Category Archives: New York City

Wandering downtown – NYC

3E2B0234-9648-432F-9637-74D07EFB5A27I 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. 


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The black model show at Columbia University’s new Wallach Art Gallery – NYC

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.

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When next in NYC, LA, SF or London – April Bloomfield’s picks

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.


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David Hockney retrospective and a “highlights tour” at the Met – NYC

1hockney.jpgI 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.


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NYC Restaurant hopping in the Village —Prune, The Spotted Pig, Snack Taverna

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.

Spotted pig

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PJ Bernstein’s, Pomodoro Rossi, new Q subway, gotham Hall, Central Synagogue– NYC

We love NYC but hope to get home to Des Moines tonight on this dreary rainy day. Our flight is already delayed so we aren’t sure we will make our connection in St. Louis. Other than that, we had a great time. We were surprised to enjoy our two visits to Central Synagogue so much. It turned out to be a spectacular Sephardic temple on 55th and Lexington, run by a smart charismatic group of women rabbis and cantors who we’re warm, friendly, and sing beautifully. The lead rabbi was also Asian. Another surprise.  The party was held at Gotham Hall, an imposing former bank (I’m told) on 36th and Broadway and 6th Avenue, near the original Macy’s. It has a huge domed ceiling below which some 300 or so of us ate, danced and partied until after midnight.

Breakfast at PJ Bernsteins

Last night we had good Italian food at Pomorodo Rossi, a neighborhood place on Columbus and 71st or so, can conveniently located near my relatives apart. Good pasta with seafood and a light red sauce, grilled artichoke and an outdoor table where we had a rare and wonderful dinner with our dear friends Myra and mike who won the good friend award for driving in from Connecticut.

At Pomodoro Rossi, Columbus Avenue

Today, we met my brother at The Whitney Museum, our favorite place to hang out on a rainy Monday. This time we saw the Biennial exhibit which had some challenging stuff, as expected. Lunch was lobster bisque and a shared crab cake sandwich at Lobster Place in Chelsea Market.

Noshing on Schnecken at Greenbergs, Madison Ave. in 80s

at Lobster Place, Chelsea Market

On the east side, we had corned beef and breakfast at PJ Bernsteins on 3rd, morning pastries on Lexington at Corrado Bakery and coffee served by Aussies at Heavenly Rest Stop at 91st and Fifth, in an alcove of a fancy church by the same name.

Heavenly Rest Stop, Upper East Side

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Gansevoort Market, new subway station at northern end of The High Line, Bryant Park holiday fair, subterranean Japanese restaurant

Another cherished post-Thanksgiving adventure with  Myra during which two old friends from college catch up while wandering around a great American city, noshing, window-shopping, people-watching, architecture-admiring, restaurant-searching, laughing, lamenting, reminiscing, dreaming and occasionally searching for a decent public bathroom (Penn Station had to do this time). Among the highlights (beyond the great company):

Bry;ant Park

Bryant Park

Gansevoort Market, a “rustic industrial” food court on 14th street, small, manageable, calm, excellent poke at Gotham Pike.

Dirck and Myra eating Poke at Gansevort Market's Gotham Pike

Dirck and Myra eating Poke at Gansevoort Market’s Gotham Pike

The High Line, which never disappoints, especially on a beautiful afternoon. There are always new art installations when I return, even after just a few months. And more work has been completed since my last visit in September on the retro-looking building with wide oval windows designed by the late Zaha Hadid. This time we found the attractive, European-feeling  new 34 St-Hudson Yards 7 Subway Station, with its cool mosaic tile domed ceiling underground. (Opened in 2015, the station is the first new one in NY in 26 years.)photojavitz

– The crafts at the holiday fair at Bryant Park were generally less impressive than those at the holiday fair at Grand Central Station, but what a lovely scene with the pretty ice skating rink, holiday lights and wreath-festooned stone lions at the foot of the New York Public Library.  Also appreciated the inventiveness of the food vendors including one cooking unlikely creations with matzoh. Yes matzoh.

Myra at Sawagura!

Myra at Sakagura!

Sakagura, a remarkably authentic Japanese restaurant (including classic interactive, water-spraying Japanese toilets) in the basement of a drab building just east of Grand Central. Who knew? Apparently a lot of people, including many people of Japanese descent. The place was packed. I almost felt like I was back in Kyoto, without the around-the-world flight. Instead, we walked down two flights of steps akin to the kind found in an aging middle school basement.

Japanese toilet!

Japanese toilet!

Earlier in the day, my cousin took us on a fascinating tour of the production “commissary” of Juice Press, in a cool Long Island City marketplace.photo1

Juice press tour with the family!

Juice Press tour with the family!


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