When you think of New York, what comes to mind? I realised just how much my view was coloured by what I’d seen in films and on TV: a brash place, where no one has time for anyone else. Towering skyscrapers that dwarf you at every turn.
I was surprised to find a place where people had time to stop and chat and were very friendly. Whilst I walked the streets of Manhattan, the width of the streets somehow balanced the height of the buildings and I soon forgot they were there!
There was a time when friends went off to New York to shop for bargains and take in a show. The bargains now seem to be long gone but there is so much to entice. My husband and I were ready to discover a foodie’s New York. To get a flavour of the city with a little sightseeing on the way!
So read on for our top 3 experiences, and my top tips for planning a great visit to New York
What’s your ideal venue for brunch? Our location for (possibly the best ever) Brunch was the Union Square Cafe. A spacious restaurant on two floors, a well stocked bar as you enter and clientele of every age. Unusually, this is a no tipping establishment.
Brunch is a great meal – you can go sweet or savoury or both, eat as much or as little as you choose. French toast is a very American thing. Previously, I’d not really seen the point of it. But when in New York … My brown butter pear French toast was a brioche served with toasted hazelnuts. Pure perfection. Sophie went for the buttermilk pancakes served with lime curd and pronounced them the best she’d ever tasted. The guys took the savoury option and went for duck and for a tuna burger. We felt we could have stayed all day, enjoying drinks (including sourdough beer and a great cocktail). Staff are knowledgeable and friendly, just as you’d expect.
Have you ever dined in the kitchen at a restaurant? It give you such a different perspective. The Modern restaurant, located inside the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was the highlight of our trip. Our experience started when Maitre D’ Michele got in touch with us to discuss our visit to the Kitchen Table. The first time we’ve had a restaurant contact us in advance! Michele and I ended up having a telephone conversation one evening about the food we love and what we expected from our visit.
One the day itself, we had lunch sitting in the kitchen at the Modern – just the two of us! The chef in charge that day was Tom Allen who originally hails from North East England, now still under 30 he’s worked with some of the very best chefs in the world. We were encouraged to ask as many questions as we liked throughout our meal. To one side, the more formal dishes were worked on, the other dishes for the bar. At one point, the truffle lady arrived – chef chose the best and served some on our dishes. Throughout we chatted to the chefs and waiting staff and felt very spoilt and welcome. Far too difficult to choose one dish, but we thought that the “Eggs on Eggs on Eggs” particularly fine.
The emphasis is on great ingredients, with subtle twist, understated but packing a great punch of flavour . Two star Michelin heaven. You can of course enjoy the restaurant seated either at a table or the bar for quicker meals.
The Food Tour
A food tour is an ideal way to get to know a city. We chose one from Like a Local Tours starting in the Flatiron District named for that curiously shaped building. Despite it being a very, very wet day, our guide Rudi kept the energy up and shared her passion for the area, its history and of course the food! Who would have thought of finding cheese making in the heart of the district at Beechers. Toasted cheese was on the menu here. It’s there due to laws saying that the original use of a building has to be taken into account when it’s redeveloped.
In New York you might just find an original deli. Many are currently under threat of closure as their leases come to an end. We enjoyed our Reuben sandwich at Eisenberg’s Sandwich shop – strapline “Raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929”!. One of those things I wouldn’t necessarily have ordered, but it provide a delicious mixture of pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian Dressing on Rye.
Eataly is the place in New York for Italian foods. Here we watched bread and pasta being made and ate breakfast focaccia. You can dine at several restaurants within the historic building or just take coffee or a gelato.
Later, we discovered Oprah’s favourite babka (supposedly) at the Jewish Bakery and visited Union Square Market. Our 3 hour tour went so quickly and we were nicely full at the finish!
My top tips for a great stay in New York
Plan well ahead
If you’ve a Michelin starred restaurant in mind (and you have 72 restaurants from which to choose) check out how to reserve. Per se and Restaurant Daniel for example, allow you to book two months in advance. Contra on the other hand releases tables just two weeks beforehand. Consider eating at lunch time rather than the evening – it will fit in with your jet lag nicely! Check out how much the meal will cost and don’t forget about gratuities and tax.
Purchase a 7-day Metro card (which can be used for buses as well). It will soon pay for itself. You’ll need pay a new card fee of $1 first at any subway station. Using the Metro means you’ll miss the inevitable traffic jams and you can quickly get all over Manhattan. Lines mainly seem to run north to south, so you might need to change a few times to get to your destination.
New York taxis do not come with child seats. Try a company such as Legends Limousine which impressively have all types of seats available. Ideal for transfer from the airport.
Consider an attraction pass – but be really sure you’ll use it
There are many options available (eg The New York Pass) from choosing a pass for 3, 5 or 7 attractions or lasting for a set number of days. Whilst these appear to be good value, you may struggle actually visiting enough places to cover costs. They do offer some advantages in that you go past some of the queues but you’ll have to queue at some point. Attractions cost from $30 pp to visit so tot it up.
Where to stay
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment at the top of Central Park. It was the ideal flexible arrangement for us and the slightly longer time to reach the attractions made up for the convenience of being able to relax and eat in if we wanted to.
New York can be free
The Staten Island ferry
The Staten Island ferry is free and provides an excellent view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhatten Skyline. Hop off at the end and take the return ferry back.
The 9/11 Memorial Pools
Whilst you can visit the museum, the memorial itself is open to all. Simply just walking round the vast memorial that are the dimension of the original buildings is so affecting. Fountains pour into a black abyss. Here and there, roses have been placed in the names on the squares – to celebrate that person’s birthday. Truly a place to experience.
A green market is what you’d recognise as a food market eg Stroud Farmer’s Market. Chelsea Market was an old biscuit factory that now features some food businesses including the most amazing fish shop, the Lobster Place but mainly houses cafes and restaurants – Amy’s Bread is great. Do go early. It gets very busy. It’s a few paces from the High Line a park created along what was once a railway. This is a fascinating free walk through the city the equivalent of a few floors up.
Union Square Market is held four times a week and is a green market. Here we met Andrew who tends hives on top of many of Manhattan’s buildings. (Read my article about other roof top beekeepers. He was selling honey made in districts all over the city. Stalls featured a fascinating mix of foods from maple syrup to locally produce meats. Green markets can be found all over the city.
Central Park is enormous and far more hilly and rocky than you might imagine. A map will really help. We spent ages looking for the ice rink which was not far from the bottom end, but not easy to find. Check out the 27 free suggestions to discover in Central Park from Free Tours by Foot.
Find out more
Sign up for the Time Out New York newsletter. We found it a great way of finding out what was going on for the period we visited. Whatever you do, enjoy the food!