Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New York (Food) State of Mind

I come for the touristy shtick. I stay for the food. 

I only had three full days in New York this time. The last time I was there, I got food poisoning after mixing cheese ramen and alcohol. I know, that really was my fault right there. So, NYC Goal #1: Don't get all pukey and shit (like, literally). I know, t.m.i right? 

NYC Goal #2: Don't go bat-shit crazy and try all the things I wanted and didn't get to try last time, because that would've just ended up frustrating me. New York isn't Hogsmeade; I could come back anytime I want to. Hell, I could live there if I wanted to. And Hogsmeade is real the same way Bruce Jenner's face is real.  So the Kardashian references begin. 

Day 1: 
Since the lodging was in Harlem, hell yeah I was going to get my soul food on! Oops, sorry Jesus, I meant heck yes. I heard that Amy Ruth's had some mean fried chicken and waffles. Laaaaaawd Jesus, it was good! 

I have a feeling I will get smitten down by lightning pretty soon. 

Crispy chicken and hot waffles at 9 AM? Amen.
Thankfully, all that meal of protein, carbs, sugar and spice was walked off - thoroughly and briskly - with a three-hour visit to the Met Museum. It's probably one of the best museums I've ever been to, and a wonderful refuge from the howling weather outside. One could easily spend days exploring this place....
Yep, it's raining alright.
Oh how true. 
Dude who cut his ear off...and his paintings.

Of course, this moi didn't stay there for days, because this moi was hungry for some good chow. But since it was pouring rain, just ran into the nearest restaurant in sight, which ended up being a good ol' Greek-ran diner. That's, like, every diner I've ever seen featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. I got the bison burger that was pretty much still pulsing. It was that raw. I said medium rare, but hey, it was still good, albeit a tad iron-y. 

I'm not even going to talk about the Guggenheim, except to say: WHAT A FREAKING BORE. Sorry. You know the kind of modern art that's so abstract and conceptual that you have to listen to the museum audio guide to understand it? And then, when they explain it, in that whispery, frail, I-only-listen-to-NPR-and-consider-a-canvas-with-a-stick-figure-drawing-sublime-art voice, you just wanna punch them (don't get me wrong, I love NPR). Funnily enough, one of the pieces was of a blank canvas with a rock piercing through it. Like, I can do that on a Tuesday. 

That is all.

It's a good thing I went to F.A.O Schwartz afterwards and got some of the happiness sucked out by the Guggenheim back. I even got to play on the Big Piano.
Meet F.A.O door guy. He's my new friend.
Doing "Chopsticks" like Tom Hanks in Big. Like a boss.
More happiness ensues while watching "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," that night. Can I just say, I wanted to see this musical for the sole purpose of seeing Daniel Radcliffe/Harry Potter (he can run from it, but he can't hide). I ended up liking it for so many more reasons than him. Namely, John Laroquette.

That's my best shot of Danny boy from the stage door. He's so short and pale.
John Laroquette! Yes, that evil guy from Richie Rich.

After Nathan's for dinner, we end an incredibly fulfilling and exhausting Friday.
Can't go wrong with Nathan's chili dog. Om nom freaking nom.

Day 2:
After the feet-blistering first day, Saturday was a little bit more chill, and more about food than anything else. It started off with one of the best marriage of food on earth: croissant and hot dog. Seriously, Patisserie des Ambassades? You're a freaking genius. The croissant was buttery, the hotdog wasn't salty at all (kinda like Nathan's), then you get the contrast in textures. OK, I have to stop writing about this, it's making me nauseously hungry. 
Fat and butter. Yum. 

Then, some strolling around lower Manhattan, witnessing first hand the second week of Occupy Wall Street near WTC. Even then, during its nascent stage, OWS definitely felt different from witnessing other protests. 
The new World Trade Center
The OWS marchers.

I guess what separates the tourists from the locals is how well one group navigates the changing subway routes due to construction. Sometimes, you just gotta look up from your google maps and read the signs. Which is how I ended up riding up to midtown and stopping at Madison Square Park. Which is also where the famous Shake Shack's original, um, Shack is located. So I lined up and waited. And waited. And waited. And finally got the ultimate, gut-busting, cheesy behemoth of guilt: a Shake Stack, which is a fresh, molten hot cheeseburger and a portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese, inside a bun. Dare I say, it was as good, if not better than, In N Out. Please don't hurt me. 
Yup, that's the line for burgers and shakes. And we wonder why Americans are such a bunch of fatties.

Thankfully there was a great bluegrass concert going on nearby.

My reward: Shake Stack and Red Velvet Custard

After this delicious lunch, I took the stairs all the way up to Empire State Building's observatory. And Kim K. and Kris Humphries' marriage was for real. ESB was another tourist trap that was actually very fun. You kinda had to shove your way through the throng of people, but I eventually got some premium views of a beautiful, even if a little foggy, Manhattan. You can really feel the density of the city from this vantage point, of eight million people living on top of each other, breathing each other's air, sharing each other's life stories. 
East Side

Once again, the new WTC
And, wouldn't you know it, it's time for more food. This time, the long wait is for Ippudo, which has some of the best ramen I have ever had. I mean, when you have a bunch of Asians waiting hours to get a seat, you know it's gotta be good. Coz, y'know, we know good food. And this was no exception. I've been lazy writing Yelp reviews for this trip, but I screamed my approval for this one

Shiromaru Hakata Classic with extra braised pork belly. PURE ECSTASY.
After a bit of strolling around Midtown, took a little break and then went out again later that night. The intention was to go dancing, but when I saw Pop Burger at the Meatpacking District, I had to go in for some more food. Because, what the hell, we're here right? Who cares if it's 2 AM and I just had four meals before this? 

Fries were amazing, burger was delicious; Onion rings, meh not so much.
So, instead of shedding some calories on the floor, we ended up gobbling up more. That, and a lovely cocktail at a lovely hotel above Hiro (our original destination) closed this gut-busting day. 

Day 3: 
Finally, I could say I've been to Brooklyn. Because I went to Brooklyn. Although only the very tip of it, because I spent most of the guessed it, waiting in line for food. Seriously, the lengths I go for good chow. This time, it was for supposedly one of the best (and oldest) pizza joints in Brooklyn, Grimaldi's. It's that type of restaurant that gets featured on every imaginable food/leisure magazine, is Zagat-rated, has a million reviews on Yelp, doesn't take credit cards, makes people who only want take-out wait in the same line as people who dine in. You get the picture. In hindsight, it's not the best pizza I've ever had, but that definitely didn't matter because we were famished by the time we sat down, so really you could've served us Domino's for all I care and we would've thought it was the best thing on God's green planet. It's definitely authentic, Brooklyn-style pizza, with a charred butt, a sprinkling of pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms (our toppings), and lots of attitude. 

Mmmm, meatzzzzzaaaaa.
We then strolled around Dumbo, Brooklyn (too lazy to explain, just google it), and saw terrific views of lower Manhattan, before taking the water taxi back to Manhattan. 

After a few more miles of aimless walking, we had dinner at the lovely East Village Venezuelan hotspot Caracas Arepa Bar.  While the service was inconsistent, the food was consistently great. Their shredded beef arepa and black bean empanada were divine. 
Shredded beef, black beans, cotija cheese. TD4.

Sunday was, indeed, a fun day. And, to wrap the whole thing up, I decided to stroll around that area shunned by locals and flocked by tourists, Times Square. But, while I was amazed by how bright and ostentatious this area was, I was more impressed by how many bars in the Upper West Side were filled with people -- I'm assuming working people from the neighborhood -- at 1 AM. On a Sunday/Monday. While Times Square may give NYC that caffeinated, "city never sleeps" gloss, it's these neighborhood bars that really tell the story.

Last Day:
While I never liked last days on vacations, thankfully, there was time to kill before this flight back home. As a last hurrah, strolled Central Park and had delicious crepes afterwards at Crepes on Columbus. Seriously, can this sound any more like Enchanted's version of New York City? 

Breakfast crepe of goat cheese, spinach, and bacon. Heavenly sunshine.

As that narrator on Enchanted would end, "...and they lived happily ever after." And yummily, too.

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