This time of the year always reminds me of the wonderful times I had spent with my dad in the City during the holiday season. I always looked forward to those Daddy-Daughter days when he was mine for a day and we could wander the city, go shopping and of course eat. It was a tradition that he and I would hop on the train to Grand Central and spend the day shopping up and down Madison and Fifth Avenues. We’d start out on Fifth, and stroll up the Avenue mostly window shopping until we’d get to his favorite place in Rockefeller Center — Teuscher Chocolates. This magical chocolate shop, was filled with all kinds of chocolates flown in weekly from Switzerland and wrapped in the most elaborate boxes, one more fantastical than the next. My favorite were the champagne truffles, which made me feel so grown up and sophisticated — oooh, Champagne was inside so it must be the best. Dad would get his dark chocolate covered orange peel and we’d eat them all as we strolled up the avenue. There was another location conveniently located close to one of his favorite wine shops, the original location for Sherry Lehmann, which was on Madison Avenue. So we had options and bribes. I’d bribe him to go up 5th with me and he’d get chocolate; and he’d bribe me to walk into Sherry Lehmann while he spent hours and hours talking about wine — then I’d get chocolates — and clothes.
Patience is not a Kowalsky virtue, I come from a long line of people without patience, from Grandma to Grandpa and Dad, who was basically impatience personified. I’d wait and wait until he was done with his wine shopping. Now that I think back on it, maybe taking me to go clothing shopping and chocolate eating, was his way of getting into the city to check wine shops, talk to his buddies and make me wait endless hours. I don’t really remember how I entertained myself, growing ever more impatient, but I knew that clothing was the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d tolerate the hours we spent looking at bottles and more bottles, and then he’d take me into Saks or Lord and Taylor. Now it was my turn, but again Kowalsky’s don’t have patience, so shopping with him was like speed dating with clothes. I’d say “Hi skirt, how do you do?” “Great we’re a match” so then dad would say something like, “Ok you like it, great, take 2, I don’t want to come back.” Once I figured this out, speed shopping was the best! Though once home, mom wasn’t so happy when she saw that I had the haul of the century!
But before returning home, we’d once again enter the glorious Grand Central Station, to make our pilgrimage to the cathedral of seafood, the one and only Grand Central Oyster Bar. But before I take you through my culinary journey with Dad, I have to brag a bit about an amazing experience I just had last week at the Oyster Bar, which jogged my memories of being there with dad so many years ago. One of my fellow Dames, from Les Dames d’Escoffier, invited me to the Canadian Oyster Festival, held there in celebration of the retirement of the Oyster Bar’s executive chef, famed Sandy Ingber who after 31 years decided to hang up his oyster knife. I helped my friend Michael Ann Rowe, the queen of all things crustacean, with a sparkling wine donation from Bouvet Ladubay. Bubbly and Oysters, a match made in heaven and I was in heaven! What an array of oysters to feast on, so many different ones from Canada all paired with the smooth, and creamy sparkling wines of Bouvet.
As I helped pour, my neighbor, one of the celebrated Canadian oyster shuckers from Raspberry Point, kept giving me oysters! It was a great night for sure, but it did make me think about all the great meals at the counter I had with my dad before we got on the train to go back home. Sitting at the counter was a right of passage, yes there were tables, but no true New Yorker sat at a table. There’s nothing like sitting at the counter, being served by the waiters and waitresses who had been there forever, under the vaulted ceilings designed by Guastavino. We’d start with a dozen clams on the half shell, dad loved them doused with cocktail sauce and lemon. Then we’d each get our favorite chowder — dad Manhattan Clam Chowder and me New England. The battle of the soup was on as we’d argue about which was better. Each soup was accompanied by Oyster Crackers and a bread basket with filled with savory crackers and rolls and hard as a rock butter on ice.
Bellies full, our final food stop was at Zaro’s for a black and white cookie for me, which I still think is the perfect cookie, a cake, a cookie, chocolate, vanilla all in one! We’d then hop on the train back home for the short ride up the Hudson. I loved these Daddy-Daughter days, true New Yorker days. And yes folks the City is New York, no arguments here, for me it’s the only one allowed to be called the City. Food, wine, shopping, NYC and dad that was a perfect day in my books.