Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Top Ten Cities For You and Your Kids: New York, NY
New York City is one of my favorite cities in the world and I’ve been wanting to take our son, Steven, since he was born. I didn’t want to take him as a baby, however, or even a toddler. Rather, I waited for him to be old enough to appreciate the feast for the senses that is New York City. I pronounce him ready just shy of his tenth birthday and while my husband, Fen, would rather go camping, he comes along for a week-long adventure that promises to be memorable.
We arrive in Manhattan early in the morning and, after picking up City Passes at the Official NYC Information Center on Seventh Avenue (we bookmark the companion website, nycgo.com, on our iPhones), head for the subway. Although there’s a clerk at what looks like a ticket window, tickets must be purchased at ticketing machines and even my M.I.T-educated husband can’t seem to figure things out.
How long are you visiting?” asks a woman at the next machine as she flies through her transaction.
“A week,” I offer. “We’re trying to purchase tickets that’ll give us half a dozen or maybe a dozen rides.”
“Then you need to buy a week-long, unlimited ticket. That’s easily the best deal. Unfortunately, no one will tell you.”
Fortunately, we have met a very kind stranger less than an hour after our arrival and she walks us through our ticket purchase. We thank her profusely as she disappears into a train.
The Andaz Wall Street will be our home-away-from-home for the first half of the week so we can be closer to downtown attractions such as the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial and the Brooklyn Bridge. At the corner of Wall and Water Streets in the heart of the financial district, the hotel lobby is a medley of suited gents and attractive women striding purposefully while guests lounge over coffee and the morning paper in discrete seating areas. Steven repairs to an L-shaped couch fluffed with pillows while Fen and I are checked in by an Andaz Host, tablet PC in hand. A rundown of the hotel’s many services includes a fitness center and an in-room minibar stocked with snacks and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. I get stuck on the pantry at the far end of the lobby, er, Andaz Lounge.
“Yes, the pantry,” says our new friend who’s a dead ringer for the models in Ralph Lauren ads. “We serve coffee and mini-muffins in the morning and have snacks all day long. There’s a wine hour in the evening and you can purchase a light dinner if you’d like.”
The pantry is akin to a gleaming stainless-on-white kitchen and equipped with an industrial-strength espresso machine manned by a smiling staffer. A glass tray is filled with dewy, bite-sized muffins and assorted jars are layered with cookies. Fresh o.j. sparkles in a carafe. At another long table, cookbooks are for sale.
“What would you like?” coos the staffer/barista.
After an impromptu breakfast, we check out our Andaz Suite, a 600-square-foot, L-shaped space flooded with natural light. Steven amuses himself with a switch that raises and lowers the blackout shades while I run my hand over soft white sheets on a king bed then perch myself on a lilac suede swivel chair. Blond woods are a study in modernity and in stark contrast to the bathroom, its dark counters and tiling the Darth Vader in an otherwise Luke-and-Leia space. Even so, guests will eagerly cross over to the dark side for the ample soaking tub and rain shower. A living area is kissed by a velvety gold sofa and will be Steven’s sanctuary during our stay.
Our walk to Trinity Church is interrupted by a window display at La Maison du Chocolat, a jewel box of a shop where chocolates and truffles are arranged with a Japanese grace that belies the French name. I can’t help but walk in and leave Steven and Fen on the sidewalk, perplexed. They soon follow and we are presented with bite-sized samples of lemon, strawberry and chocolate macaroons from a silver tray.
“Wow!” exclaims Steven as he devours his bite. “Can I have another, Mom?”
I deflect the question and point him to a case filled with the most beautiful truffles I’ve ever seen. We choose our favorites and tell the cashier she can dispense with fanciful packaging since we’ll be eating them right away.
My son is familiar with Trinity Church from the first “National Treasure” movie, whose climactic scene takes place in the bowels of this ancient, sacred space. The nineteenth century Gothic Revival structure on Broadway at the foot of Wall Street is clad in brown stone and its spire was once the highest point in the city. Skyscrapers dwarf the church today and it’s this juxtaposition that makes it all the more inviting. Stained glass windows offer an opportunity for reflection and mother and son sit quietly in a pew while Fen explores what was shelter to many on the morning of 9/11.
Steven is tickled pink that the subway will be our primary mode of transportation this week as we ride a train to Chinatown and Little Italy. This is easily the largest transportation system my jr. engineer has witnessed and he’s mesmerized by the whooshing trains and massing riders. The only thing he would change is the heat inside every subway station, especially on the platform.
What passes for Little Italy is mostly along Mulberry Street these days, seeing as how Chinatown is encroaching on its ethnic neighbor. The cafes and trattorias quickly make way for street vendors selling mysterious fruits and vegetables, and a host of shops selling knickknacks. The fishmongers are the most interesting, their gleaming specimens arrayed in plastic tubs stuffed with ice and pricked with pricing information impossible to decipher. We zigzag along a maze of streets and small alleyways on our way to Joe’s Shanghai. It’s barely lunch time and the restaurant is already bustling so we’re shepherded to a communal table. Two 20-something women from L.A. and a couple from Spain help populate our table. I’ve been tipped to order the soup dumplings, small pockets of dough oozing warm liquid, and while there appears to be a bowlful at every table I’m fascinated by platters of steaming vegetables that are waltzed around the room. Steven orders the “fresh ginger” ginger ale announced by a hand-written sign on the wall while Fen and I dig into a starter of scallion pancakes. Thankfully, the General Tso’s Chicken is as zingy as I remember from my favorite Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. We talk education with the teacher from L.A. and practice a bit of Spanish with our new friends from the continent and it all makes for a great midday break.
A stroll up to SoHo is on my wish list so I can admire New York City’s most stylish women. It’s one of those moments when I wish I also had a daughter, since my men have absolutely no appetite for shopping. Our saving grace is Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic, a home décor emporium where Steven and Fen sprawl on made-for-lounging couches while I survey the wares. I ooh and aah in most every shop until we get to Vesuvio Bakery, where we’re all agog. The tiny storefront is bursting with palm-sized cookies heaving with chocolate chips, berries, nuts. Organic teas and sangria sweat in chilled carafes while the healthy sandwiches listed on a blackboard look far better than one would expect. We’re too full to indulge but wish we weren’t.
Back on Wall Street, the Charging Bull is mobbed and we hear a symphony of languages all around.
“You should look and listen in New York City,” I remind Steven. “There are people here from all over the world.”
The dining rooms at Otto are tailor-made for kids since the vaguely-train-station theme marks this the noisiest restaurant in town. That said, it’s a sleek and elegant crossroads in the hands of restauranteur and top chef Mario Batali. Our two appetizers, roasted beets and a summer squash nestled in pecorino, set the table for a romaine and red onion salad that is lightly dressed and equally fresh. The Margherita D.O.C. Pizza is a thin-crust confection of tomato, bufala Mozzarella and basil and is so inspired that we almost shove aside a Vongole pizza with clams, chiles, garlic and gooey Mozzarella. The dark chocolate is the winner in our trio of gelati and sorbetti and we soon pad out into the night.
The ferry boat Miss Ellis Island transports us to the Statue of Liberty on a cool, rainy morning. No matter, Steven still wants to stand outdoors, top deck. I observe my boy from an indoor bench and smile as the statue gets tantalizingly closer. Lady Liberty, French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s paean to America and her freedoms, stands 151 feet high, though it’s a shade over 300 feet from ground to torch. Her copper skin is thin and supported by a web of steel beams that can be viewed from inside the statue’s pedestal. Our pedestal passes give us access to an outdoor observation deck from which we can look up and take in the statue’s massive size. Her feet, her robe, her tablet – it’s all big. A chorus of languages contributes to the surround sound and the gathering crowd observes the statue from all angles, snapping pix. It’s a singular experience and I’m delighted that Lady Liberty is on our side.
The next ferry transports us to Ellis Island, where a gorgeous French Renaissance-style building was the processing center for over a hundred million immigrants, making them Americans in the process. The vast majority arrived between 1880-1924 and most of them were Europeans. We read about the pogroms against Russian Jews and I make it a teachable moment for my son, who is clearly troubled by this information. It’s easy to imagine the building’s cavernous Great Hall bustling with anticipation not that long ago. The museum’s many exhibit spaces detail the entry process, and a collection of surrendered passports and other personal possessions speak volumes about new Americans eager for a fresh start.
The boat ride back to Battery Park leaves us a short walk from the financial district and we work our way toward the New York Stock Exchange since we’ve spotted food carts at this bustling nexus. Fen pauses to look at his map and a man in a suit, tie askew, engages him.
“What are you looking for? can I help you find something?”
They talk north and south and the friendly gentleman is soon on his way.
“That the second day in a row that a total stranger has offered to help us,” I say. “Mayor Bloomberg has definitely turned this town around.”
We settle on a hot dog/gyro cart kitty-corner from the Exchange and Fen orders chicken and lamb over rice with a side salad and pita, all of it slathered with hot sauce. I settle on a gyro bursting with lamb and salad greens and topped with a cooling yogurt sauce. Steven’s $3 cheeseburger is bigger than his hands. We park ourselves on the steps of Federal Hall and dine alfresco.
Duly sated, we board a subway train for the short ride to City Hall and close by the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve only walked across the bridge, which spans the East River, once and am eager to share the experience with my men. At a time one of the longest suspension spans in the world, the structure’s neo-Gothic, sand-colored towers are enhanced by the web-like pattern of cables that support them. A center lane is dedicated to walkers and bikers and it is here where we alternately walk and run across the mile-long bridge, craning our necks skyward. I tell Steven we’ll be stopping at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on the other side and his step quickens. We make it there ahead of raindrops so we enjoy a banana split on a bench as we gaze toward Manhattan.
Dinner is at Wall & Water at the Andaz, an elegant, softly-lit space that’s a treat for adults and where kids can order from their own special menu. Power diners ring the room and we look equally important in a high-backed banquette. My growing son feels at home with adult menus and eyes his selection: the W&W Kobe burger on a brioche bun.
“You’re in New York,” I say. “Go for it.”
I begin with a heaping bowl of fragrant steamed mussels and use thick slices of farm bread to sop up a white wine-garlic broth. Fen’s salt cod-stuffed roasted bell peppers are equally appealing and a hulking ribeye topped with a fried farm egg and chimichurri sauce seals the deal for me. We pronounce the restaurant one of Wall Street’s winners.
The 9/11 Memorial is a work in progress and while the site’s museum won’t open until 2012, there is already much on which to reflect at the site of the former twin towers. A North and South Pool have opened on the footprint of the towers, each pool formed by a 30-foot waterfall characterized by architect Michael Arad as a veil of tears. A Callery pear tree found on the site and nursed back to health stands sentinel amid a glade of white oaks. The names of all 2,983 victims of the 9/11 tragedy are listed around each pool according to “meaningful adjacencies,” so the father of one survivor could be listed next to the name of her friend. Similarly, people who lived or worked together, brothers, that band of brothers known as first responders... their names live on so that we may never forget. A pair of tridents, steel beams from the North Tower facade, are already visible inside a glass atrium that is part of the 9/11 Museum and a section of a “survivor’s staircase” used to evacuate thousands of people onto nearby Vesey Street will also be incorporated, as will fire and police vehicles. If nothing else, visitors to the site can pause to remember where they were on our generation’s Kennedy moment and it’s yet another teachable moment for our kids.
Post-visit, we head uptown to the MoMA. Seeing as how Steven’s shelf life is limited in art museums, we hatch a plan to blitz the galleries devoted to painting and sculpture on floors 4 and 5. My son is keen to see Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, his favorite painting (and mine) and the seminal canvas is mobbed by a gaggle of aficionados. Steven heads for the front of the pack since he’s the shortest of the gang. Seurat’s pointillism also captivates my boy and I read the descriptions of paintings by Picasso and Matisse loudly enough so that Steven will listen. Coming face-to-face with Cezanne’s The Bather, a man in scant blue trunks, Steven is dumbstruck.
“Why would he paint that man?”
Munch’s The Storm makes Steven laugh since he is reminded of a class project involving self-styled caricatures of The Scream. As we walk through floor 4, I catch a glimpse of Claes Oldenburg’s Red Tights with Fragment 9 and am startled by how much it evokes “9/11” (skinny red tights standing in for “11” next to a yellow “9”) though the piece was created decades earlier.
Hunger calling, we head outdoors and encounter a veritable smorgasbord of food carts. Most of them sport some variant of “Halal” in the name and sell meat and threes. Fen is happy to stop at the first cart we pass but I insist on studying them all and cross busy Avenue of the Americas to size up even more. The longest line is at a cart named The Halal Guys that’s manned by guys sporting bright yellow t-shirts. They are smiling and serving, and what look like midtown workers wait patiently in the noonday sun.
“I don’t think I can wait that long,” I say to Fen, “though the food does look good.”
“Well, we need to eat somewhere...” implores my famished husband.
I opt to ask a passerby which cart is best and flag down a middle-aged man in shirtsleeves.
“The Halal Guys, absolutely,” he says. “They were voted the best food cart in New York City! Their cart is spotless and the line moves fast.”
We line up and, soon enough, order a lamb platter to share. Since seating is nowhere to be found, we lean against a long concrete planter and dig into our food. Everything on the heaping plate is amazing, from the moist, fork-tender lamb to fragrant yellow rice and a drizzle of creamy yogurt sauce.
“I love New York,” I murmur between bites.
Times Square is far more crowded than I recall from previous visits and the sea of humanity holds little appeal for Steven until we spot a billboard that towers over the Forever 21 store. The billboard is a video screen capturing the live panorama that is tourists, hucksters and hipsters parading around the pedestrian-only Square. Steven spots our threesome on the screen and we mug and wave for the camera. Every few minutes, a young model appears from one side of the screen and snaps a Polaroid of the crowd, subsequently showing off the finished product. It’s a spy-tech goof that Forever 21’s management must love.
Since my son isn’t much for Forever 21, we ride a wave of shoppers into the Disney Store, where I’m surprised to learn that the Phineas and Ferb cartoon is a Disney product. This show is a favorite of Steven’s and we giggle as we play with the many “Agent P” toys on hand. Next stop is the Swatch store, another mega-shop where I try on watches while my men pace. I grant them a reprieve and we make our way to Toys ‘R Us, whose idea of big is parking an actual Ferris wheel inside the store. There are separate departments for Star Wars, Lego, Jurassic Park...even Star Wars Legos! An employee nearby throws a small plane up in the air and it flies back to him again and again.
“Bet we couldn’t do that,” says Fen.
“Let’s go to Jurassic Park!” exclaims Steven.
Five minutes and countless dinosaurs later, Fen and Steven head for Star Wars and engage in an epic light saber battle.
“This store is FUN!” squeals my nine-year-old son.
Our hotel for the remainder of the week is The Muse, a Kimpton property close by Times Square yet far enough from its frenetic pace. The boutique hoteliers are once again a smashing mashup of style and function as seen in our Executive Suite, where a black leather headboard parlays the puffiest white duvet. Gilt-edged mirrors and a leopard-print divan are the only departure from a black-on-white color scheme and the living area sports a high-backed wing chair full of flourish alongside a rectangular black leather sofa that exposes Steven’s bed. Our boy has made it clear that his flat-screen TV is where he’ll view his movies thanks to an in-room DVD player and mom and dad don’t object. The hotel’s nightly wine hour takes place in a lobby replete with dual-sided fireplace and a web of trees that play on a bronze-and-gold color scheme. It’s rich and whimsical at the same time and we’re tickled pink to be so close by attractions we’ll frequent later in the week.
Pre-theater dinner at Victor’s Cafe is the closest we’ll get to Havana on this day. The Cuban food is as good as I remember from a long-ago visit and I’m the proud mama as I introduce Steven to smoked ham croquettes with a savory sauce of roasted tomatoes and peppers and roast suckling pig marinated in sour orange, olive oil and garlic.
Post meal, we scoot two short blocks to Radio City Music Hall for a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana. It’s my first visit to the Hall and I’m in awe of the American Modernist design. My husband’s favorite French Canadian acrobats have taken over Radio City for an extended spell and we revel in the many set pieces: two gymnasts flying off ladders set at precarious angles; a gal performing amazing feats on a flexible balance beam; and a sprite composing fantastical scenes with her fingers on a blue sand screen. It’s the trapeze artists that wow Steven and I recall feeling the same way at his age.
On our way back to The Muse, we swing by Times Square to take in the panorama at night. It’s as magical as we’ve seen on TV on many a New Year’s Eve and I hold my men close, grateful to be at the center of this bright lights, big city universe.
Steven has been gazing skyward at the Empire State Building since we arrived in New York so we pay a visit to the 86th floor observatory. It’s misting so we don’t have a picture-perfect view but we can still see the Chrysler Building, it’s scalloped peak ever the enchantress. Steven falls in love with a gold-domed building unfamiliar to me and we spend the better part of an hour circling the observation deck and pausing to gaze upon countless buildings. On our way down, we take in the many Art Deco flourishes of this iconic structure, looking better than ever thanks to a $550 million renovation.
We’ve signed up for the guided Central Park & Greenway Tour offered by Bike and Roll as it seems the easiest way to take in the Park in a limited amount of time. Our group of twenty cyclists includes kids and adults and we’re a motley crew as we pedal along the greenway that hugs the Hudson River. We enter the oldest man-made park in the U.S. near the Museum of Natural History and zig and zag for six miles. Betwixt and between, we visit The Mall, a majestic alley where elm trees merge for a cathedral-like canopy and the only straight path in the park. The Angel of the Waters, a graceful fountain, captures Steven’s fancy and is a stone’s throw away from where a scene from Home Alone 2 was filmed. Fittingly, my son takes it upon himself to recreate the scene. We exit the park near Strawberry Fields, a favorite spot of Fen’s and one which the park’s designers, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, could not have imagined 150 years ago.
A subway near Pier 84 transports us to midtown and we are entertained along the way by a three-piece mariachi band that’s playing on our train. Steven and I clap to the music and drop a $2 bill into the hat. Our destination is the Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien. Tucked behind a floor-to-ceiling curtain in the hotel lobby, a long line leads to a neon sign that points to a 60’s looking greasy spoon. Clearly, someone at this swank hotel has a sense of humor so we play along and order a cheeseburger “works,” replete with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle, onion, ketchup and mustard. Our shoestring fries arrive in a paper bag and the shakes are delicious and equally unassuming.
Discovery Times Square bills itself as “more than a museum” and they’re right – it’s a place that kids will not want to miss thanks to the quality of its rotating exhibits, which have included “King Tut” and “Titanic.” On our visit, we catch a doubleheader tailor-made for Steven. “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” features props and costumes from the Harry Potter films and begins in a dark room where a mistress of ceremonies tries the sorting hat on eager children. Steven is chosen and dubbed a Ravenclaw and he nearly jumps out of his skin.
“Mom!! Ravenclaws are known for their ready mind, wit and learning,” exclaims my Potter-obsessed son.
A series of spaces showcase the clothing worn by Hermoine, Neville and Luna and we pause for a time at Ron Weasley’s trunk. A golden egg from the Triwizard Tournament is next and we stumble upon a section of Ron and Harry’s dormitory.
“Can I explain this to you?” asks my wide-eyed son and before I can answer, he proceeds to tell me about each and every item in Harry’s tidy case. Professor Umbridge’s penchant for pink, along with her love of kittens, is on ample display as are the Quidditch robes of Draco, Cedric and Oliver.
“We don’t need an audio tour, we have our kids!” laughs a mom standing next to me.
Exiting via the exhibit gift shop, Steven grabs a Gryffindor tie and makes a perfect Windsor knot.
On a separate floor is “Pompeii: The Exhibit,” here for its world premiere engagement. Steven studied Pompeii in third grade and it’s a good thing since I had forgotten the specifics around the cataclysmic event that reshaped this city for millenia. A vibrant sea port of the Roman empire, Pompeii was struck by an earthquake in 62 A.D. and rebuilt only to be felled by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius seventeen years later. Entombed in ash and pumice, the city was rediscovered in the mid-eighteenth century. A 2,000-year-old fountain, its colorful tiles remarkably well preserved, is at the heart of the exhibit and countless artifacts including bronze and marble statues are equally surprising. The piece de resistance is a video simulation of the volcanic eruption and how it rained devastation on a surprised populace.
Rosa Mexicano near Union Square is the newest of the restaurant group’s three Manhattan eateries and graced by a cascading, back lit wall of water from which a succession of miniature Mexican cliff divers appear to leap. Bright tile art and sumptuous chandeliers further warm the ample space and envelop diners in the sweetest embrace. It’s prelude to authentic and soul-satisfying Mexican fare served in generous portions. My Tampiquena con Camarones is a flavor-fused skirt steak coddling a jumbo shrimp-arugula salad in a tomato-chipotle sauce. Fen’s chile rellenos are stuffed with marinated pork and smoky goodness yet it’s Steven who orders the winning dish, Charmorro, a pork shank that’s as big as his forearm and unbelievably tender. Our meal turns into a picnic as we pick from this plate ‘n that and marvel at colorful sides like sweet plantains, black beans and yellow rice.
As we step outside, the Empire State Building is a beacon in the night. Steven smiles and cheerfully points out another building that’s also top-lit. It’s an affirming moment – my son has embraced the city that’s dear to my heart.
Grand Central Terminal’s blue-green ceiling makes for the prettiest sky and it’s dotted with constellations and zodiacal signs... Taurus, Gemini, Cancer. We stand in the middle of this massive building, grand chandeliers lighting the crossroads of transport, commerce and culture. The bagels at Cucina & Co. downstairs prepare us for the day ahead.
A stroll up Fifth Avenue brings us to Rockefeller Center, where the statue of Prometheus gleams.
“Mom, he was in Home Alone 2, too,” Steven notes.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street is bookended by neo-Gothic spires although Steven would rather worship at that altar of capitalism, The Plaza Hotel, also featured in Home Alone 2. The Plaza appears far less accessible after a multi-million dollar renovation and possessed of none of the whimsy in my son’s favorite movie. Our walk-through is brief and we proceed to that altar of consumerism, FAO Schwarz. Masquerading as Duncan’s Toy Chest in Home Alone 2, Steven is delighted to be here. Assorted toy demos line the main aisle and Steven soon spots a 3-in-1 Nerf gun.
“That is cool!” he shouts.
A magician performs tricks on floor number two and it’s all I can do to get my boys out of the store. We split up briefly, me heading to Bloomingdale’s while Fen and Steven visit the Apple Store, a glass cube presently covered in scaffolding. Reconnecting at a subway station on Lexington Avenue, we take the 6 train to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stopping at the hot dog cart out front for a quick lunch.
Our first order of business at the Met is to strategize for our visit. The museum is expansive and exhaustive and we certainly won’t see it all. We start at Egyptian Art since Steven is fascinated by all things Egypt and thinks we should visit the pyramids at Giza, oh, tomorrow. I conclude that ancient Egyptian women had some very cool jewelry and we proceed to the Temple of Dendur, dating to 15 B.C. and gifted to the U.S. by Egypt in 1965. Our tour of the American Wing is for my benefit and we gawk at a piano with mother-of-pearl keys and gasp at recreated period rooms filled with ornate hand-tooled furnishings. My favorite collection is the decorative art of Louis Comfort Tiffany and it’s awash in lamps, vases, necklaces, inkwells – who knew his oeuvre was so complete? Not me. Our stop at Arms and Armor is fun for Fen as he and Steven examine Samurai swords and German rifles with equal precision. Our last stop is Modern and Contemporary Art and I ogle the multi-hued offerings with a mix of awe and desire.
A quick walk takes us to La Maison du Chocolat’s uptown store on Madison Avenue since I’m keen to do a taste test among Manhattan chocolatiers. The store’s cafe is at the rear and a well-dressed young woman delivers cups of hot chocolate as well as a glass of iced chocolate for Fen. The warm beverage is rich and dark while the cooler confection is surprisingly thick. On our way back to The Muse, we encounter a Japanese sax player tearing it up inside the subway station and I can’t seem to tear myself away. Fen insists and I sashay away.
Danny Meyer is the man behind no less than ten New York City restaurants and our choice on this evening is Blue Smoke, which serves an assortment of regional barbecue. The place is packed and patrons range from kids to grandparents. The Kansas City spareribs are the clear winner though they get a run for their money from sides such as mashed potatoes and collard greens. Steven monopolizes the sweet potato wedges but there’s more than enough goodness for everyone.
I head out to Central Park for a run while my men slumber. Once they’re up, we hop on the subway and head to the American Museum of Natural History on the Park’s west side. The Hayden Planetarium is a logical starting point and we’re enthralled by a 25-minute show on the sun and what it means to our planet. A scavenger hunt is next, accessible via smart phone and based on the “Night at the Museum” movie. Flitting from one gallery to another, we spot an Easter Island head and then a Capuchin monkey, bison and “Rexy,” all whom had prominent roles in the Ben Stiller film. The sheer volume of artifacts is astounding and Steven ends our visit with his twin loves, outer space (a Mars rover) and rocks and minerals (The Star of India).
A ride downtown takes us to the Chelsea Market, housed in a former Nabisco factory. A post-industrial gleam seals this latter-day food arcade populated by forty or so restaurants and food emporiums. My Tuscan white bean soup with spinach from Hale and Hearty is dreamy and Steven digs into a bowl of curried chicken soup while Fen slurps cooling gazpacho. An amalgam of exposed brick and ductwork, the market is prime for people-watching. Around a bend and down a few steps we encounter Jacques Torres Chocolate, the real reason we’re here.
“This place has better hot chocolate,” concludes Steven and I have to agree.
A block away, we climb a set of stairs to the High Line, a public park built on a former elevated railway that hums with people and possibilities. A narrow space snaking its way for twenty blocks parallel to Tenth Avenue, the park affords an urban experience as it hugs neighboring buildings and gives a bird’s eye view of details otherwise lost to pedestrians. Native plants and other greenery have been incorporated onto the Line along with plentiful benches and cutouts designed as performance spaces. Kids will love the “bird condos,” an art installation cum sanctuary for our avian friends.
Due south, we pop into Peep, a modern Thai restaurant. The elongated dining room is buzzing with SoHo hipsters and the staff is up to the task. Our meal is presented and we feast on leek spring rolls, a chilled salad of green papaya and ginger teriyaki red snapper, Steven not-so-discreetly snagging most of the fish. Our version of a nightcap is a visit to the Top of the Rock, the 70th-floor observation deck at Rockefeller Center. We’re keen to see the skyline at night and the view is sublime, a sea of lights for miles on end. The top of the Empire State Building is bathed in green, white and orange light in honor of the 31st Annual India Day Parade and, once again, we hear languages from around the world. As it should be in this unique metropolis.
Sleep is in since there’s but one piece of business on our final day in New York City: a Mets game. The 7 train takes us to Citi Field in Queens and, arriving at the stadium, we can’t help but notice that it’s huge. Inside, the decks are a breezeway and keep us cool on a warm Sunday afternoon. There are mouthwatering smells at every turn and shops are filled with slinky Mets tees. I resist Nathan’s Famous and march over to Shake Shack, where the line is epic. I’ve been told not to miss the shack’s singular burger, fries and shake so I wait and am rewarded with a terrific burger and fries enjoyed at my seat along the first-base line. The Shack’s black & white shake is thick, chocolate-y goodness and well worth the wait. The Mets lose to the Brewers but everything else about Citi Field is a winner.
Our last meal in the city is at NIOS at the Muse. We’ve chatted with Chef Massimo De Francesca during the hotel’s wine hour and are eager to sample his small plates. Inviting him to make our selections, we begin with popcorn drizzled with pulverized porcini, truffle oil and sea salt and it’s easily the best popcorn ever. Plantain chips served with a chipotle aioli are also perfect and we can see that Steven is going to enjoy this meal – these are kid-friendly bites. The bay scallop ceviche is another fortunate selection, nestled amid hearts of palm and avocado and glistening with lobster oil. A short rib melt is a hearty plate topped with robbiola (akin to a soft sheep’s cheese), crispy shallots and a thyme demi-glace while a plate of crab fritters proves both delicate and flavorful. We end our meal with a fancifully-presented maple bread pudding and a warm chocolate cake with peanut butter and whipped cream.
“I love New York,” I say. “And you?” I ask Steven.
“It’s pretty cool, Mom.”
The Official NYC Information Center is located at 810 Seventh Avenue near 53rd Street; (212) 484-1222 http://www.nycgo.com/articles/onic The futuristic space includes interactive tools that allow you to research and customize your visit. City Passes, good for discounted admission to six popular attractions, can be purchased at http://www.citypass.com/new-yor
Andaz Wall Street, 75 Wall Street; (212) 590-1234 http://newyork.wallstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/index.jsp?null Standard doubles from $335; the Andaz Suite starts at $505; online packages and promotional rates available. The hotel offers free wi-fi as well as fitness and spa services
La Maison du Chocolat, 63 Wall Street; (212) 952-1123 http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.com/en/#/home Other New York locations at Rockefeller Center and on Madison Avenue. All stores closed on Sunday
Trinity Church, 74 Trinity Place; (212) 602-0870; http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/ An active parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York
Joe’s Shanghai, 9 Pell Street; (212) 233-8888; http://www.joeshanghairestaurants.com/ Open seven days; more locations in midtown Manhattan and Queens. Reservations not taken so arrive early to avoid a wait
The Charging Bull is a bronze sculpture located on Broadway in lower Manhattan that alludes to Wall Street’s unpredictable nature
Otto, One Fifth Avenue; (212) 995-9559 http://www.ottopizzeria.com/home.cfm The restaurant is certified by the Green Restaurant Association. Reservations strongly encouraged
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are open daily except December 25 and accessible via ferryboat operated by Statue Cruises; reservations required. Book passage at http://www.statuecruises.com/ The National Park Service is steward of the Statue of Liberty and their Visitor Information line is (212) 363-3200; additional information at http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm The Statue will close on October 29, 2011 for yearlong renovations, however, Liberty Island and Ellis Island will remain open
The Brooklyn Bridge is open daily and accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists via a central walkway located above vehicle lanes. Access to the walkway is across from City Hall on the Manhattan side
Wall & Water, 75 Wall Street; (212) 699-1700 http://newyork.wallstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/entertainment/restaurants/index.jsp Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; reservations suggested for dinner
The 9/11 Memorial is now open and the site’s museum will open in 2012. Free time-stamped visitor passes can be reserved at http://www.911memorial.org/visitor-passes A very limited number of passes are released daily on a first-come, first-served basis (two passes per person).
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) is located at 11 West 53rd Street; (212) 708-9400 http://moma.org/ Closed Tuesday, open late Thursday, open late (and free) Friday night
The Halal Guys operate a food cart at the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue. They stay open late, very late
Times Square is a narrow rectangle that runs from 40th to 53rd Streets between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. It counts shops, restaurants and much of the city’s theater district and its center is a pedestrian mall. The Square is vastly different by day than by night and should be visited at both times
The Muse Hotel, 130 West 46th Street; (212) 485-2400 http://www.themusehotel.com/ Double rooms from $341; Executive Suites from $431; online packages and promotional rates available. The hotel serves complimentary beverages in the lobby every afternoon and hosts an evening wine hour. Animal-print robes for adults and kids; DVD players upon request
Victor’s Cafe, 236 West 52nd Street; (212) 586-7714 http://www.victorscafe.com/index2.html Open daily, reservations suggested
Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian acrobatic troupe staging lavish shows that tour the U.S. and overseas. A full slate can be found at http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/home.aspx#/en/home/americas/usa.aspx Zarkana is playing at Radio City Music Hall through November, 2011 http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/zarkana/default.asp
Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue; (212) 736-3100 http://www.esbnyc.com/ Open daily from 8 a.m.-2 a.m. except Sunday, when it closes at midnight. Purchase tickets online in advance and consider an early-morning visit to avoid a long wait
Bike and Roll tours of Central Park and the Greenway depart at 10 a.m. daily from Pier 84 on Manhattan’s west side http://bikenewyorkcity.com/ The three-hour tour covers roughly ten miles with frequent stops along the way
Burger Joint, 119 West 56th Street; (212) 708-7414 http://www.parkermeridien.com/eat4.php Open for lunch, dinner and late night seven days
Discovery Times Square, 226 West 44th Street; (866) 987-9692 http://www.discoverytsx.com/ Open daily 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Check the website for current exhibits
Rosa Mexicano, 9 East 18th Street; (212) 533-3350 http://www.rosamexicano.com/Default.aspx Open for lunch and dinner seven days; reservations strongly suggested. Manhattan locations include First Avenue and Columbus Circle
Grand Central Terminal is at 87 East 42nd Street http://www.grandcentralterminal.com/ 35 eateries and 68 shops help populate this bustling terminal
FAO Schwarz, 767 Fifth Avenue; (212) 644-9400 http://www.fao.com/home/index.jsp Open seven days.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue; (212) 535-7710 http://www.metmuseum.org/ Admission is free for kids under twelve accompanied by an adult
Blue Smoke, 116 East 27th Street; (212) 447-7733 http://bluesmoke.com/mobile/ Open seven days; reservations strongly encouraged
The American Museum of Natural History is located along Central Park West at 79th Street; (212) 769-5100 http://www.amnh.org/ Open seven days; allow ample time for a visit
Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue; (888) 727-7887 http://chelseamarket.com/ Open daily
Jacques Torres Chocolate has a small store in the Chelsea Market and several more around New York City http://www.mrchocolate.com/ Selection includes chocolates, cookies and chocolate beverages
The High Line is a city park built on a former elevated train line http://www.thehighline.org/ It runs parallel to Tenth Avenue from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 30th Street in Chelsea. The arts and events are part of the experience
Peep, 177 Prince Street; (212) 254-7337 http://www.peepsoho.net/home.html
Top of the Rock, 30 Rockefeller Plaza; (212) 698-2000 http://www.topoftherocknyc.com/ Open daily 8 a.m.-midnight. Extensive shopping and dining options at ground level
Citi Field is the home of the New York Mets baseball club and is located in Flushing, Queens http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=nym The stadium opened in 2009
The Shake Shack location at Citi Field opens two hours prior to the first pitch and is open until the end of the ninth inning http://shakeshack.com/mobile/ There are additional locations throughout New York City
NIOS, 130 West 46th Street; (212) 485-2999 http://www.niosrestaurant.com/ Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA . When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and nine-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.