Two sleepy friends shuffle onto the 5:00 a.m. flight from Portland to New York City. We arrive at MoMA in time for a members-only peek at the Picasso sculpture exhibition. Beloved and familiar works include Goat, Baboon, and the serene Jacqueline, all of whom make the predawn flight entirely worth it.
We cruise the city’s venerable flower market for deep-green pine boughs and full-on red poinsettias. We admire the hundreds, maybe thousands of blooming amaryllis, and, as Mainers, marvel at a basket of $5 pine cones.
We light out for Jersey City to check out the 50-year-old version of my sister Seeky, who is also in full bloom. We admire her small city’s shiny copper turret and family vibe. We count bicycles and babies. Seeky’s new home is fab. As we take off our shoes and admire the dueling city views, I am awash in sisterly pride.
In Manhattan, the weather is ridiculous, balmy. We’re coatless and carefree, meandering uptown and down. Everyone is shopping and smiling.
A nasty exchange on the subway yanks us back to reality. “Dumbass,” a man shouts at a woman in a fur coat, “You are a DUMB ASS.” She scuttles to the opposite end of the train. I study my lap.
In need of Christmas cheer, we stalk the “real” Santa at ABC Carpet & Home. Apparently he is taking a long break. Disappointed, we agree that this is naughty, not at all nice.
Along the avenue, NYC is aglow, a glittering pageant. Macy’s windows feature the Peanuts gang at enormous scale in celebration of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. The film arrived a half-century ago – like Seeky, it never ages.
Our epicurean revels begin as always at Il Pesce in Eataly. Oh dear, no sea urchin today. Momentarily crushed but undaunted, we enjoy bruschetta with smoky bluefish and a briny and rich bruschetta of mussels. A large plate of grilled octopus arrives, meaty and fresh, and we fight over the big pieces. We marvel at the fruity olive oil, crusty bread, and convivial setting. We hug our server, Jessica, who somehow manages to recognize us every year in this city of ten million people. She remembers our favorite Bastianich rosé and hustles off to find a chilled bottle. Note to Mario: this girl is a treasure.
We make our way to Studio Museum in Harlem whose distinguished collection includes works by artists of African descent or influenced by black culture. Deeply moving works include Faith Ringgold’s narrative quilts, joyous color studies by Stanley Whitney, and Elizabeth Catlett’s mahogany mother and child. The Studio Museum is a friendly, inspiring gem – a must-see for all Americans.
Cocktail hour. We trot up Lenox Avenue to Chez Lucienne and find a comfy perch at the quiet, glowing bar. The gilded mirrors, low light and flinty wines help us reflect on our magical day of art and soul. We vow to return to Lucienne for an evening of French fare and jazz soon.
At 8 p.m. we duck into Red Rooster for legendary Scandinavian-inspired soul food. In the intimate below-stairs “supper club” we dig into deviled eggs, fried yardbird and catfish. Lobster mac and cheese is an oddball addition to the menu, but as Mainers, we must have it. There are no words. Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s soulful fare is food your grandmother would make if your grandmother could cook.
We shop, sip, savor and explore old and new favorites – from Chisholm Poster Gallery in Chelsea, to Flying Tiger and Shoegasm in the Flatiron District. Evening brings us to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a wondrous story rendered with occasionally overwhelming pyrotechnics. The show survives Broadway’s heavy-handed effects, and brings us to our feet in appreciation of one boy’s extraordinary tale.
We enjoy a last, late-night bite at Casa Mono, a Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant (also by Batali and Bastianich), tucked off Union Square. Grilled octopus and potato, perfectly charred, arrives with sweet fig mash. This dish is more than worth fighting over, but we don’t. Cool burrata follows, gooey and savory, with balsamic and chopped walnuts. Our uni craving is finally satisfied with creamy scrambled eggs and delicate sea urchin – a silky, unctuous, subtle preparation.
Mario and Joe are having a moment, and so are we. We sit wide-eyed and grateful, basking in the golden glow of an inspired and delicious holiday in a hallowed setting – New York City at the peak of her holiday charm and magic. •