Sunday: The Perfect Pre-Park Pit Stop (Hint: It’s the Only Thing Swedish About Columbus Circle)

One of these days, I’ll get around to actually dining in at AQ Kafé in Columbus Circle — the room certainly looks pleasant enough, with its woods and Swedish minimalism, and the menu is stacked with classic Swedish entreés you just don’t find in every neighborhood.

photo-5But so far, I just haven’t been able to get past the draw of that oasis of green that lingers in your peripheral view, no matter where you look. Every time I’ve been here so far there comes a point when I give in, forget it, let’s just get something to-go and go find a place to sit in Central Park.

I mean, it’s right there.

I’ve tried a number of things before, including the gravlax sandwich ($9.95), the potato salad and pickled cucumbers ($2.95 ea.), all worthy picnic items. Yesterday, looking for the simplest thing to put in my stomach that wouldn’t have me sugar-crashing two hours later, I tried one of their bagels ($1.95), which are made fresh daily in their bakery.

photo-6photo-7Cheap, fresh, original — and of modest size. This bagel appeals to me more than any other plain bagel of recent memory. An everything bagel sandwich stacked with gravlax, tomato, onion, capers, cream cheese, etc., from a fine purveyor like Murray’s Bagels is in a class of its own, but in general, the huge, doughy bagels people order in delis around the city every day and they terrify me. I can only think of one word: Dry. So, so, dry. And so, so bland.

On the other hand, AQ Kafe’s bagel is… delightful. Just like that green space that’s right across the street.

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Saturday: “This Is How They Do It in France” (aka the “Central Park Bliss” Post)

First ride on my new bike, Caliente:

We entered Central Park around 80th Street on the East side, went up and around the top, and … break.  Near the quiet, algae-filled pond just south of the Great Hill, we stopped for a late lunch, Euro-style.

photo(4)photo(3)Which means: A baguette; some sliced porchetta from Agata & Valentina; deli-sliced Swiss cheese; an English cucumber (thin-sliced) for condiment. Some assembly required. (Good-for-you Apple & Eve fruit punch juice boxes from my fridge.)

… the loveliness of the afternoon? No imagination required. None, whatsoever.

Sunday: Manhattan Circumference Scouting Trip (aka the Epic Bike Ride)

On Sunday, I biked the circumference of Manhattan. Clocking in at almost 35 miles, (including a few errant detours), I wouldn’t exactly call this an eating-centric ride, although we did make some great pit stops.

photo-9What it was, was: Part adventure, part fitness challenge, part remedy to summer island fever — if we didn’t get off the island literally, at least we were in parts we’d never seen before — and a really amazing day.

Our route: We began on the West Side bike path at about Christopher Street, 10:45 a.m. We headed in a counter-clockwise direction for one reason: Oh how sweet it is for the last fifth of the ride to just cruise down that long, curving bike path that runs along the West Side of the island, from nearly 200th Street all the way home. Nearly a straight  shot (no more lumpy island bell curves adding mileage), the sun on your face, virtually flat track. It’s the only way to finish.

On the topic of lumpy island bell curves … the bottom bit is full of them. I thought it outrageous when it was proposed that our first stop would be above 40th Street on the East Side but, in fact, it makes so much sense. Power through, and do it. Slog through that bottom part and take a snack/juice/coffee break once you’re clear of it. There’s still a whole lot of island left.

photophoto-1 Pit Stop no. 1: Orchard House Cafe, E. 58th Street at Fifth First Avenue. What a little gem! I’ve walked within two blocks of here, but had never seen it before. As we rode by, I literally slammed on the breaks — we have to stop here.

It’s a total neighborhood spot: Light meals, coffee stop by day, in the evening it kicks up a notch with wine and miscellaneous entertainment. The food isn’t exactly gourmet, but they bring in from decent sources. My angel food cake “muffin” with a drizzle of lemon frosting on top was so light and fluffy, almost efferescent — the perfect alternative for anyone who is not into hard, dense muffins.

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Pit Stop no. 2: Indian Road Market & Cafe, 218th Street at Indian Road. Indian Road is, essentially, the northern-most road on the island. (There’s a park on top of that that is technically closer to the proverbial tip, but this is the last establishment.)

I love this place! Inside, it’s a coffee shop/specialty market on one side — really great refridgerated case of craft beers — and a proper sit-down restaurant and bar on the other. On weekends, a live pianist gives the place a real sense of class. The staff are delightful.

In the park across the road, we shared a lovely but simple salad spruced up with a side of breakfast sausage (perk of brunch menu). and a couple of bottles of GUS Extra Dry Ginger Ale — so fizzy and refreshing.

photo-8photo-6 Pit Stop no. 3: Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue, W. 131st Street at Riverside Drive. With only about 130 blocks left to go, it was time to celebrate. A giant plate of some of the most giant chicken wings in the city and a bucket of El Presidente beers (6) did the trick — a small meal by Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue standards, but oh so satisfying nonetheless. Powered by beer and wings, we were on cruise mode the rest of the way home.

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Dinner: Wine, Cheese, a Little NY Phil, and About 100 Thousand New Friends

By far, the largest communal picnic I’ve ever been at.

photo-2I’ve seen a lot of crowds, but this was a first. Nearly 100,000 New Yorkers and friends, all eating, drinking, laughing, managing to carve out a tiny plot of grass in which to hold court.

Our really impromptu picnic — well, my attendance was impromptu — consisted of a pair of cheeses and salumi from Murray’s Cheese Shop, some other crudities, a bottle of wine, and nearly 100,000 of our new, closest friends. (I keep repeating that number because really, it was amazing!)

photophoto-1My favorite of the night was the Asher Blue (right), a cow’s milk blue cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy of Georgia. As the story goes, the cheesemongers at Murray’s were so impressed by the prototype that they bought the entire inaugural batch.

I don’t blame them — this is a really, really interesting cheese. This blue is so young that it’s almost not blue. (Well, that’s not true, but it is such a baby!) You can see the mold is still mostly contained to pockets, and spreading outward, but that large sections of cheese remain a strightforward cow’s milk cheese, more or less. Check out this picture of a much more mature Asher Blue. What a difference! I, for one, was really enjoying the contrasts of the cheese. I’m going to be checking in on it at Murray’s while their supplies last, and see how perceptably it changes.

The “This Is Where I Vindicate My Bias Against Wraps” Post

photo(5)I have no problem with food piled onto a large, circular form that is then tucked and rolled into a cylindrical shape: I love burritos; I grew up less than 100 miles from the Mexican border. I love crepes; I love dosas; I love Swedish pancakes (Lingonberry jam and breakfast sausage, mmm).

But what I can’t stand is that American invention, the “wrap,” wherein a bland, pasty tortilla, often a red or green color (why?), is stuffed with traditional, “healthful” sandwich goods (“tuna salad wrap,” “Caesar salad wrap”). There’s just something fundamentally wrong about the wrap phenomenon.
photo(4)Then there are the rolls at Kati Roll Co. — they are everything the “wrap” wishes it could be, but will never, ever achieve.

For starters, the Indian wrap is so delicate, so thin it’s translucent and tears apart like a crêpe. (A majority of the rolls come with a scrambled egg patty, which sets into the wrap almost perfectly and offers some structural support.)
photoThe homemade wrap is heated on an old, cast iron grill before being stuffed with savory, Indian-spiced proteins — chicken, beef, paneer cheese, minced lamb kababs are the options — topped with sliced red onion and doused with a zingy, bright green cilantro sauce. Wow.

Since I was only having one (they’re often eaten in pairs), I went for the big one: an Unda Shami Roll, with egg and two spicy minced mutton kababs. One was substantial: There was certainly a hamburger’s worth of lamb meat inside.

photo(2)Finally! After a rocky start to food today, I found harmony: The heat of the roll, balanced by the sweet of the mango juice drink; the heat of the day, balanced by the cool shade of Bryant Park; the stress of work momentarily forgotten.