Last week my younger sister, Becca, and her fiancé, Philip, were in town for a few days. Philip had been to New York before but only as a tourist, so Becca was eager to show him what our family does in New York—we eat and we shop. Oh, maybe sometimes we go to a museum, too.
As soon as Becca and Philip put down their bags, we headed to Bergdorf Goodman to look at shoes. Becca is on a quest for the shoes that will peep out from under her wedding dress. I love Bergdorf Goodman but try to visit only once or twice a year when there’s a good sale going on; otherwise I’ll just end up wanting a lot of stuff I don’t need, like glitter-encrusted Alaia ballet flats. (“It’s an A-whatta-a?”) Naturally, this was exhausting, so instead of standing in line at the Burger Joint we decided to try the new midtown Pop Burger.
Becca and Philip are natural food bloggers; they take pictures of everything. Everyone agreed that the food (especially the onion rings) was good but expensive (I think my jaw literally dropped when my turkey burger, fries, and vanilla milkshake totaled almost $20). I would have been happy to skip the mini burgers for just the shake and fries, which were what I think of as country club or school cafeteria fries—not just crispy, but seemingly dipped in some kind of delicious batter. I’m sure they all come straight from Sysco; there definitely weren’t any sous chefs cutting fries in the back of Pop Burger (or my elementary school).
Going to Pop Burger made me feel old. I remember when the original location opened, and it seems like a long time ago. Heck, I remember when I would go down to Bleecker Street, buy a Magnolia cupcake without passing a single Marc Jacobs store, and then browse at the junk shop across the street and down the block. It’s a Lulu Guinness now, I think…anyway, it definitely isn’t a junk shop. What happened to that old man, his cat, and their mismatched plates and rickety furniture?
The next day we walked up Madison Avenue to have lunch at E.A.T.
Many people, some of whom may be my husband, find the prices there offensive, but most of the food really is wonderful. (A few years ago a New York Times Dining section investigation discovered that of all the fancy grocery stores in Manhattan claiming to sell wild salmon, only Eli’s Manhattan was actually doing so. This was proof enough for me that he really is using better and therefore more costly raw ingredients than everyone else.) I had two perfect salads (lentils vinaigrette and broccoli with garlic) and, of course, raisin bread slathered with butter. Becca got the amazing grilled cheese. When Philip wanted to order matzoh ball soup and meatloaf, we had to explain to him how big the portions are. Afterwards I tried a French kruller, which was not so great, and wished I had stuck to my usual shortbread heart. Eli’s shortbread is my favorite.
Well fortified, we explored the Met.
After a rest, we went downtown for a drink at Fanelli’s with our cousin and his girlfriend, who happened to be visiting from Houston. Everyone was impressed by how cheap the beer was.
Then Becca, Philip, and I had dinner at Lombardi’s. I love Lombardi’s, whatever the pizza experts say. When I first lived in New York my apartment was at Prince and Mulberry. Lombardi’s was still a sliver of a restaurant, and sometimes I would go in alone on a Saturday afternoon. “You know we don’t sell slices,” they’d say skeptically. “I know,” was my solemn reply. Half a pizza for lunch and the rest to take home was fine with me. I was especially nervous about taking Becca there, since she had bitterly resented a family visit to Grimaldi’s a few years ago. (I think she may have tried to hurt me by saying Domino’s was better.) We had to wait outside in the freezing cold for quite a while. Bob Costas arrived, parked his girlfriend at the back of the line, and went in to see if he could get special treatment. He could; they were seated right away, and we’ve all held a grudge against Bob Costas ever since. Anyway, Becca prefers Lombardi’s.
On their last day in town, we had to decide between the City Bakery and the Shake Shack for lunch. After all the burgers and pizza, we decided with great difficulty that we had better head to the City Bakery. I love the Shake Shack beyond all reason, but I am also irrationally fond of the City Bakery. No one of their salads blows my mind, but the opportunity to have eight different things on my plate makes the sum worth way more than its parts. Also, I got a pretzel croissant, which I only do a couple of times a year, and it was still warm. It was divine.
We walked down to Soho, shopping all the way and stopping at ’Wichcraft for a sandwich crème cookie. And finally we had dinner at Balthazar. Andrew was able to join us for dinner, having been completely occupied by work for most of the week, and we were all talking about what makes Balthazar special. When we arrived for our 6pm reservation, the restaurant was almost empty, making me feel as if we’d been jerked around when they said they couldn’t give us a later table. But within half an hour every table was full and everything was noisily happy, just the way it should be. I pointed out that it’s a relief to eat in such a cavernous space every once in a while. Even if you’re elbow to elbow with your neighbors, the ceilings are high, the flowers are gorgeously huge, and the room feels vast but also full of cozy corners. “I think I like this place so much,” I said, “because when I first lived here it had only been open for a year, and it was the cool place. When I came here and ate an early dinner alone in the bar, or came with friends at one o’clock in the morning and ate french fries and macaroni and cheese after a party, I felt like I really lived in New York.” I still love it. Of course, I never really try the more ambitious things on the menu: it’s a hamburger, steak frites, or duck shepherd’s pie for me. We branched out from crème brulée for once and ordered the lemon mille-feuille for dessert. So shocked were we by its deliciousness that Becca forgot to take a picture until it was almost demolished. Yum.
Thanks for visiting, y'all, for sleeping through the sirens on the air mattress in the tiny living room-kitchen, and for reminding me of some of the nice things about New York!