A week ago today, we were in New York, New York, that stunner of a city where anything can be yours if you have the cash. I guess that’s why our trips to NYC tend to be brief — get in, do what you want, get out, and hope you have a little money left in your wallet for the cab fare back to the train station. Brief though our trips to NYC are, we do our best to pack them full (that “R & R” in the title is a bit misleading, I guess). So full that we need to go to bed early for several nights afterward just to recover from the late nights and early mornings. I mean, who’s going to go to bed early when you can go out to dinner at 10.00 at night?
On previous trips, we’ve driven ourselves down. It’s not a long trip (just 4-5 hours) and driving into and around the city is a relative piece of cake compared to driving in Boston. This time, though, we decided to try the train. We’d thought about taking the train before, right from our lovely little station in White River Junction, but when we saw that it takes said train 7.5 hours to do what we can do in 4.5 in our car, we decided to skip it. But Hyla seemed interested in taking the train (she’s ridden subways, but never a real train) and we thought it would be relaxing, and why not have a long, leisurely trip down to the city?
We arrived at the train station about 20 minutes before it was due to arrive — and learned that it was running two hours late. First time in four months that the train had been late, the station caretaker tells us. Cafe car broke down near St. Albans, he explains. That means the train probably won’t include the cafe car by the time it gets to us, he adds.
We review our options. We could wait. Or we could drive. Hmmm. Hyla’s first train ride. 9 hours until we get there vs. 4.5. Relaxing fun vs. hectic driving through southern Connecticut. People watching vs. highway watching. We opt for the train. And learn shortly after that it’ll be only 1.5 hours late and will include the cafe car (though it turns out that it’s not such a big bonus to have a cafe car, unless you like pre-packaged steamed hot dogs and the like).
One of the cool things about riding south from Vermont is that the train is practically empty when you get on, especially in the middle of the day on a Thursday.
So you can stretch out, take all the seats you want, have the laptop aboard, and feel like you own the place.
The whole reason for the trip was for our annual pilgrimage to Lincoln Center to see an opera. This time, we were joined by my sister and our good friend, Arthur. We also got to meet up for lunch with our old friend, Jill, and her kids. Since we were lunching with kids, we planned in advance to meet at a creperie, where we were sure there would be something to suit every picky palate in the group. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that that place was pretty much strictly takeout (no tables). We looked longingly at the extensive menu of things that could be put into crepes, and then wandered until we found a very nice, friendly little bistro where we could have lunch.
We did eventually make it back to the creperie, of course. While Hyla was content with the basic butter and powdered sugar crepe, here’s what Jill’s crepe looked like:
I don’t think you can tell from the picture that there were huge SLABS of chilled chocolate mousse on that crepe, before the bananas and chocolate syrup et al hit it. And, of course, once it was all folded into the crepe and tucked into a takeout container, our friendly crepe chef covered it with whipped cream.
I think Jill made the right call here.
By the time we were done with lunch and crepes, we were, unfortunately, too full to eat this, which was right next door do the creperie:
Why oh why don’t we have food like this in Vermont?!
That morning, on our way to meet Jill, we wandered through the Village, window shopping and looking at cool buildings, and accidentally came across Murray’s, a cheese mecca.
Not only do they have an incredible selection of cheeses, cheese-serving implements and tools, gourmet items, and other goodies:
they also have the most entertaining cheese labels we’ve ever seen:
“Like a gift from the Wood Elves. Oregon’s Pat Morsford – not an elf as far as we know…”
“Is it cheese, or is it candy?”
We tasted this goat gouda. It was amazingly delicious. Complex. Rich. Not overtly goaty. Slightly sweet. With a taste that lingered (pleasantly) for minutes after we left the store. C’mon. Isn’t it a beauty?
We looked at a lot of cheese, and tasted the one, but didn’t buy any since we were on our way to lunch and thence to the incredible Frick Collection, which doesn’t allow anyone under 10, and certainly not hunks of stinky cheese.
Have you ever been to the Frick? I never had before this trip. M had been there a year-and-a-half ago and couldn’t wait to show it to us. We thought about going during last year’s opera trip, but we’re law abiding citizens and didn’t want to make H lie about her age. This year, we figured nine-and-a-half was close enough, and of course no one blinked when we bought our tickets. It helps that she’s tall. And it helps that she knows how to behave in an art museum.
I don’t have any pictures of the collection to share with you because, of course, they don’t allow photography in the museum, but you can browse the collection on their web site. One of the (many) nice things about the Frick is that it’s small. You can visit all the rooms, and then go back to linger over favorites like this, and this, and this and feel like you really had time to sit and stare.
Years ago, Laurel and I had a memorable dinner at Picholine, where we experienced the majesty of their cheese cart. Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to try Artisanal, the fromagerie and bistro run by Picholine’s chef. I was particularly anxious for M to get that same cheese experience that we had at Picholine. I knew in advance that the overall menu wouldn’t be that impressive (fine, but nothing special), but I figured the cheese had to be great. So that’s where we were headed for dinner that evening.
Maybe the cheese at Artisanal is great. I suspect it can be, but we wouldn’t have known it from the insipid selection our waiter placed before us. It’s a shame, because it really could have been a wonderful experience. They clearly know what they’re doing with cheese there, and they have a little cheese shop right in the restaurant, with at least a hundred cheeses on display. I guess it was half our fault for not telling the waiter that we had were interested in trying something a bit daring, but, really, at a place like that, they ought to have asked if we had any particular interests or expectations before setting down a plate of four cow’s milk cheeses (nope, not a goat or sheep to be found), with the one blue selection the most complex of the bunch. They weren’t offensive cheeses;but they didn’t teach us anything new except the fact that we should be more outspoken when we order a cheese plate, even at Artisanal.
But, then, we did have a nice dinner and some wonderful cocktails and we were, after all, out for an evening in New York. Not too much to complain about.
Our palates were pleasantly soothed the next morning by a stop (okay, I admit it, our second stop) at the French patisserie, Payard, on the way to meet up with Arthur and his sister at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.
Ooh la la! We went for the macarons and we enjoyed the petit fours
but we returned for the croissants, apple turnovers, and, of course, these beauties:
I had never seen so many Canelés in captivity! It was our duty to free half-a-dozen of them.
Aside from the fact that they were no longer warm, they were absolutely perfect. Dark, crunchy and caramelized on the outside, and creamy, but firm on the inside, with just the right notes of vanilla and rum. All this, and meeting up with friends at the Design museum in the same morning! The sun was shining, the temps outside were climbing. We felt very lucky to be just where we were.
The Cooper-Hewitt (actually our national design museum; it is part of the Smithsonian), is a very small, focused museum, housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, which appears to be much smaller than the Frick Mansion, but is many times the size of all of our houses combined.
Inside, the Carnegie Mansion seems a little rundown (peeling paint, etc.), and a lot of the house itself is hidden by the art displays. I suppose the difference is that the Frick houses Frick’s own collection (plus some later additions) in the locations where he chose to display the pieces. By contrast, the Cooper-Hewitt museum inhabits the Carnegie Mansion, but the house really isn’t part of the artwork.
The current big exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt is called “Fashioning Felt” and displays examples of felt used in fashion, manufacturing, architecture, jewelry, furniture, and artwork. I’ve always thought that felt was neat, and we’ve even recently played around with needle felting, but I didn’t know if the exhibit would be all that interesting. It was. It was fascinating. And the best part was the huge Palace Yurt (unfortunately, I can’t find pictures of it on the C-H web site; there is some info here, including some design sketches; oh! and someone else snuck a picture and another picture while visiting.)
The yurt covers the entire Conservatory, so you can walk right in and sit down on thick felt pads and watch the sunlight stream through the fabric (seven layers of silk batting alternated with felts made from all sorts of fibers). The Conservatory has high ceilings, with windows that start about three feet off the ground and continue to the ceiling. The felt panels covered the entire room. The affect was exhilarating and soothing all at once.
That afternoon, we also visited the Guggenheim, just because it was there, and because a couple of us had never been in it before.
The coolest thing about the Guggenheim is always the building itself. We spent a lot of time in the lobby, starting up at the spiraling railings, and watching an installation that made use of those railings by sending a little wheeled assembly (with wings) on a track fastened to the railings from the top floor to the bottom. It traveled around the building (and us), occasionally hitting something (intentionally) fixed to the track that jostled the assembly so that the prayer bells attached to it rang. When it reached the bottom of the spiral at the lobby level, it crashed into a stack of book trimmings that were suspended from the ceiling, dislodged the stack, and sent the stack down onto a (very slowly) accumulating pile of book trimmings.
Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough to understand the importance of this.
It took no special effort to enjoy our last major stop, and the reason for the trip in the first place: a performance of La Sonnambula at the Metropolitan Opera. We chose this opera partly because it fit everyone’s schedule and partly because the performance starred Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez, the two dazzling singers/performers that we had seen at last year’s La fille du régiment. The opera’s story itself is a simple love triangle/misunderstanding (Laurel likened it to an episode of “Three’s Company” and that seems a pretty accurate assessment) — the new staging was controversial, and the plot certainly didn’t have the excitement or humor of La fille, but the melodies were gorgeous, the singing was rich and moving, and the acoustics were wonderful. We’re already looking forward to next year’s trip, plotting how we can maybe catch two operas in a single trip.
We had thought we’d might go out to dinner after the opera (we had a pre-performance picnic of cheese, bread, and prosciutto on the steps of Lincoln Center), but by the time it ended, we were ready to go back to the hotel and rest. We wrapped up the evening in the hotel lobby with some drinks and a pizza (Laurel bravely dashed across Times Square at 11.30 pm to score it for us!) and chatted until Arthur had to go, and then it was bed time.
We had an 11.30 am train the next morning, but we weren’t quite through with the city yet. We checked out of the hotel and Laurel drove us over to 2nd Avenue Deli — who knew you could get pastrami sandwiches at 9.30 in the morning? And half-sours? And egg creams? And latkes? And chicken fingers and fries? And guess what? When you go at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, there’s on-street parking and no line, and the friendliest, most competent waiter you can imagine. We ate half of what we ordered, and then packed the rest up for the train ride home. Cafe car or no cafe car, this time we were going to be feasting on our way back home.