Final day in the U, S of A – cheese and cupcakes

My final (sob!) day in New Jersey didn’t get started until gone midday, due to our impromptu late bedtime the night before. We took our time having breakfast and getting ready before heading into Manhattan for the main event of the trip: Murray’s Cheese Bar. Jen had told me about this place a couple of weeks before I arrived and I’d been eagerly anticipating my visit ever since.

Originally set up as a cheese shop, six months ago Murray’s opened its cheese bar where, for a very reasonable price, lovers of cheese and wine can find utopia. The bar itself, located on Bleecker Street, is decked out in pine with red detail. Diners can sit at tables but the best spot is along the bar that runs the length of the room, where the ultra-friendly staff (our server, Brad, was a great character) can chat to you as you sample the fare.

Murray’s does provide a range of starters, mains and desserts but the jewel in its crown is the cheese boards, which can either be selected from the menu or recommended by the knowledgable staff (we sampled Brad’s favourite cheese as part of our five-cheese board and both agreed it was the best of the lot).

And then there’s the wine. Since arriving here I’ve been amazed by the quality of the wine, and not a little embarrassed about the relative rubbish I’ve hitherto been consuming back home. It’s true that wine is more expensive in bars here than in England (a glass will set you back on average £8 or £9 compared to about £4 or £5), but the standard is noticeably higher so it really is worth it. At Murray’s you can have your cheese board paired with different wines in faster form or select one wine to drink throughout. We opted for a 2010 Argentinian Malbec which was just beautiful.

Our cheese board comprised one Camembert, a dolce latte, a blue cheese and two hard cheeses and they were, without exception, the most delicious cheeses I’ve tasted. Each board comes with a selection of bread, crackers and olives which the staff are happy to top up as required. The total bill set us back $100 including a $20 tip (I’m only just getting used to the 20% tipping system, but now I understand how little staff are paid in restaurants here I’d never consider not paying it) and it was worth every penny. We were even given two fresh baguettes to take home on our way out.

After Murray’s we decided one final culinary blow out was in order and walked over the road to Patisserie Rocco, but were dismayed to find it closed. Fortunately Jen recalled the name of another nearby patisserie, Sweet Revenge, which (as it happened) was also the place my friend had recommended I visit but whose name I myself had been struggling to remember – it must have been fate!

Sweet Revenge blows Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes right out of the water. It’s only a small place but it has a lovely ambience and a mouth-watering selection of treats. Best of all, they offer a wine and beer pairing menu to help you choose the perfect alcoholic beverage to accompany your cupcake. I had the self-titled house speciality cupcake, the Sweet Revenge, which had peanut butter frosting and chocolate in the middle, and it was the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever tasted! It was paired with the same Malbec we had enjoyed in Murray’s.

After our cupcakes we rounded off the evening with a decaffinated cappuccino. Just before we left we offered the bar staff our baguettes as we knew we wouldn’t eat them and didn’t want them to go to waste. We were delighted when they not only accepted but promptly brought out a plate of cheese from the fridge and sat together to eat it with our bread. It was a particularly lovely moment given it was Easter Sunday-we joked about the irony of us having had our last supper before breaking bread with strangers.

Back at Jen’s we had one final picnic on the floor (now somewhat customary!) with peppermint tea and s’mores before turning in. As I write this it’s seven hours later and I’m sitting at Newark airport waiting for my flight back to London. The past six days have been nothing short of perfect, I’ve really loved every single second and don’t feel we could have done anything better if we’d tried. Jen’s been the perfect host and I’m now in no doubt whatsoever that we will be friends for life-amazing given that when I arrived here we’d only met once before in an Indian ashram two years ago, where our shared love of wine and food didn’t even come to light! I know we’ll support one another in achieving our writing goals, and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to repay her generosity in London if she makes it over anytime soon.

It’s been the best holiday and I’ll be smiling at the memories for a long time to come. I love New York! 🙂

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Day three, Stateside – revenge of the pancakes

Day three brought with it an unwelcome hangover from the evening before, but it was nothing brunch at a traditional American diner wouldn’t cure. Once we’d managed to pull ourselves together and get ready we walked ten minutes to the Brownstone Diner. Settling into a booth, we ordered coffee, pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausages, French fries and smoothies and sat back and waited for our massive haul to arrive.

When the food did arrive I was taken aback by the sheer volume of pancakes before me – three plump doughy pillows half an inch thick and almost as big as the plate upon which they sat. My sausage, bacon rashers and two poached eggs sat on a separate plate beside them and the strawberry and banana smoothie was topped off with lashings of whipped cream. Suddenly my confidence in being able to finish everything on my plate vanished. And, sure enough I was defeated with one and a half pancakes still to go, my dreams of being a competitive eating champion shattered all around me.

Wonderful as the Brownstone Diner experience was it left us desperate for a lie down, so we headed back to the apartment for an hour’s rest before getting ready to go back out. Jen was working a shift at a restaurant in Soho so I went along with her and settled myself in a lovely little place around the corner called Sanctuary T, where I whiled away a pleasant few hours sampling speciality teas, writing and watching the world go by. When my appetite finally returned I treated myself to a delicious kale salad with truffle oil, hazelnuts and Parmesan accompanied by a glass of Malbec (which, I have to admit, made me feel terribly grown up).

On the walk back to the Path train I couldn’t resist popping back into Patisserie Rocco for a post-dinner cappuccino and mini pastry, where I proceeded to read my book by candlelight and do a spot more people watching. Afterwards, caught up in the sights and sounds around me I walked a block too far and had to retrace my steps to find the train.

When I got back to the apartment I was horrified to find a two-inch long centipede on the bathroom floor. Immobilised by fear, I backed out of the room to find my phone and Googled it to see if they were dangerous. Fortunately the answer was no; apparently ‘house centipedes,’ as they call them, are commonplace in the New York area, and whilst they’re not particularly pleasant bedfellows they are harmless and they even help control other pests like spiders (given that spiders are my worst enemy in the insect world, I suppose that means centipedes should really be considered friends?).

All in all another eventful day in the U, S of A…