It is an inevitable feeling, one that leaves me all twisted up inside every time we board a plane/train/automobile and make the trek back to Louisville from wherever our travels have taken us. I don’t want to leave. I want to go back. I need to go back. This feeling was ever apparent on our recent trip to New York City. Despite an unexpected third night to explore, my mind and soul were left parched, and the thirst to return is palpable, almost all-consuming. The thing about New York City is that it is virtually impossible to scratch the surface in one weekend. But do you even do so in a lifetime? It’s varied corners and pockets of people seem endless, the city moving forward at a rapid pace and remaining rooted in history all at the same time. It is a beautifully overwhelming place to visit and the desire to return is a confliction I am happy to possess. Z and I were inundated with recommendations of where to go, what to eat and what to drink. Everyone has a strong opinion about New York City and everyone has an all-time favorite restaurant. A spot that spoke to them the loudest, that left an indelible impression on their heart. I wanted to go to all of these haunts and then some but alas that was impossible. Instead we remained focused on a few key restaurants and would fill the time in between meals walking and absorbing our surroundings. Since we couldn’t be everywhere we resolved to be in the moment. And we had some fantastic moments. The first of which occurred as soon as we arrived in the city. We landed at LaGuardia at 9pm, took a quick cab ride straight to our home base in the East Village, The Standard, refreshed and hit the pavement by 10:15. Our first stop: Prune.
It is a shoebox of a restaurant, no more than two dozen patrons accommodated at once. The kitchen sits square in the back, much, much smaller than what I had conjored in my mind when reading Blood, Bones and Butter, Chef and Owner Gabrielle Hamilton‘s self-penned recounting of her life and the food that shaped it. However unlike a book you read prior to seeing the movie, only to find the movie has portrayed the characters and stories in a grossely inacurate manner, I was a bit taken aback when Z and I stepped through the open doors of Prune. It was even better than I had imagined.
The menu is concise and well-constructed, making the decision for the diner that much more of a challenge as you quickly find yourself wanting to order one of everything, the idea of selecting one of the four entrees nearly impossible. It just so happened that we came to Prune on a night they were introducing a new menu, and, after much debate and some disappointment over the fact that both the pasta starter and the cold roast beef with lettuces were sold out, we settled on a spicy chicken soup, Gabrielle’s play on pasole, to begin our meal. Our first course was followed by the fried rabbit with buttermilk dressing and onions and the ‘fish taco,’ an artful take on a classic, the crispy skinned catch of the day layered atop a crunchy, paper-thin flatbread and topped with mixed herbs and peppery radish. As our varied selections posed a bit of a wine conundrum, we were delighted to find a bottle of 2004 Lopez de Heredia Viura, a ten year old bottle that is a rich and unusual white wine with an almost port-like quality, offering enough body to hold up to the chicken and rabbit and a bright acidity to accentuate the fish. It was also the perfect pair for our fantastically simplistic dessert of fresh peaches served on crisp, buttered bread, confectioners sugar coaxing out the natural sweetness of the fruit.
Saturday morning brought along a short stroll to Russ and Daughters, a 100 year old classic seafood deli located on East Houston Street in the Lower East Side. If you’ve watched many cooking or travel shows, chances are you’re already familiar with this NYC staple, however it manages to retain every ounce of it’s natural charm, refusing to change regardless of the fame and attention their expertly cured fish and pickled herring have brought upon them.
We sandwiched our way into the store, fitting snuggly between two long deli cases, one a rainbow of smoked salmon, trout, sturgeon and herring, the other a sampling of confections of old. Mounds of house made cream cheese play with your imagination, looking more like freshly spun gelato than the schmere for a bagel. I resisted the urge to go against my gut and stuck with my plan to order the classic smoked salmon sandwich, selecting Scottish salmon, plain cream cheese and a plain bagel with onions and capers. Z was thankfully more adventurous and requested the Fancy Delancy sandwich, a unique layering of smoked tuna with wasabi flying fish roe and horseradish-dill cream cheese. We wiggled our way through the crowd of waiting customers and took our breakfast on the road, hailing a cab to Central Park.
We strolled the expansive park until we found a cozy nook and we dug into our sandwiches. Mine, while simple, was a shining example of why the trinity of smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagels came to be in the first place. The salmon was silky, salty and rich, the cream cheese soothing and light. The bagel had wonderful texture. I was in smoked fish heaven. Z enjoyed his selection as well, the wasabi flying fish roe offering that distinctive pop, an addictive textural element that complimented the spicy cream cheese and highlighted the thinly sliced tuna. After lunch we set our sights on Eataly, beginning the hike across town with a long walk through Central Park. We marveled at the thousands of people who were occupying this expansive and famous space. The serenity of the park was refreshing and calming. There was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out, relax, and escape the hustle and bustle.
The lush greenery slowly began to fade as we exited the outskirts of the park and reentered the throngs of people rushing about the streets of New York. We made the three mile walk to Eataly, strolling through Times Square along the way. Originating in Italy, the aptly named Eataly was brought to America by celebrity Chef Mario Batali. It is difficult to describe Eataly as it multifaceted, the only overarching commonality being it’s devotion to the foods of Italy. A celebration of all things Italian, Eataly is a hybrid market-meets-restaurant-meets-wineshop-meets-bookstore-meets-specialty-foodstore. There are five aisles dedicated to pasta alone. You can find nearly every olive oil in world at Eataly. There is an entire shop dedicated to Nutella for crying out loud! Upon entry, my initial reaction was to turn and leave. There was too much to see and it felt too confusing. But we elbowed our way through the crowd waiting in line to select their scoop from at least thirty different flavors of gelato, and entered the belly of the beast. Several exposed kitchens from the various restaurants located in Eataly were buzzing, orders being shouted between servers and Chefs at the pass, countless individuals standing at a ham bar indulging in Italy’s finest cured meats, the clinking of wine glasses ringing through the air. We settled in at the bar of Il Pesce and enjoyed freshly grilled shrimp and slices of raw tuna drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with flaky black sea salt. It was a perfect pick me up after our three mile trek and was just light enough to help us continue on for another three miles, as we made our way back through the street of New York to The Standard in the East Village.
I would go back to The Standard in a second for the service, the amenities and the great location. But the view – THE VIEW! That is more than reason enough to book this hotel during your next New York City jaunt. Within walking distance of countless bars and restaurants, we set out for some pre-dinner libations. We were happy to find two seats at the bar at Terroir, a wine-centric watering hole which dubs itself as the ‘elitist bar for everyone.’ Z had discovered this cozy wine temple during a recent business trip to New York and we enjoyed some German sparkling to kick off our second night in the city. It was going to be one to remember.