Friday, May 25, 2012

Girls Weekend in NYC

Every spring for the past several years, the women of my family have gathered in NYC for a weekend of food and adventure. At first I went on my own, but as Isabel and Faye have gotten older, they’ve come along also. My cousins Seanna and Rachel both live in the city, and my Aunt Stanis lives just outside of it on Long Island. My mom comes up from Maryland and my sister Lynne from Virginia, bringing along her daughter Megan and often her friend Kathy. Sometimes other cousins join in, and a stray male or two, who are also always welcome. This year, Seanna’s baby Gideon participated for the first time.

With busy teenagers in our lives, we all had a hard time finding a weekend that worked for everyone, so Faye and I went without Isabel. She was away for the weekend attending a young writers’ conference, and since she’ll be spending a month in the city this summer at a Barnard program, she was willing to forgo this trip. I had been to New York with just Isabel a few times before, but never alone with Faye, so it was Faye’s turn for a mother-daughter getaway.

We arrived on Friday afternoon before the others. After settling in, we headed downtown to visit the 9/11 Memorial.

I had been home alone with Faye on that morning ten years ago and vividly remember hearing the news on NPR. It was just a few weeks before Faye’s third birthday, and without thinking I turned on the TV to get more information. I watched her face as the screen displayed the towers burning. Her bright blue eyes showed more confusion than fear. More than once she simply asked “Why?”. Later that day she drew a picture of swirling black clouds and jagged red lines. 

I often wonder how this event and its continuing aftermath have marked the lives of this generation of Americans; whether they’ll be kinder and gentler than their parents. Walking around the stunning memorial, which is more beautiful than I anticipated, I was struck by how peaceful it is. The footprints of the buildings, now fountains that cascade into a void, are mesmerizingly serene; no small feat for a site in the middle of Wall Street.

Later that evening we met up with everyone for dinner. I’m usually tasked with lining up the restaurants, which I happily do, and over the years we’ve eaten at an eclectic array of excellent places. We’d been to Hearth before and it’s a favorite. Located in the funky East Village near Rachel’s apartment, it serves creative Italian food and an interesting, award-winning selection of wine. Faye and I shared a scallop appetizer served with greens and smoky chunks of bacon--one of my favorite combinations--and then we both had the lamb, which was done three ways: roasted loin, spiced-smoked rib, and Merguez sausage. The generous portions of meat were balanced by peas, carrots, and a surprising sprinkling of cilantro. I had room for about two bites of the Valrhona Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream that several of us split.

We’re an extended family dominated by women and the resemblance among us can be striking. Here’s Faye with my cousin Rachel (who’s twenty years older than Faye):

Typically during the day, we break up into smaller groups based on what people are interested in doing, but we always reconvene for dinner. On Saturday, some of us went over to check out the High Line, a park recently built on a decrepit elevated rail line in Chelsea.

It’s an ingenious reuse of an historic structure and has completely transformed the neighborhood. With its artful landscape design, interspersed with wooden benches, birdhouses, and sculpture, the High Line is New York City at its best: creative, resourceful, and constantly reinventing itself.

Not unlike my mom, who is now the matriarch of my family. At barely five feet tall, with an adventurous spirit and an infectious laugh, she wears her title with flair. She’s the most youthful seventy-four-year old that I know, and I hope I age as gracefully as she has.

Photo by Kathy Willoughby

For a pre-theater dinner before Spiderman, we went to DB Bistro Moderne, one of Daniel Bouloud’s restaurants. It’s right in the heart of the theater district and, of the many restaurants we tried in this neighborhood, it’s one of the best. An upscale bistro, they’re renowned for their burger stuffed with foie gras. They also offer a pre-theater prix fixe, which is a good value at $45.00. Of the three choices, I opted for arugula salad with shaved Parmesan, followed by skate wing with creamy artichoke puree, oyster mushrooms, and peppery mizuna.

Dessert, which I shared, got devoured so quickly that I couldn’t snap a picture. It was a work of art, though—an elaborate chocolate cake with caramel drizzles, accompanied by extra dark chocolate ice cream.

We always gather again on Sunday for brunch, and this year we tried the Standard Grill, which also happens to be located in Chelsea, right under the High Line. It’s part of the Standard Hotel, a hip, happening modern architectural landmark that soars above the High Line.

Both the restaurant and the hotel have a very cool vibe. I couldn’t resist the lemony Chicken Paillard, pounded thin and then grilled. Accompanied by arugula and cherry tomatoes, it was light and refreshing, perfect for an unseasonably warm day.

I sat next to my Aunt Stanis and Uncle Mike, and we talked about travel, movies, and opera, three of their passions.

Over the course of the weekend, we also made stops at Zabar’s, that shrine to New York noshing, a great Mexican find called Dos Caminos, and Bouchon Bakery, where you can sample Thomas Keller’s creations in a way that’s more affordable than a meal at Per Se. The namesake chocolate bouchon, or cork, is a two-bite chocolate sensation.

The view of Columbus Circle through the floor-to-ceiling windows at Time Warner Center where Bouchon is located is alone worth a visit.

My sister Lynne may be even more of a chocoholic than I am. One of the mornings she had a whole piece of chocolate cake for breakfast. Seventeen months older than I am, Lynne is tall and athletic (so she can get away with cake for breakfast on occasion).  Her daughter Megan looks a lot like her and is five months older than Faye. Seeing the two of them together reminds me a lot of Lynne and me when we were younger.

On the train ride home, Faye and I rested our sore feet and laughed about a few bizarre encounters we had with some of the natives. We returned home tired, but sated.

Photo by Kathy Willoughby


  1. Great job capturing the weekend, Sheila! I want to go back soon...

    1. Always a fun time there. It was great visiting with you and Megan!