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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Thursday: There May Be No Stairway, but $2 Goes a Long Way Toward a Little Bit of Heaven (aka the “Central Park Discovery” Post)

On Thursday night, I did dessert first.

photo-13I’ve begun to build in long stretches of city blocks (or river fronts, or parks) into my ways to get between places, and walking through Central Park I began wishing I had an ice cream thing. Or a popsicle thing. Or, in other words, the exact sort of treats that the park concession carts with the green-and-white umbrellas specialize in.

I’d never bought a frozen treat in the park before, and to be completely honest, I was expecting something closer to stadium prices: $4 and up. So I was shocked, I mean shocked, to discover that (with the exception of the Haagen Daaz and Ben & Jerry’s bars), hardly anything was more than $2-$3!

photo-14photo-12The best idea ever got better: My $2 Blue Bunny FrozFruit bananas & cream bar was only 160 calories, actually lists bananas as the third ingredient (after water and milk) and is not a shabby source of a couple of vitamins and minerals. And it only could have been improved by not being deep frozen — too impatient to wait for it to thaw, I had bitten through most of it by the time it got soft enough to melt in that pleasant way cold things on a stick have a tendency to do.

I have no idea what took me so long.

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.

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.

Memorial Day (Weekend) Wrap Up: BBQ, Rose and More

First-class eating and imbibing this weekend included many firsts of the season, including first barbecue, at a friend’s apartment in Williamsburg: 

photo-10I was so intrigued by this package of chicken legs at Whole Foods earlier this week — cheap price point, the whole “air-chilled never frozen” thing, the oddity factor of drumstick and thigh attached — that I bought it on impulse, without any real strategy. So Saturday morning I did a quick Google search and found a marinade recipe on epicurious.com that’s basically chili powder, honey and fresh lime juice. 

photo-11Okay, I confess: I’ve never actually grilled anything myself. There’s always been plenty of experts on hand (like this guy, at the other barbecue happening next to ours) that are more than willing to step up and man the process. And I know chicken can be finicky, as in, all of the sudden it’s too done, so I was mildly anxious for about a quarter of an hour. (The beer in hand did help.) 

photo-12Turns out I needn’t been anxious at all; the chicken turned out beautifully. 

Another first: Today, I packed a picnic lunch and adventured into Central Park for what turned out to be such a lovely afternoon I made a promise to myself that I’ll try to do the same thing every weekend this summer that: a.) I’m in town, and b.) the weather cooperates. 

photo-9

I made a few stops in the neighborhood, first, to Agata & Valentina to pick up a Portugese roll from the grocer’s bakery, which I still can’t believe is so quality and so convenient. The second stop was at McCabe’s Wines and Spirits en route to the park, where I picked up a bottle of Casal Garcia Rose (Portugal) — and this Built NY one-bottle tote; what a brilliant product! 

The park was busy, but in a very idyllic, pastoral way: Couples lounged in bathing suits or summer attire on blankets; dogs and children frolicked; murmmers of conversation and laughter floated up the hill toward where I’d staked out my blanket (at the top, of course).

photo-8My sandwich is a definite repeat, I’m thinking as early as lunch tomorrow: Brie, basil, red bell pepper, sprouts, zucchini on the Portugese roll drizzled with white truffle flavored EVOO. All in all, a perfect afternoon in Central Park. If this is what summer is gonna look like, I say, bring it on!