It is so rare that it is not overcast and drizzling whenever I land back in England that I thought it worthy of a mention. Like broken egg-yolk, dawn permeates the morning sky, the grapefruit drop sun filters through the cloudscape in a riot of reds, pinks and purples.
These hues match those of some jaw-stingingly sour sweets we bought two days ago (called something apt like Head Blasters), in a shrine to all things artificially coloured and flavoured: Dylan’s Candy Store, a New York must-see, according to Ari. ‘How sour can they be?’ I thought. Well let me tell you, it was endured rather than enjoyed - the child in me wouldn’t let me spit it out.
Dylan’s is not a place to go if you are feeling in any way fragile, waves of colours and flavours hit you as do immediate thoughts of overdue dentist trips. I wondered how the staff could stand it, listening to candy-themed classics such as ‘Lollipop’ on an interminable loop, and retain their teeth (not to mention their sanity). Don’t read this wrong – it was a marvel: I was 10 again, eyeing up the everlasting gobstoppers and custom-coloured M&Ms. For this riot in glorious technicolour I had been well prepared. Just the day before, we’d spiralled up the smooth white snail-shell of the Guggenheim for the kaleidoscopic Kandinsky exhibition: an altogether different feast for the eyes. The museum stands on the edge of the park, an alien monolith in the towering Upper East Side landscape.
Too often, food that is most immediately obvious is sugar-laden, guilt-rich, and high in fat. Luckily, Dylan’s was a case of reverse psychology for me, otherwise I would still be there chomping my way through it all. Looking at my ‘to eat’ list, a great number of items were laden with healthy dollops of vice, however food-guilt is not something I am troubled by. The hot pastrami bagel (I’m told it is called the Reuben, piled high with mustard, cheese and pickles) tackled one lunchtime was New York in a bite, and I don’t regret a morsel of it. Like everything here, it was big…but I coped, and got some help in.
After reading many internet entries about the city’s perfect burger, I had an inkling that perhaps I was trying too hard – surely none of them were too shabby? An evening at PJ Clarke’s, a red brick tavern style place, a two storey bastion in a forest of glass towers, satisfied my craving. I am not entirely sure that I am all that high-maintenance – just give me a soft bun, some ketchup and a gherkin and I’m happy. However, I must say that this was a satisfying experience all round, the burger was slightly crisp on the outside, smothered in golden melted cheese, with a side of crispy matchstick fries in their obligatory paper. In the Big Apple, the burger is a different creature, unpretentious and easy to eat, and it must be approached accordingly (if it comes in a plastic basket, so much the better).
Another night: another world. Dinner at Rouge Tomate was homage to eating healthily and sustainably, concepts that are perhaps less visible behind the hotdogs, pizzas, bagels and other fast foods on offer in this city. We were told proudly but not sanctimoniously that our meal would provide three quarters of our recommended daily nutritional needs – not bad so far. But the trouble with things that are really good for you is that so often they are on their way to disgusting, stopping en route at bland and insipid. Not so here, everything was cooked to bring out the natural flavours of the ingredients, and to prove how delicious the results are, the restaurant had just been bestowed with its first Michelin star. Its laid-back appearance belied this; it was convivial and unstuffy, with lots of natural wood and a long cocktail bar. We were lucky enough to sit in a booth looking out onto the vast dining room; the whole thing felt very Sex and the City.
The ceviche of fluke I had to start was exquisite to behold. Sprinkled with micro herbs, kiwi and mango, the petal thin slivers of fish were scattered with popcorn which was fun and gave an interesting textural dimension. It was fresh and fragrant, tangy on the tongue: I felt very virtuous and not at all like I was compromising. The enormous scallops (the two were enough) that followed were perfectly caramelised on the outside and delightfully translucent within, and worked well with stir-fried sprouts and sweet goat’s milk polenta.
Sprouts get such a bad rap due to people’s hideous childhood memories of being force-fed overcooked balls of yellow mush, but for me they are a lifelong love and I must champion these misunderstood greens. Slicing and stir frying them keeps their important bite and makes them different creatures altogether…especially with little bits of bacon and chestnuts for the impending festive season.
Mariza’s squash soup tasted like Christmas in a bowl and whilst Dad’s gravadlax came second to the exciting apple salad it sat under, the venison he had next packed an extremely tasty and similarly festive punch. We shared a tangy California white wine, recommended by the sommelier who knew her stuff. The combinations were thoughtfully conceived and fresh-tasting, the flavours made complete sense, and at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, everything tasted like it should at its best, if you know what I mean. Even after a pudding each we did not feel so overwhelmed that we couldn’t squeeze in another cocktail…
As the plane taxied for take-off last night, New York gave me her swan song, one last frisson of what I would miss, leaving the city for another year. An island of lights in a sea of inky darkness, her flashing firework displays providing a mental snapshot to carry with me until we meet again. Next time I will bring the BSG, there’s lots more food exploring to do.