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2016 NYC Trip Photos #19: Ultimate Manhattan Mealtime

Grill!

If you’ve ever gone to Benihana but resented those showy chefs as superfluous middlemen in your tableside cooking experience, have we got a restaurant for you.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…

Visiting two museums along Manhattan’s Museum Mile seemed insufficient, but we’d already seen the Metropolitan Museum of Art on our 2011 trip, and we were running out of time. We had restaurant reservations at the end of Day Four that would prove to be the best meal we’ve ever had in New York City, possibly a contender for Top 5 Meals of All Time.


Museum Mile!

First we had to leave where we were, idyllic though it was with Central Park to one side.

Once again we needed to take the bus south on 5th Avenue, but we’d been soured by our previous experiences with bus stops being arbitrary, imaginary, or just not worthy enough for every driver to honor. I stopped trusting the signs and therefore wasn’t confident where we could actually catch one, till I remembered that one had stopped for us on Day Three near the Met. Determined not to be bypassed, I had us walk from the Guggenheim on 88th to the south end of the Met near 80th, where we’d had success before. My party didn’t much care for the added mileage, but the alternatives involved paying extra for cabs, walking even further to the nearest subway station, or standing in front of the next available bus and protesting their shoddy customer communication skills.

Regardless of added fatigue, it worked and we got a ride once again. We had plenty of time to rest while our bus crawled in the right direction behind snail-paced rush-hour congestion. Looking outside the window was like a clipfest of our previous Fifth Avenue experiences.

Apple Store!

Sometime in the last five years, the Apple Store front went from white to transparent. We own zero Apple products, so this otherwise has nothing to do with us. Over on the right, the space formerly known as FAO Schwarz has gone white and dead.

Trump Tower.

Trump Tower: still there, still looming.

Once we disembarked, our walk from the bus stop to the 53rd & 5th station took us past St. Thomas Church, easily the most eye-catching structure along the way that wasn’t made of advertising.

St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue!

9/11 trivia: their congregation is Episcopalian, but on 9/20/2011 they held a special interfaith service featuring guest speaker Prime Minister Tony Blair. Remember him?

Eventually we worked our way back to Hell’s Kitchen. Dinner was on the same block as our hotel at a Japanese BBQ restaurant called Gyu-Kaku. We’d spotted it upon arrival, chosen it partly for proximity and partly for my son’s Japanophilic leanings, but were surprised to find reservations had to be made a few days in advance. At last delayed gratification would be ours.

Gyu-Kaku!

Gyu-Kaku has hundreds of locations in Japan, a couple dozen in the U.S., none back home in Indiana yet.

Not the Asian buffet we predicted, Gyu-Kaku specializes in “Yakiniku”, a style in which diners order from a wide selection of tiny portions of meats (think tapas or dim sum), the waitress brings them out still raw but dressed a variety of marinades, dips, or seasonings of your choosing, and then you (or a companion if you’re helpless) cook them in the circular grill installed in the middle of your table.

Steaks!

It’s not hard. You have tongs. They recommend thirty seconds per side, fifteen for the tuna. Be careful not to let it stick. End of procedures.

Anne and I had twenty-two years’ restaurant experience racked up between the two of us before we switched career tracks over sixteen years ago. My son has been picking up some kitchen survival skills at his off-campus apartment. Between the three of us, we did fine and had a blast. Our meat order included bite-sized samplings of duck breast, hanger steak, miso skirt steak, ahi tuna, and cute li’l lamb chops. I admit I did burn one piece of tuna.

Their menu also offers numerous appetizers, soups, salads, and other non-grilled items for texture or balance or whatever. We got carried away, went nuts and threw in some BBQ octopus balls, buffalo spring rolls, fried pork belly (from the all-important bacon food group), fried calamari, and — to ensure we got our minimum daily allowance of carbs — some shiitake rice for my son and a bowl of bibimbap for me.

Gyu-Kaku!

Remember, some of these were tasty yet minuscule portions. We’re not talking a twelve-pound collection of slabs.

It wound up being the most expensive meal we’ve ever had a table with less than ten people, but we had no regrets. Other than Anne’s aversion to tuna, we enjoyed everything they put in front of us, even the fancy DIY meat nuggets. We skipped some of the pricier menu options (Wagyu for $55, anyone?) even as we dreamed of what we might order if we ever had the chance for an encore visit. It wouldn’t happen on this trip, but who knows what our future or their company will bring.

After all the exhaustion and pains we’d been carrying with us throughout the trip during and after our marathon walks, Gyu-Kaku gave us A-plus food and the bonding opportunity we three sorely needed.

Gyu-Kaku!

By the time we were all stuffed to capacity, we had zero ounces of meat left over. Their fare was infinitely better than dining on remaindered angry millionaire steaks.

One drawback to this memorable night after the fact: our remaining New York dining experiences through Days Five and Six were all downhill from here. Some were great in their own right; some, not so much. But in the food category, Gyu-Kaku won our 2016 vacation.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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