You often hear long-time New Yorkers say things like: “I’d never been to the Empire State Building (or the Statue of Liberty) until a friend came from out of town and wanted to go.”
That was pretty much my story, too, until George, a young man from Greece, came to Massachusetts and told us that his dream was to visit New York City. And he had his own list of must-sees: The Empire State Building, Times Square, the Apple Store, the Hard Rock Café and especially Madame Tussauds. “Madame Tussauds?” I said. “I thought that was in London,” but George assured me there was one in Manhattan.
And because George is a budding chef, his must-see list included the famous New York restaurants that have three Michelin stars (there are five of them in Manhattan.) He could recite the names of their chefs, just the way movie fans recite the names of their favorite film stars. We had only two days to show George all of that-- Dec. 29 and 30-- so we drove to Manhattan to stay in daughter Eleni’s apartment, which was empty over the holidays.
The first day, Nick took George to Ground Zero and the Empire State Building, but they didn’t go up either one, because heavy fog had covered the city and there was zero visibility. But George did manage to get photographed outside the restaurant he most wanted to see – Eleven Madison Park (chef Daniel Humm, tasting menu $295. excluding beverages). And Nick took him to the bustling Apple Store at 59th and Fifth Avenue, where George pondered buying a tablet.
The next day I was the tour guide and we had to pack a week’s worth of sight- seeing into 24 hours. First stop was the Museum of Natural History. George had seen the film “A Night at the Museum”. We arrived before the museum opened at ten and the line of waiting families wound around the block. As soon as we got in, we hit the high spots:
Here’s George, wearing camouflage, posing in front of the elephants. Next came the battle between the whale and the giant squid.
Here’s the famous 94-feet-long blue whale hanging from the ceiling of the Hall of Ocean Life. And of course the dinosaur skeletons, although they did not scamper around as they did in the movie.
Next we took the subway from 80th Street down to Columbus Circle, where we photographed the window washers dangling from the Trump International Hotel and Tower. We admired the statue of Columbus in the center of Columbus Circle and I told George the story of how Mafia Boss Joe Colombo was shot right there in 1971 while addressing a huge crowd at the Italian Unity Day Rally, protesting the media's use of the word “Mafia.”. (Nick covered it for The New York Times.)
Then we walked across to the Time Warner Center where we found, on the 4th floor of the Atrium, two of the three-star restaurants, Per Se (chef Thomas Keller, 9-course tasting menu $325 excluding beverages) and Masa (chef Masayoshi Takayama, prix fixe menu $450 excluding beverages.) We took pictures but we did not eat at either one. You can probably figure out why.
Instead we walked down Seventh Avenue to my personal favorite Greek restaurant Molyvos, between 55th and 56th, where we enjoyed the three-course Express Lunch menu for $28, with some nice wine from Santorini. Then we went around the corner to see the very trendy Milos Restaurant, whose chef is Costas Spiliadis—one of George’s idols. We walked in to see the famous “fish market” in the back, where diners go to choose their seafood. It's flown in daily from Greece and the prices start at $125 a pound and go up.
From 55th Street we started walking down Seventh to see Times Square. I knew it would be crazy on the day before a million people crowded in on New Year’s Eve (plus 6,000 cops). As we approached, we encountered this homeless man, holding a sign that read, “Happy New Year! No Family. Nowhere to go. Please help raise $48 for a hostel. Thank you! I Miss the Good Life.”
I gave him some change, he continued sleeping, and we moved on, encountering the infamous Naked Cowboy. I had warned George about the scam artists who populate Times Square; topless women in bikinis and men dressed like Sesame Street or Star Wars characters. They come up to you, say, “Take a photo with me” and then demand $20 . So we stealthily photographed the Naked Cowboy from the back and moved on.
Next Blog Post: George and I survive Times Square, shake hands with VIPs at Mme. Tussauds, marvel at the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, and ride 65 floors up to the Top of the Rock.