My ideal vacation day would consist of breakfast at a quaint café, aimless meandering around the city (on foot, preferably), lunch someplace with a view (or prime vantage for people watching), a relaxing cup of coffee, sightseeing and/or napping, followed by a fantastic dinner.

Last weekend, a trip to visit friends in Brooklyn unexpectedly turned into an unplanned weekend in Manhattan, and though I consider myself a fairly flexible traveler, I found myself quickly feeling overwhelmed.  Where to stay?  What to do?  Where to eat?  What to see?

I put the power into Priceline’s hands, and quickly scored a 3.5 star hotel in midtown for only $150 a night!  The Club Quarters was cramped, but safe and clean, and the staff was very friendly.  Before crossing the bridge (literally) to Manhattan,  I had the saltiest, most delicious egg and everything bagel sandwich at Bergen Bagel’s in Brooklyn.  I loved a lot of things at Bergen:  the delicious chewy bagels, the endless assortment of cream cheese (easily mistaken for a case full of gelato), and that every patron is asked if they want ketchup, salt, and pepper on their egg sandwich.  Why, yes I do, fine sir.  Yes, I do.

BERGEN BAGELS

After breakfast, I took a stroll near the Brooklyn Bridge where I spotted the Statue of Liberty.

STATUE OF LIBERTY FROM BROOKLYN

Before stepping foot in Manhattan, I accumulated a large list of restaurants to try  through Facebook, Twitter, and SOS emails.  Despite this, our first meal in the Big Apple was picked based on hotel proximity and Urbanspoon reviews, and that dinner at Bistro Milano ended up being the best meal of the weekend.  The cavatelli with sausage was fantastic, and I loved the contrast of the bitter broccoli rabe, sweet sundried tomatoes, and garlicky tomato sauce.

The paccheri (jumbo rigatoni) with a thick, meaty bolognese was hearty and satisfying.

BISTRO MILANO NYC

The next morning, we walked to Ess-a Bagel, where I had my first ever whole grain everything bagel.  All I can say about the whole grain everything bagel is never, ever again.  If I’m having a bagel, I’d rather have the tastier, albeit it non-whole, version.

ESS A BAGEL NYC

For lunch, we walked a few miles to Eataly.  I was expecting an Italian restaurant, but Eataly is more like the Mecca of extravagant Italian food markets.  You can buy everything you need to make an Italian feast, drink wine while you shop, pop into a sit down restaurant, or hit up one of the food boutiques for a quick meal.  I headed straight for the “Paninos” booth, where I had the best sandwich of the trip:  the panuozzo al prosciutto cotto.  It’s a Neapolitan pizza dough sandwich with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, and arugula, plus pesto (at my request).

EATALY PANUOZZO

Last time I visited NYC for work, I had a mind blowing meal at Pampano:  chicharron de camaron (spicy/crispy “rock” shrimp tossed in a avocado vinaigrette) and callos de hacha (pan seared scallops with crispy salty serrano ham).  This visit, we attempted to squelch our Mexican cravings with dinner at Rosa Mexicano.  It was an unsatisfying meal, which was followed by an underwhelming and overpriced breakfast at Sarabeth’s.  My vegetable frittata was rubbery and bland, and the waiter’s upper lip practically curled when I asked for ketchup.  Later, I ventured down to the Village for lunch at Bread, and though I didn’t love the fishy-tasting shrimp sandwich, the bread itself (both on the sandwich and in the bread basket) was fantastic.

BREAD NYC

Before heading home, I grabbed some “Italian” cookies from Ferrara’s in Little Italy.  I say “Italian” in quotes because the cookies were so bad, I’m embarrassed to call them Italian without them.

In between all the eating, I squeezed in a Banana Republic shopping extravaganza (hello, 50% off!) a run in central park, and logged about 25 miles of walking (mostly in Midtown — stats per my Fitbit).  That’s what happens when one traveler refuses to waste money on cabs and one refuses to ride the subway.

So what is the lesson learned from this impromptu trip?  I think it’s that New York (and other cities, for that matter) are best explored through the senses:  walking along, stopping in restaurants whose amazing aromas catch your attention from the sidewalk, and agenda-less meandering.  So note to self:  on my next trip, focus on just being rather than spending countless hours researching what it is I should be doing.

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