Without a trace of regret we cancelled our lunch reservations at Le Bernardin Monday. We had more upscale dining experiences than we had planned already, and we had a mini-fridge full of knishes and cheese.
We went to the Guggenheim, which was closed except for the rotunda – but that was OK. I wanted to see it for its architectural merit more than anything. Maoist artist Cai Guo-Qiang had a varied ouvre. The gunpowder art was fantastic – controlling the uncontrollable power of fire. The clay figures from the days of Cultural Revolutionary propaganda were disturbing with their real eyes and crumbling faces. The exhibit was timely, and I was surprised it was not at all controversial considering all of the dust bunnies that the Olympics have swept up. 99 taxidermied wolves ran into a plexiglass wall and crashed, in a statement about dogmatic thinking. I still don’t understand the tigers.
We walked along the park and bought a hot dog from a street vendor. All of the flavor was boiled out of it, but it had that miraculous mustard. We passed by the Met, but it was closed in preparation for the big Costume gala. There were more movie stars there than at the Oscars, but for us it just meant no Met.
We had a nice walk through the park, and visited the Alice in Wonderland statue I have always wanted to see.
On the way home, we stopped at John’s and bought a pizza to take back to our room. We ate almost the entire thing without coming up for air. Mmmm, pepperoni.
Later that evening we had reservations at Baldoria, run by Frank Pellegrino Jr., a member of the family that owns the world-famous and impenetrable Rao’s. The room was far more casual than I had anticipated and there was not a whiff of tourist-trap. It was like traveling back in time except for the fact they were piping in Bon Jovi’s greatest hits instead of Sinatra.
I immediately fell in love with Carlo, our waiter. After reciting the daily specials, he gave me the most endearing smile, and I realized no one had smiled at me like that since I had been in New York. Then he shrugged his shoulders and held his palms up near his face, like, “That’s what we got. You like it – great, you don’t like it – that’s OK too!”
I tried the Baldori martini, which was infused with orange, and would have knocked me on my ass if I had drank the entire glass. We started with Rao’s famous red peppers. I wondered what they would serve them with. I mean, who can just eat a big plate of red peppers? They were presented alone, mixed with pine nuts and sultanas. I immediately found out who can eat a big plate of peppers – me, that’s who. They were cool, and delicious. I sucked them down like octopus tentacles. Maybe we were just getting scurvy from all of the pizza and cheese, but we ate those peppers ravenously.
Bob ordered shrimp with tagliatelle. The shrimp were 3x the size of my thumb! They were monsters! The sauce was very lemony – this place digs lemon. My papardelle with artichokes in a cream sauce was rich and filling, but I couldn’t stop eating it. We had to beg off dessert, the portions were so generous. Definitely the most charming service and most cozy under-the-radar spot yet.
Walking home I was a little self-conscious in my gown, heels, good jewelry and pricy camera. But walking through the lights was so thrilling we didn’t want to take a taxi. One of those bicycle carriages offered a ride, and we figured, what the hell. Tourists always look soooo stupid on those things, but I have to say it was great fun zooming through Times Square with the wind in our hair.
The next day we didn’t have time for Grey’s Papaya, but the taxi driver ordered a dog from a cart at a red light. Boiled and watery, not quite the same. With one more day, I would have hit Grey’s, the Metropolitan, and maybe seen a Broadway show. It was too bad we had to leave so soon because I had finally perfected my New York don’t-mess-with-me glare. It was a combination of “I’m cold” “I’m angry” and “Something smells bad”. It was pretty easy, because most of the time two out of three of those things were true.