We arrived in New York a little before noon on Monday and checked into the Archer Hotel, a somewhat pricey boutique hotel near Bryant Park. Then, we headed off to a highly recommended taco place called No. 1 Tacos. There are several throughout the city (two equidistant from our hotel) and we decided to check out the one by Central Station.
We got the beef, the pork and the chicken tacos. They were very good, but were they #1? Alas, no. That honor goes to the Taqueria in Vancouver. But these were a solid #5.
Following a stroll through Central Station, we happened upon a coffee shop Akemi had heard about. And the Grumpy Cafe lived up to its name. “Order 34!”announced the barista as he slid a latte across the counter. “What is this?”I asked as Akemi and I had ordered two different lattes. “34,”she informed me. “Yes, but what is it?” “34,”he snapped back. At which point someone else pointed out that he had missed one of the orders. He apologized and made the second latte. I actually assumed it was part of the cafe’s theme, so took it in good stride. Both lattes were delicious. I had the seasonal vanilla while Akemi went with their honey oat latte which she loved.
One of the high points of our trip to NYC was our visit to the library. Akemi LOVES libraries!
I told Akemi that this is how they used to pickle people in the old days before factory automation made the whole process easier.
Also putting in an appearance – Winnie the Pooh (who is apparently celebrating his 100th birthday) and the rest of his gang.
Akemi attempting to take flight.
We took an afternoon walk, admired the architecture, and racked 20k steps, working up an appetite for one of the dinners Akemi was especially looking forward to…
I ordered an almond-themed cocktail. “It’s pretty sweet,”warned our waiter. Perfect. For starters, we had the grilled mushrooms, onion tart, and pizza bianca. The pizza bianca was fine, the mushrooms were terrific, but the onion tart was the star of the night, if not the entire trip so far as Akemi was concerned. Packed with caramelized onion flavor. Sweet, savory, and delicious.
For our mains, we had two pastas – a salty but delightfully al dente rigatoni with guanciale and black pepper, and an equally salty stracci with rabbit and white wine that proved less texturally interesting. We also had the braised lamb I had really looked forward to given it along and involved preparation, but I found it disappointingly dry.
Following another sleepless night due in most part to the hotel’s insubstantial pillows (I ended up folding and stacking three to no avail), we took a leisurely stroll to our lunch destination, the famed Gramercy Tavern…
We kicked things off with two promising starters – the steak tartare (Akemi loved) and an equally great chicken liver mousse.
My confit duck sandwich was surprisingly duck light while Akemi ordered the closest thing she could find to a salad that apparently wasn’t salady enough. Hate to say it, but the pork was just bad. Overall, Akemi not impressed with the quality of the ingredients.
So, while I was very much looking forward to dessert, I was muting my expectations as we headed over to Lysee, a quaint little dessert cafe run by a wife and husband team (she makes the pastries while he makes the breads).
This place was, in a word, fantastic. We were seated in a private little room where sampled just aa few of the exceptional menu items…
Sweet potato latte topped with vanilla beans, the corn mousse cake, the kouign-amman, the V.I.C. (Very Important Chocolate Cake), and the Lysee (Korean Toasted Brown rice mousse with caramel, Elliot Pecan Sablé, Praliné).
Wow! They were all fantastic. Service was also exceptional – friendly, prompt and professional. 11/10!
Our trip to New York was surprisingly pug and french bulldog-free until we ran into this little gal. Meet my new best friend, Pretzels!
We walked around to work up an appetite for second dessert and happened by the Harry Potter shop. Although she’s never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, Akemi was all sorts of excited.
I was hoping to score a pair of Dementor cufflinks but, alas, none were to be found. The wands, however, DID catch my eye – but I have a feeling that if I start buying, there will be no end to my collection. How many official wands are there?
Second dessert was the pistachio mille crepe and the ube mille crepe at Lady M. Both very good.
And, after even more walking, it was finally time for the second dinner Akemi had been looking forward to all trip – Casa Dani.
We started with the croquetas de jamon iberico, the ox-tail brioche, and the Spanish omelette with caramelized onion. All three were fine, but I preferred the brioche.
Our main: squid ink paella with grilled octopus. Was…also fine. The table-side presentation was impressive, but Akemi felt it wasn’t served hot enough (she had a similar critique of the starters) and it needed a touch of an acid. Also, she missed being able to scrape away the bits of crispy rice that had adhered to pan. This version was fairly uniform, lukewarm and crispless.
Overall, Akemi felt the meal failed in its execution. It has the look (and certainly the price) of a higher end restaurant but ultimately felt more standard fare.
Another sleepless night with those damned paper thin pillows and I was ready to head home. BUT we still had one more meal to squeeze in – lunch at the Szechuan Mountain House. Given the relatively underwhelming meals we’d had so far on this trip, we again tempered our expectations…and, again, were pleasantly surprised.
The restaurant is located in the East Village, a neighborhood Akemi absolutely loved strolling through. Can’t help but think we’d have had a better time if we’d stayed in this area instead.
Hoowee! This meal was a flurry of punches to the tastebuds. We had the tongue with pepper sauce that delivered on the peppery spice, then a chicken dish that offered a completely different spice profile in the numbing sansho-like pepper. Then we were served a literal shovelful of fried chicken with spicy chilis. Here, the heat was more direct, in your face and down your throat. And finally, we had the signature Swing Pork Belly. Here, the spiciness came from the raw garlic paste. Hell, even the complimentary pickled cabbage served at the beginning of the meal had its own unique heat level. I mean, I’m sure there are non-spicy items on the menu, but we didn’t opt for any of them. And, to be honest, we were very happy with what we ordered;. Our best meal in NYC.
We ended up back at Lysee for one more round of their spectacular desserts, as well as a couple of take-home items (the pain au chocolat for Akemi and their lighter than light kouign-amman for yours truly).
So ended our trip to NYC. It was…fine. A few of standout experiences (the library tour, Lysee, Szechuan Mountain House and, of course, meeting Pretzels) but I’m not so sure we’ll be in any hurry to go back any time soon.
Now, we have the weekend to rest up before we’re back on a plane Monday morning for L.A. – and a meeting with our new pug.