Eating the city: New York City, USA

In a city as big as New York and a stomach that can only physically expand so much, it’s impossible to eat everything. So, in order to save precious gut real estate for the good stuff, let me run you down the goodies you need to save space for when you visit.

 

1. Walnut chocolate chip cookie from Levain Bakery
Multiple locations
https://www.levainbakery.com

Not particularly cheap at USD$4.00 but they’re the size of grapefruit, FULL of melty chocolatey and nutty goodness, and can you really put a price on happiness? If you want to eat in, get there early or prepare to wait around – it’s a tiny space, so it fills up and the line ends up out the door pretty fast!
Read more here

 

2. Patrami & mustard on rye from Katz’s Deli
205 E Houston St
https://www.katzsdelicatessen.com

This is one of the classics of NYC, and there’s a good reason for that. Family run for several generations, they’ve served everyone from Harry & Sally to NYC Mayor de Blasio and Senator Bernie Sanders (I know that because they were sitting at the table next to us a few weeks ago!). And if the USD$22.00 price tag puts you off a little, remember how much you’d pay for that much meat at a BBQ place – just because its between bread doesn’t mean you’re not getting your money’s worth!
Read more here

 

3. Brisket and burnt ends from Mighty Quinn’s BBQ
Multiple locations
http://www.mightyquinnsbbq.com

Tender, juicy meat with soft, melty fat… and those perfect burnt pieces off the ends to finish it all off. Heaven! These guys know how to make meat perfect, and don’t forget some mac & cheese on the side. Prices vary depending on your order, but it’s good value for money for such high quality.
Read more here

 

4. Any and all of the pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Brooklyn
439 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn
http://www.birdsblack.com

Brooklyn’s amazing, but even if it wasn’t, it’d still be worth going to just to get your pie fix from these guys. They have a sweet little pie shop on a street corner, with a chalkboard hanging over the counter announcing the day’s offerings (around USD$6.00 per slice), and REAL tea and coffee to go with it!
Read more here

 

5. A salmon & cream cheese bagel from Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St
https://www.russanddaughters.com

This is the bagel dreams are made of, in whatever combination you decide on. I can’t go past the scallion cream cheese, and while it’s damn near impossible to narrow down the fish, I’d strongly recommend the cured Scottish salmon and the smoked sable. Prices vary depending on your fish, but they’re kind enough to slice off a bit for you to taste before you commit.
Read more here

 

6. Hot dogs from Papaya King or Nathan’s Famous
Papaya King: 179 E 86th St
http://www.papayaking.com

Nathan’s Famous: Coney Island or at a Bulls game at the United Center
https://nathansfamous.com

Two NYC stalwarts, two great dogs. From Papaya King you’ll be wanting the two hot dogs with sauerkraut & mustard and a papaya drink combo. I wasn’t sold on the papaya juice drink with a hot dog, but its actually a weirdly good combination! And at Nathan’s, you just want a dog with a little ketchup and mustard. Amazing!
Read more here and here

 

7. Tea and scones at Alice’s Tea Cup
Multiple locations
https://alicesteacup.com

I’m a big fan of Alice, so I was stoked to find this wasnt a completely tacky themed cafe. They do breakfast and lunch, too, but I was there for tea and sweets. You can get a large pot (6 cups) of tea with two scones of your choice (they have a rotating selection daily) for USD$20.00, and they’ve cleverly switched to a tip-included-in-the-price system to make things even easier. Selecting you tea is the hard part, with dozens to choose from – I like the Mauritius black tea with a hint of vanilla, and of course their signature Alice’s tea; you can also purchase any tea from their menu to take home!
Read more here

 

8. Deli sandwich near Sunset Park, Brooklyn
5th Avenue between Green-Wood Cemetery and Sunset Park

It doesn’t really matter where you get it from or what’s in it, the whole walk up 5th Avenue to Sunset Park is lined with these little delis. It’s a bit of a climb to the top of the park, so grab some sandwiches on fresh bread piled high with just-sliced deli meats for a picnic in a spot that overlooks the Manhattan skyline.

 

9. Noodles and dim sum in Chinatown

Let’s be honest; where there’s a Chinatown, there’s good food. And New York’s is no different. Get yourself over there and just start walking. It’s just like being in Asia, which means the menus are often difficult to decipher, and there are more options than you’ll know what to do with. And, it’s cheap. Enjoy!

 

10. New York Cheesecake from Eileen’s Special Cheesecake
17 Cleveland Place
https://www.eileenscheesecake.com

Because how can you possibly go to New York without trying the namesake cheesecake?! You can get a little personal one for yourself (USD$5.00), or a nice big one to share (or, for yourself, no judgement), and in all sorts of flavours as well as the original.
Read more here

 

11. Crack pie & birthday truffles from Momofuku Milk Bar
Multiple locations
http://milkbarstore.com/main/

We live in a time where sugar’s been proven to be more addictive than crack anyway, so may as well skip the drugs and go right for the sweet stuff! The pie is basically pure butter and sugar, and the truffles are sugar with sprinkles, but they taste so damn good you just can’t help yourself!
Read more here

 

12. Bomboloni from Sullivan Street Bakery
533 W 57th Street
http://www.sullivanstreetbakery.com

Soft, airy, pillowy balls of dough, fried to golden perfection and filed with silky smooth custard. Off you go.
Read more here

 

13. A bit of everything from the Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue
http://chelseamarket.com

There’s a whole basement full of food here, from vegan sushi to Aussie sausage rolls, herbal teas to artisan pastries, pizza slices to microbrew beer. If you can’t find something here you like, there’s something wrong with you!
Read more here

 

14. Gyro platter from The Halal Guys
Multiple locations
https://thehalalguys.com

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and a gap in the market for halal food in NYC led to one of the city’s greatest creations in the Halal Guys. The meat (served street side from a cart) is probably better than any you’ve had in a restaurant, and starting at around USD$8.00 for a platter, you won’t even need dinner later!
Read more here

 

15. Burgers! Fancy ones from Five Napkins, simple ones from Shake Shack.
Five Napkins: multiple locations
https://5napkinburger.com

Shake Shack: multiple locations
https://www.shakeshack.com

I’m a real burger lover, and my two NYC favourites fall on both ends of the spectrum. For something a bit fancier, try the Original 5 Napkin with gruyere and caramelised onions (around USD$17.00), and for a quick and cheap option, get yourself a ShackBurger for just USD$6.00. Both amazing. Just get both.
Read more here and here

My favourite New York eats

One of my colleagues is planning a trip to America in the next few months, and I told her I’d be happy to help by contributing some “places to eat” lists. Anyway, it got me thinking about some of the great food cities I’ve visited, and my favourite meals in those cities. It’s a topic husband and I come back to a lot; usually it starts with us out for lunch or dinner…
“How good is this burger?! So much cheese…”
“Remember that burger we are in New York?”
“The one at 5 Napkin?”
“Yeah, that one… man it was good…”
“Even better because we were so tired and cold and hungry.”
“That’s right, it was the day we spent walking around Central Park…”
“Remember how much it snowed that day?! I got snow in my shoes and it melted and made my socks wet – that was crap!”

Food has a way of bringing us back, perhaps even better than photos can. It involved more of your senses – you start tasting and smelling memories, rather than just seeing them. That’s actually the whole point of the cookbook I’m putting together… but back to this post, I thought I’d revisit my favourite New York eats – delicious memories for me, and hopefully helpful recommendations for anyone on their way to New York 🙂

1. Papaya King (hot dogs)
The food: good, old-fashioned hot dogs, smothered in sauerkraut and mustard. They’re the quintessential, perfect dog.

The memory: this was our first “meal” in the city; after checking into our hotel, dropping off our bags and putting on warmer coats, we walked through Central Park to Papaya King at dusk, taking it all in. I remember seeing a squirrel for the first time in the park, taking a selfie to send to my mum, and almost crying when I realised I was actually finally in New York.

 

2. Dough (donuts)
The food: a dulce de leche frosted donut covered in toasted almonds – it was big and light and the perfect donut.

The memory: we ate this at Smorgasburg, basically an indoor food hall at the Brooklyn Flea Market. I loved Brooklyn, because it reminded me so much of my beloved Fitzroy/Collingwood area back at home, and being such a familiar setting I felt like I blended right in.

 

3. Sullivan Street Bakery (bakery)
The food: bomboloni – Italian-style, filled donuts. A vanilla and a chocolate one. And tea, and coffee.
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The memory: it was another freezing cold New York morning, and I remember very clearly sitting in this beautiful old bakery, at a slightly rickety wooden bench, with a hot paper cup full of tea that I spilled a little when I took the lid off, because it was filled to the brim. It was dimly lit, with the morning sun still struggling to push its way through the clouds, and I was so content…

 

4. 5 Napkin Burger (burgers)
The food: The Original burger – big, fat and juicy, full of beautiful melty cheese and caramelised onions, and it was magical. Still one of my favourite ever burgers.

The memory: good heavens above, I was so damn cold… we’d spent about 4 or 5 hours walking around Central Park in about -8 degrees Celsius with nasty wind gusts. The highlight was visiting the Alice in Wonderland statue; it’s an all-time favourite book of mine 🙂  I remember being seated, telling husband what to order for me, and immediately running to the bathroom to run my hands under warm water and then under the hand dryer for a few minutes.

 

5. Katz’s Deli (sandwiches)
The food: a potato knish, and a big, fat, pastrami with mustard on rye.

The memory: oh man, we were so excited about this one… we’d seen Adam’s Man Vs Food episode several times, and couldn’t wait to finally try this iconic sandwich for ourselves. We arrived first thing in the morning, and felt like we were sitting in a movie set with the place still empty bar us and 2 other small tables of patrons. We were also really grateful we’d walked there (not so grateful for the grey, sludgy snow we had to walk through), because there were serious calories consumed.

 

6. Russ & Daughters (bagels & appetizers)
The food: an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and Scottish smoked salmon.

The memory: a few hours after the Katz’s Deli visit, and a few more kilometres walked, we dropped into Russ & Daughters, because I wanted to try a bagel with cream cheese and salmon, just like they do in the movies and stuff. I know, but screw it; when you’re in New York, you embrace the cliches.

 

7. Levain Bakery (bakery)
The food: probably the best chocolate chip cookie in the world. Also, a delectable chocolate chip stuffed brioche.

The memory: It was another freezing cold start, with the most snow either of us had ever seen. We again walked through Central Park to get there, and I remember making my way down a set of stairs and feeling like I was in a fairy tale. I was in my own world taking photos of the perfect whiteness, oblivious to the fact my husband was taking photos of me, too. Defrosting in the warm little store with my cookie was the best!
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8. Momofuku Milk Bar (sweets)
The food: crack pie and birthday truffles. We had them in Toronto, and again in New York. Magical, magical pieces of sugar.

The memory: we were walking back to our hotel at the end of another long day/night, delirious with exhaustion and excitement. Then, I saw the neon pink sign; we stopped mid-stride, looked at each other, and ran in. We walked the few blocks back to the hotel with our goodies, collapsed onto our bed, and stuffed our faces like little kids with their lolly bags after a big party.

 

9. Crif Dogs (hot dogs)
The food: hot dogs. Lots of them. The BLT, the Jon-Jon Deragon, the Tsunami

The memory: we’d heard about this place on Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, and were pretty keen to give it a try when we saw him there with Mr Momofuku David Chang. We were the only ones there when we arrived, the guy who was serving us was so much fun, and we had the best time just being there. It was the second last day of our week in New York, and we had a blast stuffing our faces with hot dogs and laughing and talking about the past few days!

 

10.  Four & Twenty Blackbirds (pie)
The food: the most magical black-bottomed oat pie and a pot of Earl Grey tea.
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The memory: this is one of my strongest travel memories. We’d spend the day in Brooklyn, and I wanted to try the pies here after seeing them all over Instagram, but we also wanted to cross the bridge back to Manhattan before dark so I could get some photos. We/I got so caught up in my pie, we didn’t realise the sun was rapidly going down outside; by the time we got out, dusk was coming and we hauled ass to the Brooklyn Bridge. We didn’t get to photograph it in daylight; we got the most perfect dusk light and sunset we could have asked for, and one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced.

 

11. The Halal Guys (street food – Middle Eastern)
The food: gyros bowls, only USD$7.00 and chocked full of rice, lamb & salad. And topped with pita bread.

The memory: this was our last meal in NYC, and it was the best way we could have possibly ended the week there. It was cold, but not raining, we joined the line and waited patiently for our bowls, and the line moved pretty quickly. We were served with smiles and laughs, and left the cart to find somewhere to sit and eat. I remember vividly sitting on a cold floor outside a fast food restaurant and I was wearing a black and white flowered dress with black tights and knee high black boots. We were amongst dozens of other people who were sitting around the streets with their dinner, all kind of exchanging smiles when they realised they were all eating the same thing, like we were all united in our choice of street food over restaurant fare, and we were all pretty happy with ourselves.

Eat here: Dominique Ansel Bakery, Tokyo

Dominique Ansel Bakery
5-7-14 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://dominiqueanseljapan.com/en

A while ago I wrote about my January 2015 visit to Dominique Ansel in New York City; last month saw me visit another of their stores, this time on the other side of the world in Tokyo, Japan. You can read a little more about my New York experience here, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I was met with sass and attitude, sans cronut. Unimpressed, to say the least.

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Like my New York visit, I arrived at the Tokyo store around the same time, 9am-ish in the morning, not long after opening time. Also like New York, I was met with a wall of the most beautiful and colourful looking cakes and cookies and macarons. But, in complete contrast, the lady who served me this time around couldn’t get me my cronut quickly enough, or present it to me with a proud enough smile on her face! What a gem!

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Given that it was breakfast time, I’d already walked Takeshita Street, and had a pretty massive day ahead involving a LOT more walking, I decided to grab a beautiful green matcha cookie, too. I started on that, and it was perfection – a wafer like base filled with something closer to a dense cake than a cookie, the matcha flavour was every bit as incredible as you’d expect here.

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Then, finally, my much anticipated cronut. Which I’d been waiting 10 months for.
Every.
Bit.
Worth.
The.
Wait.

Wow. So, it was a sweet potato number spiked with whiskey and creme fraiche, with nutmeg spiced maple sugar. Rich and creamy with perfectly golden pastry. This is the cronut dreams are made of. This makes walking in the rain worthwhile. This is everything. When you visit, check out their Instagram for flavour of the month!

All in all, way better experience than the New York store, the offerings had a really disting Japanese flavour to them, the cafe itself was beautiful and light and fun, and the non-stop, smiling flow of traffic through the door was testament to how popular they are over there! Great move, Mr Ansel! Now let’s look at making the move to Melbourne!

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York City

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York
http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/

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“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was dedicated almost three years ago – a stunning four acre park that memorialises those four freedoms. You can read more on the website, but their mission statement reads:
The Four Freedom Park Conservancy’s mission is to operate and maintain Four Freedoms Park, a public space dedicated to celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms through educational initiatives and public programming.

I’m not into politics, nor do I care for politicians. I know next to nothing about my own country’s political history (and not even sure it’s worth worrying about considering the iPhone wasn’t even around yet the last time we had a prime minister run a full term), much less about a country on the other side of the world, no matter how big a world power they may be. For the most part, I don’t care. But those words up there hit me hard when I visited the FDR Four Freedoms Park in January; I was reminded of the concept of freedom (more so freedom from ourselves) writing this post on Wednesday night, and reminded again more specifically of the words themselves last week while I was putting together this article for Outlet Magazine. 75 years ago, in the midst of yet another world war (the speech was meant to help rally the American public against the threat of the Axis powers), this man had the strength and courage to speak up about the freedom that should be afforded to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD. And what really got me, still gets me, is how relevant those freedoms are, today maybe even more so than when they were first expressed.

Freedom of speech and expression: how many instances have we heard of in recent years where journalists have been made victims? Or even just regular every day people speaking out about their beliefs?

Freedom to worship god in your own way: how many people are persecuted and killed over religious differences, not just every day, but every hour?

Freedom from want: did you know that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the 3.5 BILLION poorest?

Freedom from fear: imagine living on constant fear of bombings, rape, drive by shootings, poverty, homelessness, abuse…

 

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The park itself is beautiful; from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s bright and colourful in summer, but it was another level of stunning in winter. You can visit any day except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, and you can take the cable car over – it’s a gorgeous view looking over the city on your way across. Everything about the island was perfect, from the decrepit old smallpox hospital to the modern design of the island by Louis Kahn, it is magnificent. It doesn’t get the attention of Central Park or The Empire State Building, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must visit in New York City. And while you’re there, take a moment of peace to appreciate how fortunate you are to have at least had the freedom to travel to such a beautiful place.

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A view from above: Top of the Rock, New York City

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Well, if you’ve stuck around this long, allow me to thank you for joining me this week as I reminisced my way through New York… Truly, it’s one hell of a city, and I’m already planning my return (seriously). I thought it only fitting to end the week off with this post; there haven’t been many other times in my life where I have felt both literally and figuratively on top of the world to this extent…

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Taking the elevator up to the 67th floor of the Rockefeller Center on a cold but clear January day was exciting, but walking outside and up the stairs to the 70th floor was something else. From way up there, out in the fresh, open air, I could see so much more than I ever could have imagined possible in the middle of such a big city. From one side, Central Park sprawled through the middle of the metropolis. From the other, the Empire State and Chrystler Buildings sparkled in the morning sunshine.

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Do yourself a favour when you’re in New York, don’t bother waiting in the ridiculous line to get to the top of the Empire State Building; surely when you take your photos of the New York skyline, you want that to be in there! Buy an express pass for the Top of the Rock, visit early in the morning if you really want to skip the crowds, and enjoy the most gorgeous view of the city without the long waits  : )

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Shop here: Strand Bookstore, New York City

Strand Bookstore
828 Broadway, New York
http://strandbooks.com

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Hope you’ve been enjoying your virtual trip to New York so far this week 🙂 If you’re a bibliophile like me, chances are you may have heard of Strand Bookstore; it’s renowned for being home of almost 20 miles of new, used and rare books. No mean feat when real estate is such a precious commodity in NYC!

A family business (like so many are) started back in 1927, Strand now has over 2.5 million books to choose from with staff who are not only knowledgeable about what they’re selling, but also big readers and book lovers themselves. Instead of the standard hovering and annoying staff you often find in big stores, these guys are actually really helpful in finding what you’re looking for (and in a store this big, the help is much appreciated).

Strand has become a bit of a city institution, and now not only sell books, but also host a range of events such as book signings and readings, book swaps and Q&A panels. Go with an empty carry bag and a stacked wallet, because with that many books, it’s impossible to leave without a few!

Stay here: Da Vinci Hotel, New York City

Da Vinci Hotel
244 W 56th St, New York
http://www.davincihotel.com/

 

Next, you’re going to need somewhere to stay as a base while you’re exploring this wonder city. And accommodation is a seriously tough topic for visitors to New York. I learnt a few things in my few years working as a travel consultant. You need a transit visa if you want to leave the airport on your 16 hour Air China layover in Beijing. You cannot go to Phuket over Christmas holidays for $1000 per person when you’re booking in November. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford your holiday either. No, the $1100 per person sale fares to Los Angeles are not available with Qantas in school holidays. And a week’s worth of accommodation in New York costs a fucking fortune. This was a stress point when we were booking our trip, because at that point I was no longer working as a travel agent and no longer had access to the slightly better prices afforded to us.

I spend hours on Google, checking out endless photos and reviews before I came across the Da Vinci Hotel. Reviews weren’t horrible, nor were they amazing. It seemed a solid 3 star hotel, clean and comfortable, although the rooms were small. Fine by us; I don’t give myself credit for much, but when I travel, I’m not a princess. I don’t need enormous rooms with fluffy bathrobes and room service and all that crap. I just need a bed and a clean bathroom. And this seemed to fit the bill. And the part that seemed too good to be true? 8 nights cost us only AUD$1250.00! For real!

So, it was with a little trepidation that we gave the address to our cab driver when we arrived into New York; we pulled up at a slightly old but cute building attached to an Italian restaurant, complete with the requisite tacky Italian chef statue out the front clutching the day’s special board. Only 3 blocks from Central Park, a few minutes walk to Columbus Circle and a few metres from Broadway, first impressions on location were fantastic. We ended up walking almost everywhere during our week long stay, so 10/10 for location of Da Vinci!

As for the hotel itself, honestly, I fell in love with it within 10 minutes of being there. The staff at the front desk couldn’t have been more lovely and accommodating, checking us in quickly and running us through some of the hotel amenities:
– 24 hour front desk
– restaurant downstairs, under the ground level of the hotel, which also provided room service!
– all rooms with private bathrooms and toiletries
– bar fridges in rooms
– free WiFi
– safety deposit boxes

Our room itself was more that sufficient, particularly for the price we paid!

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It was clean and small but very comfortable. We had a fantastic heating unit that kept us warm through the snowy nights, and decent sized table in the corner of the room where I took this photo from which we were able to fit both suitcases underneath, and spread our crap out on top of. The bathroom was also really clean and had enough space to move around in pretty comfortably.

The other thing we really loved was the simple complimentary breakfast spread put on each morning; we were welcome to make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee, as well as grab a muffin or pastry on our way out each morning. Better again, because I love tea and it was almost impossible to get a take away cup of tea at the end of the night (seriously, even the McDonald’s on the corner near the hotel didn’t do tea! Incredible!), the lovely ladies at the front desk were more than happy to fill the kettle and boil some water for us when we got back in at the end of the night for a cuppa. Its those little, personal touches that make ALL the difference, particularly when you’re there for a week!

But everyone knows that the most important thing in New York is to choose accommodation in a good location. Approximate walking distances from the hotel to big ticket locations are:
– 12 minutes to Rockefeller Plaza
– 28 minutes to Empire State Building
– 23 minutes to Grand Central Terminal
– 15 minutes to Central Park Zoo
– 32 minutes to Central Park’s Great Lawn
– 10 minutes to MoMa
– 33 minutes to Madison Square Park

Also, it should be known that the pizzas they’re making in the restaurant under the hotel are not only an ungodly large size (as you can see below – that’s a large) and a great price ($16.00), but surprisingly absolutely delicious!

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If you’re visiting New York, do yourself a favour and consider spending a little less on fancy accommodation so you can spend more money experiencing the city! I mean, how much time do you really wanna be spending in your hotel room in a city like New York anyway?! Da Vinci was the perfect base for a week in NYC, I’d recommend it to anyone and will absolutely stay here again on my next visit!