brooklyn wanderings

There are all sorts of great things going on in the food, art and craft communities of Brooklyn, so on our recent trip to New York, we wanted to spend at least a few days strolling around, checking all of that stuff out and getting a sense of the different neighborhoods of that borough.  A great place to start seemed to be the Brooklyn Flea – a vintage flea market, meets craft uprising, meets some amazing food vendors every Saturday in Fort Greene.  We found a great sampling of all of the above! While we didn’t walk away with any art from this particular market, we were overwhelmed with a lot of great, affordable, hand-your-cash-right-to-the-artist options.  Shawn’s Lone Star Empire brisket sandwich was the main event of our time there (above, right), perfectly smoked meats from two Texas expats; while my lobster sandwich was a close second – all washed down by a yummy grapefruit soda by Brooklyn Soda Works.  Blueberry apricot pops from People’s Pop for dessert on a warm day were perfect too.  (I seem to report on popsicles quite a bit here on this blog – I wish my city was hotter so it could sustain an inventive, local ingredient palletta/popsicle company!)

We strolled from there over to and through the lovely Prospect Park (Brooklyn’s Central Park – also designed by Olmsted) to make our way to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.  A classical oasis that seems like a great getaway in the city.  The bonsai exhibit was my favorite (above, bottom left), and I was impressed by how many of the plants are labelled so that you are never left wondering.  The new visitor center wasn’t quite open (above, top left), which we had hoped to see (designed by Weiss/Manfredi, who did Seattle’s sculpture park), but looks like it fit into and opened up to the landscape beautifully.  All that wandering called for what was next –  some soaking and sauna-ing for a late afternoon at Body by Brooklyn spa.

We ended that particular day at Grimaldi’s – arguably the best NY pizza – that my friend Karen introduced us to years back.  The coal-fired oven (hottest out there!) seems to be the trick, and there are only a few of those out there.  Ownership apparently changed hands since I was there the last time and it moved a few doors away into a larger space – but the olive, mushroom, mozzarella pie still made us very happy!  Down the street, we checked out the new (to us) Brooklyn Bridge Park afterward to walk it off.  Apparently outdoor movies and concerts happen there in the warmer months – with downtown Manhattan as a backdrop – would love to go back for that!

 

 

There are all sorts of great shops, eateries, galleries and architectural projects to wander through in Williamsburg (we focused on the area around Grand and Berry streets).  Of specific note from our stroll that day were the Brooklyn Art Library – home of the Sketchbook Project, (above, right) where you can ‘check out’ any of the sketchbooks folks have submitted from all over the world and get a glimpse of their year in the project.  We had seen it out in Seattle when they were touring the project – fun to see it in its home.  Also, Mast Brothers – the uber-crafted, sustainable chocolate makers (above, left).   They approach chocolate making with incredible craft and reverence for the process and the growers, and each bar is hand-wrapped in ornamental papers. They’ve even employed sail boats to deliver their cacao beans, making it as sustainable as possible.  Their chocolates have wonderful flavors and each bar tells a story. 

A couple of days wasn’t nearly enough to check out Brooklyn – we will most certainly need to head back again soon!

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manhattan wanderings

While we enjoyed being Lower East Side-ers during our recent trip, it was also a great launching point for wandering the rest of Manhattan too.  Some of our favorites from this trip included:

A stroll through Union Square’s Farmer’s Market, the oldest and flagship Greenmarket of NYC, to pick up a few picnic items, including cheeses and perfectly dry and effervescent cider from Eve’s Cidery.  And then over to Chelsea Market (above, middle) for a lobster roll from The Lobster Place (above, left) a simple but perfect grilled cheese with fig from Lucy’s Whey, and an fun elderflower soda.  With that, we headed to one of the highlights of our trip…

the High Line!  We hadn’t been to New York since the ‘aerial greenway’ park (above) was finished, and the architects in us were excited to see it.  It did not disappoint!  Some great design moves, and an incredible public space along a mile-long stretch of re-purposed elevated railway.  Great spot for a stroll, with a unique perspective of the west side of the city, and a few different spots for picnicking and people watching.

After the High Line, we spent the afternoon at MOMA (courtyard above, middle) perusing the Cindy Sherman exhibit – wonderful and creepy all at once – as well as featured pieces of Diego Rivera, Elsworth Kelly and a printmaking show.  Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream – was an unexpected thought-provoking exhibit as well.

Also in the art realm, we spent an evening at the Whitney Biennial – honestly, a lot of the visual art left us a little underwhelmed, however getting to see Alexander Caulder’s Circus was a highlight of the trip for me – I had always loved the little movie he made with this menagerie.  And the time spent listening to Esperanza Spaulding along with her standup base was a lovely and captivating surprise too.

A late night snack was in order after all of that, and we had heard great things about Danny Meyer’s fresh, quality, food-for-the-masses endeavor, Shake Shack.  There happened to be one a few blocks from the Whitney, where we ordered several things to try (in the spirit of reporting, of course).  The burger was the highlight (even for this predominantly veggie person) – and the shake was close on its heels (above, left).

As a displaced-southerner, my interest is always piqued when a southern-style spot is getting a lot of attention.  I had come across mention of Tipsy Parson in Chelsea several times with high accolades.  It was a perfect afternoon reprieve spot to sit a spell with snacks and libations (above, right) that gave me a touch of home, right there in the big ol’ city.  On a hot day, don’t miss the frozen mint juleps!

Another favorite afternoon respite was found at Bouchon Bakery and Cafe, the Thomas Keller bakery at the Time Warner Center.  Most people come to Bouchon for the baked goods, but I say sit down for a spell for a late lunch too.  Shawn had the perfect quiche, and my salmon rillettes (above, left) with its delicate smokiness, and my arugula potato salad made me very happy too.  Of course we had to get some sweets to take away too – macarons of course, but also some Keller takes on classics like:  peanut butter cups, peppermint patties, and Shawn’s fave, ho-hos.

Our last night in the city, we went to Spice Market, the Jean-Georges Asian food-cart inspired restaurant in the Meat Packing District.  With the tasting menu you get a 9-course sampling SE Asian inspired dishes, and with the wine pairings all flavor highlights are hit within the meal (samplings, above, middle). All the dishes were good, but I was most impressed by the simplest of dishes – the  ginger-fried rice.  The space definitely sets the scene as well (above, right).

A great night was spent at the Comedy Cellar (above, left) – a veteran comedy club in Greenwich Village where on any given night you can see the famous and the up-and-comers honing their sets, up close and personal.  We happened to see Colin Quinn, David Norto and our favorite that night, Ryan Hamilton.

As our last morning was a bit rainy and Seattle-like, it seemed fitting to find Ace Hotel, check out the Seattle-based company’s hip-designed Manhattan space, and drink some Stumptown Coffee to mentally prepare for our trek to the airport and home.

Next up – our time in Brooklyn…

new york – lower east side

A lot of people looked at us sideways when we told them we were going to New York for our honeymoon.  But, we had several recent trips that were more of the tropical sort, and as much as we needed some unplanned relaxed time, weren’t really craving that lay-on-the-beach of trip.  We felt like we could get our relaxing and get some of the big city food, art and architecture cravings satisfied in one of our favorite places – NYC.   I am focusing this post (part one of NYC) on the Lower East Side (LES), where our home base was for the week.

The trip began with renting a great LES apartment (above) that we found through AirBnB – much like VRBO, you can rent someone’s whole apartment, have a kitchen, feel a part of the neighborhood – and pay less – which is especially key in NYC.  We loved our little spot at Orchard and Broome, right in the heart of things.

Wanderings:
Home base was a block away from the Tenement Museum – a place I think I’ve attempted to go to 3 other visits to NYC, that never quite worked out.  A random thing to do on a honeymoon, admittedly, but I am glad it worked out this trip, and I highly recommend it if you are at all interested in history and architecture of the city.  It is a tour-based museum, but unique in that they give the history through the stories of one of the actual families that had lived at 97 Orchard (above, middle), which makes it all a little more real for me.  Our tour was about an Irish family that lived there 125 years ago, and the contrasts of them in the midst of the rest of the German Jewish families in the building.

An interesting spot to compare to the Tenement Museum in this historically Jewish immigrant neighborhood (that later became enveloped by Chinatown) is the Eldridge Street Synagogue, (above, left) the first ground-up Synagogue built in the United States in the late 1880’s.  It has been beautifully restored, giving a glimpse into what must have been an otherworldly space when you compared and contrast it to the living conditions of the surrounding tenement neighborhood.


As for the food of the LES:
Doughnut Plant – oh man…  I know it is a little sacrilege to say, but I am not a huge doughnut person.  Or, I guess it is that I am picky about them. This place however, was so good we went twice. Unbeknownst to us, we chose perfectly when we picked the creme brulee (above, top right) – vanilla creme brulee filling, and a hardened sugar topping over the top of the doughnut – apparently it won ‘best pastry’ from the New Yorker recently.  I keep saying it is worth flying to New York for this treat.

Barrio Chino – (side note, this is  ‘China Town’ in Spanish) The owner of our apartment recommended this spot on her block for our first night when we flew in late.  Lucky spot to have so close! Great spot to get acclimated, drink artisan margaritas (my favorite was the elderflower) and eat lovely tacos.

Classic Coffee – Wonderfully old-school NYC coffee shop – complete with the Greek style blue and white paper cups.  We recommend the classic egg on a roll and egg creams.

Pickle Guys – Making barrel-cured pickles of a wide variety of veggies since 1910 – good snacking and a great glimpse into history of the neighborhood.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House –  We were slated to eat at Gramercy Tavern the day that Shawn’s cold really decided to kick in.  As much as we wanted to check that place out – a fancy dinner would have been lost on the sickie.  On a recommendation from Chow.com we checked out a dumpling house a few blocks from our apartment, and came home with some amazing hot and sour soup, dumplings, and my personal favorite – the sesame crepe with egg – all for a teeny fraction of what Gramercy would have cost, but hitting the spot.

Just north of Houston, in the East Village, is where we had some of the best meals of the trip:

Prune (above, top left) – our first breakfast of the trip found us at this diminutive restaurant of chef Gabrielle Hamilton, whose book I had recently read (and mostly enjoyed – any one else find the ending abrupt..?), and I was curious to check it out in person.  The presentation of the food was understated, but belied the happiness those simple dishes brought us (above, top right).  My fried oyster omelette – something I wouldn’t normally get, and gambled on – was phenomenal.

Momofuku Saam Bar – Damn.  David Chang knows what he is doing.  This was our favorite meal of the trip – hands down (above, bottom left and middle).  Everything from the signature pork-buns (a perfect example of the melding of his Korean heritage and southern upbringing) to the soft shell crab, to my brook trout – all of it was so flavorful, had great contrasts and surprises in each dish, and all the sauces were beautiful.  It is really hard to put into words – but it was one of those meals that makes you dance in your chair – it was that good.

Milk Bar – Also David Chang, and an excellent spot for coffee and a pastry in the morning, or for some ice cream after dinner at Momofuku across the street, which we did all of that in one day.  Cereal Milk soft serve is the signature – and so spot-on, like you froze the milk in your cereal bowl.  The other flavor of the day was Blueberry Miso – with the miso just giving it a nice balancing hint of savory (above, bottom right).

We were sad we didn’t have more time to make it to all the rest of his restaurants.  But, then again, it is always good to have a reason to go back to NYC.

Up next – posts from other parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn too…