Start spreading the news! Da. Da. Dada. Da! Halloween weekend and we’re off to see our friends, who have recently moved to New York; a really exciting few days ahead. Leaving our trailer on Steve’s driveway, we make a mammoth road trip across five states (Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and of course New York), park at Newark Airport, get a shuttle bus, a Sky train, and finally a regular train, to reach Penn Station, New York City.
In the concourse where I’d last stood, aged 15, with my folks, when Dad was working here, I can’t help but kick up my heels and sing a bit, to John’s obvious embarrassment. We’re here, together, on our big adventure, and one of our dearest friends is on his way to meet us!
Julian arrives and it’s hugs all round, before heading down to the subway, getting our metro passes, and off up to the Harlem apartment he shares with his girlfriend. It’s Friday night and the message from Sarah is that the bubbles are on ice, and there’s a table booked in the French restaurant under their building (Sinatra, still blaring excitedly in my head, approves). It’s an easy journey, and we walk straight up out of the subway to see the restaurant and their building.
We have drinks and a wonderful dinner of foie gras, steak tartare, boeuf bourguignon – n.b. despite the previous acorn squash love, this is very much the blog of two committed carnivores. It’s brilliant to be catching up with our friends in their new neighbourhood, and celebrating all that is going well for everyone.
Frank doesn’t leave me, and the next morning I’m thrilled to be waking up in the city that never sleeps (sorry, couldn’t resist..) and we are off on the subway to Brooklyn to see where Julian works, in the area known as DUMBO (Development Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). We take the opportunity to walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. There are amazing views and I’d certainly recommend it as a wonderful way to see the New York skyline for free.
For lunch we head to Pizza Suprema , a place near Penn Station feted to offer ‘New York’s Best Slice’, according to the Slice Harvester, who has tried a slice of plain cheese from every joint in Manhattan. We agree, it’s good pizza, with a nice crunchy bottom, and lots of good toppings, as well as being really good value.
Other highlights of the day include: A walk of the High Line, a linear park built a few stories up on a disused railroad, so offering great views as well as some lovely plants and trees; and a stroll around Chelsea Market, with its lovely little shops and stalls.
It’s Halloween and we’re off for dinner at an as yet untested restaurant on the Upper West Side, called Vai. What follows is one of our favourite meals ever. I choose raw yellowfin tuna two ways, with avocado, ginger and cilantro (that’s American for coriander!), and veal filet mignon, which is toasty on the outside, pink on the inside, and served with parsnip puree and oyster mushrooms. Pudding is outstanding and as a bonus the waitress brings two of mine, and only one of the cheesecakes ordered by the guys, so we share the spare – a dreamy combo of coffee chocolate crema – while we wait for the other cheesecake.
After dinner, we wander the streets edging Central Park, with their expensive brownstone houses lit up so that we catch glimpses of beautifully designed living rooms and chandeliers, before heading to a bar for cocktails. We sit on the sidewalk outside Jacob’s Pickles and watch some amazing costumes passing by. It’s such a vibrant city and the hours disappear until it’s 4am and we’re back at their apartment, eating Sarah’s excellent grilled cheese sandwiches , with the brilliant addition of chicken liver pate (credit to Mr Simpson for that bright idea).
On Sunday, John is keen to see Central Park, as he didn’t see it the last time he was here, but as we rise from the subway, we realise the error of our ways. We are slightly hung over and surrounded by thousands of runners and spectators in the midst of the New York Marathon. My favourite banner proclaims ‘If Trump can run, so can you!’, surely strong motivation in the final miles. Getting into Central Park is a marathon effort itself, as it’s partly closed off, and so involves more subway, lots of walking and, once in the Park, some serious dodging across runners to actually make it to meet Sarah at the Boat House restaurant for lunch.
There’s more comedy that evening the evening, as Sarah has managed to get tickets for a group of us to see improv at the Upstanding Citizens Brigade Theatre. This is brilliantly witty, very clever, and not something we would ever have known to book on our own. We round off the evening by going in search of John’s heart’s desire – New York mac ‘n’ cheese. Again, our hosts pick perfectly and I wonder if I can ever eat mac ‘n’ cheese anywhere else after sampling Fred’s version (mine with buffalo chicken and jalapenos is a perfect balance against the richness of the creamy cheese). It’s a really cute restaurant too, with framed photos all over the walls of dogs of all shapes and sizes, Fred himself being a former guide dog trainee who didn’t quite make the grade.
I’ve loved New York since I first came, a scary 20 years ago now, and this weekend has cemented my love of a city that, while being eye-wateringly expensive to live in, still feels accessible and fun for all. It’s been special to spend time with our friends, as while we’re lucky to be able to FaceTime and email friends and family at home when we’re missing them, some real face to face time is a treasure. Thank you Julian and Sarah (and Alexa) for letting us ‘be a part of it’….and for putting up with my singing!