Not to give my mother-in-law a complex, or anything, but we often head out of town as soon as she arrives for a babysitting job, I mean family visit. Our birthdays and wedding anniversary are perfectly spaced throughout the year, so practically anytime she comes to visit, we have an excuse for a getaway celebration.
Last weekend my mother-in-law flew in and we decided to see “Springsteen on Broadway” and visit our oldest daughter, who has just moved to New York, as an early anniversary trip. Our newly-minted New Yorker encouraged us to spread our city wings beyond our perennial fallback hotel, the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, so we decided to stay at the William Vale hotel in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.
First surprise, it’s not any cheaper to stay in Brooklyn and the hotel rooms are not any bigger. I think the Marriott Marquis is obviously more convenient to Broadway and I swear the room is a bit bigger, but not having to figure out which side of the elevator bay has the elevator that goes to your set of floors is a huge plus for the William Vale. It’s easy to go in and out of the hotel, and Williamsburg is a great place. The pace is slower than the mid-town, often because you are dodging toddlers and their stroller-pushing parents, and the scale of the neighborhood is much more human-sized. No rows of skyscrapers blocking the sky and many of the intersections manage traffic and pedestrians with a stop sign. There is a sense of community in the shops and restaurants– not just tourist traps trying to process hordes of visitors. People live, shop, and dine in Brooklyn and that vibe struck me as much more European than other areas of NYC that I’ve visited.
The concierge at William Vale recommended Antica Pesa (https://www.anticapesa.com) when we were unable to secure reservations at Lilia (https://www.lilianewyork.com). Our dinner at Antica Pesa was very good. The crudo e bufala croccante sold us on the restaurant when we read the review on The Infatuation as the “best fucking hot pocket you will ever eat.”( https://www.theinfatuation.com/new-york/reviews/antica-pesa) It was.
We also ordered the Gita Fuori Porta, basically an Italian charcuterie board, that was fine, but a little bit of a let down from that damn fine Hot Pocket. The three of us then shared two pasta dishes-Spaghetti caccio e pepe and the Schiaffoni all’Amatriciana- that were tasty and, to me with all of my one trip to Italy under my belt, cooked like they do it in Rome. Our second course was the Fiorentina—a Porterhouse steak brought to the table pre-sliced on a sizzling cast iron platter. My daughter pulled her pieces off right away to have them quite rare, but I left mine on a few moments more to make sure it quit mooing. We were both pleased. The menu states the Fiorentina is for two, but with the starters and pasta courses, we shared the steak amongst the three of us and were satisfied with our portions. A slice of tiramisu for the table rounded out the night.
The only disappointment was the wine list. We ordered the only Brunello they offered, and it was…okay. Maybe someone who wants their Brunello to taste like Pinot Noir would love it. The second bottle was an Ornellaia La Serre Nuove and it was fine, if overpriced. We were really looking for a special wine and were not impressed with the wine offerings. At the end of the night, we ruefully looked back at the restaurant’s dictum forbidding outside bottles of wine and realized too late why that rule exists. If you love fruity Italian wines, there may be a winner for you. Otherwise, I think I would recommend ordering wine by the glass, but definitely go try that Hot Pocket.
For a quick nightcap we headed back to the William Vale. They have an extremely popular rooftop bar that has a long line to wait for the dedicated elevator to go up to it. If you are a guest of the hotel, your key card in the regular elevator will allow you to go straight to the Westlight rooftop bar. And wait in line to get a drink and have a screaming conversation with your party that no one can hear anyone else. We had a drink at the bar in the hotel’s restaurant Leuca. It was calm, with attentive bar staff, and conducive to a conversation.
We returned to Leuca for brunch the next day before heading to Bushwick to check out the new pad. Many fewer thousand- dollar Bugaboo strollers, but still a neighborhood feel with lots of kids around. Bushwick is grittier than Williamsburg with more gang tags and less art graffiti, fewer shops and a lot more bars. And so much weed. A gentleman on a stoop rolled a blunt the size of which I’ve never seen outside of a Cheech and Chong movie. It’s hard as a parent because I want to protect my kids, but I also want my kids to be independent and follow their dreams, even into Bushwick. I doublechecked that she still had her pepper spray and I made peace with the fact that I lived in some let’s say more colorful areas and had never had any problems—unlike the multiple property crimes we’ve endured since moving into an affluent suburb.
My daughter decided to join us for dinner in before our show and after freshening up at the hotel, we had a 45 minute Uber ride to Broadway from Williamsburg. We had trouble deciding whether to eat in Brooklyn or close to the theater, and we forgot to make reservations when we committed to heading to midtown before dinner. We were lucky to get seated at Le Rivage, a French restaurant that we enjoyed on previous visits, and didn’t complain about our table being on enclosed porch. The wine prices, especially for a restaurant within walking distance to the Broadway shows, are reasonable and we got a decent bottle of Saint-Emilion Bordeaux. I chose to go more down-home in my 3-course prix fixe choices. I started with the country pate– it was a little drier than I prefer and they gave me the tiniest dollops of country and Dijon mustards. The restaurant had a huge trophy from a NYC burger festival for its French Onion Soup Burger and I had to try it. Bleh. If you are of a certain age and went to public school, imagine “swiss steak”—which is neither Swiss nor a steak—on a bun with fries from a food service freezer section. I did enjoy the chocolate mousse for my last course! My husband had the trout almondine and my daughter the duck a la ‘orange from the upcharge menu and they did liked their dinners. well enough
After bidding our daughter farewell, after all, tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway are expensive as hell, we headed over to watch one of the best shows we have ever seen. For over two hours, the Boss told stories, jokes, and accompanied himself on the piano, guitar, and harmonica to soulful renditions of some of his greatest songs. I knew he could sing and play, but I was astounded by how well he could draw in his audience and make the theatre as intimate as talking around a kitchen table. For me, I was sometimes torn between whether I should act like I’m at the theatre or like I’m at a Springsteen concert. Judging by the forlorn “Bruce” calls and sporadic clapping in time, I wasn’t alone. But, man, it was awesome. At the end, he apologized because his wife Patty Scialfa, who usually comes out to play with him, had flown out to do mom stuff and reminded us that, “there is no understudy for the wife.” When the house lights were brought up so the audience could take photos, he went ahead and gave us an encore as amends (like anyone could be mad at the Boss after a show like that!)
As the show ended, we didn’t get outside fast enough to be in the front of the theatre for the autograph signing and hand-shaking that he does on the way to his waiting car, but we were good.
The next morning we walked around Williamsburg to find a Polish bakery that I had noticed walking to Antica Pesa Friday night. We never found that one, but we did find a great one in Martha’s Country Bakery!
I had a flat white and an almond croissant that, close your eyes French people, rivaled what I’ve had in Paris. My husband had an Earl Vanilla latte and a berry turnover and berry sconce, and a berry Napoleon, their specialty, to go. I brought black and white cookies as big as a salad plate home for the kids and Grandma. No one tried the cookies until Tuesday and it disappointingly dry and crumbly—maybe it had been fantastic on Sunday, the other baked goods certainly were.
Overall, I really enjoyed staying in Brooklyn more than staying in the more congested touristy areas close to Times Square. We took Uber to get around in the city and my daughter took a combination of the subway and Lyft. While I may be too old to rock the party eight days a week anymore, a weekend in Brooklyn is perfect!