PART 4 – AMANDA’S 40th BIRTHDAY Sunday 3rd June 2012 Not exactly an unsettled night, but we recall vaguely that we were disturbed several times by sirens – probably the adjacent fire pump being called out to cats up skyscrapers or something. We wake naturally without an alarm at 5:50 to a lovely sunrise: I give Amanda the cards I’d received from friends and relatives, which she opens and displays on the window ledge: We make coffee and watch the **** but strangely compelling local news channel, mainly to check the forecast for today. We are treated to an almost precise repeat of the main stories from the previous two days! Phone calls are made/received from the odd relative (no pun intended) before showers and leaving the room at 8:55am to be greeted by warm sunshine. Amanda has decided that she wants to revisit Chelsea today, for a slightly posher breakfast, and to get another Highline fix. Strolling a few blocks south down 8th, we take the subway from 42nd Street to 14th, and decide to eat at the attractive Standard Grill, which is underneath the Highline and has a lovely patio onto the street. It’s clearly quite a popular place, and we are lucky to snag one of the last free tables. We are seated by 9:35am and offered drinks while we peruse the menu. Coffee and OJ for both please. The Grill is part of the Standard Hotel, a boutique, designer place that towers above the Highline. Room prices start at $300 per night, running up to $1200 for the best suites, so we anticipate decent fodder for breakfast! Here’s the menu: http://www.thestandardgrill.com/menus/breakfast.pdf Amanda orders the omelette with toast, herb roasted potatoes and a bacon and mushroom filling. I select the Classic Eggs Benedict on a Muffin (also served with the potatoes). This is a very pleasant spot, with a view of the Highline entrance. It is also a cracking people-watching situation and we are royally entertained by Chelsea’s men and women (and those yet to make up their minds) mincing past with their designer pooches. There are a couple of dogs on the table too: .. the menu advises that “If you want to Walk our Dogs (Salt & Pepper) $25” The nosh arrives. My portion size is just perfect, but Amanda’s would probably have fed both of us! She does it justice though (and I finish the rest!) The food is lovely, and the cost $55. Not inexpensive, but good value overall for the quality of the service, ambience and fare. It is 10:10am when we settle up and walk to the Highline for another meander through this quirky and delightful park. It is significantly busier today, being both later and a weekend, with many more visitors wandering, taking photographs or just sitting and enjoying the sights. The undercover ‘market’ area is open for business this time, with a variety of food and drink outlets alongside stalls selling paintings and other artefacts. We walk all the way up to the far end, at W30th Street before turning round and strolling back to the start. Although our timing is off again, as we’re still stuffed from breakfast, we have another nosey at Chelsea Market, taking advantage of their free WiFi to respond to birthday greetings left on Facebook and emails. Exiting the Market we wander through Chelsea into the West Village, very chilled, enjoying the sun and the crowds browsing the boutiques and cafes. Resting for a while in a small, pretty park at the corner of Bleecker and Carmine, we study the Rough Guide map and decide to head back up town for a few hours. We take the Subway from a W4th Street/6th Ave station up to 42nd Street at Bryant Park behind the Public Library. Entering the Park, we purchase water (Amanda) and a large coffee (Mike) from a kiosk and find a couple of chairs on the main lawn. This is one of our favourite spots in New York: a generous but not over sized park, beautifully landscaped, and extremely popular with locals and visitors alike. The grass is covered with sunbathers and people playing ball games, whilst around the edges a wide gravel area is portioned (with the lawn chairs) into individual Petanque courts. Once again the people-watching is outstanding. This well-built young lady generates modest amusement with her crucifixion pose – note the paperback covering her face! A bit of fauna puts in an appearance too: We could sit here in the steaming sunshine for many hours, but as always in New York there is the irresistible temptation to look round the next corner…which is literally what we do, walking up the side of the Park…. …. where we spot this vanity plate: (which we feel we are!) …to the Library. Instantly familiar to everyone (remember Ghostbusters?), this is a majestic building, inside and out. Further, it is an incredibly important public resource, (the 2nd largest library in the USA, behind only the Library of Congress) hosting 53 million items. We wander the cool, marble interior: The main Reading Room is truly immense, at almost 300 ft. long, or virtually the length of 2 city blocks! We leave the Library at 2:00pm and head north on 5th before crossing to 6th in search of a light lunch. Short on inspiration, and loathe to have too big a feast before tonight’s birthday dinner, we settle on a shared platter from the Tri-Tip Grill in the Rockefeller dining concourse. $15. Refuelling complete, we make our way past the Plaza dining area, with its beautiful Lalique glass wall… .. to Swarovski, where Amanda spends some birthday dollars on this: We leave the concourse and return to the plaza about 3.00pm to discover that it has been raining, but is now dry and warm although somewhat overcast. We have a couple of hours before we need to start titivating for tonight’s meal and decide to have a drink. We liked Hurleys on W48th, and recall that they have a 3rd floor patio, so head across that way, passing two stores we aren’t likely to patronise – Hersheys Chocolate World, and opposite, M & Ms World! On arrival we discover that they have closed the patio due to the recent rainstorm, so we sit at the bar and order our ‘usual’ – Brooklyn Lager for me, sauv blanc for Amanda. There is a group of four sitting next to us, two couples in their 60s, and the nearest guy asks Amanda if it is her birthday (must have overheard our conversation about tonight), as one of their ladies also celebrates a birthday today. I must have spent too long out of the UK, because he sounds Dutch to me, and I am surprised to discover that they are all native Aberdeeners!! We enjoy our drink and order a second, while chatting and watching the eclectic mix of sports being shown on the bar flat screens: the mix includes premiership football (Liverpool v Chelsea from earlier this year), women’s baseball and motorsports. 4:15pm, and time to head back. We shower and dress in our finest – don’t we scrub up well? .. before heading out at 5:30 for the short walk to 42nd Street and the Subway to catch the A train Express to Brooklyn/High Street. On the train we experience virtually the only unpleasant scene during our stay, when a tall, powerful looking African-American guy enters the carriage and starts accosting passengers, including me, demanding money and shouting threats. Fortunately he leaves, empty-handed, at the next stop. We can tell from the shock on the New Yorkers’ faces that this is a rare occurrence. We arrive at Brooklyn High Street, at the far side of the Bridge, far too early, at about 6:05. And it’s raining! We stand under a tree for a few minutes, and the rain stops, the skies quickly brightening. With time to kill we head down to the DUMBO area (the acronym stands for ‘Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass’) and wander through the historic warehouses and factories, most now protected under statute and converted to residential lofts, art galleries and workplaces. The unusual name, incidentally, was coined by the first, arty-crafty type residents in the 1970’s, in the hope that the rather silly title would deter developers – it doesn’t seem to have worked! A new 3-bedroom, 2 bath home in one of the warehouses currently costs about $2,600,000!!! We locate the River Café and walk to the adjacent pier where the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory café is situated, in order to take in the view of the Bridge, Café and Manhattan skyline. The approach to the River Café is through a pretty, wooded garden. We enter the restaurant at 6:35 and are warmly greeted. The Maitre’d escorts us to our table, close to the windows in the main dining room. There is also a second space (the Terrace Room) used mainly for private parties. Fine dining can, in our modest experience, be a little over-bearing at times, with patronizing servers and less than satisfying food. This is not what we find tonight. Having settled us in, the maitre’d wanders off, and a second waiter greets us, and asks if we would like a cocktail to start proceedings off. Amanda chooses a Cosmopolitan and I ask for a Margarita (naturally!) A third waiter delivers water (and incidentally seems to spend all night solely devoted to ensuring that we do not get dehydrated at any stage!). A fourth attendant then appears with the wine list! We are delighted to see that our favourite wine, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is available (albeit at a price!) and order a bottle. We study the menu, which is a fixed price of $100 each, and sip our delicious cocktails. Amanda selects Rabbit and Dumplings (“Braised rabbit in natural juices, pan fried rabbit loin, garden pea sauce, homemade Brooklyn ricotta cheese dumplings”) for her appetiser, followed by a main of Maine Lobster Special (“prepared with savory seasonal favorites”). I decide upon Wagyu Steak Tartare (“Hand cut Kobe style beef prepared tableside with quail egg yolk, Cognac gelée, traditional garnish and toast points”) and Colorado Rack of Lamb (with “House cured lamb Merguez sausage, golden fondant potatoes, mint and mustard seed glaze, lamb jus.”) Bread is offered, from a lovely selection of home made rolls, along with a small plate of complimentary appetisers, a beautiful tomato and fennel soup and a delicious tuna mousse. Our appetisers are delivered – this is what mine looked like before the waiter prepared and re-shaped it – …. And afterwards.. Amanda’s bunny rabbit: Both were declared superb! Yum! The service is perfectly timed (in our opinion) allowing us lots of room to enjoy the atmosphere of the restaurant and, of course, the amazing views outside. The skies change constantly over the course of the evening, ensuring that I keep bobbing up and down to take the next, best shot! Where else could you see a sunset skyline that includes the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge whilst eating a Michelin Star quality meal? Our main courses arrive: Once more, we consider that they are wonderful. Amanda’s in particular is a work of art – a whole lobster, carefully removed from its shell and reassembled with the other ingredients. Time passes, more photos are taken. Dessert menus are provided and studied – I have “Chocolate Sticky Toffee Cake” (with “Pistachio ice cream sandwiched between dark chocolate cookies, butterscotch sauce, Ronnybrook Farm whipped cream.”) and Amanda chooses “Goat Cheese Cheesecake” (with “passion fruit gelée, meringue, passion fruit ice cream”) Another complimentary plate of ‘taster’ desserts is also offered. We finish our superb meal with coffee and sit to enjoy the changing picture outside as the lights come on across Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Perfect. The cost? Well, we wouldn’t be able to do this every week, that’s for sure! $380, including a tip of approximately 15%, or circa £245. Worth it? Yep. We leave the restaurant at 9:15pm, and, after taking even more piccies on the pier.. ….we stroll back to the subway, and are back in Midtown by 9:45. Although we had planned to go straight ‘home’ to bed, there is a pavement table free at the Sombrero, and who can resist $5 Margaritas? Just the one though, and finally, at 10.35 we head back to the hotel and are tucked up in bed by 11.00pm. A perfect day. Tomorrow: Brooklyn plans abandoned due to adverse weather! Guggenheim, TGI Fridays, 9/11 Memorial.