Back in May when I was in Korea and thinking about meeting up with my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles and Pennsylvania, I imagined showing them around New York. I thought long and hard about where I would take my favorite duo of world travelers since they’ve been to New York several times before and have seen all the usual sights. To tell the truth, both my parents and they’ve been to more New York attractions than I, who lived in NY for 13+ years have. I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty, taken the Circle Line, or even gone up the top of the Empire State Building, but they’ve all done that and then some. I thought about going up to the Hudson River Valley to Blue Hill at Stone Barns and visiting Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate. But in the end, I decided to show them my New York.
After having the time of my life with my friends in the city last week I went to my parents’ in Pennsylvania to recover for a couple of days and on Thursday I was ready to take my four senior citizens to New York. I warned them in advance that there will be a lot of walking and eating, and that they should look stylish but comfortable. They earnestly discussed various outfits and coordinating shoe options the evening before (how cute are they!) and decided that the ladies will take backup shoes/sneakers since our lunch reservations was at Jean-Georges. We all collectively prayed to the weather gods for a nice cloudy day as we didn’t want to be too greedy and ask for the most perfect weather.
We woke up to the grayest of skies on Thursday and I was the first one to start gathering small umbrellas to carry in our bags. Things got worse as we left the house and by the time we were in New Jersey it was raining. New Jersey Transit seemed to drag as it made its way towards Manhattan; I could almost see my little group getting out of Penn Station into a nightmare of gloomy wetness. I checked the weather every 15 minutes hoping that in New York there will be some magical transformation…
And magic is what I got. I nervously peaked up at the sky as we rode up the escalator at Columbus Circle to see that not a drop of rain had fallen in Manhattan and in fact, it was bright enough for me to have wished for my shades and sunblock. HOORAY! Another quick check of the weather and all I saw were hour after hour of sunshine in our future. All of a sudden my bag felt too heavy from all the rain gear but I thanked my lucky stars and started my tour. We took a full turn around Columbus Circle and I pointed out where I used to live, the Museum of Arts & Design, Central Park South, Trump International Hotel & Tower where we were going to have lunch, and Time Warner Center. They were impressed by TWC, happy to know where Per Se was (even though we weren’t going to dine there), and enjoyed a quick stroll through Whole Foods in the basement.
I always thought the prix fixe lunch at Jean-Georges was the best deal in Manhattan; the service is exquisite and the food lives up to the reputation. The three course lunch at Nougatine (front/bar area of Jean-Georges) is just as great and with a more relaxed and casual atmosphere I think one could argue that it’s preferable over Jean-Georges. I was really looking forward to having lunch there with my family and on this day, we even saw the dapper chef-owner Jean Georges Vongerichten walking around the restaurant! HOORAY! We were seated at a large round table by the window facing the park and there we had a leisurely lunch of light salads and fresh fish. For dessert everyone opted for the famous Jean-Georges chocolate cake except for me; I had the seasonal fruits with marscapone ice cream. No longer stressed over the possible rain and feeling great about seeing everyone happy, I gulped down my glass of Torrontes (what are the chances they carry and offer my favorite Torrontes? Okay, so they marked it up 3X+ but I wasn’t counting) and began to relax a bit myself.
Up next was Central Park via Sheep Meadow, The Mall, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Bow Bridge, and Strawberry Fields to 72nd with a few stops along the way to rest and to see the street performers. I used to walk across the park at least once a week, most times without thinking or appreciating how amazing it is to have so much greenery in the middle of the bustling city. As we strolled through the park and posed for photos or pointed out various features and landscapes, I told myself to be grateful for the chance to share this day with my family.
We headed to Grand Central next to get some coffee and for me to show them one of the most curious things I know about this famous train station. For one, I used to work at the Graybar Building next door to Grand Central so I knew that we’d get amazing coffee at Joe the Art of Coffee (we loved our iced Americanos). Aside from the good coffee, the main hall of the train station is really something spectacular and the acoustics wonder at the archways in front of the Oyster Bar had to be experienced in person. Known as “the whispering gallery” the low archways somehow amplify a whisper to sound much louder. I had my aunt standing at one archway facing the corner and my uncle standing diagonally across the other side and also facing the corner. When my uncle whispered he loved my aunt (awwww), my aunt who was standing at the opposite archway could hear him as if my uncle was standing right next to her. I learned about this little acoustics magic from a PBS special on the Grand Central Station and ever since then I’ve loved showing people this spot. We didn’t make it to the Campbell Apartment but if they were up for some good cocktails instead of a caffeine jolt, that’s where I would have taken them. It’s one of my grown-up New York favorite places where you feel as if you’ve been let in on a secret…
Our tour of Manhattan continued with a short walk over to Times Square, another famous landmark in New York where I used to work. For several years I worked out of 1540 Broadway on the 39th floor, overlooking the Coca Cola sign. It is also where I watched the second World Trade Center building collapse on 9/11, but that’s a different story and one that I only briefly mentioned to my aunt and uncle. I hadn’t been to Times Square in a long while and I was absolutely amazed by how things have changed. Pedestrian only streets, a fancy structure for TKTS, bigger and flashier signs- I didn’t know where to look. It wasn’t half as busy when I used to work in that neighborhood; it made me feel a bit old and country. We sat on the steps of TKTS to marvel at the crowds of people and to feel bewildered by all the noise and the lights. That’s part of New York too and it felt right to feel the pace and the beating heart of the city there.
I knew I was packing a lot into our itinerary but I couldn’t have us leave Manhattan with just one meal. Dinner was to be in Chinatown where Paula was going to meet us at Peking Duck House on Mott. Chinatown was also a convenient place for my aunt to find a souvenir for her Granddaughter back in Los Angeles so off we went downtown. Once we got off the N on Canal, my first stop was to pick up some Chinese baked goods at Dragon Bakery. It’s not the fanciest, the largest, or on the main drag, but the one bakery I’ve been consistently going to for over a decade. I was in the mood for a shredded pork bun and since I was showing my family “my New York” I thought we should stop by. Two shredded pork buns, a pineapple bun, a sesame seed ball, and a steamed bbq pork bun later (all for $5.75- HOORAY!) we were out the door and hunting for souvenirs. We quickly settled on a small bag with “New York” written all over (my negotiating skills sucked and we paid the price quoted by the shop owner) and Mom picked up some dried shiitake mushrooms from a Chinese grocery store.
When we arrived at Peking Duck House Paula was already there waiting for us with a box of wine. There is really no need to go into details about why a boxed wine has become a running joke between me and Paula, except to say that it always signifies a memorable evening. The waiters looked dumbfounded when we asked to open the box so we simply asked for some glasses and opened the spout ourselves, perched the box on the table and started serving. There was definitely an air of confused amusement in the restaurant; apparently no one had ever brought a box of wine to this fine establishment before!? Curious stares aside we ordered- what else but two ducks and two mock ducks? I truly think that they make the best Peking duck in the world (I tried really hard when I was in Beijing but only had terrible, terrible Peking ducks there) and if that weren’t enough, they also make the best vegetarian duck (it’s really just yuba/tofu skin stuffed with mushrooms). Paula and I are big fans of both the real and fake ducks there, so there was no question that we’d be having both. With some sizzling rice soup and an order of Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, we were set.
Oh the duck. Crispy, juicy, and tender. Expertly carved by a chef in a white coat and hat by your table. Words fail me.
Once all the meat is carved they take the bird away but if you ask, they’ll give you the leftover duck to take home with you to make stock or whatever else you wish to do. When I mentioned this fact to my Mom she immediately told me we should do just that. So I flagged down our waiter and requested our two meatless ducks; the table next to us overheard me and they too, asked for their bird. I wondered what my Mom was going to do with our two ducks… and what the couple next to us was going to do with theirs.
I had originally planned to walk up to Penn Station on the High Line but it didn’t look like that was a viable option at this point. I was beginning to feel a bit guilty about running my seniors around town so much and began to worry that they might be too tired. So our last stop was near Penn Station in Koreatown for some frozen yogurt, me from Red Mango, Paula and my Dad from Pinkberry. For me the sweet and tart frozen yogurt was the perfect ending to a perfect day but on the train ride back I noticed them nodding off a bit. I know it was a lot to do in one day but they all went to bed thanking me for a fabulous day. Would I be as energetic when I am 65, 70, or 80? They are almost unrealistically healthy and well at those respective ages. I can only hope that it runs in the family, and that next year and the years after that I’ll get to show them around New York again.