A Banner New York City [Food] Day

Last Friday, after E’s graduation ceremony, the celebration began. We were lucky to have E’s parents and brother in town for the event, and we wanted to show them a good time, which in my mind means good food.

Once E had turned in his robes and taken some photos, we wandered towards Central Park and the New York Historical Society. Our destination was Caffé Storico, tucked into the first floor of the museum. I am not super familiar with the area around the theater, so thank you Google for this recommendation. From their website:

The restaurant features dishes inspired by classic cicchetti, or small plates, as well as handmade artisanal pastas. Award-winning chef, Jim Burke, brings an approachable, refined style to the menu with a deep sense of authentic Italian cuisine developed during his time in Italy. An all-Italian wine list with over fifty labels, twenty of which are available by the glass, accompanies a full bar.

Our meal, from the chicken liver crostini to the warm strawberry rhubarb crostata, was amazing. The food was delectable, the service impeccable, and the setting just right for an afternoon meal. We shared a bottle of prosecco in a lovely setting surrounded by Ladies Who Lunch.

Image from their website.

Because the kitchen is completely open, it got a little noisy, but our 1:30 arrival was well-timed to miss the bulk of the lunchtime din. After we ate, we were tempted by the trinkets in the Historical Society’s gift shop. It was a bit over our normal price point, but the occasion called for something special, and we definitely felt like we got our money’s worth. I hope to sneak back some week for their special Sunday evening prix fixe menu.

We were lucky to have perfect weather (about 72 degrees, sunny, light breeze) to stroll through Central Park and digest for a while before meeting the rest of our party for dinner at the Bryant Park Grill (warning: autoplay!). E and I lovelovelove Bryant Park, and while we’ve gotten drinks at the cafe a few times, we hadn’t made it to the restaurant yet. The food was great, but the real draw was the setting. I let our out-of-towners take the seats facing the park and chose to examine a door into the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwartzman Building instead. I was still pretty pleased. Service here was spotty, but, I mean…

Image from Wikipedia.

… I’ll take it.

We made one last stop after dinner at the Campbell Apartment, a former office-turned-bar tucked away in a corner of Grand Central Terminal. We had been meaning to head there for a long time, but never seemed to be properly attired when we were in the area and thought of it. So that night, we marched our graduation-bedecked selves over to GCT, up the stairs from the main concourse, out the door, around the corner, back inside, up another set of stairs (you with me?) and into the Campbell Apartment. The room was lavishly decorated, dimly lit, and packed with just the right amount of people for a Friday evening happy hour. We were able to get a table after a short wait, and ended the evening sipping well-made cocktails in what felt like a secret club. Full of commuters. And tourists.

But no matter! I am glad to be able to check a visit to the Campbell Apartment off my New York City bucket list.

Thus ended a jam-packed day of fun and good eats at several New York City landmarks, from the Upper West Side to Midtown. Later that evening, after E had recovered from the whirlwind day, we went on one last adventure to cap out the day…

Oh, hey, I took this photo!

A ride up the elevators to the top of the Empire State Building! E’s mom and brother were staying at a hotel around the corner from the ESB, so while we were escorting them to their hotel, we were all inspired to make the trip. I haven’t been up there in years, and the view was more incredible than I remember. I’ve always been skeptical of the observation deck at the ESB as a tourist’s stop, but not anymore.

Getting a view of the city E loves from above was a perfect nightcap on a day full of celebrations. We said good-bye, gathered our belongings, and treated ourselves to a rare (but much-deserved) cab ride back to Queens, and to sleep.

Dutch Kills, Long Island City

This weekend, E and I met some friends at what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite bars, Dutch Kills. Located just a ten minute train ride away from home in Long Island City, Queens, Dutch Kills is a bar that is hiding in plain sight. From the street, a  blinking white neon sign reads, simply, “BAR.” The windows are blacked out, and a sign advertising a blue print shop hangs over the storefront. A small hallway leads into a narrow, dimly lit area with high wooden booths, so that it looks like nothing special from the outside. If you venture in further, you’ll see the fully stocked bar (see here, via this post) manned by barkeeps in vests and suspenders.

While not technically a speakeasy, Dutch Kills definitely nods to the Prohibition Era. But the aesthetics of the joint, though nothing to scoff at, are a minor attraction. The real stars of the night are the cocktails. The menu may not seem like much, but the bartenders’ know more than what’s there, anyway. Tell them what you like (or what you don’t) and they’ll whip you up something that’s sure to please. Each drink has the right hand-cut ice to keep it cool — on the rock, served long, or crushed.

Marie Antoinette

I am, generally, more of a beer gal than a cocktail connoisseur, but I have never left Dutch Kills dissatisfied (in fact, I’ve been feeling more inspired to build my bar at home). The beverages are always perfect, the atmosphere is great for a relaxed Friday night, and the service is spot on. At $11 per cocktail, the prices are reasonable, and the bar is close to the N, Q, 7, E, M, R, and G trains, making it a great meeting place for friends from Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. I’m already plotting my next trip back.

Weekend Snaps and Tourist Traps

For the first — and last — weekend in a while, E and I had no real solid plans come quitting time on Friday, so we enjoyed a quiet, unstructured weekend around the apartment and in the city. The weather was delightful, so we got to spend some time outside over a pitcher of beer on Saturday night, and when we got home, the Greeks in our neighborhood were setting off fireworks to mark the start of their Easter Sunday festivities.

Tessie managed to get out (by which I mean we held the door open to see if she would go into the hallway), but she wasn’t sure what to do when she did. Her whole world for the past three years has been our one bedroom apartment, and I don’t know if she thinks the squirrels or other critters who occasionally stop by our fire escape are even real.

Sunday morning we were up and at ’em early to make it to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Discovery Times Square exhibit space. Today was the last day of the show, and we bought Groupons to visit ages ago, so we decided to head down. It was neat to see some of the artifacts (and the scroll remnants, of course), but the experience was pretty terrible overall. They herd you through the space in groups, so you end of moving either too fast or too slow and have trouble accessing all the things you want to see. They also have a really strange way of displaying some of the objects. They built long walls with text panels and inset display cases for smaller artifacts, and then placed dioramas with larger artifacts behind the wall and cut long, thin vertical windows into the wall. You can kind of see what I mean in this photo, which shows the vertical cut-outs. The end result was that it was nearly impossible to really see what was in the larger cases, especially if there were other people crowding you.

In any case, if it weren’t for the Groupon, it probably wouldn’t have been worth the astronomical entrance fee (30 dollars per person! For an exhibit that took us only an hour to comb through thoroughly!). I saw Harry Potter: The Exhibition in the same space and was similarly frustrated by the experience, though in that case more because we were pulsed through the hall so quickly we could barely take in all of the costumes and props. I’ll definitely think twice before seeing anything else there.

Because the weather was so beautiful when we got off the train back in Queens, we ended up having brunch in the back garden of one of the neighborhood restaurants after we realized that all the Greek restaurants we’d been talking about visiting for a quick breakfast were closed for Easter. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours with my favorite over-busy law student, but I am still dreaming of a good gyro. I know, my life is hard.

Czeching Off Saint Patrick’s Day

Saturday was, as most people know, St. Patrick’s Day. Nowadays, most people use the day as an excuse to “pretend they are Irish,” which apparently means wearing green and drinking beer. I do those 2 things many times throughout the year, but on St. Patrick’s Day I tend to have more company.

Since we moved to New York nearly 3 years ago, St. Patrick’s Day has also taken on its own tradition for E, myself, and our local friends: it has become the official start of beer garden season! We live around the corner from New York City’s only remaining old beer garden (The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden), and it is our go-to spot in the warmer months (and one of the few ways we can get Manhattan- and Brooklynites to come out to Queens). Two years ago, E and I went for dinner and a drink at the beer garden on a weekday St. Paddy’s day, since it was the first day it was really warm enough to stay outside – in the sun, mind you. Last year, I went with some friends on a much chillier St. Patrick’s Day, and we toughed it out in the outdoor beer garden for a couple of hours. Typically, it’s the first day of beer garden season before a short hiatus while the weather catches up with our wishes, but this year? This year that whole non-winter New York has been having allowed us to hang out in the beer garden all day.

The beer garden is a giant walled-in courtyard full of picnic tables, gravel, a stage and dance floor, and waiters and waitresses carrying pitchers of beer and trays of Czech food (except this weekend, when they also had corned beef and cabbage). Games are okay as long as you don’t get crazy, and a deck of cards is an awesome way to pass the time and make friends during leisurely afternoons of knocking back a few beers. The tables are communal, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have at least one conversation with your neighbors. This weekend, we played cards with people around us, faced off in empty-pitcher-stacking competitions with nearby tables, and taught the other folks at our table to play Thumper.

Before 9 pm, the beer garden is billed as a “restaurant,” so kids under 21 can come in with their families. On warm summer days, there are toddlers playing, parents eating kielbasa, and twenty-somethings nursing buzzes. It’s a very friendly environment (Also, Let’s Go Whalers!).

Depending on the day, there are bands or DJs (or, during the annual Czech and Slovak festival, choirs of schoolchildren singing national anthems), and dancing is encouraged. Despite my own lack of coordination and sloppy dance floor culminating in a fall and skinned knee for me during an LMFAO song, we had a really great time. I can’t wait for summer to set in, when I will peer pressure E to stop studying for the bar exam and come hang out with me at the beer garden. We’ll catch some rays, enjoy some Eastern European brews, and chat with old guys with accents and beer bellies. It will be awesome, like always.

There are few things I’ll miss about NYC if and when we leave, but the beer garden is definitely one of the biggies.

Nosy Bitches Swap Love

Last Monday (I know, I know, I’m really bad at blogging!), I stumbled home from my office holiday party at the late hour of 8:30 pm. No, I did not get drunk at my office holiday party. That would be really unclassy. But, I am at an age where my liver just throws its livery little arms in the air and says, I give up!, and I continue to get drunk even when I stop drinking after a reasonable beverage or three. So, by the time I got off the subway Monday night, I had gone from slightly buzzed to actually-pretty-drunk.

When I got into the lobby of my apartment building, I registered excitedly that there was a package waiting for me on the entry table. It did not faze me that the top had been cut open. As I said, I was intoxicated. I wasn’t joking.

I made it up to my fourth floor apartment and gleefully sifted through the contents of the box. I then proceeded to watch a documentary about Charles and Ray Eames that was airing on PBS with E, who was barely tolerating me.* I passed out around 10 pm, woke up the next morning, and went to work. Sometime that afternoon, I thought to myself, “Wait a second, I got a package last night! A package that was mysteriously open when I retrieved it from the lobby! I think it was my Nosy Bitches Swap Package!”

But I couldn’t remember what was in it.

The lovely Bunny of Bunnies’n’Beagles orchestrated a non-denominational gift swap for folks who blog and/or are on Twitter, and I was lucky enough to participate. That afternoon I rushed home to gather up the components of the package that I had scattered about my apartment the previous evening, and was thrilled with what I’d received!

The inimitable Robin from HitchDied and Double R Diner sent me a card warning against accepting candy or gifts from strangers, a handmade bookmark featuring an illustration of my fabulous section of the map, and 2 items with geographic significance: Zombie Gum to represent her home, Pittsburgh; and I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York to represent mine (and my feelings thereabout). The book is hilarious, the bookmark is awesome, and, as you can see above, I opened the gum that Monday night and have enjoyed it thoroughly. Also, Zombies.

It was so much fun to shop for my Nosy Bitch, and to receive this artifact of Internet awesomeness in the mail this holiday. Robin got married shortly before I did, and her blog was one of those that got me through the marathon that is wedding planning. I was so glad to be a part of this swap, and to feel like a bigger part of this community of bloggers that I stalk than I deserve to be. 😉 Thanks, Bunny!

I still have no idea why the package was open.

* E and I are currently tearing through Parks & Recreation on Netflix, and just watched the Season 2 episode where Leslie gets drunk and knocks on Dave’s door to tell him how awesome she is. While Leslie extolled her own virtues, E looked at me and told me that was what I was like when I’m drunk. I told him he was pretty lucky, then, because obviously I am hilarious and awesome.