Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Big Apple... First Bite.

Our trip to New York City this year was a whirlwind of fun, food, friends and wine.  As usual, the city was remarkable and Manhattan never ceases to thrill and amaze me- with so much to do in so little time, I was beside myself with choices.  How would I spend my long days, where would I eat, what new place could I explore?  Let's find out.

My plane touched down Wednesday afternoon, amidst the heat and haze of Newark Liberty International Airport, a choice I had made last minute when flight prices dropped.  On my past trips, I usually get to-and-fro using JFK, but the temptation of saving a few bucks was far too much for me to resist, thus the New Jersey decision.  Unfortunately and in all honesty, I can't recommend this to travelers as an introduction to the New York area, most certainly not for first time visitors flying in from distant locations.

This is what security feels like at Newark.
Although it's proximity to the city is convenient, I found the airport difficult to navigate, an absolute security nightmare, slightly funky, severely lacking order and total rip-off when it came to ground transportation.  $100 for a 16 mile cab ride is a bit steep for me, although I do admit I could have taken a train transfer for much cheaper.  It's hard to motivate yourself to sit on a train for an hour and half after a 6 hour plane flight though, especially in 90 degree weather at 90 percent humidity.

Yay JFK!
I highly suggest sticking to JFK, for the convenience of it's connection to the NYC subway and the ease, cleanliness and sensibility of the airport itself.  Why is this helpful information?  When I travel, especially on shorter trips, I like the airport to be a swift transition between air and land, without having to waste my time on the nonsense of a poorly run facility.  Call me crazy, but flying is stressful enough as it is for some of us, therefore I'm a big fan of well-organized hubs that get me in, through, and out efficiently and anxiety-free.

I digress...  On to the good stuff!!

The building itself is beautiful.
The lobby with it's faux fireplace, an illusion made using water and flickering lights.
Our homebase for this 4 day trip was smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan, mid-town to be exact, at the elegantly appointed Carlton Hotel.  Surrounded by towering skyscrapers and bustling, cab-filled streets, The Carlton Hotel stands like a striped beacon of cool, stacked-stone, decorated with intricate French-inspired black filigree details.  The interior of the hotel feels modern with an Art Deco twist, similar to most classic New York hotels.  The environment is warm and welcoming, while remaining refined in it's presentation.  I found the staff to be incredibly kind and helpful when needed, otherwise quietly waiting in the wings, giving the hotel a very serene feel.  

The Salon.
The hotel's restaurant, Millesime, (pronounced mee-lay-ZEEM), is a fantastically decorated brasserie that draws in guests with it's richly colored, parlor-style lounge and bar.  Once inside, you are sure to be lured upstairs by the luxurious wood-paneled, chandelier filled dining room where you can sample some of the city's finest...

"The Carlton Hotel's signature, full service Murray Hill restaurant, Millesime, is a seafood brasserie, presenting guests with a straightforward menu highlighted by both bold and delicate French cuisine. 2 Michelin Star Executive Chef Laurent Manrique draws inspiration from the classic seafood dishes found throughout France, utilizing only the freshest, seasonal ingredients sourced from local waters and nearby farms. For guests craving a small bite, Executive Chef Manrique has crafted a menu of small plates ideal for sharing. For those looking for something a bit more substantial, this Murray Hill restaurant also offers a Burger Millesime, Croque Monsieur and the Salon Club. The elegant upstairs dining room features a 100-year-old mosaic floor; a Tiffany Dome skylight, red banquettes, a marble raw bar and an open kitchen allow you to peek in on the culinary team at work."

Bar Millie.
The hubbs spent most of his time within the walls of Millesime, sampling over 220 wines as a Juror (judge) for the Bordeaux Wine Council's (CIVB) Today's Bordeaux wine competition, to choose the top 100 affordable Bordeaux wines for 2013, thus being our main reason for visiting NYC.  Along with his peers, they sipped, savored and discussed wines for two days straight, while enjoying meals provided by Millesime.

I, on the other hand, sampled a few of my own tidbits at Millesime, like their Misty Point oysters on the half shell, served with mignonette and housemade cocktail sauce.  For lunch on our last day in town, I enjoyed their Millesime Burger, smothered in Monterey jack, avocado, roasted peppers, spicy onion rings & french fries, while the hubbs chose the Chicken Club with saffron aioli, tomato confit & pancetta on multi-grain toast with their delicious pomme frites.  All of the food at Millesime was freshly prepared and presented in an appealing manner.  We very much enjoyed our dining experience and would definitely re-visit when back in the city.


Initially the hubbs and I were going to fly in together, but we became separated by scheduling conflicts, which meant that he would be leaving San Francisco as I was arriving in New York.  Much to his dismay, I was excited by this idea because it meant having the evening to myself to explore the wonders of mid-town without him (love you honey!)  Once I unpacked and settled in, I headed out to my favorite first stop- Eataly!  For those of you who are wondering why I'm obsessed with Eataly, you can read about my earlier adventures on one of most popular postings, My Visit To Eataly from 2012.  It's a personal favorite, and this time I was determined to eat at Manzo, a small, more formal setting that celebrates the deliciousness of American beef.  Strangely enough, I ordered everything but the beef, and I don't regret it.

My appetizer was a gorgeous salad- Roasted Beets with Hazelnuts, Goat Cheese & Black Truffle Vinaigrette.  I had to eat slowly and with purpose in order to completely indulge in this mouth-watering, savory yet delicately sweet salad.  The trick, as told by my waiter, was that the creamy goat cheese is whipped with their finest olive oil to create a pillowy soft blanket underneath the colorful beets.  The crumbled hazelnuts gave each bite an interesting contrast in textures, bringing just enough crunch.  And the truffle vinaigrette... No words.  This dish was divine.

Tasty AND pretty to look at.
At the suggestion of my incredibly well-informed waiter, to pair with my glass of sparkling rosé, I next ordered one of the evening's special plates-- Pan Seared Hamachi with Red Chili Oil Glaze atop Smoked Hamachi, Green Chickpeas & Castelvetrano Olives in a light broth.  The seared hamachi had a crisp outer layer and a sweet, cool center- just how I love my fish cooked.  The red chili oil mixed with the broth, briny olives and creamy chickpeas burst with flavor, all in one bite.  I was particularly fond of this dish because I've tried variations of it at home, using different olives and salmon, perhaps capers as well, because both the hubbs and I love the combo.  For a restaurant specializing in beef, Manzo sure hit the mark with this light yet satisfying seafood treat.

The Shake Shack... This pic perfectly captures the mood of that warm, cheerful evening.
Once I had filled my tummy with yummy, I waddled around Eataly for a bit longer and then decided to explore the outdoors a bit by heading across the street to Madison Square Park.  By far, one of my favorite parks in all of New York, I found it a cozy place to digest, sit back, and admire other people's impressive milk shakes and frozen custards from the wildly popular and tasty Shake Shack.  If I hadn't have gorged myself at dinner, I would've definitely joined in on the fun, but my stomach was far too full for more food.  Their milkshakes, by the way, have such a huge following that people are willing to stand in lines of 100+ just for a taste of their sweet, sweet goodness.  The burgers are awesome too, and along with fact that you can order beer (what???) with your burgers, fries, etc and sit in the park, that makes the Shake Shack one helluva destination point.  The hubbs and I sat and sipped later in our trip one evening- probably one of our nicer moments this visit, just relaxing and chatting and drinking beer out of plastic cups.

Amidst the chatter and ice cream, I happen to be told that I picked quite an exciting night to be in the Flatiron District, especially directly where I was perched at the apex of 23rd Street, Broadway and 5th Avenue.  I was about the witness one of the coolest New York natural oddities that happens only a handful of times a year-- Manhattanhenge! This is when the full sun aligns perfectly with the grid of New York city streets, creating an explosion of color and joy amongst the thousands of folks watching.  I've never seen so many people standing in the middle of intersections holding their hands up in unison, all to snap a photo of this phenomenon.  An overwhelming way to end my first evening in Manhattan, one that brought a sense of wonderment and community to me, a girl from California awash in a sea of people from all over the world.  I'll snip this article here, and leave you with my own photo of Manhattanhenge 2013, enjoy.

Pictures just don't do it justice.
Parts two & three coming up soon, featuring the notorious Brasserie Les Halles , Birreria on the roof, dinner and laughs at Wine:30, mixology at The NoMad Hotel, good eats at Traif in Brooklyn, and about a dozen other late night discoveries.

To be continued...


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