New York, Part III

Read Part I and Part II, if ya want. Or read the Cliff’s Notes:

Wife and I spent five days in New York in June. It took me a while to write it all up. If you close your eyes and squint really hard, you can pretend this is a live blog. Just don’t look up when the New York Pride Festival was…

Food

How the hell did I make it to day three of updates before I mentioned food? I’m disgusted with myself. Who the hell cares how I GOT to New York? All that matters is I ate there. And might as well start from the beginning, which was also the low point.

I’m horrible at making decisions. Blame it on being a Libra, I suppose. I’m usually okay narrowing a choice down to two or three options, but from there it’s a non-stop back-and-forth of the pros and the cons. And if/when I’m finally forced to make a decision, it’s buyer’s remorse the entire way.

I think the “Freakonomics” podcast did an episode on this phenomena. The takeaway was to take away choices. People say they want to have a choice, but are almost always less satisfied with their experience if they were given a choice. If you don’t know what the alternatives were, you’ll make the best of the situation. Subway sounds fine if I didn’t know Five Guys was an option. But if I chose Five Guys, I’m spending all of lunch checking my phone for the specials at Subway, even if I haven’t voluntarily eaten at Subway in years.

Regardless, by the time we got to our hotel, after one hour of sleep on a redeye, with bodies feeling like it was breakfast time despite the clock and world saying lunch, we knew that we needed to eat before we did much else.

Oh, and we wanted to see Central Park first.

So I checked Yelp for anything in Central Park. I found one that seemed to have an okay aggregate score. Even better, it didn’t look like there were any other options short of mortgaging the house for Tavern on the Green, so boom. No shifting back and forth between different reviews, no half-hour spent trying to figure out what I want. Let’s just head straight there.

And ignore some of those reviews that say, “Great view, mediocre food.”

My review? To call the food mediocre is being generous. And the view was… I mean, it was Central Park, but… meh.

Central Park1
(The view was not as nice as this)

Well shit, this isn’t gonna do fuck-all for my propensity toward analysis paralysis. The few times I pick the first option, I get burned. Wade Boggs never swung at the first pitch, meaning that pitchers had caught on and were throwing the first pitch right down the middle and getting a free strike. A manager once told him he needed to swing at the first pitch to keep them honest. He swung at the first pitch and hit a weak groundout. He never swung at the first pitch again.

So after figuratively swinging at the first pitch, and ending up with the culinary equivalent of that groundout to second, where’s my next destination? We need to go to TKTS in Lincoln Center. Any guess how many restaurants were on that route? Good restaurants with happy people eating tasty-looking food? Wonderful ambiance, with beer and wine? Oh, I’d say a thousand. Or so it seemed. And they all looked a hell of a lot better than the lackluster meal we just ate.

You’re right, Wade Boggs. I’m never doing that shit again. Did I mention Boggs hit over .300 even with that free strike he gave pitchers?

But, like Wade, we got more hits than whiffs in our New York career. (Double-checking Boggs’s Yankee stats and…. yep). In fact, other than the first lunch and a lamb gyro from a cart in Times Square (really? $18? Maybe you should have the price written somewhere or communicate it ahead of time, cause I wouldn’t have bought that shit if I knew I’d only be getting two dollars back.), every other meal was good.

Two places stick out: On the first night, fresh off our Central Park faux-pas, we went to Becco in Hell’s Kitchen. Again, I had found it online, but this wasn’t an instant Yelp check, I had researched it before we left California. That being said, I still worried when the cab drove by ten to twenty good-looking spots en route. Who knew Hell’s Kitchen was such a culinary hotspot? My only cultural reference to Hell’s Kitchen prior to this trip was Daredevil comic books. And the Gordon Ramsey TV show, but I don’t think that’s intended to be literal.

But while I’m sure that Cajun Italian place is wonderful, there’s no buyer’s remorse this time. Becco was wonderful. We felt more confident in our decision as soon as we arrived. The wait list was overflowing wait list and no, they could NOT moveour 6:30 reservation up to 6:00 because we “happened to” there early in an attempt to make our show. They’re in the theater district. Do you think you’re the first try-hards to hocus pocus that particular bullshit?

becco.jpg

At Becco, their specialty is daily pasta dishes. There are three of them. And here comes the kicker: I didn’t have to choose between them! You get all three. And ALL YOU CAN EAT! Let me repeat that: Three different all-you-can-eat pastas, changing daily. Why do they even need to print the rest of the menu?

The night we were there, they had a spaghetti in tomato sauce. Just plain ol’ spaghetti. Guessing they have to have something run-of-the-mill each night. It was fine. Nothing to write home about. Definitely not going to cede any more of my dwindling stomach space to it. Not when there’s…

An artichoke ravioli in a light cream sauce. Now we’re getting somewhere. The ravs were a bit too big, but my family’s Piedmontese, and from what I can tell, everyone else considers our ravioli to be Mini Coopers. Size notwithstanding, the flavor was very good. I flagged the guy walking around with ravioli refills over once and was happy to do so. So long as it didn’t take up the third corner of my plate, where I had fenced-off a permanently vacant lot of real estate so that it would be ready for the return of the…

Penne pasta with short rib ragu. Oh my freaking lord. It’s been a month and I’m still dreaming of this dish. To be clear, wife is absolutely not a fan of short rib, and she thought this dish was wonderful, too. If there was short rib on a menu and she wasn’t forced to have it in order to get at the ravioli, it never would’ve touched her plate. And now even she is craning her neck around to find the refill guy. So imagine her husband, who likes short rib under normal circumstances, sitting across from her, salivating over the remaining portion on her plate since he’s already devoured his portion and is now just swirling around the pomodoro in a holding pattern.

And let me tell you, that short rib ragu guy was the one circling the least often. It always happens that way, doesn’t it? Like the sausage and pineapple guy at the Brazilian ststeakhouse. No thanks, chicken dude. There’s a reason your sword is still ninety percent full and it ain’t your lack of salesmanship.

So yeah, spaghetti dude passed by four times and every time, we responded with, “No thanks, but if you see the short-rib guy…” When the messiah finally returned, he had to weave his way through the ravenous beasts throughout the entire restaurant. Beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. When our hero finally emerged from the tumult and the travesty, he scarcely had a smittance of his holy grail full. But it was enough.

And fuck all of you patrons with the audacity to sit behind me. Just keep scooping, pasta boy, don’t look at them. What did I tell you about eye contact?!?

The other major culinary win for us was going to be a win whether the food was worthwhile or not. Because HISTORY!  I decided long ago that the next time I went to New York, I would dine at Lombardi’s Pizza. Not because it’s named after a famous street in San Francisco, but because it is, officially, the first pizzeria in the United States. It might not actually be. But it’s got a fancy plaque out front and, more importantly, it’s been featured on the History Channel, which is where all proper Americans get their historical knowledge. And alien conspiracies. I mean, who cares if Paul Revere didn’t actually complete is midnight ride and it was actually William Dawes who delivered the “Regulars are coming.” Dammit, “America: The Story of Us” claimed it was Revere saying “The British are coming,” so that’s how it fucking happened. It is not for us to question what the alien overlords tell us. After all, they built the pyramids.

But Lombardi is credited as the first, and furthermore, they own up to that. So to Lombardi’s we go. Even if I’m not a fan of thin-crust, and if their aversion to shredded cheese seems downright communistic.

Lombardi

But I’ll be dammed, it was fucking good. The crust was what my wife described as “the perfect amount of fluff.” Odd, because Lombardi allegedly trained most of the early pizza chefs and is considered the godfather of that “calling it cardboard-thin is an insult to cardboard” New York-style pizza. I mean, if the guy and the place who invented it thinks dough is not a bad thing, why does the rest of the city want it to be the consistency of a Saltine?

And the no-shredded cheese? Okay, that fucking WORKED. I know real mozzarella is a tender cheese. And I know that the shredded mozzarella that you buy in the store is just an overly-processed facsimile of what it’s really supposed to be. But at the same time, a pizza with strips of mozzerella placed throughout its circumference going to leave some cheeseless territory, like when I attempt cheese toast in the toaster oven. And you need cheese in every bite, right? Otherwise it’s just tomato bread. I can’t be the only one who shudders when a cheeseless pizza is an option on some menus, right? Because without cheese, it’s just bread. The cheese is what MAKES IT PIZZA.

But my worry was unfounded. It turns out that there is enough cheese to go around. I don’t think I took any cheeseless bites, and if I did, there was at least enough going on with the other stuff. And the ninety-plus percent of the bites that DID have cheese were divine. Oh my goodness, I didn’t think pizza was supposed to taste this way, this combination of crunchy and pungent and smooth.

The best proof of conversion? I told my wife that I’m making the extra trek to the Italian store to get some real goddamn mozzarella the next time we do a Boboli. Although I don’t feel like Boboli is sufficient for legitimate mozzarella. Because, let’s be honest, Boboli is much closer to French bread than it is to pizza crust. We might have to splurge and get the Pillsbury.

The Pride of High Line

We knew that Pride was going on the weekend we were in New York. It’s kind of hard to miss it. The entire Island of Manhattan was strewn in rainbow. The Night Bus narrator seemed to be surprised by this. I mean, she knew the Pride parade was the following day, because she warned us about the upcoming changes in the bus routes at the end of our ride. But every time we went around a corner and saw a new building. “Oh, and it’s always fun to see how they change the decorations to… hmm… it’s another rainbow…”

So yeah, we knew there was going to be a big parade. Google was even nice enough to tell us the route of said parade. South of Empire State Building, down to Washington Square Park, then over and back up 6th or 7th Ave. At least, I think. This is from memory. New York peeps, does this sound like an accurate parade route, or did I just give directions to some “Wrong Turn” West Virginia cannibals?

We planned to meet a couple of my high school friends who have been living in New York for a few years. We texted each other in the morning about where to meet up. They asked what we were planning on doing that day, we responded with either the Brooklyn Bridge or the High Line or Harlem. I thought they lived in Brooklyn because the husband posts about a lot of Brooklyn breweries. No, they live in very, very north Manhattan. So they tell us there’s a good spot at the southern end of the High Line, and they can take the A Train (cue the Duke Ellington) there. So that’s the plan. I briefly thought about mentioning the Pride parade, but I thought, “Nah, how could they live in Manhattan and not know about the parade?”

Spoiler alert: they knew about the parade, but not its route.

As for the High Line, it was okay. I had been told it was something surreal and sublime. It was, meh, a nice walk.

For those of you who don’t know, the High Line is an old elevated train line that they’ve turned into an elevated walkway. It’s location is awesome. It was for shipping, not for commute, so it’s right along the waterway, which I’m going to guess is the Hudson River, because it’s on the left side if the island, so I’m guessing it’s not named East.

Seriously, New York, why does one river have the name of an explorer and the other is named after a direction? Some consistency, people!

There are plants along the High Line. The sign said something about nature reclaiming civilization, urban jungle, “Life After People” type of plants. I believe some of them are naturally-occurring, but I have to believe a lot of it is planted to look that way.

Highline

Which leads me biggest problem with the High Line. For all of the nods to reclaiming wasted space with an innovative new urban plan, it’s really just an elevated walkway. I assumed I’d be walking along rickety old train tracks a la “Stand By Me.” But for most of the track, they’ve built the walkway to be a foot or two over the train tracks. With the exception of the newest part, where the sign said they are making an effort to let the track still be seen, you would never even know you’re on a train track. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the train track out for most of the southern half of the trail. Even on the newer parts, where the tracks were still visible, they were enclosed by a large chain-link fence, so there’s still no coming in contact with them. It’s like a zoo where you can see the past, but not really interact with it.

Continuing in my “Stand By Me” let-down, there was also no blueberry pie-eating contest. But there was a person selling ice cream sandwiches at the midway point, and they were abso-fucking-lutely awesome. Totally worth the price of admission. Actually, the price of admission was free, so maybe they were worth the price we paid for the sandwiches.

High Line Ice Cream

We finished our trek a little bit early and meandered through the Chelsea Market. It was pretty much what I thought it would be. Lots of good looking places to have a drink or a bite to eat. This information might have come in handy in a little bit, but it didn’t. Instead, in retrospect, this would be a reverse of that first-day lunch. This time, we passed all the good places to end up someplace very mediocre.

The text came in. “Meet us at the corner of 16th and 8th.” Okay, no problem, we’re on 16th and 9th, so it’s only one block.

Except for the barricade. Oops, the block between where I’m at and where I’m going is blocked off. A cop is only letting people in if they have a wristband. And, despite the fact that I looked NOTHING like I was going to a Pride Parade, the cop would hear nothing of me just wanting to get to 8th Avenue.

Wait, you need a wristband to watch a parade?

No, I would later find out that this block, and the next few, were staging areas for the floats. So the wristband was to get you on to a float. I guess I’m fine with that.

But others weren’t. When I finally made it to my friends on 8th, there were some protesters  walking down the street with signs that said “No Wristbands,” “Allow Everyone.” Clearly I wasn’t the only one who needed to get from 9th Avenue to 8th Avenue and didn’t want to go around. I can only assume that’s what they were protesting, because these guys had to know they could still watch the parade, right?  And that the wristbands were just to get ON a float? Or was this some reverse “Little Red Hen” protest? Without working on or helping build a particular float, they just think anyone should be allowed on any damn float they want? Why even have a parade? Just put the floats on display and have everyone climb all over them like a jungle gym, I guess.

But before that, when faced with the initial barricade, I figured I’d just go around. One block down to 15th Street and… same problem. We doubled back and went up to 17th Street. Well, shit. Finally we heard rumor that 14th Street went through, so a few more steps on the Fitbit and I was finally approaching my friends at the corner of 16th and 8th. Now let’s eat and drink and catch up on the olden…

Oops! The place they wanted to go was behind another barricade, blocking off the next block of 16th Street, where another float was being staged, which would require another wristband. Again, at this point, I’m thinking it’s the actual parade route that’s being blocked off, and I’m thinking this is the most fucked-up, non-inclusive parade ever. They go for a block at a time and don’t let anybody in? Maybe I should join that protest!

With the lunch spot my friends had chosen blocked off, they decided to go up a few blocks, hoping to get away from the crowd. I thought about mentioning the Chelsea Market, but nah, these two are locals and probably have a better handle on where everything is. Chelsea Market looked kinda hipster, anyway.

But the crowd wasn’t thinning out. So the next thought was to go across to the other side of the island. The Little Italy/Chinatown area should be far enough away from the insanity. Again, I thought about mentioning that the parade route was supposed to go right down 5th Avenue, but nah, these two are locals and probably have a better handle on where everything is.

Plus I thought that the parade was going DOWN 5th Avenue, and that the parade was already over. That the blockades and such were at the END of the parade.

Nope.

And… Nope.

We tried to cut across 23rd Street, because certainly Madison Square Park would be accessible, and “Hey, have you guys seen the Flatiron Building?”

“Yes, we have seen the Flatiron and, HOLY CRAP, is that an actual live parade, in progress, down 5th Avenue?”

Yeah, we’re not cutting across to the other side of the island.

All four of us finally come to the conclusion that we should’ve reached from the get-go: Let’s take the subway. Did you know that New York has a rather extensive public transit system?

Of course, the subway stations near the parade are closed, so now we’re huffing back west toward 7th Avenue. Are you tracking this so far? We started at 9th and 16th, we are now near 5th and 23rd, but are doubling back to 7th.

We go down in the first subway station we see, figure we’ll just take the subway a stop or two and figure it out. Of course, it’s a north-south line, not an east-west line, so no going to Little Italy. But as long as we get past Times Square, the city should be somewhat sane. And the first stop past Times Square is… right the fuck in front of our hotel.

But hey, we finally had that beer! At a Whole Foods…

Technically it was an Asian restaurant inside the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. And they didn’t have a bad beer selection. The wine selection wasn’t thrilling my wife, but we’re northern Californians, and it takes quite a bit to thrill us with wine. In fact, the best wines we found were Northern California wines. Oh hey, they have Bogle. That winery’s thirty minutes from my house. 

So to racap: We left our hotel on 57th Street, and they left their home on 180th Street, in order to both meet down on 16th Street, so we could walk another ten-to-twenty blocks, in order to take the subway back to where we had started. In retrospect, we should’ve just walked the Brooklyn Bridge, or, I don’t know, just met them at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle.

The food at the Whole Foods wasn’t bad, either. And it’s between our hotel and the TKTS, so let’s add one more spot to the list of places we could’ve gone for lunch on day one. Oh, and the place that I was really salivating for after that lackluster lunch? P.J. Clarke’s? Yeah, my friend told me it’s pretty good. I should totally check it out.

Damn you, Wade Boggs!

At least my Fitbit was happy.

As for the Pride Parade, it was more or less the same as those in other major cities. I mean, I only saw one topless woman, so maybe it’s not quite as brash as its West Coast counterparts. I’ve never really understood why that happens. At some point, it was determined that the most appropriate way to celebrate homosexual love is to expose oneself in public. This is particularly true amongst heterosexual women. They’re co-opting this celebration just as they have Halloween.

Oh, it’s time to celebrate? Here are my asscheeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love asscheeks. And breasts, for that matter. And as a heterosexual male, I gotta be honest that the six-packs on the dudes wearing the mesh shirts are impressive as hell, too. I just don’t know why they necessarily all have to be on display at this particular event.  I worry that, when the dress-up becomes what everyone gravitates toward, the original purpose of the event might get lost. And what happens when Aggressive Hetero Dude-Bro starts to realize that he can ogle attractive females at Pride events? Welcome to Mardi Gras 2.0.

Besides, what the hell do these people do with these outfits the rest of the year? I guess they get put in the same spot in the closet as my Silent Bob and Santa Claus costumes. Probably take up a lot less space, too.

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