EM­PIRE STATE OF MIND

Ex­plor­ing the Big Apple

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS -

W hile New York City is made up of five bor­oughs, I had a chance to keenly explore Man­hat­tan and Brook­lyn on my five-day jaunt here. Land­ing into JFK In­ter­na­tional Air­port, we made our way to Lotte New York Palace (read the re­view on page 20), a ho­tel in mid­town Man­hat­tan. Se­cu­rity seemed height­ened as there was a “very im­por­tant diplo­matic guest” at the prop­erty, how­ever ho­tel staff re­fused to re­veal who it was.

My escalating ex­cite­ment from be­ing in this city was re­warded when I checked into my room on the 52nd floor and drew open the cur­tains. St. Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral, a dec­o­rated Neo-Goth­ic­style Ro­man Catholic cathe­dral church, along­side tow­er­ing high-rises filled my vi­sion.

When we speak about the high-rises in New York, One World Trade Cen­ter — the tallest build­ing in the Western Hemi­sphere — de­serves a spe­cial men­tion. Com­pleted in 2013 to fill the void left be­hind by the fallen tow­ers after the 9/11 at­tack, it de­picts the ris­ing spirit of re­lent­less hope with its unique tri­an­gu­lar shape. A visit to its ob­ser­va­tory on the top floor is highly rec­om­mended to un­der­stand the geog­ra­phy of the city — per­haps a good way to start your trip. The 360-de­gree glass view­ing cham­ber of­fers ex­cep­tional views of the city’s var­i­ous is­lands, bridges, bor­oughs and sky­scrapers.

Next morn­ing, jet lagged and op­er­at­ing as per In­dian time, I was up rather early. Step­ping out for a ca­sual stroll around the area, I walked around St. Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral, snap­ping the sur­round­ing sky­scrapers. And quite un­ex­pect­edly, within min­utes I stum­bled upon the Rock­e­feller Cen­ter. The large com­plex spread across 22 acres looked glo­ri­ous with its lat­est art in­stal­la­tion. It was a 45 feet in­flat­able ny­lon sculp­ture of a seated bal­le­rina that looked del­i­cately daunt­ing as it tow­ered above Prometheus, a bronze sculp­ture and per­ma­nent fix­ture that adorns the Rock­e­feller Cen­ter. The bal­le­rina is the cre­ation of Jef Koons, an Amer­i­can artist known for his vivid in­ter­pre­ta­tions of pop­u­lar cul­ture ob­jects.

The Rock­e­feller Cen­ter, I was told, comes alive in the win­ters when it con­verts its court­yard into an ice-skat­ing rink. If you’re here around lunch, you could visit Sea Grill (open Mon­day-Saturday 11:30am10pm; pati­na­group.com/the-sea-grill), known for its ex­em­plary seafood prepa­ra­tions that we tasted later one af­ter­noon. Whether it’s cor­po­rate soirees or celebratory fam­ily lun­cheons, Sea Grill has over the years ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing an in­sider’s haunt in New York City.

After a brief es­capade with the city’s fore­most bor­ough, it was time to explore New York City’s unconventional dis­trict — Brook­lyn. From Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion we alighted a train to the neigh­bour­hood of Wil­liams­burg. The vibe of this hip­ster neigh­bour­hood is cer­tainly vi­va­cious. Walk­ing through the streets of Wil­liams­burg, expect to come across avant-garde vin­tage fash­ion stores, off­beat cof­fee shops and walls sprayed with evoca­tive wall art that touches on world af­fairs to so­cial is­sues. Since it was rain­ing, we spent a few hours surf­ing through an in­door flea mar­ket called Artists and Fleas, which takes place on week­ends (open 10am-7pm) at this Wil­liams­burg out­post. It pro­vides a plat­form to cre­ative en­trepreneurs to show­case their unique of­fer­ings from an­tiques, hand­made jew­ellery, natural soaps to es­sen­tial oils. Brook­lyn is known for many such en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­ter­prises that spe­cialise in ar­ti­sanal prod­ucts rang­ing from wine to choco­late.

Our agenda, how­ever, was to dive into the bor­ough’s dy­namic food scene, and so, our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion was the out­door food mar­ket of Smor­gas­burg (open week­ends 11am-6pm, AprilOc­to­ber). From spaghetti dough­nuts at Pop Pasta

(pop­pasta.com) to churro ice-cream sand­wiches at Dul­cinea Chur­ros (dul­cineanyc.com), this bustling bazaar brings to­gether some of the most innovative ven­dors from all over Amer­ica. I en­joyed a very spicy (on re­quest) bur­rito from Bur­rito Juarez

(face­book.com/bur­ri­to­juareznyc) and a straw­berry and basil popsicle from this lit­tle ice cream stall called Peo­ple’s Pops (peo­ple­spops.com). It is best to visit here with a group of friends, pick up a num­ber of eat­a­bles and share them on the benches that over­look a strik­ing view of lower Man­hat­tan across the East River.

While you’re in the area, don’t miss the quin­tes­sen­tial choco­latiers of Brook­lyn — Mast Broth­ers (open daily 9am-8pm, mast­broth­ers.com). In 2007 when this bor­ough saw a sharp up­ward trend in its ar­ti­sanal choco­late scene, Rick and Michael Mast recog­nised the op­por­tu­nity and self­s­tud­ied the art of “bean-to-bar” choco­late-mak­ing. The Brook­lyn-based ar­ti­sanal choco­latiers soon re­ceived global ac­cla­ma­tion for their beau­ti­fully pack­aged sin­gle-ori­gin bars (pic­tured be­low) made

from the likes of Tas­ma­nian and Peru­vian beans. The broth­ers have since opened out­lets in Los Angeles and Lon­don, and have a re­tail pres­ence at spe­cial­ity food shops around the world. Be­ing in their very min­i­mal Wil­liams­burg “choco­late-fac­tory” def­i­nitely brought out the “Char­lie” (from Roald Dahl’s Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory) in me as we un­der­stood the nu­ances of the com­plex “bean-to­bar” process, and sam­pled many pieces.

For­tu­nately, the rain had stopped by the time we de­parted for and reached Brook­lyn Botanic Gar­den (open 8am-6pm Tues­day-Fri­day, from 10am Saturday-Sun­day; bbg.org) for a tryst with na­ture. I quite en­joyed the serene walk through Shake­speare Gar­den. If you’re a fan of Wil­liam Shake­speare, you may have fun iden­ti­fy­ing the 80 plants writ­ten about in his po­ems and plays. Brook­lyn Botanic Gar­den also houses a Cherry Es­planade that comes alive with del­i­cate cherry blos­soms dur­ing Sakura Mat­suri, its an­nual cherry blos­som fes­ti­val at the end of April.

Later that night, though I was still deal­ing with some se­ri­ous jet lag, I man­aged to sleep quite early — only to find my­self wide awake at 4am. Walk­ing around aim­lessly on the streets at this time can be a unique ex­pe­ri­ence. I was sur­prised at an ev­i­dent peak in en­ergy when I ar­rived at Times Square. It was still abuzz with tourists and food ven­dors, even at that hour. It is the most ob­vi­ous sight­see­ing des­ti­na­tion of the city, and I love this place for its un­par­al­leled vibe. Horses rid­den by NYPD of­fi­cers trot­ted around, as noc­tur­nal folks in­dulged in the va­ri­ety of sig­na­ture NYC food op­tions in­clud­ing doner ke­babs, falafels, hot dogs, Greek gy­ros, and ha­lal chicken and rice. Check out The Ha­lal Guys (the­ha­lal­guys.com) that stand on The­atre Dis­trict in Sixth Av­enue, but be prepared for long lines and flavours that are quite fiery for in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

The next day was ded­i­cated to ex­plor­ing two other fas­ci­nat­ing neigh­bour­hoods of Man­hat­tan — Chelsea and the Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict. Our jaunt be­gan at Chelsea Mar­ket (open daily 7am9pm) that’s sit­u­ated at the for­mer Na­tional Bis­cuit Com­pany (Nabisco) fac­tory com­plex — the birth­place of the Oreo cookie. It bears a rus­tic yet con­tem­po­rary feel with its bare walls and bright lighting. From once be­ing a bis­cuit fac­tory to an ur­ban mar­ket to­day, the place has evolved into an in­door oa­sis hous­ing a num­ber of in­de­pen­dent restau­rants, cafes, fash­ion out­lets and con­fec­tionery shops. These are what make Chelsea Mar­ket one of New York City’s hippest places to spend an in­ter­est­ing few hours at.

We tasted the best of this mar­ket on a three­hour food tour op­er­ated by Foods of NY Tours

(food­sofny­tours.com). Cindy, the­atre actor turned tour guide, de­serves an ap­plause for up­lift­ing our spir­its with her ex­cel­lent wit through the ex­pe­ri­ence. Our food tour be­gan with scrump­tious fried Oreo pan­cakes with Ron­ny­brook’s (a dairy farm in New York) whipped cream from Cream­line

(cream­li­nenyc.com). It is known for its clas­sic Amer­i­can fare made from lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents. Next on the list was Tuck Shop’s (tuck­shop­nyc.com) kale salad with Aus­tralian beef pie — a highly rec­om­mended dish for its in­cred­i­ble tex­tures and flavours. At Cap­pone’s Salume­ria (cap­pones­nyc.com), I called for sec­onds of the mor­tadella sand­wich — an ex­quis­ite taste of Italy in NYC.

Our next stop was High Line Park (the­high­line.org), an el­e­vated park built on a sec­tion of a dis­used New

York Cen­tral Rail­road line in the Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict. Walk­ing through the park, Cindy pointed out to the very spot the Ti­tanic was sup­posed to dock on the Hus­don River and con­tin­ued to elab­o­rate on the area’s dra­matic his­tory. Dur­ing the 1900’s, this dis­trict was in­hab­ited by over 250 flour­ish­ing slaugh­ter­houses and meat­pack­ers. Busi­nesses saw an even­tual down­fall, con­vert­ing the area into a hub for il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, thereby tar­nish­ing its rep­u­ta­tion. The face of the Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict changed in the late 1990s, when vi­sion­ary de­sign­ers such as Diane von Fürsten­berg, Chris­tian Louboutin, Alexan­der McQueen and Stella McCart­ney opened high-end bou­tiques here. This lat­est hip­ster hotspot also saw an up­surge in restau­rants and night­clubs, even­tu­ally trans­form­ing the area into one of New York’s most fash­ion­able dis­tricts.

Later that evening we ex­pe­ri­enced an­other facet of New York City — Broad­way. It was over­whelm­ing to watch Phantom of the Opera — es­pe­cially since the pro­duc­tion cel­e­brates 30 years of Broad­way this year. An­other in­ter­est­ing the­atre per­for­mance I en­joyed here was Shake­speare in the Park. It’s not Broad­way and takes place be­tween May and Au­gust at the open-air the­atre in Cen­tral Park called Dela­corte The­ater (pub­licthe­ater.org). While it was Julius Cae­sar that I signed up to watch, I didn’t expect what ac­tu­ally came my way. It was a con­tem­po­rary ver­sion of the Shake­spearean play that de­picted the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal af­fairs in the United States. The president of Amer­ica was “Julius Cae­sar”, mak­ing this play a very con­tro­ver­sial hap­pen­ing in New York. Although the per­for­mance was dis­rupted twice by repub­li­can protestors, the NYPD en­sured that the show must go on. ■

Left and right: the sky­line of New York City; and One World Trade Cen­ter

Left to right: sushi spi­der roll at Sea Grill; Mast choco­late; the Smor­gas­burg food mar­ket; and Times Sqaure

Top to bot­tom: Cream­line; Chelsea Mar­ket; and High Line Park

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