Or, how to maximize a week of eating in New York City (and two working days in Jersey City) without having your Mom keel over from exhaustion.
Manhattan and greater New York City is an eater’s heaven with options on literally every corner. I spent a recent week in Manhattan with my Mom, eating our way through its neighborhoods, indulging in the global flavors (Singaporian! German! Indonesian!) and soaking in as much culture as possible. This itinerary may not be for first timers – no Statue of Liberty trip or visits to the Metropolitan Museum here. There is plenty of eating, however.
Where to Stay
Since so many of our places were downtown with at least two stops on the Upper West Side, I wanted to stay in Midtown. Mom wanted to stay on the Upper East Side, near her old apartment. Mom won. We stayed at The Bristol on East 65th. Bonus from this location: The M66 bus goes directly from Madison and 67th through the park and drops you across from the Metropolitan Opera House. Next time, however, we will stay at the Kimberly on 50th and Lex.
The easy train connection from Newark Airport drops passengers at Madison Square Garden where I emerged with my wheelie to be surrounded by Rangers fans ( a game was imminent). I immediately started up with my chant “Four Cups, Potvin, four Cups!” To which I received a hail of “boos.” Glad to hear that some things never change. My wheelie easily made the uptown trek from the Garden to where I met my Mom for dinner, BLT Prime (Lexington and 74th). It’s a narrow restaurant with a long bar on the first floor and two dining rooms upstairs. Once the maître’d figured out where to stow my suitcase, I headed upstairs into a warmly lit room, flanked by red leather banquettes and dark wood tables. Classic. A Penicillin cocktail (whiskey with honey, ginger and lemon) shook off the travel weariness and Mom and I shared six oysters and a side of shishito peppers tossed with fries and Parmesan. Nothing fancy, just nice.
Day One: Hot Dogs and Pavlova
For lunch, Mom and I had planned to get salt and pepper crab noodles at her favorite place in The Bowery but the restaurant was closed. We pivoted and walked uptown instead, to Yorkville and our favorite “hot dog stand,” the Stube next to Schaller & Weber’s original store on 2nd near 86th. Order at the window outside, then step into a narrow sliver of a space to get out of the weather. Narrow stairs lead down to a sweet biergarten where you can enjoy a classic bratwurst with mustard and sauerkraut (as one must) or a Bougie Brat with a truffle-stuffed brat topped with prosciutto, arugula and balsamic fig drizzle. Lots of other not-German sausage choices, too. We sat upstairs in what we were told was a former meat locker. A little freaky and very narrow but we loved it.
We had tickets for a show on Broadway that night so headed over to Times Square for an early dinner at The Terrace at Edition Hotel (7th and 47th). Even with our combined magic powers, we could not secure a table outside as there was a private party going on. Sitting inside was cush, with comfy seats and tables separated by enough foliage to provide privacy at each table or couch. We kicked things off with a glass of sparkling riseling from RGNY, a winery on the north fork of Long Island. The Tie Dye Salad was loaded with beets, goat cheese and pistachios and could’ve been a main course but they had gluten-free pasta with seasonal vegetables so I had to order that. Good thing, too, because I could not stop eating the lemony, creamy-without-butter sauce. The highlight of the meal, though, was dessert’s pavlova. An oval of buttermilk ice cream and a chocolate cookie sat atop a rhubarb meadow, above a pavlova island and a rhubarb jus ocean. The whole thing was vegan and impossible to stop eating. Our theater was a half block away and, thanks to prompt service from the staff, made it with time to spare.
Day Two: Lobster Rolls and Indonesian
Before hitting the Whitney Biennial, we met my brother, Greg, and his wife, Fran, for lunch at The Standard Grill (Washington St. and West 13th). Near the southern end of the High Line, the restaurant is part of The Standard Hotel which also has a biergarten and a public plaza out front. The setting is farm fresh and sun-splashed, with white-washed walls, black bistro chairs and a black and white patterned floor. The menu is American bistro fare with an extensive raw bar and a lobster roll alongside a prime rib sandwich and roasted onion soup. My baby Gems salad with avocado was boosted with a macadamia dressing and my tuna poke was beefed up with grapefruit XO, an umami hit that worked beautifully with the smoked grapefruit and fresh fish.
After the Whitney (to which Mom and I gave a collective “meh”) we decided to walk through the neighborhoods of the Lower West Side – Meatpacking, West Village, Greenwich Village – destination NoLiTa for dinner. The walk was over two miles, a little much by the end for Mom, but we poked into stores, pulled out the iNaturalist app to identify some local trees, and sat on a bench with coffee and watched the city go by along the way.
When we finally arrived at Wayan (Spring and Mott St), Greg and Fran were already there. Like most families, ordering takes a while, but we got ourselves sorted and ordered what seemed like half of the Indonesian menu – chickpea sate, avocado gado gado, steamed black sea bass wrapped in banana leaf, crab fried rice with uni, and cauliflower kare. You really cannot go wrong with the menu – chef Cedric Vongerichten knows his stuff – a good match for the big flavored cocktails. Since we sat at a table right behind the bar, we all decided that next time, we would prefer a table either in front of the bar or in the back room where the vibe is a little more chill.
Day Three: French Brunch, Italian Dinner
Back to the Upper East Side for Saturday brunch at Orsay (Lex and 75th) with the family. The wrap-around porch is where to be for escargot with your morning coffee. (Kidding! Don’t do that.) My seasonal white asparagus was certainly fresh and the Nicoise was fine but really, eating outside on the porch is what to get excited about.
Portale (6th and West 18th) was something to get excited about. Named for the chef who runs the joint, it is a modern Italian affair, the space isspiffed up with blonde wood tables and floors and white painted brick walls hung with modern art. It feels special in here. The food matches the mood. Crudo di tonno is a narrow rectangle of fish above three impossibly thin cucumber slices dotted with citrus emulsion and a vertiginous stack of cucumber radish salad. Crudo di manzo, a rondelet of filet mignon is topped with artfully placed lettuces that frame a star of crisped Parmesan. Roast duck breast arrives with a charred crust and deep pink interior, a dream alongside black rice tempered with Sun Gold tomatoes. Halibut floats on a sea of white wine emulsion beneath which hides a potato puree sloped with maitakes. Yes, there is a sommelier and they know their stuff. We drank an aromatic white Idda from Sicily before switching to a nerello mascalese, also from the slopes of Etna, from Societá Agricola Santa Maria La Nave, interesting pairings that did not disappoint.
Day Four: Epic Views and a Gem of a Bar
I ditched Mom to head to a work conference at Exchange Place in Jersey City. Lunch at Rumi Turkish Grill was fine – who doesn’t love Turkish food? – and my appetizer plate of eggplant salad, eggplant in tomato sauce, stuffed grape leaves and hummus was enough to keep me full for an afternoon of lectures and networking. A must is a drink at the bar at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City. The views of downtown Manhattan do not get more epic.
After the conference, I met my oldest, dearest friend for drinks and dinner. We grew up in New Jersey but never spent any time in Jersey City so picking a restaurant was a guessing game. We landed at Satis Bistro, a gem of a spot with a gem of a bar. The bar, a sliver of space, is cozy and welcoming, the bartender a hoot, my Paper Plane cocktail sizable and precisely poured. You will get to know everyone in the room before you leave. We moved into the main dining room for a longer conversation, beet salad and jumbo crab cakes. Honestly, if you are on the Atlantic Coast north of the Carolinas from April to September, you must eat local crab at least once. It is life-changing.
Day Five: Working Lunch and Modern Indian Dinner
For lunch my second day at the conference, a take-out salad bowl from Cava. Dinner was a reminder of how things change even if you are not there to see it. I waited for my Mom at Gramercy Tavern (Park Avenue South and 20th St.). I even managed to score a spot at the bar but was scolded that all the bar seats were now for diners, not drinkers. (New York has changed – wtf?) The Tavern is still a lovely place, all dark woods and enormous flower arrangements and a conversational hum to soften any lingering hard edges, but my mood was soured by the less-than-accommodating treatment by the staff. I left and waited for my Mom a few doors down at Sona (Broadway and East 20th), where we were having dinner.
I did not know that Priyanka Chopra Jonas was a partner at Sona, but if eating at a celebrity-owned place is your jam, then there’s that. Nor did I know that it was the former home of chef Floyd Cardoz’s Tabla (rest in peace, chef). We picked it because it was in Gramercy, therefore convenient, and my Mom wanted Indian food. Into its spare space (white walls, white linen-draped tables), a color riot unfolds. What appears to be a table lamp is a lighted wax candle beneath a floral-printed shade. Green palm-bedecked plates arrived, serving as chargers to zhuzh up the table.
Don’t miss the buckwheat bhel, a puffed rice dish that is a typical snack in western Indian provinces. A cloche of buckwheat disguised as a honeycomb snaps when pressed with a fork, revealing the puffed rice, sprouted fenugreek and assorted goodness underneath. Named for the southern Indian region near the Western Ghat mountain range, Nilgiri dosa arrives shaped as a cone, a towering testament of flavor disguised as a pancake. Named for Cardoz, who is said to have made his name on the dish, Floyd’s Goan fish curry was our least favorite of the evening. Maybe the fish was overcooked, maybe the curry tasted flat – either way, it was a miss for our table of two.
Day Six: A New Kind of Pork Roll and Fresh Italian at Lincoln Center
I dragged my Mom back to Greenwich Village to do a little shopping but by Day Six, I had worn her out and we headed for lunch without a single purchase. We walked back over to 20th street – we had passed a Singaporean restaurant on our way home from Sona that I thought we should check out, Singapura (Broadway and East 20th). If we could’ve ordered everything, we would have but we stuck to just three dishes: Five spiced pork roll (Ngo Hiang), tahu goreng, and Singapore-style char kway teow with vegetables. When dipped in the accompanying sweet and savory sauces, the tofu skin-wrapped pork roll was so addictive, we ordered another plate of it, wishing all the while that this version of pork roll was the comestible south Jersey was known for. The tahu goreng with fried tofu, peanut sauce, kecap manis and potato crisps, was also a keeper, its crunchy layers brightened with chile that didn’t overwhelm the other flavors.
We had tickets to the Metropolitan Opera that evening to see Puccini’s Turandot. Anna Netrebko was scheduled to sing the lead and seeing the diva sing live is on my very long bucket list. While Netrebko was booted from the Met and did not sing, the production and set design by Franco Zeffirelli was worth the price of admission. The synchronicity of so many singers moving in harmony was stunning, a sight to behold. The replacement singer, Liudmyla Monastyrska, was fine and performed admirably on short notice but she is, I am sad to say, no Netrebko. My quest continues.
Our dinner that evening at The Lincoln (Broadway at West 65th), perhaps unfairly, surprised us with its quality. A composed salad was dressed properly with Parmesan and oil, hamachi crudo glistened beneath dots of grapefruit and a sprinkle of lime salt and my gluten-free spaghettoni with ramp pesto was nicely al dente, a feat for gluten-free pasta that cooks often fail. If a rush job of service can be handled this well and get us out the door on the dot of 7:15, we are all in on going back.
It was a sweet final meal to wrap up a week of New York eating. Next time, a visit to Gray’s Papaya for more NYC-style hot dogs.