Exploring New York City with Teenagers

This is the first time the kids came with us to New York City.  Our last time was two years ago, when I spent a large part of my time checking out baking shops and macaron stores.  This time, I spared the girls from my usual mad pastry tendencies and asked, “What’s the best programme in the Big Apple for a 12 and 14 year old?” Let me share our tourist and casual restaurant tips with you for A WEEK in NYC!

View of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Free Ferry NYC

For the best views of the Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island ferry

No sooner had we arrived, midnight ringing in our heads, we thought of food. Checking into the contemporary Conrad Hotel, Downtown, our lucky surprise was that  Blue Smoke had a table for us just around the corner (255 Vesey St, near Battery Park).  They serve legendary smoky BBQ beefburgers, full of flavour.

The Best Way to see the Statue of Liberty

So, how would we spend the weekend as a family? The Statue of Liberty was beckoning: the best way to see it is by taking the Staten Island ferry. What’s more, it’s FREE!  They run every half hour from Pier 1 (Battery Park).

Open-topped Buses

Admittedly, we did the ultra touristy thing and hopped on an open-topped bus with the Grey Line, just outside the terminal.  The hop-on, hop-off tickets last for 2 days, so you have plenty time to discover New York’s bearings if it’s your first time.

‘When Harry Met Sally’ Restaurant

Continuing on our NYC food trail, we hopped off at East Houston Street (Ludlow and Orchard) for Katz’s Delicatessen which has quite a bit of history, possibly best known for Meg Ryan’s famous fake ‘groaning’ scene in When Harry Met Sally.  With the film’s 25th anniversary, the tourists were piling in by the bus-load. Instead we headed next door to the Lobster Joint, where Monsieur Antoine was given a tasting of lagers, including Lobster beer.  Their New England lobster roll certainly had me groaning for real…

Manhattan towers and changing weather skyline in Times' Square

Back on the red bus, the showerproof hoodies were passed around as quick as the change of Manhattan skies, but we were lucky the rest of the week weather-wise.  NYC is hot and humid but air-conditioning in hotels is particularly fresh, so think about bringing a light cardigan – or, French-style, my girls preferred to fling scarves around the shoulders.

Gospel Services in Harlem

We were brave on Sunday morning: we headed well into Harlem for a Gospel Church Service.  I say we were brave, as we were not welcomed and actually turned away!  They turned all visitors away, in fact.  Don’t even consider going to the New Mount Zion Baptist Church on West 140th St. as they obviously see their God as different from the rest of us.  Upset and stunned, luckily our faith was restored as we happened on the most wonderful, welcoming church of Greater Zion Hill BC (2365 Frederick Douglass Blvd).  Visitors –  please don’t forget to take dollars with you for a donation.  This was the most uplifting, moving service I have ever been to and one that Julie and Lucie shall never forget.  We found ourselves singing ‘Jesus is Real’ all the way back to the bus!

Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in NYC

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

Best Ice Cream in Brooklyn

With great thanks to my sweet and macaron-ivore friend, Mardi Michels (of EatLiveTravelWrite) who tweeted her New York foodie friends in the know of ice creams, we had to head for Brooklyn. Our lovely tour guide, Susan, seemed genuinely concerned for us when we leapt off the bus way before the famous ice cream store in Prospect Heights.  Instead, we headed to Ample Hills Creamery‘s new parlour, on day 13 of opening at Gowanus.  The sweltering heat had the queue snaking indoors, Disney-style. It was #worththewait.

Ample Hills Ice Cream Brooklyn New Location

Kept amused in the queue with tastings

Ample Hills Creamery only opened in 2011 and it’s no wonder their ice cream is a huge success: their secret? Good, natural ingredients.  They churn out wonderful flavours such as Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, Pistachio Squared, Peppermint Pattie, Mexican Hot Chocolate (with chili flakes – I LOVED this!), even Stout ‘n’ Pretzels.  Their designer cones (none of the usual dry, tongue-clinging tasteless wafers!) are incredibly tasty and tops it all off beautifully.

Ample Hills Ice Cream Cones and Recipe book Brooklyn

Special ice cream cones at Ample Hills, Brooklyn

Antoine wants me to make the pistachio squared ice cream recipe so will have to check out their Ample Hills Ice Cream Cookbook!

NYC Pizza

Wrong order, perhaps, but after ice cream we later craved good pizza.  On my last couple of trips, I did Lombardi’s in Little Italy – this time it was John’s Pizzeria, just off Times’ Square.  This place certainly rivals Lombardi’s for the best pizza in NYC.  With four coal-fired brick ovens and two enormous floors, queuing for a seat doesn’t take that long – although it reminds me of watching out for your winning number, waiting in any French public administration!  The pizza business is HOT!

John's Pizzeria, Times Square, NYC

Thinking Tall

Are you scared of heights?  Since the Empire State Building had me trembling just thinking of going up that lift, instead, I booked tickets to the Top-of-the-Rock at the Rockefeller Centre. Let’s face it, it’s not as high and you have great views OF the Empire State Building!  Lucie thought the lift was fun, with a video playing on the ceiling for a few seconds until you realise the 70th floor observation deck is already awaiting you. Incidentally, this is a popular tourist attraction so the queues are impressive –  I found the best way is to prepay tickets online (I used Smart Destinations).  In the 5 minutes we waited, who should turn up but Lady Gaga in a white limousine.  The girls were riveted to the sidewalk.

Rockefeller top of the rock views and Lady Gaga NBC

NYC Museums

Our kids love museums.  I already covered the museums in this post but suggest while at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), have lunch upstairs on 2nd floor Italian café. The girls particularly loved the Egyptian section at the Metropolitain Museum (the MET), the Museum of Natural History (perhaps best for boys who love dinosaurs!) but our all time favourite museum is The Frick Collection.  Moreover, if you’re an artlover, you HAVE to come here!  I’m still dreaming of two Rembrandt paintings, including his first ever portrait of a fur trader.  You could almost touch the fur.

Dim Sum in NYC Chinatown at Jing Fong Restaurant

Best Dim Sum in NYC

Another highlight was meeting up with Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating.  She suggested we meet up in Chinatown at Jing Fong‘s legendary Dim Sum restaurant (20 Elizabeth Street).

The girls and I could not anticipate what awaited us at the top of a giant escalator: the equivalent of a wedding banqueting hall, buzzing with chatter, clattering dishes and efficient staff rolling trolleys back and forth with curious hidden stacks of various steaming dumplings. Thank you, Ann, for our first dim sum experience!

market stalls in Chinatown NYC

The market stalls in Chinatown are particularly intriguing.  If any of you know what these curious Chinese dried mushrooms are, please let me know.  Julie and Lucie were jumping at the live crabs, pincers stretched out and some scattering on to the pavement as we scuttled by.

Sticking to the Far East, we loved the suggestions from Leah at the Royalton Hotel.  A wonderful find included Korean cuisine at Danji (just up from another fabulous ramen noodle bar), where small dishes added up to a fabulous tasting menu banquet – and great value for money, too!

Best Korean restaurant uptown NYC Danji

Other best restaurant highlights in NYC included Saxon and Parole (316 Bowery) for great beef burgers,  and our personal Italian favourite:  Il Buco Alimentari (53 Great Jones St.) where we even asked for second bowls all around of their homemade gnocchi.

Disclaimer: Please note that none of the restaurants or hotel in this post are sponsored in any way – they are just our personal family favourites in NYC.

If you’re wondering what the final highlight of the girls’ trip was, it wasn’t actually food-oriented (however, they haven’t stopped talking about the food ever since the trip!). For Lucie, it was the Frick Collection; for Julie, it was meeting up with her make-up YouTube idol, That’s Heart (we’ve just discovered ourselves on her video TV vlog at 3:12 and 3:14!  I need a prize for being the oldest participant….)  Myself? It was being together with my girls. Girlie quality time and shopping – but that’s enough for another article!

Travel Information Before you Leave

Remember to provide valid travel documents on entering the USA. A valid passport is needed but don’t forget about getting an ESTA visa when travelling to the USA – even teenagers need their own ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) – it is always required for a holiday, business trip or transfer/transit in the USA.

A Bite of New York: A Stirring Manhattan Cocktail

I’m finally over that red-eye jet-lag following a bite of the Big Apple. It was the second bite I’ve had in the last 14 years and what a bite. The last few days back home in my bubble outside Paris, I’ve been on a more nocturnal rhythm with a head still buzzing with the noises of NYC. Manhattan certainly is a cocktail with a punch.

The Wanted in NYC

The Wanted in NYC

Manhattan has such energy. There’s no standing around; the determined pace of walkers is speedier than in Paris; coffee bars are filled with guys in suits making deals over an espresso as opposed to Parisian cafés where we watch the world go by. This captivating street drummer set the pedestrian pace using plastic tubs – I wonder what he would sound like with a real drum kit? I could have watched him all day if I hadn’t been bustled around to keep up with the flow of pedestrian traffic. The only dilly-dallying appears at the Rockefeller Plaza, where NBC shoot live every morning. My girls looked at me with sheer disbelief when I showed the photo above of this group, ‘You mean, you saw The Wanted and you didn’t know it, Mum?’

Broadway NYC

No Standing, No Stopping, No Way – it’s Broadway!

Broadway’s place to eat has to be at the NoMad Restaurant at 1170 Broadway. I love the service in NYC! Elizabeth Merner, our smiling server extraordinaire confirmed my choices on the menu were her favourites: I’m still dreaming of that appetiser of strawberry gaspacho, basil and smoked duck. Although we resist tasting French wines in the USA since America has so much to offer, Liz served us an incredible Macon Vieilles Vignes 2008 for an apéritif the next time we popped in (we couldn’t resist returning.) Like Daniel Beedle, the Sommelier, they understood our tastes so we were thrilled with their choices, even if a couple were from France!

Inspired and wanting a taste of more US blockbuster wines to bring home, we headed to Morrell, NYC’s institution. Perhaps it was just an off day, but they weren’t friendly. I’m perhaps cynical as I become older but why give business to people who don’t want to serve you? The moral of the story?  Listen to Daniel. When in NYC and looking for wines, head to Astor Wines in Soho. With our amazing wine consultant, Duncan McRoberts, we have our favourite gutsy, buttery, toasty – even wooded (if not fashionable but we love it) – Californian Chardonnays.

La Maison du Macaron NYC

La Maison du Macaron, NYC

‘You mean you’ve not tried any macarons yet? But it’s your duty, girl!’ exclaimed Carol Gillott, of Paris Breakfast fame. The last time we met, I dragged her to the Paris suburbs for a macaron workshop chez moi. This time she wanted to meet up so she could show me some macaron spots in NYC. By the time I surfaced that morning and switched on my phone after 9am, she’d sent me 3 emails from 5.30 am to check I was up. I wonder when Carol sleeps?

First stop was La Maison du Macaron (132 W.23rd Street) with basil-lime-ginger and Graham-Cracker-Key-Lime-Pie macarons (using French meringue, same as the macarons in my book). Perhaps it was too early after breakfast, since I didn’t get much flavour but we didn’t wait the dutiful 15 minutes until they were fully at room temperature. So, where were the Big Apple macs?


Tasting French macarons with Carol Gillott – this was my NY breakfast!

More bright green macarons were at Financier, reputed for the best macarons in NYC and where their financiers are perfection. You know how I feel about pistachio macarons and colouring. Next stop? I had to check out Trader Joe’s – Carol showed me the free coffee as we waited in line, now that is service!  My basket was filled with dried cherries, something you can’t find in Paris.

Carol realised how goofy I was when she took me to N.Y. Cake on 56 West 22nd Street. With macaron gift boxes and everything you can imagine to make macarons and more, I just couldn’t contain myself. I think she started to pretend we weren’t together when she asked me to speak French.

Everything you need for making macarons easily at home

After the sweet meet-up, Carol put me in an arty mood so there was nothing better than to have a taste of the Frick Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. Gigantic MoMA has such an impressive wealth of art treasures. In awe of more of Monet’s Water Lily paintings following our trip to Giverny this summer, Catherine and Paul in the restaurant (where else would you find us?) told us about the new Giverny – in NYC Botanical Gardens!

I couldn’t get enough of this Manhattan Cocktail of art and checked out just a part of the Metropolitan Museum. Just an insy-winsy taste left us completely punch drunk! It’s mind-blowing to see works that were painted only up the road from where we live on the Seine.

Punch drunk at the Met.

The last part of the Manhattan cocktail left me rather shaken. Thursday night, Antoine and I were strolling (no, walking fast) past the Empire State Building and I decided not to visit it next day since I’m no longer good with heights. On Friday morning, I was only 2 blocks away from the shooting at the ESB and as 4 helicopters hovered above later, I couldn’t stop thinking that we should never take life for granted. This statue was a statement outside the Caen War Memorial Museum this summer.

Back to the more stirring cocktail in Manhattan. More eateries we adored centred on Italian: from a crowded Eataly (where you shop, eat sitting down/standing up or eat standing hiding in a corner); to Lombardi’s first NY pizza; to Peasant in Nolita where the food is cooked on a homemade wooden oven built by the chef, Frank de Carlo. His white pizza and wooded quail are begging for me to return to NYC.

I loved seeing macarons in many cafés and bakeries, such as Screme (best espresso next to Grand Central Station), Bouchon and of course, Maison du Chocolat. There are no doubt many more but as the French say so well, everything in modération!

I’ve rambled on enough since I didn’t have time to do a short post – it’s a mad week returning to school, organising my students, chocolate walks in Paris etc. We love routine, don’t we?

Let me just leave you with one question: am I imagining this? Have you noticed that plates in NYC are small for big portions and in Paris, the plates are huge for smaller portions? Just saying.