Another day and yet more of this exciting city to explore. It was fast dawning on me that even though we are spending 6 days in New York we are going to have to miss so many great things. Even more of a reason to pack in as much as possible in the little time available. After a leisurely breakfast – turns out the vultures don’t come out to play until 9 – we jumped on the Metro into Manhattan.
For me the absolute highlight of travelling to a new place has to be experiencing the food. The great thing about New York is that they have every possible type of cuisine and it is all fantastic value if you walk a block outside of the main tourist hub of Times Square. So, we had booked onto a food eating/walking tour entitled ‘Go West’ which was to highlight some of the great gems of the New York culinary scene just west of tourist central. DISCLAIMER, it did not disappoint.
We met our guide Corey in Penn station and I think we were both a little taken aback by his regimental approach to conducting the tour. He was very keen on us lining up, allocating numbers to shout out for roll call and generally complaining a lot about tourist behaviour. At this point we were in two minds whether the tour would be enjoyable at all, luckily we stuck with him and as the tour went on watched him mellow as he realised we were not a bunch of naughty tourists or indeed school children.
First stop was actually in the vicinity of Penn Station for some famous NY pizza. We had a regular slice on recommendation from Corey and I can honestly say it was pretty fantastic. There were options to also have the deep pan Sicilian style here too but we decided for our first pizza slice to keep things authentically New York style. A huge slice, which we shared between 2, set us back the bargain price of $3!! What a find. If we have time I would definitely come back here.
Next up was a subway ride. The military like structure began to make more sense as one local guide had to shepherd 35 tourists of multiple nationalities on to a subway train for a 2 stop ride. Luckily there was a bit of a delay which meant the train was sitting on the platform allowing us all enough time to jump on and diligently count the stops to ensure we all got off at the correct stop. After a full roll call we made our way into the Hell’s Kitchen district, famous for gang violence and the basis for West Side Story, the district has now been transformed into a foodie haven.
We made a quick stop in Hell’s Kitchen Park and then headed to a fantastic little Mexican deli. This place was famous for Tacos and again, this might be some of the nicest Mexican food I have ever eaten. We shared the chicken taco and added chilli, lime and onion to make up this mouth-watering delight. I also tried out Mexican coke which is made with real sugar in comparison to American coke which is made using corn syrup. I didn’t really notice much difference but was quite excited about opening and drinking the coke out of a glass bottle. You don’t get experiences like that too often these days.
After 2 savoury stops it was time for our first sweet stop. Again Corey made a recommendation here for something we would not have picked – a black and white cookie. This is not really cookie consistency but actually more of a thin cake covered in chocolate and white icing. It was sublime and we were really glad we had taken his advice. We also purchased a chocolate brownie to eat later. Eating tactically had never been more important yet difficult. Every stop was filled with fantastic food but there was a total of 6 stops so if you scoffed yourself on no.2 then you were limiting your ability for future food possibilities – the problems of life.
Stop 4 was a funky sandwich shop with an inspiring owner who came out to explain the sandwich fillings to us – many were unknown Portuguese meats as having grown up in Italy, he moved to New York and then spent over ten years living in Lisbon. This was a brilliant fusion of cuisines into one amazing sandwich. We opted for the Henrique sandwich which consisted of Portuguese Alheira (a pate like smoky sausage), mozzarella, kale, onion tomato and olive oil. It was served toasted and really was spectacular and apparently really healthy. Who knew? However, as good as the sandwiches were the absolute highlight from this stop was the Pastel de crema – custard tart. The flaky pastry melted into warm, creamy, sweet custard in a mouthful of complete heaven!
At this point we were starting to wane, so much food! However, we persevered and the 5th and second last stop was a Greek bakery where the owner’s wife was Austrian- another eclectic mix of cuisines. We opted for the apple strudel after the custard tart putting us into a sweet mood. Again it was completely delicious and left us feeling full yet so satisfied. The Austrian lady here was also lovely, the one thing that really comes through here is how much the people love good quality food.
Our final stop was another first for us – frozen custard. This is basically ice-cream made out of egg yolk and was started in Milwaukee in Wisconsin before the owner of this place brought it to New York. It has been so popular that there are now chains all over America of this original restaurant. We opted for a vanilla scoop and the weekly special of buttery brown sugar. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end the tour. I would definitely highly recommend the tour to anyone looking to try out some local food while over here.
After the whole morning spent eating it was thought that we should spend the afternoon burning off some of the 5000 calories we had consumed and so determined to tick off the Met. When deciding to come to New York the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the no.1 museum I wanted to see. Synonymous with Gossip Girl the grandeur and scale of the museum is well known. When it first comes into sight sticking out of the side of Central Park it really does take your breath away. It is a huge domination of the gentle landscape and denotes size and power. As we wandered up the stairs I was struck with an excitement of a lifetime dream finally being realised.
Inside we collected our tickets – both the museum and the food tour were included in the New York Explorer Pass – I gave the map I had perused online a look and realised how large and quite daunting the museum was. You could easily spend the whole day here and still only see half of the exhibits. As we only had 3 and a half hours before closing we decided to skip the audio guide and just wander and take in the different collections.
We turned left right after we entered on the first floor where the Greek and Roman art was located. Heads up Juliet Turk – you would have loved it. They had some pretty huge interesting sculptures but otherwise it wasn’t really where my interests lay. Once we arrived in the African section we were starting to wane from a full day on our feet so we headed straight to the American wing café to caffeine up. They had some interesting statues and murals in the American section which we saw before heading back through European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. They had a small Faberge section which was beautiful and a lot of rooms set up in the style of old mansions – very Downton Abbeyesque.
After noting the time and that we were running seriously behind we bypassed some other exhibits and went straight to Modern and Contemporary Art. I really enjoyed this section which had some beautiful paintings and some really cool creative sculptures, however, my mother was less of a fan. This section continued upstairs and then came the piste de resistance – European Paintings.
I wasn’t even planning on focussing on this section but it was right next to the modern section and so we kind of stumbled upon it. They had a full 2 rooms of Monet including the famous Waterlillies and Haystacks paintings which was amazing to see. They also had a few Van Gogh pieces as well as a lovely lesser known portrait by Gustav Klint. As well as the big names there were hundreds of other spectacular other pieces, this was definitely the highlight of the Met for me.
I managed to draw myself away just long enough to see the 3 photography exhibitions of which, I have to say only 1 was really standout, that being the Gallery of Contemporary Photographs which had some really beautiful shots. Just as I was getting ready to take on the American Wing the bell for 15 minutes before close ran and we just had time to take a quick look around the shop before making our way out. All in all, definitely worth seeing, but a lot of time is required to really get the most out of the museum.
We limped back to the station and headed for home with aching feet but a few more fantastic experiences under our belts. All that was left was to order a brilliant Japanese take-out from TJ Asian Bistro. I had a phenomenal Bento Box of teriyaki salmon, crab and avocado california rolls, mixed ngiri, salad, rice and miso soup, again for a complete bargain price. Edinburgh seriously needs to up its game in the culinary department! I have never eaten such good Japanese food outside Japan, for a minute I was transported back to the Tsukiji Fish Market on that early January morning.