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NYC Romance: Experience Manhattan Like the OG of Rom-Com

Two bagel sandwiches being held in front of the H&H bagel sign.

When it came time to plan a romantic weekend getaway to New York City, I knew who to turn to: Nora Ephron, the OG of romantic comedy (“When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Julie and Julia,” among others). In addition to being a brilliant rom-com writer and director, she was a dedicated New Yorker and devout foodie. Nora is the perfect guide to New York City. I should know because my husband and I spent two days putting some of her favorite places and film locations to the test. Below is our list of top spots to help you plan your romantic getaway to NYC!

Places to Eat in NYC:

Nora Ephron loved H & H bagels enough to list them as a reason to make a religion out of her neighborhood. Their exterior was included in her film “You’ve Got Mail.” The iconic establishment’s locations have also made appearances in “Seinfeld,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “The Office.” There must be a number of directors, writers, and others involved in the location-scouting process who really love them too. 

We went to their Columbus Avenue location in the Upper West Side on a Saturday morning, the one in Nora’s old neighborhood. The place was hopping, but it felt local-busy, not tourist-busy. We ate at the bar table along the window so that we could enjoy the beautiful morning and people-watch. 

Our New York-style bagel sandwiches, made by the same artisanal water bagel method H&H has been using since 1972, were, as you might expect, fantastic on every level. Chris ate their sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on a sesame seed bagel. Its cheese was fabulously melty. I went for the pepper jack, avocado, and egg on an everything bagel – just the breakfast sandwich flavor bomb I was looking for. 

The only thing H&H Bagels didn’t succeed in is helping us decide which is better, NYC-style or Montreal-style bagels. We love them both! 

Exterior of the Russian Tea Room in NYC. It is a short and skinny building situated between high rises. Its entrance has a bright red awning.

This is the place where Broadway and Hollywood producers, agents, writers, directors, and actors made deals back in the day, Nora Ephron included. “When Harry Met Sally” was conceived here over a business lunch that Nora had with director Rob Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman. They started talking about a film idea that she hated. Before lunch, she turned them down. Awkward. As their meal progressed, their conversation turned to the differences between men and women. A few conversations later, they started working on one of the most beloved romantic comedies of all time. 

The service at the Russian Tea Room is like nothing Chris and I had ever experienced before. When they brought us to our booth, they basically tucked us into it. I should explain: The servers pulled the table out. We sat down. They pushed the table into place. When I started to get up to go to the bathroom, two people ran over to pull our table out. Then, pushed it back in. When I returned from the bathroom, the same was done again.

I’ve read recent reports of the food going downhill. However, we enjoyed our brunch-ish lunch a lot. Chris devoured a delicious serving of cinnamon Russian toast. I ordered a grilled chicken Caesar salad with the dressing on the side – just like Sally would have. 

Orso is a few blocks up from Times Square on restaurant row in the theater district. It’s understated, elegant, and easy to miss after pressing through the crowds and assaulting ads and lights of Times Square. Inside, its creamy-hued walls, skylight, and unfussy yet stylish decor are a welcome respite from the high-energy city that never sleeps. 

“My idea of a perfect night is a good play and dinner at Orso,” Nora Ephron wrote in her essay, The O Word. We didn’t get to see a play on the night we went, but our dinner at Orso was perfect and keeps getting better in our memories.

Before I gush on about our experience (this spot was definitely our favorite) there is an important detail that I need to share. Orso’s tables are set with salt and pepper shakers on them. In Nora’s wonderful NYTimes Op-Ed What to Expect When You’re Expecting Dinner, she wrote “…there always used to be salt on the table. Now, half the time, there’s none. The reason there’s no salt is that the chef is forcefully trying to convey that the food has already been properly seasoned and therefore doesn’t need more salt. I resent this deeply. I resent that asking for salt makes me seem aggressive toward the chef, when in fact it’s the other way around.” If it were otherwise, chances are good that it would not have been mentioned in the same sentence as a perfect night by Nora and we would not have had our own perfect evening at Orso to remember.

We started our meal with the bruschetta. One piece of bread, split into two, with tomatoes and basil piled on top. Why is it so easy to forget how delicious such simple combinations can be?  

For mains, I had Penne con Melanzane (penne with eggplant), and Chris had a Sorrentina Pizza. For wine, our server recommended that I try a Sangiovese on their menu. It was a fantastic pairing. Chris had a Baladin Nora beer with his pizza. How can one go wrong with pizza and beer? We ended our meal with tiramisù, as one does at a trattoria. 

 

The cast iron crispy chicken with a corn-based side dish at the Loeb Boathouse in NYC.

Temporarily closed, it was very much open and busy when we went. Loeb Boathouse is where Sally breaks the news of her breakup with Joe to her friends Marie and Alice in “When Harry Met Sally.” Marie pulls out a Rolodex of men from her purse. They are slated to reopen this summer (2023) under new ownership with a new menu. If by chance their cast iron crispy chicken is on the menu, order it. Unless you’re vegetarian or vegan. It’s divine! 

As a “When Harry Met Sally” substitute, you might want to grab lunch at Katz’s Deli. We have not been there, so we cannot personally vouch for it, but we’ve heard good things. 

Places to See in NYC:

Melissa holding carrying a MetroCard Tote Bag on her shoulder in front of a lake in Central Park Manhattan.
Melissa holding the MetroCard Tote Bag that Nora Ephron recommends buying in her essay, "I Hate My Purse."

When it comes to parks, I’m not sure where Central Park rates for Nora, but according to The O Word, she loved a walk in the park. Also, in “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry and Jess jog by Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace.

Photo taken overlooking the Bethesda Terrace Water Fountain in Central Park, NYC.
A photo of Bethesda Fountain taken from the stairs of Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.

In the summertime, people watching here might be more varied and wonderful than people watching anywhere. You can enjoy the music of street musicians, rent a boat, go to a zoo, watch Shakespeare in the Park, and admire the expansive beauty of the place. One thing that makes my nerd heart happy on a stroll through the park is spotting statues of writers like William Shakespeare. 

A statue of William Shakespeare in Central Park. Trees full of leaves are behind him. It's a sunny day.
The Temple of Dendur exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. The windows on the side of the exhibit have lots of light shining through them.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere. Temple of Dendur, one of its permanent exhibits, is featured in “When Harry Met Sally.” 

You could spend days, maybe weeks, exploring the museum. When we went, my favorite exhibit was the one-frame movie that Martin Scorsese did in the Frank Lloyd Wright room. It was a temporary exhibit and I believe it ended some time ago. Here are the photos I took of it:

 

I love MoMA and wanted a good reason to include it on our itinerary. It took more research than the other spots we ate at and visited to find a Nora Ephron-related reason to visit, but I found it: Before Nora Ephron became a reporter, her friend Jane Green brought her to MoMA to see pop and op art, and taught Nora the difference between Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Nora’s name also showed up in the news for attending film premieres and events at MoMA. 

Admiring Van Gogh’s Starry Night is my favorite thing to do at MoMA. I can’t wait to return to NYC and stand in front of Starry Night again. I have been so enamored by it that I haven’t managed to take any photos of the painting. 

A busy time in Grand Central Station in NYC. An American flag hangs in the background, a fancy clock, and boards with train times on it.

Besides being a beautiful train station full of frenetic New York City energy, this is the place to buy the MetroCard Tote Bag that Nora praises in her essay, I Hate My Purse. It’s in the NY Transit Museum Store.

Outside of Zabar's grocery store in NYC. It's a white building with the Zabar's name hanging vertically on a banner above its lower awnings. There is a more worn looking sign saying Zabar's on the awning.

Nora wrote, “Zabar’s is the ultimate West Side institution. Year after year, Zabar’s perfectly embodies New York’s most basic emotion: unrequited love. I love Zabar’s more than Zabar’s loves me. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.” She also featured the gourmet grocery store in “You’ve Got Mail,” a film she wrote with her sister Delia. Nora directed the movie.

Following in Nora’s footsteps gave me the NYC feeling I’ve missed on my other visits to the Big Apple. On this visit, I wasn’t the runaway, the soccer mom, or the woman experiencing excruciating foot pain while admiring Starry Night for the first time. I felt more like a New Yorker than I’ve ever felt before.

Watch how our weekend went:

A Reading List for Nora Ephron Fans:

Yes, I’ve read them all!

  • Heartburn
  • Wallflower at the Orgy
  • Crazy Salad
  • Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck
  • I Remember Nothing
  • Nora Ephron: A Biography by Kristin Marguerite Doidge
  • She Made Me Laugh: My Friend Nora Ephron by Richard M. Cohen
  • Sister Mother Husband Dog (Etc.) by Delia Ephron
  • Left on 10th by Delia Ephron
  • The Most of Nora Ephron

Travel Tip: If you get nervous when you fly, I recommend listening to Sister Mother Husband Dog narrated by Meg Ryan, during your flight. So soothing! 

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