Hippo Manchester
December 1, 2005

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Wine: Spending the holidays in NYC

Or, what your better-dressed city-dweller is drinking

By Tim Protzman  tprotzman@hotmail.com

Thanksgivingís the only two-day holiday Americans get to celebrate.

Christmas gets a smidgen of the night before, just like New Yearís. Easter is separated from Good Friday by a normal day. Even Ramadan, which lasts a month, is really only celebrated after sundown with feasting and family gatherings. Moslems still have to go to work during the day ó and fast while theyíre doing it!

But whoever set up Thanksgiving on a Thursday (I think it was Abraham Lincoln) gave us a second day off by default. Thank you.

Now itís true some people, like convenience store employees, had to work. But for most of us it was a freebie. This year instead of heading to the local mall, I went to the worldís biggest shopping center, New York City.

I used to go by train, but since Metro North eliminated the bar cars, itís not as much fun.

Now I take the car to Brooklyn and hop on the subway into Manhattan. I could probably find on-the-street parking in town but the Italian, Jewish, Polish neighborhood where I park is so much fun to visit that itís become as much a part of the destination as Grand Central Terminal.

Metropolitan Avenue is the boundary of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Itís a flat area with lots of one-way streets. Here you can find free parking and a nice morning snack, like these little cream-filled pastries called Luluís. Itís really just a creampuff, but thereís one eye-opening ingredient; Strega, a Sicilian liqueur with a minty, slightly butterscotch taste. This liqueurís made from grapes (so itís technically a brandy). Anise and saffron are added after distillation and give this fiery drink a mellower flavor. Most people donít drink Strega anymore, except in The Godfather movies, but the pastry and coffeeshops use it as a flavoring in the cream filling for the Luluís. Fortunato Brothers on Manhattan Ave. has great Luluís, biscotti and gelato ó and a liquor license so you can get a little shot with your espresso. Then itís only two blocks to the subway and a quick ride to the 14th Street station in Manhattan.

Two blocks north of the subway stop is a shopping mecca of unheralded proportions. Fileneís Basement, in the Chelsea District, has one of the greatest shoe departments in the city. Itís not as pricey as Prada or as trendy as Tootsie Plohound, but they do have Dr. Martens, Florsheims and Bruno Maglis at a steep discount. I once lucked out and got a $179.99 pair for $68.50! And they wore like iron. Still got them.

Shopping makes me hungry and lunch is a great time to savor some of Manhattanís great restaurants and pay a little less than you would at dinnertime.

Balthazar is a Soho institution. It serves French Bistro fare and you wonít get something wacky like tripe or calves brains. It has a decent wine list thatís reasonable. By the glass thereís a good pinot gris from Alsace for $13 by F. Baur & Fils and a red Chateau Olivier from Graves for $14.

Five blocks north of Washington Park is Gotham Bar and Grill. Here the wine list is pricey. A few bargains stand out; a couple of white burgundies and a 1998 Pahlmeyer Merlot. The food is fancy, but the bar is sleek and modern in a nouveau Art Deco way.

This is Cocktail Country and Gotham was one of the first places to serve the Apple Martini. Vodka, apple schnapps and a splash of Cointreau is how they make it. They also have these colorful layered drinks called Pousse-Cafťs. The bartender pours the heavier shot into the bottom of the glass and then gently floats the lighter liqueurs on top. They come out striped. Theyíre not cheap, but theyíre pretty.

Thereís not much in the Bronx that could be called pretty, but the Italian food on Arthur Avenue draws people from all over. Itís authentic and delicious. Lots of Arthur Avenue restaurants donít take credit cards, and some of them donít even have menus, they just tell you what they have. The best part is when the bill comes. At Emiliaís, the waiter walks over and says ď$149.99Ē And thatís how you know what to pay.

Arthur Avenue is a destination in itself and on weekends they do a nice lunch trade. Afterwards you can work off your meal with a stroll through the nearby New York Botanical Garden.

For those who want to stay closer to home hereís a few wines I enjoyed this past week.

2004 Remy Pannier Vouvray, $12.99. Sweet and sassy with lychee and persimmon flavors overlaid with a sweet maple-esque finish. Cheese and white fish work well with this wine, which is a little too sugary for a stand alone aperitif.

2003 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, $34.99. Not as rustic as I remember. This wine is very alcoholic and fruity (to the point of being annoying) but had such a supple finish compared to the other lifeless liquid grapes Iíve been tasting that I had to mention it.

Overall, itís not the Lytton Springs Iíve grown to love.

2002 King Estate Oregon Pinot Noir, $21.99. Dainty and reserved with nice fruit but little backbone.