Of Mice and Marathons: Lessons Learned in New York City
13 Nov 2006

What a whirlwind of a trip. Four days in New York City is certainly not enough. Between the marathon and the meals, endless crosstown taxi rides, many miles put on the walking shoes, and even a quick show, there was hardly time to even take a breath. Thanks to all of the folks who made dining recommendations... I wish we could have tried all of them... or at least more than the one or two we managed to squeeze in... but our dinners were mostly booked ahead of time, and lunches... well, we sort of kept missing those from a timing perspective and just grabbed something quick wherever we were. One thing I definitely learned is that it requires much planning to eat in New York if you have a set list of restaurants in mind.

I also learned, yet again, how amazing my husband is. A big cheer goes out to him for beating his time goal for the marathon and still being able to walk to dinner that night and all around the Lower East Side and SoHo the next morning. Just watching the marathon, and rushing around to catch him running by in three different spots was exhausting for me... I can't imagine running 26.2 miles. Even Lance said it was the most difficult thing he's ever done physically. It's truly impressive, and I'm incredibly proud of Cam's accomplishment (in case you can't tell!) If you are interested in the run itself, do go check out Cam's wrap-up. Another thing I learned is that it's terribly difficult to get a great latte, especially in midtown. For great coffee, you need to head down to the Village (East or Greenwich) or even over to the Williamsberg area of Brooklyn. However, if you don't make it there, here are some coffee-finding tips for Manhattan. In Murray Hill, your best best is Oren's Daily Roast. The coffee is roasted, well, daily and the barista I had knew how to pull it well. I can't really recommend the lattes there despite this if you are someone who knows coffee. The problem isn't the coffee... it's the milk. Big ugly bubbles instead of velvety smooth microfoam covered the top of my latte which was made with milk that was far too hot. In fact, this turned out to be a running theme for my trip. After a bit more research, I headed down to The Blue Spoon in Tribeca, voted one of New York's best cups. Blue Spoon is a really cute little place, and they do make good coffee made from Intelligentsia beans (always a good sign). I watched the barista get some nice crema, and then watched her steam the milk. Better than Oren's, but she still lacked the proper technique. (Just so folks understand I'm not throwing stones... getting beautifully steamed milk is challenging. After a year of practicing on my home machine, I still get it right only about 50% of the time.) The resulting latte was very drinkable, but just didn't quite make it up to Seattle's indy coffee shop quality. My final attempt was at Orchard 88, a very comfy looking cafe right by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Again, there was nothing wrong with the beans, they just didn't get the milk quite right. Lesson learned? Either go to Joe's or 9th Street Espresso, or order an Americano. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack a bit. We arrived early in New York after taking the Jet Blue red-eye from Seattle, where neither of us got much sleep. Luckily, our room was available, so we got a few hours sleep. Before crashing however, we took a good inventory of the room. Another lesson learned: Avoid Hotels in New York... go for the apartments! Because we had Cam's parents meeting us and because it was the weekend of the New York City Marathon, all the hotels were both booked and ridiculously priced. Shelling out over $800 per night for two rooms you can hardly turn around in typically seems like par for the course in New York. But this time, we decided to look into short term apartment rentals, and we stumbled upon the Envoy Club. These apartments in Murray Hill are huge by New York Standards, with full kitchens (gas stove) and living areas, are well designed (and very clean), have comfortable beds, and full maid service (they even washed the dishes). Ours had a cool view of 1st Ave and two bedrooms and could sleep 6... all for under $400 per night. If you are heading to New York, this is the way to go. The only thing you miss out on is the hotel bar or restaurant, which you probably don't want to eat or drink at anyway. Now, onto the food. Sorry there aren't many photos this time. I just couldn't bring myself to drag the big camera out, and I'm hopeless with a point and shoot. (We picked up a bran-spanking new point and shoot camera on this trip, btw... I think it's going to be a good one, but I didn't have time to learn how to do all the cool manual stuff so it was pretty useless in dark restaurants.) So, I'm afraid to cover it all, you'll have to put up with the thousand words. And, since it's really quite hard to actually read through a thousand words in a single blog post, I'm going to post individual posts for the restaurant details. The rest of this post will just be a wrap-up, and I'll update it with the links to more info over the next few days. After awaking groggily from our nap, we headed out to get some supplies for the apartment and something quick to eat. Close by, there is a great little gourmet market called Todaro Brothers which I had found in the Slow Food Guide to New York. This market is tiny, but has an excellent deli with some beautiful cheeses and meats, and some nice bread choices. The prepared foods looked good too, although we didn't try any. Instead, we stocked up on the meats and cheeses for later, and headed around the corner to Pizza 33 for a slice. Great pizza, pre-cooked and crisped up in a wood fire oven. I won't say it's the best in New York, but it beats pretty handily any slice you can get in Seattle. Dinner that night was at a fairly new little spot in SoHo called Goblin Market. Fantastic meal, and I highly recommend this little gastropub. More on that meal here. Lunch (I don't usually eat breakfast) the next day was at the deli we always hit when we are in New York... Katz's. We avoid "the table" from the movie, and simply indulge in the melt in your mouth corned beef and some greasy and tasty latkes. Cam's parents, who had just arrived in town from PEI, split (one sandwich is plenty for two people if you have any sides) got the pastrami, after a little nudging from me, and were stuffed. Making my own corned beef is still on my list, but it's going to be hard to live up to Katz's example. Dinner on Friday night was funnily right down the street from Goblin Market, at a french bistro called Raoul's. Crowded and loud, the food was good and I'd go there again if I had friends that wanted to try it. But, it was probably my least favorite meal of the trip. More on that later. We pooched lunch on Saturday. After getting out of the apartment later than expected, an incredibly long cab ride across town, a run through the Javits Center to pick up Cam's marathon schwag, we walked over to Times Square and the theater district for a 2pm matinee. That ended up only leaving about 20 minutes for lunch, and we just picked a random pizza place for a slice. It wasn't very good, but it tied us over for the play. The play, by the way, was awesome. Nathan Lane staring in a dark comedy, Butley that was dark, vitriolic and incredibly well-acted and very, very funny. Don't expect to walk away smiling, but do go see it if you have a chance. After the play, traffic was nuts around the theater district (I guess that's no surprise, but we hadn't planned for it), so rather than heading back to the apartment to change for dinner, we had to just head down to Nolita directly. Dinner that night was at Mario Batali's Lupa, one of his more casual Italian spots. We arrived a bit early, and popped into one of the neighboring pubs, the Peculiar Pub, which was a very cool little dive with bottle cap art adorning the walls, and a choice from hundreds of different beers... I'd recommend the Brooklyn Lager, which they have on tap. Back at Lupa, our table was ready, and we sat down to a fantastic meal, definitely my favorite meal of the trip. I was a bit worried before hand that the Batali restaurants wouldn't live up to the hype... but I was happily surprised with Lupa. My next trip to NYC will definitely call for a repeat visit, or perhaps a trip to Babbo. More on Lupa soon. On to Sunday. Sunday was the day of the Marathon. Cam left the apartment around 6:15, and Cam's parents and I headed out for Brooklyn around 9:45. I had a list of possible cafes to stop in and grab lunch after seeing Cam out our pre-designated cheering zone. I made sure I had several choices in case time didn't go quite as planned and we either had too much time to kill between "Cam viewings" or not enough. Good thing too, because the subways took a bit longer than I expected and we had quite a bit of walking to do as well. So, lunch on Saturday, despite quite a bit of planning, turned into a quick coffee and pastry at Yura & Co at the corner of 3rd and 93rd. My brioche was quite tasty and flakey, and the scones that Cam's parents had looked nice as well. But, we were only there for a quick break before heading back to the race, where we just made it in the nick of time... well, 15 minutes before he ran past, which was a bit close for my liking. Post marathon and a bit of a rest for Cam, we headed up the street to Wolfgang's steak house. The owner and name-origin is from a former headwaiter at the (in)famous Peter Luger steakhouse in Brooklyn... arguably the best steaks in New York and some have argued the best steaks in the US. We thought about going there, but decided against the trek out to Brooklyn and weren't too keen on the cash-only policy. Reviews I'd seen of Wolfgangs said that the steaks were 95% as good, they took credit cards and, key for Cam that night, one of the two locations was only 5 blocks away. It was a great choice. Our waiter was a character, and the food was delicious. Huge, but delicious. More on that later, but the short story is that if you are looking for a great steak in New York, you won't be disappointed with Wolfgang's porterhouse for two. Cam's parents headed home on Monday morning, and Cam and I went out walking, and to try to hit a few places on my food list. After grabbing a coffee at Blue Spoon, we walked up through Chinatown and after checking out several restaurants, decided on New Green Bo and proceeded to order WAY too much food. The steamed pork dumplings were amazing, and would have been more than enough for the two of us for lunch. More on New Green Bo soon. A bit more walk was needed after the filling lunch so we could eat more, and we headed up to the area around the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in search of some gelato and pastries. I was hoping to stop into Babycakes, since I had heard so much about these yummy vegan treats, but sadly, they were closed. Happily, though, I stumbled on a cool home store on the corner called Home Economics. Loads of cool tableware and other funky (photo worthy) home stuff. I just picked up a few inexpensive pieces of silver plated flatware, but I could have gone nuts. It's probably a good thing that I didn't see the little cart they had outside full of vintage pie tins in great condition until I had already bought the flatware.
Just around the corner from there sits Il Laboratorio del Gelato, the much hyped gelato store that serves many of the restaurants in New York. Their retail shop is tiny, and we were both disappointed to see that they didn't have any of the mint chocolate chip available in cones, as we had fallen in love with it at Goblin Market earlier in the trip. But, I was very happy with my huge scoop of dark chocolate cinnamon, which tasted like the best mexican hot cocoa, and Cam had no problem polishing off his combination of a scoop of chocolate hazelnut and a scoop of espresso. Next time, we have to go there first and pick up an 18oz container to take back to the apartment. It's definitely worth a trip to pick some up. With about an hour to kill before we needed to head out to the airport, we decided to stop in for a beer back at the Peculiar Pub in Nolita. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we walked up the block to the Back Fence, a peanut shell and sawdust on the floor kind of place. They had just opened (it was about 4), and we were the only folks in the bar for a while. It was a very funny spot. They have live music at night, which looks like it would be pretty good, but at that time of the day, the TV is on and and blasting the History Channel, so we learned all about Ramses the Second and then about Nefertiti while we had our beers and nibbled on salted peanuts that the bar tender gave us calling them "American Sushi" (I think it should have been American Edamame...). As we were sitting there, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see just about the cutest little field mouse scurrying along under the tables. I guess that's not the best thing in the world for a bar, but somehow it seemed to fit the place's barnyard feel. And with that, we headed out to the airport for the long flight home. A big cheers to you if you actually made it this far! You must really be interested in New York Restaurants!

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