Sometimes things have a way of working out perfectly. When it happens once, it’s great, but when it happens a second time, we cheer up and down and high-five and are generally grinning ear to ear. After much talk last year about going to New York, my friend Jennifer and I finally got there last August. That first girls’ food day began with a long walk to see Eataly (http://www.eataly.com/) and ended with dinner at The National (http://www.thenationalnyc.com/). We spent a few hours walking through the maze of Eataly’s marketplace and ate lunch there. We checked out Fishs Eddy (www.fishseddy.com), a vintage-y kitchen shop with everything from old-time open stock china and flatware to dishes, glassware, barware, kitchen utensils, and more. Kitschy and cute and great deals. Had we driven to New York, the trunk of the car would’ve been filled. We toted our packages at least 25 blocks to midtown and finished our day with a terrific dinner at hip, quasi-casual The National.
So how did we top last year’s trip? For starters, after we got the confirming email for tickets for the Oct. 3rd taping of The Chew, we went into planning mode. Jennifer got us a reservation at Barbuto; she also suggested a shopping tour of Chelsea Market, an idea I loved since I’ve never been there. And, as if we really needed an big dinner (with a lot of food) after the amazing lunch we were going to have, I pitched Bar Americain, one of our favorites. (OK, the tuna tartare was calling. Can you blame me?)
Grab some coffee or tea and settle in a comfy chair. Here’s the somewhat-abridged version of our day.
First stop: “The Chew” taping
We met at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and caught a 5:15 a.m. train (yikes) to Penn Station, and were eating warm New York bagels before 7:00. A 30+ block trek up 9th Avenue (which, I might add, is quiet and not overly crowded at that hour) was just the thing to walk off the bagels. We reached ABC TV studios at 67th Street near Central Park West with about 15 minutes to spare.
A long line had already formed, so we went to the end and waited. An ABC staffer (to whom we’re very grateful) kindly pointed out that the line was for “Live with Kelly and Michael.” We high-tailed it off that line and found the correct entrance at the next block. With tickets in hand, we were escorted to a holding area and were let in the studio in groups of 20. Despite the fact that we were in one of the last groups to be called, we were seated in the row right behind the tasting counter. Dumb luck? We think not; we followed the directions asking audience members to wear solid, bright colors, no jeans. (I’m sure they saw how nicely we dressed and had to seat us down in front.)
It was exciting to be part of a live studio audience (a first for me) and a hoot to see the chefs in person and watch everything that goes on behind the scenes. The comedian who “warmed up” the audience and cued us for applause or cheering before and after segments was pretty funny. While it looked like organized chaos when we were first seated – with people milling about on stage, food trays coming in, other food being taken out, various people giving instructions and applying last-minute stage makeup – it all suddenly came together when a producer counted down toward show time. And in one quick second we were live. There were short breaks between segments (Carla Hall danced in the aisles), and some other hosts chatted with the audience and special guests. The hosts joke around and there’s a friendly banter among them. The atmosphere was friendly and warm, and to outsiders like us, appears to be a comfortable group performing their tasks like a well-oiled machine. One interesting note: much of the conversation at the top of the show and in pockets here and there was ad-libbed.
After the taping was over, we learned that the show was airing that day, so I called my mom and my husband so they could watch. (Yep, they saw us on TV.)
Brief stop, Midtown
We left the studio around 10:30 and headed to midtown to see my son, Andrew. Before we met him, though, I spotted the Bouchon Bakery outpost (http://bouchonbakery.com/) a short distance away at Rockefeller Center. Ten minutes later, we walked out with super-sized macarons (lemon for Jennifer, pistachio for me).
Next stop, lunch in the Village
After our short but sweet visit (Andrew had to go back to work), we continued our 900-block walk downtown for a real treat. Jennifer, with her unbelievable determination, secured us a reservation at Barbuto (http://www.barbutonyc.com/), Jonathan Waxman’s eatery tucked into the West Village. By the time we got there, our feet were ready for a rest and we were ready to eat. Sitting on the corner of Washington and West 12th streets, the restaurant occupies the bottom floor of a building that houses Industria Superstudio, a state-of-the-art photography and event venue for premier fashion and publishing clients. On warm days – and to our great surprise on this day – the garage doors on the two corner walls are open to reveal the charming open-air space with lots of little tables, the open kitchen and a wood-burning oven.
It gets better; I haven’t told you about the food yet. Jennifer and I were hoping to order the chef’s signature chicken dish – roasted chicken with salsa verde. We beamed with happiness when we saw it on the lunch menu. Our smart and very thoughtful server suggested we split one order of the chicken and get two sides (we went for the potatoes with pecorino and rosemary and roasted cauliflower with lemon). But since it was already past 1:30, we enjoyed the bruschetta with goat cheese, fig and balsamic drizzle appetizer.
But wait, it still gets better. In the midst of our chatter about the crispy skin on the chicken and the bold flavor of the salsa verde (thank you, tarragon) and how crunchy the potatoes are and how we can’t believe how the sweetness of the fig melded with the balsamic and the chevre, Jennifer says, “He’s here.” That’s it. He’s here. “Who’s here?” I ask. “HE’S here.” And then Chef Waxman strolls past our table to the kitchen, chats a bit with the staff and disappears. We now feel like giddy teenagers who just saw their favorite TV actor, without the screaming, of course.
Our server walked by and smiled (she obviously heard us), which we took to mean “Yes, ladies, that was the chef.” We went back to our food, but somehow our eyes were darting here and there, surveying this small space for another glimpse. Did no one else recognize him? Are we the only people who saw him walk in? Or are the local patrons so used to seeing him come and go and we’re the only ones who’ve seen him for the first time. Hmmm….
Next stop, Chelsea Market
After our exhilarating lunch, we walked several blocks north to Chelsea Market and spent several hours making our way through many of the nearly three dozen shops. From breads, cupcakes, a fish market, oils and vinegars, a coffee bar and tacos to spices, soups, gelato, donuts, and a dairy, this popular food mecca has lots of little somethings for everyone.
As we meandered down the hallway, we couldn’t help being drawn to the bookstore (a natural, considering we’re both editors), the kitchen supply store (we’re also kitchen gadget geeks), the aroma of freshly baked bread (I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to bread), and any store that has oils and vinegars and salts (so many flavors, so little time).
We also were struck by some of the architectural features of the building, which has gone through some changes as the original home of the National Biscuit Company in the 1890s. In its heyday, National Biscuit was home to such popular brands as Saltine crackers, Oreos, and Animal Crackers. Now, of course, the first floor belongs to Chelsea Market and the upper floors house other businesses including the Food Network.
To read more about the cool stores we visited at Chelsea Market, please see this post.
Final stop, Bar Americain
Last, but not least, dinner at the never-disappointing Bar Americain (http://www.baramericain.com/new-york-city-restaurant/) was the perfect end to the day. Despite the great food we’d eaten all day, I still left room for the tuna appetizer. We were seated downstairs in the main dining room, and there’s a flurry of activity everywhere you look. Our server was a lovely woman who did her job well, appeared at all the right times, yet didn’t overstay.
Jennifer’s first course was the sea scallops with plantains, mine, the spicy tuna tartare. For entrées, Jennifer chose the cioppino: Perfectly cooked fish, tomato broth, flavor and heat in every bite and spoonful. Could it be any better? I went for the hanger steak and frites. Medium rare, seasoned well, rich and buttery and delicious. The frites (Fries Americain) were hot with a crunchy exterior and chewy-good on the inside, even better dipped in the red pepper mayo.
In my head, I vowed not to have dessert, especially since I couldn’t finish the steak. However – and it’s a big HOWEVER – when I have absolutely no willpower, my dessert rules go into effect and I’m allowed to eat any of the following without guilt or calories: (a) anything with key lime, (b) mascarpone or ricotta cheesecake, (c) something I’ve always wanted to try, or (d) a treat so tempting that I’d regret not ordering it and talk about how I should’ve ordered it for the rest of the night. Tonight’s winner: pistachio crème brûlée [(c) and (d)]. It was crazy good, with a smooth and not-even-the-least-bit-subtle pistachio custard.
Jennifer shoots from the hip when it comes to dessert. She looks at the menu, weighs the options, and makes a choice. One, two, three, done. No guilt, no second thoughts. I wish I could be like that. She chose the deep dish chocolate pie and enjoyed every forkful.
With nary a sighting of Bobby Flay all night (could lightning strike twice?), we paid the bill, got a taxi back to Penn Station, and had a restful ride back to Philadelphia. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before we start planning next year’s adventure.
Tagged: bagel, Bar Americain, Barbuto, Bouchon Bakery, cauliflower, Chelsea Market, cioppino, figs, goat cheese, hanger steak, macaron, New York, olive oil, pecorino, pistachio, plantains, roasted chicken, salsa verde, salts, sea scallops, The Chew, tuna tartare, vinegar, West Village