a croissant.
Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien is one of our Manhattan traditions. Known for it’s creative take on breakfast classics, it’s one of those restaurants that requires either an Open Table reservation or hours of patience while waiting to be seated. Sadly, I feel it is slowly but steadily declining. Case in point: the “Artichoked Benedict”. The first time I ordered it on 2004, they served us three eggs on artichoke bottoms with mushrooms and truffle cream. Second time, two eggs on artichokes with mushrooms and cream. In this visit, Eduardo got two eggs on artichokes with the truffled Hollandaise. Eduardo declared the dish delicious despite not having the mushrooms. I ordered Norma’s Eggs Benedict: pancakes topped with asparagus, Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and a great Hollandaise sauce. The bar has been raised for brunch menus in the last few years, and Norma’s needs to figure out how to update its offering while giving customers a better value. I wish I had more examples of cases where they have cut corners on some dishes over time – maybe it’s just me and the Artichoked Benedict.
Another new discovery was the NYC outpost of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. We made a stop earlier in the weekend for a snack (oh pumpkin macaron!), and decided to come back for breakfast. I had a spinach quiche, Eduardo another croissant sandwich, and we got more pumpkin macarons that sadly got smashed in my purse. They were dainty and delicious. Finding seating area in Bouchon is an uphill battle, but you can take your purchase to a nearby bench near Rockefeller Center and enjoy the view/people watching.
We stood in line for two of our four lunch outings. The first stop, and one that lived up to all the tourist hype, was sandwiches at Katz’s Delicatessen.
FAVORITE LUNCH – I was not expecting the controlled chaos that seems to be the norm at Katz’s. When you get in, a greeter hands you a ticket where the different servers write down what you had. You pick a line in front of a slicer, and give them your order. Our slicer was a very nice Puerto Rican man, originally from Yauco. Look out for Benny! He definitely treated us very well. I had the best time eavesdropping the Latino slicers’ banter/smack talk – it was like something you would read on Kitchen Confidential.
The pastrami was amazing. It truly melted in your mouth. Eduardo ordered a Reuben and I was very reluctant to hand over the second half of the my sandwich. For all the tales of the huge deli sandwiches in the city, Katz’s was actually the right size – big but “finisheable” (unlike my memory of the Midtown West delis).
Would you stand over an hour in line for a burger, a hotdog, a milkshake, and a soda?
Shake Shack met it’s reputation as well – although the wait time is ridiculous. I wish I had tried more menu items, but we already had plans for dinner with Norma from Platanos, Mangoes and Me so I stuck to a Shack-Tago Dog (with mustard, relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper and celery salt) and an Abita root beer. Eduardo had a Shackburger and a chocolate milkshake. Their seasonal offerings sounded fantastic: salted caramel frozen custard and pumpkin pie concrete (frozen custard blended with homemade mix-ins).
Lombardi’s, a pizzeria in Little Italy and another of our “regular” stops, was fine. There were no surprises with our usual order of a small (14″) pie with anchovies, sausage, pepperoni, and ricotta cheese. We heard that Grimaldi’s, the Brooklyn institution, is opening an outpost in Manhattan, so that might be our pizza stop next time we’re in the city. We thought of making the trek to Brooklyn, but got a little lazy about it. It must have been all the waiting in line we had done before!
On a final note, the fourth lunch we had was Korean barbecue on 32th Street (Kun Jip). I wish we had done more research about the food itself (not the restaurant) and ‘rituals’ before sitting down and ordering. We were lost, and unfortunately the wait staff didn’t pick up or didn’t want to be bothered with our newbie glow. It got to the point where I asked to one of the Spanish-speaking busboys for advice/validation on whether we were eating the differerent items correctly. The meat was tasty and the different little plates of side dishes/appetizers were interesting but not knowing what we were having diminished from the experience.
What are your favorite NYC spots for breakfast and lunch? See you on the comments section!