I got a chance to do what I love to do most in NYC (besides seeing old friends and family): Wandering around interesting pockets of the city.
One day, I started at the Bleeker Street subway station and stopped for what turned out to be a giant breakfast at Russ & Daughters Cafe. (I took about half of my eggs/onion/lox and salad to go and left it at Union Square, hoping a hungry person would eat it…) D and I then wandered around the Lower East Side up to the East Village and ended up at Union Square and the holiday crafts market, where I also found some mutsu apples at the farmer’s market.
The second day, I started at the Spring Street station and wandered south into Little Italy and Chinatown, then a little west to Soho (western section is still charming, along Thompson and Sullivan/Spring and Prince Streets) and then up to Greenwich Village/NYC, stopping for a nutritious lunch (not) of a chocolate chip cookie and coffee at the wonderful old Vesuvio bakery storefront on Prince Street (now technically the Birdbath Bakery despite the iconic storefront from the 1920s) and admiring a gated mews lined with pretty old carriage houses, MacDougal Alley, just north of Washington Square Park. Reminded me, fondly, of London. I lingered in front of 1 Fifth Avenue, an elegant old building where my parents got married (when it was a hotel, I believe). Then I ended up at The Strand bookstore and at Union Square where I caught the #6 subway back to the Upper East Side.
Noshing on the Upper East Side included a delicious perfectly cooked (medium rare) half pound hamburger at EJ’s Luncheonette and kreplach soup and a corned beef sandwich (shared) at P.J. Bernstein’s.
We arrived in NYC the Sunday afternoon post-Thanksgiving with just enough time to hustle up to 129th street and Broadway to see an art exhibit I really wanted to see (but is closed Monday and Tuesday, our two days in NYC). For maybe 40 years, a poster of Manet’s “Olympia” has hung on my bedroom wall. I love the audacious look of the nude reclining woman receiving flowers from a lover. Or so I believed that to be the story.
There is a lot more to it, as I learned from this show “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today,” which starts with a focus on the black maid who delivers the flowers to the white Olympia ( who I learned is a prostitute). Apparently the portrayal of the maid is a milestone in the representation of black women, i.e. a more respectful and noble depiction than past portrayals and one that paved the way for others like it to come. Matisse apparently also had a few favorite black models who he portrayed respectfully (or relatively). One of the major portraits displayed looked very familiar. Turns out it is a painting from the Des Moines Art Center. This is the second time this year that something like this has happened. The first was at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark where I spotted a Des Moines Art Center painting in a retrospective show of work by Gabrielle Munter. Must admit, I did not think the woman in the Matisse was black. Or white. The exhibit included a photo of the stunning black woman who served as the model for the painting.
This free exhibit also had some interesting modern day pieces including several takes on Olympia. My favorite was a a black Olympia receiving flowers from a white maid.
The gallery is in a new modern extension of the Columbia University campus, in a gentrifying area of Harlem. Nearby on Broadway south of 125th we found some interesting looking ethnic restaurants. Dinner, however, was back on the East Side near where we are staying, at Bella Blue (Italian fare) with our dear friends Myra and Mike who made the trek in from Connecticut. Loved seeing them…and briefly their fab son Dan.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Water Mill, we made our annual visit to the amazing book sale at the Southampton Public Library where often newly released books can be found for a fraction of their original cost.
Then for something new, seven of us crammed into a wooden booth at Sip n’Soda, the local soda fountain (since 1958) for some no frills food that was pretty good including crisp onion rings, good malts and shakes and a decent BLT and burger. We liked the old fashioned no frills vibe, the long counter, the booths.
We also had a lovely walk along the beach in Wainscott, a three minute walk from the sweet cottage where we stayed this year (my favorite of the many borrowed digs we have stayed at out here). The weather finally warmed, the sun was out and we walked to nearby Georgica Pond.
Filed under DINING, New York
This from a NYTimes Q and A with chef April Bloomfield, whose restaurants we’ve recently gone to (Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall; the Spotted Pig in NYC).
London recommendations: in Hackney, Violet (cute tea shop/bakery); in Shoreditch, Lyle’s (“clean simple food”)
In LA: Hearth& Hound (her new place in Hollywood for “wood-fired food.”)
In San Francisco: her place, Tosca Cafe or Marin Brewing Company (in Marin)
In NYC: her places – Breslin Bar & Dining or the John Dory in Flatiron district; White Gold Butchers, Salvation Taco.; recommendations – Kunjip in Koreatown.
I arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a Monday morning just as a free tour was starting, focusing on “museum highlights.” Curious about what constitutes a “highlight,” I joined the one-hour tour and saw things I’ve never seen during many previous wanderings around the Met. Later I asked our guide if the highlights vary by guide and tour and she said “yes.” Which only makes sense – there are far too many highlights to pack into one hour. We made six stops (I dutifully wrote them down on a brochure and then left my list, by mistake, in a bathroom) – I knew only the last piece well, because, interestingly, it was a 2007 mural by the Ghana-born Nigerian artist El Anatsui, who had a big exhibit several years ago at…the Des Moines Art Center. Other works included a 17th century painted Japanese screen, Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream, 1899, (of a black man aboard a ship in very rough seas), the Velasquez portrait of Juan de Pareja (1650) , an ancient Virgin and Child carved wood reliquary (late 1100’s) and a reproduction of an 1884 Rodin statue (Burghers of Calais.)
Schnechen “snail” at Greenberg’s
From there I went to my original destination – the David Hockney retrospective which I recommend also. His bright colorful paintings of Los Angeles, in particular, are enough to bring cheer on a drab winter day (not to mention the sunny fall day when I saw them). Here’s the original of a poster I have had hanging in my office for years. (The colors in mine, I realize now, have faded).
I also stopped for a little schnecken at Greenberg’s bakery on Madison Avenue, near the Met. And enjoyed the warm artichoke salad with my wonderful Aunt Shelby at Bella Blue on Lexington and 70th.
Outside Snack Taverna, West Village
I have wanted to eat at the tiny East Village restaurant Prune ever since I read Blood, Bones and Butter, the well-written, compelling memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner/chef of Prune. Yesterday I finally did and loved it. My pal Myra and I may need to make this the annual dining spot at the end of our much-cherished post-Thanksgiving rendezvous. The food was outstanding — unique and memorable without being fussy or out there — and the service was welcoming, warm and attentive. Did we want bread to sop up the one or two spoonful left of our mussel and leek stew? our server inquired. Yes. Please.
Prune, at last
We arrived when it opened for dinner at 5:30 (Myra had an early train to catch) and the place was empty but it soon started filling up and we were glad we made a last minute reservation. Soon the dozen or so tables were full and single people sat comfortably at the bar. Several customers seemed to be regulars and were greeted by name or even a kiss by wait staff. Felt like a neighborhood handout. Myra and I shared everything (except her martini and my beer): creamy white parsley root soup with a flavor-packed piece of crispy chicken skin; fried oysters with a white creamy herb sauce; the light and delicious stew; a side of crispy grilled onions and garlic, and for dessert a rectangular “crouton” topped with a light caramel sauce and a scoop of ricotta ice cream. We will be back.
Earlier during our wander around the West Village, we stopped for a drink at another tiny restaurant, The Spotted Pig, that has long been on my list, run by another female chef, April Bloomfield. At 4 p.m. the bar was full, as were a few tables. Cheerful cozy place. The menu is more English fare, somewhat pricey but hope to return. We ate a light lunch at Snack Taverna, which was surprisingly good considering that we just stumbled in, lured by little beyond an empty table (actually all the tables were empty, which usually is uninviting). This place seemed to be doing an good take out business. We had good solid Greek-with-an-earthy-flair food: a light country Greek salad (no lettuce; a slab of fresh feta) and spinach feta leek triangles. Myra had a yummy egg atop polenta with a delicious light sauce. Around the block we found Westville, the restaurant I am always looking for but I can never remember the name or street. Glad to try something new.
Stayed at yet another borrowed mansion in the Hamptons this Thanksgiving, this one overlooking the exclusive Georgica Pond neighborhood (home to Grey Gardens and folks like Steven Spielberg) although I didn’t realize at first where I was riding the mansion’s borrowed bike. The caretaker suggested I take the bike for a spin so I rode on a pleasantly flat road through the woods to a road that seemed to lead to a body of water. I did see a private sign but also a welcome sign to an estate sale or tour so I rode on in past a few cedar shingled houses, typical fancy Hamptons stuff, and onto the beach which I thought would be a bay but soon realized was Georgica Pond. It was me and the sea birds. No other sign of life as I rode on the sand in the no speed fat tire, wide seat, bike. When the sand started getting soupy and I could find no quasi-public exit, I made a quick dash through someone’s back yard, pushing the bike up to the main road and out.
I soon found Beach Lane, a far more welcoming road to ride, wide, flat, leading straight to the ocean. Gentle wind, sun-soaked, the road was dotted with the occasional mansion, farm-stand and old gnarly-trunked tree. I parked my bike and walked out toward the crashing waves.