Last minute President’s Day weekend New York City road trip! Love my spontaneous fun- and food-loving boyfriend, love that city packed with people and energy, love sights to see and things to do.
To start with: I discovered, a few months back, much to my shock and joy, that we had a FAMILY DINER in NEW JERSEY that I never knew about.
It’s really no surprise, because I’m a Greek girl, and it’s what we do (diners, that is). As my mother pointed out, “Communism was never going to make it in Greece. Everyone wants their own little slice of the pie”, and by slice of the pie she meant diner.
Because Steve is fantastic, when he suggested a spur-of-the-moment New York trip, he insisted that the diner be part of the experience.
And so we set off at 6 a.m. Saturday, headed for the Coach House Diner.
We spent a bit of time wandering around soaking up the family history:
And then my friend Marisa, who I hadn’t seen since I finished college at the end of ‘09, was awesome enough to drive up and meet us for brunch.
Due to GPS issues, we spent a bit of time waiting for her, time which I spent watching trays and trays of muffins go by to a party being held in the back room.
I’d read on the menu that those muffins were homemade, and good LORD did they look good.
So when we set out to order, I ordered a carrot muffin with a great deal of enthusiasm. Only to be told by our waiter that they might be out.
Fortunately, the visible horror and anguish on my face caused him to look concerned and say, “Hold on, let me check downstairs.” A few minutes later, he put down this beautiful beautiful thing in front of me, informing me that it had just come out of the oven.
That would be a picture of the BEST MUFFIN I HAVE EVER TASTED. So moist, so packed with flavor; the plumpest fattest most flavorful raisins ever, crunchy walnuts on top, packed with flavor, perfectly balanced spices, SO SO SO MOIST and then you had the option of smearing on that creamy whipped buttery goodness and I just…
God I was just so happy.
Also had eggs and homefries. Pretty standard. Pawned off a lot of the homefries on Steve.
Nourished, we headed into the city and went to our hotel: the Morningside Inn, on the Upper West Side: 107th between Amsterdam and Broadway. We found it on hotels.com. AWESOME location, no-frills but pleasant and clean on the inside. I recommend!
There is just something fabulous about looking up at cool old New York City buildings. If you look at the door, you can see my reflection!
We both decided that the first stop should be Central Park, so we bundled up and walked through the entire thing. While calling the weather warm would be a stretch, it was sunny enough to make the experience a highly enjoyable one.
Next we headed up Broadway, since I was thinking ahead to a place that, horrifically, Steve hadn’t even HEARD of, let alone been to. That place?
One hazelnut coffee :D Lovely!
While inside that palace of wonders that is known as Zabar’s, we sampled:
9 grain bread, hot chocolate from the City Bakery (the best I have ever tasted woah), whitefish dip, smoked salmon dip, caviar, olives, baked mascarpone cheese, and probably a bunch of other things I just cannot remember because my head was spinning.
Then we actually bought some stuff!
A blintz for Steve (his first!)
(let the record state, he asked me to take this picture).
And a knish for me. Though on the outside it looked like your typical tater one…
It was sweet potato! Yum! Steve had total buyer’s remorse and wished he had gotten that :D
Then we hit up the Guggenheim, which, thanks to a tip from Kyle, I knew had free admission (well, pay-what-you-can, which I, the Americorps member who makes less than minimum wage, decided was $1) on Saturdays after 5:45. So we spent a wonderful few hours gawking at Kandinsky and, my new favorite, Delaunay.
Then we sort of died walking back to the hotel. GOD it was cold and windy.
And now the seriously unfortunate part: my poor poor Steve was sick. He was very stoic and cavemanlike about the whole thing, claiming to be totally fine in a way that was considerably contradicted with the rasping, pained voice he used to say so.
We plied him with cough drops and decided that staying close to home (or hotel) was the way to go. Fortunately, there is good food all over the place in that city! And we also had Steve’s laptop, which meant Yelp!
And that is how we ended up at the lovely, elegant, and absurdly delicious Indus Valley.
Dim lighting and fast moving waiters meant the pictures looked ghostly (though, I think, cool!)
Rather than bread, the meal began with extremely delicious pappadums and condiments. We were HUNGRY from all that walking and DEMOLISHED these.
From left to right, a sweet-sour chutney I think was plum; something with chile and herbs that was wonderfully spicy and delicious, and some kind of chutney- red pepper?- that was heavenly sweet and sour and tangy and crunchy.
Steve is a big paneer guy, so we got it as an appetizer, where it was grilled (?!) and coated in the most wonderful minty-herby paste. This has huge potential for both cheese and, I’m thinking, TOFU.
As for entrees, holy goodness.
We are always sharers, but at least ostensibly Steve ordered the Baingan Bartha- Eggplants roasted in tandoor, pulped & sauteed with ginger, garlic, onion, tomato & cumin seeds- and I ordered the Dal Tadka: Yellow lentils cooked with tomatoes, green chillies, ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, asafoetida & seasoned with cumin seeds & mustard seeds.
We got this all plated up for us (service was adorable: they plated our curries for us and addressed absolutely all conversation with the table to “Sir”, which meant Steve, which I initially found rather maddening but they were very sweet and polite to me, just traditional) and we also had wonderful basmati rice and naan.
I know it doesn’t necessarily look like much but OH MY GOD THIS WAS AMAZING AMAZING FOOD. The eggplant was so meltingly tender and flavorful: I wasn’t even going to try to identify the spices and their proportions. As for my dal (which one of the waiters told us I would love and it was from his hometown, Bombay- guess old school types still call it that?- and to soak it up with lots of bread), it was so wonderfully complex. Definitely milder, not spicier, but so filled with flavor and just… soul warming.
We flirted with the idea of going to a jazz club but since you had to pay $40 just to get in (x_x) we decided to just grab a quick drink.
Blood orange martini, what?!
(actually ended up being too sweet! So I basically commandeered Steve’s mojito).
Smiles all around:
Then a cold, windy sprint back to the hotel.
Total mileage for the day, more or less: 9.59?! Felt like nothin’!
Steve’s sinuses were still in a sorry state, but fortunately I was more than happy to run off and leave him sleeping to go to….
The Greenmarket! On Columbia’s campus, one of the MANY in the city that operates year-round (anyone planning a visit, I found this guide to city farmer's markets very helpful. So cool how many of them take EBT!)
This farmer’s market ROCKED.
There were SO MANY apples in SO MANY VARIETIES and they were SO CHEAP ($1.25/pound compared to $2.49 at home).
It really was PERFECT to have a nice, simple, cheap breakfast with all of the bounty there. And since I never buy baked goods at my home farmer’s market because it just seems so crazy when I can bake them, it still felt like a wonderful vacation indulgent! Plus, look at the awesome local-ness of all the ingredients!
Steve and I ended up sharing:
(Yummy and moist! And Steve’s first time trying anything with spelt)
(made the thought of ever adding sugar to an apple muffin seem absolutely absurd).
And because I am ridiculous, I also basically went farmer’s market shopping for the week (in my defense, I missed my home one!)
Parsnips, purple potatoes (!) and scads of apples (one of which we split with breakfast).
We weren’t entirely sure what to do with the day (and were honestly just scared of the weather after the night before), so we did some spur-of-the-moment research on the laptop and Steve went “… Maybe something science-y?” and then that was PERFECT because we went to the Museum of Natural History which has a whole awesome outer space center and also has a special exhibit right now all about the BRAIN and as a total amateur psychologist I was ALL OVER IT!
Favorite culinary (ish) fact:
Favorite moment in the museum:
And then we went out and it was sunny and our spirits were high and our brains kind of hurt from reading about astrophysics so we wanted to move our bodies and then we walked 100 blocks!
It was great!
We stopped for beautiful sights, like Bryant Park.
And this adorable coffee shop:
Where I went gaga for the wallpaper but absolutely positively insane for the incredibly delicious cold-brewed iced coffee!
When we actually hit 8th Street we high fived over the accomplishment of having walked that far from our hotel, and then immediately went for a slice of pizza to tide us over til our “lunch” (it was already like 3 pm) destination.
The place we happened upon was apparently famous. I mean, Usher ate there!
The pizza, like all in that fair city, was awesome. It was mainly Steve’s (because he is someone who has an appetite that allows him to eat a large slice of pizza as a mere appetizer) and he decked it out with herbs, red pepper flakes, etc.
Then we went to Katz’s.
For those not in the loop, it is a New York City institution, and a generally Famous Place ever since Sally did a little moaning at one of their tables in When Harry Met Sally.
It was also, at 3:30 in the afternoon, packed with what I can only assume was 700 people.
Slamming into me.
In a labyrinth of lines.
With $16 sandwiches cause it’s so stinkin’ famous.
And then… we left! It felt wonderful! And fortunately, we had several more recommendations under our belt, courtesy of my mom’s wonderful friend Phyllis, who’s lived in New York most of her life and knows all the fabulous places (she took us out for heavenly organic pasta last time we were in town).
She said on the same block as Katz’s was this fabulous place:
We went and gaped at the splendor behind the counter:
And then happily found ourselves a table among the nice, calm, peaceful scene of happy families and friends enjoying food in a pleasant, not insane, environment.
I’m not Jewish, but have a huge crush on the whole… thing.
Great food, awesomely descriptive Yiddish phrases (Steve and I got completely hysterical in the car ride home making up sentences involving as many as possible- She thought he was a mensch until he turned out to be schtupping someone else and then she went totally meshugena).
So I gave my Midwestern boyfriend an edible tutorial on that for which we have Jewish New Yorkers to thank.
Matzoh ball soup for his poor throat
(I force fed him rich nourishing flavorful chicken broth while I myself absolutely inhaled the carby matzoh goodness)
Sweet, creamy, slightly lemony, chilled borscht:
Sour cream floating on top!
For a fun beverage, an EGG CREAM! Have people had these? (I first made my mom make me one after reading about them in Harriet the Spy. They involve neither eggs nor cream: a traditional one is seltzer water, chocolate syrup, and just a splash of milk!)
So fizzy and tickly and sweet and wonderful!
A latke, with both sour cream and applesauce:
For her, a spinach knish.
Split open to reveal steaming hot thick potatoey goodness
Which I then unorthodoxly but deliciously spooned some of the leftover applesauce upon.
Speaking of unorthodox, this place has invented a PIZZA KNISH! WOAH! Obviously, Steve got one of those.
One of many reasons I love Steve: he appreciates the details in food the way I do. As he ate, he thoughtfully observed, “I love when food is inconsistent. I just got a huge chunk of cheese!”
Still had the thick potato layer too! It was totally delicious.
Final stop on the Lower East: Russ and Daughters, another Phyllis recommendation for edible souvenirs.
It was packed to the gills with people buying beautiful smoked fish, dried fruit, salads, etc. etc.
But I went for the baked goods :D
A cinnamon babka to take home to my mama (full disclosure: she has already shared some of her so-called “gift” with me. It is exquisite!) and another New York City classic, the black and white cookie.
Did the fact that it was the size of my face stop me from eating the entire thing in the subway station despite the massive lunch I had just consumed?
No, no it did not.
Ate the whole, cakey, soft, sweet, perfectly iced masterpiece.
Total mileage for that day? Hilariously, despite the 100 blocks moment, a mere 7.47 miles, less than the day before. Slackers.
For some reason, we were tired anyway! :D
And so we returned to Steve’s car (he is a wonderful wonderful boy who ludicrously claims to enjoy operating a car and did ALL of our driving which got especially hairy getting to the Lincoln Tunnel cause damn signage is poor and New York drivers are crazy) and came home.
A wonderful, wonderful trip!