Walking in Soho, New York
We came to New York City in February to focus on the locals and the genuine atmosphere of a more relaxed New York. Is there such a thing as a “relaxed New York”? Well, okay, maybe I mean a more genuine and low-key New York (the February issue of “Time Out New York” features an article called “Find Your Calm: 81 Ideas for Relaxing in NYC). Nina and I spent a mere four days in NYC, but we packed in a life’s-worth of “relaxation”. :-3
It started with the Pod, a stark but clean hotel conveniently located on East 51st Street just off 3rd Avenue. If you don’t mind tiny “nouveau” hostel-style rooms with wee “cupboard” washrooms, this 1960’s style reasonably priced place is for you. The lobby was covered in Warhol-style pop art and avant-garde décor and the desk was manned by friendly and helpful staff. When we were there, the place was overrun by a group of exuberant young Brits who resembled Twiggy and Joe; it fit.
Another plus for The Pod is its neighboring French restaurant, Le Bateau Ivre, where Nina and I ate when we first
The Pod on East 51st Street
arrived late in the evening. This authentic “French wine bar, raw bar and grill” gets its name, which means “The Drunken Boat”, from a poem by French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Open from 8 am to 4 am (my kind of hours!), the bistro offers authentic French breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their cuisine includes raw and grilled seafood, meats and tartines (open-faced slices of Poilane-style country bread with a variety of toppings like pate, steak tartare, brandade—codfish and mashed potatoes, and—my favorite—croque monsieur). Run by friendly sommeliers, who can match your taste with just the right wine, the wine bar offers over 250 varieties of the finest French wines by the glass or bottle. We sat ourselves in the wine tasting bar and I ordered a Languedoc St. Chinian 05 Initiale Dom des Jougla. Nina asked the sommelier to “surprise her” with a red wine to match her mood and she ended up with a Bourgogne Pinot Noir (she was in a good mood, I guess). :-3
We were escorted to a table by the window and I ordered escargots from Ivan, our waiter from Russia, who is studying business management in the Bronx. Spasiba, Ivan! Nina ordered a Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal
The bustling crowd of Le Bateau Ivre in NYC
fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille and we settled back in conversation. I enjoyed the cozy French culture around me that included original art work and décor, walls lined with wine bottles and a ceiling of revolving speckled lights. Nina suggested that we come back in the summer when they open their wall of doors for their uptown Euro-clientele (like me … :-3 ) and set up tables on the street for Al fresco dining.
On our first day-excursion in New York, we returned to Bryant Park and ate at the Grill—this time inside—where Nina had a drink at the bar (because it was so beautiful, she said) and I enjoyed a lovely lunch of crispy calamari with arugula, roasted corn, tomato and avocado with lime—cheerfully served to us by Eva, a Brazilian with a agreat sense of humour.
Toulouse negotiates a bench in Bryant Park
We wandered through Midtown like locals, knowing each turn and street. On some level, it felt like coming home. I can’t explain it; we’d been to New York only once before. But, if you’ve truly experienced New York and New Yorkers, you know what I mean. New York is bracing and New Yorkers opinionated, stubborn and loud. They are also genuine and will go out of their way time and again to help you if you are in trouble. Just as with Parisians, you need to earn their respect first. If they perceive you as an equal, if you show the kind of buoyant energy and frankness they embrace and respect, then they will give you the gift of their honesty, genuine warmth and unbridled kindness.
New York is a paradoxical and complex tapestry of grit and sophistication. It’s a cauldron of mixed genres, bursting with expression from the rappers in the subway to the dancers of Broadway. Its art ranges from the avant-garde splashes of Greene Street in Soho to the Impressionist strokes of the Metropolitan Museum.
Now, I know you’re asking yourselves how a little cat like me got such an in-
Balthazar Bistro in Soho
depth perception of this complex city in a mere four days? Let me tell you my secret. We lost ourselves to the city. It’s an art, how to get lost. The first thing you need to lose is your ego; because the fun part of getting lost is getting found—or letting New York find you.
Nina and I got lost in the subways. We lost ourselves in Central Park. And we lost ourselves in Soho (not a bad place to get lost—there are so many unique and interesting cafés, bistros and bars along the way). For example, take the Balthazar, a French-style oyster bar on Spring Street. The Balthazar offers a French menu prepared by chefs de cuisine Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson along with a raw seafood bar and breads and pastries from its bakery next door. The bistro was opened in the spring of 1997 by Keith McNally. Renowned for its French bistro design, the building was converted from a leather wholesaler’s warehouse to an airy space that can seat over 200 patrons. The bistro features authentic French décor and ceiling-high mirrors, creating an ambience of sophisticated bohemian dining and
Toulouse savors oysters on the half-shell at the Balthazar
Nina and I sat by the window and shared a beer with oysters on the half-shell from Massachusetts. We then ambled to the bakery next door—Ooh! Lala! Nina and I shared a hazelnut gateau opera (layered cake with hazelnut jaconde, ganache, hazelnut buttercream decorated with caramelized hazelnuts) and I just about died of happiness. :-3
We literally stumbled into the haute gallery section on Greene Street and while Nina stared at the abstract art, I found some exceptional shops on Prince Street. Flustered that she’d lost me (she should be used to it by now), Nina found me at The Smile on Bond Street, enjoying a cappuccino and chatting up the waitress who looked amazingly like Reece Witherspoon. The Smile used to be a boarding house that housed Swiss watchcase makers back in the early 1900s. It’s two doors down from the Gene Frankel Theatre, another converted old place with an amazing history. We ambled along Bleecker Street and then somehow ended up crossing the busy Houston Street into Noho without realizing it and found ourselves in another bar. The bartender informed us that much of Soho and Noho consisted of old abandoned buildings that were renovated in the 1970s, many into artist’s
The Smile in Soho
lofts and going for a cool $2000/month. New Yorkers were, according to our bartender, “a lot of angry busy people.” LOL! Sounds like my old home town of Vancouver! Just joking…
No trip to New York is complete without a close-up view of our lady, the colossal Statue of Liberty. Standing tall at 151 feet (her nose alone is 4 feet long), She is a majestic site, proudly lifting her arm high with the torch of enlightenment and holding the keystone of knowledge in the other.
Liberty was herself an immigrant. In 1865 a group of French intellectuals led by Edouard de Laboulaye, protesting the political repression in their own country, decided to honor the ideals of freedom and liberty with a symbolic gift to the United States. They commissioned Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (yes, that one) to design the colossal internal framework and Auguste Bartholdi sculpted her. She was shipped in pieces to New York and in 1886
Nina and Toulouse approach The Statue of Liberty
stood as she does today on Liberty Island.
A good wander in New York is not complete without taking in its rich and varied architecture. Of course, we even conducted that in our own unique way; like walking innocently into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Ash Wednesday. New York is famous for its stunning art deco, beautifully featured in the Empire State Building (did you know that the spire at the top of the building was originally designed as a mooring mast for blimps? They gave it up due to too high winds), the Chrysler Building and buildings of the Rockefeller Centre.
Dr Oz fields a question from Toulouse
Nina was so preoccupied with her photo-shoot that she let us get nabbed by Mike at NBC Studios to appear on the Dr. Oz Show (personally, I think Mike recognized me and wanted a celebrity in the audience to increase ratings). Guests included Joseph Mercola, Depak Chopra and Kathy Freston, all there to discuss alternative medicine with Dr. Oz. If you get a chance to watch that episode, look for me in the audience near the end of the show! I’m the one next to the idiot grinning from ear to ear (that would be Nina). The bottom line was “get Krill oil” (Dr. Mercola) and “listen to your body’s inner genius” (Deepak Chopra).
On our last day in NYC, we managed to get lost in Central Park (no mean feat, I guess—it’s HUGE!); we were looking for the statue of Balto. After an impressive tour of the Metropolitan
Mike at NBC poses with Toulouse
Museum of Art and a wander through the Grand Central Station Market, we got lost on the subway again.
We celebrated our adventurous triumph over getting lost in New York with a drink at the Bull and Bear bar in the Waldorf while we waited to be seated in the restaurant. As Nina chatted with locals and networked with business people, I somehow ended up by the bronze statue, overlooking the entire bar. The manager took a shine to me and offered to show me the sights. Nina quickly told him that we were leaving the next morning and sighed when he returned me into her waiting hands. (She loves me, after all…) :-3
Boris, our young waiter (from Brooklyn) seated us beside an elegant lady who somehow recognized us as Canadians (was it my fur?) and opened what promised to be a lively discussion with a question: “So, what do you think of Sarah Palen?” LOL! She recommended the Dover Sole with asparagus (because it was guaranteed to be fresh and cooked to perfection). Its
Toulouse befriends the bar manager at the Bull & Bear, Waldorf Astoria
sophisticated subtle flavor and texture was a special treat. Barbara Fox grew up in Manhattan (she currently lives near Central Park) and has been enjoying meals at the Waldorf for the past forty years; she treats all the waiters like her own sons—telling them off and berating them for not serving us faster (“We want Nina and Toulouse to come back, don’t we?” she challenged the head waiter)—and they respectfully dote on her in return (“Yes ma’am… no, ma’am…” grinning). And, yes, she is related to the founder of Fox Studios.
Did we discuss the making of a movie about my adventures, you ask… (sly smile)… I’m not telling…
I’m the cool travel cat…
- Barbara Fox smooches with Toulouse at the Waldorf
Photos by Nina Munteanu
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