22 Oct 2012 - We already had a firm idea as to where we were going to begin our first full day In New York City - in lower Manhattan. While the walk there from The Washington Square Hotel (via Broadway) would easily take us 45 minutes to an hour, it was a beautiful Autumn day in the most exciting city in the world. We wanted to soak up as much as we could. However, our mood changed as we approached our final destination in lower Manhattan, Ground Zero.
Spotting thousands of tourists streaming towards the site of the former World Trade Center, also referred to as Ground Zero or the 9/11 Memorial, we understood why our hotel advised us to book our time slot. Like us, the crowds were offering their respects to those killed during the worst terrorist incident in American history. The destruction of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 remains indelibly etched in the hearts and minds of all Americans, and in particular New Yorkers.
The 9/11 Memorial features the names of the 2,982 victims of the September 11, 2001 and February 26,1993 terrorist attacks on bronze panels lining two pools with waterfalls cascading down the sides. The plaza surrounding the pools will eventually be filled with oak trees to symbolize strength and endurance, and there is a single pear tree within the 9/11 Memorial, known as the Survivor Tree, that miraculously survived the 9/11 attacks.
For many New Yorkers who daily attempt to move forward with life after the tragedy, the ongoing presence of tourists sparks mixed emotions. So if you are planning a visit to the area, do remain sensitive to the fact that this area of lower Manhattan is both hallowed ground and a place of much emotional outpouring.
South Street Seaport:
Needing some fresh air and distance from the crowds after our visit to the 9/11 Memorial, Peter and I walked the short distance to South Street Seaport, a cultural marketplace and gateway to the harbor. Located where Fulton Street meets East River, and adjacent to the Financial District, the Seaport is a designated historic district, distinct from the neighboring Financial District. It includes some of the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in New York City: renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Street Market, and modern shopping malls featuring food, shopping and nightlife, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
After a bite to eat at one of the local Seaport eateries, we boarded an 1-hour harbor cruise that highlighted New York’s attractions from the water, including Ellis Island, Brooklyn Bridge, Governors Island and of course, the iconic Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Dedicated on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986. It was interesting to note the number of people rushing to one side of the boat the moment the Statue of Liberty was in sight caused the craft to rock more than slightly, such is the powerful universal symbol of this statue.
After our harbor cruise, we caught one of the Hop On-Hop Off Buses for a tour of the rest of Downtown Manhattan.
An Evening at Babbo: A New York State Of Mind
“You’re a local, Maryna. Where is good to eat around here?”, we asked our friend when we met her at our hotel foyer at 7:30 pm.
“You have one of the best New York restaurants literally outside your door!”, she said, pointing at Babbo across the road. “But I doubt we’ll get in as you need to book way in advance.”
“We can always give it a shot. They can only say no.”, I said. So we crossed the road and bravely entered the inner sanctum of one of New York's restaurants du jour.
“We don’t have a booking, but we were wondering if you had a table for three for dinner.”, Peter said to Babbo's maitre d'.
After a short pause, he said, “Let me see what we can do for you.”
Maryna’s eyes grew like saucers, never imagining that we would get past first base in a joint like this without a prior booking. When one of the waiters came back and asked us to follow him upstairs, Maryna rubbed Peter’s bald pate for good luck. Apparently, walking off the street and scoring a table at Babbo was rarer than a solar eclipse. As it turned out, the presidential debate between Obama and Romney earlier in the evening freed up a few tables for us.
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca was opened by world-famous Chef Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich in June 1998. Hailed with a glowing 3-star review by Ruth Reichl of the New York Times shortly after its opening, Babbo has since been met with much critical acclaim and an avid local following. The menu is a roster of Chef Mario Batali's Italian regional creations, incorporating the best and freshest seasonal produce, Italian cheeses, meat, game and seafood, accented with fine Italian olive oils, traditional aceto balsamico and many unusual ingredients. With its split-level dining room and a lively bar area, this is a favorite Greenwich Village hangout for foodies, celebs, and random New Yorkers wanting to impress.
Speaking about wanting to impress, we couldn’t help noticing the two 30-something Wall Street types at the table adjacent to ours, trying to look cool in front of their legs-up-to-their-armpits model girlfriends. While the girls sauntered off to the toilets together after the main meal - as girls do - the boys thought they’d surprise them by ordering every single dessert on the menu. Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato, Saffron Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Marmellata and Rhubarb Sorbetto, Warm Blueberry Crostata with Cool Lime Cream and “Spezie Dolci”, Apple and Fig Budino, with Caramel Apple Gelato, Ricotta Cheesecake with Honey, Pine Nuts and Saba, and Banana Cake “Sottosopra” with Banana Buttermilk Gelato - just under US$100 worth of desserts alone. By the time the girls returned, several waiters were lined up at their table, each holding a plate of an exquisite dessert to the squeals of delight from the girls. Being a few decades older and hopefully wiser, we couldn’t help shaking our heads at the gross wastage and unnecessary expense of the gesture. After the global financial crises, which has affected us all, we found such mindless extravagance unnecessary and in such poor taste.
As for my dining experience, I was blown away by Babbo’s Chianti tinted papardelle with wild boar ragu - sensuous, rich, lusty - To die for! As for our desserts, we ordered two to share between the three of us and savored every morsel. Bravo Signore Batali.