“Got cheesecake?” I asked the waiter at a swank wine bar.
“All we have are Greek yogurts. They are kind of sweet…”. His accent was a cross between Mediterranean and New Yorker. Part of me thought it was fake to add to the mystique of the establishment. Regardless, I’m no fan of yogurt. I believe it has something to do with texture.“Tell you what. I don’t know a single wine on this list. Have any wines compared to a Riesling?” I’m a fan of German Rieslings from Mosel, not too sweet and pair nicely with seafood or dessert.
“I’ve got the perfect wine.” The waiter said smiling. He disappeared to the back when I received a text from my wife accompanied with a photo of broccoli, scallops, a whole grain of some sort, and a lemon wedge. And I thought I was the photographer in the house. My mind was now longing for the meal I was missing out on. I glanced around the room trying to focus on something else. There was no piano. Very little people in attendance. I guess it was a Wednesday night. I was still contemplating a Central Park run the next morning and was seriously just ready to go when the waiter arrived leaving me chained to my chair.
“Santorini is a white wine from the southern Cyclades islands,” he said pouring the wine into a decanter and then into my drinking glass. I gave a sniff. The thought of crystal clear water, gorgeous sunsets, and steep rocky embankments percolated into my imagination reservoir. I had attended a conference dominated with the visual stimuli of landscape photography from such areas. Last year I found most of the photography intimidating, but this year I started to enjoy what was in my head better. Great technique always boils down to practice. I’ve been pleased with my progress thus far. Taking another sip of wine I wondered – where does one go when they sip a glass of wine? Are they alone? If not, who are they with? If so, then why?
The waiter continued to brag about the wine making me think he was Greek after all articulating Greek cities in a manner I had never heard of before. “Are you from Greece?”
“I was born there. Moved to New York City. Lived here all my life,” he recalls.
I am a sucker for true experiences opposed to those manufactured by an overpriced designer at a brand agency acting as translator from their home city to the next. “Does this restaurant hire a greek waiting staff only?” I inquired.
“No. I just so happen to be Greek. Working here reminds me of home, though. It’s an honor to work here.”
The accent and the wine was not enough to transport me to wherever this waiter wanted me to go. I made a promise to myself that I was to hunt down the very best cheescake New York City had to offer, but glancing over the menu wouldn’t hurt. Peppers marinated with a balsamic reduction intrigued me. The scallops on a skewer sounded even better.
“My wife is from Jersey and just photographed me the scallops she cooked for dinner,” I challenged.
“Our scallops are pretty good,” the waiter added. “They are a sampling of the dining experience upstairs.” The waiter pointed towards the ceiling as if channeling The Creation of Adam painted by Michelangelo himself. I found it ironic the restaurant upstairs delivered its scraps to the peasant class below. I was literally on floor number four of what was a very vanilla shopping mall experience (just don’t tell a New Yorker I said that). This waiter was now telling me of a floor five?! In Texas we have wealthy landowners. Some retreat to high-rises in gentrified neighborhoods. Most, however, live at ground level purchasing acres upon acres of space separating us from them. I drive through these areas everyday. If you’re lucky, these ranches as they call them, signified by a cattle brand marking its true prominence, have bed and breakfasts attached to the residence. A true symbol of Texas hospitality – if you have the cash that is.
I knew my wife could cook scallops better. She made it one of her projects for the summer to cook them perfectly. Of which, I am always a willful participant. I will never forget when she set a goal one summer to make the perfect ribs. My father is a chef and made the very best ribs I had been aware of. Her first shot would send me into a tailspin. This woman clearly masters anything she sets her mind too. I was at the Javits Center right off the Hudson. What did I have to lose. “I’ll try the scallops then.”
Needless to say the scallops were cooked perfectly and absolutely delicious. Each pepper and tomato were perfectly roasted. I can’t eat onions do to a stomach condition. Technically should not be eating tomatoes either. I’m sure the onions were to die for as well. And yes, the food complimented my wine brilliantly. If this was a sampling from heaven above then I guess I was a fan. I make it out to New York City each year. I have made a mental note that floor five will be on my list of things to do next year. I guess I’ll have to invest in a dinner jacket.
Happy that my wine pairing was the very best I could have hoped for, I would not let the appetizer get in the way of my true intentions.
“Now would someone please direct me to the best cheesecake in New York City?” I proclaimed. There were few people left in the bar. A forty something artist sort laughed.
“I know a place originating out of Brooklyn,” he responded.
“Is that good or bad?” Everyone laughed. I clearly was enjoying being the only Texan at a Greek Wine Bar.
“Depends if you are from Brooklyn,” he responded. “Juniors is located near Time Square now believe it or not. A little bit of a walk though.” I had been walking to the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a few days now, I was thinking. To the outsider that is 34th street all the way to 97th. Walking to Time Square was, pardon the pun, an absolute cake walk.
“I am out for great cheesecake,” I shrugged. “Walking to Time Square is not an issue.”
I departed the bar in a mad haste. Little did I know I would be competing with the last showings on Broadway for the night and a weather event. I ran into New York City’s working class where those walking changed from one colored shirt to another along the way. It was a truly intimate moment which I chose not to photograph. Perhaps for another time, I had thought.
Juniors was worth the walk. I decided to order a not so traditional chocolate mousse cheesecake. The street was pretty much abandoned when I first got there allowing me to pick from any seat I wanted outside. Camera in hand, I chose a superb spot with a great vantage point to all those walking to and from performances.
There was also a roof over my head. Of which, I was grateful. The umbrellas came out when the rain started. I was so enamored in my experience I had totally forgotten to check the weather report. We weren’t talking about a sprinkle, either. It poured long enough for me to complete my cheesecake. When the rain stopped, I grabbed my belongings.
It was then that I came to the conclusion that who was I to stop a third go of Central Park. I might barely make it to my late checkout of 1pm. But the risk was well worth the reward. Tonight was proof.
I spotted one more lifer the next morning – a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Strawberry Field, an anomaly for sure. I had also returned to the Downy Woodpecker nest I had spotted the day prior vowing to get a better shot.
The Ramble poses a serious challenge for photographers. This area in Central Park is extremely dense with trees. If you don’t have a good prime then you could practically forget about it. I would not be detoured.
Glad I ventured into the park for a third time, I was about to shut down my camera when a familiar bird song caught my attention. I turned direction, curious that a lone Cedar Waxwing could be so close. Usually they sing in groups of no less than five. I followed the song to a bush guarding the entrance to the Ramble and peered inside with my eyes firmly glued to the viewfinder. I automatically pressed the shutter amazed at my finding.
I have learned not to be so surprised by the synchronicity of the moment. An occupied Cedar Waxwing tugging at a piece of ribbon for nesting materials would become one of my best shots of the year. Figures. I’d like to consider myself as someone who sets pretty strategic goals for myself. Moments like this put me in my place. I will always be an observer in a city fenced off by the tide.