new york city – day 2

day 2 in the big apple was actually quite relaxing, which probably isn’t the first thing one might think when this city comes to mind.  i was reveling in the fact that although i was in new york city, i was just hanging out with friends, spending time catching up.  what a way to enjoy a weekend!

sleeping in on saturday was nearly a requirement, so we weren’t in a rush to peel ourselves out of bed.  we started stirring, got ourselves dressed and ready, and turned right off the stoop towards union square.  we had a bit of time to kill before brunch, so we moseyed among the farmer market booths, craning our necks to see what the locals were offering.  i grabbed a 50 cent apple to hold me over and we took the steps underground to the subway.  our train had just arrived, causing a mad dash before we flung ourselves through the doors.  just made it!  (i promise, this moment wasn’t nearly as dramatic as i am making it sound.)

the ride to astoria was relaxing, just like the whole weekend has been.  we arrived at our stop and soon found the strand smokehouse a few blocks down the road.

right as we crossed the road, my long-time friend from grade school audrey actually spotted me.  what wonderful luck that we could plan to see each other while i was in town!  she was available for brunch, which prompted our trip outside the city.

we entered the strand, and i was quite impressed by its appearance.  i suppose as you leave the city limits behind, space is easier to come by.  the restaurant is spacious, open, and airy.  the tables are sturdy and picnic-style, suggesting that strangers seated near each other become friends.  we were placed at a table along the mirrored wall.  i only wish i’d sat on the other side so that i could have people-watched all the passers-by!  i was, however, seated so that i could see the four-piece bluegrass band that accompanied our afternoon, such an unexpected treat!

aaron, audrey’s boyfriend, and his friend eric arrived shorty thereafter to join us.  introductions were made all around as we found our seats again.

our waiter was warm and welcoming, offering complimentary coffee and tea to start.  yes, please!  we eventually looked over the menu – their food is BIG.  very large helpings that you could nearly share with another.  as the plates arrived, you couldn’t help but be nosy at everyone’s meal.  i myself ordered the chicken fried steak per the waiter’s high recommendation.  it may be that i’m not a heavy meat person in the early part of the day (if that kind of person actually exists), but my meal was just okay.  now, the over-medium eggs and grits were amazing.  it’s just a shame they were only a small part of the dish.  as i looked at other tables, i thought jealously to myself, “i wish i had ordered the pancakes or french toast…”

the conversation was sterling all around the table, and i again thought to myself how thankful i was for this afternoon.  it is such a treat to pick up right where you left off with old friends and seamlessly get to know new ones.  quite a treasure, if you ask me.

we eventually had to head home to tend to the pup, so grant, leah, and i hugged our goodbyes.  a lovely saturday afternoon.

after a brief reprieve at the apartment, we bundled up again and made the walk to the east village for dinner.  grant and leah had raved about the smith, one of their favorite places in town, and decided that was where we needed to be.

owners and operators jeffrey lefcourt and glenn harris have been serving value-priced, seasonal american brasserie fare to this eclectic crowd since the fall of 2007 when the east village location first opened.  the restaurant almost has a sophisticated diner feel to it, very open among the dark wooden booths and tables.  it’s like it’s dressed up for whatever special occasion you have.  it is obvious that the smith is a place treasured by the locals.

we met up with grant’s younger brother nate at the bar while we waited on our table.  we ordered a round of drinks, and in celebration of the city, i treated myself to a cosmopolitan.  classic and delicious!  the hostess beckoned that they were ready for us, so we weaved our way through the crowded tables to a cozy spot nestled in the back.

the waitress kindly introduced herself and shared the specials for the evening with us.  leah hesitated not a moment and put in an order for the hot potato chips.  she had been talking about them earlier in the day, and i was eager to taste them myself.  very quickly a monstrous bowl arrived in the center of the table, and i knew it would be my undoing.  these homemade chips were smothered in a bleu cheese fondue.  i took a handful for my plate, had my first bite, and knew exactly what all the fuss was about.  the chips were warm and crispy but not overpowered by the topping.  i’m convinced we finished the entire bowlful in record time.

the waitress took our dinner orders and i motioned to her for a second cosmo.  when in rome, right?

nate entertained our conversation with late-night cab stories and college tales.  i was glad we were tucked away in the corner so that we could actually hear one another.

soon enough the food arrived, and i knew i was in trouble.  i had already loaded up on the chips, and now i had a burger and hefty bowl of grits to eat.  i immediately removed the bun so as not to fill up on bread.  the burger was cooked to a medium pink, just the way i like it.  although this dish may not have altered the way i think about burgers, the sauce, bacon, and cheddar cheese made it quite delicious.

leah had talked up the grits since our brunch in queens, so i dove into those next.  oh my.  i mean, OH MY.  they were slap-your-mama good.  they were creamy and not too gritty and the cream cheese and jalapenos that were blended in provided for a flavor i could not refuse.  and it’s a good thing i was already full, because if not, i would have swiftly stolen a gnocchi from grant’s bowl across the table.  they looked amazing, and that’s exactly what i will order the next time i come.

although we were all stuffed, i requested we make a stop on our way home for something sweet.  they knew exactly the place to take me, so we strolled up to 13th street and waited in line at momofuku milk bar.

leah gave me a quick run-down of their menu, and after seeing another customer with a cup of soft serve, i knew that is what i would get.  i ordered it with crunch topping since that seemed to be what the locals were doing.  i took my first bite and could not believe what i was tasting.  the soft serve literally was the flavor of cereal milk.  i did not know how such a thing was possible!  it was weird and delicious all at the same time.  grant and leah took a bite for themselves, thinking it was simply weird.  certainly worth a try, though!

when we got home, leah opened the package of birthday cake truffles and insisted i take one.  the truffle was dense and beautiful and instantly changed my world.  the outside seemed to be cooked cake while the inside was the consistency of raw birthday cake cookie dough.  if this description doesn’t satisfy your taste buds, get up here and try one for yourself.

i soon drifted into sleep with a stomach full of delicious food and dreams full of sweet memories.

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