Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Foods of NY Tours


...the one in which the editor of Vogue and I become BFF's...or not.




Greenwich Village...really, one of the most intriguing and culturally-rich areas in Manhattan...and one that I definitely wanted to explore deeper. With that in mind, I ended up booking a three-hour food & cultural walking tour of Greenwich Village with a company called Foods of New York Tours. The reviews were very positive, and it's ranked #12 out of 420 activities on TripAdvisor - which is amazing. For the three of us, our cost was $147.00. This would not only cover our tour cost, but also all food costs - and there promised to be plenty of food. We had been told to "come hungry".

We arrived at our designated meeting place, Monte's Trattoria, at noon, in the West Village. As we sat inside the deliciously cool restaurant, our tour guide, Susan, checked us all in and gave us each a cold bottle of water. It would be needed, because the day was intensely hot. Susan introduced herself and gave us a bit of history about Greenwich Village, and what we could expect during the tour.

Soon, our group was walking down the beautiful, shaded sidewalks of Greenwich to our first stop, Caffe Dante, located at 79-81 MacDougal Street. It doesn't look like much from the exterior, but don't judge a "book by it's cover" - so to speak...this little Italian eatery is close to celebrating 100 years in business (it was established in 1915).




Susan briefly left us to enjoy the street views as she ran into to grab our first tasting - which turned out to be a delectable and delicious Mortadella sandwich:


Is it wrong that I salivate by just looking at this picture??!!


It had gooey, melted cheese. It had Italian sausage. And it had warm, flaky bread. NOMS. It was delicious. I could have seriously finished this and gone back to the hotel and been satisfied that I'd gotten my money's worth on the tour, as it was THAT GOOD. And this was only our first stop - EEP!

While savoring every crumb we all could squeeze out of this delicacy, we ambled down the sidewalk, where Susan pointed out various buildings and such...including this one:



Any guesses as to who lived in this townhouse?

Here's a hint: my skirt was "blowin' in the wind" while we were standing outside of it....

YES! This was Bob Dylan's townhouse - which he purchased in 1969 when he moved back to Manhattan from Woodstock. This is where one of Dylan's biggest "fans" (although I use that term loosely), A.J. Weberman, consistently dug through Dylan's garbage on the street - leading to a confrontation one day when Dylan beat Weberman up. This townhouse can be found at 92-94 MacDougal Street.

After saying goodbye to Bob, we strolled a bit further down MacDougal and then turned the corner onto Bleecker Street, once the heart of Bohemian culture in the 60's and 70's. Now, it's a nightclub district, but there are some very cool shops and restaurants to be found along here. Soon, Susan had us stopping outside one of them, Masala Times:



Masala is a south Asian spice mixture that typically includes garlic, ginger, chills and onions. It is this flavor that adds punch and heat to the sandwiches here at Masala Times, a small Bollywood-themed restaurant located at 194 Bleecker Street (in the West Village). Susan ran inside and soon came out with an Unda Bhurji Roll for us to sample:



This is really just an Indian-style scrambled egg burrito - and it was very flavorful....It would be a great breakfast/brunch snack, and it's reasonably priced at $3.99. We also sampled a delicious Mango Lassi - which is a mango and yogurt smoothie:


YUM! This was SOOOO good - and I don't even like mangos....how does that even WORK??!!


Even if the food wasn't delicious, (but it was!), this restaurant is worth a visit - just to see the humorous, tongue-in-cheek "Hollywood vs Bollywood" thing they have going on inside on the wall of the joint:



Daughter had asked what "Bollywood" was, and all I had to do was point out this mural on the wall. Who would have guessed that we'd get a lesson in Bollywood while roaming the streets of the Village??!!


Before crossing the street to our next stop, I couldn't help but laugh a bit at this street sign:



Because, you know, noise should be NECESSARY. Hee.


At 201 Bleecker Street, we visited this delightful little coffee and tea shop, Porto Rico Importing Company:



We walked in, and were immediately enveloped with the aromatic smells of hundreds of coffee beans....





Just about every kind of coffee bean you can imagine - or can't imagine, for that matter - can be found here. Chocolate mint? Yup. How about chocolate strudel? Yup. Peaches and cream. Yup.

EEP!

They've been in business since 1907, so they've had over a hundred years to expand their inventory and develop some AMAZING flavors! And I don't even LIKE coffee - but it smelled heavenly in this little shop.


We left, strolling down the street and going back around the block to MacDougal Street. Again, Susan kept talking, telling us the stories behind what we were seeing, and why some shops have managed to stay in business for a century in this neighborhood. We were soon back at Monte's Trattoria, where we were going to relax and have a "sit-down" meal.



A classic Italian restaurant, established back in 1918, here we were treated to some homemade farinacei bolognese by Chef Pietro. Do I have a picture? No. I could blame it on the poor lighting in the restaurant for photos - but actually, I snarfed it down before it dawned on me that I had neglected to take a photo.

AND THEN I LICKED THE BOWL.

No, I didn't.

Well. Okay - maybe I did. A little.

NOMS.


After not only enjoying the delicious pasta, but the cool air-conditioning, it was time to head out and continue our tour. WE WEREN'T DONE YET, AND I WAS ALREADY STUFFED.

Yikes. They really meant it when they said to come hungry.


A short walk to 126 MacDougal Street, where we stopped at King Schawarma for some Middle Eastern food:


That's Susan, talking to the group who are trying to huddle under whatever shade can be found - because it was THAT hot outside....


Here, we sampled some falafel...which was a new experience for Hubby and I. Yes - true confession - neither of us had ever tried this little deep-fried ball of ground chickpeas:



My verdict? Well...I LOVE chickpeas...so yes, I LOVED this. HOW HAVE I LIVED TO BE 50 YEARS OLD AND NEVER HAD FALAFEL???!!!

Of course, we don't exactly have falafel stands on every corner in Kansas City.

But we should.


So, while nibbling on my little falafel ball, we strolled some more, and soon passed the famous Café Wha?, at 115 MacDougal Street:



This is pretty much the club where anyone who is anyone got their start. Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, The Velvet Underground, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, Kool and the Gang, Peter, Paul & Mary, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and many others all began their careers at the Wha? Pretty much every single night, a line will form that goes around the block of people trying to get in.

We also passed this place, which has it's OWN claim to fame...any guesses?



This is Caffe Reggio, which was the FIRST caffe in the United States to serve cappuccino. Did we stop? No. Although with the outside temperature approaching 321 degrees fahrenheit, I guess the demand for cappuccino was not high.


Seeing that we needed something to cool us off, Susan had a wonderful idea...and it involved heading to the gem of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park:



Truly a delight, this little park has been a gathering place for families, NYU students, musicians, street performers and canines for generations now. As we strolled through the shaded pathways, we headed first to the famous arch, George Washington Arch, for whom the park is named:





For 137 years, this beautiful fountain has set "near" the center of the park, a delightful oasis in the concrete jungle:



Notice I emphasized the word "near" in the previous sentence. This is because some morons in City Hall in NYC figured out that the fountain wasn't EXACTLY lined up in the center of the park - and the Arch - and thus needed to be moved. A whole 23 feet to the east.

Seriously.

A few years ago, the city spent - who knows how many millions of dollars - to tear up the existing fountain and move it two dozen feet so it would align with the Arch. Talk about wasteful government spending!!!

We were fortunate that this project was completed and the fountains are "back on" - as Susan informed us that we were more than welcome to take our shoes off and dip our feet into the cool, refreshing water. You didn't have to tell me twice:


Oh yeah...we're going in....


Daughter and I walked around the fountain for a few brief refreshing minutes - but if you choose to do this, know that it can get VERY slick...there's moss & slime & such, and Daughter about fell on her butt at one point.

But it felt soooooo good.

We reluctantly put our shoes back on, and headed out of the park - now to visit a Cuban & Latin-themed restaurant, named, appropriately, "Cuba":



It's located at 222 Thompson Street - and we went inside (ahh....air-conditioning!) and sat in a back room, where we dined on some delicious empanadas:



Sadly, there were some delicious dipping sauces that I added to my plate - but I forgot to take a photo of! Not only were the empanadas tasty and flaky, but the drinks they served were even BETTER. Here, we had a choice between their famous mojitos, or the sangria. I chose the sangria - which was to die for - but imagine my surprise when I looked over to see Daughter sipping on a mojito:



Not to worry, Liquor Control Police...the restaurant had kindly fixed her up with a Virgin Mojito - which she slurped down and now has a new love for mojitos. At the age of 13. Yay.

After our time here, Susan gathered the group up for the last leg of our tour...a brief walk down Sullivan Street. Our first stop was the Sullivan Street Tea & Spice Co. - which is a former Mafia hangout-turned tea shop:



Before the tea shop moved in back in 2011, this little shop was the former home of mobster Vincent Gigante’s Triangle Social Club. Gigante was boss of the Genovese crime family from 1981 to 2005. Now, the shop looks like some Mad Scientist Laboratory, with row upon row of glass containers containing dozens and dozens of teas and spices:



I was very excited to see this on the shelves:



Any good Harry Potter fan will know that a little Infusion of Wormwood is instrumental in potion making - I could make the Draught of Living Death if I got my hands on this stuff.


We strolled further down Sullivan Street, passing such fabulous sights as:



...a fabulous streetside flower market...as well as:



...the beautiful & historic Shrine Church of St Anthony of Padua...



Established in 1859, it was the first parish in the United States formed specifically to serve the Italian immigrant community. You'll see this church featured in such movies as "Moonstruck" and "The Godfather" series.


We were still strolling down Sullivan Street, as Susan was telling us about the FABULOUS townhouses we were walking by...these things were GORGEOUS. Susan said that they all back up to this lush, private garden in the back that is supposedly one of the prettiest gardens in Manhattan. As Susan is walking a bit ahead of our group, we notice that one of the front doors to these townhouses is open...and you can not only see inside the actual townhouse itself - but you can SEE THE GARDEN!!!

Of course, this stops the 10 of us in our tracks - as we're all trying to peek through to see the garden...about this time, a man walks out the front door - and still leaving the front door wide open - walks up to a truck parked on the street. Of course, we're all a bit embarrassed - at getting caught gawking into this guy's townhouse - so, we all mumble, "Sorry!"

The guy says, "Oh - no worries. It's not mine. I'm just a worker."

Well. Knowing that he doesn't seem to care, we all gawk for another minute or two, until Susan realizes that none of us are with her anymore - she's moved on way ahead...so, she comes back and asks, "WHAT are you guys doing???"

So, we tell her. We're staring into someone's townhouse, because...well...because we can. The front door is wide open for our viewing pleasure, obviously.

At this point, Susan looks over at the townhouse, and in a state of shock, she gasps, "DO YOU KNOW WHO'S TOWNHOUSE THAT IS???!!"

Well...no. Why should we? We're all silly tourists. We have no clue.

Susan then says, "That's Anna Wintour's townhouse!!! As in, the editor of Vogue!"

As in, who the movie, "The Devil Wears Prada" is based on. We were being voyeurs into the Devil herself's townhouse.



Ms. Wintour has lived in this four-story townhouse since 1992. Richard Gere had been her neighbor at one point, until he sold his townhouse in 2007 for $12.8 million. Holy smokes.

Do I have a photo, you may be asking? No, I don't. Even if I DID have a photo, do you think I'm so stupid that I'd post it here - on a public blog, no less - and risk having Ms. Wintour, and her lawyers, sue me??!! I didn't take photos, even before knowing who's townhouse it was, as it seemed an invasion of privacy - even looking inside seemed invasive, but the darn door was wide open, so what could we do??!!

Part of me was secretly hoping that Ms. Wintour would walk out the front door right about then, but it WAS a Monday afternoon, and she's a working girl. She was probably at her fabulous Manhattan penthouse office - or in Paris or Milan - or at the White House, perhaps, as she and President Obama are BFF's.

Anyway.

That was certainly fun. And as close as I'll ever get to being inside one of those multi-million dollar townhouses.


We needed sustenance after this, so Susan walked us a bit further down, to 142 Sullivan Street, to RBBTS...a delightful little sandwich shop:



Here, we indulged in their famous Purple Haze shake, which is vanilla ice cream, grape juice, and chocolate syrup:



SLURP! This was awesome. The owner is a big Jimi Hendrix fan...obviously.


It was approaching the end of our three hours with Susan, but we had one more stop to make - Once Upon A Tart - a charming French cafe/bakery located at 135 Sullivan Street:



While we were waiting for our treat, I glanced over and saw these:



EEP! They looked SO yummy! Would they taste as good as they looked? We were soon to find out, as Susan gave us each a sample of the chocolate pear tart:



Noms. Just kill me now.

I'd die a very happy girl.


Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Susan. She graciously made sure that everyone knew where they were headed next, giving us all directions and tips and suggestions, etc. It had been an AMAZING three-hour tour of Greenwich Village...with some history, culture, trivia, food - and SURPRISES - thrown in.

I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend Foods of NY Tours if you're ever in the city and want to do something different.

And - if you see Anna Wintour on the streets of the Village - tell her I said hi. I'm sure we're BFF's by now.

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1 comment:

Harry Fensom said...

In your list of things to do in life you missed one I believe you would enjoy, Visit Australia , the land down under , an invite from a Queenslander ( north eastern state)If you wish I can send you a broucher .