Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Food Lover's Weekend In New York...Part II

We woke up Saturday morning and headed to the Lower East Side for a morning of sweet treats at The Doughnut Plant and Il Laboratorio del Gelato. To read more about that adventure – as well as lots of other New York sweet treats – check out my article The Sweet Side of New York. After our little food adventure, we headed to The Village to visit a spot that any fan of the movie The Big Lebowski will appreciate. The Little Lebowski Shop is located near NYU and Washington Square Park…and it offers lots of Lebowski-themed souvenirs and tee-shirts. We had a great time browsing around this kitschy shop that is indeed little. The store owners are super nice…and huge Lebowski fans, of course. We picked out a few items and snapped a few pictures. If you love The Big Lebowski like we do…and are in the area? Stop in and check this place out. The Dude would definitely abide!

From there, it was a quick 5-minute walk to Washington Square Park. It was a gorgeous Spring afternoon – blue skies and temperatures in the 70s – so people were out in full force to sunbathe, enjoy picnics, people watch…and walk their dogs. The cherry blossoms and tulips were in bloom, so the park was full of vibrant color.

We spent about 30 minutes snapping pictures and soaking in the gorgeous weather. We even met this little fellow…who was pretty much the cutest hot dog we’ve ever seen!

After resting in the park for a bit, we headed to our hotel in The Library Hotel Collection, the very lovely Hotel Elysee. This historic hotel is located in Midtown East, between Madison and Park Avenues. The location makes it perfect for those who are planning to do a little shopping, and the ambiance makes it perfect for couples looking for a little romance. The Elysee was built in the 1920s, and it has a very colorful history. Before it was a hotel, it was a residence. Some of its famous tenants included baseball player Joe DiMaggio and playwright Tennessee Williams. The elegance of the 1920s era was apparent from the moment we walked in the door. Our guest room was located right next to the elevator, which made us feel like it was our own private elevator! The room was decorated in soothing shades of cream and blue, which we found very relaxing. The Elysee is considered one of the most romantic hotels in the city, and I couldn't agree more! 

Like all hotels in The Library Collection, we were offered a wide range of amenities: free in-room WiFi, bottled water, an afternoon wine and cheese reception and morning continental breakfast. The Elysee is also home to the famous Monkey Bar, a piano bar located just off the lobby. We had another great date night planned, and this hotel set the romantic mood perfectly! On our way out, we stopped by the evening wine and cheese reception to start our date night.

We continued our date with dinner at Le Cirque Café. As you can see, the entrance at One Beacon Court's courtyard is quite dramatic -- especially when you look up! Le Cirque is a legendary New York culinary landmark, but I’ve got a little secret to share with you: the slightly more casual Le Cirque Café is located adjacent to Le Cirque’s main dining room, near the bar. The décor in the Cafe is lovely, and there’s a lot of natural light. The prices at Le Cirque Café are quite affordable, but you get the same attentive service and amazing food that Le Cirque is known for. Since we were attending a show that evening, we opted for the Two-Course Dinner. We each selected one appetizer and one entrée. 

Michael chose the Salad "Le Cirque." It was colorful and artfully presented, tossed with a refreshing truffle vinaigrette. I opted for the Tempura Shrimp, which were perfectly fried and not the least bit greasy. The portion size was quite generous as well. We both went with seafood for our entrees. Michael chose the Lobster Risotto, which was creamy and indulgent and full of chunks of lobster. I opted for the seared Scottish Salmon. It was cooked perfectly, and the refreshing citrus sauce worked really well with the rich salmon. It was a memorable meal, served in an upscale -- yet casual -- environment. It was the perfect prelude to our show that evening.

From Le Cirque Cafe, we headed to Lincoln Center to attend a performance of theNew York Philharmonic with pianist Emanuel Ax. Before the show, we took a few minutes to admire the iconic Lincoln Center fountains and marvel at the size of the campus. We’re serious music lovers -- all kinds of music -- so the opportunity to see a world-class symphony like The Philharmonic was a very special treat for us. Emanuel Ax is an extremely talented performer, and our seats allowed us to sit close enough and at an angle that allowed us to see him play the piano. It was amazing how quickly he moved his hands during the complicated Mozart Concerto. Avery Fisher Hall is a fantastic musical venue; after seeing it on PBS over the years, it was a “pinch me” experience to be there in person!

After the Philharmonic performance was over, we made our way back outside. We both admired the beauty of the Lincoln Center fountain at night, with the Metropolitan Opera House in the background. Then we headed a few steps around the corner to Lincoln Ristorante for dessert and coffee. This sleek, modern restaurant is conveniently located right on the Lincoln Center grounds. This makes it a perfect spot for a bite either before or after a performance at one of the Lincoln Center venues. Lincoln Ristorante offers Italian food, including fantastic desserts from pastry chef Richard Capizzi. We ordered coffee and selected two desserts: a rich chocolate cake and a dessert that featured plums in two different ways. Both desserts were creative and expertly prepared. We paired them with a shared sorbetti trio. The sorbetti was rich and creamy, and the flavors paired very nicely with our desserts. Of the three flavors, the chocolate-rosemary was our favorite. The earthy flavor of the rosemary stood up very nicely to the deep dark chocolate. It was unique and delicious! 

After dessert, we hopped into a cab and headed back to our lovely room at The Elysee, agreeing that date night in New York is something every couple should experience! 

We woke up the next day and got ready to have Sunday Brunch at David Burke Townhouse, located in a beautiful Upper East Side townhouse decorated in shades of red. Their brunch has been voted one of the Top 25 in the city, so we were excited to try it. We arrived and were warmly greeted by the hostess. While we were selecting an eye-opener from the cocktail menu, Chef Burke came out from the kitchen to introduce himself and let us know he was going to include a few extra items from the dinner menu to our tasting that morning. We loosened our belts and settled in for a fabulous, over-the-top brunch experience. As we sipped our cocktails and munched on warm-from-the-oven popovers, we looked over the menu.

Everything we tried was expertly prepared and full of flavor. I loved how Chef Burke took familiar food items and added his own creative, modern spin on them. Case in point: this Sea Scallop "Benedict" from the dinner menu. It's comprised of layers of quail egg, potato cake, chorizo, lobster foam, and caviar. It was an amazing combination of flavors and textures! We cut it in half and had one bite each; as soon as we tasted this appetizer, we knew we were in for one amazing meal.

Out brunch appetizers were both seafood based. I chose the crispy and unique Pretzel Crusted Crabcake, which was served with a duo of complimentary sauces. Michael chose Chef Burke's creative pastrami-spiced salmon. It was served with bite-sized watercress blini and a horseradish creme fraiche. These little bites were so fun to assemble and eat. Both appetizers were expertly prepared and featured a beautiful presentation on the plate.

Next up were two "bonus" courses: a crab scramble from the brunch menu and spicy lobster from the dinner menu. The crab scramble was served in a large ostrich egg shell, and it was amazingly creamy. The lump crab and truffle mouseline were decadent touches. Surprisingly, this dish wasn't overly rich. The lobster was a revelation: sweet lobster combined with fiery seasonings. The combination of lemon, basil and chili oil reminded me of a Thai flavor profile. Yes, it was a bit messy to eat -- but it was downright addictive. 

Next came our brunch entrees. Michael ordered the steak and egg, which was stacked with sauteed mushrooms, a potato hash and a touch of bearnaise. The steak was perfectly cooked, and the dish was artfully presented. I was getting a bit full by then, so I opted for a light Spring salad with grilled chicken and shrimp. The addition of goat cheese, walnuts, sliced pears and bacon made it filling...but not overly so. 

Our amazing brunch ended with Chef Burke's signature dessert, the Cheesecake Lollipop Tree. Bite-sized cheesecakes are served on a stick. They are accompanied by bubblegum-flavored whipped cream and fresh berries. This dessert is whimsical and delicious, and perfect for sharing.

After our brunch was over, we decided that it was such a gorgeous Spring afternoon that we should walk off a few calories with a stroll through Central Park. Then, Michael had a brilliant idea: he decided that we should take a horse carriage ride through Central Park instead! A few minutes later, a gorgeous horse with a large purple plume caught our eye. We approached, and found he was very gentle. The carriage driver was a very personable European gentleman who shared a love of photography with Michael. He promised to take us to some lovely vantage points in the park so Michael could snap some pictures. Over the next hour, we enjoyed a casual ride through the park…stopping a few times for Michael to jump off the carriage and snap a few pictures. Here are a few of my favorites. As you can see, Spring is the perfect time to visit New York! Temperatures are mild, and everything seems to be in bloom.

Before we knew it, our hour was up and we were back to the entrance at Central Park South. We made our way over to Columbus Circle to snap a few pictures and enjoy a little bit of people watching. New York is perfect for people watching! Before we knew it, it was time for our afternoon tea reservation at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The final installment of this travelogue will tell you all about our amazing tea-time experience, as well the rest of our New York adventures. Make sure you come back to read all about it!

Disclosure: Our hotel stay and meals were provided by The Library Hotel Collection and the featured restaurants to facilitate inclusion in this article. All opinions expressed are my own, and all photographs are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied or otherwise used without permission.

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