New York makes me voracious. Maybe I'm making up for lost time – it has taken many visits to lose that childhood sense of the city as epicentre of danger – but now I dash around in a kind of fearless ecstasy, day or night, alone or accompanied. Even accompanied by my young daughter.
It's thrilling to introduce someone you love to something you love, but how do we satisfy both our needs? A carefully curated girls weekend. For her, a sampling of kids programs and entertainment, as offered by one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and for me, a little bit of freedom. Freedom to watch, listen, smell and most of all, taste ever-changing, trend-launching and totally delicious New York.
We fly into Newark and, pulling our small black suitcases behind us like little dogs, board the train, to be released into the chaos of Penn Station. My chatty girl goes wide-eyed and silent as we fight our way to street level and I get my bearings. Right. First stop – lunch at The Breslin. It's walking distance from the station and a three-in-one destination: The restaurant is inside The Ace Hotel, whose dark, buzzing lobby makes us both feel like movie stars, and Stumptown Coffee, adjacent to the hotel, pulls one of the best espressos in Manhattan. But first, the nose-to-tail Michelin-starred restaurant with the friendly vibe and menu to please us both. I have a grilled tongue sandwich with sweet and sour borscht. Maya has amazing house-made potato chips. And fries. And a baked three-cheese sandwich. And glorious fresh doughnuts with dark caramel, chocolate and maple sauces she wants to lick out of the little dishes.
We waddle out to find a cab and head over to our hotel, the Gansevoort Meatpacking, chosen for its location and its promise to please girls both little and big. It's a beautiful afternoon and the chic lobby feels airy and relaxed. We leave our bags and wander, exploring (well, skirting) Theory and Stella McCartney as we head toward the High Line, the elevated railway turned one-kilometre trail. The trees are flowering and the park is full of people squinting at the sun. You can look west toward the Hudson, or you can turn around and look at people buying $800 shoes beside warehouses butchering whole pigs, cows and lambs. With her super-keen sense of smell, Maya can actually pick up a bit of a meaty aroma, but the strutting fashionistas are so compelling, she forgets to complain.
A few hours later, we are cleaned up for dinner and back on the street. Although Maya is tired, I persuade her to walk for a little while. It works – she becomes so engrossed in the shops and people of the West Village that soon we have covered more than a dozen blocks, until at last we burst into Lupa barely late for our reservation. I take everyone to Lupa, a truly excellent restaurant with a cozy brick interior and zero attitude. If it had been a Tuesday, I'd have ordered the crispy duck, but as it was, the handmade pastas were tender and flavourful.
When you put a little girl in a bed comfy enough for a princess, she wakes up like one, so it was NOT easy getting out the door and uptown to the American Museum of Natural History for 9 the next morning. Maya was off to try DNA Camp, a school-break program. I was going to have a break too. I kiss her goodbye at the huge canoe and pick up a big coffee. Then it's off to Central Park with my very New York-y book, Blood, Bones & Butter by the chef from Prune in the Lower East Side. The birds chirp and the hours fly – soon it's time to head back. Over hot dogs in the park, Maya happily reports that she extracted DNA from a strawberry with two boys from Brooklyn.
In the afternoon, we head to the Jewish Museum to catch an exhibit by Maira Kalman, artist and adored children's author. We divided our time between Kalman's richly coloured, whimsical illustrations and Maya's own, which she is invited to create at a kids workshop. That night, we have a bite across the street from the hotel, at trendy Pastis, before heading to see Wonderland, an adaptation of the old Alice story, new on Broadway. Perhaps the music is a bit unmemorable, but the performances and costumes are riveting to a young girl, and the young girl, her finger tightly intertwined with mine, is riveting to me.
On our last morning, we make our way to Union Square and walk though the farmers market to an urban-rustic brunch at ABC Kitchen. Then, while I dip into Macy's, Maya is off to Camp Broadway, where she is coached in acting and singing.
A walk through Chelsea Market to collect snacks for the ride home, a stop to get our bags and, far too soon, we're heading home. Maybe Maya is carrying a heavy American Girl bag, but it doesn't mean I caved. I'm carrying a package just as pretty from Kate Spade.
To Newark: Porter flies from Toronto City Centre Airport to Newark up to 11 times a day; one-way fares start at $149. The extra fun of taking the ferry is free. 1-888-619-8622; flyporter.com.
To New Jersey Transit station: From the Newark terminal, follow the AirTrain signs (logo is a plane on a train track) to the shuttle platform. After an eight-minute shuttle ride, you'll be at the NJTransit Station. One way to Penn Station is 25 minutes: adults, $12.50; kids $3.25, free on weekends, njtransit.com.
Sleep: Hotel Gansevoort Meatpacking: Helpful and kid-friendly service in a sleek and sophisticated setting. Don't let the busy rooftop bar stop you from using the adjoining swimming pool. 18 Ninth Ave. (at 13th Street); 1-877-426-7386; hotelgansevoort.com; from $435.
Special to The Globe and Mail