Friday, February 20, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers, or Seven More Things to Make Me Love NYC

Please note: this post will be filled with more than my average use of the word "wonderful" and lots of gratuitous and sometimes cheesy-sounding "yea!" Please chalk it up to my infatuation with the city.

New York has a special place in my heart, and we were lucky enough to spend our Valentine's Day weekend there. NYC is like my Disney World--a special place, filled with interesting people and things to do. And the best part of it: the people who live and work there. Here are some of the highlights from our trip: 

1. Dinner out. A lovely evening at Park Avenue Winter. Because our babysitter came with us to the city, we were able to leave the children with her at the hotel. In other words, my husband and I ate dinner alone, at a gorgeous restaurant on the Upper East Side. Park Avenue Winter is a seasonal place, which means that it changes decor and menu each season. A few weeks from now, it will rechristen itself Park Avenue Spring. What fun it would be to visit it with each incarnation. Our meal was delicious, and we ended the night with a long, pleasant walk back to our hotel. 
When we visit a wonderful city like New York, we aim for restaurants away from tourist central. Our concierge helped us find Park Ave Winter, and she was exceedingly nice about it, spending a good deal of time with me on the phone last week as we weeded through the myriad choices. She even sent us champagne at the restaurant! Thank you to Norva! Yea for Park Avenue Winter! Yea for babysitters!

2. Cupcakes. We were greeted at check-in with treats from the fabled Magnolia bakery. Ada and Esme were nothing less than thrilled by the luscious chocolate cupcakes and red and white versions of the black and white cookie. 

3. Chinatown. Our favorite place, our "must see" place of NYC, is Great NY Noodletown. It's in Chinatown, and we have visited it unfailingly for each visit since 1994. If you read any review of the place, you'll see mention of the hyped salted seafood (shrimp and softshell crabs are popular), and the restaurant's namesake noodles. Believe it. It is wonderful food, cheap and authentic, and worth a trek to find it. We like to order the chow fun (thick noodles), roast pork (swoon-worthy), and lo-mein with ginger and scallions. There are tons of other delights on the menu. Go visit and discover some for yourself.

For me, the highlight of this visit to Great NY Noodletown was meeting Sandra, a lovely woman who was sitting at the table next to ours, where her daughter was making little stars from paper strips. Sandra shared a few multicolored strips with our girls, and soon we were talking, exchanging emails, and learning how to make a rubberband star, too. Before they left the restaurant, Sandra made a few recommendations for our future visits to Chinatown. In particular, she recommended little egg-shaped boiled dough cookies from a street vendor. We said our goodbyes, and she and her daughter left. To our surprise and delight, she returned a few minutes later with bags of cookies for each of us.  Here is a picture of the rubberband star Sandra's daughter showed us how to make:

4. Bryant Park was in full fashion week regalia. While we didn't have time to linger, we did manage to see some beautiful people, beautifully dressed. People watching is so fun, watching fashionable people, so much the better.

5. F.A.O. Schwartz is still a wonderful place to visit. On Sunday morning, Esme's eyes grew wide with excitement when she heard there was a place in New York where you could dance on a "floor piano." A short taxi ride later, we were in toy-wonderland. Esme and Ada explored mountains of stuffed toys, elaborate displays of Playmobil, and of course, the piano. They danced on it, and when it was over, Esme was tearful about leaving.
We managed to visit the baby clothing section of the store, where Ada was in heaven. She found a hat and blanket for her baby, which the salesgirl carefully wrapped in striped tissue and bows. Ah--the perfect souvenir for Ada. As we were leaving, Ada had a sudden fear of the escalator, and I accidentally got on with Esme before I noticed her hesitating at the bottom. Before I could even say, "wait a second, honey--I'll be right there," the salesgirl from the wrapping counter gently escorted Ada up the escalator behind me.

6. A particular highlight for me was on Sunday night, when I met up with my dear friend Kristen, a long lost friend from grade school. Too often lately, I've caught myself extolling the wonders of facebook. Sunday night's meeting was a prime example of the wonderful reconnecting I've been doing. Kristen is as interesting, funny, and fun as I remember her being when we were ten years old.
We could have easily stayed at the tapas restaurant, chatting well into the wee hours, but Ada and Esme were wearing out our babysitter. So we met our little girls in the hotel restaurant, where Kristen and I entertained them with a version of the Presidents' song that we learned in fifth grade. Ah, joint humiliation! Only a true friend would agree to that to amuse some sleepy kids!
We parted that night with a new understanding of a new/old friendship, and with excitement for the new path our friendship will take. It was a fantastic night for me.

7. The above mentioned tapas restaurant, Euzkadi, was very reasonable and had delicious small plates and wine. It was a perfect backdrop to meeting an old friend. In my excitement, I left a favorite hat and scarf behind when we left. And do you know? When I phoned the restaurant to see if they had found them, a kind waitress named Danielle offered to pop them into the mail for me. They arrived here, via priority mail, a few days later. Yea for nice people!

I may have grown up thinking I was a "city kid," but our kids are definitely small town girls. We are always encouraging a wider worldview for them, and we make a point to go to cities on a regular basis, not only so the girls can experience the beauty of them, but so my husband and I can remain sane. Small town living is great in so many ways, but, counterintuitively, the city is a place to recharge.

I did notice that I had a sense of wonder about the place. (Can you tell?) As cosmopolitan as I consider myself to be (okay, well, sometimes), there was a moment when I felt as though I had stepped into a wide-eyed role in the musical Oklahoma: When I saw the "newfangled" televisions and credit card touch screens in the taxis, I caught myself humming, "Everything's up-to-date in Kansas City/They've gone about as fer as they kin go." It's been awhile since we've been to big civilization, and I missed it.
We are already talking about our next trip there.

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Anonymous said...

Love LOVE LOVE NYC. Never tire of it. Glad you enjoyed the trip!

Lydia said...

NYC has my heart, most definitely. My husband and I were married there in 1995, at the Municipal Building! Haven't been back since and I really need a trip there! Really!

The Seeker said...

Kirie, sweetheart, hope everything is ok.
Never been at NYC, sounds a great trip.

I've been too stressed and busy, so sorry for not coming often.

By the way all my pictures are with what I really wear that day, so that's how I go to work, dear.

Have a great weekend


Lisa said...

It sounds like a wonderful trip. I love NYC and can't wait to go back. I've only been twice and I feel like I could spend a long time there and barely scratch the surface of all it has to offer.

I'm so glad you had a chance to reconnect with your friend. Facebook is lovely in that way.

angela said...

Hi Kirie

Your experiences sound really great! I like NYC too but still am glad that I moved to Chicago (well really Highland Park) so long ago. Both Daddy and I want to revisit the City - we have only been there together once - that is where we saw Mama Mia for the first time. Also saw 42nd Street. Ate at some excellent restaurants, too. Would love to try Park Ave Spring!

Glad you had a great time! Maybe someday we can all go together.

Love, Mom

Irene Latham said...

Hi Kirie - I too love NYC for the art and energy and really great food. It's really the only place hubby and I have gone back to again and again. You are so right about kids needing these experiences to broaden the world-view... my parents took us all over the world, and I know that experience has been huge in shaping me. And like you, I do my best to provide my own children with such experiences. I have to say, though, the pic that got me was little Ada carrying her baby around NY. :)

La Belette Rouge said...

Your trip sounds like perfection. You have me longing for a trip to NYC!!! The food, the friends and the unexpected all sounds sooooo lovely. Yea and wonderful!!!!!!!:-)

Judy said...

Sounds like a nice trip. You tell it so well I feel like I was right there. I like NY and have only been a few times when my brother lived in White Plains and I was much younger!! We had few and saw plays, etc each time I went to see him.

Julianne said...

I have never been to NYC but I feel passionately the same about Chicago. I love it so much. I am going to get to NYC soon. Thanks for the ideas in this post. Glad you had fun.

Paula said...

I love love love love LOVE New York City! My sister lives there now and I love her- so the combination is always such a wonderfully overwhelmingly happy experience. So glad you had a nice getaway! :)

Hilary said...

Oh, Kir, I am so terribly behind. I've missed your blog as a regular part of my day! I just got to this one. What an awesome trip! Next time I'm in NY, I can't wait to visit the noodle restaurant. Contrary to pop culture stereotyping, I, too, have found NY'ers to be some of the nicest people out there :-). Ok, next time you go to NYC, you must visit Serendipity of John Cusack movie fame. It is every single bit as awesomely wonderful as in the movie. Then again, as NY connisseur, you may know this already ;-)

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