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.

Or pugs.

14 thoughts on “October 14, 2023: The NYC summary!

  1. Thank you for the Lysee link. I’m definitely going to check that out.

    If I ever “visit” New York I will have the library down as one of the primary places to spend time in. I’m glad Akemi wanted to go there and you posted the photos. It’s beautiful.

    Hope your flight is uneventful and you have a productive, pug, time in your favorite (just kidding) town, L.A.
    -and a great birthday.

  2. Joe, I’m glad y’all enjoyed the trip. Just a note: It’s Grand Central Station (three words).

    All the best from the New Jersey girl turned Texas woman.

    1. And I have been many, many times. Especially coming in from Long Island. I remember my dad taking us through there a lot as a child and then as a teenager, my sister and I took a bus from Nebraska to NYC Port Authority and then from there, went to Grand Central Station to more trains to go elsewhere to stay with relatives. I was just through there in 2012 when my best friend and I took a trip in from Long Island and changed to trains for local transit. It looks so much nicer these days.

  3. All the years I spent hanging out in NYC,
    west and east village, Soho and Little Italy were always my favorite places to be.
    I probably should have mentioned people are slightly more relaxed and friendlier there, as well – but didn’t think of it at the time when we were discussing navigation.
    You still have to carefully mind your belongings in public but folks aren’t as stressed as they are in midtown and will gladly chat with you and make direct eye contact in the shops and in Washington Square park. I’m Not planning to head back to NYC anytime soon but if I ever do I’ll be sure to check out Lysee.

    Surprised you only encountered one pug? If I recall correctly? folks in east village and Soho were always keen on pugs.
    Uptown along Central Park West area I mostly only saw folks walking with Shih Tsu, Yorkshire Terriers, Bichon Frise, and Pomeranians.

    Sounds like you didn’t have time to make it as far as Mulberry & Prince street areas?
    or head uptown to Central Park West?
    Did you at least become a bit more comfortable with navigating the city??
    And did you make it as far as walking through Wash. Park up to Bleeker st?

    1. Certainly more comfortable navigating the city – but it was pretty straightforward.

      1. Yes it is. I tried to tell ya you’d do okay and be fine. I never got lost in NYC even in my first solo walkabout in my teens. The city always seemed fairly easy to navigate with its many main arteries running uptown to downtown.

        I agree with Ponytail, you should do a bunch of short jaunts to different cities across America, just to experience the people and feel of each city and discover hidden gems like Lysee.

        You always wanted to do a southern foods tour but never seem to be able to make up your mind for best city to try …. soooo
        two nights in NOLA, two nights in Charleston, two nights in Savannah, etc. etc.

        Anywhoos, glad you made it home safe and sound. xo
        Wishing you a turbulence free pick up of your new adoptee(s) in LA.

  4. Wow! All wonderful pictures! The food pictures (especially the dessert ones) all looked great, even if some didn’t taste that great. Sounds like you got the most of every minute there. Thank you for sharing with us. Pretzels is adorable. Why didn’t you ask for more pillows. I bet you are not alone. I would HATE thin pillows too. You’ll have to try out more States and Cities in America for short trips.

    Your podcast today was awesome! I got there one hour early but when it started it took me awhile to figure out how to join. (I’m not to bright but I’ll get there!) I missed about 5 minutes at the start. When I joined, you were talking about assholes… the Industry kind! Lol.

    Really looking forward to what must be the highlight of your week. Sharky and maybe a sibling for him! Somebody, or TWO, is about to win the Lottery. Let’s go!

  5. Cool! This post reminds me of the travel blog entries of old with all the interesting meals and sights. I’m actually thinking about heading to NYC sometime soon, but it’s pricey to stay there so it would only be for a couple of nights. I REALLY would like to visit the American Museum of Natural History – I hear they have a great dinosaur exhibit. I may have to search out that Lysee now too, though.

    After talking about it for years (in fact since the last time I was up there), I finally booked my cross-Canada train trip for March. Got the full cabin deal with meals so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll also be spending a couple of nights in Toronto(!), and then 3 nights in Vancouver before just flying back home.

    There’s also a trip to the UK I’d like to take… sigh.

  6. The food looks great! (Even if it didn’t taste as good.) I’ve only been to New York for a day trip back in the early ’90s and just did the big touristy things. Would love to spend some more time there.

    Lysee looks right up my alley. In my 20s I had a dream of opening a dessert cafe called “Just Desserts”. But that would have required far more work than I was prepared to put into it.

    No pizza? I’ve heard there’s some great pizza places in New York.

    I can’t believe Akemi hasn’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies. I reckon she’d love them!

    Good luck with the pug(s) collection!

  7. If I’m going on a trip for a few days, sometimes I pack MY pillow. It takes up a lot of room but I never regret bringing it.
    Loved all the food pictures! I’m glad both of you had such a great time. Hopefully, the L.A. trip will be just as fun.

    Gforce: I’m jealous! If you meet up with Mr. M., he’ll know all the great places in Toronto.

  8. That sounds like an amazing trip. I hope you had fun. There is so much more to see and do. Broadway plays, musicals, museums. Maybe someday you might have more time to do that. But these pictures are beautiful. I’m a little homesick now.

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