Conservatory Gardens & El Paso Restaurant: a dairy free foray-cation

Conservatory Gardens

Conservatory Gardens

Within the green haven that is Central Park, the Conservatory Gardens are a manicured marvel.  I was thrilled to be able to take Therese there as part of our foray-cation last Sunday, our first true such excursion since moving to the downtown Financial District last spring.  Our day also included a splendid lunch at El Paso Restaurant and a visit to the New York Public Library’s legendary main branch (you know, the lions and whatnot), now called the Schwarzman Building.

The day began with the Conservatory Gardens.  They were pretty much as I remember them – the central Italian garden with its vast verdant green swath, the sculptured hedges with fountain and sculpture of ladies dancing in the French garden, the plentiful variety of plantings of all different colors in the English garden.  And in between each garden are tree-covered corridors with park benches – my favorite place to sit in the gardens.

After we had had our fill of green, we went to lunch at the nearby El Paso Restaurant.  Seeing as how we were in the neighborhood traditionally known as Spanish Harlem (or East Harlem), I thought it would be appropriate to eat Mexican food.  And we couldn’t have picked a better place.  It didn’t hurt that we started off by ordering a pitcher of sangria (did I do that?  I’m sure I only meant to order one glass – something must’ve gone wrong in the translation!).

We also started with some guacamole and hand-made chips.  I liked the fact that the chips were unsalted, but Therese would have preferred that they tossed them with some salt.  But regardless, we were very happy with our Mexican staples.  Then the main course came, which for me was eggs and chorizo, Spanish sausage, with rice and beans, of course! And some handmade tortillas, in which I rolled a bit of everything and munched it down happily.  Rest assured that I informed them of my allergy and there was no problem accommodating me, which always makes me very happy!

Beyond the excellent food, El Paso has fabulous decorations.  There are lots of Dia de los Muertos-themed touches, like figures of a bride and groom who are both skeletons.  Their patio in the back of the restaurant is also decorated in a very festive way, with a tin chandelier and lots of colorful hangings.  We loved it so much we said that we will definitely come back on the Day of the Dead to check out their celebration.

Eating such wonderful food and drinking that whole pitcher(!) of sangria had left us feeling ready for a siesta, but our schedule of activities did not include a nap.  So we soldiered on, heading to 42nd Street and 5th avenue and the majestic main branch of the NY Public Library.

NYPL Schwarzman Building - Therese and the Lion

NYPL Schwarzman Building – Therese and the Lion

I have been coming to the Schwarzman Building since I was a teenager, and I always love being there.  Sure, it is a bit of a drag to have to climb all those steps to get to the Rose Reading Room, which is where you can get access to the library’s vast holdings of research materials.  But you don’t have to climb so many steps to enjoy the many fine exhibits the library puts on in the Gottesman Exhibition Hall and the Jill Kupin Rose Gallery.  Currently on display in the former is “The ABC of it: why children’s books matter,” a celebration of children’s literature from all over the world (with a particular emphasis on English-language work, of course).  I loved seeing display cases with books by many of my favorite writers from childhood, like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl.

After we had had our fill of the delights of that exhibit, we did climb all those steps up to the McGraw Rotunda, with its vault mural of Prometheus stealing the fire from heaven.  I love how, halfway up the first flight, you can look out over the cavernous lobby.  So cool that this building continues to be open to the public, free of charge.

NYPL Schwarzman Building - lobby interior

NYPL Schwarzman Building – lobby interior

But then, the Conservatory Gardens were also free.  The only thing we had to pay for that day was our scrumptious lunch.  Unless you are talking about the “cost” of climbing all those stairs – that wiped me out, and I was happy to get home that evening and spend some time couch-potatoing.

About Karl Peterson

Karl Peterson is an avid traveler, passionate about food and food-related entertainment, completely allergic to dairy. He is founder, owner and principle contributor to "The Dairy Free Traveler" blog. The Dairy Free Traveler perfectly dovetails two of his greatest areas of interest: traveling near and far, and searching for great cuisine (especially dairy free!) The Dairy Free Traveler publishes original material about the dairy free lifestyle, eating the best food in the most interesting destinations around the world. Karl's tours take him from thriving New York City, to exotic Marrakesh, to elegant Paris bistros -- (yes! even Parisians have gotten on the dairy free bandwagon.) The Dairy Free Traveler himself also engages with independent dairy free food producers, highlighting new dairy free product launches and events that support dairy free entrepreneurs. Peterson is among the top 7 most widely read TripAdvisor reviewers in New York City and is repeatedly cited as a Top Contributor at His reviews have garnered more than 542,000 readers -- half in the U.S., and half among the many countries he has visited around the world. Beyond writing this blog, Peterson is a published author, with contributions to "Savoring Gotham" edited by Andrew F. Smith (published 2015 by Oxford University) and the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Cheese (a bit ironic, yes, but a professional is often asked to stretch beyond their comfort zone!).
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