Tour New York City Like a Local
Excited for the long weekend ahead, we woke up early on our first morning at the Dominick and ordered room service. It was the best way to savor our suite’s Hudson River view before a busy day in Brooklyn. Since it was warm outside, we decided to meander through Soho toward the Canal Street station, where we’d pick up the Q train. As we walked, the streets thrummed with life: Against a cacophony of traffic noise, bike messengers whizzed by and shoppers jockeyed for space on the crowded sidewalk. Once we were on the subway, we couldn’t help getting giddy when the train came above ground onto the Manhattan Bridge and we caught a glimpse of the skyline.
Ascending the station stairs in Park Slope, where most buildings don’t exceed five stories, we were struck by how much more light and air there seemed to be. We felt our pulses slow as we crossed Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Heights and walked along a quiet, tree-lined block to James, a small New American restaurant. The chef, Bryan Calvert, is an alum of the Manhattan foodie temple Bouley, but here his cooking is sublimely straightforward.
Our lunch of black kale salad, truffle fries, and burgers topped with speck fortified us for our next stop: Prospect Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, about a decade after they completed Central Park. We could see immediately why the pair called this less-touted oasis their masterpiece. The grassy, gently undulating Long Meadow is expansive but also feels completely sheltered from the busy streets beyond the park’s borders. A walk through the ravine area, with its 100-foot gorge that connects a waterfall, several pools, and the lake, makes you feel like you’ve left Brooklyn for the mountains upstate. And with its thick tree canopy, the park is also home to the only remaining natural forest in Brooklyn. We spent the next few hours exploring and left through the gates at Ninth Street, which leads to the center of Park Slope. It was only 5:30, but we were trying to get a table at Talde, the cultishly popular Park Slope restaurant run by former Top Chef contestant Dale Talde. Most nights, he can be found in the open kitchen (look for his baseball cap) turning out flavorful Pan-Asian dishes like oyster-and-bacon pad thai, Korean fried chicken, and pretzel pork-and-chive dumplings. After sampling them, we realized that we would have happily waited longer for food this good.
After dinner, we called a car service for the short drive to the Old American Can Factory, a restored complex in the adjoining Gowanus neighborhood. The factory is one of the venues for Rooftop Films, an outdoor summer festival that showcases groundbreaking new movies. Looking out over the neat rows of Brooklyn brownstones and the twinkling lights of Manhattan in the distance, it seemed fitting that we began our day with one striking panorama, and were ending it with another.
Today we opted for a slower pace and started the day with brunch at The Dutch, where reservations are encouraged because pretty much every New Yorker has become obsessed with Andrew Carmellini and his modern take on American regional food. The toughest part was deciding what to order from the Southern-inflected menu: We settled on cornmeal flapjacks and scrambled eggs with smoked sable, but couldn’t resist adding a curry sugar doughnut and honey-butter biscuits. (Can you ever have too much at brunch?)
We left delightfully sated and glad that we’d planned to spend the rest of the afternoon on foot exploring shops and galleries in SoHo and the Lower East Side. We were overwhelmed (in a good way) by Intermix, a boutique clearinghouse with wares from nearly 200 American and European designers, and A Second Chance, a discriminating consignment shop known for stocking fashionista finds like Hermes bags, Chanel dresses and Prada shoes for well-below-retail prices.
Overcome by shoppers’ exhaustion, we refueled with thick Aztec hot chocolate at the MarieBelle chocolate shop’s Cacao Bar before continuing east toward the Bowery. Once the city’s skid row, and later home to tattoo parlors, dive bars and the infamous punk club CBGB’s, this thoroughfare has seen rapid gentrification in the last decade as luxury condos sprung up and the opening of the New Museum drew gallery owners to the area. Though the Sperone Westwater gallery’s graphite drawings and twisted bronze sculptures were intriguing, we were most fascinated by the room-size elevator that blends with the rest of the exhibition space—until it starts moving between floors.
We returned to the hotel to relax before taking a taxi to Pier 11, just south of South Street Seaport, to board a ferry to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Taking a subway would have been just as easy, but we wanted to get out on the water and see the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and the sun setting behind the Statue of Liberty. We disembarked at Williamsburg’s North Sixth pier and walked to Zenkichi, a sexy Japanese brasserie with booths so cozy and private each one comes with a buzzer to get the staff’s attention. Since we were feeling adventurous and didn’t want to think too hard, we ordered the chef’s omakase (tasting menu), which features the day’s freshest sashimi with an assortment of dishes like yellowtail with pickled cherry leaves and grilled Berkshire pork.
The hostess called a car service to take us back to SoHo, and we asked the driver to drop us at Pegu Club, a dimly lit second-floor bar with Asian-style decor and a speakeasy feel. (The downstairs door is unmarked except for the bar’s green lion crest.) This is not a place to order wine or beer, as the mixologists—don’t call them bartenders—have elevated cocktail-concocting to an art form. We each tried the Whiskey Smash, a potent blend of rye, whiskey, simple syrup and the freshest lemon juice and mint we’ve ever tasted. Our drinks, like everything else that day, more than lived up to the hype.
We started our final day with a subway ride up to the Flatiron District, named for the area’s famously triangular turn-of-the-century building. But it was Mario Batali’s Eataly, currently the world’s largest Italian food and wine emporium, that lured us there. Tourists mob the food halls during the weekend, so we were headed straight up to Birreria, the rooftop brewery. It’s a casual spot, with bright red chairs, simple wooden tables and a retractable glass roof that makes it feel like a greenhouse.
The restaurant’s three house-made ales are brewed in a small room just steps from the main dining area. The creamy, full-bodied beers paired beautifully with the housemade sausages, cured meats and artisanal Italian cheeses. We could have easily spent another hour enjoying the view of the Met Life Tower, one of the city’s early Renaissance-Revival skyscrapers. But we’d planned another outer-borough excursion to the Noguchi Museum in Queens. (We opted to book the Noguchi’s Sunday shuttle bus service from the Upper East Side.)
The museum showcases the sculptures, furniture and public works models of Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi, who collaborated with dancer Martha Graham and designer Charles Eames, among others. (If the Akari Light Sculptures look familiar, it’s because they’ve been widely copied by retailers like Ikea.) We loved the intimate feel of the cleverly designed museum, which is housed in a converted industrial complex that has a sculpture garden in the middle featuring Noguchi’s large-scale pieces.
We headed back to the Upper East Side, hailed a cab, and zoomed down to The Modern, the French-American restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art. We settled in at the bar room, a clubby space that serves small plates of updated Alsatian fare like buckwheat spaetzle with yellowfin tuna. The museum was hosting one of its free summer concerts in the sculpture garden that night, featuring musicians from Lincoln Center. As a breeze rustled across the reflecting pond and birds chirped quietly, we waited alongside locals for the music to begin, all of us smug in our knowledge that on a warm summer night in the city, there was no lovelier place to be.