It actually was Ibsen

We spent the past four days in New York City, my first time back there in years, and even longer for Lindsay. We were there for a couple of Lindsay’s research visits, but decided to extend it a bit and have some fun.

Friday

We were up early and out the door two hours later. At the airport in plenty of time, no issues at security, had an easy flight, practically sailed through Newark Airport…but our luck ran out when we tried to get into the city. The St. Patrick’s Day parade runs down 5th, right around the time we were arriving, and bisected the city. Our cabbie didn’t know about it, so we got caught circling the upper west side until I just told him where to go. What should have been 45 minutes turned into 2+ hours.

By then we had no time to get to the hotel and eat lunch, so we dropped Lindsay at her first appointment and I took the bags to the hotel in the ricketiest Uber that ever there was. I unpacked our suitcases, drank a beer, and ate some cookies. We were here.

We stayed at The Mark Hotel on the upper east side (near Lindsay’s two research appointments). It’s a very chic hotel, probably too cool for the likes of us. The room was big by NYC standards, even if the description of a “courtyard view” was a massive stretch.

[UPDATE: whilst watching the season opener of Succession Lindsay noticed that Tom was having a drink at The Mark. We then felt even fancier, and possibly more douchebaggy.]

So while it wasn’t the smoothest entry, at least the weather was nice: it was sunny and 14 degrees, so my walk all the way up 5th Ave to 103rd street – passing the dying remnants of the parade – was beautiful. I collected Lindsay and we walked slightly east, into East Harlem, to a wine bar called Alison. We were early so we circled the block and took a load off for a bit, before taking one of their patio seats and taking advantage of happy hour.

Considering we hadn’t eaten all day, we were pretty restrained. We ordered a dozen oysters & a bottle of Provençal rosé, lamb sliders, and some Old Bay fries before wrapping up with glasses of Rioja and Minervois. The food was good and the vibe was chill, but we had dinner reservations elsewhere. As it turned out, we would have done better to stay put.

After stopping in briefly at the hotel to recharge, we walked down to a restaurant called August, which we’d identified earlier in the day. The menu sounded good. The vibe sounded good. We were excited. But we were pretty quickly disappointed – we waited 25 minutes for our cocktails, which were both rubbish. (Like…how do you screw up a Negroni?) 

Our apps were decent – charred octopus w/ fennel-herb salad, crispy potatoes & preserved lemon caper dressing and tuna tartare w/ avocado, waffle potato chips & soy ginger dressing, with which we ordered glasses of Gruner Veltliner & Chardonnay – but when the apps came we were told the kitchen was closing soon. So much for the city that never sleeps, I guess. So we walked home, still a tad hungry.

Saturday

We slept right the hell in, we did. It was a long couple weeks.

We finally mobilized around noon. We got coffee from Handcraft and tried to eat lunch at Pastrami Queen but it was too busy. This city did not want us to eat. Frustrated, we decided to eat whatever we could find at the café at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, Lindsay’s second site visit. We ate prosciutto sandwiches and drank glasses of wine and gathered ourselves. We took in a few exhibits; my favourites were Design And Healing: Creative Responses To Epidemics, Deconstructing Power: W. E. B. Du Bois At The 1900 World’s Fair, Hector Guimard: How Paris Got Its Curves, and Designing Peace.

After leaving there we walked across 91st for an early dinner at Kaia, a South African wine bar. And there, we had the kind of meal we’d been seeking in NYC since we landed. The wine, the food, the vibe, the staff: all exceptional. We felt like we bonded with our server Ayo. At the end of our meal we brought us glasses of Amarula, which I haven’t had since I was in Botswana ten years ago.

Food:

  • Dukka Hoender slider (dukka spiced chicken with onion marmalade & kaia aioli)
  • Gebakte Suurlemoene (baked lemons with artichoke, cherry tomato, green olives & goat cheese)
  • Eend Vlerkies (duck drumettes with kaia’s sticky mango chutney sauce)
  • ‘Elk’ Carpaccio (elk carpaccio served with the owner’s mother’s mustard and a peppery arugula salad)
  • Rooibos Tee en Bosbessie Vark Ribbetjies (rooibos tea & cranberry baby back pork ribs, with coleslaw)

The wine was obviously all South African, and we recognized a few – Raats Jasper, Kanonkop Kadette, HER Shiraz – and loved the rest of what we tried:

  • La Brune Pinot Noir
  • The Foundry Grenache Noir
  • Bosman Nero D’Avola (x2; Lindsay loved it)
  • Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon
  • I asked Ayo to pick something for me, and he went for a Bordeaux blend, which was terrific.
  • He also brought us a De Toren Malbec called Délicate to try, which wasn’t even on the list. What a guy.

Anyway, we’d bought way too much food, and took the ribs back to the hotel for later.

We turned on our heels, and took an Uber to Broadway. Our driver made a heroic move that got us there on time. We were seeing A Doll’s House at The Hudson Theatre, and as we arrived Jessica Chastain was sitting, expressionless, on the stage as it slowly spun around. It was exceptional. Ibsen’s play, adapted for modern times, with a wonderfully stark and minimalist set, just chairs and shadows and that rotating floor. Jessica Chastain was her brilliant self; the remaining cast killed it as well. The ending was just the coolest thing. We left, Ubered home, and let our brains process it all.

Sunday

We slept in again. Vacation! I’d accidentally frozen the ribs the night before, so that breakfast plan went out the window into the non-courtyard courtyard. We eventually left in search of food. It was much colder than the previous days, we we used sun and shelter strategically. 

We decided we needed proper New York bagels, so after a bit of research we went to Bagel Shop on 3rd. We managed to get a table, and scarfed our enormous bagel sandwiches amongst the deli chaos. After that we decided to have a beer or three, so we crossed the street to the Third Avenue Alehouse. I ordered a Threes Brewing Volition Schwarzbier that was so flat I couldn’t drink it, but my Fifth Hammer Brewing Co. Smooth Jazzmin’ American Pale Ale, Aslin Beer Company Volcano Sauce Sour, and Who You Callin’ Old (Fashioned)? Cocktail w/ Old Forester Bourbon, cinnamon-rosemary maple syrup & cardamom bitters were all very good. Meanwhile Lindsay had a Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Golden Ale, an Ever Grain Brewing Co. Vivify Red Ale, and a 3 Floyds Brewing Aggromaster Scottish Ale. Full of beer, we walked back to the hotel to chill (but also warm up) for a bit.

We decided we needed a reason to check out another neighbourhood, so we went to the Lower East Side. We were in search of a great pizza slice, and had heard Scarr’s was the best. We waited in line for about ten minutes and got a slice each and, yup. They were amazing. I want another one right now. Anyway, we scooted around the corner to a wine bar called Le Dive. We plopped ourselves at the end of the bar and split a bottle of Baga, then Raclette and some Bibb lettuce salad, then glasses of Barbera and Pineau d’Aunis – a new one for me. It was a cool little spot.

Back in the hotel room, we finally finished off the ribs from Kaia, and washed them down with some in-room cocktails.

Monday

One last thing on our must-do list: that sandwich from Pastrami Queen. They were, as advertised, delicious. We scarfed them down and packed up; after checking out Lindsay ran a half-errand, while I plopped myself in the hotel bar and held the fort until she came back. We drank our way through the by-the-glass list, gnoshed some fries, and Ubered to the airport. Security sucked; our flight was fine; our house was cold; we missed coming home to Kramer.

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