Sunday, October 26, 2014

NYC: Visit/Re-visit

It's been two weeks since we returned from New York City for my 9th and Gary's 1st New Yorker Festival.  It was a weekend of returns and revisits for me, and while Gary had been to NYC before, it had been a working trip and he didn't have time to explore too much so we had a lot of fun visiting my usual haunts. Perfect weather, a great apartment in Chelsea through Airbnb for our stay, a Broadway musical which I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did, really entertaining New Yorker Festival events, and a travel companion who is game for anything and easy-going about everything.

When we arrived on Thursday evening, we tried to get a spot at the bar at trendy Spice Market which was about a block from where we were staying, but there wasn't even a small chance that that was going to happen, so we walked down the street until we came to The Chester which was in the Gansevoort Hotel, where I had last been with Jenine in 2010. That time we went to the roof, this time we stayed on the ground, and had a couple good but not especially noteworthy plates from the appetizer menu... not especially noteworthy, that is, until we ordered dessert. Sometimes I enjoy a fruit dessert. Sometimes. But I'm more of a chocolate and cream kind of girl. Sure, sometimes in the height of summer there's a strawberry tart or some such that sounds good, and I actually really like making fruit tarts my own self, but as Gary commented even as we found ourselves being inexplicably drawn to the baked apple tart with caramel and vanilla ice cream with some kind of crunchy butterscotch bits in the pastry topping, "why would anyone cook apples?" a sentiment I had to agree with, but we took a shot and were mightily rewarded. Really, one of the best desserts we'd ever had.

the spectacular kouign-amman, or DKA if you're in Soho
On Friday morning, we revisited the Dominique Ansel Bakery, hoping for perhaps a cronut, but as cronut-fever has not yet died down and I still refuse to line up for a pastry, we left quite satisfied after a couple of DKAs and lovely little egg-souffle sandwiches.

Following our petite déjeuner, we hopped on the subway and went uptown to Central Park. I had taken a walking tour of the park on a previous trip, but this one hit a few different places including Strawberry Fields (and it was the day after John Lennon's birthday) and was just as interesting - and it was a gorgeous day for a walk in the park.
statue of Hans Christian Anderson, not to be confused with... 
...this one at Legoland
"...all the people, living life in peace..."
one of several brides we saw in the park that day
Bow Bridge
according to our guide, Jerry Seinfeld lives in this building

Friday night was our first New Yorker event, an interview with Bill Hader who took a break from rehearsals for hosting Saturday Night Live to pop over for the interview. He looked a little haggard from the grueling rehearsal schedule, but was as funny as ever. He talked about his beginnings in Tulsa and moving to L.A. in hopes of becoming a film maker, and how the meeting with Lorne Michaels came totally out of the blue, but really, all anyone wanted to hear about was Stefon. And he didn't disappoint - he gave us the origin story: a barista at a coffee shop he used to frequent gave him the voice, the look, and the attitude; the club-craziness came from an actual invite to a club opening he got, which among other enticements included, "... rooms filled with broken glass." It was a very entertaining start to the New Yorker Fest, followed by a really good Sri Lankan dinner at a place just a few blocks from the apartment. Banana Leaf wasn't as good as my mom's cooking, but it was still very authentic and good, and I love that this is the third Sri Lankan restaurant I've been to in New York City.
Lizzie Widdicomb and Bill Hader

On Saturday we got up a bit late, but the beauty of staying in the heart of Chelsea is that you can just run downstairs and grab coffee practically right outside the door, and of course there's a deli within half a block where an egg sandwich can be had for a couple bucks, so we had breakfast on the go, went to a couple of art galleries, and then went to [the dreaded] Times Square to see if we could get a matinee ticket to something at the TKTS booth. The line wasn't unbearably long and we ended up with tickets to "Jersey Boys." Not a show near the top of my list, but that's what we got, and it was fantastic. Even if the story of how a bunch of hoods from Jersey became a top selling musical act in the '60s hadn't been entertaining (it was), the high caliber, full band music with phenomenal harmonizing in a small-to-medium-sized theater just about blew our pants off. And the star... Ryan Molloy - his voice was like crystal; it was clear and sharp and it had an inexplicable sparkle to it. This was made all the more incredible by my just looking him up on Wikipedia and finding out that he's British.

Our New Yorker event on Saturday night was a debate moderated by David Remnick ("in what might be a career-ending move") on a simple topic: which are better, dogs or cats? On the side for dogs, a distinguished team led by Adam Gopnik at his most hilarious and including Malcolm Gladwell (who went so far as to posit that cats are a threat to national security - "it's not that they can't sniff out bombs, it's that they wont."), Jill Abramson (guess she's got quite a bit of time on her hands these days), Bill Berloni (an animal trainer for Broadway and film), Jerry Coyne (an evolutionary scientist), and Alexandra Horowitz (an animal behaviorist) argued that dogs are superior to cats; while Anthony Lane, Jesse Eisenberg (in a very funny video message in which he may or may not have been held captive by his cat, Mr. Trunkles), Ariel Levy, Joyce Carol Oates, and Anthony Hutcherson (a breeder of "Bengal cats" - don't ask), argued for cats. The verdict was made by audience applause and the dogs won by a [dog] hair.

Saturday was a long night because after Cats vs. Dogs, we had just enough time to grab something to eat and then go back to the theater for an interview with Mindy Kaling. I've loved Mindy's wacky sensibilities since her days on and writing for "The Office," I read her book and found it hugely entertaining (and was thrilled to death when no fewer than three friends mentioned that they heard my voice in their heads while reading her book - I'd long since determined that she was my evil twin), and I find her new show hilarious and clever. Her interview was funny and somehow comically serious. She talked about working hard, her immigrant parents, having to audition to play herself in a sitcom she'd developed (and not getting the part), and how much fun she was having making out with actors on her show. Emily Nussbaum, on the other hand, cemented her place on Peter's and my sh** list (Nancy Franklin, why did you leave us??). Peter and I seemed to always agree with and trust Nancy's judgement in her New Yorker pieces (she was the TV critic until 2011) while Emily just doesn't have the same taste; forgivable, certainly, but what wasn't forgivable was the fact that during her introduction of Mindy, she got the title of Mindy's book -- her New York Times bestselling book -- she got the title wrong, TWICE. Mindy corrected her the second time, but she was dead to me after that. 

On Sunday we had two events, a discussion called "Fly Me to the Moon" which was about civilian space travel, mining hydrogen on the moon in order to set up rocket refueling stations in space, and colonizing Mars. The colony on Mars should be ready by 2024 so sign up now. We had just enough time after that to head uptown, grab a slice, and make it to a different theater for a discussion about travel writing by several journalists including Paul Theroux. I've always found his writing to be on the dry side, and he was equally dry in person. The three younger writers were interesting and engaging, Gary Shteyngart was hilarious as usual, while Paul played the part of the cranky old uncle rallying against the use of electronic devices (admonishing Elif Batunam's use of digital pen which makes her handwritten notes appear on her tablet, with the dismissive, "and then what do you do when your battery dies?" She looked at him incredulously for a second but didn't answer; I really wish she'd just said, "I charge it.") After that, we walked back toward Soho, stopping back at Uniqlo to pick up some pants I'd bought on Friday that were being hemmed, and then headed back to the apartment and then to the Upper West Side for dinner at Shake Shack. The place was crowded but not nearly as crowded as the one in Midtown - you couldn't pay me to stand in that line, but two seats opened up just as we got our food. The burgers were as good as I remembered but I'm sad to report that the fries, while now "fresh cut" were just not as crispy as the previous/frozen variety. I have always found fresh cut fries to be overrated unless they are fried twice and no fast-food place is going to do that; frozen fries tend to be way crispier and I give a thumbs down to this change at Shake Shack. It's always fun hanging out on the UWS, though - such a neighborhood-y feel. 

On Monday, we got up a bit late, finished packing, and had a late lunch at Papatzul which I'd been to several times before; the carnitas tacos did not disappoint. After that, it was back to SoHo to pick up our bags, subway to Grand Central, Airporter to LaGuardia, and back to Birmingham. It was a great trip.