Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Escape to New York City: A 3-Night Trip.

A short trip to New York City was quickly planned when I found out that Tony got four days off in a row that included weekend days. We haven’t been to NYC since January 2003 and we both felt we were overdue a trip to the Big Apple. Friends Kim and Steve, who moved to Vermont over a year ago from Maryland, would join Tony and me on Sunday morning for two nights, so I knew this would be a fun long weekend.

I quickly researched hotels and restaurants and bought the AAA Spiral guide to NYC. I checked on the various Marriott hotels, as I have a few friends that could provide their “friends and family” discount. I settled on the Courtyard Marriott on East 53rd and 3rd Avenue based on the price and recommendations by fellow Fodorites. Rooms started around $380 plus taxes and with the discount, we paid $239 plus taxes. This was still over my normal budget for hotels, but knowing New York, this was a good price for this hotel category.

I also checked for theatre tickets. I registered with and bought tickets for Spamalot!

Saturday, 10 May 2008: Our drive took about five hours from Maryland, which wasn’t too bad despite the 30-minute delay at one point on the highway. I was hoping to get to NYC by about 12:30pm, but we arrived around 2:45pm. Starving for lunch, we quickly checked in, unpacked our clothing, and headed out to Stage Deli for a good meal (Stage Deli, 834 7th Ave, New York 10019 between 53rd & 54th St Phone: 212-245-7850,

We shared one of their huge triple-decker sandwiches, the “Cindy Adams” - Corned beef, pastrami and swiss cheese. OMG, it was so delicious and quite filling! But we both wish we had ordered just a pastrami sandwich, like we did at Katz’ back in 2003. Tony saw a sign with a photo of a sandwich, which stated, “Be sure to lift with your knees.”

Once stuffed, we headed out to wander around Broadway and Times Square. We stopped along the way so I could take some photos and stepped inside the M&M store. It’s unbelievable this store (and Hershey’s) does so well with the mass crowds of people buying souvenirs and chocolate. Almost every color imaginable of M&M’s were on display. We walked along 44th street to see where the Shubert theatre was located. Next door two actors from Mama Mia were signing autographs. The area was crowded with tourists holding their pocket cameras up to the flashing neon signs. What a sight even in broad daylight.

We continued on towards Macy’s on 34th street, got a peek of the Empire State building and took a break at Herald Square for half an hour. Tony’s knees are shot and he’ll be having knee replacement (both knees!) this fall, so the break was timely for him. We stopped at a Pax wholesome foods store for a drink and then headed north. We enjoyed watching a group of men playing bocce ball while sitting at Bryant Park before heading back to the hotel, stopping along the way to pick up a bottle of wine for the room.

Speaking of the room: We were given a corner room, #2201, which had a wonderful view of the top portion of the Chrysler building. Our room consisted of two queen beds, a sitting area with a pull-out sofa and table, a dresser and desk with a large t.v. Lots of floor space. The bathroom was quite nice too with ample counter top space. As usual for most hotels, the lighting in the bathroom could have been brighter.

Since we had a huge lunch, we went to a pub for snacks: Pig N’ Whistle, 922 Third Avenue NY, NY 10022, Phone: 212-688-4646, I had an order of buffalo wings, but they were drenched in so much BBQ sauce that I had to scrape off. I liked them but they were not authentic buffalo wings. Tony on the other hand had to turn his soup away, as he almost swallowed a long stringy piece of brillo. His appetite died right that second. With apologies from the manager, we paid for just our drinks.

Sunday 11 May 2008: The phone rang at 7:45am. We were expecting Kim and Steve to arrive around 8:30am, but being a Sunday and carrying only carry-on luggage, they were able to grab a taxi and get to the hotel within ½ hour of arrival.

We were all hungry for breakfast, so we walked on over to Carnegi Deli ( 854 7th Ave, 212-757-9889. It was about a 15 minute walk to 7th Avenue. Kim and I both ordered the nova lox and bagels, while the guys ordered eggs for breakfast. The portions are huge and I would have been fine with half of my breakfast. It was to see what the other diners ordered, as most waiters came out with huge sandwiches. Looking at the pastrami sandwiches, Tony and I knew we would be returning for another lunch!

I had a coupon to use at the Adorama (photography) store, so we took the subway to 18th street. I purchased a spare battery for my Nikon D80, a camera bag, and a camera strap that has a nice padding for the shoulder. Next time I plan to visit B&H Photo. We continued on to Washington Square and sat for about 20 minutes or so. Many people with out with their children. Most of the park has been torn up and is being refurbished.

The rest of the day was spent visiting the various galleries and shops in and around SoHo. There were lots of people with their art work out on the sidewalks. After a walk along canal street (what a zoo) and up Mulberry street to Spring Street, we had pizza for lunch at Lombardi’s (, 32 Spring St, New York - (212) 941-7994) – a large thin crust pizza with sausage, pancetta and olives. It was very good! Oh, when we walked the restaurant and I gave my name to the host, he stated it would be a 10-minute wait. Fine, so we walked to the bar to get a drink and not even a minute passed by that we were told our table was ready. The host could see the surprise on our faces, to which he stated, “It’s a New York 10-minutes.”

Eight tired feet, so we took the Spring station subway the back to our hotel to rest before the theatre.

At the corner from out hotel is a subway stop, so we met at 6pm in the lobby and caught the E train to 42nd Street and within a couple of blocks we were at the Shubert theatre. The temperature had dropped, so I was glad I brought a second, heavier jacket for the evenings. After a round of expensive drinks at the bar, the show started promptly at 7pm. Our seats were just fine: orchestra, left side, row N, seats 11-17. Any further to the left and we would have missed part of the scenes. Spamalot was a hoot! We laughed our heads off. Now I need to go out and buy the movie, as it’s been many years since I’ve seen it.

The show ended about 9:10pm, so we headed west on 44th to our restaurant, Etcetera, Etcetera (, 352 W 44th St, 212-399-4141). The restaurant is decorated in a contemporary design in blues, greys, and orange colors, with recessed lights, which, surprisingly I liked. As you enter the restaurant, the bar catches your eye, as all of the liquor bottles are backlit along one wall on several shelves. Along that same wall are tables, which are set close together…a little too close in my opinion. In fact, when I returned from the restroom and squeezed by to get to my chair, I actually pulled the tablecloth from the next table and a couple of the dishes and utensils crashed to the floor. The tables along the wall seats about 30 people, while the other tables in the middle of the room seats about 20. When we arrived, we were immediately seated. The restaurant was only 1/3rd full. In reading reviews of this restaurant, several others stated the place could be very noisy. Being only 1/3rd full, it wasn’t noisy at all. The waiters were attentive and kept our wine glasses filled. We ended up ordering 3 bottles of wine. After taking our order, we were given fresh-baked foccacia and semolina bread, along with a delicious olive tapenade. We even asked for a second serving of the tapenade. I started with the grilled baby octopus (5) served with fennel, bell peppers, green asparagus and citrus. The flavors of the citrus dressing went well with the octopus and vegetables. For my entrée, I had the pappardelle w/rabbit ragout. The dish was not overly rich, but I couldn’t finish it. The pasta was perfectly cooked and the rabbit quite tender. Tony had the selection of sliced Italian cured meats (almost a meal in itself) followed by the excellent grilled skirt steak with sautéed spinach in garlic and olive oil. He also ordered a side dish of eggplant parmesan, which he said was the best he had in a restaurant. Other dishes that were served: Parma prosciutto over melon w/grilled dates wrapped in pancetta; a puff pastry purse with vegetables; Veal, raisin and amaretto filled ravioli; a roasted chicken with a combination of broccoli-rabe and spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Three of us ordered desserts and we were served a small plate of various cookies. The desserts were small but the right size after an excellent meal. Our total bill came to about $325; however, $120 was spent on three bottles of wine. At first I thought the wine was very expensive; however, a glass of wine (and house wine for that matter) in NYC can range from $9 to $15, so dividing the $120, we averaged $8 per glass (five 5-ounce glasses to a bottle); and about $50 per person for the food. All in all, it was a wonderful evening in a great restaurant. I would recommend this place to those that want to dine post-theatre (only a 5 minute walk from the Shubert theatre) or anytime – just be sure to make reservations. I used this web site for my reservations.

After dinner and some night photography on Broadway, we grabbed a cab back to our hotel for the night. The taxi ride was slightly less expensive than our tickets on the subway (you can buy four for $7, rather than the $2 single tickets).

Monday, 12 May 2008: Rainy, cold, windy. What a miserable morning! We knew we would encounter not-so-perfect weather, so we decided to hit a couple of museums. After breakfast at Madison Restaurant (965 1st Ave, corner of E. 53rd, 212-421-0948,, which was recommended by the concierge at our hotel (good choice!), we took the subway up to 77th street and walked over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Upon arrival, we saw at least two dozen people standing outside the doorway. The museum was closed! None of us thought that any of the museums would be closed. It never crossed our minds to check the guidebook. The museums in D.C. are open every day. So, I pulled out my guidebook to see what was open. We selected the natural history museum, across central park. It was a 10-minute walk across the park. Kids were in their rain gear enjoying their day. Not us. It was cold! I also had one soaking wet sock. I found a small crack at the bottom of my shoe that allowed water to get in. I bought these shoes just a few months ago!

I think we all agreed we chose the wrong museum. There were screaming kids everywhere! And the layout of the museum just didn’t flow smoothly. I think we were getting tired of being cold and wet and disappointed in not getting into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which we would have preferred. We did enjoy the planetarium – Tony said he fell asleep for a few minutes and Steve was ready for another go-around in the theatre so he could take a nap.

Deciding we had enough, we grabbed a cab back to the hotel. Kim was having foot problems and wanted to take a break. She did want to go to the Museum of Modern Art and Steve wanted to see the Dakota building, but we all agreed it was time for a break.

I had called fodorite friend ekscrunchy to join us for drinks and dinner, so Tony and I headed out to get another bottle of wine. It had stopped raining, so we took a long walk up 3rd avenue, over to 5th avenue, and down again, circling around the area back to the wine store on 54th. I loved seeing the window displays, including the Louis Vuitton store, and of course Tiffany’s. We noticed that the Trump name was removed above the door of the trump tower (not the bigger name above it) – has it been sold? We stopped by a fast-food soup place, which I enjoyed a small bowl of split pea soup and Tony had a vegetable/pasta soup. It was quite appropriate for this cold day.
Ekscrunchy arrived at our hotel at 5:30pm, as she lives near the hotel. Kim and Steve arrived shortly thereafter. We enjoyed the wine and conversation. Ekscrunchy didn’t want to join us for dinner, but we promised each other we would keep in touch via phone or email. She knows I’m going to China in October and has given good trip advice.

The four of us took a taxi down to 32nd street and walked over to Korea town for dinner. The taxi driver was driving as if he were in a Steve McQueen movie! What a ride! I had called Kum Gang San restaurant, which is a 24-hour establishment (49 West 32nd Street, 212-967-0909, while at breakfast to make reservations. We were seated upstairs. It was on the warm side due to the table grills and being on the upper level of the restaurant. There’s a large grotto along one wall with a white grand piano sitting on top. Strange.
The food was excellent. We started with a couple of appetizers, sushi and dumplings, along with the customary plates of Korean picked and marinated vegetables: mild and hot kimchee (the hot was tasted mild to Tony and me), bean sprouts, spinach, tofu, etc. The waitress grilled our bulgogi and kal bi beef, which we really enjoyed wrapping in lettuce leaves and sauce. For dessert, we were given a plate of watermelon and slices of oranges, which was quite refreshing.

Outside, it felt warmer than our wet and cold morning. We walked all the way up Broadway for dessert at Stage Deli – cheesecake!!! The four of us split one strawberry cheesecake. The menu states each slice serves 2-3 people but it was the right size for the four of us.

A short and fast! taxi ride, probably the brother of the previous driver, and we were back at the hotel in minutes. Tony and Steve had been taking turns paying so Steve took care of this one. Well, apparently he got ripped off and argued with the driver but the driver didn’t budget and Steve just decided the hell with it. Too bad, as I hate to see people get ripped off. (In Naples Italy last year, my friend Mike got ripped off but I dragged him back and demanded his money back, which I got).

One last drink in our room and it was time to say our goodbyes. Kim and Steve had a 9am flight to Vermont, so they were ready for bed.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008: I actually slept in a little this morning. I think I needed it after all of our walking. I opened the curtains to see a perfect blue-sky day! Too bad! I wish we had such a day on Monday. After getting ready and packing our bags, we headed to the lobby to check out and get our car. Valet parking was $45/day. I did find a garage a couple of blocks away but when we arrived on Saturday Tony decided to just have the hotel take care of the car.

Tony and I were hungry for a pastrami sandwich, so we drove over to 7th avenue after a few turns with the one-way streets. Right in front of the restaurant was an empty parking space, so I jumped out and did a take-out order. Back in the car in less than 5 minutes, we were on our way home. Once on the NJ turnpike, we stopped at a service/rest center and had our fabulous pastrami sandwich. The cooks certainly know how to pile on the meat. And they should for $13.95! We were also given two types of pickles. Yum! Great lunch and great ending to our trip to NYC.

Back at home (4pm), we got our dog Lucy from our neighbors. She was happy to see us, but we knew our neighbors took good care of her.

I’m looking forward to returning to NYC soon! I enjoyed the vibrancy of the city and even the honking noise of the drivers. With the exception of the surly waiters at Carnige Deli, I felt the people of NYC were quite welcoming. All of us enjoyed our meals, sightseeing and the theater. It was great spending time with Kim and Steve and I think they enjoyed our company too.

Well, that’s it! I’ll be getting my photos online tonight or tomorrow, so stay tuned!


PS: Photos are now online. Click Here.