New York food

Lori and I attended a taping of The Late Show and it was a lot of fun.  After standing for a long time in the rain in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater, we were finally let in to watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. After years of watching Letterman on TV, it was thrilling to find myself inside the hallowed halls of the Ed Sullivan Theater.  As audience members, we were encouraged to hoot and holler, clap and dance, and it was a fun, silly evening. Guests were Matthew Perry and Nick Offerman.  Afterwards we returned to the Upper West Side (where our hotel was) and had an excellent dinner at the Candle Café West on Broadway, a warm and welcoming organic, vegan/vegetarian restaurant.  We sat at the long wooden bar, ordered red wine, and the food that came was fresh, delicious and inventive.  In fact, it was so good we returned the next evening for more. 

“Who needs meat?” I said, stuffing a forkful of paprika hummus and quinoa tabouli into my mouth.  Lori had the grilled portobello sandwich.

Speaking of meat, I did crave a burger later in the week and tried several times to buy one at three different Shake Shacks.  But the lines were so long, I never did get to taste a Shake Shack burger.  I hear they’re very good.

And then we discovered EATALY.  Walking into this huge emporium dedicated entirely to food and drink, I thought I had died and gone to Italian heaven.  Here’s a brief write-up from Business Insider –

When you step into Mario Batali’s massive 50,000-sq-ft Mecca of Italian food, Eataly, you are immediately faced with countless choices of tasty-looking food.

The marketplace, located near the Flatiron building in Manhattan and owned by a partnership including Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich, is a unique combination of sandwich stands, market-style stalls and full-fledged restaurants.

One of the more interesting aspects of Eataly is that many products made on the premises are both for sale to the public and used to supply the restaurants on site. This gives the visitors a rare look at the food being prepared right in front of them, before they taste it in one of the seven eateries in the sprawling market.

Eataly is a place to grab a quick sandwich for lunch or buy some handmade pasta for dinner, a fun combination that can almost make you dizzy with options of how to spend your time and money there. The market’s organized chaos is run by over 700 employees.

The original Eataly market opened in Turin, Italy in 2007, its first American store launched in New York in 2010, and there’s another location in Chicago.

This place is a total class act.  Their hot chocolate is divine and there are several espresso bars as well as a gelati counter. I returned several times to buy take-out focaccia, a hunk of pecorino, olives and prosciutto.  Everything is imported from Italy. There’s a sit-down pizzeria at the back (as well as other restaurants), a panini stand, and overall the place has a relaxed and friendly vibe.  It’s located at 200 Fifth Avenue. Oh, and right beside Eataly is my favourite Finnish fashion and design boutique, Marimekko.

When Lori went to see the play, Blackbird, at the Belasco Theater, she said she’d probably need a cocktail afterwards. (The subject matter of the play is reported to be harrowing.) “OK,” I said, “Let’s meet in Lantern’s Keep, a cozy bar located in The Iroquois Hotel at 49 West 44th Street.”

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I had an expensive rum-coconut cocktail and Lori had an expensive whisky concoction that she said was delicious. To be honest, I find cocktails unsatisying for this reason – I usually gulp them down in two or three swallows and then I’m stuck staring into an empty glass with a melting ice cube and a citrus twist in it.  At these prices, I didn’t dare order a second one.  But it didn’t matter because we were on our way to a secret Japanese restaurant that serves over 200 varieties of sake.

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Sakagura is located in the basement of a nondescript midtown office building.  You walk past the security desk and through a white marble lobby. Then you go down a flight of stairs and suddenly you feel as if you’ve entered a Japanese village. Wood and bamboo is everywhere and although the architecture is not an exercise in purist Japanese form, the place has a homey feel despite its subterranean location.  Actually, I felt like I was in the basement rec room of our house in the 1970s.

Cuisine wise, it’s one of the finest for Japanese in New York City at affordable prices. The clientèle, we noticed, is principally Japanese and that’s always a good sign.  This is not a sushi place, although I think I saw sashimi on the menu.

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The food was delicious, the sake dry, chilled and light, and the service swift and efficient. But the most extraordinary and unexpected experience took place in the loo. For those of you who have never experienced a Japanese toilet before, you’ll be surprised.  Firstly, the two loos are located in two separate wooden structures that are supposed to resemble giant sake barrels.  OK.  To your surprise and delight you discover that the toilet seat is heated. mmm…nice. Then there are buttons to press for different rinsing options that involve jets of warm water that spray upwards. This, I suppose, is the Japanese equivalent of a French bidet.  After a few carafes of sake, I could imagine having fun inside of that giant sake barrel.

Take note that this restaurant is hugely popular, especially amongst the Japanese community, so you need to either reserve in advance or show up really early, like we did, and take a seat at the bar.

Sakagura – 211 East 43rd Street, (212) 953-7253

the Brooklyn bridge and Lower Manhattan

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a truly exhilarating experience. The weather was perfect on Sunday – cold with brilliant sunshine. I left my hotel at 10 am and returned, tired but happy, at 6 pm. I had literally walked for 8 hours straight (with only one sit-down for coffee). Days before I had purchased a super-comfortable pair of REEBOKS at a discount shoe store called DSW. They were so comfortable that I bought a second pair in a different colour. I am truly grateful for having sturdy legs and feet that carry me across towns and cities. I say this because in the past I had had a few quibbles with occasional knee pain, but am happy to say that on this trip I did not experience this.

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Once I got to the other side, I made my way to Pierrepont Street to visit the Brooklyn Historical Society (a museum, library and educational center), but once there decided to stay outdoors and enjoy the weather.  The Historical Society, though, is worth visiting for insight into the social and political events that shaped the large and incredibly diverse borough of Brooklyn (here it is below).

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After exploring and stopping for a muffin-coffee break, I caught the subway back to Manhattan, got off at Spring Street and strolled eastwards.

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Photographers notice that the light is harsher and brighter in North America than in Europe. I couldn’t resist taking this photo below because it’s exactly what I was doing. Juju s’amuse à New York!  Translation – Juju (that’s me) is having fun in New York!  And it’s true.  This is when I’m at my happiest; free to roam, camera in hand and pack on my back.

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Located at 560 Broadway is the fabulous Dean & Deluca gourmet food store. They have great take-out food and a stand-up eating area at the back. I bought some brown rice sushi, fresh fruit, and a can of soda and stood at the back while eating it.

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Strolling along Prince, Greene and Mercer Streets, one cannot help but notice the proliferation of luxury brand stores – Prada, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney, Chanel, etc., lined on either side.  At one point I literally stopped in my tracks and said aloud – How frigging boring!  I didn’t come down here for this!

The mere existence of these high-end boutiques not only compromises the integrity of this neighbourhood, but has driven real estate prices sky-high.  What happened to hip, bohemian, edgy Soho?  It has turned all sanitized. These bland, corporatized stores for the rich have, in my opinion, completely ruined the essence and social fabric of this community.  For some unknown reason I thought of Patti Smith and wondered what she would think (maybe she shops at these boutiques…who knows?) I have read her marvelous memoir ‘Just Kids’ which is a salute to Manhattan when she and Mapplethorpe lived in Chelsea during the late 60s and 70s. (It’s true that during this era some of those districts were full of tenements and rats, but at least Smith didn’t glamorize.)  

Speaking of former rock stars, I had the address of David Bowie.  Out of curiosity, I made my way over to 285 Lafayette Street which was his residence.  Here’s the building here. I’m still affected by his death in January of this year.  I hope he’s looking down at us and laughing.

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Hoping to find a more authentic district and eager to get away from those soul-less luxury clothing stores, I continued walking east.  The area around Mulberry and Mott Streets is pleasant.  There’s a lot written about gentrification and it’s true that there are pros and cons.  For example, NYC throughout the 1970s and early 80s was not only very dirty and in a state of urban decay, but a very dangerous place to be.  The city teetered on bankruptcy, there were substantial cuts in law enforcement, rapes and burglaries tripled, car thefts and felony assaults doubled, and murders jumped from 681 to 1690 a year. Graffiti covered subways, buses and just about everything and subway muggings were rife.  Arson was also a big problem which resulted in abandoned blocks and depopulation. So yeah, gentrification turns things around (albeit 30 years later). Buildings and parks are renovated. Jobs arrive, new retail and service businesses appear and crime rates decline. After reading up on the subject, I see that gentrification provides more benefits than disadvantages to the local residents.  What I hate is the sanitized look.

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Walking towards the Bowery, Manhattan’s oldest thoroughfare, the aesthetic changes quite dramatically and you find yourself in a grittier setting. But there’s a lot of construction going on and you can see that this once-squalid area in the Lower East Side is and has been undergoing gentrification.  I was searching for Rivington Street.

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Spying these leather handbags displayed on the wall, I went into this boutique at number 157 Rivington (above) and made a delightful discovery in the name of Szeki Chan, founder and designer of the store called 7115.  Born in Hong Kong, she came to the States at age 12 and later graduated with a BFA in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design. She has a second store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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I said that I loved the original designs of the handbags and the quality of the supple leather. She said that her mother makes them and buys the leather from Italy. I purchased one at a very affordable price. And y’know what? I’m much happier shopping in young independent designer shops than in those sterile, high-end designer chain stores. 

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Leaving the store, I headed north towards Houston Street and came across this legendary deli. Remember that famous scene from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal?  It was filmed here.

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Further along at 179 East Houston is another reputable deli (take-out only) called Russ & Daughters. Known for its high-quality smoked fish, this Lower East Side institution has been operating since 1914.

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Had my dear mother been alive, I would have brought her a portion of gefilte fish like I used to do when we lived in Toronto and I went to Yitz’s deli. She liked gefilte fish (a poached mixture of ground deboned fish, such as carp, whitefish or pike).  Just seeing it on the shelves made me feel kind of sad.

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Stay tuned for next blog post.

the New York experience

I guess New York is different things to different people. Here’s my version –

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Coffee shops and diners and big breakfasts. On my first morning there, I strode briskly up Broadway to 90th Street and ordered myself a stack of whole wheat pancakes and bacon doused with maple syrup at City Diner. Sheer delight. I love that the portions are big and they just keep refilling your coffee cup (at no charge). Generous America.

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The collections at The Metropolitan Museum of Art are astounding – they rival or surpass those at the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and other important museums. For example, I saw more works of the Dutch painter, Rembrandt, hanging on the walls of the MET than I did at the Rijksmuseum two years ago.  And look at this breathtaking collection of ancient Egyptian jewelry –

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Here’s my friend Lori admiring something in the European Early Art room.

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Children + exposure to great art = a priceless experience.  Lots of school groups here, it was nice to see.

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One day I walked down Park and Lexington Avenues. For April, the weather was unseasonably cold, at night it was freezing.  I love the wide sidewalks that you stride along (in Paris the sidewalks are maddeningly narrow). You feel dwarfed by the buildings towering above you.  And all that wealth inhabiting those solid ‘white-glove’ apartment buildings … it’s impressive.

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There are two must-see marvels located at 42nd Avenue – the Chrysler Building and the inside of Grand Central Station.

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Here’s the exterior of the Chrysler Building whose construction was completed in 1930. Headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation from 1930 until the mid-1950s, the design was a classic example of the Art Deco style. Automobile radiator caps decorate the lower half, along with ornaments of car wheels. For 11 months, before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931, it was the world’s tallest building.  I think it’s a fabulous site – a beacon of hope, optimism and a dazzling monument to American industry.  The only detail that perplexes me is the year.  The stock market crashed in 1929 and the year this building was completed, 1930, the Great Depression began.  I guess the Chrysler Corporation was unaffected by this massive downturn.

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The lobby is lavishly decorated with red Moroccan marble walls, sienna-coloured floor and onyx, blue marble and steel in Art Deco compositions. The ceiling murals, painted by Edward Trumbull, praise the modern-day technical progress.  As I stood, awestruck, in the lobby, I imagined working in this building.  I wonder what the bathrooms look like.

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And directly across the road is one of the entrances to the equally spectacular Grand Central Station. If the Chrysler Building is a cathedal of commerce and industry, then Grand Central is a temple of transporation. I felt drawn to this place and returned on several occasions. Was it because of the gorgeous Food Hall and those fig bars I was eyeing?  Or because there’s a romanticism and glamour here that reminded me of my favorite old movies of the 1940s?

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I don’t think I could hoist myself onto one of those chairs to have someone polish my shoes. I find that demeaning. I can polish my own shoes.

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Back outside again, the weather was becoming increasingly cold and overcast.  In my next blog post – photos of walking the Brooklyn Bridge, a fabulous meal in a Japanese restaurant, and Lower Manhattan.

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