(Because Bill is much more prompt about writing reports than I am, he posted a report at http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/This-is-New-York-with-Ralph-amp-Lori-m811559.aspx . This will be our take.)
We almost left the bed and breakfast without meeting the proprietor, but she returned home as we were finishing up a light breakfast. Her guidance for how to take the train to NYC was useful, but I think that if we were left to figure it out on our own, we might have been able to make an earlier train. It all worked out, though, because Bill was just as delayed as we were.
We realized on the train that this was this was the date of New York’s Pride March. Grand Central Terminal was thronged with every sort of rainbow outfit imaginable. We would have loved to see more of the Pride festivities, but we weren’t eager enough to try to change Bill’s thoughtfully-planned itinerary. And it may well be a blessing that we avoided those crowds. I certainly suspect that Pride made it even more of a good idea to leave our car in New Rochelle.
Bill made the suggestion that we meet at the clock at the center of Grand Central Terminal.
Lori was fascinated by the astrological mural on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a very good picture.
Our first food stop was Ess-a-Bagel. I was particularly keen to try a New York bagel, because Bill had once told me a mouth-watering story of coming home from a graveyard shift on a cold night and getting a hot bagel fresh from the oven. I wanted to experience what he had described so splendidly, and see how it compared to the expatriate bagels I’ve had in Pittsburgh.
The bagel suit certainly seems like a sign of a commitment to bageldom.
It was too crowded for comfort, but Bill spotted that there was a shorter line in the back available if you were only getting bagels to go.
We got a bagel each and went around the block to a tiny wet park named Greenacre Park.
My biggest surprise about these bagels was their size. They were hefty, doughy things larger than my fist, much larger than the bagels I’m used to. Had I known beforehand, I might have planned to eat half a bagel to pace myself for the day ahead - but with the warm crisp bagel in my hand, I ate the whole thing.
Dayna joined us as we headed towards Brooklyn.
A random picture of a rainy, foggy day.
Bill suggested that we walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a good choice, because it’s a tourist thing that locals actually do. It was a longer walk than we were expecting, though, and Lori’s bum knee ended up hurting just about the time that it would be as long a walk to turn back as to continue on.
The Brooklyn Bridge was festooned with locks attached by couples in love, and we talked about the tradition of such locks at Paris’s Pont des Arts and how the locks needed to be removed from time to time (see, for example, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/02/world/europe/paris-bridges-locks-of-love-taken-down.html?_r=0 ). Now, I’m not exactly a cynic, but I do find it very easy to spot cynical interpretations. So when I see a lock on a bridge, I read it thus: “This lock adds strain to the constructs of civil society and will one day need to be destroyed for the sake of civil society – just like our love!” I understand that that is not exactly the stated intent of the people who attach the locks.
Our next stop was one that I had specifically requested: Grimaldi’s pizza. I had an impression of Grimaldi’s as a paragon of New York-style pizza, but I can no longer recall where I heard it praised so highly. I had assumed I had read it from Roadfood, but it is not currently Roadfood-listed. This may be because it had a change of ownership; Bill explained to us that Grimaldi’s had been purchased by new owners and moved down the street to a new location, but the previous owner had then bought the old location and opened it as a new pizzeria.
The four of us shared a small Margarita pizza with peppers on half. It was a good example of its type, with a crisp crust that was thin enough to be translucent in places. Bill’s recommendation of the roasted red peppers was excellent; they were particularly succulent and flavorful. The greatest novelty, though, was the cheese. This pizza was topped with discs of fresh mozzarella before baking, and I can’t recall the last time I had baked fresh mozzarella. It had a chewy texture that I don’t find with low-moisture mozzarella.
We walked a few blocks to a recommendation of Bill’s: Jacques Torres Chocolate, an artisan chocolatier.
Bill particularly praised their handmade ice cream sandwiches. My memory is fuzzy, but I believe that although they normally offer made-to-order ice cream sandwiches, they were not offering them at the moment. So we had a premade sandwich with strawberry ice cream between chocolate chip cookies. It was delicious, with a very bright, clear strawberry note.
Lori remembers ogling many of the chocolate delights in the shop, but feeling that buying them wouldn’t fit well into our big eating day.
Bill led us back towards the foot of the bridge to Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
The line was trailing out the door, but the view from the line was magnificent.
Lori got a simple dish of a very nice vanilla. (I had only a spoon or two of hers in order to save appetite for other restaurants.)
As Bill guided us to the Lower East Side, we passed another place not on our planned itinerary that was renowned to me: Russ and Daughters. Again, I assumed that I knew this from old Roadfood books, but I can’t easily confirm this. I might have read about it from Calvin Trillin’s books. I certainly was familiar with it before we watched the documentary The Sturgeon Queens about Russ and Daughters. (Spoiler: they are still in business after 100 years. It’s not the sort of movie for which spoilers are a big issue.)
Unfortunately, we didn’t get anything to eat there. There were multiple reasons: it was crowded enough that it was hard to talk with the workers about what might be good; none of us had much appetite; none of us were great fans of fish; and they didn’t seem to have much that was ready to eat. Lori bought some chocolate covered apricots, but I don’t think that gives us the real experience of appetizing.
Our destination in the Lower East Side was Katz’s Delicatessen. Katz’s had been one of the original stimuli for our going to New York. I had posted a picture of one of my attempts at smoking pastrami in my smoker, and Chris Ayers had made a comment about Katz’s, and that triggered conversations that led to “Let’s go to New York and eat around with Bill and Dayna”. (I am glossing over some of the intermediate steps.)
We didn’t seek this out, it just happened: when we were looking for a table after ordering, the only table available was marked with a sign as the table where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan sat in the famous scene in When Harry Met Sally... But you can’t pass up such a gift-wrapped opportunity like that, so Lori did do her own (much less conspicuous) tribute to Meg Ryan’s performance.
Katz’s was one of the places where we really appreciated Bill’s guidance. He explained the ticket system that governs Katz's. You get a ticket on entering, and present that ticket when ordering at any station, and present that ticket to pay upon leaving.
He also gave us very good recommendations of what to order. We were fairly full and three sandwiches was too much for us to eat, but everything was well worth trying.
The corned beef sandwich is not quite as oversized as some we’ve had (such as the Carnegie Deli), but that’s probably a virtue. It was flavorful, but not quite as bold as I seek in my corned beef.
The pastrami soft and rich and succulent. Comparing it to my pastrami was an illuminating study in how far a recipe reconstruction can be from the original, because although the recipe I use says “Close to Katz’s”, what I’ve ended up with is fairly far from what we ate there.
Katz’s pastrami is very juicy, and it is tender, even soft; mine is firm and likely to crumble when sliced. I presume that the difference is that Katz’s steams their pastrami thoroughly before serving; I’m not well set up to steam a hunk of meat, so I do that step poorly or skip it entirely.
Katz’s pastrami has a gentler flavor than mine; my pastrami is fairly brash and bold in flavor.
My secret truth: although I’m extremely glad to have sampled Katz’s pastrami, and I’m certain that theirs is more authentic – I actually prefer my own.
Bill’s particular recommendation was the brisket on the club roll, which he described as an oft-overlooked Katz’s treat. This was a great recommendation, very tender and savory and meaty.
Bill also suggested a plate of half-sour pickles and pickled tomatoes, which I really enjoyed.
Everything we had at Katz’s was very good, but we left a lot on our table because we were too full.
As we were walking back from Katz’s, Bill spotted another shop of renown, Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery. He suggested that we stop in and have an egg cream, because we had been talking about egg creams earlier in the day.
I would have liked to have a knish, because I’ve enjoyed them in the past and it’s become difficult to find a knish in Pittsburgh. But I was much too full to seriously consider ordering one now.
I was really only familiar with egg creams from Harriet the Spy. For those as unfamiliar as I was, an egg cream is made from milk, soda water, and chocolate syrup – but not egg. I am admittedly one of those literally-minded people who is excessively bothered by the fact that an egg cream has no egg.
This particular egg cream did little to convince me that this is a wonderful beverage, but I’m sure that this wasn’t the best way to judge either egg creams or Yonah Shimmel.
Our last stop was one that we had read about from Bill’s reports of other excursions though New York: Rice to Riches, which focuses almost entirely on rice pudding.
I wanted to read all of the signs and sample all the puddings. Fortunately, they seem not to be serious about the extra charge for indecision.
Lori and I got the “Category 5” Caramel topped with sour cherries. This was an incredible, luscious flavor bomb, simply out of this world. I think this was the single best thing we ate all day.
Bill and Dayna got two flavors: the key lime and the mango-tangerine. They were both quite good, nearly as tasty as ours, but much less photogenic.
We are tremendously grateful to Bill and Dayna for leading us around New York City. Without their help, we would have had much more trouble choosing a convenient set of restaurants, and we would have had far more trouble navigating the subways to get around. (This is borne out by experience; we visited NYC previously in 2007 and had a lot of trouble figuring out how best to get around.) We hope to return the favor in Pittsburgh at some point.