People, things got funnier yesterday. After the last-minute babysitting cancelation which prompted a rush delivery of the children to their grandfather, named “Topta” by Jack when he was a wee tot, and a race down to Union Station, we boarded the slowest train east of the Mississippi.
Yes it was a Regional rather than an Acela, but it was not hard to see why Amtrak is often decried as less than its European kin. I daresay Amtrak is one version back in the evolutionary chain, missing a critical gene know as Infrastructure Funding. Our car was hot as Hades and the bathroom was unusable unless your sense of smell has long since abandoned your olfactory system. The sticky floors, the blue swirl in the toilet’s bowl ever-attempting to remedy the ambient odors, the dripping faucet of non-potable water. I always wonder about non-potable hand-washing water. Isn’t that vaguely oxymoronic? Why do I want to wash my hands in water I cannot drink?
It’s all too bad, really, because I love riding the train and think it is an excellent form of transportation that could be so much more than it currently is. Fortunately, we weren’t in a rush except if you count my heart-pounding desire to get there. There. NYC. The source of a vibrancy I struggle to find elsewhere and was keen on tapping into yesterday at the start of our too-brief but lucky getaway.
Ultimately, we crawled into Penn Station, only a slight improvement of the train’s bathroom, and walked over to E. 29th Street to make our reservation at Marta. It’s in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel, and the restaurant design is, overall, a great combination of hopping, warm and chicly simple. The main light fixtures were the only miss, awkwardly 80s bar lights hanging jauntily from the ceiling some attempt at Calder Cubism.
But the black tile wood ovens, the wooden tables, what looked to be mercury glass panels lining the balcony of the upstairs dining area, the very Danny Meyer vases of greenery and the hipster-chic “uniforms” worn by the staff all coalesced into a spot that you felt happy to be sitting in and in no hurry to leave.
I ordered a glass of Greco, a white from Calabria, and Tom and I chose the octopus, sunchoke, orange and Castelfranco salad and two pizzas: the Salsiccia–sausage, red sauce, crimini mushrooms- and the Cavolini –Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, pickled chili, grana. I’m certain you realize that the former was T’s choice and the latter, mine.
Marta makes Roman-style pizzas, and true to form, our pizza crusts were cracker-thin. If you wait more than a minute to eat the first slice, you’ll never sample the crusts fleeting suppleness, so you need to know that going in. Most of your pizza will need to be enjoyed as if you are eating toppings on paper-thin yet strong foundation. It’s going to crunch and crackle and snap and flake. My strategy was to fold each slice in half, quickly and confidently, so as to keep as much filling in contact with crust as possible.
It pains me to say this because I think Danny Meyer is a genius gift to the restaurant world, but I was completely underwhelmed by the pizzas. The octopus salad was nice but not terribly memorable, and the pizzas were lovely to look at. But, I thought the sauce on Tom’s was too sweet, and my pizza overall just didn’t do it for me.
Two slices in, I discovered a piece of hard plastic, like that from a plastic tub, under my pie. This deflated me a bit further, and though our waitress could not have been more apologetic and gracious, I ate my new pizza more out of rueful hunger than any real desire to be ingesting it.
Nonetheless, my NY high outweighed the rogue plastic and disappointing meal, and we took a cab to our regular hotel, eager to check in and rest for a bit before getting dressed for the night. Tom gave our name, and I happened to glance at the woman pulling up our reservation; she looked increasingly confused, and because our name is often misunderstood, Tom spelled it out slowly. No dice.
We don't have a reservation?
Y’all, we had never actually made the reservation, the hotel did not have any rooms for us and so we decamped to the lobby to search for another home. We ended up on the eighth floor of the Sheraton Tribeca, a rather downtrodden place on one of the many ugly blocks of Canal Street.
Hysterically, when we pulled up in front, Tom said, “Em, LOOK! Right next door is the falafel joint you drunkenly insisted we take you to after Emily’s wedding several years ago.” Let me tell you that my memory of that joint is far shinier and cleaner than it is in the flesh. Sad muffins sit in bins by the floor, the fruit for smoothies is haphazardly smashed against the front window, and the salad bar looks to be in a perpetual state of wilt. That said, I really did need, want and eat the falafel sandwich the amused and lovely owner of this spot, Tribeca Bagel, made for me one fall night, so I bought a hot tea, just for old time’s sake.
Because we are obsessed, we watched a House of Cards and then got ready for the wedding reception which was in Brooklyn. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived in Brooklyn, having taken the slowest possible tour of Canal Street in the history of New York->Brooklyn trips. It never gets prettier, people. Ever. It is seedy and littered and glows with fluorescent bulbs that seem to be both hopeful and desperate. One after another shop sells the exact mix of perfumes, sunglasses, bags and keychains. The boarded up facades around and above them beckon mysteriously in Chinese and English, pictures and words offering gold, reflexology, insurance and pedicures. And still the vibrancy emanates, the hard scrabble, moneyed and lack of, fast-paced negotiation that is life in NY. And I love it.
Once at the party, I hugged my dear friend of twenty years with love and congratulations. I wished his beautiful wife well, saw another college friend it’s possible I’ve not seen since she graduated a year ahead of me, met some cool new people and finally headed back to the eighth floor where we fell fast asleep.