Our New York City Easter: three great plays, four fabulous restaurants — and a sobering conclusion

Alan outside the famed Russian Tea Room

Alan outside the fabled Russian Tea Room

Alan and I love New York City. So, on December 31st last year, when I suddenly realized my chance to redeem some airline points was going to expire within hours, I jumped on the phone and booked two round-trip tickets to the Big Apple for a long weekend. I glanced at the calendar and saw a weekend that was open, not realizing at the time it was Easter weekend. But, what the heck? We don’t have children and so don’t have to be home to greet the Easter Bunny, so Easter in New York City sounded like a fine idea.

In addition to loving New York, I also love Times Square. I am a terrible sleeper and I just love to see those dizzying lights outside my hotel window when I invariably wake up in the middle of the night. Alan booked us a room at the Marriott Marquis, one of our favorite NYC hotels. “You have a room with a beautiful Times Square view,” the clerk said as we checked in. Yay!

I had left it to Alan to pick the plays and the eateries we’d visit. And we set off for a wonderful holiday. Here are our recommendations, in case you are planning a trip of your own there.

We like to book a meal at at least one “classic” restaurant when we visit a city. In Chicago, for instance, it was Gene and Georgetti (click here for a report on our Chicago trip); in D.C., it was The Monocle (click here for a post about that trip) This trip, our classic restaurant was the Russian Tea Room.

Classic, classic look of Russian Tea Room's interior

Classic, classic look of Russian Tea Room's interior

The decor features ornate -- what else? -- teapots!

The decor features ornate -- what else? -- teapots!

Alan settles in one of the large red booths.

Alan settles into one of the large red booths.

We were trying to make a play, “Wicked,” Friday night so we opted for the special pre-play dinner. I loved my first course!

Buckwheat blini and red caviar with chopped egg, minced red onions and sour cream

Buckwheat blini and red caviar with chopped egg, minced red onions and sour cream

Alan's main course: chicken kiev

Alan's main course: chicken kiev

For my main course, I chose kulebiaka, which is salmon with slow cooked onions, mushrooms and vegetables wrapped in pastry, served with mixed pattypan squash, pearl onions and baby carrots in a yogurt dill sauce. It was the better of the two entrees we ordered. But, unfortunately, it did not photograph well. So you will just have to go there and order it!

Our fallback wine to order these days is pinot grigio because we like its clean, crisp taste and it goes well with seafood, which we normally order. So, when we told the sommelier, Jane Brock, that we wanted a pinot grigio, we were a little surprised when she discouraged us. “Let me recommend something that is like pinot grigio, but with more personality,” she said. How could we resist? This Vernaccia di San Gimiguano from Tuscany is what we got. And we loved it. Thanks, Jane!

Great recommendation

Great recommendation

Although we were going to see “Wicked” on Friday night, we were set to see “Death of a Salesman” as a Saturday matinee the next day. Its star was Philip Seymour Hoffman. I swear, I think Hoffman was eating at the Russian Tea Room on Friday night. Alan says Hoffman wouldn’t have been there before a performance at 8 on Friday night, but . . . See what you think.

I tried to be discreet by snapping this photo from across the room. That's why we may never know if it was, indeed, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I tried to be discreet by snapping this photo from across the room. That's why we may never know if it was, indeed, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Jane, our friendly sommelier, went to his table to take a closer peek and said she didn’t think it was him. But she did say that Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke had been in the Russian Tea Room the previous night!

Then it was on to “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theatre. This play opened on Broadway in 2003 and on last Friday night had filled the 1,900-seat theater once again. It is the 12th longest-running show on Broadway. Photos of the show are not allowed, but we did take a quick one of a dragon above the proscenium before the curtains went up. We loved the play and highly recommend.

Wow. This really set the tone of the show which is about the witches of Oz before Dorothy dropped in.

Wow. This really set the tone of the show which is about the witches of Oz before Dorothy dropped in.

We happened to be in New York during a fundraiser called Broadway Cares, which raises money for AIDS and breast cancer charities. After the plays, actors in costumes (usually extras) stood in the lobbies collecting donations.

Alan gives a donation to Broadway Cares.

Alan gives a donation to Broadway Cares in the lobby after "Wicked."

Then it was back to our hotel to enjoy the lights of Times Square.

The view I love (and pay dearly for).

The view I love (and pay dearly for).

We knew Saturday would be jam packed so we opted for a room service breakfast, which was fabulous. We took our time getting ready to go out, watching the folks on Times Square and checking in on the goings on in Knoxville, of course, through the great new-ish iPad app for the News Sentinel’s E-Edition.

By brunch time, we selected a raved-about restaurant in the Theatre District called Becco. The line outside when we arrived there before it opened signaled to us that we had made a wise choice.

Alan outside Becco

Alan outside Becco

Becco is a very open sky-lighted Italian restaurant. We were among the first ones in the door.

Becco is a very open sky-lighted Italian restaurant. We were among the first ones in the door.

Once again, we ordered pinot grigio, but were discouraged. In this case, they didn't even offer it. Here's what the bartender recommended. And, once again, it was a great decision.

Once again, we ordered pinot grigio, but were discouraged. In this case, they didn't even offer it. Here's another Italian wine the bartender recommended instead. And, once again, it was a great decision.

As soon as you sit down, you get three fantastic kinds of bread in a rustic wooden box, some hummous and an assortment of olives.

As soon as you sit down, you get three fantastic kinds of bread in a rustic wooden box, some hummus and an assortment of olives.

We both ordered Zuppa De Mare and, oh my God, it was fantastic! Especially the scallops. As you can see, it also contained shrimp, salmon and halibut (in the middle) served over a little bed of polenta. Awesome dish.

We both ordered Zuppa De Mare and, oh my God, it was fantastic! Especially the scallops. As you can see, it also contained shrimp, salmon and halibut (in the middle) served over a little bed of polenta. Awesome dish.

Then it was on to the Barrymore Theater for "Death of a Salesman." Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great Willie Loman.

Then it was on to the Barrymore Theater for "Death of a Salesman." Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great Willie Loman.

Be advised that this play by Arthur Miller, one of my favorite playwrights, is very dark. We recommend seeing it as a matinee for sure. As for us, we went back to our hotel, by way of Times Square of course, for a nap.

Alan on Times Square

Alan on Times Square

Alan meets Spongebob Squarepants on Times Square.

Alan meets Spongebob Squarepants on Times Square.

Times Square from our room before naptime

Times Square from our room before naptime

Another restaurant tradition we have, in addition to eating at a classic restaurant in each city, is to eat at the restaurant of a celebrity chef. This time we chose Adour by Alain Ducasse located at the St. Regis Hotel at Two East 55th Street.

We had a picturesque walk to dinner.

The Easter Lilies at Rockefeller Center were beautiful.

The Easter Lilies at Rockefeller Center were beautiful.

We passed St. Patrick's Cathedral.

We passed St. Patrick's Cathedral.

And the International Building

And the International Building

Alan, a chocoholic, had to go inside Lindt's flagship store to inspect the Easter bunnies!

Alan, a chocoholic, had to go inside Lindt's flagship store to inspect the Easter bunnies!

Finally, we arrived at Adour.

Finally, we arrived at Adour.

About a half-hour too early. What to do? Well, the famous King Cole Bar at the St. Regis was open.

Alan at the King Cole Bar. They are famous for Bloody Marys, but we had gin and tonics.

Alan at the King Cole Bar. They are famous for Bloody Marys, but we had gin and tonics.

The snacks here were perfect: wasabi peas, pretzels and nuts.

The snacks here were perfect: wasabi peas, pretzels and nuts.

Famous Old King Cole mural

Famous Old King Cole mural behind the bar

Finally, the doors opened at Adour at 6 p.m. Our reservations were at 6:30.

I had the Langoustine a "La Nage." It was delicious.

I had the Langoustine a "La Nage." It was delicious.

Here is the wine recommended here. (I had about given up on getting a glass of pinot grigio in this town!)

Here is the wine recommended here. (I had about given up on getting a glass of pinot grigio in this town!)

Maybe you can read the label better here.

Maybe you can read the label better here.

I ordered the Lobster Thermidor. Fab.

I ordered the Lobster Thermidor. Fab.

Alan ordered some kind of decadent chocolate dessert that didn’t photograph well but was delicious. An unexpected little surprise was this plate of melt-in-your-mouth cookies that appeared. We ate two and took the rest back to the room.

Yum!

Yum!

Thank goodness our final play was somewhat lighter than “Death of a Salesman.” “Memphis” was playing at the Shubert Theatre. While not altogether happy, it had great music. We loved it.

Shubert Theatre

Shubert Theatre

Memphis

Memphis

If there is a revolving bar in your hotel — the ONLY revolving bar in New York City, to boot — don’t you just HAVE to go there? Of course!

Here is Alan at The View with the top of The W Hotel over his shoulder.

Here is Alan at The View with the top of The W Hotel over his shoulder.

Easter Sunday dawned bright and beautiful and after a room service breakfast, more people watching out our window at Times Square and catching up on Knoxville news again, we stored our bags with the bell captain and checked out of the hotel. Our 1:30 brunch reservation was at Ai Fiori in Midtown’s Setai Hotel, which would turn out to be the best eatery of our trip. Easter brunch was a prix fixe menu ($94 per person) and it was worth every cent.

On our leisurely walk, we saw so many beautiful flowers, including these at the New York Public Library.

On our leisurely walk, we saw so many beautiful flowers, including these at the New York Public Library.

Alan at the entrance to Ai Fiyori. Yes, we had been souvenir shopping.

Alan at the entrance to Ai Fiori. Yes, we had been souvenir shopping.

It was such a beautiful setting.

It was such a beautiful setting.

The flowers on the table reminded me of the simple centerpieces you always see at Blackberry Farm.

The flowers on the table reminded me of the simple centerpieces you always see at Blackberry Farm.

I am a sucker for china, crystal and silverware. I thought these chargers were stunning. But the cutlery was a bit disappointing -- cheap stainless steel. I have been around the restaurant business long enough to know why. Great cutlery just "walks away." But still, a little disappointing.

I am a sucker for china, crystal and silverware. I thought these chargers were stunning. But the cutlery was a bit disappointing -- cheap stainless steel. I have been around the restaurant business long enough to know why. Great cutlery just "walks away." But still, a little disappointing.

My friends Madge and Barry Cleveland are total foodies. They play a fun game whenever they go on a trip. They challenge each other to name the “best bite” of the entire excursion. If I were playing that game, the dish that follows would have been my choice for “best bite.”

This is spaghetti with blue crab, lemon, bottarga and chilies. I think it was the best thing I've ever tasted.

This is spaghetti with blue crab, lemon, bottarga and chilies. I think it was the best thing I've ever tasted.

Alan's pasta course was tortelli: ricotta nd mascarpone ravioli with sottocenere cheese and red wine glaze. (I forgot to take a photo of our first courses, which also were spectacular!)

Alan's pasta course was tortelli: ricotta and mascarpone ravioli with sottocenere cheese and red wine glaze. (I forgot to take a photo of our first courses, which also were spectacular!)

Damn, this was good! Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, root vegetable fondant, chateau chalon sauce

Damn, this was good! Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, root vegetable fondant, chateau chalon sauce

Alan's entree: Line caught Atlantic halibut, baby romaine, guanciale, white bean puree, lemon jus

Alan's entree: Line caught Atlantic halibut, baby romaine, guanciale, white bean puree, lemon jus

Finally! Someone has pinot grigio -- and actually lets me drink some! It was great!

Finally! Someone has pinot grigio -- and actually lets me drink some! It was great!

Chocolate mousse with a poached pear, port, violet and vanilla gelato. Wow.

Chocolate mousse with a poached pear, port, violet and vanilla gelato. Wow.

Alan's dessert, though non-chocolate, was stellar, he said. Panna cotta with balsamic crema, blood orange, marcona almond and lemon sorbetto

Alan's dessert, though non-chocolate, was stellar, he said. Panna cotta with balsamic crema, blood orange, marcona almond and lemon sorbetto

We headed back towards Times Square to pick up our luggage and head to the airport. The scenery was so peaceful and happy.

Flowers were blooming in pots all along the streets.

Flowers were blooming in pots all along the streets.

Women were wearing Easter bonnets.

Women were wearing Easter bonnets.

And then, when we got to Times Square, cops swarmed in. They stopped traffic. They erected barricades. As we tried to cross Times Square to get to the Marriott Marquis and our luggage, a police officer stopped us and said we would have to turn around and go around Times Square to approach the hotel from the other side. “What’s going on?” I asked him. “A bomb threat,” he said. “Now turn around and leave.”

This is the NYPD communications command center that was moved in. A few blocks away were dozens of police cars and other emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

This is the NYPD communications command center that was moved in. A few blocks away were dozens of police cars and other emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

We did as instructed and walked around to the Marriott from the non-Times Square side. I met one woman on the sidewalk who said she had been evacuated from a department store holding an armful of clothes she had planned to try on. “I’ll never find those clothes again,” she said sadly. We both knew that, if the worst happened, the clothes wouldn’t matter. Neither would our luggage.

It was a jolt. I thought the sign we saw as we left “Wicked” was very appropriate.

Yep.

Yep.

Well, obviously it was a false alarm, thank goodness. The media must have an agreement not to report bomb threats because we saw nothing about it on the news. We got our luggage and made it to the airport and home, just a little more sobered and saddened by the end of our great weekend.

But, on a lighter note, remember those souvenirs I said we bought? We used them in a trivia contest when we got back to the Moxley Carmichael office on Monday. Account executive Amanda Shell won the grand prize. She models it in the photo below.

Amanda Shell shows off her winning head gear and I heart NY coffee mug! Congrats!

Amanda Shell shows off her winning head gear and I heart NY coffee mug! Congrats!

17 Responses to “Our New York City Easter: three great plays, four fabulous restaurants — and a sobering conclusion”

  1. a. the halibut at ai fiori was my best bite. all the restaurants were great.
    b. becco was a nice surprise. recommend it to all.
    c. best moment was pianist playing “easter parade” in lobby bar at setai hotel “on the avenue, fifth avenue” where a woman in an easter bonnet had just walked by pushing a dog in a baby cart and carrying a cat.
    d. best lady of liberty: amanda shell.

  2. What a fun trip! Thanks for sharing. I especially like seeing Alan posing in all the shots!

  3. What a great trip! It makes me hungry! I always appreciate NYC restaurant tips. We’ll check these out next time. And, we loved Memphis and Wicked too. I’m feeling some wanderlust setting in…..

  4. Tara: Alan is a good sport, no doubt about it! Every now and then I push him beyond his limit, but . . .

  5. Tasha: We are planning another trip there in the summer. So if you have any suggestions for us, we’d love to hear!

  6. I know you don’t cook on vacation, but as a huge fan of the Market Square Farmer’s Market, you must go to the Union Sqaure Greenmarket. New Yorkers love their locally grown products, too! Here’s a web site with the locations and days of all the greenarkets: http://www.grownyc.org/ourmarkets

    And why not see how real New Yorkers shop for groceries? Go to The Fairway, 74th & Broadway, or Zabar’s (my personal favorite – just watch out for the aggressive Jewish grandmothers with shopping carts!) at 80th and Broadway. Upstairs is a killer kitchen-gadget section.

    Trust me — you haven’t had a bagel until you’ve had one from Absolute Bagels, Broadway & 107th. My old apartment was across the street from this little place that will remind you of the Soup Nazi. Not sure you want to go all the way up there just for a bagel? Visit the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, St. John the Divine, on Amsterdam & 111th, just around the corner. They have an annual Blessing of the Animals during the Feast of St. Francis and people bring their pets, furry, feathered, and scaled to this wonderful event!

    I know you can get Murray’s Cheese at Kroger in Knoxville, but visit the mother ship at 254 Bleecker Street, betw 6th & 7th Ave in the Village. In fact, Bleecker from 8th Ave to 6th Ave is a great little walk to experience the Village.

    Can you tell I miss lots of things about living in NYC? Just not the rent! Have fun.

    PS – Alan *is* a good sport for being the model in most of your photos. ;)

  7. Cynthia, you all picked two of our all-time favorite restaurants! Peter and I love the RTR — samovars, ice sculptures, vodka, caviar and blinis! And, eating in any of Alain Ducasse’s restaurants is the equivalent of dying and going to heaven! We have spent many good times in the King Cole Bar — the painting is one of Peter’s favorite Maxfield Parrish works. Too bad about the commmotion on your way out of town — unfortunately, as we’re all aware, it’s now a way of life in the most magnificent, magical city in the world. When we go back to the city now, we always try to go to the top of the Empire State Building — highly recommend! On your next trip try and eat at Eleven Madison Park — fabu!

  8. Oh, Becky and Ellen: Thanks a million for those great recommendations and comments. Now you’ve got me even more excited about returning. We “won” at an auction a trip to New York to see “Iron Chef” being taped. We will wrap some of these other experiences around that one. Again, thanks for the great ideas!

  9. This so makes me want to go back to NYC. Too many good restaurants and good entertainment everywhere! Glad you had such a good trip.

  10. Oh yeah, two more reasons to head uptown: At Broadway & 112th is Tom’s Restaurant, which is just a little diner not unlike Pete’s, but the facade is something you might remember as “Monk’s” in NBC’s Seinfeld. And the Westside Market, another old haunt, at Broadway & 110. I’d shop there and they’d deliver my groceries for free (except perishables/fragile items like eggs & ice cream I’d carry home myself).

    (Ditto to Ellen’s suggestion of Eleven Madison Park – heard great things!)

  11. Cynthia and Alan, So much wonderful food and theater. So glad you had a good time but you two could have fun anywhere!! M

  12. OMG, my mouth is watering!

  13. Heck: It sounds like we all need to plan a trip!

  14. I love Times Square too but also the fur district and the old
    diamond merchant area. Not that I buy, but both areas have
    a distinctive ambiance.

  15. Love this review! We’ve also been to NYC on Easter Weekend, and walked Fifth Avenue singing “On the avenue, 5th Avenue . . . ” (And, no, it ‘s not better if you hear me singing in person!)
    Thanks for the many dining recommendations and the “steer clears” on pinot grigio! We’ve been known to eat at deli’s and dine standing up with a street vendor hot dog in hand! Nice to know about the classier side of dining in NYC!

  16. The photos of the food have me ready to order plane tickets.

  17. Two of my all-time favorite places to dine in NYC are Gramercy Tavern (Flatiron District) and Peasant (Soho/Nolita). Peasant also has a wine bar (a subterranean wine lair if you will) next door that we head down into for a “warm up” cocktail before dinner. And every time we visit NYC we get to one of the Terroir wine bars. My favorite location (I believe they have 3 now) is in Tribeca.

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