The first Winter Flavors of New York, the food tour I hosted with Art In Voyage last month, is in the history books, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip.
The tour was Dec. 8 though 11 and we packed a lot into those four days. And we had a terrific group – 12 of us in all – most from Central Florida with one of the members joining us from Utah. They were a game group, up for just about anything, which is good because New York City – and Covid-caused closures – threw a few curves at us.
But here’s what we managed to do:
We had high tea our first afternoon at Bergdorf-Goodman, the luxury department store near Central Park.
Our first-night dinner was at Sparks, one of the city’s legendary old-style steakhouses, whose history includes being the site of a mob hit (outside) after two Gambino crime family members had finished dinner there. Luckily the only thing bloody the night we visited was my huge sirloin steak. We had our own private room after enjoying a cocktail in the main bar.
After dinner we strolled through Grand Central Terminal’s great hall and I showed everyone the Campbell Apartment there, a hideaway bar that used to be a private office.
The next day we strolled through Chinatown and sampled some dumplings then walked through the adjacent Little Italy with chef Kevin Fonzo as our surprise tour guide. Fonzo had flown to the city to do some research for his La Tavolo dinners and agreed to share his knowledge of the area.
Fonzo had to fly – literally: he left us to grab the helicopter to JFK for his flight back to Orlando – and couldn’t join us at Da Gennaro, one of my favorite Little Italy restaurants.
That evening, we strolled from our hotel to Macy’s at Herald Square and De Gustibus Cooking School, which is located on the eighth floor (just behind where Santa was holding court). We were greeted warmly by Sal Rizzo, an old friend of mine from his days with the James Beard Foundation, who then turned us over to Suzi O’Rourke of Cooking By the Book, who would be our instructor for the evening. She divided us into groups and we all went to the back kitchen (taking our glasses of wine with us) to make risotto, pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, swiss chard and apple crisp, which we then ate in the school’s dining room. O’Rourke kept everyone moving like a good-natured drill sergeant (if you’ve ever taken a class at Truffles & Trifles, think Marci Arthur but with a New Yorker’s attitude).
The next morning we were off to the West Village and a cheese tasting at Murray’s, one of my must-visits whenever I’m in the city. We sampled a variety of cheeses, sipped wine (yes, it was still morning; what’s your point?) and lunched on the cheesiest mac and cheese ever.
Then it was back to the hotel for a quick turnaround and a short walk to Radio City Music Hall for an afternoon performance of the holiday Spectacular. (That’s our group in the front row.)
Afterwards, of course, we went to see the Rockefeller Center tree.
That night, we had a private space set aside for us at St. Cloud, the Knickerbocker Hotel bar overlooking Times Square – we were right across from the ball that would drop a few weeks later on New Year’s Eve – for a cocktail, then strolled across the street to Charlie Palmer Steak, a more modern counterpart to our Sparks experience.
Looking back, I almost can’t believe all that we did on our last day. We started on the Lower East Side where I grabbed some samples from Russ & Daughters – smoked salmon, rugelach – that we nibbled at a bench on the median strip in the middle of Houston Street.
Following that, we had a tour of the Tenement Museum for a glimpse of how people lived at the turn of the last century, then headed to Katz’s for a quintessential New York delicatessen experience.
Following lunch, we had a few minutes to spare to we strolled around the new Essex Market, which had barely opened the last time I was in the city but which now is chockfull of interesting vendors.
Then we went below ground to experience the Subway.
But instead of heading back to the hotel, we got off at Rockefeller Center and zoomed to the Top of the Rock observation deck for breathtaking views of Manhattan.
Then it was back to the hotel for a short rest and to get dressed for dinner at Daniel, Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-starred restaurant on the Upper East Side, where we had a four-course meal with wine pairings. We were each allowed to make our choices from among such items as foie gras terrine, sea bass and venison.
So we went from eating on a park bench in the morning to a fine dining experience in the evening.
At the hotel, we said our good-byes – most were leaving the next day.
I stayed on another five days, and in that time things started to change in the city. More about that another time.