During the past sixteen years, we have celebrated Jan’s birthday on Hilton Head Island. Initially we spent the week in the Harbor Town – Time Share and the past six years in our home. This year Jan wanted to celebrate her birthday in NYC enjoying the museums, theater and restaurants.
On Wednesday Jan took the train up from Washington where she was visiting her parents and I flew from Atlanta and we met at the Marriott Residence Inn at 39th and 6th Avenue. The room was very quiet, the bed incredibly comfortable and the location was nearly perfect. We were a block from Bryant Park where across the street was a wonderful French Cafe for breakfast. It was a short walk to Times Square and the theater district with a convenient subway stop for going downtown.
I have to apologize in advance to our grandson Gregory about the lack of good food pictures. Part of the time we consumed our meal before remembering that we did not take pictures and part of the time the lighting was too dim for the cell phone camera. I did not bring the G-9 to the restaurants we picked because it would have been totally out of place.
After checking in on Wednesday, we walked up to the Stage Deli on 7th Avenue between 53rd and 54th. It was as I remembered it from about 5 years ago, complete with 8 inch high sandwiches and terrific matzo ball soup. We started out sensibly splitting a bowl of the matzo ball soup and then a corn beef and chicken liver on rye. They frown on splitting things but we had a very nice waiter who “took care of us”. Then it was off to “Tkts” to see what we could get for that evening.
We were in the queue for about an hour plus and were lucky to get tickets for :
God of Carnage is a “dark comedy” which earned the 2009 Tony award for Best Play. It is a four person play and I was pleasantly surprised that James Gandolfini really can do comedy. Marcia Gay Harden also earned a 2009 Tony for Best Performance as Leading Actress in a Play. We both thought that the awards were well earned.
While we were reading the Playbill waiting for the play to begin, we saw an advertisement for La Masseria on 48th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. I was able to pull up OpenTable.com on the Samsung, check out the reviews (great desserts) and make a reservation for after the play. Since we had not had anything since our soup and sandwich in the afternoon we realized that we were quite hungry as we looked over the menu at 10:30pm.
After much deliberation we settled on splitting a spinach salad and a terrific pasta dish, which was as fine a pasta dish as we have ever had, both “washed down” with a very nice Chianti. Dessert was another matter, no splitting. Jan selected the tiramisu which was the best either of us have tasted including the ones we had in Rome, Florence and Venice. I selected the ricotta cheese cake which was unbelievable. It had full flavor but was a light as a feather. We were absolutely blown away at how wonderful the meal was and that we were having dinner at 10:30 PM 🙂
Walking back the eight blocks to the hotel was an interesting experience. Times Square at night is as bright as the Las Vegas Strip and there were as many or more people walking around at midnight as during the day.
After a very long day of travel, walking and theater we arrived back at our hotel at midnight and slept like two little logs.
Thursday, Jan’s birthday, was a pre-planned day. We took the subway down to Battery Park and boarded a ferry. Since we had reservations for an early dinner and then the theater we did not get off at the Statue of Liberty but went directly to Ellis Island. Jan is standing in front of the restored Center. The glass and steel structure provides a covered walk way to the entrance.
Once in the Center at Ellis Island we focused on the American Family Immigration History Center’s computer system to look for the entry records for Dora Bromberg and Ben Levin, my mothers parents. We found a few “potential” matches but I don’t believe the arrival dates indicate a good match. So I will have to continue my research on-line with the registration that we received at the Center. We re-boarded the ferry for the trip back to Battery Park and then walked through Wall Street and up to The South Street Sea Port for lunch. It was cold, cloudy and windy but the rain held off. Here is a photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge from South Street as we headed back to a subway station for the return trip to our hotel to dress for dinner.
We had made a reservation at the Gramercy Tavern for Jan’s birthday dinner based on the recommendation of one of Jan’s tennis team members. The restaurant and the dinner was outstanding. (http://www.gramercytavern.com/_media/uploads/dinner_menu.pd)
Jan started with the Lobster and Bean salad and I had the Shrimp salad. As our main courses Jan had a Red Snapper special and I had the Striped Bass. For dessert, Jan had a slice of Ginger Bread with vanilla bean ice cream and I had a Chocolate Fudge cake with mint ice cream. We switched the ice cream and were both happy with our choices. Again I apologize for the lack of pictures but we were hungry from a small and not very good lunch and completely over taken with the ambience of the Tavern and the impeccable service. When we filled out our rating on open table we knocked the over all rating down from outstanding to very good based only on the very steep price for an outstanding meal with outstanding service as well. Having indulged on fresh baked olive rolls before dinner and a three course meal with wine, we opted to walk from 20th street and Broadway up to the Theater on 45th street and Broadway taking a leisurely 45 minutes to get to our seats to see:
We had purchased our tickets about three months ago as this was the one play that Jan wanted to see for her birthday. Billy Elliot won 9 Tony Awards in 2009 including Best Musical, Best Leading Actor (the three under age Billy’s that share the lead), Best Featured Actor (the dad), Best Direction, Best Choreography, Best Orchestration, Best Scenic Design – Best Lighting Design – Best Sound Design all of a Musical. We sat mesmerized for 2 hours and 45 minutes over the talent in the show especially Billy who, I am guessing, is between 14 and 16 years old. I don’t understand much about the production of a play but it was clear that the story was told through the the sights and sounds of some amazing professionals. Walking back to our hotel we were in a state of exhausted happiness.
Once again we slept very well and were wondering if upon checkout, we could take the bed and the bedding with us. Not only is the bed very comfortable, but the hotel is built so we heard no street noise even though our room was on the corner of 39th Street and 6th Avenue.
Friday we were up and out early for breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, the French Bakery across the street from Bryant Park on 40th Street which was only a block from our hotel. Then it was off on foot to the Guggenheim Museum on 5th avenue at 89th Street. We made it about 2/3 of the way and then to preserve our legs for the balance of the day we hopped in a cab. The Guggenheim was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opened in October 1959 and consists of an interior gallery formed by a continuous upward spiral built around an open core. It was to house the personal collection of Solomon Guggenheim who had at the time one of the three largest collections of Vasily Kadinsky’s works in the world. At each of the seven levels there are large room sized galleries off of the central spiral. The exhibit was a huge collection of Vasily Kandinsky’s works including everything from room sized wall hangings of ponds to intricate and detailed geometric water colors and everything in between. The Museum is so unique that it added to the drama of the exhibit which consisted of 100 large format canvases and 60 works on paper. (www.guggenheim.org)
This is a photograph looking up at the center of the atrium seven levels above the ground floor. We arrived right at the opening time for the museum and by the time we had walked up the spiral galleries to the top, the museum was packed. Walking down we remarked that we could not have enjoyed the exhibit as much as we did with the crush of people four and five deep at every painting.
No sooner had we reached the street level than we received a call from our Atlanta friends Keith and Jean, who were joining us for the balance of the weekend, saying that they were in a cab at LGA heading for the hotel. We caught a cab back to the hotel and after joining up with them, returned to Le Pain Quotidien for a wonderful lunch and to plan the strategy for the balance of the day. Keith and Jean had not seen any of the shows currently playing and we concluded that we did not want to invest the wait time at Tkts so we quickly made a tour of the Box Offices to purchase same night tickets. We were able to get very good seats for:
Hair won the 2009 Tony Award for The Best Revival of a Musical. The available seats were 7th row center so then we had to come up with a strategy for the afternoon and dinner. Jean had never seen the Statue of Liberty, except from a plane, so we took the subway down to battery park so that she could see it in person. After a photo moment we walked to Ground Zero to see the current state of the site and then took the subway back up to our hotel. As an aside, Mayor Bloomberg has done an amazing job of cleaning up the city including the subway. One we had a good route map we were able to save time by using the subway instead of cabs. The city is cleaner but the traffic is still unbelievable.
Jean, Liberty, Keith and Jan
After getting the theater tickets we made a dinner reservation at Kellari Tavern on 44th street between 5th and 6th avenues. (http://www.kellari.us/) Once again the OpenTable reviews were favorable and the menus looked great. Upon our arrival we received a terrific surprise. They were having a “theater dinning special” (on HHI it is the early bird :)) which included three courses for $30. The items were from the dinner menu, only it was about 2/5 the price. Jan and I shared a wonderful grilled calamari browned in olive oil and lemon juice and two pieces of spanakopita. For our main course they offered lamb chops for a $5 up charge. Each serving was three double chops that were perfectly seasoned and grilled. For dessert Jan had the Galaktoboureko (vanilla bean semolina custard with a phyllo crust and apple syrup) and I had Sokolata (chocolate soufflé cake with halva mousse and spiced chocolate sauce). They are known for their sea food but the lamb chops were too good to pass up. We enjoyed our dinner with a bottle of J Lohr Sauvignon Blanc. On the way out I took a quick mobile phone picture of the fresh fish waiting to be cooked. It looked like the fish stand at the Pike Place Market.
After a very leisurely served dinner we strolled to the Herschfeld Theater for Hair. The seats in front of us were unclaimed so we had very close and unobstructed views of everything. The orchestra was on stage, the music was upbeat and full volume and sitting where we were put us into part of the production as the cast wandered in and out of the audience in their musical numbers. We all enjoyed the play very much and were also still amazed at the crowds in Time Square on our way back to the hotel.
Saturday morning we had tickets for the 9:45 am NBC Studio Tour. They wanted you there 30 minutes before the tour to wander through there “experience store” and then we had a one hour tour that lost 20 minutes going through security and riding elevators. The tour was woefully lacking on content and relatively expensive ($22 per adult). I have written NBC to ask for my money back which I will not hold my breath for. The rain had come over night so the walk over to NBC was overcast but dry. Since the forecast was for more rain later in the day we went over to the box offices to see what we could get for Saturday night. Keith and Jean tried both Billy Elliott and God of Carnage but both were sold out. Our next choice was Next To Normal which turned out (in Jan’s opinion) to be the best play of the four that we saw) and we got good middle of the main floor seats which offered excellent viewing of the three level set.
After we picked up the tickets we hopped the subway down to Chelsea to “wander around”. We were also looking for a good lunch place and just about the time the rain started up again we found ourselves at The Chelsea Market. Inside we found a wonderful place called “Hale and Hardy” with 30 different kinds of soup and a variety of sandwiches. WOW, Jan and I could lunch there every day. After lunch we walked over to The Village and just as we found a street fair near Washington Square, the sky opened up in torrents. We ducked into a Starbucks and had a coffee and since the rain did not show any signs of letting up, we went across the street to the subway and returned to our hotel.
Our dinner reservations were at BluFin, the sea food restaurant located in the W Hotel at Broadway and 47th. Fortunately the rain had stopped so we were able to walk the few blocks from our hotel. We had made the reservations on OpenTable and based on the reviews asked for a quiet table on the second floor. They accommodated that request, which made the dinner that much more enjoyable because it was absolutely full and very noisy, surprising but it was peak “pre-theater time”. The decor of BluFin is out of the pages of Ad and beautifully done. It definitely adds to the experience. The manager came by repeatedly to check on us and he said that OpenTable was, for them, an excellent though expensive way of attracting new guests. This time we did decide to go with sea food.
Jan started with the Goat Cheese Salad with ruby red beets, macadamia nuts,baby greens and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and I chose the Maine Lobster & Shrimp Bisque with a brioche crouton. For the main course Jan selected a grilled Red Snapper special served over spinach and I had the wild striped bass with baby shrimp, clams, chorizo, melted leeks in a lobster saffron broth which I “soaked up” with a few fresh made rolls. For dessert Jan selected the Pumpkin Cheesecake with pomegranate sherbet and pumpkin seed crunch. I had the Caramel Bread Pudding Coupe served in a highball glass with coffee granite and milk chocolate cream. Again we had a wonderful bottle of white wine, that escapes my memory at this point, to round out an outstanding and memorable dinning experience.
After dinner it was over to the Booth Theater which is quite small and intimate, an excellent setting for this very “dramatic musical”. Next To Normal earned three 2009 Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, Best Orchestration (a tie with Billy Elliott) and Best Scenic Design of a Musical. As I said earlier, Jan felt this was the best play of the four we enjoyed. I was not sure how a “drama staged as a musical” could work. The combination of a believable story set to music with talented actors and actresses, on a set that was imaginatively created (the three levels) with an orchestra imbedded into two of the three levels and lighting that enhanced both the drama and the music made it a very enjoyable and memorable evening.
Sunday morning was clear and had the look of the best day of the trip. However we had 1:00 PM flights so it was for us, only a travel day. We did have one more excellent breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien and being heavier in the mid-section and lighter in the wallet from four wonderful and full days, we headed home. We did manage to walk about 45 miles between Wednesday and Saturday but that did not compensate for the two bizzellion calories that we consumed in the same period.