I said yes, of course. At least that’s how I remember it.
And so began my most memorable trip to New York City—new shoes (Paul Smith), my old roommates and their husbands, a bottle of bubbles… and a marriage proposal.
I have imagined this moment since the days of playing with Barbie dolls. But it didn’t prepare me for my reaction when I was finally on the receiving end. I was in a state that is foreign to me: I was without words. I didn’t cry or faint. But I smiled ‘til it hurt. I was paralyzed for a moment. And when I went to call my dad, I was so out of sorts, I called my fiancé instead. We laughed. I tried again… and I accidentally dialed him once more. I was a flustered mess.
A deliriously happy flustered mess.
A dinner followed at Peasant. You may recall this was where I went after my marathon this time last year. The food is some of my favorite, but I remembered their weak stemware, so this time no Giacosa. We went for wine we could smell from the undersized goblets. Everything was near perfect. Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige, Vino Nobile de Montalcino from Tuscany and Schioppettino from Friuli were a lovely accompaniment to vast spread we shared communally from burrata, baked aquid, and suckling pig head to pizzas and pasta with fresh white truffles shaved on top. Baked pies and panna cotta were compliments of the chef for the celebration.
We met up with another friend at the bar inside the Bowery Hotel for a nightcap of Amaro and Calvados. We watched as B list actors and singers lingered with one another on velvety couches in the thickly robed interior of the lounge. The fabric and elaborate details make this locale a real throwback to the turn of the century. It has always been my favorite hotel in all of NYC.
Hardly time to come up for air over the next few days in preparation for my first two of six total WSET Dipoma exams, we managed to make it to a couple other great spots before heading to Philly for the big testing day. While my beau was at some business meetings in Greenwich Village, I ducked around the corner to a most adorable find: Jeffrey’s Grocery. I snacked on a scrambler with baguette while I saw so many other delicious bites come out all afternoon. Most of the food was under $12, they had great coffee and what looked to be a well sculpted albeit tiny wine list of mostly Dressner, Martine’s, Kermit and Rosenthal import wines. Very traditional, but at least they can’t be blamed for one bad bottle on the list. Very knowledgeable people worked at this small, lively café on the corner. I now know where to go for the best place to read the paper while grabbing a bite for breakfast or lunch next time…
We dined at Saxon + Parole for dinner—a place we couldn’t help but constantly compare to our own local Colt + Gray. For God’s sake, it Colt’s very own doppelganger! Our instinct was right on to try it out, though. Like Colt, Saxon was fantastic! It’s down on the Bowery at Bleeker. We began with strange concoctions. Mine involved fresh beets (the ‘beetnik’) with reposado tequila, mezcal, vanilla, fresh ginger and BEET! Very refreshing, earthy and slightly confusing for my palate…in a good way. We shared many starters, but my favorite was the Portabella Mouse with Parole Whisky and Truffle Jelly. It was like the best butter that’s not butter at all! Slather it on toast, and you’re good to go. We all ordered lobster as the celebration continued. It was prepared on the grill and not suffocating in butter. It didn’t need it. This lobster was insane. Save up your cushion coins and go at once.
The next day’s lunch took us to the best deal in town: Batali and Bastianich’s Del Posto in the meatpacking district. Three courses (and inter-course teasers! Wow, that sounds kinda dirty…) for $29. True gourmet, high end, white tablecloth service at a price just about anyone can afford. An old fashioned piano plays 1930’s standards in the background. The food is fancy, but they manage to make it not so stuffy.
That night we convened with our buddies at The John Dory—a famous little seafood restaurant in the NoMad district (north of the Flatiron District and Madison Square Park). I had some reservations, as I am a fair-weather seafood consumer, but I couldn’t help but love this place. The food was off the hook and the wine list—also quite small (that seemed to be the trend—goodbye wine bibles)—was ridiculous. We enjoyed a ’95 Kirchmayr Gruner Veltliner to start (haunting and calculated with linear focus yet encase in curves and hips, notes of herbaceous, asparagus, basil and grass), followed by the ’09 Knoll Smaragd Riesling from the Wachau (opulent yet elbowy, this wine was dry but wanted to be sweet with its rather pronounced presence all over the palate—a testament to a very open, inviting vintage).
As we moved on to Philadelphia the next day (a brief 1 hour express train and you’re there), I began to get excited on our walk. It was buzzing with foodie energy. Tons of little restaurants were packed with locals, corner pastrami delis had it going on, Philly cheesesteak stops smelled heavenly and French brasseries were busting at the seams. This city seemed to get it. And I hadn’t had so much as one bite yet to confirm this suspicion.
We went to The Dandelion Pub, for we had seen a special on the nation’s best fish and chips. A Friday night fishfry Wisconsin girl with Catholic blood… I was there in a Milwaukee minute. The ambiance was one of the best I had ever witnessed. To say it was textured and intricate hardly scratched the surface. I couldn’t stop looking at all the detail that had been infused in this old Victorian downtown three-level space. Pieces of antique furniture, old needlepoint stitchings framed on the wall, mismatched well-toned upholstery, real wood burning fires, separated rooms for eating space, tin, wood, jars, stained glass… There was so much to take in (check out the website!). Oh yes, and the fish and chips? Sorry, ‘sconnies. They have you beat.
Post-exam the next day, I unwound at Parc, a French brasserie that never seemed to see a dull moment. For such a large space, it was always packed, even at 3p when you’d think the lunch crowd was slowing down on a weekday. We shared a few oysters (correction: my guy did), a beet salad and French Onion Soup. I am not kidding when I say that the soup was the best I have ever had—including France’s and my own. The onions must have been caramelized for eons, the broth reduced for hours on end. It was dense, flavorful, and not too salty. Any depression that occurred an hour earlier walking out of the Sofitel exam room was erased with a couple bites of that soup.
In between, we ventured off to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall–a must-see if you care at all about the formation of this democratic nation. I didn’t think it would be as moving as it was. Very cool (especially since I just watch the John Adams series…).
Our final evening brought us to one of the most talked about eateries in town: Vetri, a quaint Italian restaurant with 10 or so tables off a dark little side street in the heart of Philly. Many chefs and critics have claimed that is one of the best Italian restaurants in America. In many ways, it reminded me of Frasca in a much smaller, more rustic and intimate setting. The food prep and presentation was very similar. It focused on food textures, balance and creative combinations with pure, simple ingredients.
I could go on about each course, but it would not matter. Should you ever be in Philly and go to Vetri (and you should, but be sure to make reservations a month in advance!), you will be held to the chef’s tasting menu. It was interesting. Both my fiancé and I were delivered different items for each course, which made it extra fun as we could pick off each other’s plate and get a great idea for the scope and talent in the kitchen. They also paired each selection with different wines. It was a tasty, curious adventure never knowing what was next!
Vetri was one of those places that doesn’t seem overly remarkable perhaps on the spot. Don’t get me wrong, the food is indisputably outstanding, but after a week of awesome meals, it can just seem like another great place at first. What set it apart, however, was that I found myself thinking about the meal throughout different parts of my day the week after. It has left such an impression on my senses, that only now do I fully understand its hype. Vetri was head and shoulders above the other places we went to over the week in terms of its staying power. It was such a unique experience. They truly work to help you form a memory when you dine there. It IS worth the hype, the money and the long wait reservation.
And so, that concludes possibly the best trip ever. I thank everyone for all the encouragement I received in preparation my first round of exams! Thank God that’s over. Now, back to hitting the books for the next exams…