Before omicron arrived to ruin the holidays, I had a short but lovely visit to New York City. I planned to write about my suggestions for dining and entertainment for those who might be making a holiday visit. Pre-pandemic, Rhode Islanders often took that convenient Amtrak train to go see a show and have a special dinner around Christmas and New Year's.
While it seems foolhardy to share this story now, I will. There are two reasons: hope for better days, and my bad memory. So cut and save if a trip to the city is in your future.
I took the fast Acela train and everyone stayed masked up. It was my first time seeing the new Moynihan Train Hall, an expansion of Pennsylvania Station, in the former main post office building. It opened this year and it's sparkling new. That is one very, welcome upgrade.
A perfect NYC lunch
I had a lunch I will not soon forget at a new restaurant that was not far from Rockefeller Center, where I wanted to see the tree.
Casa Limone just opened this summer, occupying two stories at 20 East 49th St.
It is the first restaurant from Michelin-starred Italian chef Antonio Salvatore. It's inspired by the Amalfi Coast in design and menu. There are flower-strewn pergolas hanging over second floor tables and the staircase. There are also bright, refreshing drinks (made with Prosecco and limoncello) and classic Italian cocktails. Welcome plates with olives, focaccia and mortadella are served.
The aroma from wood-fired oven wafts in the air.
Casa Limone is one of those places that transports you while you dine. It's not hard to believe you are in Southern Italy, at least for a few hours. Some of the tables are inlaid with Italian ceramic tiles, which are also used for some of the dishware. It adds to the cheerful setting.
From burrata appetizers to desserts including delicate doughnut holes served with ice cream and chocolate, everything is beautifully plated and delicious. There's plenty of creativity on the menu, such as Provolone Podolico, a baked provolone dish served with vegetables. It's plated by the server for a bit of a show.
While I went for lunch, the all-day menu includes pastas, seafood and meat. Pizza, too, from that wood-fired oven, is on the menu and includes the Tartufata with black truffles and ricotta.
The lunch carried us right into the evening, when we headed to the St. James Theatre to see "David Byrne's American Utopia" on Broadway.
You may recall that Byrne and his friends from the Rhode Island School of Design founded Talking Heads back in 1977 in New York City, so what could be more appropriate to see?.
It is a totally entertaining show and I left the theater with a smile on my face.
Many, though not all, of the songs came off Byrne's "American Utopia" album. There are also some Talking Heads songs; "Burning Down the House" is a crowd-pleaser.
It's not like your usual Broadway show, nor is it any kind of rock opera. It's a performance play. The band is more like a marching band, wearing their instruments so they can dance at the same time. The stage is stark and all the performers are in gray suits and barefoot. Watching them play and move is nothing short of mesmerizing.
I always liked Talking Heads and Byrne but I'm no super fan, nor do I love going to concerts. This was entertainment, pure and simple.
Byrne does some narration to tie the songs to a theme of resilience. I found that tedious and just wanted more music and the celebration of the dance.
Late-night dining in NYC
My idea to eat after the show at Junior's was not a good one. Or maybe it was a very good idea, because every theater-goer was trying to get in.
But walking from the theater, we heard some piano music that called to us. It was coming from a restaurant that was down a stoop on West 49th St.
Turns out, Da Marino is open until midnight. After we showed the manager our vaccination cards and IDs, we were seated at a table in this grotto-like restaurant. The walls here are brick, adding to the grotto feel. They have celebrity photos on the walls and artificial garlic hanging. The bathroom feels like a shrine in the old country.
It's all wonderful.
We hadn't intended to have another Italian meal this visit but we enjoyed polenta, ravioli and Penne alla Vodka. This is a red-sauce restaurant, but they do it all well.
We also enjoyed the festive holiday cocktails and fresh bread and oil.
But mostly we loved hearing the piano player sing Christmas songs, Billy Joel tunes and a Hanukkah song. It was a loud, festive, fun place which is just the energy we wanted after our return to Broadway.
On the way out, we met the owner, Craig Perri, who wanted to talk about the Patriots. He said he played football at the U.S. Naval Academy under Bill Bellichick's father, Stephen Belichick.
The manager wanted to talk baseball. But he was a Mets fan, so the answer was no.
Real New York bagels
Before leaving for home, I had to get real New York bagels. I found Ess-A-Bagel, which is known for huge, airy bagels, a wide variety of cream cheese and sandwiches made with bagels. They are kosher-certified and not made with eggs or dairy. They started the business in 1976.
The line at the shop at 831 3rd Ave, between 50 and 51st streets, was out the door, and isn't that always a good sign. A woman I can only assume was the bubbe of the family was manning the phone. She was also telling the newly arrived crowd how things worked.
"If you ordered hot bagels and cream cheese, go to the back corner. If you only want hot bagels and cream cheese, go to the guys at the back counter. If you want a sandwich or anything else from the deli counter, stay in the line."
She didn't say to order iced coffee at the deli. You could order hot coffee at the register but not iced. That's important for us New England folks.
I would absolutely go there again. The bagels were still great two days later and so big you could share one between two people.
Skip Uber and take a taxi in NYC
Finally, I learned one huge lesson about getting around the city. I embrace ride-sharing services when I visit my kids in San Francisco. Uber and Lyft are not the preferred transportation here. Even though the holiday crowds were as minimal as I've ever seen, there was traffic, horrid traffic.
If you have to get anywhere, you need the aggressive moves of a taxi driver. I'm only sorry I didn't record my ride back to Penn Station to post in this story. It was one for the ages.
If you go
Casa Limone is located at 20 East 49th St, (646) 370-6282, casalimonerestaurant.com. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Da Marino, 220 West 49th St., (212) 541-6601, damarino.com. Open seven days for lunch and dinner and late dinner and drinks.
Ess-a-Bagel, 831 3rd Ave, (212) 980-1010, ess-a-bagel.com, open seven days a week. There are other locations as well.
"David Byrne's American Utopia," St. James Theatre, 244 West 44th St., americanutopiabroadway.com
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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Your NYC to do list for dining and more when it's safe to visit the city