Leaving New York, never easy…
And just like that, our stay in New York drew to a close. I have to say that what the visit mostly did was just whet our appetite for more… For now, though, we were packed up and ready to roll. But first we still had the better part of a day to spend in the city and, fortified by yet another Starbucks pumpkin pie spice latte, we set off.
On our visit to Century 21 the previous evening we had been so overwhelmed that we ended up buying nothing, but we had vowed to come back with clearer heads in the morning and after a quick Starbucks stop for some restorative caffeine, that’s exactly where we headed. This time we were more succesful, finding a gorgeous lambswool jersey for Nick and a glorious aquamarine pashmina for me, not to mention a host of touristy gifts (like my adorable little espresso-sized “I heart NY” mugs). After stashing these in our cases back at the hotel, we hit the road and walked up through TriBeCa to Canal Street – I hadn’t yet bought a single T-shirt and I had heard that this was the place for cheap deals. Boy – that’s no lie! The entire length of Canal Street seems to be one long line of slightly grubby hole-in-the-wall shops selling T-shirts and cheap tourist tat. All the sellers are open to negotiation, so it probably pays you to buy as much of what you want from one shop and negotiating a discount.
From there, we carried on strolling up through SoHo to one of the foodie shopping meccas that I had been dying to visit: Dean & Deluca on the corner of Broadway and Prince. Founded in 1977 by Joel Dean, Giorgio Deluca and Jack Ceglic, Dean & Deluca has become known as purveyors of fine foods, wines and kitchen goodies and it is a feast for the senses. Sadly they have a no photos policy so no pictures, but let me assure you that this is a store that every foodie needs to visit once in their lives. It’s just so, well… glossy and it stocks every imagineable delicacy from every corner of the earth. I marvelled at an aisle full of every variety of dried chilli you care to name. I tasted some Casina Rossa truffle salt that made me swoon. I drooled over the wonderful sounding chocolates. And at the butcher’s counter I saw the most perfectly marbled piece of meat I have ever seen. Even Nick was impressed 😉 If you love food, this is definitely a must for your New York itinerary.
From there, weighed down with edible gifts, we took the subway back uptown to about 42nd street. Our plan was to have a final lunch at the Carnegie Deli before heading off, so we made our way through midtown, pausing at to check out this gigantic inflatable Spiderman crawling down an atrium wall at the Sony Plaza, and then headed up towards Central Park to see Columbus Circle and the horse-drawn hansom cabs that depart from the Columbus Circle entrance to the park. These beautifully maintained carriages and horses are such an iconic sight in the park and although they were originally designed as taxi cabs (the forerunenrs of today’s yellow gas guzzlers), these days they are used to take tourists and lovers on romantic rides through the park. (Incidentally, the word cab is a shortened form of cabriolet which refers to the carriage design i.e. with a collapsible canopy – very much the same way that the term is today used to refer to cars!).
But when the time came to locate the deli, it appears that our gremlins from the day before had still not left us. I had written down the name while planning our itinerary but not the address, thinking we would probably not get there as we would already have been to Katz’s and the 2nd Ave Deli. No problem – I could look up the address in one of the restaurant listings we had in our room, which I duly did and wrote down the street number and between which streets it was. However… something somewhere was wrong and when we got to the appropriate intersection, the street numbers were far too low. So we walked in the appropriate direction for the street numbers to rise… and ended up with the street number I had written down which was distinctly NOT the Carnegie Deli. And after our experiences the day before, I thought there was a good chance that it too had closed, although I have subsequently been reliably informed that it is still open. With hindsight I think we should have walked in the opposite direction, but somehow this did not make sense at the time. And the fact remains that it was lunchtime and I had again led us to a phantom restaurant, so I had one very annoyed husband on my hands!! We debated what to do and in the end, to allay his fears that we would run terribly late and hit rush hour traffic when driving out of New York, I suggested we return to a small restaurant I had seen near our hotel.
The Bigger Little Place is the successor to The Little Place and I had first noticed it when we walked past their mural commemorating the victims of 9/11. Unbeknown to me, The Little Place was a much-loved family run Mexican deli and lunch counter at the time of 9/11 but was forced to close down in the aftermath of the attack. In a real phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes tale, it reopened in April 2002 after ambitiously expanding into the premises next door and growing from a lunch counter with a few stools to a proper little restaurant with table service (although I believe nostalgic regulars still prefer to sit at the counter and watch the cooks produce their burritos). It is situated on the corner of Warren Place and West Broadway in a classic lower Manhattan building with wooden floors and moulded ceilings. But what sets it apart from its neighbours is the light fittings – both the ceiling and the wall light shades are made from adapted kitchen utensils (in the photo you can just make out the sieve chandeliers and grater wall lights)! It makes for a very funky contrast with the historic architecture and is quite charming. There was also a good proprtion of Hispanic customers, which we took to be a tacit recommendation and found ourselves a table. The menu is solidly homespun Mexican with all the usual crowd-pleasing favourites like quesadillas and burritos, wth a daily special for each day of the week. The service was friendly and fast and all was well with the world. Nick attacked his burrito with such speed and vigour that I could not get a picture of it, but here for your perusal is my cheese and spinach quesadilla which was fresh and delicious – especially the salsa with black beans. If you’re craving a fix of Mexican food in lower Manhattan, this is a great place for an excellent (and cheap!) Mexican lunch.
From here we dashed back to the hotel and had a discussion about how to get to La Guardia airport where we had to pick up our rental car. I figured we could take the subway to about Penn Station and then get a cab as a little treat to ourselves. Nick, on the other hand, reasoned that we had subway passes, why not use them as far as we could. His plan was to take the subway to 125th street and hail a cab there. I was a little dubious about this and mentioned that there might not be as many cabs up there as there were in midtown but Nick was not to be deterred. So I took comfort in the fact that there is also a bus that leaves from 125th Street bound for La Guardia and we were unlikely to get totally stuck. So we headed for the subway and caught a fast train all the way uptown to 125th Street. Where we alighted. To find that this is in fact Harlem. And that there are very few cabs that venture this far up the island. And that two white kids with suitcases could not be more conspicuous if they tried!! Some crazy woman was screaming expletives down her phone at an unseen enemy, another guy with his life’s possessions in a shopping trolley careered wild-eyed past us, but Nick went to stand on tippy toes at the edge of the pavement to look for a (non-existent) cab. I, on the other hand, had fully activated my “let’s get out of here” thinking cap and had spotted the La Guardia bus across the road. I think it took all of about 20 seconds for me to persuade Nick that this was definitely the way forward and that a speedy exit from the neighbourhood was probably not a bad idea in terms of self-preservation!
Once on the bus, things looked up. We had to pick up the car at 15h30 and according to the driver’s estimate we would get there on time, provided the traffic was OK (it was). And in an even bigger bonus, the bus in fact stopped right outside the Alamo car rental depot on its was to La Guardia, so we walked into the depot at 15h30 on the nose, confident that we would get our car and be on our way before rush hour traffic. Ha ha. What we had NOT counted on was the unbelievable inefficiency of the staff at that particular branch of Alamo. The guy handling our query moved and talked as if he were underwater – very slowly! After perusing his screen, he looked puzzled and sarted asking us stuff like “so you have actually booked a car?” and “you mean you booked this in London England?”. Then he asked if we were sure this was the correct pick-up time, and every time I pointed out my printed reservation confirmation to him, he waved that aside as if it was a product of my fertile imagination. Great. But of course you stay polite because if this is the service you get when the going is good, presumably you don’t want to see the service when he’s offended!! And we really wanted to be out of there before the traffic got bad. After half an hour of this, he eventually called over a colleague and I slowly got the picture that although they could find my car on the reservation system, he could not bring up a per day dollar rate. And the more I told him that I had pre-paid in full (as per my voucher!!) the more he ignored me and the two of them went into a long orgy of random hitting of keys. Eventually his colleague conceded that as I had already paid, it was unlikely to bring down the company if I was allowed to take the car without a per-day rate popping up on their screen. And it only took 45 short minutes to convince them! Give me strength. So we set off almost an hour after we had arrived there, into the worsening traffic to try and find our way to Connecticut. As you can imagine, tempers were frayed and we did drive around in circles until N decided to follow his nose to the Triboro bridge. Oddly, there was some sort of security checkpoint ahead and so N rolled down the window to ask if this was the way to the Triboro Bridge. I will never forget the look of disbelief the lady in uniform gave us as she said “no sir, this here is the road to Rikers Island. As in the prison. You’ll be wanting to turn back!” After the initial seconds of stunned silence, even we had to laugh and luckily World War Three was averted 😉
We did eventually find the bridge and made our way surprisingly quickly to Westport, Connecticut, marvelling all the way at the trees that just seemed to get redder the further away we got form New York. Our route took us through Saugatuck and along a very beautiful river where we had picture postcard view of lone scullers against a backdrop of autumn colours – truly gorgeous. I must admit that I knew very little about Westport before we arrived, other than that our friends Larry and Meredith live there. So you can imagine my very pleasant surprise when we drove in past stores like Trader Joe’s and Williams Sonoma. Clearly this was my kinda town 😉 It all became clear later on when Larry told us that this is where Martha Stewart lives… Well, I can report that Martha has great taste because I suspect you would struggle to find many more quintessentially picture-perfect New England towns to call home – from the weatherboard houses in muted pastel shades to the rolling lawns strewn with kids’ toys and tricycles to the trees ablaze with every shade of orange and red. And although I’m sure it’s home to some great restaurants, we didn’t find out because Larry (who worked as a chef in his youth) had rustled up some steaks for us, before we snuggled up in bed in the perfect quiet of a New England autumn night.
Dean & Deluca
560 Broadway (Prince Street)
New York, NY 10012
Tel: 212 226 6800
The Bigger Little Place
73 West Broadway
New York, NY 10012