Friday, April 16, 2010

New Leaf Restaurant & The Cloisters

New Leaf Restaurant (One Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park)
NOTE: New Leaf & The Cloisters are both closed on Mondays

After what resulted in one of the most magical days I have spent in New York City, I am so ashamed that it wasn't until yesterday that I made the short trip on the A-train to Fort Tryon Park near Washington Heights, home of The Cloisters (The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of Medieval works).  If you have never visited this sanctuary of invigorating gardens and astounding architecture, then give yourself a present, and set aside the next sunny day for an excursion you will not soon forget.

After exiting at the 190th street station, I found myself at Margaret Corbin Circle (named after the first woman to fight in the American Revolutionary War), the gateway to Fort Tryon Park.  The circle offers glimpses of the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades, as well as just a hint of the flowers the lie beyond the park's entrance.

Just off the mouth of the pathway leading into the park sits New Leaf Restaurant & Bar, housed in a 1930s-vintage stone building that formerly served as the park's concessions.  In 2001, Bette Midler's nonprofit organization, The New York Restoration Project (NYRP was also responsible for the cleanup of Fort Tryon Park beginning in 1995), assumed management of the establishment, and soon thereafter transformed it into the New Leaf Restaurant & Bar.

Though the main dining room offers a beautiful cottage setting with a breezeway of fresh garden air, we opted to dine on the sun-kissed outdoor patio.

Executive Chef Scott Campbell has derived a simple, yet perfectly varied menu drawing inspiration from local greenmarkets, cooperative upstate farms, as well as NYRP's own gardens.  The following are my photographs of what was one of the most splendid and delightful lunches to ever catch me by surprise.  The best part?  All net profits go toward the upkeep and maintenance of the park.

A delicious spring martini of earl grey-infused vodka with St. Germain elderflower liqueur.

A refreshing orange-basil mojito.

A bubbling cast iron skillet of mac 'n cheese, which was paired with...

a bowl of robust New Leaf chili; a forkful of macaroni cheesy deliciousness dipped in the chili created the perfect bite.

A superbly grilled bacon cheeseburger on soft and buttery brioche with smoked cheddar...

House made pappardelle bolognese with smoked mozzarella and basil.

The presentation of this passion fruit soufflé was spectacular, as the server pierced a small opening in the middle with a teaspoon, then poured cool vanilla bean creme anglaise (a light English pouring custard) into the warm center.

Warm and rich chocolate bread pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream...

And an after-dinner cordial of Raspicello, the raspberry sister of limoncello.

After such an exquisite and satisfying lunch, we set off through Fort Tryon Park towards The Cloisters.  Throughout the park, you can catch breathtaking views of the New Jersey Palisades.  The land at the northern tip of Manhattan was purchased in 1917 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of the architect of Central Park, to develop the park which he would offer as a gift to city.  To preserve the views of the Palisades from Fort Tryon Park, he also purchased and donated several hundred acres of the land across the river.

A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters have a suggested admission of $20, though they will accept whatever amount you are willing to pay.  The admission tag here is also good at the Met's main galleries in Manhattan the same day of the purchase.

The building housing the collection is a work of medieval art itself, a composite of five actual French cloisters, disassembled in Europe and reassembled in Fort Tryon Park around 1938, complete with gardens planted according to various medieval documents and artifacts.

A lush courtyard in the center of the Cloisters.

Unfortunately after such an indulgent lunch and leisurely stroll to The Cloisters, we were unable to take full advantage of the audio tour or a particularly detailed perusal of the artwork (we only had an hour until closing time at 5:15).  Docents were available throughout the museum, and were particularly helpful in explaining the famous unicorn tapestries housed within.  I will definitely make a return visit soon for a more thorough exploration of the statues, triptychs,  and stained glass.

As we made our way back through the park, stopping at the highest natural point in Manhattan, the dusk sun illuminated absolutely brilliant colors in the kaleidoscope if blossoms.

After so much up-and-downhill walking (definitely wear appropriate shoes, though the restaurant is dressy casual) and admiring an array of so many colors, we simply couldn't resist a soft serve cone with rainbow sprinkles from the Mister Softee truck parked just outside the subway station on Margaret Corbin Circle.

An absolutely perfect New York City day...

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