There is no one like my grandmother, Mema. She is a one of a kind, incredible lady. She recently had her 87th birthday, so to celebrate my two cousins, Anna and Phoebe, and I took her to New York City for a weekend. A couple of years ago the four of us did Paris together, and we make a pretty agreeable group. During our weekend in New York, we ate, saw the Blue Man Group, went to the Met, ate, walked around SoHo, ate, watched old movies, and oh yeah, did I mention that we ate? Highlights are below:
Friday night, my cousins and Mema picked me up at Penn Station and we took a cab to dinner at the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village. The entrance to the restaurant feels like the side entrance to a carriage house – it is hidden under a staircase and you have to squeeze through a tiny door to get inside. Maybe they keep it difficult to find for a reason – apparently it is quite difficult to get a table, and I owe the experience completely to my cousin Anna who somehow seems to have all the ins after living in New York for half a decade. The interior feels like your grandfather’s study, decorated with dark, warm reds and low-wattage lighting, full of unique tschotskes that seem like they have been gathered over the years and just happened to come together perfectly in this musty, low-ceilinged space. The restaurant was bustling, and trying to talk to an 87 year old in a crowded restaurant can be impossible, but Anna was able to get us a booth in a quiet corner. We were right next to a fireplace and had a fabulous view of the other patrons.
But enough about the ambiance – on to the food: there were no photographs allowed, but I wish I could have taken embarrassing foodie pics in the restaurant – the dishes were complex and beautifully plated. I started with a roasted beet and fried goat cheese salad that had a balsamic reduction and some sort of nut (I really need to start writing these things down – I have eaten so much good food in the last few weeks that all of my meals are starting to blend together). The salad was divine – I think I could eat anything that included fried goat cheese, honestly. For my main course, I ordered duck served over wheat berries with pomegranates. The duck was cooked perfectly, and pomegranates added a perfectly sweet crunch. Dessert was the main event though – we had a warm chocolate cake with espresso gelato and a baked alaska that had a lemon chiffon ice cream inside. We left the restaurant fat, happy, and pretty intoxicated and returned to our hotel to turn in for the night.
Saturday morning we woke up (some of us with a hangover, *ahem… my cousin and grandmother who had two manhattans at the hotel before dinner*) and went to brunch at Balthazar – a traditional french bistro in SoHo. The restaurant had an animated, authentic Parisian feel – there were paper tablecloth toppers, mirrors on all of the walls, tiled floors, tables that were arranged almost on top of each other, and freshly baked bread on racks by the entrance. I decided to go with the Eggs Benedict, and thank God I did – it was perfect.
One of my dad’s favorite brunch dishes is Eggs Benedict, and my mom worked hard to perfect it when I was growing up. The main component that distinguishes a good benedict is the hollandaise sauce, a lemony butter sauce that tops the dish. I learned to make it from my mother, who learned to make it from Mema, and although it is a relatively simple sauce, it is easy to ruin. Balthazar’s was perfect – hollandaise can sometimes lack lemon flavor and turn out like a salty, buttery mess, but theirs was smooth with the perfect balance of creaminess, saltiness and acidity. I couldn’t find the recipe they use, but the recipe below is the one we use in my family – comparably flawless, I think.
Hollandaise Sauce (adapted from Adelle Davis'”Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”)
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 generous pinch of salt
- 1 stick butter
On top of double boiler whisk together: 2 egg yolks, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, 1 generous pinch salt
Place over simmering, but not boiling water and whisk in 1/4 stick butter
When butter is almost completely melted, whisk in 2nd 1/4 stick butter
When butter is almost completely melted, whisk in 3rd 1/4 stick butter
When butter is almost completely melted, whisk in 4th 1/4 stick butter
Just before last butter is completely melted, remove from heat. Overheating will cause the sauce to “break”. If this happens, vigorously whisk in 1 tablespoon of milk. Leftovers can be frozen and gently reheated.
The final culinary highlight of our stay in New York was the burgers we had Saturday night after seeing Blue Man Group. In the lobby of our hotel, Le Parker Meridien, there is a hole in the wall burger joint that is discreetly hidden behind a black curtain. The only way you might know it is there is by the line of people that overflows out into the lobby. The walls inside are wood panelled and covered with old movie posters and “Daniel wuz here”s written on every possible surface. I have eaten a lot of burgers in my life, and this was one of the better ones I’ve had. It might have been the pitcher of beer that we got to complement it, but the burger was awesome – cooked the way I wanted and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. What else could you possibly need? Maybe an ice cream sundae? Because we got that too. We went back to our room, settled in to watch Casablanca, which serendipitously just happened to be showing on tv, and ordered two ice cream sundaes from room service. A perfect end to a perfect night. We left the next morning and I couldn’t have had a better time. I am so lucky to have an adventurous grandmother who is constantly amazing me with her willingness and ability to do things that most 87 year olds wouldn’t even dream of doing – may I someday be just like her 🙂