Autumn is one of my favourite times to go travelling, and it’s a particularly good season to visit New York. The weather is generally perfect for walking around (unless of course Hurricane Sandy hits the city). It’s sunny but not too hot, and it doesn’t rain much either. Autumn and spring were always the best seasons for me when New York was my home. Having just come back from the latest trip, my mind is full of wonderful memories.
As always, the week’s schedule was packed with things to do. We caught up with old friends and ate at some great restaurants, including abc Cocina (abc Kitchen with Latin influences), Red Rooster (comfort food in Harlem – try the fried yardbird), Charlie Bird (local neighbourhood restaurant with great pasta but overly loud music), Sushi Samba (an old favourite, try the yuzu cheesecake or mochi dessert), Rosa Mexicano (another old favourite, particularly for the incredible freshly prepared guacamole) and Momofuku noodle bar (not as good as last year). The NoMad in comparison was rather underwhelming and over-hyped in my opinion). Strangely though, these meals don’t really fall into my top ten list, nor do I feel like writing lengthy posts about them. Instead, here are my top ten favourite New York experiences of the trip, in no particular order:
Visit ‘Little Italy’, Arthur Avenue, The Bronx
This trip deserves its own post, but for now I shall just say that despite a somewhat nerve-racking walk down East 188th St after a subway ride on the D train, visiting Little Italy in the Fordham area of The Bronx was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done in New York. Turning the corner onto Arthur Avenue, you suddenly find yourself in a completely different world full of Italian bakeries, butchers, cheese shops, delicatessens and restaurants, some of them over a century old. Italian-Americans from other states were stocking up on their weekly provisions and relaxing over a leisurely lunch before driving home, while local firefighters parked their fire engine along the road to pick up their sandwiches from Mike’s Deli. We visited Madonia Bakery, open since 1916, to buy some of their famous biscotti – Napolitano and also toasted almond – which we’re eating on a daily basis back at home. Lunch at Zero Otto Nove was superb. The husband pronounced his quattro formaggio pizza as one of the top three of all time (the other two were eaten in Italy over many years of travel), while I had the spaghetti and meatballs special, served with fresh ‘day’ ricotta from Casa della Mozzarella, who supply the restaurant with all their cheese. We’ve been telling all our friends in New York about Arthur Avenue and highly recommend it as a half day trip. More on this soon…
Tuck in at Madison Square Eats
This is a ‘semi-annual culinary pop-up market’ at Madison Square Park, according to its website. It’s now in its fifth year and I first came across it last September, but was always passing by on the way to eat somewhere else. This autumn I was determined to try it out, so I cancelled our Sunday brunch booking at Union Square Cafe to make room for it. It was impossible to try all the food stalls but we managed quite well. Roberta’s Pizza is a must unless you have time to go to the Brooklyn restaurant (take the L train to Morgan Avenue). They apparently serve some of the best pizzas in the city and we don’t disagree. We tried the Famous O.G. and the Speckenwolf. Red Hook Lobster Pound is another must-visit stall, where I had a huge and extremely meaty Maine lobster roll. The husband visited Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen twice (he sneaked one in straight after dinner at NoMad) for their excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. We also found room for four types of mini doughnuts at Doughnuttery – Paris Time (lavender, pistachio, vanilla), House of Cardamom (cardamom, orange zest), Bam Berry (blueberry, acai, maqui berry) and Rosemary Road (rosemary, roasted cornmeal, fig). Finally, we bought Momofuku Milk Bar crack pie and cookies (compost, corn and cereal) to take to a friend’s house after lunch. It was an opportunity to visit some of New York’s best food establishments all in one location. Unfortunately by the time you read this, the event will be over (it ends on 25 October). On the other hand, you can visit Broadway Bites, also organised by the same people, which starts on 28 October and runs to 24 November!
Take the D train to Coney Island & Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
This can be done as a half day or full day trip, depending on your schedule. Although the beach is closed after Labor Day and not open again until the following year, the rides are still in operation, including the ancient-looking Cyclone, and the restaurants and food stalls are all open. Allow about an hour on the D train each way from central Manhattan. Eat at Nathan’s Famous before the queues become too long. The business started in 1916 on Coney Island with just one hot dog stand and now you can find Nathan’s outlets all over the country. The hot dog is great (you have to ask for sauerkraut and/or fried onions when you order), as was the warm lobster roll and fried fish sandwich. I wasn’t too sure about the plastic cheese on the fries, but these were also gobbled up. At $20, it was the cheapest lunch of our trip and just right for the location. The Boardwalk stroll down to Brighton Beach and back again was fascinating, particularly given the husband’s penchant for street photography. Sections appeared to be naturally divided between various diverse groups and sub-groups, including fishermen guarding their spot on the pier, homeless people under a covered deck and local Russian residents on their favourite benches. Unfortunately we were too full from Nathan’s to eat at a Brighton Beach restaurant, so that’s another experience for the next trip
Breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company, Lower East Side
We ate here last September and so we’ve only waited just over a year for exactly the same breakfast! Last year we turned up at 08.30 on a weekday to avoid the legendary queues and were immediately shown to the best table by the window behind the bar, away from the main eating area. This Monday, we arrived just after 08.00 to be shown to the same table, where we were served by the same waitress and ordered the same breakfast – wild Maine blueberry pancakes with warm maple butter for the husband and crispy potato pancakes with caramelised apple sauce and cinnamon sour cream for me. Both dishes were just as perfect as we remembered. By the way, if you can’t bear to eat so early or queue for hours at the weekend for brunch, it’s worth knowing that you can book for dinner, when they serve…pancakes (both styles) if you fancy them! Their buttermilk fried chicken dinner looks fantastic too, so next time we’re going to have dinner there
Spot fire stations and fire engines
You can’t live in New York and not encounter firefighters at least a few times. Last year I started to take photos of fire stations and continued the trend this year. The buildings are beautifully ornate and you can tell that great care is taken of both the buildings and the fire engines. I came across a few more on this trip, including a fire crew in action in Chinatown, and thought that perhaps next time I could map out all the locations, at least in Manhattan, and visit them all. It would be a more unusual way to explore the city…
I have to admit that I very rarely ate in Chinatown during my New York years. However, I do love wandering aimlessly up and down the streets, looking at the fresh seafood, vegetables and fruit stalls, herbal medicine shops and little bakeries. Forget the map as you can’t get lost and just spend an hour or two exploring at your own pace. It’s also fun to watch the elderly Chinese ladies exercising to blaringly loud music in Sara D Roosevelt Park. I took my best fire engine photos in Chinatown, where the FDNY are known as the Chinatown Dragonfighters. And Chinatown Beats by Henry Chang, recommended by an old New York friend, is an excellent detective novel set in these streets
Get lost in The Ramble, Central Park
I’ve spent many summer weekends reading and sunbathing in Central Park and always thought I knew it really well, but only on this trip did I come across The Ramble with the husband. This consists of 38 acres of woodland with winding pathways going up and down, running between 73rd and 78th Streets. We found out it’s one of the best bird watching spots in the United States, with 230 species found in the woods, and also ‘a well-known site for private homosexual encounters throughout the 20th century’ (according to the Central Park website)
Visit the Noguchi Museum
Part of my plan for this year’s trip was to cover all five boroughs. We made it to four and I used to take the Staten Island ferry many years ago, so that sort of counts. Located in Long Island City, Queens, the museum was established and designed by Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi in a 1920s industrial building opposite his studio. The tranquil garden was also designed by him and is my favourite part of the museum. We were also fortunate to visit during a joint exhibition of his drawings with those of famous Chinese artist Qi Baishi during his studies with the great master in Beijing in 1930
Do the High Line
If you’ve been there, you’ll know that this is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, running from Gansevoort St in the Meatpacking District to West 30th St between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues (the third section when completed will stretch to 34th Street). I only visited the High Line for the first time last September as it wasn’t built when I lived in New York nor when I went back in 2004. Both times we’ve gone on a Sunday and it’s naturally less busy early in the morning than in the afternoon. I especially enjoy looking at the plants and flowers growing along and on the railway tracks. There are some food and drink stalls in one section along the High Line, but be prepared to queue at peak hours. Alternatively, you can grab a coffee at the Intelligentsia Coffee van parked in front of the High Line Hotel on Tenth Avenue at 20th Street, or at the coffee bar in the lobby, if it gets too busy on the High Line
Slurp on a Big Gay Ice Cream
Last but definitely not least, indulge in a very special ice cream at either the West or East Village locations (the business started off as an ice cream truck). Soft-serve ice cream is served with a variety of quirky toppings and flavours. I tried the Salty Pimp – vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate dip – served in a cone with its very own drip catcher, an absolute necessity!
You can also read about last year’s New York trip as a comparison. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading my round up for this autumn in New York and let me know how you get on!
Helen Yuet Ling Pang