Posted from New York, New York, United States.
(Or, No Actual Manhattans Were Imbibed in Manhattan)
The following is a little description of our culinary experiences in Manhattan. More complete narratives dealing with our recent stays in Connecticut and Manhattan are forthcoming.
People who know me know that not only do I like to cook and bake but I love to eat. When we lived in the Twin Cities, we would frequently save money just so that we could go to dinner at a nice restaurant and enjoy the experience. Our last trip to Las Vegas was planned in part to allow for meals at restaurants we had heard about and researched. So imagine our how our culinary planning went into overdrive for our stop in Manhattan this summer.
Despite our need to travel frugally and curb all extravagances, Erik and I originally planned to splurge and have a meal at Le Bernardin, a Michelin three-star and New York Times four-star restaurant that we have been dreaming about for years. However, although it took a while, eventually reality woke us up. Although the prices at Le Bernardin are no secret, it just wasn’t practical for us to blow so much dough on one meal – no matter how perfect it probably would have been. Add to that the fact that we had too much self-respect to show up at their doors looking like tourists. And bringing suits along on this trip would have been the very definition of impractical: packing them for one evening in a five-month timeframe? Like I said, as hard a pill realism is to swallow, we choked it down and stoically swept up the pieces of our broken dream.
So just what did we eat in our not-quite-three-day residency in Manhattan? Well, I have to say we got a really good experience and have no regrets. Contained on almost any block in the city are more restaurants than we could have hit in a whole week, so dealing with the entire island of Manhattan we just had to go with the flow. And traveling (read: walking) far out of our way to dine someplace was also not in keeping with our travel philosophy. So, no: this isn’t the most earth-shattering dining experience, but it was fun and tasty and – believe it or not – rather cost-effective.
Since we arrived in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon, our only real meal that night was dinner at the Shake Shack, which is an extremely popular burger joint that is known for having waiting lines out the door and down the block. And it’s actually a place we had heard of and were up to trying. One happened to just appear as we were walking through Central Park, so we went. The line was not unreasonable and we even found seating inside for four. Erik and I each had a Shackburger (which was really good), shared some fries, and Erik had a shake while Joe had a dish of the frozen custard in the flavor of the day, which on Sunday was…. Sweet Corn. It was pretty good, sweet and creamy with the corn flavor coming mostly in the after taste.
Monday morning breakfast was eaten at the Galaxy Diner – the quintessential New York diner experience, complete with an unsmiling but not necessarily unfriendly waitress. Erik had two eggs with potatoes and toast. I had a fried egg sandwich that was surprisingly good despite how unimpressive it looked. For lunch we were near Ground Zero and just started looking for something easy and New York-ish. Erik (for whatever reason) thought he would get a pretzel from a shish-kebab vender, but the vender curtly informed him, “No pretzel here. Next cart.” It was a sign: a sign not to get a pretzel. After walking two more blocks we found a fun little hole in the wall called Majestic Pizza that served pizza by the slice. We each had a slice of pepperoni and mushroom and it was really good, nice and hot, and the crust was crisp. It was perfect – one trillion times better than a pretzel would have been. (What was he thinking?) The owner even chatted with us briefly and he was the perfect New Yorker: interested in being of assistance but not at all interested in our personal business.
Although we assumed we would find a place for dinner in Chelsea Market, nothing really appealed to us that evening. We had been walking all day long and didn’t feel like getting bogged down with a big meal. En route to Chelsea we walked past a neighborhood corner bar that was offering mussels and beer for a Happy Hour price. For an hour afterwards we kicked ourselves for not stopping, but it was too far behind us to turn around. But eventually we found a nice place in Chelsea called The Park that had what we wanted. We (yes, two of us) shared an entire pitcher of house-made Sangria, and we split an order of mussels with chorizo, half a dozen oysters, and an asparagus salad. Everything was great, not too heavy, and it hit the spot perfectly. And because of our miles of walking in the heat, there was no challenge in finishing the entire pitcher of Sangria.
For breakfast on Tuesday we walked to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood and found a bakery about 6-feet wide and 40-feet long. It turns out Amy’s Bread is a popular place in New York with locations in three neighborhoods. We snuck in just in time because when we left the line was out the door. We had a pecan sticky bun and an oat-banana-pecan scone. Nothing super fancy but very thoughtful and utterly delicious. It’s an interesting phenomenon when you just happen upon something on your own that turns out to be a hotspot for those in the know. Speaking of which…
The final meal was at the worst kept secret in New York and was recommended to us by our Shake Shack dining partners on Sunday. Inside Le Parker Meridien hotel is a tiny little room called Burger Joint. Although it is in the lobby of the hotel, it is covered in brown drapes as if it were a construction area and there is no signage directing you to it, save a neon hamburger that you really have to look for. You literally have to look behind the curtain as if you were nosily checking out something that you had no business spying. This place doesn’t mess around – there is barely any place to sit, there is graffiti all over the walls, holes in the booth cushions, you must pay cash, and god help you if you don’t know how to efficiently place your order and get the hell out of the way. Apparently these are the exact same burgers that the hotel sells for three times as much in its fancier restaurant and room service. This was a fun but no-frills dining experience. Was this burger better than the famous Shake Shack? Oh, yeah. And you have the glowing but fleeting feeling of superiority because you were on the inside of a secret that 95% of the hotel guests didn’t even know about.
What was the damage? As you can imagine, it wasn’t bad at all. Our total bills (for two people) were: breakfasts about $10, burger stops about $25, pizza $7.50, and the splurge was dinner at The Park which came to $90 but that included tip AND a $32 pitcher of Sangria (and was paid for using a Visa Gift Card that we received). We may not have made it to Le Bernardin or any other place of that ilk, but that’s fine. Manhattan has an unquantifiable number of food options (and for crying out loud, stay away from Times Square with its Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Hard Rock Cafe and Starbucks) that you only have yourself to blame if you have an eating experience less than you hoped for.
P.S. I deplore it when people take pictures of restaurant food and post them, so there are no accompanying photos. Deal with it. But soon we will post pictures of our stays in Connecticut and Manhattan, never fear.