4 men, 5 days, 22 square miles of shops and restaurants, plus unlimited excitement about Christmas. That’s what lay ahead of Alan and I when we touched down in New York last Wednesday. Arriving at JFK airport is never the most exciting of experiences but when you’re meeting a couple of great friends and your bottomless stomach is rumbling, it doesn’t matter too much.
The airport needed a refurb when I first visited 13 years ago and I’m not sure it’s seen a lot of paint since. Negatives aside, once out of the airport’s clutches, as soon as you see your first yellow taxi, the excitement really starts to hit. I’ve always believed that you have to mentally prepare to be wowed by New York City. The journey time from London allows you just enough time to get ready for the energy, the buzz, the people, the noise… And the hospitality – All of the things we love about this place.
Being here at the beginning of December, plunges you into a land with more sparkle than Harrods Christmas window display and is even more filmic than at any other time of year. And yes, you do feel like you could bump into Will Ferrell dressed as an elf at any point. (And before you ask– I did feel like I shared his festive childish enthusiasm for most of my visit!)
We were staying with friends Bryan and Philip who often do a pre-Christmas shopathon peppered with good hearty New York hospitality, so we shared suggestions throughout the week. One of their favourite things to do is to go for a ‘cheap and cheerful’ meal on the first night. While getting used to the time difference, why bother getting dressed up to go gourmet when you can appreciate a little bit of NYC’s Italian American charm? Every city in the UK, Ireland or North American has their fair share of decent Italian restaurants and New York certainly has many to chose from. So when I was told about the best Pollo alla Parmigiana in town – I had to check it out. Off to Da Marino we went, a warm, friendly Italian restaurant with plants, sparkly lights and personality spilling outside of it’s basement entrance. On a cold and dark December night when you’re fighting with your eyelids, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
The restaurant is on West 49th Street, just off Broadway but has it’s origins in Calabria, Italy, where Chef Pasquale apparently learned the secrets of Italian cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen. Chef Pasquale spent many years cooking and working in Europe before arriving in Manhattan and creating this fabulously friendly restaurant. Eight steps from street level and you are made to feel like family. A surprisingly low volume pianist plays next to the long bar at the front and diners can surprisingly still hear themselves at their tables!
Once sat and after a long wait for grilled Italian sausage on polenta which was worth the wait, the parmigiana arrived, oversized which I feared would be a theme to our meals during our stay. I’m not complaining of course! Far from it, and it was delicious. Loads of melted mozzarella (from Naples no less) topped the flattened chicken breast and the star was something that Italians, do so well: Tomato sauce. It realty was a treat. It smothered the plate and coated a bowl of spaghetti that accompanied the dish.
While we decided that we couldn’t manage dessert and should head off to bed we pondered: How do Italians manage to make tomatoes taste richer and more tomatoey than anybody else? There really should be some sort of international investigation. I’ll help lead the research.