Restaurants & Bars

Manhattan

For the tips to Picasso Cafe and Kalustyan's..A long thanks!)

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For the tips to Picasso Cafe and Kalustyan's..A long thanks!)

Olympia Jane | Mar 20, 2002 03:26 PM

Well, now I know what all the fuss is about...no WONDER Manhattan is the birthplace of chowhound! From the beginning of my 24 hours in Manhattan, from the simple act of schlepping my rolling suitcase from Penn Station to my hotel on the corner of 31st and Madison Avenue, I spyed entirely too many interesting eateries to count, or,sigh, to taste. I may live in a geographical paradise in the Pacific Northwest, with whales occasionally cruising in the bay in front of my home, and the Olympic Mountains visible on a clear day, but YOU all live in a chowhound heaven on earth.

Having posted in early March asking for tips to try in the neighborhood during my visit, I was told the hotel I would be staying in would be nice..but I had no idea how nice! The Roger Williams Hotel was a sensual, ultra-hip, haven of exquisite minimalist aesthetics, just the soothing environment to sink into and relax between forays out into the city.

Having printed out the posts generously written by Mark M, Peter Cuce, howardS, lucy, The Rogue and ..? I launched out on a night walking tour of the neighborhood. My first meal was a simple Italian dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant, Porta Rossa,at 176 Lexington Avenue, made completely charming by the kindly waiter. I was a bit overwhelmed by the choices,so the waiter simply asked what sounded good. When I asked if the veal was fresh, he said, oh, yes, he would see to it that the chef prepare a nice veal dish for me, with an insalata mista to start. I felt pampered, and very happy to have my decision made for me. A short while later, a lovely insalata mista appeared, baby greens with endive "boats" holding quartered wedges of ripe tomato and a varied assortment of marinated olives. While the salad was simple, and the presentation was a tad much, as a traveller I was surprised and grateful for the VERY generous serving of fresh greens. The entree, a dish of tender sauteed veal, was accompanied by a medley of sauteed asparagus, mushrooms, garlic and red peppers, and a side of pasta. A couple of glasses of wine, and I was feeling sublime. While the meal was not spectacular, it was very satisfying and grounding in a romantic, relaxing sort of way, just what I needed after a very grueling consulting stint in Philadelphia. I felt a bit like a younger Olympia Dukakis dining alone in the neighborhood's Italian restaurant featured in "Moonstruck." Did I mention that the weather was perfect while I was in New York? The short walk back to my hotel was lovely, and I felt perfectly safe, even at night.

After sleeping nestled on very non-hotel like fabulous crisp yet soft white sheets, pillows and bedding, I had a half a cup of coffee from the generously laden complimentary breakfast served at the hotel before launching out on a walking tour. One COULD eat for the day at the breakfast bar, laden with yogurt, whole fresh fruits, juices, cereals, rolls, danishes, bagels, etc, but not for me. Not a weekday breakfast eater.

I set out of the hotel on foot, to explore the Indian groceries. After meandering about, I found Kalustyan! Oh, I seriously considered purchasing extra luggage to haul home all the goods, but I ended up with lots of spices and seeds, and I have used the spices several times since returning home last weekend.

After wandering a bit more, and ducking into many establishments, including Les Halles, Kang Suh, and Kum Gang Sun, I decided to lunch at Picasso. It was simply delightful. Once again, not able to make up my mind except for knowing I wanted and needed another plate of fresh mixed greens, the waitress simply told me she would bring me their best pizza, the Pizze Bianco. Apparently, the dough is prepared daily by the owner's mother, and the crust was what I can only be describe as a crisp moment in my mouth. UnbelievABLE. The dough must be as thin and transparent as fine porcelain before it is whisked into their wood ovens. The topping was fresh, thinly sliced mozzarella (delicious!), arugola, fresh tomatoes and long, wide, thin ribbons of prosciutto. I added salt, cracked black pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar and managed to eat an entire three quarters of the pizza by myself. I looked longingly at the remaining quarter pizza before reluctantly paying my bill and leaving for a long walk down to Union Square.

Along the walk (okay, did I mention that it was 70 degrees and SUNNY? Heaven by itself for this rain drenched Puget Sounder), I stopped in at Tabla, Artisanal, 11 Madison Avenue, and was duly impressed. I had in mind going to the Union Square Farmer's Market. Unfortunately, I learned it was closed the day I was there (a Thursday), but instead I went to a little photography bookstore, Aperture, with a gallery upstairs showing the work of Edward and Brett Weston. Another unlikely, heart stopping experience, being ablet to casually stroll through the sensual silvers and greys and blacks of their fixed imagery.

The walk back to my hotel was sunny and hot, so I stopped in at a corner store for fresh juice, a watermelon and pineapple and banana and strawberry concoction. By the time I arrived back at the hotel, I welcomed the bath and short nap before a friend arrived to accompany me to dinner. We walked up to Times Square, and Rockefeller Center, and instead of having dinner, had drinks and split a chicken quesadilla at a spot in Times Square called "Viva Pancho" at 156 West 44th Street, incredibly laid back, low key joint with very cheap mexican food and VERY strong drinks. I would have preferred to dine somewhere more interesting, such as the Kebab Cafe described by Mark M, but in this case I deferred to friendship and a walk over insisting on a different dining experience. Perhaps, discretion is the better part of a chowhoundess' valor?

I reluctantly left the city at dawn the next morning, vowing to return with my daughter for her 21st birthday, if not sooner.

Thank you all for making my visit much more interesting than it would otherwise have been...and remember, turn about is what it's all about, so you just let me know if you are headed this way...

Olympia Jane

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