Sunday, May 4, 2014 (travel day):
Our spring trip to New York, constrained by not wanting to miss my Saturday morning Spanish class, was short but sweet. We still packed a lot in and found ourselves spending more time than usual outdoors. Great weather is not the reason people are drawn to New York, and on most trips, the cold or heat drives us into the innumerable cafes, museums and shops. This trip, thanks to glorious fresh spring weather, we found ourselves abandoning plans to see museum exhibitions in favor of longer lingers in parks abloom with color. Both coming and going, scheduled and unexpected encounters with friends and family bookended this trip. In between, we maxed out our theatre dance card, scheduling shows for every available night, plus the Wednesday matinee.
Departing on American’s early Sunday morning flight, we found our friend John sitting behind me. He was headed to his work as a realtor in NYC and hoping his apartment’s renovations would enable him to move in before returning back to San Diego.
En route, Steve and I played hotel tonight roulette, which was nerve racking. Normally we either stay in an apartment we’ve exchanged for or with friends, or make priceline an offer in advance for a hotel room . This time, we decided we wanted to try hoteltonight.com. Staying for 5 nights, we had only 2 choices presented to us. We settled on a new boutique hotel in Soho, Hotel Hugo, for 4 nights, and decided to take on our chances for a 5th night. How did this experiment work out? Well….it wasn’t particularly cheap. With Priceline, we usually offer anywhere from $200-260/night for a 3-4 star hotel, which in NYC often means a really tiny room, but usually in a good location (with Priceline, you can choose the neighborhoods to be included in your offer). How we fared with hoteltonight.com…the hotel was very attractive and quiet and we loved the location. We seemed to have scored a significant discount over walking in off the street and booking directly at the hotel, paying about $375/night vs. the rate they offered when we inquired about a 5th night, about $475/night. Clearly, hoteltonight is better suited for a very short stay, say 1-3 nights, unless one is willing to move. So, interesting experiment, not sure one we’ll repeat.
Steve’s sister Sarah picked us up and her husband Aaron met us at the hotel. Sarah had made dinner reservations for Cookshop (which my friend Susan enjoyed during the same week), but I was very hungry and there was a Westville just around the corner, one of Aaron’s and my sister Clarissa’s favorites which somehow we had never tried. They celebrate vegetables and offer a marvelous range of choices. We shared a vegetable platter (a choice of 4 for $15), with ours, dijon califlower, brussel sprouts, sauted kale, oyster mushrooms, all being delicious. I enjoyed my almond crusted trout entree as well. Quite a bargain for a very satisfying meal, like very good home cooking.
I had theatre plans for the evening, 4 stops into Brooklyn, based on my foodie/actor friend Greg’s recommendation. We were talking about a month before and he mentioned he had really liked an interactive version of Alice in Wonderland he had just seen. While we were talking, I looked on line and saw there was only one ticket left for “Then She Fell” by Third Rail Projects for the entire week of our trip. AND, it was for 10:30 pm on Sunday of our arrival (2 shows/night). That so few tickets were available is not surprising given the NY Times review (per StageGrade.com website, the highest rated show playing in NYC) and only 15 participants/showing. I took the availability of a single ticket for the only show I could attend as a sign and reasoned that I wouldn’t even be tired, since it would only be 7:30 pm West coast time.
I had planned to make my way to Brooklyn by subway, but everyone piled in the car and Sarah and Aaron drove me to Brooklyn, picking up dessert and breakfast for the next morning at an old favorite, an Italian bakery near Sarah’s old apartment, Fortunato Brothers, which has the most amazing sfogliatelle, with innumerable crispy brown buttery pastry leaves enclosing a ricotta filling with a hint of lemon. The next morning I was sorry we hadn’t bought more.
I and the other mostly younger participants were checked in by a stern “nurse” in a three-story century-old institution, the Kingsland Ward at St. Johns in Williamsburg. We were issued keys and encouraged to explore any locked cabinets or drawers we found. Our instructions were not to open any closed doors and to speak only if spoken to. The action takes place all over the facility, as you follow beckoning characters up and down steep flights of stairs; doors open and close as the scenes unfold. From our initial group of 15, 5 of us were peeled off for a roller coaster paced, hallucinatory spin through the mind of Lewis Carroll. It was more of a performance and dance interpretation than verbal piece, with the action taking place within inches and encircling and occasionally threatening to overwhelm the participant. As the evening progressed, our group was whittled down smaller and smaller, and at times I found myself alone with an actor and even occasionally completely alone. At various points, I found myself taking dictation, lying next to another participant on a bed in a darkened room while being read a bedtime story, and painting a white rose red seated opposite a white-suited White Rabbit (Tom Pearson).
My closest reference was to smaller participatory performances like the “Car Plays” at La Jolla Playhouse’s WoW festival, but this was choreography on a grand scale, very ambitious and all-encompassing.I imagined that each participant would cycle through every room at different times, but afterwards, comparing notes with a couple of other women in the subway, it seems each visitor’s experience is unique. I later read that each viewer’s version overlaps by about 70%.
One particularly memorable scene took place in a large room with a dining table and chairs in the center. The performers threw themselves viscerally along the length of the table, which itself became a dancer in an elaborately articulated ballet, itself being flung and slid across the floor, as well the chairs. It brought to mind the elaborate dance constructions of the late Pina Bausch, so well depicted in the film “Pina” by Wim Wenders. The Tea Party itself, with me and several other guests at the table, was unforgettable. We did imbibe some tea and treats at the party, and other small libations were proffered throughout the evening.
The pas de deux between Alice and Lewis Carroll hinted at the ambiguity of their relationship, while another featured Alice with her reflection on the opposite side of a looking glass. Mirrors and looking glasses transmuting into windows as lights were turned on or off directed our attention into adjacent rooms, propelling us forward through the narrative. Some scenes had a luridly voyeuristic quality, as when finding oneself on one side of a medicine chest, witnessing an apparent breakdown, while other scenes brought Amsterdam’s red light district to mind, where prostitutes display their goods behind glass vitrines, within inches of the public. Altogether, I was astonished at the range of associations that came to mind and resolved to reread the book. It was a revelatory night at the theatre, a highlight in a week filled with excellent dramatic variety.
Monday, May 5, 2014 dawned sunny, with the rain echo of the prior day banished. We logged many steps, with the Fitbit total for the day 20,000 steps (10 miles).
We headed across Soho on Spring St, finding a lot to like on the way. Our destination was a new bagel shop Sarah told us about, featuring wood fire finishing of the bagels. We hopscotched along Spring St, stopping into Ottiva, a perennial favorite Italian shoe store to which our friend Gail introduced us. I found a pair of black leather summer sandals and a handsome silver-grey pair of men’s style woven oxfords on sale. (Apparently, so many women commented on the men’s version from a couple of years before that the company came out with a women’s version). From across an intersection, I saw a handsome 5 story cast iron building with neon arrays on the 5th floor and knew it must be the newly restored Judd home and studio, now house museum, for which we hadn’t yet been about to reserve a tour, 2 trips in a row. The neon artworks on the top floor were, of course, the work of Judd’s friend, Dan Flavin.
Evolution is always a fun store to investigate, filled with natural and scientific curiosities, geodes and skulls, animal skeletons and animal models. We finally found the rice pudding store, Rice to Riches, which we learned about from our partner Rebecca after our last trip to NYC and stay in Soho. We picked up a small bowl, vanilla with sour cherries, for later, after tasting tiramisu, the server’s favorite. (We ate it later in Roosevelt Park and it was the BEST rice pudding I have ever eaten.) Finally, it was time for lunch at Black Seed Bagel, a small joint that smelled great. We shared 2 bagel sandwiches, both preferring #5, with sablefish and salmon to #2, beet-roasted salmon, but both were delicious. The bagel’s texture and taste were spot on, and we both liked their NOT super sized, manageable size.
The F train took us to Roosevelt Island, where we meandered south on a gorgeous sunny day, to Louis Kahn’s last work, the post-humously executed Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, just opened a couple of years before. Along the waterfront were a line of pink-blossomed cherry trees, setting off to great effect the views across the water of the Manhattan skyline.
Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island
Slowly heading back across town through Central Park in the gold light of late afternoon was equally pleasurable, and a nice appetite stimulant for the Michelin-starred meal planned for the evening at Dovetail, at Columbus Avenue and 77th St, another great recommendation from Gail. On Monday nights, they have a nicely priced, 3 course plus dessert vegetarian (or vegetable focused) prix fix meal option for $58. These courses are augmented by scruptious mini-cornbread and flatbread, starters and chocolates in addition. I also like this restaurant because the noise level is manageable-no screaming or ear straining required. We celebrated Sarah and Aaron’s imminent house closing with a South African Chenin Blanc. For dessert, Steve and I both opted for the chocolate souffle, which doesn’t have to be ordered in advance.
Monday night at Dovetail is a wonderful vegetable focused meal, at the opposite end of the price spectrum from Westville, reflecting the exquisite presentations and superb attention to detail. Both are delicious in their own way.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Fitbit total: 25, 200 steps (12 miles)
I met sister Clarissa for a latte and pao de quiejo, a small round savory and yeasty cheese-puff looking bread ball (looked like a gouchere but not hollow) at a nice Brasilian coffee house, O Cafe, not far from the hotel and on her way to work. Meanwhile, Steve checked out his sister’s Sarah’s suggestion of a bakery near our hotel, Grandaisy. His reviews of the califlower “pizza” bread led us to return later in the week.
After we met up, we took advantage of the gorgeous cool weather and walked north on the Highline, the lovely landscaped elevated walkway and garden on the west side, along long abandoned rail tracks, now with plantings, art works and nice views all along the way.
En route, we passed through Chelsea Market, full of inviting lunch options.
A glistening, golden roasting chicken pulled us into the Dicksons Farmstand butcher shop, complete with sides of meat hanging from hooks (foreshadowing our rendezvous with Rocky, set for that evening). We picked up 2 fantastic sandwiches to share on the Highline, one made from their roast chicken, enlivened with olives and capers, with a nice touch of spice, and the other a savory roast beef with pickled red onion. The ID Independent Designers Pop Shop also distracted us, and I picked up a couple of cute bamboo and cotton silk screened T shirts with nice graffics by Umsteigen. Once on the Highline, we popped down once to see Matthew Barney’s show at Yossi Milo Gallery on 10th Avenue, gorgeous prints of imagery from the La Brea Tar Pits, which incorporated tar from the pits into their processing.
Jumping on the subway, we headed north, intending to take in the Audobon print show and a show of Bill Cunningham photography at the New York Historical Society, only to find it was closed for a special event. (A pet peeve of mine: why don’t museums post this type of info on their websites?!) But, as is often the case, it turned out fine. A closed door often leads another direction. We decided to walk across and up Central Park, taking advantage of the splendid weather, to another museum we had never been to, the Museum of the City of New York, to see a show of graffitti art, City as Canvas (the Martin Wong collection), as well as a show about the famed construction firm, the Guastavinos, entitled Palaces for the People. We had admired one of these splendid masonry vaulted tile ceilings on a prior trip at the Queensboro Bridge Market.
For some crazy reason, we decided to walk from 5th Avenue and 103rd St from the museum, all the way to the Winter Garden Theatre at 7th Avenue and 50th St. The light was so beautiful in the park, it almost made us forget our overtaxed feet.
We were really ready to sit for a while when we took our seats for Rocky, our long-anticipated Broadway “debut.” It did not disappoint-really capturing the tone of the film, with spectacular use of video screens, amazing set and terrific casting. The finale fight, the showdown between Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa, takes place on a boxing ring which extends out into the audience, displacing the patrons in the orchestra seats onto the stage to surround the 3 other sides of the ring.
Afterwards, we decompressed at dinner at Nizza with socca, veal rollatini (spinach stuffed) and asparagus. I was still pumped up hours later, making it hard to go to sleep.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Double feature day, a matinee of “Realistic Joneses” and an evening performance of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. We’ve doubled up like this the last several trips, more for efficiency than ideal. To fortify ourselves for the coming day’s entertainment, we walked north for lunch by way of a perennial favorite, City Bakery, on 18th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues. It’s a rare trip that we come to NY without eating at least one meal there. When Steve’s parents were alive, it often was the last stop to load up on pretzel croissants and other signature treats before heading to New Jersey. To fortify ourselves for the walk to City Bakery, we ducked into Jacques Torres, just a few blocks from the hotel, for a shot of spicy dark chocolate and tucked a cannelé away for later. (City Bakery also has excellent hot chocolate, also available as a shot). City Bakery has a variety of delicious fresh salads and sides (chickpea and raddicchio, grilled fennel) sold by weight and a favorite sandwich of mine was also available, the pumpkin seed burger, served with cilantro on a buttery, thick, tortilla like flatbread.
We logged more steps heading up 5th Avenue, encountering a food fair opposite Madison Square Park, filled with delicious smelling options.
The Realistic Joneses featured a star-studded quartet, with Toni Colette and Traci Letts playing a couple named Jones, and Micheal C. Hall and Marisa Tomei playing their new neighbors, also named Jones. They bond slowly over the discovery that both husbands have a progressive neurologic disorder. Steve loved the unfiltered, stream of conscious existential dialogue of the play, while I labored a bit with it. It definitely had its moments, excellent acting and casting, but I didn’t fully engage with it to the degree that Steve did.
We both loved Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, except for the ear-splitting volume, which had me diving from the opening number into my purse for my earbuds.
In between, we went to MOMA until closing (Sigmar Polke retrospective) and then had skewers of shitake, scallops, duck and scallion, shishito peppers and other delicious morsels on sticks at the bar at Yakitori Totto, continuing our Wednesday-in-NYC tradition of 2 shows and an interlude at Yakitori Totto in between. This time, I succeeded in speaking more Japanese than English to the waitress and in receiving more Japanese than English in return than before, so I think I’m making a little progress.
Thursday, May 8, 2014: The weather turned, cooler, grey, windy and threats of rain, without much materializing. It was a nice morning to dawdle over breakfast and the NY Times south of the hotel at Grandaisy Bakery. The owner was formerly affiliated with Sullivan Street Bakery, another excellent bakery we sampled on a prior trip. They have tartine like “pizza” slices with artichokes, potatoes, califlower, which are delicious. We again took our favorite route north, the Highline, via Chelsea Market. Steve, already in a culinary rut, returned for a Dicksons Farmstand chicken sandwich, while I branched out, heading across the market for a Cambodian-style chicken sandwich from Num Pang, on a baguette, with cilantro, pickled shredded carrot and ribbons of pickle. Dueling chicken sandwiches, both delicious, tough to declare a clear winner.
The north end of the Highline terminates around 30th St now, with big construction projects along the way. We met SD friends and part-time New Yorkers Lenny and Arleene for an afternoon at a design show, the Collective Design Fair, filled with gorgeous and expensive collectibles (George Nakashima furniture, Bertoia sculptures, art jewelry). From there, we made our way up 9th Avenue for an early dinner at Marseille, owned by the same outfit as Nizza, highlighting another slice of French coastal cuisine. I opted for the vegetarian cous-cous, while Steve had Tuscan chicken under a brick.
Our evening show floored us both. “Of Mice and Men”, the Steinbeck classic, perfectly realized with James Franco as George and Chris O’Dowd as Lenny. Perhaps the quintessential American play in the definitive version? High praise, I know, but we both were really captivated. We had seen Philip Seymour Hoffman the prior year in “Death of a Salesman,” but I thought just maybe, this “Of Mice and Men” was even more affecting.
On the walk home, just a few blocks from the hotel, I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing an familiar face emerge from the shadows-my brother-in-law, Jason, returning from his Spanish lesson, bearing ice cream for my sister.
Friday, May 9, 2014 (travel day)
An all travel day is no fun, so I always try to incorporate a treat or something fun into a day otherwise given over to travel, to redeem it in part. We decided our best option to see the Ai Weiwei show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art would be to incorporate it into our trip to the airport on our last day-it was on the way, after all. This looked doable by subway. Our closest stop, at Canal and Varick, was only a block north of Grandaisy Bakery in Tribeca, so we stopped off in the teddy bear statue park adjacent and had our morning coffee (Steve) and latte (me) and pizza breads there before piling into the station.
Negotiating the omnipresent stairs with even a small suitcase is a good test of one’s balance and knees, but we like a challenge. Getting to the BMA was easy, once we negotiated the transfer to line 2 at Chambers; there is a stop right in front of the museum.
Getting to the airport afterwards was doable, but definitely a longer ordeal than we thought initially. A short walk east from the museum leads to a short S line, which I’m guessing means shuttle. Two stops takes you to the Franklin Avenue station (line C), but to get to the airport requires another transfer to the A line. Which takes you to the Howard Beach station, where you pick up the Airtrain to JFK. Not difficult, but it took a long time (1.5 hours), so probably not the most efficient way to go. Note to self: next time, try Uber from the museum.
On the other hand, stopping and spending the day at the Brooklyn Museum was a worthy destination, filled with visual and even culinary delights. We both really enjoyed seeing more of Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei’s work in the show called According to What?, which revealed so much about the inner workings of his pluripotent mind. One of our favorite pieces of his we saw a couple of years ago at the Tate Modern in London, in which an enormous Chinese cooley hat shaped mound of tiny ceramic sunflower seeds filled a huge gallery. He is well represented as well in the MCASD collection and his political activism and opposition to the repressive Chinese government was the subject of a documentary we found quite fascinating: Never Sorry (which we rewatched the weekend of our return; equally engaging the 2cd time). For this show, there was a mix of media, from videos, photographs, to sculpture and installations. A series of large boxes in the entryway to the museum concealed small dioramas of his life during his notorious 81 day detention and imprisonment. Scenes depicted the artist sleeping, showering, eating and being interrogated by soldiers in a small cell. I loved a large stainless steel installation of multiple bicycles fused together. Also fascinating was a large coiled snake, installed on the ceiling, which was made up of children’s backpacks, recalling the aftermath of the earthquake which rent so many children’s schools apart, killing thousands and leaving their backpacks as a silent witness to the tragedy (also documented by the artist photographically).
Another giant gallery paid direct tribute to the incident, with straightened rebar reclaimed from the demolished schools stacked in wave-like arrangements on the floor, with the children’s names, ages, hometowns and other demographics quietly cataloged on a long wall in the same gallery.
In another tall gallery was a large installation by an artist who had been one of the featured artists in an MCASD show of street art, Viva la Revolución. (The catalog was for sale in the giftshop.) Known as Swoon, her real name is Caledonia Curry.
For this work, entitled Submerged Motherlands, she and her team built a towering tree, from which dangled two ark-like boats, which have made appearances at other artistic events previously (including the Venice Bienniel, uninvited).
Also fascinating to finally see was the seminal feminist art installation of Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, in which she gives due to important female figures through the ages by creating elaborate place settings at a large triangular table, giving a place at the table to women of importance given short shrift by history until recently.
We treated ourselves to a nice lunch at Saul, a Michelin starred restaurant inside the museum, sharing 4 starters and thoroughly enjoying them: carrot and ginger soup, a beet salad, a Provençal white asparagus salad and a charcuterie plate. It was a nice note on which to end another great week in NYC. NY is always fun, even in beastly weather, but coupled with euphoria-inducing spring weather made for an even more memorable sojourn in the Big Apple-irresistible!
Dovetail: Michelin starred Upper West side contemporary American fine dining, Monday night vegetarian and vegetable focused meals are a terrific option and well priced for the quality ($58 for 3 courses, plus dessert). (Chef John Fraser’s prior stints include the French Laundry)
O Cafe: Brasilian coffeehouse with sweets and savory treats. 482 6th Ave New York, NY 10012 (Avenue of the Americas and 12th St); (212) 229-2233
Dicksons Farmstand (inside Chelsea Market, which has an incredible variety of eateries), 75 Ninth Avenue, NY 10011 (Meatpacking District); great sandwiches and meat products
Nizza (specialities of Nice, including socca, a chickpea flour pancake): 630 Ninth Avenue (between 44th & 45th Streets), (212) 956-1800; www.nizzanyc.com (close to theatre district)
City Bakery, on 18th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues
Fortunato Brothers (Italian bakery, great sfogliatelle), 289 Manhattan Ave; Brooklyn, NY 11211
Rice to Riches, 37 Spring St, New York, NY 10012. Incredibly smooth and creamy rice puddings in many different flavors, worth $9 for a small (big enough for us to share) topped with sour cherries? Probably.
Restaurants I want to try next time:
Kajitsu (Japanese Buddhist Michelin starred cuisine)
Danji (haute Korean, 52 St)
Buvette on Grove (West Village, also in Paris)
Cookshop (in Chelsea)