The Tour & Taste bikeride started in Cobble Hill at Rolling Orange. The gods of New York smiled on us with a gorgeous sunny Saturday, and we pedalled Brooklyn’s well-appointed bike-paths and over the Brooklyn Bridge. We were a motley group – stylish Dutch bikers alongside beat-up mountain bikes and hybrids, young and old; one couple had even come from San Francisco.
Once the Brooklyn Bridge spat us out in Manhattan, we wove west through Chinatown to take the Westside Greenway bikepath up the western edge of the island. If you’re looking for a scenic bike-trail in New York this is a great place to start – dedicated cycle path, lots of space and great views out to the Hudson and beyond. Then we were eastward bound once more, headed for the Union Square Farmers Market.
These markets are apparently some of the best in the world, and lots of New York’s top chefs source their produce here. And it’s not just fruit and veg – there are meats, poultry, game, honey, flowers, cheeses, pastries, breads, wines, seafood… anything delicious you can think of, and then a bunch of things you wouldn’t believe exist. Cotton candy spun from maple syrup. Wild ginseng from upstate New York so rare they keep it in a locked box and sell it for $500 a pound.
We got a special tour from Vandaag chef Phillip Kirschen-Clark, who guided us through his favourite producers and the seasonal ingredients he would later be serving up for our three-course lunch. This is a bloke who clearly loves his job, and loves the challenge of interpreting produce into unconventional meals. He hammed up his banter with the various stall-holders, begging one to find him some reindeer meat. “The closest I can get is elk, but I want reindeer!” he enthused, perhaps already planning a macabre Christmas menu.
Did I mention it was a stunning day? God I love this city. The restaurant itself is on 2nd Ave in the Lower East Side. We parked out flotilla of bikes on the footpath outside and luxuriated in the sundrenched interior, designed with clean modern lines by architect Eric Mailaender.
Vandaag is Dutch for “today”. The cuisine is an odd marriage of Dutch and Danish influences, both countries which share a similar climate to New York and therefore seasonal produce is in sync. They even had a bike as part of the decor! Loaded up with squash that would later become part of a weirdly delicious hot cider cocktail.
The restauranteur talked us through the menu as we nibbled on a range of breads, dips and sausage. We made our selections from the set menu – a kale salad studded with green strawberries, squash served both pickled and battered; gravlax, duck confit or dandelion smorrebrod for mains.
I got so caught up in the food and conversation I forgot to take photos of the starters and mains! But I did capture the amazing dessert; a wafer-thin waffle sandwich filled with a concoction of salted molasses and chickory. There are no words.
It was one of those languid, drawn-out lunches you relish for half the afternoon, but the food was light enough that the bike-ride back to Brooklyn wasn’t impossible. I cannot deny, however, that a well-earned post-prandial disco nap was taken once the bikes were returned to Rolling Orange.
Seriously. Best birthday ever.