Sunday, August 29, 2010

Staycation: You're Doing It Right

Gantry Plaza State Park

"Staycation" is one of those neologisms that rubs me the wrong way and makes me cringe, visibly, rudely, at parties. And yet when Boy and I decided to take one (a stay-at-home vacation, not a neologism), I started not just saying it but embracing it. We're staying! And 'cationing!

We'd had dates picked out for some time off for weeks, with Boy completely done with grad school classes (woohoo!), and me in the calm before my office's fall events, but we couldn't find anywhere to go. We didn't want a big vacation, just a little chill time away, and everything we looked at was either too expensive, or too far, or we were just meh about it.

Then, the revelation: We live in New York City! And there are all kinds of things to do here that we never do! The key to making this work, for me anyway, was planning things so that we didn't just sit on the couch for five days. We'd planned to take a vacation, so let's spend some vacation money here in town – make some dinner reservations, schedule our days as if we were on a trip. We didn't have a complete agenda, but all but one day had at least one thing booked to ensure we'd leave the house.

We kicked things off on Friday after work at WD-50, Wylie Dufresne's restaurant on the Lower East Side. We’d become fans of Dufresne when he appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef and a contestant on Top Chef Masters. He's one of those "molecular gastronomy" guys with the freeze-drying and the liquid nitrogen and the food that's very pretty and fun to watch on TV, but possibly a little scary to actually eat. So the restaurant had been on our list but we hadn't rushed to have a more-expensive-than-usual (but quite reasonable for a nice night out), possibly frightening dinner in a neighborhood we never have any other reason to go to. It was a perfect adventure to start the Staycation!

We were seated about as far from the open kitchen as possible, but we did catch sight of Dufresne in there, which made me happy; you don't necessarily expect to actually see the celebrity chef in an apron.

The menu just lists things in the dishes, without much detail or mention of technique. This was sort of disappointing, since I'd've liked some insight into Dufresne's mad scientist ways that went into what I was eating, but also kind of great, because it kept the mystery and magic in it. Of course I took photos. I'll just say now that everything was amazing so as not to keep repeating myself later. (For all photos, click to view on Flickr in various sizes, plus lots more pics.)

WD-50August 13: WD-50
Boy started with the "Peekytoe crab roll, salt ‘n vinegar chips, celery mayonnaise." I don't normally like celery and the mayo looked very green with it, but it had a great subtle flavor that was perfect with the crab. I had "Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar." This is one I'd love to know the technique behind. I assume it wasn't just fried chicken from yesterday left in the fridge. Liquid nitrogen maybe? The meat had a funny but not at all unpleasant texture. I think the waiter mentioned honey as he set the plate down (oddly, our main waiter spoke perfect English, but both of the guys who brought out the food, who also explained it, had thick accents), so I think that's honey-Tabasco sauce underneath. Everything went together perfectly: the salty of the caviar, creaminess of the cheese, sweet-spicy of the sauce, all complimenting the chicken.

Our mains were "Venison chop, freeze dried polenta, fennel, asian pear" for Boy and "Duck breast, apple, cheddar, kimchee-cous cous" for me. These were both a little more "normal," but with some flavor combinations I certainly would never have thought of, like the cheddar (which also flavored the broth in the dish, so it touched everything) with duck and cous cous. I think the polenta was fried after it was freeze dried? Also venison isn't something you see in Manhattan restaurants every day. At least not the ones I go to.

My dessert was "Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory." The chicory was in the form of a foam, which has a texture I don't care for. When I tasted it by itself it was a flavor I didn't care for either. Mixed with the other flavors, though, it was perfection. Science! Boy had "Cheesecake, wild blueberries, plantain, cinnamon," which was by far the most Dufresne-esque thing we tried. And also, for me, the least successful. But look at it! Little cheesecake bits wrapped in blueberry...something! How the hell did they do that? The blueberry whateveritwas had a gummy texture I didn't like, but Boy enjoyed it and it was his dessert, so the evening was an unqualified success. Highly recommended.

Saturday was pretty much just a regular Saturday. Laundry wasn't going to do itself! After a mostly lazy day we headed to the Riverview Restaurant in Long Island City. Turns out you can't actually view the river from it. Nothing as exciting as Friday's foodie escapade, but my appetizer, "crispy tuna" with ginger was an unusual presentation I'd never seen before. Interesting that the best thing we ate was Japanese-inspired on a mostly Italian menu, but whatever.
The evening was a hit, though, because the weather was perfect and breezy and a much-needed break from this hateful summer. We sat outside and afterwards walked across the street to the Gantry Park to actually see the river.
Gantry Plaza State Park

Queens adventures continued in the other direction on Sunday with a trip to Flushing Meadows Park, better known as the site of the 1964 World's Fair. Back when I was trying to learn to rollerblade (a pursuit I've long since given up), Boy and I took several trips there (it's flat and full of long straight stretches and big wide circles), but we'd never been inside any of the handful of attractions there. I didn't even know there was a zoo until recently (it's on the other side of the highway, where we hadn't ventured).

Flushing MeadowsWe started at the New York Hall of Science. We're clearly not the target demographic, but I was happy that we weren't the only childless adults there, and lots of the hands-on stuff (giant bubbles!) was fun for us too. Unfortunately, the Great Hall, which is one of the original World's Fair buildings and made me think of Battlestar Galactica (it's the brown wavy thing behind the 2nd rocket in the photo), was closed for renovations. The whole place felt a little run down, which except for the freshly-renovated globe fountain, is kind of a theme for the entire park.

August 15: Flushing Meadows

Flushing Meadows: Queens Museum of Art Next up was the Queens Museum of Art, an original Fair building which hasn't been kept up well at all. Whole sections of it are closed and from the outside appear to be totally falling apart. It's an aesthetic I like taking pictures of but it doesn't make for much of a museum! It's best known for The Panorama, built for the World's Fair when the building was the Hall of New York City. It's a perfect scale model of ALL of New York City, and it's pretty intense. I found my mom's building, my office, and my high school. My current apartment was too far away from the catwalk around the model to get a good look at, but we found the neighborhood. The Panorama has been updated since '64, but I'm guessing not since sometime in the late 70s or early 80s. The World Trade Center is in it, but lots of buildings that were built after it aren't (to say nothing of the obvious). I hope they do another update someday.
Flushing Meadows: Queens Museum of Art Flushing Meadows: Queens Museum of Art

There's not much else there, but there is a great collection of World's Fair memorabilia that's fantastically retro-futurist and Mad Men-y, and we bought a poster in the gift shop.

Our last stop was the Queens Zoo, which is like the Bronx Zoo in miniature. It also has an original World's Fair building, which is now a really cool aviary, and a petting zoo. It's sort of strangely designed, with very few vantage points for viewing the animals, but seemingly lots of places to hide. A good time though. Sadly my camera battery died before I could get a picture of the Urdu, the "smallest deer in the world." That thing was CUTE.
Flushing Meadows: Queens ZooFlushing Meadows: Queens Zoo

UrubambaAfter a nap back at home, we hit Urubamba, a Peruvian restaurant around the corner I've always been intimidated by. Living in a largely immigrant neighborhood, there are a few stores and restaurants around where I don't feel entirely welcome. I'll own the fact that that's probably more about my own prejudices than about reality, but the feeling is still there. As it turns out, I needn't have worried about Urubamba, which is not only fun to say out loud, it was full of non-Spanish-speakers. And the food was delicious. Another unusual appetizer: "Crispy mashed potato." Sort of a knish crossed with a meat pie. Another culinary adventure, much cheaper and closer to home.

The Staycation was clearly becoming about food, and Monday turned into Carb Day. It was the one day we hadn't made any plans at all for, though we had some ideas. After walking around so much in Flushing we weren't up for a big day trip or another museum (one of the things Staycation has over Vacation is not feeling like you're wasting your trip if you have a lazy day). Tara wanted to try the Wafels & Dinges truck, which was parked in her neighborhood, and asked if we wanted to join her. This seemed like a perfect Staycation activity! So after bagels for breakfast, we had Belgian waffles for lunch. Mine had bacon in it, and maple syrup and ice cream on it. And it was perfection. This is the only photo I took this day!
August 16: Bacon Waffle with Maple Syrup and Ice Cream

We'd planned to see a movie but couldn't really decide what. It was between Toy Story 3 and The Kids Are All Right with some Scott Pilgrim thrown in. We didn't feel like rushing anywhere so we hung out with Tara for a while and meandered down to 42nd Street, and when we got there we needed air conditioning and the only thing starting any time soon was Salt. Which turned out to be a pretty perfect brainless summer movie, and surprisingly a ton of fun. Also it turns out we dodged a bullet; later that day we learned the theatre where Scott Pilgrim and Kids Are All Right were playing had a bedbug infestation.

From there we went to the new branch of Shake Shack, which we'd never been to (any of them, not just the new one). It was early for dinner, so there wasn't the usual line. I can't say I understand what all the fuss is about, but it was definitely a good burger and a good shake, and ended Carb Day just right. Boy had a prior commitment at night, so I spent the evening on the couch, digesting.

On Tuesday we rented a ZipCar (our first time doing so, and I highly recommend it!) and headed to Long Island. The original plan was to hit some wineries (there's a whole little section of them on the Northern coast, just an hour and a half or so from home) and find a beach. Boy needed some new work clothes and it turned out there's an outlet mall right on the way. We figured we'd stop and buy some pants and have lunch and be on our way. In fact, we were there for four hours. This place is so huge it's in two sections and you have to drive from one to the other. I wasn't prepared for how many housewares stores there would be, including a Williams-Sonoma and a Le Creuset. And there were some really good deals. For two people who don't really like shopping very much, we kinda cleaned up. I'm both a little cheap and a little acquisitive (ok, a lot) so a good outlet mall is a dangerous sweet spot for me.

Long Island Wineries
We did make it to two wineries before they closed, which was really fun. We tasted a bunch of stuff and came home with four reasonably priced bottles. And it was pretty.

Long Island: Wildwood State Park From there we found Wildwood State Park. It's kind of a bummer of a beach, with pebbles instead of sand and not much there. But it was pretty to look at if not comfy to sit on, and we got our summer ocean (does Long Island Sound count?) fix. We hung out for a bit, felt suitably relaxed, and headed home for take-out sushi and one of our new bottles of wine. The cat was glad we'd gone shopping too:

Kitten in a Bag!

For our last day of Staycation, we hit the pre-fixe lunch at Nougatine, one of Jean George Vongerichten's restaurants at Columbus Circle. For those of you in NYC, this is a fantastic deal if you want to have a nice meal on a budget. I felt a little self-conscious taking pictures (I figure they're used to it at WD-50) but trust me, everything was amazing.

We walked off lunch by heading across the park and uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I hadn't been to since I was a kid. I have to say, I'm not a huge fan. I tend to breeze through museums pretty quickly, and the Met had a maze-like quality that makes that impossible. I don't like being forced down a particular path either, but I like when it's possible to explore a building in a linear way. We frequently doubled-back through places we'd been, not necessarily on purpose, and had a hard time finding things we were looking for, including, eventually, the exit. That said, I'm very glad we went. One of the things I liked best was the architecture of the building itself, seeing how new additions were incorporated and how it plays with the park outside. (Of course, that's a big part of what made it maze-like, but at least I could appreciate it!)
Metropolitan Museum of Art Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of my favorite things there right now (it ends soon, I think) is a bamboo sculpture on the roof. "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like," and I liked this a lot. I neither know nor care what it "means," I just thought it looked wicked cool. You can climb it (there's a walkway, not like a jungle gym) but only on set tours at certain times of day, which was a bummer. But I love the way it plays with the skyline and sort of takes on this weird life.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

By the time we left the museum we were exhausted, and flopped down in the park for a bit. And that was our staycation! I seriously can't recommend it highly enough. I mean, I love going places too (though I really hope we see teleportation in my lifetime, 'cause boy do I hate traveling), and that license being away from home gives you to really escape your life, but there's a lot to be said for sleeping in your own bed too. There was definitely no sense of "now we'll do projects at home." We went out and did things we don't normally do, so it really didn't feel like our day-to-day lives even though we were home.
Staycation's End


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suck coz I only appear to be able to think of one joke and one joke alone...

Why did the plane crash into the house????