Guest Author - Candyce H. Stapen
Discovering lesser-known New York City gems and also revisiting favorite treasures describe our best New York City weekends. On a recent Manhattan adventure, we explored Carl Schurz Park, dined at Toloache, a recently opened restaurant, stayed at Affinia 50 and returned to the amazing Museum of Modern Art.
Carl Schurz Park is a find. My daughter and I discovered the nearly 15 acre oasis when looking for a place to walk her West Highland terrier, Lexa. Overlooking the East River, the park stretches along East End Avenue from E. 84 Street to E. 90 Street.
Small compared to Central Park, Carl Schurz Park, home to Gracie Mansion, the official mayor’s residence, has a neighborhood feel. Families picnic on the grass, ‘tweens and teens play basketball on the courts and old men and star-struck couples sit on the benches as walkers stroll by and cyclists pedal along the wide promenade with its views of the river and the Triborough Bridge.
Best of all for dogs and dog lovers: two fenced pooch parks, one for big dogs and another just for smaller pups. Lexa romped with two French bulldogs, ran after tennis balls with a Yorkshire terrier and nuzzled with a shy Shih Tzu.
For dinner, at my son Matt’s suggestion, we tried Toloache (toh-lo-AH-tchay), which opened on E. 82nd Street in October 2011. The Mexican bistro stands out among the Upper East Side restaurants, which typically are either local places or long-established, high-priced landmarks.
Toloache differs with its trendy downtown feel and mid-range (for Manhattan) prices (appetizers $9-$17; main courses $18-$35.) The authentic Mexican fare is far from the type served at Mexican fast-food chains. At Toloache, choose from three kinds of guacamole, four types of ceviche and a variety of appetizer-sized quesadillas and tacos.
We especially liked the spicy lobster as well as the braised brisket tacos. For main dishes (Platos Fuertes) although some of the seafood in the Veracruz-style paella was dry, the camarones Toloache, garlic shrimp tortillas with squash and black beans, were delicious. For kids eight years and younger, the restaurant offers chicken or steak quesadillas, macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs. Dessert lovers should try the pastel de chocolate (warm, Mexican chocolate cake) or the churros, cinnamon dusted pastry served with chocolate dipping sauce.
A mid-town find for us: Affinia 50, family-friendly hotel on East 50 Street, offers rooms (best for two people) as well as suites that come with living areas, full-kitchens and separate bedrooms. The extra space for the money is nice as is the ability to cook simple meals and heat-up snacks. The Club Room’s Continental breakfast served Monday-Friday ($15 adults, $7 children) is convenient. So don’t be disappointed by the plain Jane, rather unwelcoming hotel lobby.
The Affinia 50 put us within blocks of one our favorite Manhattan sites: the Museum of Modern Art. Since we had limited time, we took in the special exhibit of Cindy Sherman’s photographs, browsed the works in second floor Contemporary Gallery and then revisited the fifth floor masterpieces by Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh and others. It was a terrific weekend in New York City.