Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Weekend in Brooklyn [and Manhattan]

I love to travel and am lucky to be able to do it relatively often. In the last five years, I've flown at least a dozen times, some trips for adventure and others for friendship. I've made four trips to both New York City and Denver, two to Texas, one to the Pacific Northwest, and one to Chicago; I've been to Costa Rica and India; Jason and I have already booked trips to both California and Alaska for later this year, and we have tentative plans to visit Chile and Argentina in 2013. But sometime between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight, I have grown to dread flying. Besides the fact that I feel physically ill during the flights, I must also admit that I experience heightened anxiety as I imagine the plane spontaneously exploding at take-off or landing or dropping from the air mid-flight due to engine failure. Then there was the extra anxiety of wondering if the flight attendant or pilot would lose their marbles somewhere over Virginia -- a piece of advice: no reading flight horror stories before boarding a plane. It really is quite incredible that we human beings ever got off the ground.

Luckily, Friday's flight to New York was quick and uneventful. Unlike one nauseating flight from Atlanta to Denver, I did not have to reach for the barf bag. The plane managed to stay in the air over Virginia. No pilot left the cockpit spouting off crazy rants about terrorism. After landing, it was no time before I made it into Brooklyn, where I was immediately greeted by one of my best friends, Catherine, just as I stepped off the subway.

One of the thing things I love most about visiting big cities is being able to try new restaurants. I love seeing people's creativity come alive in dishes I've had a hundred times - a new spin on a traditional recipe. Like handfuls of fresh basil thrown on top of a thin crust pizza. Or prosciutto-like country ham in Eggs Benedict. Or a Bloody Mary garnished with a green olive, a square of mozzarella, and two thick slices of salami.

The last time I was in New York with Catherine, our mission was cupcakes. I think we made it to five different bakeries before our bodies finally said no more, unable to produce enough insulin to counter the influx of sugar into our blood stream. Without ever planning it, this visit’s focus became brunch. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all included late morning meals that bled into the early afternoon. I do love a good brunch, though it does tend to throw off sense of meal timing for the remainder of the day. It is one of the few meals where I could order every dish on the menu and leave satisfied.

After some discussion of where to go first, Catherine and I entered Cafe Luluc for a delicious brunch of pancakes and omelets. The pancakes were super thick and fluffy, but what made them amazing were their crispy outsides. My omelet was delicious, evidenced by the fact there was not one bite remaining on my plate when the waiter came to clear our table. But the fact I loved cheesy eggs and crispy pancakes shouldn't be surprising. The surprise was how much I enjoyed the side greens. Interspersed amongst the traditional baby greens were slices of fresh basil leaves, making this simple salad fresh and flavorful.
Later that afternoon, after exploring Brooklyn entirely on foot, we stopped at Sample for cheese and cocktails. Just as in North Carolina, the weather in New York has been uncharacteristically warm, though unfortunately, this weekend in New York chilly temperatures returned, with highs in the mid-40s. Still clinging to the idea of mid-60s temperatures, Sample had its front windows open and we were able to enjoy the crisp, fresh air. As we downed cocktails and a hard goat cheese called Buenalba, we talked about our lives: where we are now versus where we thought we'd be; the ups and downs of our jobs; books we'd read and movies we'd seen; friends we'd made and family members we love; and, of course, where to eat next.
If eating dinner at a mafia-run restaurant whose owner has been charged with attempted murder was on my life goals list, I could have crossed it off Friday evening when we ate dinner at Lucali. Before you go judging me, I should tell you that our ten o’clock dinner choice was rated by GQ Magazine as the #2 pizza in the country. So I really didn’t have a choice in going -- after all, innocent until proven guilty, right? Rationalized by the fact I wouldn’t be back to Brooklyn for at least a year, we ordered a calzone for an appetizer and a pizza for dinner! Catherine let me have the seat with the view, so I was able to see the trio of pizza-makers. One was in charge of rolling out the dough, another the slicing up the toppings, and the another the manning the oven. There is no formal menu, just a handful of fresh-toppings offered each night. After much contemplation over our choices, we decided on a pizza with garlic, Catherine’s half adorned with red bell peppers and mine slathered with thinly sliced Portabella mushrooms. Our ambitions clearly larger than our stomaches, we enjoyed leftover pizza Saturday afternoon.
Another way that I love to feel a city is to go on a run through its neighborhoods (a good balance to all this food I love to consume, I think). In addition to sidewalks everywhere, cities have their own smells - their own noises - their own people. At their core, I do think people are pretty much the same, but discounting our differences would be like ignoring a zebra's stripes. Six miles at home seems like quite a feat as I trod down the same roads, past the same houses and businesses. But in Brooklyn, a city safe enough to run for a girl to run alone, I must have looked like a kid at Christmas, eyes wide and head constantly turning to take in my surroundings, as I ran over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

As a reward for all that running, Catherine and I headed to brunch on Saturday morning at Buttermilk Channel. There I ate a variation of my favorite of all brunch entrees: Eggs Benedict. My friend and Catherine's boyfriend, Matt, took three different forms of public transportation so that he could join us for brunch. Squished in the corner together over a teeny table, we enjoyed mid-morning spirits almost as much as each other's company. When food for three came, we barely had room for all of it on our table for two. No matter - we managed to practically lick our plates clean as we made a game plan for the remainder of the day. We were trying to decide which Broadway (or off-Broadway) show we all would want to see when Matt came across tickets for a comedy show.

Now, I’ve been to several comedy shows over the years. There was the satirical musical comedy show in Austin with Ashley and there was the improv comedy show in Chicago with Jason, Brent, and Jillian. But up until last night, I had not had the side-splitting pleasure of watching an improv musical comedy show entitled Baby Wants Candy. For an hour I sat engrossed in the warped storyline of a funny monkey that ate a donkey (yes, someone stayed up many a night brainstorming that doozy of a title so that she could be the first to shout out her creation for those poor performing comedians). Sure, I was skeptical at first, but halfway through the donkey’s solo lamenting her plight as a donkey mistaken for a little horse, I was sold.

It was a lazy Sunday morning in Manhattan and just like the previous two mornings, our first stop was brunch, this time just a fifteen minutes walk from Matt’s studio apartment. Resto was reasonably priced and warmly decorated with freshly cut yellow tulips, tall branches filled with tiny, white flowers, and natural light that flooded in from the front windows. I ordered French Toast. Ten minutes later, the waiter placed a warm plate with two thick slices of toast, eggy in the middle and crumbly on the outsides, topped with finely diced pecans, lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar, with a melting tab of maple butter. Along with the thickest slice of bacon I’ve ever seen, which I stole from Matt’s plate, the side of real maple syrup completed the dish.
A quick trip to The Frick, an art collection housed on the Upper East Side, followed by a twenty-five minute walk through Central Park to get to the subway wrapped up my weekend trip. In the book, Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo, the author characterizes history as a "series of meals." While my visit was hardly the stuff of global history, it is now part of my personal history as well as the history of my friendship with Catherine. Its a good and rich history that can be marked by chai lattes and decaf coffees from Bean Traders, salads and sushi from Harris Teeter, cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery and Crumbs, and now brunch from Cafe Luluc, Buttermilk Channel, and Resto.

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