New York City; the Big Apple; the city that never sleeps; Gotham; whatever you call it, this is a place that should be on every bucket list as a trip that must be made at least once in every lifetime. So VIVA made the decision to send someone over to check out the very best the city has to offer. To my horror, I was selected to go. Of course I?m being ironic? I couldn?t wait to jump the pond.
Manhattan island is a mere 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles at its widest.
Except at its northern and southern tips, the borough?s avenues run roughly north to south and streets run east to west. So if you can count and know your alphabet, you should be able to navigate your way around the city quite easily. For those who like bright sunny days the best time to visit is mid-April through June before the humidity monster rears its ugly head in July and August. The seasonal change to fall is stunning as well, complete with trees showing a variety of colours and a crispness in the air which ultimately leads into the frigid winter time of late November through February.
My journey started with a short but sweet visit to the beautiful town of Ridgefield, Connecticut.? This is one of the states in the Tri-State area (ie New York, New Jersey & Connecticut) that is steeped in American history. Mind you, historical in the States means buildings that are about 200 years old (a mere drop in the bucket in comparison to Britannia) so be gentle and try not to giggle when the locals throw the word historical around. Anyway, there are many quaint little streets lined with traditional Colonial homes and boutiques that add to the considerable charm of the area. It?s also home to some very highly-rated restaurants, with the likes of Bernard?s, (voted Best French Restaurant 2013 by CT Magazine) Mannen?s, Luc?s, Toscana and Bailey?s ready to satisfy your craving from every type of cuisine.
Another area just outside of New York is Westchester County, which was where the new ridiculously minted families of early 1900s (pre-dating the era of income tax) like the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Vanderbilts would escape the hustle and bustle of the city to build impressive manor houses, many of which are now museums or converted into stunning hotels. One such place is Tarrytown House Estate which was the not-so-modest home of philanthropist Mary Duke Biddle. Certainly one of the gems of the Hudson River valley this massive estate comprises of a beautifully appointed hotel, conference centre, a separate fitness centre building with swimming pool, ballroom and atrium. My favourite part of the estate is Cellar 49 which was previously the bowling alley of the eccentric Ms. Duke. Much of the original architectural features have been kept intact and the lovely furnishings and d?cor make it a very cosy space. Waiting for dinner we had a few drinks at the bar which has gorgeous dark wood features and a fantastic wine list.? I wasn?t expecting the top-notch quality of the food; fresh ingredients, beautiful flavours and stunning presentation. The service was impeccable, with the staff making us feel genuinely welcome. Prices were great for the quality of the food, service and surroundings. Without question, it is well worth the short train ride from the city to the ?burbs to spend some time soaking up the grandeur of this estate.
Back in the big city there is no shortage of hotel rooms and you will find most to be on the pricey side, even for less er, reputable establishments. This is where I recommend you to check TripAdvisor, disregard the gushing comments at the very top (likely posted by the owner or employees) and the hateful low marks on the bottom (likely posted by their competitors) and you?ll find the truth somewhere in the middle. After some deliberation we decided on the elegant Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue in mid-town Manhattan. The d?cor is a stunning tribute to Japanese culture, featuring custom-designed mahogany and cherry furnishings and all the accoutrements of a world-class hotel. The luxury suites are gob-smacking in size. The executive suites have split levels leading you from one elegant room to the next, each with state of the art electronics of all sorts (yes, even the loo has some surprises for you) and simply stunning views of some of the most iconic buildings in the city. Much to the delight of team VIVA there was the Tatami Suite, featuring all-natural wood floors, authentic Japanese tatami mats and shoji paper screens. Located on the 17th floor of the hotel, the suite offers either two twin beds or customary futons and a bathroom where you?ll find a soaking tub and separate washing area. Views of Park Avenue are framed by soundproof windows to enhance the tranquil atmosphere. In true Japanese tradition, you are required to kick off your Louboutins before entering.
Located on the lower level of the hotel you will find Hakubai Japanese Restaurant. Executive Chef Yukihiro Sato offers the celebrated culinary tradition known as Kaiseki cuisine. Kaiseki is a delicate cuisine with roots in Zen Buddhism and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Meals are served on exquisite porcelain, pottery and lacquer dishware with the freshest ingredients in their offerings of Shabu Shabu, Kobe Beef, Sushi, Sashimi , and Tempura. And, if a classy jazz brunch tickles your fancy, each Sunday afternoon you can dine on a buffet of both breakfast and supper items in Jazz At Kitano, the jazz club and restaurant also situated in the hotel. Cocktails and small to large plates are available at Jazz At Kitano every day of the week as well, while listening to the A-list acts that the club attracts.
Any trip to New York should include a visit to one of the most renowned hotels ever built, the Waldorf Astoria. As one of the first grand hotels, it has been revered worldwide for over a century for its sheer opulence. An official New York City landmark since 1993, the Art Deco property occupies an entire city block of prime, mid-town Manhattan real estate. Housed within the hotel is one of the finest spas on the planet, the Guerlain Spa and Fitness Center. With every conceivable luxury treatment available in a stunning environment, it was tough to decide on which area of my body I wanted to focus. The Jet Lag treatment of hydrotherapy, reflexology and facial lasts 150 minutes and? looked like a winner but at $555 it was a tad out of our price range. However we did enjoy a beautiful facial treatment and body massage that left us in a complete and utter state of relaxation with a lovely dewy glow on our face for the evening ahead.
With the multitude of incredible sights to see in Manhattan, it becomes a challenge to try to visit all of the world famous landmarks in the amount of time you have. Your best bet is to try to kill as many birds with one stone as possible. The only way to enjoy top notch cuisine AND check out the city?s skyline is to board a World Yacht Dinner Cruise. The sleek, stylish luxury yacht sets the stage for an extraordinary 4 hour voyage around the Hudson River. The excursion leaves from the docks on the West Side of Manhattan and, before setting sail, we enjoyed drinks and nibbles to whet our appetite for what was to come. It is, simply put, a floating 5 star restaurant. The staff offer first class service and you will want for nothing. The best part of the trip was being able to stand out on the deck between courses in awe of the sights. With New York City as the ultimate backdrop, we enjoyed a mouth-watering 4 course meal and cocktails and afterwards we felt the need to throw some shapes on the dance floor. It was certainly up there on my all-time favourite holiday moments because we got to see this stunning city from a completely different perspective. It was very cool passing landlubbers who exchanged friendly waves with the passengers and pretending for a moment this floating oasis belonged to us. For you day trippers, there are brunch cruises available as well and, if you are planning a trip to the city this summer, there are special cruises for Mother?s Day, Father?s Day and the spectacular 4th of July celebration cruise. And did I mention it is an incredible value given the superb quality of everything the evening has to offer? You?ll be hard pressed to find a better dinner cruise anywhere.
If you fancy dinner on dry land and want to experience the true?culinary history of New York, you simply must make a trip to Delmonico?s Steakhouse in lower Manhattan. Opening its doors in 1827 as the first restaurant in America, some of the other firsts for this landmark include the first dining establishment in America to be called by the French name ?Restaurant,? the first restaurant to have a printed menu, the first restaurant to offer a separate wine list, the first restaurant to allow women to congregate as a group, the first restaurant to have a ?star? chef and the original home of Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newburg, the Delmonico Steak and Delmonico Potatoes. The building itself sends you back in time to all the grandeur of the turn of the century. Everything screams luxury from the minute you enter the door. The menu itself offered so many appealing choices that it took us ages to decide what to order. After a busy day of traipsing all over the city we went mental and ordered five different scrumptious courses each and ate for hours on end. We even got a visit from the Executive Chef, Billy Oliva, who takes the time to come out of the kitchen and spend time with diners to get their feedback on the meals. Charming, good looking and talented far beyond his years, we developed quite a crush on Billy. And the wine list. Oh, the wine list. Even the aficionados at the table were duly impressed by the quality of the vintages on offer. Delmonico?s should be at the very top of any visitors list and expect to dig into your wallet as it?s priced accordingly. If you can?t wait until your next trip to try some of these classic dishes, there is a cookbook available to purchase online so you can try your hand at recreating the cuisine that made this place famous. Good luck with that by the way. Anyway, it?s an absolute must for true die-hard foodies. I?m starting to drool slightly just reminiscing about it so let?s move on shall we?
Brits love their tea and, much to our delight, New York?s most fashionable address, The Plaza Hotel, is the premier destination for Afternoon Tea. A famous tradition at The Plaza, the Afternoon Tea service blends an innovative menu with a formal tea to provide superb service and tempting cuisine in a truly opulent setting.? Chef Johnny Franco and Pastry Chef, Jasmina Bojic?s menu is classic with contemporary flair featuring delectable sandwiches, savouries, pastries and sweets. You can sip on tea, or choose to liven things up with a sampling of champagnes to wash down your nibbles. I highly recommend the latter. ?hiccup? Yet another award winning restaurant residing within yet another landmark hotel, Asiate offers ?a taste of Asia in the Big Apple? at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Columbus Circle. This happens to be located right at the entrance of Central Park and offers views that will render you speechless. Executive Chef Toni Robertson has an impressive history of breaking records, becoming the first female chef of a luxury hotel in South East Asia being one of them. As soon as you step through the doors, it oozes ambience and class. There was almost a reverence amongst the diners for what they were experiencing on their plates and in their wine glasses. I?d recommend the Prix Fix? menu as it offers exquisite dishes like Crab Rissotto or Foie Gras Torchon as starters and Atlantic Halibut or Wagyu Beef as mains. For dessert we went with Chocolate Cr?meux, Lemon Gelato and Bay Leaf Pannacotta to share. There is the option of a tasting menu for the entire table with paired wines but bring your appetite because you will be tasting six incredible dishes of Himachi, Buckwheat and Eggs, Diver Scallops, Atlantic Halibut, Lobster and Wagyu Beef. This is followed by a sampling of four gorgeous dessert choices. You can expect to pay a premium price for food of this quality but in our humble opinion it is worth every penny.
The rest of our short trip was spent dashing from the Empire State Building to Grand Central Station, over to the Chrysler Building and on to Macy?s for some shopping. Heading downtown to the financial district, we paid our respects at the 911 memorial and strolled along the boardwalk of the South Street Seaport. It was sad to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy with historic seaside landmarks completely wiped off the face of the earth while other attractions are only starting to recover from the extensive damage. Later we hopped on the subway for a trip to Prospect Park in Brooklyn with its classic brownstones and a stroll through the park itself which easily rivals Central Park in beauty and size. I developed a new-found respect for Brooklyn as it tends to get a bad rap thanks to movies and television. The next day we took an expensive taxi ride to the Bronx to visit Arthur Avenue for some of the best Italian food the five boroughs have to offer. A quick bus ride took us over to Broadway in Riverdale and we popped into a few of the mostly Irish bars dotted everywhere along the massive boulevard. Alas our time was soon up and it was time to bid farewell to this beloved city. I?ll see you in about 12 months, New York. And save a bagel wit? a schmear for me, will ya?
words: Bernie Kelly