I was eating dinner the other night with a dear friend who just quit her job and decided to take a month off. She’s been busy planning a list of all the New York things she’d like to do before going back to work, at a new job. "Stephanie, you should make a list of all the things you want to do while you’re still here. Restaurants you want to go to, bars, museums. Whatever." She mentioned Brooklyn. "Well, I’ve never been!" she said. This I knew about a lot of my Manhattan friends. My goal during this one month stretch is to make the list and write about each thing I want to do here–on the blog. Photos optional. If you’ve got any ideas, please let me know. And before I even take a stab at it, I’ll warn you, 90% of the list, at least, will involve or be centered around food. Maybe alcohol. Mostly food. I will continue to add to this list as I decide what to do.
Dim Sum. I don’t particularly like Chinese food. I’ll eat it, of course, but it usually leaves me parched and still hungry. I grew up eating it, like every other Jew, in a restaurant on Sunday evenings. I stopped doing that once I got to college. I never have it anymore, but P.F. Chang’s (which they do have in Austin along with Cheesecake Factory) is not Chinese food; it’s America’s idea of what Chinese food should be. I want the real deal. The shit you find in Flushing, Queens. And I want to go on a Sunday with a big group of our friends, where we point at the foods on the carts as they go by. Eating those steamed shrimp in slippery pockets of glassy dough. I don’t know what they’re called. They look like Chinese blintz, but stuffed with shrimp in a chewy slippery dough. Then they squirt it with a squeeze bottle of sauce. They don’t use dumpling sauce but something sweeter. I need to get down to the bottom of this. Phil needs Peking duck, the kind where they carve the duck at your table, make the pancakes for you, then take the carcass to the back and make a soup with the bones. That is how that shit is done. The other day he told me he’d never had Peking duck. I gasped and simply hadn’t heard anything as shocking. Get thee to Peking House. "Oh," he said after some explanation, "you mean the pancake with the scallions and hoisin sauce? Well I’ve had that, but that’s not Peking duck." Yes, my friend, it is. And we need some while we’re still in New York.
A little Girl Day. I need one of those, the kind I had when I was growing up, in a dress coat, where we’d come into the city for a matinee then went to Serendipity III for a bowl of sesame bread sticks with butter and an equally big bowl of frozen peanut butter hot chocolate. That place is just a New York moment to me. But you have to walk there. Build up a slight sweat for sweet. You’ve got to work for it. It might have involved FAO Schwartz, but I can live without another visit there. I know the key now. You have to learn something on days you go to Serendipity. You have to have come from the Planetarium or Lincoln Center. I’ll have to do something cultural first. Not Broadway. Not your typical Museum. Just something artistic or interesting. I’ve got to work on this one. I can live without Dylan’s Candy Bar, a few doors away from Serendipity; I don’t have a sweet tooth for by-the-pound items, mostly because of the name. It’s too much of a reminder of what happens when I eat it.
A Musical. I love musicals, really love. Like, I’m one of those people. I buy all the music (read: sometimes just download) before I see it. I don’t know how anything will top Wicked for me. But my goal this month is to see two musicals. I’ll listen to the music beforehand. I hear Alter Boys is a must. Is Avenue Q still out? I want to see Avenue Q! And afterward, I want to walk a bit then head over to The Paramount Hotel and sit at the upstairs bar and drink their Sauvignon Blanc. That, or some champagne. I don’t need dinner beforehand, because mostly, I don’t care for the way they rush you in and out with the pre-theater crowd. Besides, as much as I want to do cliche New York. Dinner and a show is too– I’m not going to finish that sentence. You know what I’m saying.
Tea. Big time tea, with crustless cucumber and sweet butter sandwiches. Currant scones. Clotted cream. The Ritz. The Plaza. Anywhere with "The" in the title. I don’t want Takashimaya. I want English Tea, something grand and completely over the top. Maybe Fauchon, but I’ve heard it’s a disappointment. I’ve done Alice’s Tea Cup (and loved it), done Lady Mendel’s Tea Salon (also loved it) but I’m not looking for that. I want a hotel tea time, followed by an artsy independent film that will make me cry and think and laugh.
The Bronx Zoo. But then I thought about it. Austin has a zoo. I don’t need to go to the Bronx zoo again until I have children. Some of my favorite memories happened at the zoo. Isn’t that weird? How I think we can, most of us, remember something about the zoo and our childhood. I think it’s the age we’re brought there, or the fact that it’s one on one time with someone who cares enough to take us there. I remember riding the tram. Is it a tram? It was a cart on a wire, in the air. I don’t know what it’s called, and I’m too lazy to look it up. But I remember riding on it with my family, sitting on my knees, pressing my hands to the windows looking down. Zoos are wonderful for children; their minds have so much to eat there.
The Soup Nazi. I used to live right near him, on 55th St. in La Premiere, where almost all New Yorkers have lived at some point. Okay, not all, but it feels like all. I lived there while in college, and I would routinely eat there, swing by when the lines were down to a scant three people. Got eggplant parm soup. Soup! I need to get my fix. Is it still open? I’d go there, grab soup for lunch, then grab a few magazines at Universal News and walk to Columbus Circle, to eat it outside, near the horse and buggies (but not that near), maybe sit in the "statue garden" of the ugly black building Trump put in the circle.
Tourist Trappings. I’ve already done them all. Been to Yankee’s Stadium. Seen the Met’s. Been to The Garden for The Knicks. Done Radio City Music Hall and hit Lincoln Center way too many times. Done the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and all the museums they tell you to see. I’ve taken a red double-Decker around the city. Heard the shpiel about Macy’s and the rest of the city. I don’t need to do any of these things again. Not for a while, anyway.
Pizza Tour. I’m not a huge pizza fan, but I’m thinking I’ve gotta take one for the team. I’m hoping to go on a pizza tasting tour, with someone else, hopefully. Where we share a slice at each "Original" must in this city. John’s Pizza. Something on Bleeker. A Ray’s? I need help with the musts here. Don’t say Grimaldi’s.
Food Porn. I need to get my fill of it. And for me that means I have to make stops (with my camera and appetite) at the following places: Gray’s Papaya for two dogs "all the way;" Zabar’s; Popover Cafe for their Pop Art sandwich (one of my favorite things); Balthazar for a French Martini and the goat cheese onion tart; eat at the bar of Union Square Cafe; take photos at the outdoor farmer’s market; I have enough photos of Chinatown.
Brandy’s Piano Bar (CLOSED: sadly has had a fire since first writing this post). I love this place. Love. I know Austin has dueling piano bars! But I need to go to Brandy’s with my New York friends who’ve never been there. This is a must. I am happier at Brandy’s than probably anywhere else in the city. Isn’t that strange? It’s storytelling to music. Gay storytelling, mostly, but it’s warm and what memories are made of.
A writer’s life. Get drunk with my notebook at the following places before I leave: Bemelman’s Bar (where the walls were painted by Ludwig Bemelman, author and illustrator of the Madeline books, and where they have piano music), the Oak Room at the Algonquin, and the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis. I have no desire to return to Chumley’s, McSorley’s, or White Horse tavern, as good as they all are. I’m over it. Unless it’s Sunday, and I have the paper and a hankering for a burger and homemade mustard, I can do without.
Museum crap. Surprisingly, I’ve never been to the Museum of Television & Radio and would like to go. I’d also like to–I know this is weird–go to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Yes, I want to see the bodies exhibit too. And I want to go back to Hayden Planetarium to make out in the dark. Something magical also happens in the mineral room of The Museum of Natural History. Last time I was there, I agreed to my book deal over the phone, but I won’t go back. That museum is quite dull. The Frick is fun, but mostly when there’s an event involving champagne. I recently visited the MOMA, but it has been a while since I’ve visited the statue garden at The Met with my drawing pencils. If there’s time, I will do that.
A girls night. A girls night in Manhattan is very different from a girls night in the hampton’s. It just is. There are different kinds of girls nights, too, even within Manhattan. Sometimes we have our Sunday Sip, where we meet at Angelo & Maxies for wine and raw tuna, or in the summer, outdoors, in the garden with a bottle of white, artichokes, and grilled fish. Relaxed nights. Then there are what my friend Amy calls our "velvet blazer nights," where we get a little decked and hit the latest "it." For me, it never involves a club or dancing, as that’s just not my thing. But one will definitely be had at 212 restaurant before I leave (as I’ve only ever had a memorable night there with my girls). Girls nights always involve alcohol and usually involve something we shouldn’t be eating at a very late hour.
A tasting Party. I love this idea. My parents, growing up, had a Chinese New Year’s party, where they got their favorite dish from each of their favorite restaurants, and brought it in. So chicken from Hunan Balcony, Duck from some Orchid restaurant. You get the idea. I did the burger date. Now I want the pizza tour, yes. But it would still be fun to pick a theme and host a party where everyone brings one dish, their favorite dish from their favorite restaurant, and we all chow on one another’s favorites.
Traveling Dessert. I did this once. Went to different fancy restaurants and only ordered dessert! I love this idea because you get to go to a fantastic restaurant, get the experience of the place, and then eat only a dessert. Then, onto the next place. It’s sinful but a must. I’m going to have to figure out where to go, and please, don’t say "chikalicious" because that takes the fun out of the hop.