Monday, September 24, 2012

The Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour

Today I went on the the Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour of the Lower East Side. In the 1800s, the LES was home of every major immigrant group to New York. Most of them moved in, prospered, and moved on. The Germans, Jews, Italian, Irish and others all arrived in the Lower East Side in waves; they settled, worked, lived, and in many cases, prospered and dispersed around the city. The exception was the Chinese who settled in the LES and stayed, developing what is now the part of the city knows as Chinatown. The Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour touches on the history of all of these groups and offers nibbles from most of the groups to illustrate the point.

Our tour-guide, Elizabeth, a graduate student from Columbia, gave us the rundown on the various immigrant populations -- where and how they lived, what they ate, and the traditions they brought with them. She told us that the biggest immigrant group to New York City was from the Dominican Republic, and that while the overall immigrant population to the United States is 10-12%, that number jumps to 30% for New York City. After giving this first factoid, she produced our first "bite" of the afternoon, fried plantains. They were starchy, sweet, a little spicy, and filling. We then moved down the street to the Pickle Guys. The name pretty much says it all - nothing in there but pickled this and that. We poked our heads into the tiny space full of pickle barrels while Elizabeth picked us up some kosher dills and... pickled pineapple. The pineapple apparently comes from a Trinadadian worker at the shop who said his mother made the best pickled pineapple around and got the recipe from her - it was delish - flavored with cloves and jalapenos.
pickled turnips

We then moved on to Sweet Life, a tiny candy store, where Elizabeth picked up some halva for us. Halva is a Middle-Eastern delicacy made from sesame paste. This variety also had a touch of cocoa, and it was sweet and crumbly and... interesting. My feeling is that if you're going to make something sweet, you can't go wrong with butter, sugar, cream, chocolate, vanilla, maybe some fruit if you want to go crazy... and maybe keep the sesame for your savories. Just my opinion. Elizabeth told us an anecdote about some sultan in the mumble-mumble...I didn't jot down the date who loved Halva so much that he had an auxiliary kitchen built onto his main palace kitchen just for making Halva. I'd go with a chocolate mousse kitchen. Or maybe one just for gelato.

Down a little further we hit Chinatown for some fresh tofu (good, but it would have been fantastic with a drizzle of sesame oil) before making our way to the Italian district for cannoli, soppressata- a fantastic dry salami, fresh mozzarella, and wonderful aged Parmesan, before circling back through Chinatown for lychee and black sesame ice cream. Again with the sesame desserts! I tried it and then ate around that part, just hitting the lychee flavor.
in Di Palo's cheese shop
After the tour was over, one of my favorite things happened - I had been chatting with a girl on the tour who was also on her own, visiting from England, and as we were talking while walking toward the subway, we decided to stop for a drink along the way. We bonded over my intense jealousy that she had somehow managed to score (miraculously, as far as I was concerned) a ticket to "The Book of Mormon" for that night and had time to kill before her show. We stopped at Grand Central so she could look at the wonderful central hall, and then ended up getting dinner together before she had to run off to the show. Her excitement at getting to see the show, combined with her love for Trey, Matt, and Jon Stewart, plus her great enthusiasm for travel, me terribly fond of Tess by the end of the night. Also when we were listening to the spiel of someone who was trying to entice us into his restaurant by describing the special, which was chocolate fettucini with vodka cream sauce and grilled shrimp, and my response was, "that sounds horrible!" she totally cracked up, so that made me like her even more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


When you spend a lot of time in New York City, it's important to be able to get the hell out of New York City. Central Park only offers a cursory (albeit vital) respite from the cacophony, crowds, and crap you have to deal with, so getting on a train and rolling along the Hundson is a wonderful thing. Today I took the train from Grand Central 70 miles north to Beacon, New York, home to one of the Dia Foundation's exhibition spaces. The foundation houses a contemporary art collection in a former Nabisco box-printing factory, built in 1929 and much like many other domiciles of fine art (the Getty in L.A., the Tate Modern in London, the Prada store in SoHo to name a few), the building is as much a draw as its contents. The gallery space is 240,000 square feet and lit almost entirely by natural light; the original wood floors remain, and the high ceilings, starkness, and wide open galleries made me want to choose a corner for myself, put in a comfy couch, 65-inch flat screen TV, bookshelf, toaster oven, mini-fridge, and move right in.

Map of Broken Glass
The collection on display was stunning. I don't pretend to understand abstract conceptual art installations, I just know I love looking at them. Giant piles of broken glass (Robert Smithson's "Map of Broken Glass [Atlantis])," enormous, geometric holes in the ground, dug down 20 feet below the building's floor (Michael Heizer's "North, East, South, West"), a whole gallery dedicated to Richard Serra's sculptures (although "Wake" at the Olympic Sculpture Park at home is still my favorite), and most amazing, Sol LeWitt's "Drawing Series" - I can't even begin to explain this one, so this is from a review from the New York Times about the part of the exhibit I found most... profound?:

"The earliest works in this show are two immense, fuguelike drawings from Dia’s collection that line the four walls of the four galleries designed for them and are being shown in their complete form here for the first time. They are theme-and-variation meditations on grids whose squares are veiled by fine, gauzy parallel lines, whether horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Moving through all the possibilities of layering and sequence, first in graphite and then in colored pencil, the works swing back and forth between symmetry and randomness, alternately confounding and reassuring the senses."
Sol LeWitt's Drawing Series - this picture in no way does it justice

North, East, South, West
I'm not even sure I know what that means, but I loved looking at the giant drawings.

Main Street, Beacon
the grounds
After I visited Dia, I walked into the tiny (5-square miles) village of Beacon and walked down the main street before heading back to the station and taking the train back to New York. The towns along the Hudson could not be further from the bustle of the city; they are quiet and quaint and picturesque. It was a totally enjoyable day.

Photos are not allowed in the gallery so all pictures of the art are stock from the web.
the galleries
the Hudson
the terminal

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shake Shack

I may need to go on a juice fast when I get home.

Last night I ate dinner at Shake Shack. I've been wanting to go there for years, back when there was only one location in Madison Square Park. Now there's a location near Times Square that has a line out the door whenever I walk by. But that place is clearly crawling with tourists and I kind of hate the area, and since Madison Square Park isn't particularly convenient to Midtown, it was great to find that there are a few new locations, including one on the Upper West Side which turned out to be one express subway stop from here - into "real" New York. Not much of a line there, clearly patronized by locals, and plenty of places to sit. Dinner was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Central Park

Sheep Meadow
It turns out that Molly's new favorite cocktail is an Aperol Spritz which involves mixing aperol, a bitter orange flavored liqueur, with Proseco. It's delightfully refreshing and I now have a bottle of liquid the color of blood orange Crush (if there were such a thing) in my fridge. We had a very nice time together, walking around, eating good food, going into the Diane von Furstenberg boutique (where no one paid the slightest bit of attention to us), and catching each other up on... you know.

On Sunday, Molly went to visit someone else in the city while I took a tour of Central Park. Built in the mid-1800s; designed by Olmstead and Vaux; 843 acres; all "natural" elements brought in (with the exception of the outcropps of schist bedrock); Olmstead influenced by the English gardens he saw during his Grand Tour; Bethesda Fountain is the only commissioned statue in the park, created by Emma Stebbins, and was the first major public art commission to be held by a woman [who was also a very "out" lesbian] - these and other interesting facts were presented by the two guides from the Central Park Conservancy during the two hour walking tour. After the tour, I spent a couple more hours in the park walking around, reading, and watching the people go by.

the Dakota
the San Remo - in case you want to drop in on Spielberg

Belvedere Castle

Bethesda Terrace

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Morningside Heights

Pisticci in Morningside Heights...
Last night I left the hustle of Midtown and went up to Morningside Heights (125th Street and Broadway) to meet a friend for dinner. I've always been struck by the idea that Morningside Heights must be such a quintesential New York neighborhood - a place where real New Yorkers live, while Midtown seems like Disneyland on crack. The little Italian restaurant where I met my friend was great - charming and warm and full of life and real New Yorkers. I've been to some really nice places here in Midtown but the vibe seems very much, "these people don't live here." Not that Midtown isn't interesting in its own way, it just doesn't seem real... it's sort of like being at the theme park but instead of rides, it's all hustle and commerce.
...vs. Times Square

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


There's a lot to say about the past few days, but really, it's all about the tennis. One of the reasons I came to New York so much earlier than my usual October trip was so I could catch some of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. And when the force of nature that is my friend Scott said he'd come out too, that sealed it... we were going to the U.S. Open, the exorbitant cost of the tickets be damned.
in the Breslin
Scott had only been to New York once before and it was quite a few years ago, so we had a lot to fit into a long weekend. He arrived on a downright balmy Thursday night, and we headed to the Breslin which is a restaurant next to the Ace Hotel which I'd read about. It did not disappoint. Scott had the lamb burger of which I declined a bite, lamb being one of the only foods in the world I actively dislike, and while I thought about letting the Hendrick's gin with cucumber, celery bitters, and tonic serve as my salad, I did order a Caesar to go along with my beef and stilton pie. The menu is long on meat but short in general and the beef pie was really the only thing that called to me, and it was fabulous. A lovely little pastry full of rich, beefy goodness, with just a hint of stilton. The crust was made with lard I'm sure, cooked perfectly, and almost crunchy rather than flaky. It was very satisfying. It was late by the time we got back to Midtown, so we called it a night.

The next day we went on what Scott referred to as a "forced march" but which was actually a very nice walk. We took the subway downtown and had some crepes for brunch, then walked to and along the High Line before walking to the Empire State Building. Neither of us had been to the top before and we decided that was going to be the

afternoon's entertainment. After all sorts of dealings with the people selling tickets to the observation deck, we managed to get in, get up, and get outside on the 86th floor.  It was a little hazy out but the view of the rooftops of New York City is pretty awesome. After leaving the Empire State Building we did a little shopping and walked back toward my apartment and got a drink and a snack at one of the zillion restaurants in the neighborhood, and that made for a very full day of both walking and sweating, and really all we wanted after that was to shower and not walk anymore.

Which brings us to the tennis. We had tickets to the men's semi-final matches, both of which were scheduled for Saturday, so we got up early, got some bagels and coffee, and got on the subway to Queens. About forty minutes later we got off right next to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the pouring rain. When I say "pouring rain," make no mistake, this was not a Seattle-style rain which might cause you to put your wipers on the second intermittent setting, this was a frikkin' downpour. But as we are not two people to stand around when we can keep moving, we left the wimps who were trying to wait it out at the subway and forged ahead onto the tournament grounds, clutching my umbrella (which was little more than a parasol) over our heads and pretty much getting soaked. In the ten minutes it might have taken us to get in, the rain became torrential.

The only time Scott needed this plastic poncho was to get back to his beer after buying the plastic poncho.

Murray playing Berdych
Play was clearly going to be suspended, but we weren't going anywhere. We had come this far and if by any miracle, tennis was going to be played that Saturday, we were going to be there and ready - so Scott did the only thing a person could do in such circumstances, he went and got us a couple of beers while I staked out a place on a lovely cushioned couch outside the Heineken Lounge. We were shielded from the rain by the overhang of the building and the giant patio umbrella we managed to unfurl, and we just sat there drinking beer at 10:30 in the morning, comfy as could be watching the rain pound down. And then came the tornado warning. They made everyone go inside for a few minutes while that passed, which it did, and then the weather gods finally smiled on us and the sun came out. In fact, it turned into a beautiful day. We made it into Arthur Ashe Stadium, our seats were pretty far back but practically dead-center of the net so we could see the entire court, and Andy Murray took on Tomas Berdych and won in four sets, despite battling through 30 mph wind (at times) on the court.

Scott being Scott. He can't help it.
After the first match, we wandered around a little and then went back for the second semi-final match to watch Novak Djokovik play David Ferrer, but that match was suspended after less than an hour as apparently the tornado was back in the neighborhood and the authorities were sending everyone home and closing the tennis center for the day. So back to the subway, back to Manhattan, and to John's Pizza for dinner. Scott made the smart call of vetoing the really bad Chianti the bartender let us taste and we ordered a pepperoni-mushroom pizza and two seemingly 12 oz. martinis instead. Luckily John's Pizza (the more touristy Midtown location, not the cool downtown location) is only three blocks from the apartment so the martinis weren't that dangerous... although I think... I'm pretty sure... we stopped at a bar on the way home. These things happen. 

Djokovik playing Ferrer
Filip Peliwo, junior boy's winner
And there was more tennis on Sunday. We got to go back for the postponed match, this time in sunny, spectacular weather, and even though Scott decided (and convinced me) that Djokovik is a "punk," and we were rooting (sort of) for Ferrer, I wanted Novak to win so I could watch Murray take him on in the final, and he did. This was another great day of tennis; we watched that entire match and were then walking around the grounds (possibly with mojitos but I'm not under oath here) when we heard that the junior boy's final was being played on one of the outer courts, so we made our way to court 7 and watched the final set of that, which had two 17-year-old smacking the shit out of a tennis ball with amazing force. The court was so small that we got to sit really close, just a few feet from the action, and we saw Filip Peliwo (whoever he is) beat Liam Broady (whoever he is) in some really fantastic play.
And then it was time to head back to get ready for "Spiderman, Turn off the Dark" - and the less said about that the better. We did stop at a hotel bar on the way to the theater for a couple of greyhounds, a couple of lobster rolls, and to catch the beginning of the ladies final but had to leave before it was over.

Spiderman is a spectacle, there's no denying that, but we both thought it was pretty forgettable. I don't really want to talk about it. There's a nice bar practically right next to the apartment's front door which makes a person feel a little better after shelling out outrageous dough to see Spiderman... the musical. Yeez.

And then it was Monday. Bagels from Zabar's and a walk in Central Park took us through the morning, and a turkey, Gouda, and pear sandwich took us through lunch, and then it was time for Scotty to get on the subway and head for the airport. And it was time for me to see if I should be doing some work, but it turned out there wasn't any work to do, so I killed some time until 4pm when the men's final started, and then proceeded to sit riveted on the couch in front of the TV for the next five hours. Really some of the best tennis played in a very long time (that I've seen, anyway). A killer tie-break to end the first set, a rally that went 54 hits, Murray up the first two sets - playing like a champ but Djokovik came back in the third, played phenomenally in the 4th, but Murray fought back in the fifth, fought back hard, and finally had his grand slam win. Scott was on his flight home during all of this but managed to set his DVR from his iPhone to record it, and texted me at 3am when he finally made it through the match.

It was a fantastic weekend. Sorry it's over, but my friend Molly arrives next weekend from D.C.... and she tells me she has a new favorite cocktail...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Governors Island

view from ferry
This year's extra-long stay in New York City is so I can do all the little things I haven't had time for on previous short stays. I accomplished one of those things today by visiting Governors Island. I had never heard of Governors Island until the New Yorker did a spread on it a while back. Apparently a lot of New Yorkers haven't heard of Governors Island either, even though it's 800 yards and a 10 minute [free] ferry ride from lower Manhattan. The island was a military outpost as far back as 1776, all the way to 1996 when it was a Coast Guard station. There was also a prison on the island in the early 1800s and one of the annecdotes in the New Yorker article had model prisoners babysitting the children of officers on party nights. The island is tiny (172 acres) and is currently run by the City of New York as a public space; the best way to get around is by bike, so I rented one and cruised the paths, passing abandoned barracks, former officer's homes, some sculpture installations, park areas, and former industrial sites. There was a graphic art exhibition in one of the buildings which I checked out, and a band playing in one of the park areas - it was a really nice ride, good way to spend my first full day here, good way to start my five week tenure of being a New Yorker.

former officer's quarters

former baracks

bike path
view from bike path