Over the weekend, my husband and I went to New York City for the first time. At first I was a little overwhelmed, but quickly adapted and was amazed at how wonderful and different it was. It wasn’t just different from my suburban home in South Carolina, but it was also different than was expected. When you’ve never been to a place, but see it throughout your life on TV and in movies, you somewhat develop an idea of what you think it may be like, based on whatever you saw. I honestly was expecting for it to be a bunch of fast moving, stressed out jerks who would be irritated with Southerners taking a leisurely stroll through the streets and really taking everything in…but it wasn’t like that at all. It was quite wonderful. Although, I’ll have to be honest…the cab ride almost scared the poo out of me on the ride from the airport to our hotel in Times Square. Where we live, it’s full of two lane roads, quiet neighborhoods, highways, and interstates. Cars generally don’t get too close to each other for the most part. Well, after that 30 minute ride, I was ready for a drink. Although, that first ride may have broken me in to realize that it’s just how people drive around there, and they know what they’re doing. So, after that very first cab ride, the following cab rides were fun and entertaining.
We arrived on a Thursday in the late afternoon. There were a total of six couples in the group, three of the couples who already lived either in the city or just outside of it. We were the first of the traveling couples to get there, and after a day of driving two hours to the airport for a direct flight, almost two hours on the plane, walking all over the airport to figure out where the heck we were going, and eventful cab ride that took us to the wrong hotel (I had the wrong address and we had to walk a few extra blocks after being dropped off), and finally getting settled into our room…we were hungry.
TSQ Brasserie was the first place we went. It was literally a block and a half from our hotel in Times Square, and when we walked up to it, my husband looked at me and said, “How about here?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sure, looks pretty cool.” And in we went. My main goal for this trip was to not eat somewhere that we could eat at home. I was SO excited about trying out the food in the big city. The view of Times Square from sitting upstairs in the restaurant area was great. We did a lot of people watching while we were waiting for our food. Our server was very nice, and the wait for the food wasn’t bad at all. I ordered the chicken club sandwich, and my husband did the dude thing and got a good old fashioned burger. My sandwich had guacamole on it…and I loved that. The sandwich was a little too tall for my taste, so I took the second layer of grilled chicken out of the sandwich to give my mouth a little room for being able to bite into that sucker. The French fries were a perfect temperature and salted just the right amount…not too much, not too little. It was the comfort food needed to fuel our bodies for an evening out on the town.
Later in the evening, we went to The Smith at Broadway and 63rd Street. We didn’t get any food there, but we met up with some friends for drinks. Most of the people in our group were drinking beer, and I ordered a strawberry margarita. It was delicious, fruity, and refreshing…but then the thought of an amaretto sour crossed my mind, so that was my next drink. One of my favorite things about that particular place was the atmosphere. Although it was very laid back, it also had somewhat of an upscale feel to it. They had a bunch of tables set up outside by the sidewalk, a long bar packed with stools, and the general restaurant area.
On Friday, we met up with one of our local friends on his lunch break from work. He asked where we wanted to go, if we had a preference for a type of food we wanted to eat. No one had a preference, until he mentioned Italian. I gasped and said, “Yes!” He smiled and said, “I know exactly where to go. This way, we’re headed to Restaurant Row in Hell’s Kitchen.” Off we went. As we were walking, he mentioned that he was taking us to Becco, a restaurant that was owned by Lidia Bastianich, a well-known Italian chef who has several cookbooks and is regularly on television. As we walked in and told the hostess how many of us were, she led us into the bar to wait for them to set up a table for us. Several of the servers had come in to the bar with several plates and skillets of food, preparing some of the dishes. The smell invaded my nostrils and I suddenly felt like a drooling wolf spying on my next victim. Mmmm, pasta. Oh, and it smelled amazing.
They have a three pasta meal that combines the three pastas of the day. When I heard marinara, fettuccine with butter sauce and shrimp, and mushroom ravioli, I was sold. I wanted that. A Caesar salad or antipasto misto (an assortment of marinated & grilled vegetables with assorted seafood) also came with the meal, along with some Italian bread. The pasta special was all-you-can-eat, so if there was a particular pasta that you liked the most, you could keep requesting more and more. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Between the bread, Caesar salad and pasta, there wasn’t any room left for more servings in my full, poked out belly. It was incredible.
Funny story… The local guy that we were with had a small dish with some octopus on it. Octopus. He looked at me and asked if I wanted to try some. I made a yucky face and shook my head no. My husband said he would try it, so the plate went across me for him to try a piece. I watched curiously as he chewed it. He shrugged and said, “Not bad. Kinda chewy.” I took a big breath, and said, “Okay fine, I’ll try it.” My entire life, I’ve been somewhat sheltered when it comes to food. You know how most people grow out of the “I don’t like how it looks, so I won’t dare eat that” phase? Well, I just grew out of that phase about a year ago. My 41 year old brother hasn’t, though…so I had to tell him about this experience. I picked up the last piece of octopus with my fork, and looked at it. I saw those little bubble-looking parts that is on the octopus. I cringed. Closed my eyes, and put it in my mouth. It really was kinda chewy. The main flavor that I tasted though was the vinegar that it was marinated in. It was okay. I immediately texted my brother and mom to tell them that I tried the octopus. My brother wanted to know if I needed something to make me puke, because that’s the only reason he could see trying something like that. I couldn’t help but to laugh. But overall, it wasn’t bad…and I was able to say that I had tried octopus. The funniest part was that everyone at the table was quiet and watching me to see my response…and laughed when I closed my eyes to put it in my mouth. I told them it was the best way to avoid the fact that it looked funny.
For dinner, I didn’t care where we went. Why? Because I was absolutely exhausted…which one might expect, considering we had literally walked about 10 miles that day all over the city. One of the guys in our group started looking through his phone to see some recommended places where we were, and there was a small Thai restaurant that was just a few blocks away from the southwest side of Central Park. So, we headed for 10th Avenue in search of Thailand Restaurant. After walking for what seemed like an eternity (my lower back was killing me from all the walking that day), we stopped in front of the restaurant. It was small, and we contemplated going in, but my husband chimed in and said, “Well, we walked all the way over here, might as well go inside and eat here. I’m hungry.” Agreed! This was my first time eating Thai Food. I know, I know. I got a shocked look from several people in the group, who then insisted we go there since it was a first for me. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy food, so I had to make sure that I wouldn’t order something that would set my throat on fire. I stuck with something that I recognized, which was the chicken teriyaki. I figured it wouldn’t be exactly like what I would normally get at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant…and it wasn’t. And I gobbled it all down. It was delicious. My friend sitting next to me ordered the Pad Thai, which is a basic noodle dish. She asked me if I wanted a bite, and I agreed…then wished I had ordered what she did. Although I liked my dish, I liked hers better. So, I made a mental note to make sure that I ordered that the next time we eat Thai food. My husband isn’t a big eater and usually doesn’t finish all of his food, but when I looked over and saw that his plate was totally cleaned, I laughed. “Must have been good!” He smiled.
Okay. So, at this restaurant, I was violently shoved out of my little comfort zone with trying food that I don’t know what it is. My mother would’ve been so proud. In fact, I sent her a text message of this picture of food so that she could see what I was eating. At Jim Fong’s restaurant in Chinatown, the dining area is huge. HUGE. So, finding a table for 8 of us wasn’t a problem at all. One of the coolest things about this place was that you didn’t order food. You had two options: When someone walked past our table with a cart of food, you point out what you want, how many of it that you want for your table, and they check it off on your sheet. Or, you could go up to the buffet for the specialty food. As we sat at our table and asked for what seemed like a hundred different items for us to eat, I stared at the food. “What’s that?” I must have asked twenty times. Half the time, they didn’t know, they just ate it. This blew my mind, and was somewhat hesitant, but tried a LOT of different things that I had never tried before…and all of the food there was amazing. I couldn’t believe it.
After we stuffed our bellies with that amazing Chinese food, we started wandering the streets again. As we’re walking down the street, there it was. I saw it. And stopped. Little Cupcake Bakeshop. “Guys! Wait!” I yelled as they continued walking, not noticing that I was mesmerized by this cute little store on the corner of Prince Street and Mott Street. “You wanna go in?” one of the guys asked. I smiled like a 4 year old girl and nodded.
As I walked in, my heart almost stopped. This was it. I was officially in heaven, with absolutely NO idea what to do with all of the amazing goodies that were in front of me. One of the girls that was with us when I saw this place followed me in…she’s also a foodie as well, and has a food blog. We stared at the display case, then looked at each other with huge eyes, with absolutely NO clue how to pick just one (or even two) of these amazing desserts that were taunting us. I wanted to order one of everything, literally. And as you can see from the above picture, doing so would have cost a pretty penny…but I think it would’ve been worth it. And I must have walked back and forth in front of the display case five different times, trying to decide what I wanted to get before deciding on some Southern Red Velvet Ice Cream, which they make themselves. The ice cream was pink, with chunks of their own red velvet cake all through it. It was ridiculous.
Next stop before dinner…Happy Hour at Bourbon Street Bar and Grill! This was also on Restaurant Row in Hell’s Kitchen, right across the street from Becco. It somewhat reminded me of a sports bar type of atmosphere, very casual and laid back, the perfect party place to have a drink. As I was looking over the drink menu, the martinis were calling to me…especially when I saw a Red Velvet Martini. Are you kidding?! No! It was a cake flavored liquor with chocolate syrup and grenadine syrup. I HAD to try it. When I placed my order with our waitress, she smiled and said, “It’s like dessert in a glass.” Oh, and it was. It definitely was, and I can’t wait to make one at home.
Ohhh. La Pulperia. The big finale. This was the last meal we had in NYC, and I’m really glad that we saved the best for last. Our local friend grew up in Manhattan, and he had emailed all of us about making a reservation for us for Saturday night, since there were twelve of us in the group. He said there weren’t many of the restaurants that could accommodate a large group like us, but he got to work on some research. He explained a couple of the restaurants that he was looking at, and we decided on this one. But I’ll tell you, if we hadn’t been with him, we would’ve had a hard time finding this place. It was tucked away, with no sign out front. That actually made me feel even more special, thinking that we were going to more of a hidden spot that the locals know about. Those are the best places to go.
First thing was first…their signature Margarita. It was delicious…and since I’m a light weight when it comes to alcohol, I was feeling pretty relaxed after that first one. When we got situated at our table, our waiter brought us some tortilla chips with fresh guacamole. I took one bite…and gasped. It. Was. Amazing. I couldn’t stop eating it, and had to stop myself after saying “Just one more,” probably five times in a row. Next, he brought out some grilled bread with queso fundido. I spread it on the bread, took one bite, and practically shoved a piece into my husband’s mouth saying, “You have GOT to try this! Best queso EVER!” When our waiter came back to take our order, I decided to try out the Pollo A La Parrilla. It was a Colombian corn arepa, quesa, kalamata olive-citrus sauce over chicken and topped with fresh spinach. Ah-mazing.
Overall, the trip was fabulous. The food was amazing, and especially since we don’t live in a big city, the food here is different than in NYC…which is one of the main reasons I was so excited to go visit. The end conclusion that my husband and I decided on was this… We HAVE to go back. No other options, it has to be done.