3, 2, 1 ... Bam, the city goes off in a big way. A new year in a very strange place and it couldn't be farther away from where we were 12 months ago. Then, with the year of our lord, twenty-fourteen, all ahead of us, we were in Byron Bay in our little secluded spot. There was certainly some partying going down but nothing like this. Times Square in New York City - well not quite seeing as it's just so crammed solid with humanity, the closest we got was the corner of Eighth Avenue and 46th Street. The ball dropped and the ticker tape and confetti showered the estimated 1 million people who are all looking upwards in groups taking photos of themselves with the omnipresent selfie-stick.
Just getting a table to have dinner anywhere in Manhattan proved difficult. At the Times Square Olive Garden, TGI Friday's and Bubba Gumba Shrimp, you could have one seat for the event for around $250-$500. Not that I have an adversity to dining at these rock-bottom family restaurants, in some places there's nothing but these i.e. Anaheim. However, that's a lot to pay for an average burger or prawn cocktail.
After some negotiating we ended up at the nostalgically named Bar Bacon on Ninth avenue. Now this was a fun place, going off like everywhere on New Year's Eve. It captures a lot of what is great about American dining: well it's a bar with good beer and they weave smoky pulled pork and or applewood smoked bacon into every dish.
Travelling now with a grown up family - including a 20-year-old who missed the fine print about the drinking age - did require some planning to get around and experience everything. New York is our last stop before heading home after having some time driving around LA's endless freeways and Christmas in the gambling labyrinth that is Las Vegas.
Edible highlights are many but you do find yourself eating burgers and fries more often than not. Seems like the term "restaurant" is used more freely than we do at home. Umami burger, which was just getting started on the west coast when we came here three years ago, is high on the list of the best burgers you'll have. The queues are long but the wait is worth it
I did go back to a few places that I enjoyed last time, namely Momofuku Ssam bar on the lower East Side, John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street and Red Rooster in Harlem. At the tiny and very busy Ssam bar, where last time my 12-year-old son and I tried in vain to get through a full rotisserie duck, the five of us shared their dry-aged ribeye dinner.
Pre-ordered as you sort of have to do, this was a feast of the highest order: perfectly cooked aged, fatty beef rib, sliced off the bone and served with a series of sauces – jus, ranch, bearnaise – along with sides of caesar salad, fries (of course) roasted garlic and plenty more washed down with a bottle of premier cru burgundy. It's a stunning meal from the guy that almost singularly invented modern relaxed dining. John's is still humming along with the queues patiently waiting for their turn at a huge New York pizza from one of the few coal-fired ovens left and then there's Red Rooster.
Only Australians flinch at this name. It's in Harlem, a name which still makes me shudder, having frequented New York in the '80s, when Harlem was a place where you wouldn't survive a visit. Now the wide Sesame Street sidewalks, eclectic range of businesses and lack of tourists make it a great destination. Red Rooster is a comfort food coal face, true American soul food dining. It's a very cool place to hang, diners wearing all manner of fashion: feathers and snap-backs, lace and fedoras, fur coats and pin-stripe suits. Awesome food in a jazzy setting: corn bread with tomato jam, black-eyed peas and tripe or their famous fried yardbird with gravy, mash and bread and butter pickle or blackened catfish, fried chicken and waffles. It's really worth getting on the subway and heading here then you can amble back through Central Park.
Even though it is mid-winter, the weather is unseasonably warm with bright blue skies that we walk under each day exploring the overload of sights to see here. Staying in Chelsea gave us great access to all the familiar buildings, museums and shops that crowd Manhattan. The abundance of these selfie-sticks does make viewing these sights a little difficult like it's some weird future world where everyone's arms have shrunk and they lack the ability to hold a camera far enough away to capture the moment.
Fried chicken is definitely an American intervention, having it for breakfast with waffles still seems a little odd but even on its own and at dinner, making your own wings is fairly easy. The trick is to brine the wings first and cook them twice. Once at a low controllable temperature then they are just finished off in very hot oil to give that beautiful textural counterpoint of super crispy outside and supremely juicy inside.
Fried chicken wings with ranch dressing
12 large chicken wings, tips removed
1 litre water
¼ cup salt
Ground black peppercorns
4 litres grapeseed oil
Dissolve the salt in the water and brine the chicken for about five hours. Rinse, drain and pat dry. Heat the oil until it reaches 90 degrees C and slide in the wings. Cook for about 20-30 minutes at this temperature, testing that they are cooked through but not browning at all. Drain and chill. Bring the oil up to full 170 degrees C and cook the wings until they are crispy on the outside. Drain and serve with the ranch dressing
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup store-bought mayonnaise
6 pickled onions, diced finely
½ clove garlic, minced
1 spring onion, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
Just mix it all together, gets better with a few hours' bottle age.