I’m back and want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes over the weekend. Most importantly I want to thank Megs for an awesome trip up to New York to see our friends and family in and around the city. For those who don’t know Meg and I are both NY transplants, like everyone else in Cary (“Central Area for Relocated Yankees”). We typically make it back up to the city or Long Island once a year and 2010 is starting off right with one of our best trips back yet.
We flew in on Thursday and after a lightning fast cab ride met Megs cousin Kimmy and her man Dave at their sweet-ass place near Gramercy Park (unbelievable diggs). Our first order of business: dinner, a tapas place called Flor de Sol in Tribeca. This place had more mood-lighting than an Amsterdam Brothel, but rather than a filthy lap dance I sat down and had a fabulous meal. Candles were the only light source, creating a “speak-easy” atmosphere and easily the worst place to try and get a decent picture of the overwhelmingly good food…sorry dudes. On the other hand, I was able to score this sweet pic of the sangria, a chilling mix of Spanish wine and fruit with only a hint of sweetness. Our meal contained some staples like croquettas with pork, calamari and garlic aioli, patatas bravas, as well as some not-so-common dishes like stewed octopus in fresh olive oil, baked clams with Serrano ham, shrimp ceviche’, and a tres-leches cake that stole the show. 3 pitchers of sangria later and we called it a night, on to day two.
Friday started with a must, NYC bagels, double the size of the shwaggy brueggers variety around here and triple the flavor, not to mention the array of cream cheese “shhmeers” you could try like walnut raisin or Dave’s white fish (why can’t we get this stuff down here?).
That afternoon I met up with Bcole, a friend of ours from Cary, who moved to the city 2 years ago and knows his way around like a local. Our mission was to tackle China Town, to compare our Grand Asia Market with the real thing in NYC. Block after block of markets, medicinal shops, supply shops, we were like kids in a candy store. I got yelled at more than a few times for trying to take pics (hiding something, are we?) in the shops like the shady below-ground market we found (above) but I got a few shooting from the hip like some paparazzi stooge. For lunch, a closet-sized dumpling joint where you could grab 10 pork and chive dumplings for $2! I’m serious, we spent $6 and ate like Chinese royalty – minus the cool outfits. The dumplings were our favorite item but the steam buns were also delectable.
Before heading out we stepped literally across the street into Little Italy, sadly diminished from it’s early splendor, to grab a gelato. We also hit up Abraco Espresso for a shot of none other than Durham’s Counter Culture beans, as well as a crazy little spice shop selling over sized quantities of every herb, spice, powder, or seed known to man.
That night we took the LIRR into Babylon where my cousins picked us up and headed next door to West Islip for some family reunion fun. We all felt short handed after the wedding, getting only a few days to spend together, so we made sure to make our way out to the Island for some home cooking and family ball-busting. I swear, we spend almost more time at the table teasing each other and telling embarrassing stories than eating. My dad happened to be in NY so he made Linguine and Clams, basic but stellar with the addition of anchovies. My memories of eating at my Aunt Ro’s are filled with pastries, eating cannoli after cannoli until I got sick. My family obviously knows me all too well and had a Casata cake waiting (filled with layers of sweet ricotta like a cannoli) along with sesame cookies and fresh biscotti. Mille mille grazie to my family for an unforgettable night of laughs.
Saturday, my 25th B-Day (quarter century son!), was full of good friends, great food, and even better brews. We started off with a brunch at Petite Abrielle, a Belgian restaurant famous for their waffles and Belgian beer list. The waffles were much more delicate than I was expecting, light and airy but still very crunchy. I opted for the orig’ but the others seemed pretty damn content with their mountainous stacks of ice cream, fudge, strawberries, and hot fudge, it was like Ihop on steroids (above).
Next we were off to Union Square to peek around the farmers market. Tons of grass fed beef, organic pork, mushrooms, fresh baked bread and cookies, and more potato varieties than I’ve ever seen (also unexpected). Connected to Union Square is Heartland Brewery, a NYC chain of brew-pubs featuring some pretty tastey beers. The oatmeal stout was super complex, full of coffee/chocolate/oaty goodness. Even the Indian River Light, which I was given accidentally, was awesome with plenty of citrus and just the right amount of hops to make the mouth water for another.
Next we were off to Brooklyn for even more brews. 2 trains later and we were inside the Brooklyn Brewery sipping on unique brew-master flavors like Cookie-Jar and Back-Breaker. Cookie Jar was a little over the top, like a melted down ginger snap, but the Back-Breaker was a hearty brew full of roasted barely and biting hops. Sadly they closed their doors shortly after we arrived, but more brews were needed.
We walked along the East River with the city in gorgeous splendor lighting the way to The Diamond. A cheesy name but unforgettable pub, the beer list was 10 beers long, none of which I had ever heard of before. A strong 8.5% ale was a mere $7 accompanied by a cool bartender, shuffle board table, and small ski gondola to relax in outside. When you’ve had nothing but hearty beers and a tray of fine cheeses and salami, sitting in a freezing metal gondola in 35 degree weather with 4 great friends doesn’t seem so bad. Content with the damage done to the opposing shuffleboard competitors, we left Brooklyn bound for the east village and a restaurant called Crispo to meet Megs and her cousins.
Our meal at Crispo rivaled Meg and I’s meal last year at Batali’s Babbo. The atmosphere was very rustic Italian, brick walls, low lighting, the scent of Chianti and olives wafting thru the dining room, my kind of place. Our party was pretty large, 14 to be exact, so we had to split up but the meal made up for the lack of space. Our table began with 2 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino, a very very dry red wine from Tuscany that leaves your palate parched and eager for food (above). Starters: Olives, Potato Croquettes, Crispy Octopus (jaw dropping), Arancino, and my personal favorite Fresh Ricotta with olive oil and a little basil. The ricotta was the freshest thing I’ve had since leaving Italy, milky and light with none of the grainy texture you so often find in the store-bought variety. The octopus was also sublime, soft as a pillow but with a crunchy exterior, no idea how they did it. Everyone had pasta for their main, and obviously Crispo’s true strength. Among the fresh styles were agnolotti filled with pumpkin, gnocchi, trofie smothered in truffle oil and topped with prosciutto, all more delicious than the next. I went for another personal favorite, orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. The sausage was soft and full of fennel, the broccoli rabe sharp and wonderfully bitter. Disappointingly, the lighting in Crispo was almost as dark as Flor De Sol so I couldn’t snap any great food shots, and I don’t want to be the punk flashing off pics during every one’s dinner. The meal ended with everyone singing happy birthday and a round of Zeppole, an Italian doughnut basically, good but my moms are better. Easily one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot, molto molto bravo Crispo!
We tried to make it into a cool bar in the meat packing district after dinner but the line went around the block so we headed back uptown to close out the evening. The night ended with a few of us staggering to an Irish bar near Kimmy and Dave’s place. After 4 hours of shitty bar service and weak-sauce, half-filled Irish Car Bombs I had it out with the two dick-head bartenders (all verbally of course). Silly Irish, you really shouldn’t need an Italian living in NC to tell you how to make a proper Irish Car Bomb, but maybe one day you’ll take your head out of your arse’ and figure it out. Until then, steer clear of Failte Irish Bar on the lower West Side.
After a mere 4.5 hours of sleep I woke up, threw on some clothes and enjoyed a killer brunch with some of Megan’s family who drove in from Jersey and Staten Island. Bellies full of quiche, blintz, french toast, bagels, fruit, coffee cake, and a much needed Cuban coffee (courtesy of Dave) Meg and I were on our way to the airport. The weekend was one to remember, and the best birthday adventure a guy could ask for. Thanks again to all my family, friends, and Megan for making it unforgettable, we’ll be up again soon to relive the dream.