I’m feeling buoyant. Just off the subway from my exhilarating morning exploring a small but inspiring portion of Williamsburg, back now on Manhattan island I’m keen for the momentum to continue, my desire to drink in as much as possible running high. The sky today is vast, bright, icy and all encompassing, it engulfs us in it’s pale blue bubble and seems so much more epic than at home, reducing me to a tiny inconspicuous blip. Starting off towards the bottom of the island in a deserted City Hall area gives us a moment to appreciate the clement day, cleanness and space, before we amble upwards towards more hustle and bustle, enjoying a no pressures approach to sightseeing/food hunting. Clearly though I have a slight secret agenda, and I’m hoping I’ll recognise some of the places I have carefully stashed away inside my head when I see them…
It’s the most glorious day to take in Chinatown, if only for walking through as we do, sun beams bounce off tall buildings and car windows, illuminating stalls overflowing with exotic fruit and lending everything a bright and sunny disposition. We keep going, veering to the right until I’m convinced, yes, we’re in East Village, well Lower East at least, I get a bit confused about where the boundaries are. There’s definitely things to be seen here, and I mentally delve into my mind for the names of coffee shops, bars and little restaurants I’ve tried to bury there. Remaining calm, I encourage the boy to take a stroll down Rivington Street, the name ringing with alarm recognition bells. There’s an overwhelming number of tiny and tempting looking establishments we pass that I can imagine whiling away an afternoon in sipping coffee, others have me imagining myself inhabiting a corner of an intimate bar snacking on tapas and drinking cocktails. The boy however, is keen to steer clear of those which look on the salubrious side, are not full, or simply don’t look familiar or safe, he’s not one to take risks and this rules out much so we end up in a very generic looking American gastropub, Spitzers, with a promise that we can come back for brunch at Schiller’s Liquor Bar that is one amongst many that I have my sights set.
Spitzers Corner is not at all terrible, it’s just not as curiosity sating as some of the places nearby might have been, you know what to expect here; hefty planky benches and tables, lots of wood and all the usual fixtures and fittings to make it look the part yet with no discernible soul. We pick a pair of stools at the window next to a particularly attractive couple in order to spend the afternoon hip East Villager spotting over a bottle of Pinot Noir. The boy decides he needs to give his arteries a break so orders a chopped salad which comes garnished with small aliens of the ocean. I choose homefries for their alcohol sponging qualities and they’re pretty damn good; a fried mess of potato with a hint of spicy kick from paprika and peppers, I dig around to get to the really crispy bits letting the boy mop up the rest.
We tipsily wibble across the road to dribble over a cavernous sweet shop just opposite we’d clocked from our seats, stuffed from floor to ceiling with a veritable rainbow of confectionery from all corners of the globe. As we wend our wobbly way further up the East side, we pass gorgeous little independent clothing stores, the cutest shop with butchers hacking and cleaving in the window like some gory tableau, many sweet looking cafes and bakeries, and even further up we pass Five Napkins, vowing to come back when we’re more hungry (we never quite make it) and the famous Katz’, a little fresh produce market by Tompkins Square reminds me of our growing network of London Farmers Markets back home, and finally weary of foot we take the subway the rest of the way.
As promised, the following morning we attempt to book a table at Schiller’s Liquor bar, knowing fully what its like trying to get into popular places back back home we figure it’s worth at least trying to get a head start on walker inners. Not only are reservations taken, but we are allocated a seat at our requested time. Bright eyed and bushy tailed we rock up just as they’re opening up to an empty restaurant, showing us up as the tourists that we are. It’s Immediately evident the influence these kinds of joints have had on the London. Yes, I’m well aware of this in theory, but first hand experience is something else, and the naked strip lighting, chequered floors, tiled walls, vast array of bottles behind the bar and upmarket diner made to look worn in style has Polpo written all over it, with these Londeners eyes at least. Of course Liquor was opened back in 2003 by Keith McNally who also owns Balthazar, soon to open in London (can’t wait), and Minetta Tavern, who’s burger I covet as it’s widely reported to be one of the best of it’s ilk. The vibe is casual yet I imagine rather glamorous of an evening as the room fills up, waiting staff are trendy, attractive and super friendly. As is so popular at the moment, the bathroom has an air of the Crystal Maze about it; a single washroom houses a faintly disturbing looking basin, with two doors at the end that separates the boys from the girls.
Back at comfy booth type seating our laminated menu has all the brunch staples plus an entire eggs section, cocktails, and pastries from sister restaurant Balthazar. We both order bottomless Stumptown coffees and I’ll be damned if I’m not ordering any liquor at a place with the same name, although it may be a little early for their cheap, decent or good wine list. The boy demolishes Eggs Norwegian and I make my way through an excellent Croque Madame with joyfully crispy fried bottom, thick cut ham and a generous layer of cheese which I douse in Worcestershire sauce, condiments are brought over dependant on order, in addition to standard ketchup and mustard, the boy gets Tabasco.
Happiness is finding a cherry in the bottom of your whisky sour!
We forsake puddings in favour of a trip to Doughnut Plant, a short walk away and a place I’ve been lusting after for some time due to an inordinate number of recommendations I’ve been given for it. The shop is already developing a keen queue of punters so I join the end and peer into the showcase of doughnuts on the counter, brow furrowed under the pressure to pick the right one or three, there’s a dizzying myriad of amazing sounding choices; cake style, yeasted, mini seed doughnuts, filled, glazed, specials, luckily some have run out limiting my choice somewhat.
The first I enjoy back at our hotel, hence a background of the view from our window, it’s a Doughseed which I take to be a sort of play on the doughnut hole, it’s that sort of size anyway. It has a rose frosting, pretty petal decoration, creme filling and is altogether rather beautifully delicate and on the right side of sweet, whilst the dough stands out as being exceptional with a great level of chew and flavour.
The next I savour that same evening, Tres Leche, this is a cake style doughnut and as you’d imagine has a denser cakey texture, sweet milky glaze and an unexpected core of tres leche; evaporated and condensed milk with cream. It’s truly delicious, again not too sweet with more depth of flavour than you’d normally give credit to a doughnut.
The final one I save for Christmas morning as seems to befit the Marzipan Star (a festive special) that I wash down with half a bottle of prosecco in bed. Again it has that light and chewy texture, this time with a blobby glaze that I’m attributing to the marzipan factor, there’s no filling this time, slight woe, but a subtle almond sweetness. I wouldn’t complain if every Christmas morning was spent in this situation.
You can see I barely touched on the options around the area and this makes me sad. I was desperate to try Amor Y Amargo, a tiny bitters and tapas bar brought to my attention by Ibrahim , some of the independant coffee shops, Everyman and Grumpy to name a couple, that I knew were there but just didn’t stumble across and, naturally, Momofuku’s Milk Bar. As with Williamsburg I find myself wanting to thoroughly immerse myself in the culture, bar hop, cafe crawl and live like a local. Of course that’s just not possible in a couple of days, when half your time is spent finding your bearings, many times I kicked myself for being just a block or so from somewhere I was dying to visit and not realising at the time. I guess that means I’ll simply have to return!