The flight path into LaGuardia was from the southwest, swooping up along the Narrows, with a clear view of the Statue of Liberty, and then Battery Park. Amid the cluster of buildings that now appear uniformly tall was an anomalous open space marked by strobe searchlights. Behind it, as the plane slowed and descended, was a heart-piercing sunset, all magenta and pinks, colors intensified by the pollution in New Jersey's atmosphere.
Thus began our weekend in New York. With tourism down and the recession affecting everyone, bargain rates -- well, bargains by New York standards -- abound. Reservations at top restaurants and tickets for Broadway shows are easier to get than usual. Hotels are lowering rates and offering weekend deals in the interest of attracting tourists and restoring business to its pre-September, pre-recession levels. Some good deals can be found on Internet sites like Expedia.com. And New York is awash with good restaurants (on almost any street), great restaurants (get a Zagat's guide) and fabulous restaurants (Le Bernardin and Restaurant Daniel top the short list); you can eat yourself silly. Wander art galleries and museums. Stroll through Central Park. The Christmas tree is up and lit at Rockefeller Center. Visit the famous Gotham Book Mart before it leaves its brownstone location next month. Go and be frivolously urbane. Or embrace your lack of sophistication and gawk. Maybe this scenario -- how my sweetie and I spent some time in my hometown -- will inspire you to head to New York for your next getaway.
Obeying the mantra to Deny Ourselves Nothing, we stayed at the Regency Hotel. On Park Avenue at 61st Street, the Regency is a 20-minute walk to the theater district, or a thirty-minute cab ride. Unless you're in a presidential motorcade, walking is the quickest way to get around the City. Before heading out for Friday's play, we had drinks in the Library, the cozy bar on the Regency's ground floor where the martinis come accompanied by small silver ramekins of expensive nibbles. Then off to the theater.
We saw Strindberg's Dance of Death, a mordant take on the prisons we construct in the guise of security -- call it a 25-year marriage -- with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen in the leads. I still can't quite believe I was in the same room as those two. When the applause ended, we headed out to 21 Club (21 W. 52nd St.).
Famous for its clubby atmosphere, the likelihood of seeing the rich and powerful in full deal-making mode, and its brashly overpriced burger ($29), 21 is just a decade or two away from becoming its own clich. But the food is good -- classic comfort food like game potpie or roast chicken with corn bread stuffing and grilled vegetables. The walls are covered with original New Yorker cartoons. If your grandfather was Andrew Carnegie, this is where he would have eaten.
We spent Saturday walking up Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum, then back down Madison Avenue, stopping at some galleries. At one I got so caught up in the myth of money that $28,000 didn't seem unreasonable for a little painting by 19th-century artist Ralph Blakelock. I found myself wanting to say, "Wrap it up!" when the very small voice of reason reminded me of my actual resources. Needing a break, we popped into the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street for their High Tea, held in the Frank Lloyd Wright--inspired Lobby Lounge.
For $30 one gets an assortment of finger sandwiches (smoked salmon with onion, tomatoes and capers; devilled ham salad, turkey with avocado and Marscapone), a heavenly three-tiered tray of sweets like strawberry pistachio tart and hazelnut chocolate mousse, and scones with Devonshire cream and preserves. We added some Roederer champagne to balance out the perfectly brewed tea. We had a play to attend, after all, and needed the sustenance.
Saturday's production was Hedda Gabler with the lovely, if too-old-for-the-role, Kate Burton. Barely 24 hours in the City and I've become a discerning theater snob. Phew.
After the play we headed towards midtown and a relatively new restaurant that has gotten rave reviews in The New Yorker and the Times -- Artisanal, a Fromagerie Bistro and Wine Bar. Purveyors of over 200 cheeses, all handcrafted, they also offer 125 wines by the glass. Not feeling cheesy? The menu offers some lovely bistro dishes like braised lamb shank, rabbit stew or grilled monkfish as alternatives to one of their fondues.
We ended our meal with a cheese sampler (with three different blue cheeses made from goat's, sheep's and cow's milk) with their fresh crusty bread. The wait staff can recommend cheeses off the list with the sweeping knowledge one associates with highly experienced sommeliers. The space itself (Park Avenue at 32nd Street) for several years housed Larry Forgione's An American Place, a restaurant-legend now located uptown on Lexington. Artisanal has retained the open brasserie feel while adding some decidedly Francophile touches -- like Marcel Feguide's "Baigneuse" ("The Bather"), a 1926 mural-sized painting that benignly watches over the scene.
And then it was Sunday, and brunch at Norma's at the Park Meridien Hotel. Passing over the NYPD Special (Kool-Whipped Raspberry and chocolate-stuffed Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee), we had mango-papaya crepes and Eggs Florentine, a fresh spinach variation on Eggs Benedict. Freshly squeezed juice, strong pump-pressed coffee (the pot stays on the table), and little treats like samplers of a strawberry smoothie and candied orange slices at the end of the meal, made this a fitting last munch in New York. By the time we finished the Sunday paper, it was midafternoon and time to head to the airport.