On a cold January evening, I took the train from Newark airport to Penn station in Manhattan for a rendezvous with my dear friend Cassandra...she traversed from Philly and I from Austin. Meeting at our Madison Square Garden adjacent hotel, we promptly made our way toward the gluten....sharing an extraordinary dinner of Georgian cuisine at Old Tbilisi Garden; the molten cheese bread-boat and our mutual existential dread overfloweth.
This trip consisted of 3 main priorities: food (mostly in the form of carbs), seeing the Christian Dior retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum and naturally, savoring each other's long overdue company. As we tend to do, each goal was executed swiftly and without restraint of foul language, inappropriate laughter or caloric intake.
Our first full day boasted a marvelous premier at the bakery next door our hotel to assault a litany of pastries. From there, we wandered in and out of buildings that piqued my architectural interest; Grand Central Station (grand indeed), Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, a Swarovski boutique, the Chrysler building (which we were promptly kicked out of)..."due to Covid" seems to be the catchall phrase for most disappointments these days.
Various details of the day
The final stop before bludgeoning our bellies yet again with cheese and liquor, was the perfectly scaled collection of artworks ranging from Renaissance to the early twentieth century; housed at the Frick Madison Art Museum in a sleek building formerly home of the Whitney. In an out in an hour...the perfect size for a museum if you ask me. Anything more, and the brain tends to bleed from a sensory overload of too much beauty, which I suppose is my preferred means of aesthetic torment.
The next day was dedicated to the monumentally exquisite Christian Dior exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum (find my full review and photo gallery here). But of course, pastries were acquired as the first matter of business for the day. Later in the afternoon as we made our way toward the museum, it became alarmingly clear that our dine-in options at such an hour in Brooklyn (preferably accessible within a short and bitter cold walk from the subway) were rather limited...due to Covid.
We settled on a hole in the wall called Tom's Diner on Washington ave. Greasy, dilapidated, bizarre and dusty choices in decor, strings of Christmas lights (which I presume stay strung year-round), framed photos of comedians you've never heard of with sharpie inscriptions thanking handsome Tom himself for 'all of the extra sauce', with a general environment that makes one really question the level of sanitation they've encountered. It was perfect. I love, LOVE a shitty diner that serves breakfast all day and burnt decaf coffee in mismatched mugs. Give me a gravy-stained paper menu and I'm as cheerful as the Kewpie doll lurking on the shelf above my head.
Stuffed with more triple-fried french fries and overcooked eggs than one should ever consume, we made our way to the museum. Just drop everything you're doing and make a plan to see this Dior exhibit before it closes on February 20, 2022. You can thank me with a gift card to Tom's Diner later.
Some NYC details....
1. I've a weakness for ornate ceilings
2. Entrance of the Chrysler building (an Art Deco masterwork)
3. Grand Central Station lighting is actually not to be taken lightly
Fast forward to the next meal, and we found ourselves dining in a trolly car on a Koreatown sidewalk. What was for dinner you ask? Carbs. What was for dessert you ask? Carbs...in the form of another trip to the bakery. Yes, indeed we curated a fine selection of buttery goods to bring back to our hotel room, a place where we could hide at least some of our shame behind a trail of flaky crumbs left on the ground. A bit savage, but I'll have you know we were without plates. We did our best.
Awaking on our final morning, we knew we couldn't depart New York without experiencing the magic of the city's very serious bagel scene. Ess-a-Bagel was our next victim. Imagine an ice cream parlor and its many cold metal tubs of scoopable sweet flavors on display...now imagine said ice cream is replaced by an array of creative cream cheese varietals. And then imagine the best bagel you've ever had. What's that? You can't? It's probably because anyone that has told you a NY bagel is the best bagel was completely correct and unbeknownst to you, all the other bagels in your life have failed you. There's a mythology surrounding the glory of a New York bagel and it has something to do with the tap water and a boiling process. Don't ask me questions about food science. I have no answers for you. I'll simply give you my best culinary advice for a trip to NY: just say yes to carbs.
In a carboload daze, Cassy and I said our goodbyes. My Louis Vuitton Speedy bag packed to the gills with pastries (sustenance for the long dusty trail), I made my way to the train station. I was saddled up and ready for my next destination to a little town called Orange, Massachusetts. Bloated, I settled in watching the sunset over the city, with my only regret from the past 3 days being that I wished I had packed more gluten for my next journey.
All photos by Ashley Urban