There are lots of reasons why you might like to have a handy day-trip plan for NYC.
Perhaps you’re sitting bored out of your tree in one of the many cities that supports a super-discount bus to the Big Apple. You might find yourself with hours and hours of time on your hands in anticipation of an international flight. Or you could be Broadway-show bound to see the latest hot production.
At any rate, here’s how I spent the day there:
Getting off the bus, I took a quick subway ride uptown (video below) to the Museum of Modern Art. This is the place where many eclectic, out-of-the-box works get their first shows. The museum has an amazing variety of multimedia and interactive exhibits, including film, painting, metal sculptures and light displays. There’s a sculpture garden with refreshments available and lots of quiet areas to sketch or contemplate art in glorious solitude – even in the midst of Manhattan.
Walking up to MoMA in midtown Manhattan.
Not only does MoMA (as it’s affectionately known by the cognicetti) have art fresh off the palette from this year, they display famous paintings from the 19th century, including masterpieces by Cezanne.
MoMA actually has a few gift shops, including a special design one across the street from the museum. The shops offer the expected book and special exhibit souvenirs, but they delve into really interesting objets d’art, too.
Art tends to stimulate all the senses and feelings, including hunger. The MoMA boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant: The Modern. I learned that you can also access it from outside. I suggest you combine the sensory amazement with art and cuisine in one trip.
The restaurant is one of world-renowned restauranteur Danny Meyer's projects. Meyer has recruited Alsatian chef Gabriel Kreuther to create the cuisine of his native land in a fresh, modern way. Being an Alsatian restaurant, they also have a fine collection of apple ciders from all over the Norman and Basque regions. I tried one from Normandy with an earthy, mushroom-yeasty and savory flavor. It went perfectly with food.
I started with slow-poached Farm Egg “In a Jar” with Maine lobster, hon shimeji mushroom and Parmesan foam. It was foamy, cheesy, light but rich. The dish had multi textures with crisp haricots and sweet lobster. The presentation was in a vintage canning jar – so cute!
Another impressive dish is the saffron tagliatelle with cider-braised rabbit, corn and fava beans. Rabbit in incapable hands can be gamy and stringy. In expert hands like Chef Kreuther's, the rabbit is tender and sweet with cider. It's seasoned with good black pepper, giving it a mellow depth of flavor. The fava beans are cooked to tender. The sauce is rich and meaty. Because the tagliatelle is made with thinner noodles, they make for a lighter entrée. Don't be afraid of having it for lunch! Little corn nuggets garnish the dish.
After museum hours, step into another world altogether for dinner. Steps away from the chaos of Times Square on 46th Street is a lively, non-touristy international restaurant row, in what has always been called Hell's Kitchen. Despite the foreboding appellation, the street is tree-lined, charming and lively. It was in these surroundings that a real member of the Russian aristocracy – Baroness Irina von der Launitz – decided to take a double townhouse and craft a destination that would be reminiscent of a Tzarist manor and also bring out aspects of her favorite Stravinsky ballet, Firebird.
Experience fine Russian cuisine at FireBird in Hell's Kitchen.
FireBird is a great destination in itself or as a perfect addition to your stay in NYC. Chef Paul Joseph, a Culinary Institute of America grad, learned his craft at such renowned dining establishments as Tavern on the Green. He’s brought modern sensibilities such as farm-to-table items from nearby family farms in New Jersey and modern seasoning approaches and presentation to classic Russian dishes. Some of his dishes have a real heat to them!
It's important to understand that Russian cuisine is living and evolution in food is a good thing. The menu covers what was called back in the day "all the Russias."
Russians are the keepers of the vodka heritage. A celebratory meal just isn't Russian without it. FireBird has an astounding collection from around the world – over 200 vodkas! They also infuse about 10 vodkas with natural flavors. These are quite special, and I heartily recommend them. Depending on what you're eating and when, check out the honey, horseradish and cranberry vodkas. All are incredibly smooth.
The horseradish has flavor, but not harsh bite. It would be perfect in a Bloody Mary or plain with a roast beef sandwich! The honey flavor is rich, naturally sweet with honey and would make for a great after-dinner liqueur. The cranberry vodka is clean and slightly fruity… it's sneakily drinkable.
The service is classic fine dining, which means many dishes are prepared tableside. It adds drama to the evening, and people like to watch tables that are getting food prepared. Blini prepared tableside with caviar is a classic Russian start to the meal.
Now, one of my servers was from the Republic of Georgia, where he says the perfect accompaniment to caviar is more vodka! I tried hackelback sturgeon caviar; FireBird has a great selection at all price points.
Hackelback has a nice balance of roe flavor and saltiness. The presentation is with a light dab of sour cream – to let the caviar flavors shine through – with creamed egg whites, creamed yolks, minced red onion. The blini is a medium-thick pancake, round to resemble the sun in pre-Christian days. It's rolled into a little pirouette shape.