Thursday, July 17, 2008

NYC 2008 Day 4

Our last full day in the city and we made it a big one.

Breakfast in the hotel and then took 2 trains to the American Museum of Natural History. We were joined on the train by some kids from a YMCA day camp and their counselors. The counselors (teenagers themselves) kept constantly counting to make sure they had the right number of kids. I think they counted Jackson in there a few times causing some head scratching at having too many. I was surprised that the back door to the museum (cool mosaics)was accessible directly from the subway. We missed seeing the big impressive lobby until the end when we went out that way. In the lobby is a dinosaur with a neck too long to ever have been real. I'm beginning to wonder about this whole dinosaur thing honestly. Maybe the christians are right after all.

The museum is pretty old school and if you've seen Night at the Museum you get the idea in general. All of the animal stuff was very cool but the geology section is totally not interesting, rocks just don't move me. The science\space area was really great and we watched a show about things crashing into the Earth narrated by Robert Redford. I'm a sort of jaded entertainment consumer but this really blew me away. The round theater experience was totally immersive and everyone loved it.

For lunch we caught a train down to Katz deli which is about 700 kinds of awesome. Un-awesome is the fact that 'When Harry Met Sally' was filmed here and they have a big sign indicating where Sally sat to ENJOY her sandwich. We followed the general advice here (scroll down to Lower Eastside Excursion) and were made happy. The counters really are 5 deep and it wasn't even busy apparently. They have a system to keep gawkers out where you get a ticket upon entry and they total up your purchases on that ticket as you order stuff. After eating you are then funneled out through the payment chute and have to present the ticket to pay. I think it was like $10 if you had a blank ticket. Its one of those funny situations where they don't have a good sign explaining the system but instead pay a dude to sit on a stool by the door and repeat the same thing over and over and over all day long.

The food was awesome, the pastrami just melted in the mouth and the pickles were killer. Tina almost didn't get pastrami but after the cutter gave us a taste she was hooked. There are 4 or 5 cutters, each with his own line. You elbow your way to the front and make your order. It was kind of expensive but 3 sandwiches plus pickles were way more than our team could eat.

Down the street for the egg cream mentioned in the linked post above. I was glad we tried it but it was underwhelming. I don't drink alot of straight milk but the kids and Tina do and none of us loved this. I'm glad we tried it because its allegedly very New York-y.

Caught a cab to get us back to the train station, it was pretty hot and the kids were beginning to wilt. Unfortunately I again made the mistake of assuming that all trains run both directions. Sometimes you can take a certain train going one way but not take it back the other from a given stop. We had to fudge a bit to get back but eventually got to the museum to make it through the Horse exhibit. It was fine but I'm tired of museums for a while now.

Across the street from the museum was Central Park. We had skirted it previously but now decided to cruise through, get some ice cream and generally hang out. We wound up by The Lawn (link) where people were being very picturesque playing frisbee, softball etc. I think we stayed about an hour just lounging under a tree cooling off and napping. Ok, I was the only one napping, the kids were digging something and playing with the dogs that people were walking. On the way out we watched some pickup basketball on an outdoor court. I expected pickup ball to be like amazing here but it was totally a game I could have played in and that made me irrationally happy. I think I mentioned this to Tina about 400 times over the course of the next 2 hours.

A cab over to Anthony Bourdain's place Les Halles. This was in part driven by the boy's request to go some place 'fancy where they have smaller sizes and more presentation'. I'm thinking he might be a chef someday.

Its a nice place, dimly lit with dark wood, kinda hip but not overly anything really. Background music was present but not too loud and of particularly good quality. As if someone with generally good taste brought in their ipod and hooked it up on random play.

Brie topped with honey & cracked black pepper, roasted and served on croutons
Snails in garlic butter
Assiette de Charcutailles ( you know, the one with various meats)

Steak, Frites, Salad
Moroccan lamb sausage, french fries, salad

There were alot and they were good. I made no notes on this because my daughter ate it all before I had a chance to react.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

NYC 2008 - Day 3

Wednesday July 2

Still kind of beat from the prior night's adventure we slept in a little and so did not beat the rush to breakfast and had a short wait. Next up was the M&M store which we promised the kids we'd get to after they spent 2 nights freaking out over while watching the billboard from our window. Its an awful place. Everything costs alot, they play terrible, saccharine pop music at jet engine decibel levels. We spent money, took pictures and got M&Ms. I don't really want to talk about it any more.

From there we headed uptown to the Met stopping on the way for a bit of baked stuff and coffee in place of lunch. The upper east side looks like it does on tv, rich people with tiny dogs in apartments with doormen.

The Met is an impressively large place and a total maze inside. We spent a little time going through some egyptian stuff at the beginning and then headed for the Arms/Armor (what did you think the 9 year old boy would pick?). The collections are documented pretty well and the scope of what they have is really impressive. Just to name a few:pre-Crusader stuff, Renaissance European, some non-European (Indian, Tibetan and Japanese in particular), amazing wheelock/flintlock, combo sword/knife guns and some fully decked out out armored horses sporting armored knights with lances. It was all very amazing but there was a group of Germans there and somehow hearing German spoken in the context of military weaponry gives me pause.

From there we decided to spend some time (turned out to be all the rest of the time) in the modern art sections. I bet we saw 15% of the whole place in the 5 hours we were there.

We started up on the roof where they had some Jeff Koons stuff. I'd seen a thing about him so am vaguely aware of what he's about. I was initially kind of dismissive (my art appreciation-fu is not strong) but hes kinda growing on me.

Both pieces are pretty big and at first its just a big balloon dog...but up close when you really look at it, its an amazing piece of craftsmanship. I'll have to think some more about what I think a giant ballon dog 'means' but if nothing else its easy to enjoy this on the level of an interesting thing made awesomely.

From there we went down into the museum proper and cruised around. I made scribbly notes in the margin of my crossword and found images of some of what I liked below.

Susan Rothenburg - Galisteo Creek

Chuck Close- Mark

Must be seen to really get the full value. It seems pixelated here but in person looks like a photograph. Amazing

Kusama - B. 62

A red painting that looked like dragon scales, can't find it online

David Smith - Beca

Up close the etched wavy lines seemed 3D and in motion

Bridget Riley - Blaze 1


Joel Shapiro - (didn't catch the name on this)

Sophia loved this one

Sol Levitt 13/3

Picture does not do it justice. The shadows and light made this simple set of boxes totally amazing. I probably wandered around this one almost as long as the Kapoor one.

Marco Reille - The Battle

Can't find it online, it was on the wall next to Pollock (who I'll freely admit to having no use for) and I really want to see it again. It reminded me of 'the scream' but like 100 of that guy all sort of woven together. I'm sure I wrote it down wrong.

Matta - Being With

Tina hated this one because the dudes seem like they are being tortured, which I guess they are. I liked that it had alot of depth (literally I mean) I kept seeing little things further back in the background. I get the torture stuff but I saw it more about a big machine that sort of eats us up.

Jasper Johns - White Flag

Kenneth Noland - Magic Box

Sophia loved this one, can't figure out which it was from him but here is our picture:

Anish Kapoor - Untitled

Kinda hard to explain but here is a picture...sort of. Its like a concave piece of metal made of small scales maybe 1" by 1". standing dead center in front of it bends all the sound from the room around you kind of like you hear it going past you but you are no longer in the room. The scales also reflect strangely so that at most angles you don't see anything but a shine until you find just the point and then its like seeing a fly's eye seeing you. Totally freaking loved this.

Kandinsky - Garden of Love

Chuck Close - Lucas different in person. This is a huge grid where he did a sort of color by numbers deal putting colors into the squares to replicate a photograph. The picture is like 8' tall and frankly terrifying.

Picasso - Girl Asleep at the Table

Dali - Madonna

This is like one of those mall paintings (oh pipe down art guy) where you can get different pictures dpending on how you focus your eyes.

Max Bechman - Beginning

After all this we headed over to Plataforma for dinner. Tina and the kids had never been to a Rodizio so we thought to give it a shot. The place was fine but lost on a little family who aren't big enough to really eat their weight. We had Caipirinha's which were nice. I didn't bother to take any notes, the salad bar was all great and mostly not salad. Most of the meat they brought was between fine and good and we hated the yucca flour salsa combo. It was a nice time but hugely expensive and not at all worth it. If I was 21 I could have eaten enough to pay for all of I am old.

We had a relatively early night and watched Nim's Island which Sophia liked but wasn't very good.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

NYC 2008 - Day 2

Tuesday (July 1)

After a late night we got up late breakfast at the Doubletree. I still have a little status there so we got breakfast for free. It was a nice enough buffet, the fruit was all fresh and the bacon had been cooked in the recent past. There was a sort of short-order cook doing waffles, pancakes, omlettes and fried eggs. He was a great guy and made me good food. I noticed that very few other people tipped him which is a shame since he is making great stuff to order and most of the tourists on line were probably free-rolling breakfast anyway. Jerks.

We had some subway issues...the train doesn't always go where I want it to but the Bangladeshi guy running the newsstand got us on the right line. I should also mention here that I bought my daily new york times from him as I will be trying to complete the puzzle everyday. As you may know from the movie Wordplay or just general nerdliness the puzzles printed in the nyt get harder from Monday to Sunday. I'm pretty good up to Wednesday though Wednesday is not always a sure thing. I have completed 1 Sunday puzzle in my short career but had to look up 2 words to put the last 2 letters in. Anyway I thought it would be soooo special to do the nyt crossword in in ny with an actual nyt paper get it? Monday was no problem and I was cruising on Tuesday but left it on a subway someplace and had to redo the whole thing to finish the last 25%.

We got off the train way, way downtown under Trinity church and walked by the WTC site. You couldn't see much and frankly I don't like going down there anyway. We took a brief trip through Trinity church and the tiny graveyard. Its an amazing place right in the middle of the canyons of skyscrapers. If not for all the dead people it would be as Tina said 'a great place to eat lunch outside every day'.

From there down a few blocks to Battery Park to get the ferry over to the statue. Battery park was full of people doing portraits and selling knick knacks. There were 2 of those silver dudes that stay motionless and then do the robot thing. They were in the full sun and it was hot and humid. Insane.

Fortunately this was one piece we had planned well and Tina had a reserved spot for us on the ferry and statue tour. The other schlubs had to wait in a 1 hour line in the freaking heat. We went through an airport style screening before getting on the boat and then another before going into the statue. You can't take anything bigger than a purse so I had to drop the backpack in the rental locker which was slick because it used fingerprint scans instead of a key to manage access. The security before the statute itself was the airpuff type. All the women wearing skirts/dresses giggled and blushed when the air hit them. Not sure why. Jackson got pulled out of line for having a hackey-sack in his pocket. They were cool about it but it makes me wonder what sort of corrosive chemicals are in what is obviously a chinese import.

If you haven't been to the statue I don't want to spoil it but its not as tall as you think. Not even close. It is still awesome and if you have any sense of history etc. you'll enjoy being there. Just saying it didn't freak me out climbing to the observation deck. Amazing views of Manhattan and NJ and also out the toward the bay where there were dozens of cargo ships lined up. The observation deck is not very wide so everyone is really scrunched together. A nice Aussie family in Harley Davidson t-shirts took a picture for us and we returned the favor. We also met a nice teacher from Miami that travels the world with here little kid (maybe 8) during the off times from school. That is kind of cool but I can't imagine how she affords it. We talked Scandinavia a bit her and the 2 Norwegian high schoolers over her au pare-ing.

Next the ferry takes you over to Ellis island. It was kind of late in the day so we just hit the highlights of the museum. They had some great 3-D graphical representations of demographic data on immigrants and a flag that was people on one side and a flag on the other. We also watched a movie about the immigrant experience narrated by Gene "Hoosiers" Hackman that left most of the audience misty. It's one thing to hear about how hard it was to get here and how great it was to see the statue. Its something else to hear a guy talking about having a life here that is not even possible to dream of back home and how by being here he came to believe that literally anything is possible. Personally I just had some dust in my eyes I think.

The one downside to this long hot part of the trip is the line standing. I know I've said it one million times but walking is for suckers and I can't stand getting herded around like cattle. There is alot of that on this trip but I'm not sure how to avoid it, that said its a requirement that you go.

Back to Battery Park to take the train so far uptown that we are going to leave Manhattan and visit the Bronx. This was a bad idea and I am damn lucky that it didn't end badly. We switched trains at one point and met a really friendly 'spanish' guy. I enquote-ify that because it took us a minute to sort out what he meant by 'spanish' food when he was making recommendations. In NY apparently 'spanish' is someone who speaks spanish and eats food from Puerto Rico. Once we had that sorted out he recommended a couple of places and warned me to be careful in the neighborhood I was venturing into. He also told me not to drink too much water, recent scienctifical (sic) thinking is that 8 cups is too much and it swells your internal organs or something. Not sure how to evaluate this so consider yourself on notice.

When we got off the train at 182nd and Gran Councourse it quickly became apparent that we would be taking a stroll through the hood to get to dinner. I encourage you to take a street view of the walk. It was fascinating. I'm pretty sure we saw 3 junkies freshly fixed staggering around. There were cops standing in pairs on several corners and everywhere were people sitting on stoops staring at the well-dressed (we were going to dinner after all) obvious tourists stomping around. No one hassled us we just got weird looks. Several times a black car would slow menacingly near us and honk his horn twice. I later found out these were gypsy cabs that could have saved us a 1 mile walk through the heat but no regrets of course. The first set of crazies we encountered were sitting outside what was a clearly labeled halfway house. These 5 women had probably 6 teeth between them and were caring on an animated screaming match prominently featuring the f-word. Did I mention I have my 2 kids (9 and 5) on this walk with me? no? Yeah...moving on. About 2 blocks away just when we though we'd made it a reallllllllly stoned/drunk guy took up station on the port wak and followed without talking for half a block. Finally I turned and said hello and accepted his offer to shake hands (obviously not a great move but keeping him civil seemed wise) and he eventually continued muttering and drifted away.

We made it to Roberto's finally and it was exactly what I wanted. Roberto (I later discovered) was on a cell phone in check chef pants and black jacket screaming in engtalish (english+italian+spanish) at what seemed to be a cook that didn't show up for work. It was a caricturare of an italian guy screaming at someone with the cigarette pasted on the lower lip just flailling wildly to keep the non phone hand free to make that gesture (upturned palm, fingers together like you were balancing an egg) for em-a-phas-a-sis. Inside it was more upscale than a red-check tablecloth red-sauce place (which I do like and would like to have found a good example of but didn't) but not overdone. It was kept dark and seemed to be filled with neighborhood types because many at the tables seemed to know each other. Roberto made the rounds throughout the night and sat down with several tables to chat. The hostess was a college senior, very cute and friendly who before we left made us a list of places to have lunch near the park the following day. Other than the people selling tickets on trains who were universally jerks we found the people we talked to to be incredibly friendly and hospitable. NYC gets a bad rap imo.

We got a table in the back and started with the Calamari e gamberi alla griglia ( Grilled calamari and shrimp served over a mesclun salad and drizzled with virgin olive oil and lemon) which the waiter divided up from the common plate he brought out. I don't prefer this method when eating with the kids but I appreciate that its their style and its fine. The calamari was really excellent, very fresh with just a hint of oil and lemon. None of the rubbery texture you get sometimes and I had to arm wrestle the 5 year old for the little tentacle-y bits. The shrimp were tiny but not overcooked which is easy to do and the salad and dressing was nice and light. A good refreshing start.

For dinner Sophia and Tina got specials and Jackson and I ordered off the menu. I had the
Vitello piccante (Veal scallopine with hot cherry peppers and white wine sauce) which while good was a mistake. I'm a sucker for spice and big flavors and this was just some nice veal in a nice white wine with some pickled cherry peppers on top. It tasted like something i could make and that is fine but I expect a little more from a chef. The dish had no subtletly. There were 20 other things I wanted to get and they all would have been better. I am a jerk.

Jackson had
' Orecchiette con salsiccia e broccoli di rapa (Orecchiette with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe sautéed in garlic and oil)' but they subbed orecchiette for another name I couldn't catch. All the pasta was homemade and this was like orzo kind of but longer. They were very dense and a little flour-y (dumpling-esque?). A plate of that would make you gain 20 pounds. The sausage was very homemade had just a hint of some mild herb flavor that went great with the rabe. Btw, until this trip I had never heard of broccoli rabe but it turns out I loved it. Looking forward to trying the roast pork with broccoli rabe in Philly when we get back. The sauce was very light and not in the way at all. The only criticism of this dish was that this particular pasta was too heavy and kept us from finishing much. I even took some back to the hotel for a midnight snack but was stuffed after about 5 bites.

Tina had foil wrapped pasta
with marscapone, artichoke, tomatoes and onions. I think it had a light kind of pesto and was very tasty.

Sophia had a plate of homemade ravioli stuffed with blue cheese and a sort of asparagus puree which sounded weird (the puree not the cheese) with a cream sage sauce. This was outstanding. The pasta melted in your mouth and the funkiness of the bluecheese went great with the sage-yness of the cream sauce. I didn't really taste much of the puree but I didn't care a bit. We fought for the scraps and licked the plate. We really should have ordered it again.

We had some wine with dinner (I took a pictue with the phone but the phone is now broken) which we liked and I even mixed some with water for the kids which they both liked. It was a super tuscan but thats all I remember. Stupid phone.

For Dessert the girls got
Tiramisu (Light composition of Pavesini biscuits in a coffee liqueur mixture then layered with rich mascarpone and sprinkled with cocoa.) Jackson had Tartufo (Chocolate ice cream envelops a heart of vanilla with chocolate chip sprinkles) and I had the Bricciolata (Specialtv crumb cake made with Amaretto, chocolate chunks, fresh ricotta cheese & sliced almonds served with Hazelnut Gelato). My gelato was silly, it was a top 5 dessert of my life. The crumb cake was also outstanding, moist and delicious.

So as not to take any chances we had the waiter get us a cab to get to the subway stop. The ride back was uneventful except for the drunk guy in a kind of half squat near the door for the first 4 stops. He looked like he was going to poop on the floor but had fallen asleep and somehow perfectly balanced himself so that he didn't even rock with the train. It was very zen. After him we got crazy repeating guy. He got on and began addressing the train though not loudly
saying "whatever, Americans say whatever" over and over again but changing inflection some each time so it sounded like a conversation. He would occasionally riff onto short bridges of "don't follow her she don't love you no more" or "smell of coffee, I like the smell of coffee".

NYC 2008 - Day 1

Monday morning was the first day of vacation for me. We got off to a slow start but eventually returned the car to the Enterprise in some little place that isn't Trenton, NJ but I'll call it Trenton because I am now totally out of patience with the whole township/burrough/city/town/county thing that I may begin to rant.

The friendly man from the car rental place drove us to the train station in the tiny PT cruiser with our 2.5 huge suitcases. I have a good sense of direction but I could not retrace a step of the route he took interchanging between highways, state routes, turnpikes etc. The unhelpful counter lady sold us tickets on the NJ Transit NE Corridor train and we got on a mostly empty train to NY Penn station. Don't get off at Newark Penn Station because you would be in the wrong state and city. Just FYI. We shared the train with some guys who sell weed for a living and they spoke loudly about the same. To prevent the children from listening I made Jackson read a book and I played his Lego Indiana Jones game on the DS.

Arrive in NY and begin to schlep the bags around (gotta say schlep cause thats what people in NYC do in the movies) to find the taxi stand. About 30 seconds into the trip we come across 2 guys screaming obscenities at each other across 2 escalators. I couldn't sort out the root of the argument but there were several suggestions to perform anatomically impossible or at the very least unsanitary acts. Several suggestions. Loudly.

Living out west it still amazes me how many cars can fit across what would be 1 lane. Our cab driver had the magic squeeze button that could suck the sides in to put us between a cab and a bus and was not afraid to use it.

We stayed on the top (43rd) floor of the Doubletree right in the heart of Times Square and it was a zoo at all times. I'd imagine its kind of expensive but we used points so didn't feel the sting. Overall it was a perfect place for us. The suite had a fold out queen sized bed in one room and a separate bedroom for me and Tina. I'm not looking forward to when the kids are slightly bigger and not able to share a bed any longer. Not sure what people do in that case other than getting 2 rooms. The staff was all very friendly and we got 4 of the infamous cookies plus a kid's pack for each kid upon arrival. After check in and cleanup we just did a couple hours of walk about including Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's, the Atlas statue that I like and heading down for the NY Public Library. From there we hopped trains to Chinatown.

This was my first time in Chinatown and it was really struck by how foreign it was. I literally could have been in another country. I'm making these little walking maps which would be good with a street view but not sure how to mash those together. Anyway I had done some research and decided to go for a place next to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for obvious reasons. The walk from the subway was fascinating and we passed a dozen Peking duck shops that on reflection might have been a better play but in any case had display windows chock full of odd looking pieces of fowl/pig. The smell of Chinatown is pretty unique because you have the fishmonger shops with their ice pans draining onto the sidewalk mingling with the bags of trash that are left on the street for pickup ( I assume) nightly. Add to that the produce stands everywhere selling lichis, dragon fruit, coconuts and all manner of strange asian fruits.

We wandered a bit soaking it all in and eventually got to the place. Its now called Shanghai Kitchen and used to be Moon House. There were about 10 tables mostly full and 100% asian. Ours was the only english being spoken so I kinda thought I was in the right place. We started with a communal bowl of hot and sour soup that was not spicy in the least but was exactly the right amount of sour. Delicious. For dinner we got some veggie noodles, Chow Fun noodles with beef, orange chicken, some kind of kung pao variation that featured broccoli stems and was billed as super hot but wasn't very spicy at all. The bill was $30....AFTER a %20 tip. I thought about coming back every day. The food was excellent and our seat near the dumb waiter fascinated the kids (and to no end. I love chow fun and this was the 2nd best I've had. I still love the Crispy Fry in Emeryville but whatever it is they do at the Fry to make the beef so tender and delicious was well replicated at the S. Kitchen. The plate was overall kinda greasy but so flavorful and the beef had maybe a hint of curry. The only thing it was missing was some heat even though I ordered it spicy. Both the chicken dishes used dark meat which is alot more flavorful. The orange chicken had lots of fresh orange slices along with some fried rind, it looked smelled and tasted great. The kung pao was only disappointing in lack of spice. The nuts broccoli and sauce were all outstanding. The veggie noodles were kind of forgettable but what do you expect from food without meat?

Next up was the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. I'd seen several references to it as a must stop kind of place so we stopped. They had a good selection of standard ice cream and sorbets along with some nice asian flavors. We got lichi, mango, green tea and tangerine plus a couple of shirts for the kids which are pretty fantastic.

We wandered some more and finally got back on the train for home. It was a long day but the kids did a great job trooping all over and I considered it a wild success.