I love New York City. LOVE it. But while the way we experience the City is light years removed from my own grandmother’s life centered around a one-bedroom Rivington Street tenement shared with 11 family members, it still has that ability to KICK MY ASS. Especially when we’re there with our kids and covering a lot of territory. So this past week was a typical trip filled with nonstop public transit riding and various high highs and good exercise compared to our L.A. life, interspersed with temper flares, aching feed, bad sleep, wacko routine shake-ups, and not being always able to take advantage of the best eating NYC has to offer.
But since we made it to the dreamy Blue Hill at Stone Barns for a last minute, spontaneous adult meal with my sister, brother-in-law and an L.A. friend, I’ll stop complaining. Even those two hours we spent desperately hoping for five seats to open up at the bar comprised THE most wonderful restaurant wait I can imagine (I’ll never forget that pickled ramp Gibson). What follows is a quick roundup of some of the more civilized, fancier family meals we had.
Generally we try to squeeze in at least one Lupa lunch or dinner on every trip. The most recent meal there I can recall involved a baby asleep in the Ergo the entire time, which made for easier eating. This time our foursome went early; at 5:30 the dining room was mostly empty, but it was almost full when we skedaddled out of there an hour later. And believe me, that was a FAST hour, packed with quartini of rose, beautiful wild mushrooms topped with shredded kale and pecorino, clams paired with a tangy lemon-inflected pearl couscous, deeply pink steak, and the dish that’s Lupa’s real siren’s call for me — buccatini all’amatriciana with chunks of guanciale.
Unfortunately the pasta’s red chili heat precluded sharing it with the kids, and unlike the way we do it at home, Lupa’s spaghetti alla carbonara is INTENSELY black pepper-loaded. But between the Roman-themed coloring pages and focaccia squares they were all good, especially after the post-dinner Eataly gelato.
170 Thompson Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 982-5089
Along with Artisanal (see below), this was the restaurant that ignited our eldest’s fierce (perhaps too much so) love of French fries. They are still indeed excellent and thoroughly crispy (ugh, do I really have to find another way to talk about French fries?) at this Belgian-themed, gastro-pubby spot on East 29th Street. Plus Liege style waffles are available at dinner and come served with syrup, crème fraiche and mellow lingonberry jam. Resto’s beer list goes on and on, and their interpretation of an Old Fashioned took the edge off after a long day while a flash storm dumped buckets outside. The staff is very friendly, and go early or for brunch and you won’t feel like you’re raining on any happy hour parades. Drawback: the lamb burger comes on a lousy off-the-shelf grocery store bun. If that’s a weird attempt at ironic “low brow” pairing with high-minded meats, then this move needs rethinking. I DON’T get it. Next time we’ll check out the sibling restaurant, Cannibal, next door.
111 East 29th Street, Flatiron/Murray Hill; (212) 685-5585
Again, this cheese-centric brasserie is definitely NOT overtly a place for children, but a food critic I know describes it as a perfect kids’ restaurant. It would help a bit if water came in something other than stemware, though. And let’s not forget, fondue offers its own pleasures and dangers. We tore through a quick late meal of fries — typical Manhattan pricing at $6.50 for a very modest portion — juicy and perfect chicken under a brick, and a meaty, buttery skate wing in repose over a delightful acidic jumble of cauliflower, oranges and crispy capers (I could eat an entire side of the latter). If the “stinky cheese room” is unoccupied, then the small private dining area makes for a fun place to pass the time until the entrees arrive. There’s even a sidewalk ice cream cart during the summer.
2 Park Avenue, Murray Hill; (212) 725-8585
I love a factory-made, cart-reheated soft pretzel on the street. Yet it’s hard to resist a handmade one with lots of herb and seasoning options imported from the East Village and eaten on the steps of the Met. Sigmund’s Pretzels cart kicks up the awesome factor that makes up the beauty of the museum steps’ public theater. Even if I prefer the leathery exterior and graceful sinewy curves of the pretzels we got at Café Pedlar in Cobble Hill, the setting can’t be beat.
And speaking of charming cafés — and in a community that really needs an up-to-date coffee resource owned by local people who truly give a shit, i.e. something Nouveau Brooklyn is well-stocked in — there is some VERY GOOD NEWS at the top of the island. My sister has been waiting 10+ years for a place like Darling Coffee to open up in Inwood, and it’s a dream come true! Co-owner Nichole makes EVERYTHING from scratch, from perfectly scored baguettes to scones to cakes, and they’ve got a sweet La Marzocco setup along with Blue Bottle goods, all at reasonable prices for this level of quality. Nichole, a new mom, managed to squeeze in a long conversation with my husband about baking. How terrific for upper Broadway that this serious cooking pro — who even staged at Lucques a couple years ago! — and her husband have made a deep commitment to the neighborhood. Good things come to those who wait. (Stupidly I dropped the ball about taking pictures in there, so check these out instead.)
4961 Broadway, Inwood
Lastly, not much more to say about our boys’ Shake Shack fixation, other than if standing in this line AGAIN doesn’t earn our children’s eternal love, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL. Thankfully Madison Square Park happens to be one of my favorite public spaces. At Citi Field, however, waiting during the Subway Series game was out of the question. So good old Nathan’s and mediocre Blue Smoke it was.