Jeff and I took Melissa (his daughter) to New York a few weeks ago. This was Mel's first visit, but Jeff and I had been there multiple times. Mel had been putting in untold hours cooking at a restaurant in downtown Champaign--one of those deals where people keep quitting but no one gets hired to replace them, so the remaining crew has to work nightmare shifts for weeks on end. Mel was seriously exhausted, but you can't tell it in the photo above because (a) she is beautiful at all times, and (b) she was positively joyous at the prospect of escaping her restaurant captors for almost a whole week.
We took a late Saturday afternoon drive up to Chicago to our hotel near Midway. Our flight was at 6:00 the next morning. The sun set on an congregation of windmills--they really are a sight to behold in such a flat landscape--and a full moon rose in the east.
Near our hotel was a Five Guys. Mel had never tried one of their burgers and was duly impressed (just look at that cheese oozage). We were all starving, so that made the food even better. Back at the hotel, Mel and I laughed at the lobby's truly awful Helpful Waiter sculpture, whose bulbous ass greeted all parking lot visitors. We slept for a few hours before our phone alarms sounded at 3:15. We were out the door by 4:00, shuttled to the airport by 4:30, and hustled through security at 5:00.
We decided to get some breakfast before finding our gate. Our only food options at that hour were Gold Coast Dogs and something called Pegasus, where Mel had a breakfast sandwich that she does not recommend. But as for the hot dogs, I will never not want one of them. Breakfast of champions. We flew on Southwest for the first time (loved it) and watched the sun rise extra quickly as we headed east. We were in NYC by 9:00 and had a full Sunday itinerary ahead of us.
Happily, we were able to check in early at our hotel (the Westin on 42nd Street). Jeff and I are crazy about their yummy beds. I also happen to like the way all Westin lobbies smell great. And outside our window: the beautiful Chrysler Building!
Jeff, who managed to pay for our hotel and flights with points, wanted to introduce Mel to New York via walks to various landmarks and restaurants. We only hit a couple of museums on this trip. I thought this was wise because the first time I went to NYC it was one nonstop museum slog, something like six in two days, and while I loved them all, I came home with only a cursory feel for the city itself.
That morning Mel took photos of Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, St. Patrick's Cathedral (very much under construction), and Rockefeller Center, among others. She was wowed by the windows at THE Sax Fifth Avenue and Louis Vuitton.
The Louis Vuitton windows featured an eye-popping installation by dot-obsessed Japanese artist Yaioi Kusama.
The weather couldn't have been more beautiful--this was the first time I'd been there in the fall. Perfect jacket weather! Mel and Jeff took the bulk of the photos you'll see in these New York posts. "If I have to write about this, you guys have to take the pictures," I told them. If you're a fan of the show, it's impossible not to hum the 30 Rock theme song while standing in front of it.
That Sunday morning's walk made me particularly happy because every half hour or so we ate something sweet. Near 30 Rock: the Bouchon Bakery, home of the incredible macarons I enjoyed with Poof when we were in New York last year.
I swear I have not stopped thinking about those macarons, and I will be so bold as to say that they were better than any I had in Paris. I tried a summer berry macaron (the big purplish one in the middle), the same flavor I'd lost my mind over last year, and it was just as amazing as I'd remembered. I gave Jeff and Mel little--little!! mine!! grr!!--bites and we shared a very good baguette while doing some people-watching.
One advantage of having a third person with us: for the first time ever, we now have vacation photos of the two of us together, and they're not the usual self-portraits-holding-camera-at-arm's-length, either. Thank you, Mel, and I apologize in advance for any unappetizing mushiness you readers may see. Above: Jeff is telling me about the good old days of vaudeville, probably.
Ack!! The mushiness! Make it stop!
Next up: Momofuku's Milk Bar, home of the Crack Pie, the Compost Cookie, and the cereal milk milkshake. This place has a cookbook I've had on my Amazon wish list for over a year, but no one will buy it for me, and that's probably for the best.
There's something disturbing--and I have to think it's intentionally disturbing--about this place. We got a subversive, druggy vibe from it. It's the kind of bakery Lou Reed and Andy Warhol would come up with.
The treats came prepackaged in a way that reminded me of the McDonald's fried cherry pies of yesteryear. There was no seating at the Milk Bar, so we sat on a window ledge and tore into our treats like a bunch of junkies. Pictured: the cereal milk milkshake, which tasted exactly like cereal milk because that's what it's made of. Jeff's holding the candy bar pie, and I've got the crack pie. Not pictured: the compost cookie, which we saved for later. The crack pie is like a pecan pie without the pecans, and it has an oatmeal cookie crust. Very sweet and delicious. If that was the crack pie, the candy bar pie ought to be called the meth pie. It has a chocolate cookie crust, housemade nougat, a thick, gooey layer of toffee, and a pretzel smothered in chocolate ganache. We talked about it for days. Somebody had better get me that cookbook; that's all I'm saying.
Shiny building, historic building, building from some movie...hey, how about some pizza?
Jeff led us to Angelo's Coal Oven Pizzeria, where we shared a small margherita pizza. I was swooning over the sauce. Gah, I want some so badly right now! Why do I have to go all the way to New York for this, why? I can't write about this pizza. It was perfect in every way and it's making me sad.
After lunch we explored Central Park. Jeff and Mel gamboled up an impressive rock overlooking a pond while I rested my feet. Conservative estimate: we walked at least 40,000 steps that day, no joke, and my boots were feeling gravity's pull. Did you enjoy my use of the word gamboled up there, by the way? Because here's exactly what I thought when they scampered up that rock: Look at those two, gamboling like a couple of goats. Then they strutted back down like Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy.
At some point Jeff checked his phone to see how much the Frick (one of my favorites: a mansion turned into an all-killer-no-filler art museum) cost, and he learned that, amazingly, the Frick was free on Sundays from 11:00 to 1:00. It was 12:45. We RAN to the Frick as Mel and I shrieked, "Frick! What the Frick!" etc. We got in by the skin of our teeth and saved 54 dollars. Was it crowded? You bet.
But we still managed to enjoy such hard-hitters as Holbein's Sir Thomas More, Bellini's St. Francis in Ecstasy, a late Rembrandt self-portrait, and many more, but not too many more. This is a nice, bite-sized museum that won't monopolize your entire afternoon.
It was raining when we left, but it was only a passing shower. We took shelter under an arbor in Central Park and ate the compost cookie, which was a "kitchen sink" kind of thing that included potato chips. Unfortunately, the chips didn't have as much of a presence as I thought they might, so that was a little anticlimactic.
We explored the park some more. If you click on this photo and look closely, you'll notice a cluster of frat boys in Speedos beneath the green banner on the right. In what must have been a hazing ritual, they came up to people and sang a capella choruses of pop songs at passersby. "You don't know-oh-oh! You don't know you're beautiful!" and so on. We got out of there...
...but not before I got a shot of Melissa at Strawberry Fields. This photo was taken during the nanosecond that Baby Boomers were not swarming around it.
More walking, more buildings, more photos, and eventually we approached Columbus Circle. Jeff had a lead on a Belgian waffle food truck. I've mentioned this before, but four years ago Jeff went to Belgium on business, and while he was there he had the best frites of his life and street-food waffles topped with Nutella, ice cream, and so on. He can't get over those, either. And I like waffles as much as the next guy, but I never understood what the big deal was...until we hit that food truck and it showed me what's what.
Unbelievable. That thing you see above is a liege waffle, which means it has a thin crust of caramelized sugar. These are tricky to make, apparently, but so special. Warm, gooey, slightly crunchy, complex--an absolute winner. I saw the shot on the right as I was sifting through these photos the other day, and it knocked the wind out of me.
But wait, there's more! We shared a single serving-sized cup of gelato at Grom (which Jeff and I had enjoyed in Florence and Paris). I demonstrated the unique stretchiness of gelato for Mel. Achingly good. The fact that we had shared everything that day made us a lot less bloated than we would have been otherwise, I'm telling you.
We walked down Broadway as late afternoon approached--remember, we had been up since 3:00--and prepared to hit our final food stop of the day, Don Antonio, whose claim to fame is a pizza with a crust that is deep fried before it is topped and baked in a smoky wood oven. We ordered one of those along with a fresh mozzarella and prosciutto appetizer. Mel very sweetly said that dinner was on her. How fabulous of her!
The pizza's crust was indeed incredible, with a crunchy-chewy texture, but I've never had a smokier pizza, except maybe that time when Dad put a frozen pizza on the grill to see what it would do. This felt like I was eating bacon, not pizza, and bacon is terrific but I wanted pizza more. So this place took a back seat to Angelo's from earlier in the day, but needless to say, we ate the hell out of that pizza anyway.
After supper we waddled back toward our hotel, and the Empire State Building came into view for the first time. Jeff created the above self-portrait in an homage to the final episode of this season's Louie, where SPOILER ALERT he flips off the Ed Sullivan theater and yells "F--- you, David Letterman!" I have loved Dave for thirty years, so I do not approve of this photo at all, but that was one stellar Louie episode, and I'm sure Dave got a kick out of it, too. Finally, we passed Grand Central Terminal en route to our yummy, yummy beds.
Heh, I told myself that I was going to keep this short, as several weeks have passed since our trip. Fail! The rest of these will be shorter. Probably. I hope.