One of my favourite columns to read is Grub Street’s New York Diet, notwithstanding that I don’t actually live in New York. It’s the combination of hilarious odd diets, jealousy-generating lifestyles, and celebrities-are-just-like-us-or-worse bad habit affirmation. And, of course, restaurant suggestions for New York visits.
My trip to New York last week allowed me to do the actual New York Diet and even though I was there on business, that didn’t actually influence my eating. Well, not beyond the possibility of “awful conference chicken”, but obviously the idea was to avoid that. And instead to indulge everything New York, high, low, late, early and in between. Not to mention put on a few (happy) kilos.
So here we go with an expanded version of the New York Diet: my most recent week in New York City, following the food around.
Friday 1 Feb
I started in the Qantas Club at LAX at breakfast time in LA, with no idea what time it was at home and a vague sense it was lunchtime in New York. Breakfast on this very short stop-over was a diet coke and Sudafed: breakfast of (traveling) champions. On the plane to NYC I had a very mediocre chicken salad thing, and a Bloody Mary. It used to be my travelling drink, but became my regular drink, and in this case I really just felt like one, time zones be damned. The chicken did the job as I was starving, but I later learned that a number of my colleagues who were on the same plane got awfully sick. Thankfully I did not, especially as I had some significant dining plans over the weekend.
I was staying on the Lower East Side for the first few days in NYC, and after I got to my hotel – around 6.30pm – I decided to go for a walk and find some food before showering and crashing. I ended up wandering into the Bowery Diner and ordered exactly what I was craving: burger and fries. Burger was great, fries were a bit overdone. I had a couple of Red Stripe beers, and then crashed at the hotel.
Saturday 2 Feb
I woke up at 5am which, all things jet-laggy considered, I thought was pretty good. I had a massage booked at 10am and my original intention had been not to eat before, but I woke up too early and was starving. Thankfully there were plenty of 24 hour places around the hotel, so I bundled up and walked half a block to get a latte – not bad considering how bad the coffee is in New York – and a bagel with cream cheese. I was quickly reminded that half a bagel is my limit.
After the best massage ever – 2 hours of a perfect balance between therapeutic and relaxing, costing approximately the same as one night’s hotel accommodation and worth every cent – I left the hotel about 12.30 and headed straight to one of my favourite places, Fanelli’s in Soho. I always go there for a Bloody Mary when I’m in New York because I’m nostalgic about an accidental visit there on my first business trip to the city over 10 years ago, but also because it’s a cool place. I had a Bloody Mary and a pesto chicken sandwich with a salad (yes, I felt very virtuous not ordering the fries).
During the day I’m sure I also had a couple of diet cokes. Because I always do. Just take that as read for the rest of this.
After an afternoon of aimless wandering around Soho and appreciating that at this time of the year it is not hideously overrun with slow-moving tourists, even on a Saturday, I had an early booking at one of my other favourite New York places, Torrisi Italian Specialties. Their fixed menu – bot not as and more fixed than it used to be – is just great, and sitting in the window watching the people wander past on Mulberry St is quite entertaining. The current menu has the antipasti made up of their usual hand-pulled mozzarella with olive oil, grilled arancini with fermented broccoli rabe, surf and turf carpaccio and a boar’s head sandwich with pickles. That was followed by the special, squid ink pasta with lobster, a main of veal, and a lemon cake.
I also had a couple of glasses of local Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling, which was really good and also turned me all wine-knowledgeable later in the week.
Sunday 3 Feb
Again with the 5am wake-up. Bugger. I went around the corner to Katz’s Deli for a bagel with lox and cream cheese and a coffee. I forgot my half-bagel rule was going to be significantly exacerbated by the Katz’s standard gigantic portion size and ate the whole thing. And regretted it for hours later.
In between wandering all over lower Manhattan in the light covering of snow, and, I confess, a nap or two, I went to Mission Chinese for lunch. I’d heard great things about it, and great it was. Usually I go for the spicy, but I was still feeling a little overdone by too much bagel – and the ribs and beef tenderloins were both off the menu – so I went with the crushed cucumber with sesame and chilli, and the salt cod fried rice. And a Brooklyn Lager.
This was Super Bowl Sunday, and I watched the game with a colleague at the Old Castle on 54th Street. Burger, fries, many beers. The cab back to my hotel turned down 7th towards Times Square and I was about to yell at him for being crazy when I discovered that Times Square on the night of Superbowl Sunday is as close to deserted as you’ll ever see Times Square.
Monday 4 Feb
Breakfast was a small, bad latte. Because lunch was Eleven Madison Park, 17 courses, matched wines (including more of the Wiemer Riesling which allowed me to have a relatively informed conversation with the sommelier having had it over the weekend), a visit to the kitchen which was exceeding calm and well organised. Lunch was fabulous, but they could do without the attempts at whimsy, which don’t match the food or the room, and just are unnecessary. The rib eye entrée was amazing. And for 17 courses it was close to perfectly balanced in terms of amount. Only the last course was too much for me.
There was a cocktail party in the evening to commence the conference I was attending, but I stuck with mineral water and, obviously, did not eat dinner. I bailed early because I needed to do some work, and had a beer in my hotel room later.
Tuesday 5 Feb
I then moved into Conference World, shifting hotels to Midtown, and starting, appropriately, with a bad coffee. Cool Downtown boutique hotel to gigantic Midtown Conference Hotel – seriously it took 8 minutes one morning for a lift to arrive on my floor there are so many people staying there – was enough of a shock without the caffeine immediately deteriorating so badly.
At my first meeting neither of us had eaten so we decided to conduct the meet-up over the last of the hotel breakfast buffet. While the food itself was serviceable, the $77 price tag for a bagel, some scrambled eggs and a few sides, a tea and a coffee became somewhat legendary over the rest of the conference: “oh, you were at the $77 breakfast!”
It was then meetings all morning and into lunch. In the end I ducked across the road to a deli/supermarket and grabbed a lemon chicken and salad sandwich, which was actually pretty good and not at all over-the-top.
As tends to happen at these things, a random group gathered for dinner and we headed to the Redeye Grill for a seafood feast. There were nine of us and we shared a seafood platter for appetizers; crab claws, salmon tartar, clams, oysters, prawns, lobster. Amazing. For main I then had the jumbo crab cake with grilled prawns and it was so, so good. Add to that a glass of Veuve to celebrate a colleague’s engagement, and a couple of glasses of a decent cab sav.
From there we went to Bowlmor at Union Square for bowling with a group from the conference, and I had a couple of Brooklyn Lagers. The evening (morning) finished in the hotel bar with a final beer.
Wednesday 6 Feb
I gave up on coffee and switched to tea.
After a morning of meetings I met a colleague for a working lunch and we escaped the hotel to a deli/lunch place on 7th that did a whole lot of food made to order, we both got chicken teriyaki, made fresh in front of us with a whole lot of vegetables, and rice. It was great, but we both spent the rest of the day smelling like stir fry.
I had a couple of Bloody Marys in the hotel bar at post-meeting drinks with colleagues old and new. The first one came, as they often do in the US, with giant olives which I really do not like and do not understand. The bartender earned his tips though, as having picked up on me ditching the olives with the first drink, he served the second without them.
I decided to skip the gathering dinner that night, still a bit tired from the previous night. After doing a little shopping for my niece and nephew at the giant Toys R Us in Times Square – again, mercifully easy to get around in February as compared to the rest of the year – I realised it was almost 9.30 and I hadn’t eaten dinner. I wasn’t that hungry, so I just grabbed a couple of steak tacos at Chipotle. I know.
Thursday 7 Feb
Toasted bagel with scallion cream cheese from the deli next to the hotel for breakfast. I love scallion cream cheese.
‘Lunch’ was a Pret-a-Manger chicken sandwich purchased at around 2.30 and consumed over about 45 minutes by grabbing bites between meetings.
For dinner I met some friends visiting town at the same time and we went Ammos, a Greek seafood place near Grand Central. I had the bass with potato in a tomato sauce broth/sauce thing. Happily warming in the lead-up to storm Nemo. I also had a beer.
I then walked the several blocks back to the hotel in the wind, on the way returning the work phone calls I’d missed during dinner.
Friday 8 Feb
Again, a bagel from the deli next to the hotel. They were out of scallion cream cheese, unfortunately, so I had to have plain. Not the same.
This was the day the snowstorm started, so my shopping adventures in NYC were somewhat colder, snowier and more curtailed than would otherwise have been the case. After a couple of hours braving the wind and sleet, I ducked into what has now accidentally become one of my go-to wet weather lunch places, Bill’s Bar and Burger on 51st street at Rockefeller Center. They have free wifi and decent burgers which are, importantly, a manageable size so you don’t feel like you need to roll out of there. I had a Classic with Cheese, fries (which were really wedges) and a Heineken. I have now ducked in there to get out of the rain on successive trips to the city.
I was having dinner with a friend on Friday night which was originally intended to be at Morimoto in the Meatpacking district, but with the storm hitting we didn’t feel confident about being able to get back, so we changed our plans and met at The Living Room at the W Times Square for a couple of Raspberry Martinis. My friend is Ukrainian via Australia so she decided we should go to the Russian Samovar on 52nd St for dinner. They have a band and the super kitsch entertainment, including the participating guests, was well worth it. The food was great too. I let my friend order – in Russian – and we had pomegranate and then apple and cinnamon vodka, potato salad three ways, great little dumplings, a classic beef stroganoff and then split a honey cake for dessert. It was great fun and we stayed late.
When we came out of the restaurant the snow was thick on the ground and still coming down. It was very cool. (And cold).
(Note the boots paying for themselves.)
Back in the hotel bar we met up with a couple of colleagues and I had a couple of Bloody Marys before going to bed way too late.
Saturday 9 Feb
Woke up to a winter wonderland and sunny skies in New York. I walked up to Central Park to experience the park in the snow, which was glorious, and then met a friend at Rockefeller Center for an early lunch sitting along the windows at the Rock Center Café watching them shovel snow off the ice rink, with snow piled up against the windows of the restaurant. I had a coffee – my first in days – and roast cauliflower soup with bacon bits and croutons, which was great and just the right amount.
Then time to head to the airport, with the roads cleared enough for a not too much delayed flight home.