You Are What You Eat – Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in NYC

by Continental Club on September 2, 2008

The morning dawns cloudy and not quite as fresh as the immediate aftermath of the earlier tempest, but there’s no time to be precious about schedules, so the list of attractions to tick off will be attacked with gusto. The butler is paged and appears with a large pot of coffee to kick start proceedings and we turn our attention to the top priority of our empty bellies, in the process noting that our coffee table orchid has developed a fault and one of the dainty blooms has parted company with the stem. Tsk.

The hotel’s breakfast is very chi-chi and quite lovely but generic. Far rather get a more authentically New York angle on things so, with the cock still crowing, we hoof across to Sixth and down to Lou’s Cafe next to the Hilton at 53rd Street. It’s far from classy, but it’s a great location to sit outside and watch the World go by while tucking in to a hearty and ridiculously cheap breakfast of New York signatures. Think coffee, juice, ham, eggs, herbed potatoes and toast for £7, or go down the waffles, bagels, granola or fruits routes for even less. It’s fuel not finesse and it sets the tourist up royally.

In the back pocket is our Viator self-printed voucher for our City Passes, a pre-paid voucher book which grants access to a good number of the city’s main tourist haunts and which, if made good use of, represents about a 50% saving on the aggregate cost of entering the attractions individually. The pass is available from the publisher’s own website, but Viator offer it at the same price and then, chucking in the ‘CodesUK’ authority at checkout, take another 5% off the price.

First stop is the Empire State Building which, armed with our City Pass voucher, is only worth considering as the collection-point for the Pass first thing in the morning. The queues any later are horrendous without the fast-track that City Pass permits, but if you’re collecting the Pass here then you have to queue with the masses. So, if it’s early doors it’s fine to pick-up here, but at any other time collect it from one of the other attractions and benefit from avoiding most of the queuing later at the ESB.

The lobby and much of the interior of the Empire State are undergoing a long-term renovation, so the impression continues to be rather shabby inside. At the main observatory level (there’s an extra-cost higher but enclosed level) the view is just about as far as Lady Liberty but, despite the murk, it’s a useful point from which to orientate the visitor and make out most of the major landmarks. There’s no real need to linger though and, ears popping and un-popping, we plummet back to street level and hail a passing cab to head across town to Pier 83 at 42nd Street.

As part of an exercise in orientation and immersion, a cruise around Manhattan is another excellent idea and Circle Line’s two hour ‘Semi-Circle’ or half-island tour fits the bill perfectly. Neatly, passage is included with City Pass, so having surrendered the relevant vouchers at the VIP and Groups window, we grab a coffee at the wharfside cafe next door and then join the queue ready to board. Their workmanlike tubs are basic but practical and the commentaries reliably informative. It’s amazing how, once cast off, the seemingly thronged cargo of self-loading freight seems to dissipate and there’s always a railside space from which to view the passing panorama.

Heading out into the Hudson, the guide points out the principal features of both the Manhattan and New Jersey shores, passing the Chelsea Piers and the World Trade Center site to the East, Hoboken, Jersey City and the Colgate Clock to the West. The boat then steers a course towards Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, affording glimpses of the former from a distance and the latter at much closer quarter. To ensure that even those who steadfastly remain seated in some hidden corner of a deck, the Captain swerves and loops around so that all sides are exposed to La Republique’s famous gift.

There follows a great view of the Southern tip of Manhattan, before the cruise crosses the path of the Statten Island Ferries and sets a course around Governor’s Island and up the East River towards the BMW bridges. There’s a good view of the first of the temporary (and, to be honest, somewhat underwhelming in daylight) New York Waterfalls before the Brooklyn Bridge looms and passes overhead. At the Manhattan Bridge, with the Williamsburg in the distance, the boat makes a broad U-Turn and begins its return loop back to Pier 83.

Back on dry land, there’s a distinct absence of Cabbery and, lacking the exact change needed to ride the New York bus, we strike out in search of a yellow chariot to take us to lunch. As is always the case in such circumstances, there’s never a free one heading in the right direction but, after a few false starts, an available carriage draws up and we clamber aboard. Destination: the first of a selection of very fine dining recommendations.

Perry Street is on the Western Edge of Greenwich Village and occupies the anonymous ground floor of number 176. Indeed, so anonymous is the restaurant that it takes a guided eye to even notice it’s there, and then some bravery to identify the correct door. It would seem that this is some sort of test however, as the mere act of successfully locating it would appear to be the qualifier for entry into this extremely cool, stylish, minimalist but supremely comfortable white dining room.

Seated almost immediately, menus were provided and a couple of glasses of champagne whipped up. The bread arrived next and the friendly staff smiled broadly to the varied and clearly happy crowd they were charged with serving. Our order taken, we sank back into the pale banquette to cool our heels and wet our whistles. An inspired choice of midday retreat.

In fact, the only two things that surpassed the relaxed comfort in terms of excellence were firstly the food – a delightful salad of crab and mango, followed by a beautifully grilled and pinkly tender steak and then a luscious chocolate pudding – and secondly the sheer minuteness of the bill. Our guide had suggested that a bargain was to be had, but his information was duff. Rather than the expected $36 for three courses, it was a frankly hilarious $24. I gather however that they do rather well with bar bills of an evening…..

Fed, watered, rested and rejuvenated, we took to the streets once again. Or, more accurately, the still-being-redeveloped Hudson River Park, which when complete will stretch all the way from 59th Street to Battery Park. It’s a quite un-New York-like environment of pleasure gardens and refurbished piers, with joggers and stroller-pushers mingling with readers and cyclists and sun-bathers. It’s less frenzied and hemmed in than Central Park and really rather nice.

With a few breaks in the flow, it’s an easy-to-follow route along the riverside down to the World Financial Center and the Winter Garden. There’s an opportunity here for a comfort break, before continuing South East through WFC to the brutally truncated Skybridge which leads to Ground Zero. Despite the building works having now brought the site up to within a few storeys of ground level, it’s still a breath-catching vista. It was interesting to see how much more profoundly it affected MCC on this, her first ever visit, than me on my third since 9/11. It remains a wholly sobering experience and one that is much the more affecting thanks to the authorities’ almost total prohibition of hawking and commercialism. I did notice that a new interpretive centre has opened near the Fire House on Liberty Street, about which I wasn’t all that sure to be honest. Far better to take some moments to head to the East of the site and visit St Paul’s Chapel, centre of the operation to look after the rescue workers involved on the day and in the aftermath and get a feeling for the human side of what went on. Only time will tell how the ‘Freedom Tower’ will affect the impact that the site has on visitors during and following its construction, with completion expected in 2014.

With a long and full day behind us and a dinner reservation ahead, speed was of the essence for our return to the St Regis. So, another New York rite-of-passage was called for as we descended into the pits of Hades and the Subway. It’s a two-change dash North to get to either 51st or 59th Street Stations on the 4/5/6 Lines, their being exactly equidistant from the hotel on 55th. On board, the air conditioning is extremely welcome as a relief from the heat and hustle of those Crocodile Dundee platforms.

Reaching the surface once again, MCC declares it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with that stern look that leaves no-doubt to the true inference of the statement, and we trot back to the welcoming arms of the St Regis.

Foregoing the opportunity to take in a signature ‘Krug Bath’ for the bargain price of $1,650, the rather nice Remede lotions and potions more than suffice during a restorative shower and, washed and polished, we prepare for dinner in the hotel’s signature restaurant – Adour by Alain Ducasse – noticing that, during our absence, the faulty orchid has been removed and replaced with a fully-functioning model.

A relatively recent addition to the in-house dining options, which otherwise consist of the aforementioned King Cole Bar for cocktails and snacks, and the central Palm Court which serves almost continuously throughout the day from Breakfast, through Lunch and Afternoon Tea to Dinner, Adour is a richly furnished fine-dining experience which is building a strong reputation.

The concierge had arranged the reservation prior to our arrival in New York, and we were shown to a spacious setting in a circular ante area which housed another 3 tables, passing on the way a small bar area at which other diners were enjoying pre-dinner drinks. Seating was comfortable and the table nicely sized. We were offered cocktails immediately and menus were presented at the same time.

Glasses of champagne were poured at the table and we decided to investigate the restaurant’s highlight tasting menu at $110, subject to chef being pragmatic enough to tweak his creation to accommodate MCC’s ‘no-bones’ rule. The Maitre d’ draws alongside to offer menu assistance and we enquire about the veggie-variation. His response: ‘Madam, anything you would like. Anything. What would you prefer?’

She selects a gnocchi dish from the a la carte offering to replace the meat course, deciding that the two fish courses will actually be OK, as she does still partake in the odd poisson.

And so, we sashay through a pleasant if not spectacular ‘multicolour vegetable composition’, followed by ‘lobster ravioli with zucchini juice’ which is altogether more historic, to paraphrase a man of dinners. Next is ‘olive oil poached Gloucester cod’ which, despite me not having previously realised that the West Midlands was host to a significant trawler fleet, was absolutely superb. Our menu paths diverged here as there followed, for me, beautifully seared veal and MCC’s gnocchi, before we converged once again with a ‘strawberry and white cheese composition’ and then a menu extra of a (thankfully) very dainty cheeseboard.

Ideally, at this stage, a couple of ladder-back trolleys and two burly removal men would have been handy to get us back to the room but, as it was, we had to stagger back unaided and marvel once again that, despite a French chef, the American interpretation of nouvelle definitely challenges the European belly when taken in tasting menu marathons.

We slept well, anyway.

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