Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Greatest City in the World

If you ask me what is your favorite city, New York is definitely one of them. There is something about that city that just makes my heart sing and puts a smile on my face. I catch myself walking the streets saying out loud “I love, love, love New York” every time I am there. And although I love it no matter what time of year and every season has its own attraction, during Christmas time New York City is my absolute favorite and to me without a doubt the most beautiful city in the world. So when earlier this year a friend told me she would love to go Christmas shopping in New York, I didn’t hesitate too long. So tickets booked, hotel reserved and in the middle of December off we were for three days of fun, food and shopping.

An uneventful flight from SFO put us in Newark at 5 and by 6 we were in Manhattan. After checking into the hotel, we decided to walk to 5th Avenue to have a first look at the Christmas tree on Rockefeller Plaza, figuring that would get us into the Christmas spirit. It was a real winter evening, no snow but cold and clear. Rockefeller Plaza was crowded, but the decorations were as always stunningly beautiful and worth battling the crowds.

Walking out in the cold night and standing at Rockefeller Plaza watching the people ice skating under the tree, we realized that we were not prepared for the New York winter and our first stop after Rockefeller Plaza was the Esprit store on 5th avenue to buy gloves, scarves and hats. Bundled up and warm now, we walked down 5th avenue, admiring the beautifully decorated shops and windows. Our plan was to have dinner in the Campbell apartments in Grand Central Station. I had been there during one of my previous trip in New York with my friend Bina and I thought the cozy atmosphere with the wooden panels and comfy couches would be the perfect place for our first night in the city. Unfortunately, when we got there, they had a private function so we had to come up with a backup plan. We had walked by a tapas restaurant called La Fonda del Sol just before we got to the Campbell Apartments and as it was already 8 and we were hungry, we decided not to look any further so tapas it was. It was a Thursday night and the place was buzzing but we were lucky and they had a table and could seat us immediately. We ordered drinks and studied the tapas menu. It all looked really good and we ordered several small plates: the queso croquetas, braised lamb sliders and the empanadas. Our stomachs filled with food and warmed up by our drinks, we decided to brave the cold and walk back to our hotel.

Early Friday morning I walked from the hotel the 10 blocks to my business appointment. My purchases from the previous night proved to be money well spent as the temperature had dropped to 24 degrees. Dressed in my business suit, wool coat with my new scarf, gloves (no hat as it would ruin my hair) and my red purse over my shoulder, walking on 8th avenue I felt like a real New Yorker. That afternoon after I got back from my meetings, we checked out of our hotel as we were staying at the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Station the next 2 nights. After checking in the hotel and dropping off our bags, we decided to walk to Central Park and on our way take some more pictures of the Christmas decorations on 5th avenue.

I had tried to get reservations at Balthazar for that night, but they were booked and browsing the internet earlier in the week, I had come across another French bistro, Artisanal ( It had really good reviews and it was close to our hotel, so that was the plan for dinner on Friday night. And we didn’t regret our choice, we had a great night. After we got seated at our table we looked around the busy restaurant and agreed you could easily imagine yourself to be in a brasserie in Paris.

The food was excellent. I had the Foi Gras Rilettes as a starter, my friend had the salade frisee with bacon and poached egg; both to die for. For my main course I ordered the steak tartare with frites. I normally don’t order steak tartare unless I am in France but I have to say that although my favorite is still at Brasserie Lipp on the Blvd St. Germain, this was a great steak tartare. And the French fries were exactly the way they are supposed to be. Too full and satisfied to walk back, we took a taxi back to our hotel where we had a night cap in the new hotel bar to wake up the next morning ready for a day of shopping.

We started our day at the Starbucks on Park Avenue on our way to Macys on 34th street. After a joyful morning shopping on 34th street we were drawn back to 5th avenue. That proved to be a mistake. We could barely move among the masses that were out. We managed to see the windows at Saks and admire Trump tower, drop into Tiffanies and do some shopping before we decided to leave 5th avenue and walk down the relatively quiet Madison Avenue back to the hotel. Saturday night dinner was booked at Mr. Chow in Tribeca (  another restaurant introduced to me by my friend Bina. We had planned to taking the train down to Tribeca. From our hotel we walked into Grand Central Station and took the shuttle to Times Square where we got out so we could look around and take pictures.

We got back on the train towards Brooklyn. I felt even more like a real New Yorker when a family on the train asked me for directions. We got out at Chambers Street and walked the couple of blocks to Mr. Chow on Hudson Street. After we got seated the waiter brought us our menus and to my surprise he recognized me and said “you were here a couple of months ago and sat at that table over there.” Pointing at the round table in the corner and then when I tried to order the chicken curry appetizers, he shook his head and told us “no, you tried to order those last time and I told you no, it’s still no.” I have to say that I was impressed. We ordered the duck pot stickers, the scallion pancakes and the glazed prawns with walnuts as appetizers and the duck with fried rice for the main course. As the last time it was all excellent and the service was impeccable.

Sunday morning we had planned to start the day shopping in SoHo and then go to Eataly. But overnight the rain had arrived. We decided to take our umbrella and brave the weather, so we took line 6 down to Spring Street. But after we got out and started walking and were blown away by the wind and felt miserable in the rain, we decided this was no fun and that we would go for breakfast and then take the train back up, skip SoHo and go to Eataly instead. We found a nice restaurant called Delicatessen on Prince Street and we both had the eggs benedict. Our next stop was Eataly, the new Italian indoor market in the Village on 23rd and 5th created by Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batalo, Joe Bastianich and Lydia Matticchio Bastianich . I was a bit skeptical when I had read about it a couple of months before, but it is a very nice set up. Various food areas with tables so people can sit and eat and try Italian food and wines, alternated with areas with groceries, fresh pasta, Italian kitchen accessories and even a fresh bakery, meat and fish section. We happily browsed for a couple of hours regretting the fact that we had just had breakfast so we were too full to sample any of the food.

After some more shopping at the mall on Columbus circle, regretfully it was time to leave and fly back to California after a wonderful couple of days in New York City.

If you ever want to get into the Christmas feeling, go to New York in December, I can ensure you, you will have an absolute blast.

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