Optimistically Cautious

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New York City: Day 4

When we returned to the Pod that night, Mack's first words were, "I feel like I've gained one hundred pounds today." It was without a doubt our gastronomic peak in New York, but it started out innocently enough.

Before heading over to the theatre district, we wandered over to the United Nations Headquarters, overlooking the East River. As expected by now, we were asked to go through a security check point before entering, and to discard all food and drinks in hand. That was the second cup of coffee in two days that I had to throw away (and as Mack would say, it was "coffee abuse"). I'll be sure to sip faster next time!

With the flags

It almost looks like it could be autumn in New York!

The lobby was quite grand, projecting the idealism claimed by the organization. We walked around, taking in a political cartoon exhibit celebrating the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, photos documenting the effects of global warming in Antarctica, and of course, the gift shop downstairs.


Political cartoons

UN flag retrieved from Iraq

At the UN

Then, after remembering to retrieve the tickets for the show, we took the subway to the Gershwin Theatre. On the way, we picked up a pretzel for breakfast from a street vendor (it tasted not unlike those available in the McNally cafeteria), passed by the Ed Sullivan Theatre (home to the Late Show with David Letterman), and saw Rupert Jee working the counter at the Hello Deli!


Ed Sullivan Theatre

Hello Deli

The Gershwin was buzzing when we arrived for our matinee of Wicked. Having never been to a true Broadway show, I had no idea we would receive a free Playbill when seated inside the theatre, so I ended up buying a $20 full color souvenir program upon entry (even though it was twice the price, it was a better purchase than the program I purchased for the show I saw in London's West End). Just before curtain, Mack had an unfortunate accident with his camera, leaving us with just one photographic device (without the all-important image stabilizer feature) for the rest of the trip.

With the promotional poster (minus image stabilizer)

Wicked stage

For those of you unfamiliar with Wicked, it's a Tony-award winning musical, adapted from the novel by Gregory Maguire called Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (a book I will be reading soon, might I add). From the website, as they describe it better than I ever could: "Long before Dorothy dropped in, two other girls meet in the Land of Oz. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. How these two unlikely friends end up as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch makes for the most spellbinding new musical in years."

The show was, in short, amazing, and in my opinion, was worth every penny of the $134.80 I paid for the ticket. Stephanie J. Block, who played Elphaba, the eventual Wicked Witch of the West, was the standout (even garnering applause the first time she appeared on stage). Her mannerisms of a neglected, shunned wallflower were dead-on, and her voice had the range and power to carry the production. Annaleigh Ashford, in the role of Glinda (with a silent "guh"), was every bit as cute and naive as she needed to be. The supporting characters were a mixed bag - Carole Shelley (as Madame Morrible) was wonderfully evil, while I felt Derrick Williams' performance as Fiyero was the weak link in the cast - in both singing and acting. The songs were also much better than those from The Producers (my only Broadway-esque comparison). My favorite piece was "For Good", a beautiful number about the positive influence of friendship (a solo version of which was sung by Kristin Chenoweth at West Winger John Spencer's funeral). Wicked was all I was expecting from Broadway and more.

Dinner #1 that night was a Frommers discovery - Becco. A joint enterprise by Lidia Bastianich (well-known from her PBS television shows) and her son Joseph, this little Italian eatery was famous for their $21.95 unlimited tableside pasta as well as an extensive selection of wines priced at only $25 per bottle. I had made a reservation weeks earlier, and good thing too - we were greeted by a logjam of people in the mandatory coat check, and were let into the restaurant only after I verbally verified that we did indeed have a reservation. As our entire party was present, we were immediately directed to a cozy table opposite the bar, and were seated tin-can style very close our dining neighbours (it reminded me a lot of the division of space in TZiN). The decor was lovely - a brick wall, framed mirrors, and hung copper pots of various sizes bestowing a homey feel.

We didn't end up taking any pictures inside, as the restaurant was a lot fancier than I had originally anticipated (Mack was really impressed with the fact that they called long distance to confirm our reservation that afternoon, and allowed him to dine in jeans). As a whole, Becco provided us with one of those surreal, New York experiences that epitomized how the convergence of ambiance, good food, and excellent service can amount to a perfect meal.

Mack ordered the tableside pasta special ($21.95), which came with the choice of an antipasti or Caesar salad, while I decided to try the Osso Bucco ($29). Service was swift throughout (one busboy in particular was superhumanly efficient, while our waitress was patient, professional, and put my Italian pronunciation to shame), and our entrees arrived in no time. My order of braised veal shank was huge, cooked to the point where the meat literally fell off of the bone. Mack was offered three different types of freshly-prepared pasta from roving busboys, with my favorite being the gnocchi semolina. Without a doubt, Becco was my favorite of all our dining experiences in New York.

Perfect shot!

We were certifiably stuffed upon our exit from Becco, and decided to shun the subway in the hopes that walking to our next dining destination would help stimulate digestion. Though Mack, tongue-in-cheek, chided me for making two sets of reservations that night, there was good reason for it - Serendipity 3 was shut down in November until further notice by the Health Department, and I wanted our night out at the theatre to end with at least one scheduled dinner. Lucky for us, it reopened on December 4 (with the Health Department's blessing).

At Serendipity 3

Like the Waldorf Astoria, the restaurant was used in the film Serendipity, so of course, a visit for the featured Frrrozen Hot Chocolate was a must (for the record, I had to double check how many letter "r"s were included in the name). Reservations were secured in early November, if I remember correctly, which probably garnered much hatred from the walk-ins who had to wait at least 45 minutes for a table (we were seated within 10 minutes of our arrival). It was smaller and dimmer than I was expecting from the movie, but quite charming and festive, dressed up in pine wreaths and multi-colored lights.

Upstairs dining area

Huge menu - literally!

To start, we ordered French Toast ($9.50) and a side of fries ($3.50) to share, as reservations were apparently forbidden for those interested in dessert only. Made with Challah, the toast was springy, sweet, and delicious, and probably would have made a pretty good dessert all on its own. The fries we could have probably done without - they were a Poor Man's version of Red Robin's fries.

French Toast

Last but not least, we asked our server (who resembled, to us, an out-of-work actor) for a single Frrrozen Hot Chocolate ($8.50). It was the caloric pinnacle of the day, but worth every sip. There is a cookbook for sale which features the recipe for the famed dessert, but I'd almost rather not know how it was made in order to maintain the mystique of the experience.

Mack with the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate

We were barely able to make it out the door, and I did develop a cramp on the way back to our hotel. But I wouldn't have traded that Wednesday for the world.

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