Tag Archives: dining

East Village favorites.

I love the East Village. I mean, I love the Upper East Side as a home, but the East Village is the perfect place to get away for an afternoon or evening. Firstly, it is super-easy for us to get to via the 4/5/6 lines, but more importantly, the East Village is just a cool place.


With the days of junkies in the streets and the Tompkins Square Park riots long gone, the East Village isn’t quite the bohemian hell depicted in the likes of Rent anymore. But it’s still quirky and charming as ever.

Sean and I recently realized we end up in the East Village every single weekend at some point or another, and I’m beginning to feel as familiar with certain areas of the neighborhood as much as the UES.

Here’s a quick list of our favorite East Village haunts, some newer discoveries and others more familiar:



Mark: Easily the best burger and fries hole-in-the-wall place we’ve come across. It blows Shake Shack out of the water, and it will make you wonder why people line up out the door for the aforementioned chain. And they have different kinds of ketchup, like jalapeno and chipotle (our favorites), which is fun. Great happy hour specials on drinks AND food too, and a good laid-back atmosphere for meeting up with friends or for taking Texas visitors.


Pommes Frites: Speaking of fries, this teeny-tiny take-out place that only serves Belgian fries is divine. We try not to go there too often because, uh, our health, but their fries are amazing. The best part is they have a bunch of different dipping sauces you can choose from (as well as poutine, for our Northern friends!) Our go-to is sundried tomato mayo, but I think the rosemary garlic mayo and curry ketchup are enjoyable as well.

Malai Marke: This fairly recently opened Indian restaurant is worth the cost of a nicer dinner date. All of the food is wonderful; and there are always a lot of Indian people eating there, so I think that’s a good sign. Only con is that naan costs extra, and what is an Indian dinner without piping hot, fluffy naan? We get lamb madras and saag paneer and share everything, which is my favorite way to eat out. Who wants to get stuck with one dish? There’s a classier ambiance to this place — the empty spice racks on the walls and dim lighting — that you don’t get at a standard Indian take-out joint. I like it.

Sigiri: While we’re on the subject of spicy ethnic cuisine, let’s talk about Sigiri. Sigiri is a Sri Lankan restaurant. I’m not really sure how to describe Sri Lankan food as a whole. I just know I like kotthu roti, and I’m not even sure what that is. It’s meat and vegetables and egg and breading all mashed up together into a Thanksgiving dressing-like substance, mysteriously infused with sinus-clearing spice levels. Totally makes up for the lack of decent Tex-Mex in this city.


Mono + Mono: This Korean fried chicken restaurant doesn’t have the best reviews, but I’m not exactly an expert on Korean fried chicken, so whatever. I do know that Korean fried chicken is crispy, juicy and far surpasses American buffalo wings. I also love the concept/decor of this place. The walls are glass displays of shelves and shelves of vinyl records, and this guy walks around and picks one out to play on the jukebox/turntable.

Awash: A simple, no-nonsense Ethiopian restaurant. You can eat with your hands. Everything tastes so good, I want to travel to Africa myself for the real deal.  They have honey wine. Go there.


Caracas Arepa Bar: Oh. My. Goodness. This place is the answer to our prayers! A nook of a restaurant dishing out Venezuelan street food. I didn’t know what an arepa was before coming here — it’s like a cross between a sandwich made of cornbread and a taco — but now I want to eat one every day of my life. Plus, they use some of my favorite ingredients: black beans (!!!), avocado, and plantains. Yes, please.

Drinks & Dessert:


Amor y Amargo: Probably my favorite cocktail bar in the city. Not that I go to a lot of cocktail bars because $$$, but I love this place. It’s classy, but not pretentious. Intimate, but not crowded. The tiny bar itself has a lot of character. They are always playing good music, and the same easy-going bartender always seems to be there. Their boast-worthy drink that has gotten a lot of press is their gin and tonic, which worthy of its praise. I know I’ll come back here again and again.


Death & Co.: OK, so this speakeasy is a little pretentious. And pricey. So it’s definitely a special occasion thing. They only let as many people in as they can physically seat at the time, and you can’t take flash photos with your camera or be wearing ratty jeans or anything. So it’s a nice little escape from the chaos of the city. The cocktails are their specialty. Last time I was there, a girl next to me ordered a beer. You can get a beer at almost every restaurant, bar, and convenience store in this city. You do not go to Death & Company for a beer, OK? You go for a Fitzgerald or a Legend or a Gypsy Wedding or some other fancy-pants drink. I mean, there are black walls and floors. You have to get a cocktail when black is involved.


Veniero’s Pastry: A long-standing Italian bakery and pastry shop/cafe, with plenty of seating and a daunting list of cakes by the slice. I want to try them all, but I think my waistline would hate me. (Well-known for their cannoli. I’m not a cannoli person, so…)


Big Gay Ice Cream Shop: This ice creamery has a giant unicorn painted on their wall and a rainbow ice cream cone on the window. Basically, it is soft-serve for grown-ups (think salty-sweet combos), but there are always a million kids in here. Because we all scream for ice cream.



Academy Records: I really don’t know much about this new & used vinyl shop, but Sean is obsessed with it and always wants to go here, so it’s on the list. It doesn’t have a resident cat like Bleeker Street Records in the West Village, so it’s not THE coolest record store in my book. I do get good vibes when I’m in there though. And people do bring in their dogs, so there’s that.


No Relation Vintage: I love this thrift store. I mean, I love all thrift stores, but unlike all the other thrift stores I’ve seen here that are totally banking off the thrifting trend and charging more than I would spend on brand-new clothes, this place is very reasonable. I bought a pair of Levi cut-offs for $8. A good mix of vintage dresses, funky tees, worn-in shorts and boots, and way out there pieces like a military flight suit and floor-length fur coats. I’ll definitely be coming back to get my thrifting fix — and a few giggles!

The Strand Bookstore: I guess this mecca for bookworms isn’t really in the East East Village, but I’ve walked from there to a number of the other places I’ve mentioned, so I’m counting it. It’s amazing. I would walk miles to get to The Strand. And I’m pretty sure I have.

The East Village is perfect for wandering around aimlessly and getting lost in, so you never know when you’ll next stumble upon something wonderful!



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Turkish books and food

First off, I changed the header image on the blog! (Finally!) I also added the Goodreads widget to the sidebar so everyone can stalk what I am currently reading.

Secondly, I am sad to announce for the first time in years, I couldn’t finish a book. That book was The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.

It won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And I couldn’t finish it.

urlI was reading this book for my book club, and while I still will go to the meeting on Monday night (maybe others’ praises for it will change my opinion), I guess just wasn’t in the right mood for it.

The Museum of Innocence is the story of a 30-year-old Turkish man’s obsessive love for the young shopgirl Fusun. The two begin a love affair when she is only 18, but she disappears in envy when the man becomes officially engaged to his long-term socialite girlfriend. Eventually, our protagonist, Kemal, finds her again — and surprise! She’s married. Then there are 500 drawn-out pages in which Kemal dines regularly with Fusun, her new husband, and her parents, eager to resume their romance but hopelessly separated from her. All the while, he collects small trinkets that remind him of her and their relationship in some way, for his museum about their romance.

I read three-fourths of this book thoroughly, but then I was just painfully bored, so I started skimming until there was some semblance of a plot again. It was just. So. Melancholy. It was like being trapped in a room for hours and hours with a very lonely person who could not stop talking, in painful detail, about every minuscule detail of their sad, sad life.

I will say the first third of the novel — which chronicles how Kemal crosses path with Fusun, a long-lost distant cousin of his, and falls madly in love with her while concealing this secret from the rest of the world — was wonderful. Pamuk writes lovely prose. What he does not write, in my opinion, is an engaging story.

The Museum of Innocence is set against the backdrop of Istanbul, beginning in the 1970s. It’s embarrassing, but when I think of Istanbul, the only things that come mind are the Hagia Sophia and that song, “So if you’ve got a date in Istanbul, she’ll be waiting in Constantinople.”

So yeah. Basically nothing.

And this is so silly of me, but I have SO much trouble reading novels when I can’t pronounce even the main characters’ names. This is my main gripe about Anna Karenina, as it is. And when the book isn’t already engaging, I become frustrated with trivial things like name pronunciations.

And the thing is I’ve already read and loved two other acclaimed novels with similar themes about obsessive love. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of my favorite books of all time. (Interestingly enough, the NY Times’ book review of The Museum of Innocence is titled “Lolita on the Bosphorus”.) When I took a whole senior seminar on Nabokov and found out we’d be studying Lolita for weeks, I thought my heart would explode with happiness. Lolita is the seductively told tale of the aging European Humbert Humbert and his doomed love for the 12-year-old American “nymphet” Dolores Haze. I cannot even tell you how beautifully written this novel is. And what a haunting confessional tale of a man pleading, hopelessly, for redemption. Yes, it is disturbing, as it in essence a tale of pedophilia, told by the pedophile himself. But no, it is not graphic. And yes, it is much more than a book about pedophilia. It also asks big questions about What is love, and what is obsession? Can you be in love with a fantasy? Can art be a form of redemption? And on broader, more metaphorical levels, it speaks of a sophisticated, aging Europe colliding with brash, young America.

Here is a depiction of the first chapter’s text. If that doesn’t make you both extremely creeped out and want to keep reading, I don’t know what will.

tumblr_lpqafpp9fM1qze3z3o1_400The other novel The Museum of Innocence reminded me of is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in Time of Cholera. This is the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall passionately in love in their innocent youth. Fermina eventually marries a doctor, and Florentino is tragically devastated. While he passes his years with 622 love affairs, as a hopeless romantic, he “reserves his heart” for only Fermina. As the book jackets says, “Fifty-nine years, nine months and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.”

I love love LOVE Marquez’ magical realism style. I’ve read his other major novel (A Hundred Years of Solitude) as well and a couple of his novellas. When you read his writing, you feel like you are sitting on the front porch of a couple of village elders, somewhere in the depths of Colombia. His stories comes across as part factual, part personal tall tale, part oral folklore, and part the “weirder” beliefs of Catholicism (like the Assumption of the Virgin Mary). It’s absolutely glorious and breathtaking to read. I’ve heard from some Spanish-speaking friends back in Texas that his prose is even more enchanting in the original language. I can only imagine.

One praiseful thing I will say about The Museum of Innocence is that the author opened an actual museum based on the book in Istanbul. This sort of blurs the line between reality and fiction, and I love quirky, imaginative things like that. I found a few photos of the exhibits online, and they eerily imitate the exhibits listed in the book. For example, Kemal spends years collecting thousands of Fusun’s used cigarettes for his museum. And there is an exhibit of used cigarettes in the actual museum in Istanbul.


Anyway, after seeing reference after reference to the Istanbul neighborhood of Beyoglu in the book, I couldn’t help but want to go to the Turkish restaurant in our neighborhood of the same name.

This was our second visit. We got the large meze platter and another plate of the Mediterranean crab cakes, to share.

lThe meze platter includes hummus, Greek yogurt & cucumber salad, smashed eggplant salad, some sort of spinach concoction, something that looks like couscous or quinoa, and what I call “Greek salsa.” Everything has authentic names that I can’t pronounce or spell. Most importantly, it is all delicious and must be eaten with bits of bread. Anything that I 1) can eat with bread, and 2) fulfills my Meatless Lenten Fridays requirements is good in my book.

And you know what? I know it’s quite a generalization, but based on first impressions, I think I’m more partial to Turkish food than to Turkish books.

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Neighborhood love.

photoThe winter has made us a little stuck in a rut where it is hard to motivate ourselves to go anywhere and do much besides watch rented movies and read at home. I think it’s nice to have a month or so of “hibernation” time. We’ve been lamely staying in the UES for much of the weekend. Which is fine by me, because I love our neighborhood. I love all the dogs in sweaters and little kids in snow boots.

IMG_3850On Saturday, while venturing out to our favorite corner diner a few blocks away, we noticed that Ottomanelli’s Cafe 86 had reopened after five months of mysterious deadness. It was a great discovery. Ottamenlli’s Cafe is a true neighborhood gem: a too-narrow restaurant that serves up extremely reasonably priced Italian dishes that taste like your mama made them. If your mama is Italian, that is. Mine isn’t, but I imagine the hearty, simple meals there could be served in some Italian mom’s home kitchen. I love their spaghetti bolognese. And their lasagna. All of the meat in their dishes is delivered fresh daily from their meat shop down the street.

The Ottomanellis have a sort of meat empire across the city. They’ve been a big name in the butcher business since 1900, but the sons (grandsons?) have since split up and staked out territory in different neighborhoods. One of their butcher shops is across the street from us (at 82nd and York Ave). It’s more pricey than what you can get at the supermarket, but it’s definitely quality. We bought some freshly ground beef here for Sunday’s dinner, and it was much better than chuck. Also, all their beef is from grass-fed cattle, which is good to know. And people who work there know their regulars by name, and call new faces “sir” or “ma’am.” The floor is checker linoleum. Need I say more?

We ended up dining at Ottomanelli’s Cafe on Saturday night, and it did not disappoint. It’s a bit out of the way for everyone else, but it’s a Yorkville favorite. The place was hopping, and people kept having to wait in the cramped entry way for a table to open up. Throughout dinner, we kept hearing people telling the two servers how glad they were the place was back open for business.

lOn Sunday, we went to Beanocchio’s Cafe, our go-to hangout spot these days for when we get need to get out of the apartment. This place is SUCH a breath of fresh air in a city full to the brim with Starbucks and Coffee Bean. There are little figurines of Snap, Crackle and Pop (you know, the Rice Krispies icons) and Archie Comics characters on the back shelf next to the assortment of tea bags. There’s a stuffed Pinocchio doll, naturally. The menu, which includes breakfast items and sandwiches, is painstakingly written by hand on a giant chalkboard. You almost feel like the gang from Friends could come walking in at any moment to catch up.

We just get two black coffees and a muffin (all of their muffins are awesome, none of that dried-out Starbucks nonsense) to split, and then linger there for an hour or so. This Sunday, we couldn’t get a two-person table, so we had to sit at the large kitchen-type table at the back with — gasp! — strangers.

It turned out to be a really pleasant time. We ended up swapping sections of the Sunday Times with a gray-haired couple and randomly chatting with two women about Downton Abbey — our unanimous entertainment choice for that evening over the Super Bowl.

And they say you never meet your neighbors in New York.

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NY Restaurant Week: Delmonico’s Steakhouse

IMG_0700Now through Feb. 8 is winter Restaurant Week in NYC. “Week” is used loosely, as it lasts a lot longer than just seven days. Restaurant Week is a special time when middle class citizens get to feast like royalty and try out some of their city’s fine dining that they would not otherwise be able to afford, as you can score a 3-course dinner for $38 (or lunch for $25).

I realize $38 is not cheap, but on the regular menu, the filet mignon I ordered goes for $48 alone (as in, no vegetables, much less no appetizer or dessert). So yeah, from that perspective, it’s a steal!

delmonicoSean and I decided to go to Delmonico’s, a historic steakhouse located in the Financial District. Delmonico’s has existed in various locations, a number of which burned down, but has existed in some operating capacity since 1837 and was once known as one of the finest restaurants in the country. The likes of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens were known as Delmonico’s patrons. Wilde was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “Indeed the two most remarkable bits of scenery in the States are undoubtedly Delmonico’s and the Yosemite Valley.”

There you have it.

I didn’t know all this until after we ate there, but there’s a definite sense of history in the gorgeous dining room. Maybe it had to do with huge paintings of diners of yesteryear occupying the walls? (Haha…Occupy. Walls. Ha. And the restaurant is near Wall Street? I give up.) We went to their oldest currently operating location, here:

DelmonicosNeedless to say, the food, service, and ambiance were some of the best I’ve experienced in the city — no, in my life — to date. We got there a little early after work for our 7:15 reservation, so we were lucky and got seated in the main dining room, and not in the basement or side rooms like a lot of the other Restaurant Week diners. You easily could tell who the, uh, “regulars” were: the women in glamorous floor-length fur coats and the men in immaculately tailored suits. I imagine this is where the Wall Street bankers unwind after a long day’s work.

Anyway, we tried a cavatelli pasta with wild mushrooms and lobster bisque for our two appetizers. We both got filet mignon with harvest vegetables for the main course. And for the finale, we dug into their Baked Alaska, because they claim to have invented it; at any rate, there is proof that the restaurant named the dessert in 1876 shortly after the U.S. acquired the Alaskan Territory.

Let me tell you what I knew about Baked Alaska prior to this evening: on the computer game Sims 2, only after your Sim has acquired all 10 possible points of Cooking Skill can they prepare Baked Alaska. In the game, it is an unidentifiable dessert that somehow incorporates fire.

Needless to say, I had high expectations for this mysterious, sea-urchin looking thing they presented to us.

I don’t know about all Baked Alaskas, but ours was essentially a glamorized cousin of banana pudding. There was a layer of walnut cake, topped with apricot jelly, a generous bit of banana gelato (mmmmmm), then ample amounts of meringue and an unidentifiable but yummy sauce. I guess the gelato part represents Alaska? In that case, I have discovered a new appreciation for our icy 49th state.

I am now a huge fan of Restaurant Week. I felt quite fancy without all the guilt. Well, at least the money kind of guilt. I forgot to mention we shared both the Baked Alaska and a NY-style cheesecake. So calorie-guilt might be in effect right now.


(This is the face you have to make to fit in these kinds of places, by the way. Channel Gatsby.)



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Flushing culinary adventures, Pt. 2: Hot pot

I guess the doldrums of winter have gotten to me lately, because I haven’t been motivated to do much of anything at all, much less use my brain after work hours and write. I mainly just want to curl up under the covers and hibernate until at least March. I realize these are all distinguishing characteristics of a clinically depressed individuals — or perhaps an average teenager — but they are also typical of persons experiencing their first true Northeastern winter. The high for today was 20 degrees, feels like “10 degrees.” The high.


A few months ago, Sean and I went with a group to try out Korean barbecue in Flushing, Queens. This past Saturday we returned to that Asia of America for another foray into authentic, DIY ethnic cuisine: hot pot.


It all started in December, when I read this New York magazine article raving about Little Pepper Hot Pot. What is “hot pot,” for those of you, who like me, feel like most of your encounters with “Chinese” cuisine comes from the likes of Panda Express? It’s more or less the Chinese version of fondue.

A boiling hot cauldron of seasoned broth is served on a tabletop hot pad, in which the diners place a variety of sliced meat and veggies and then fish them out with little wire nets for consumption. We got the “normal” broth/spicy broth combo hot pot that comes with sliced fatty beef (haha, “fatty beef”…mmm) and a HUGE platter of vegetables: cabbage, bean sprouts, watercress, unidentifiable Asian mushroom/fungus, and corn on the cob — my favorite. We also ordered an additional plate of fatty lamb, and were served complimentary bowls of this amazing tangy/sweet sauce (pictured above, topped with sliced chives).

This was the perfect dinner to warm our bellies for the chilly winter. Everything was so tasty. The broth really did a lot for even the more bland ingredients like the cabbage. The spicy broth was truly, truly spicy, filled with dried chiles and Szechuan peppercorns. The peppercorns were really interesting, because they release a lot of capsicum, which creates a numbing effect on the tongue, which some believe makes the burning sensation of the chiles less, well, painful — allowing one to fully appreciate the flavors of the food.

My favorite were the bits of corn on the cob that we let cook for a while in the normal broth. I already love corn, but the broth made it extra-flavorful. Side note: I have mastered the art of picking up corn on the cob with chopsticks. Gotta put that skill on my resume.

We both left feeling stuffed, and we only ordered one additional side dish. There were two other couples there enjoying a large afternoon meal, and they each ordered whole tables of meats and vegetables to boil up in the broth. I couldn’t believe it. I swear Chinese people have hollow legs. (Please, no one take that offensively. I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration.)

I also loved that they played Korean soap operas on TV (with Chinese subtitles, of course) the entire time we were there. So mesmerizing. I loved that the whole family that ran the restaurant took advantage of the afternoon slump to enjoy a quick meal — what appeared to be a giant soup pot of random leftovers — together. And I also really liked this distinguishing sign for those of us who can’t read Mandarin:


After our feast, we (somehow) found room in our stomachs for a Thai peach bubble tea from one of the many cheap bubble tea places along Flushing’s Main Street. Bubble tea is to Flushing as Starbucks is to Midtown, basically. Then we meandered into the mysterious New World Mall. The only thing it had in common with other malls I’ve been to is a Macy’s. There was a store called J-Pop that only sold Hello Kitty merchandise and posters of Japanese pop stars. There was a grocery called J-Mart that smelled overwhelmingly of fish, and had aisle after aisle of my favorite Japanese childhood snacks, like Pocky sticks and Hello Panda cookies. There was also a place called, quite plainly, “New Bra,” which made me laugh more than it should have.

And then there was the food court. Here is a photo I found online:


Aside from one juice stand, everything was so Asian. There were at least two places where you could get the fast-food version of hot pot (everything already dumped into a giant bowl of boiling hot broth), a place where we witnessed a guy make string-thin noodles with his bare hands, places with menus of plastic food, and a place where you could get a whole lobster on top of some noodles for $10. And more bubble tea places, you guys.

We did eye a place that served ice cream crepes, as in sugary pancakes wrapped up cone-style around generous scoops of unusual flavors of ice cream. It was so un-Asian and so very Asian at the same time. Then I observed two teenage Asian girls spontaneously burst out into the “Gangham Style” dance — no joke — and I was fully content with our little venture to the end of the 7 line.

Until next time, Flushing.

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Thoughts from places: Flushing, Queens

The Asia of America

One of my favorite authors, John Green, posts YouTube videos called “thoughts from places” every so often, in which he shares brief video clips of places like Amsterdam, Chicago, or Indianapolis, and narrates them with the most witty and poignant commentary. Here’s an example. I don’t think I can compete with his word skills, but I do have some thoughts from a place.

That place being Flushing, Queens. This past Sunday, Sean and I, along with two of his co-workers (one male and one female) and their significant others, embarked on a journey to the Near Far East. This was very exciting for me, as I tend to stay in Manhattan, with the occasional venture into Brooklyn and one sketchy detour to an authentic Mexican restaurant in the Bronx.

So we took the 7 train from Grand Central all the way to the end of the line — to the Main Street, Flushing stop. I’d yet to reach the end of a subway line, and this was an experience in and of itself. To reach the outskirts of what some would very well refer to as the “center of the _____ world” (insert “fashion,” “financial,” “publishing,” or other prominent New York City industry here).

Once we got out of the Grand Central tunnel, we were above ground for most of our nearly hour-long train ride. That was when I realized that even with its intimidating verticality, eternal bustle, and ceaseless noise, Manhattan is just a small island. New York City is HUGE. We zoomed along past the upper levels of brick buildings, colorfully graffitied, finally arriving at our destination. After a bunch of above-ground stations, the Main Street stop is back underground. You climb up the familiar gritty stairs of the MTA system, and you are in Asia.

Or something like it.

Everyone is dark-haired and speaking in a cacophony of foreign dialects. Some signs are in English, but not all. There’s a bubble tea place and a ramen place on practically every corner. I’d forgotten how humbling it is to be a complete minority.

A long, long time ago, I spent part of my first grade year living in Iwakuni, Japan, where my dad was stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps. My memories mainly consist of that which is most easily etched onto the mind of a 6-year-old: strawberry candies wrapped in playful Hello Kitty packaging; the enchantingly realistic plastic models of food in place of menu restaurants; the gilded patterns of origami paper, waiting to transform into any number of creatures. But one does not easily forget what it is like to be blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and fair-skinned in a sea of others.

It’s a good thing to experience, once in a while, I think — for those of us who are always in the overwhelming majority. It’s good to feel apart, alienated even, reminded of the fact that there are many worlds besides your own little world.

Once we started walking away from Main Street toward our final destination — Picnic Garden, a Korean barbecue buffet restaurant — it began to feel even less like New York City, and even more like a typical middle-class suburban neighborhood. There were houses and driveways (driveways!) and little patches of grassy yards with trees.

Picnic Garden was its own adventure. Basically, you pile plates with raw, marinated meat (there is also a selection of cooked rice and stir-fried veggies), and barbecue it yourself on a little grill built into a large table. You must use chopsticks — Picnic Garden doesn’t have anything else — and you must remember to use on pair of “cooking chopsticks” and one pair of “eating chopsticks.” Don’t get them confused. (Is there really any wonder why this place has a C sanitation rating? It’s like asking people to give themselves food poisoning.)

Once you get over the fact that there are a lot of bloodied plates sitting around you as well as a selection of squid and chicken gizzards, carefully picked out by a Vietnamese member of our group (and long-time resident of Flushing), it’s actually quite heavenly. The meat is so tender and flavorful! I personally recommend the short ribs. Mmmm.

Picnic Garden! More aptly named, “Meat Garden,” in my opinion.

Also, just for the record, they do come around and change out your grill several times, help cut up particularly large flanks of meat, and clear plates quickly. It’s not totally self-service.

Because you pay a flat-price for all-you-can-eat, the meal lasted us nearly three hours. I don’t think I ate as much as I thought I would or the others did because I can only eat so much meat. I ended up switching to chilled orange slices pretty early in the game. But when we left, I was very aware of the fact that my clothes and my hair smelt unmistakably of Korean barbecue.

I mean, I ate a lot more than I usually do, but you should have seen some of the Asian families dining around us. Impressive!

We made a pit stop on the way back to the subway at Quickly, a cheap bubble tea spot. Sean and I wanted to try two different flavors (I wanted coconut, and he wanted peach), but they have this deal where you can get the large tea for the same price as the medium — the only two sizes they offer, by the way. We knew there was NO WAY after eating all that Korean barbecue we could make it through a large tea, even if we shared it. The girl at the cash register seemed very confused by our refusal of their “free upgrade,” and kept pushing it on us. I looked around the restaurant and EVERYONE had a large. Those Asians, I tell you. Olympic-worthy appetites.

I got the medium, as did Sean. We noticed that we were the only orders that got announced in English and not Mandarin first. It’s because they knew. They knew the outsiders could not handle that much milky tea and tapioca pearls. (What are tapioca pearls by the way? Do I even want to know?)

After another long subway ride to Manhattan and an additional transfer to the uptown 6 train, we were back on the Upper East Side. With The Gap; our Fairway supermarket fully stocked with organic, kosher, all-natural and gluten-free goods; the uniformed doormen who spray the sidewalk free of cigarette butts and dead leaves. You know, all the stereotypical makings of all-American, streamlined, have-it-your-way New York City.

It was hard to believe Flushing, that place of more prominently Asian culture than even famed Chinatown, too, was part of this all-American city. Just a train ride away.

This, I think, is the glorious thing about New York. You can be home, or you can be in a whole new world in what feels like an instant, just by emerging from the depths of the subway system. It’s like a microcosm of the whole world: with rivers and beaches and woods and urban jungle, and high-rise condominiums, prewar brownstones, and suburban houses; grimy bars and majestic cathedrals and corporate multiplexes, and all the many types of people who drift between these various places.

I love that traveling by subway is not only efficient, it also adds an element of surprise to any journey. You descend into its stuffy and sometimes smelly depths, find your small person-sized place among the train’s crowd, feel the jostle of the train rumbling its way through the city’s underbelly. It stops, the door glides open, the crowds pour forth onto the station platform like a much-awaited exhalation of breath. And as if floating on that sigh of eagerness, you float dream-like up the steps and emerge into the sunlight again, blinking in your new surroundings. You never know what awaits you.

Thank you, Flushing, for reminding what it is to truly observe and wonder, explore and discover. I intend to keep on drifting.


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Smorgasburg: How to be a foodie (for a day)

Fancy-pants grilled (gruyere) cheese from Milk Truck.

This past Saturday, as part of a weekend of birthday festivities, Sean and I went to check out a cool event called Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition to being a play off of one of my favorite words of all-time, “smorgasbord,” Smorgasburg is made of yummy-ness and fun. The New York Times called it “the Woodstock of eating.” Needless to say, I was pretty pumped.

Smorgasburg takes place every Saturday afternoon, in rain or shine, in the summer months through mid-November along the East River, nestled up next to East River State Park. Basically, this is a collection of food tents–most of which typically operate as either food trucks or brick-and-mortar dining establishments. And you can walk around and eat all kinds of food! Most of it is street fare, from gourmet takes on American classics like the grilled cheese sandwich or pigs-in-a-blanket to the more refined, like artisanal soy milk and vegan kale chips.

I think it’s something that visitors to NYC would love because you get to sample all kinds of great food you can’t find in any ol’ town (or fancy-schmancy adult versions of the foods you grew up with), and you get to enjoy a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline across the river.


Smorgasburg, as seen by birds, not me.

Here’s a few quick tips for any locals or out-of-towners heading to Smorgasburg for the first time:

  1. Bring cash! And an ample amount of it, too. Because it’s all the vendors will take. And you WILL eat more than you know you should.
  2. Bring a friend (or two! or three!)! This way you can try many different things. Order the smallest size of everything, and split it. This is definitely the sort of place where you’ll want to taste all the things and will be very sad if you fill up on just one — albeit very yummy — item.

    You really can’t beat this view for your culinary adventures.

  3. Bring a blanket to sit on. We didn’t do this, but I wish we did. There’s a grassy area next to the lot of tents, where people quickly took up all of the benches to enjoy their Smorgasburg purchases. A wise person would think ahead and bring a towel or picnic blanket. Go ahead and make it the most gourmet/artisanal/hipster picnic of your life. (Unless you’re one of those people I’ve seen in Central Park before, consuming “picnic lunches” consisting entirely of Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods purchases. P.S. If you’re one of those people, can we be friends? And can you invite me to one of your picnics, pretty please?)
  4. When you first arrive, stake out the “lay of the land” (“lay of the land” is one of Sean’s favorite phrases). Walk up and down all the rows so you’re not tempted to just spring for the first booth you see. And trust me, you will. Go where your nose, taste buds, and stomach lead you.
  5. Throw ideas about meal conventions out the window. When we arrived, we got a toasted coconut donut from the Dough stand, even though it was nearly noon. Then after eating our way through the lunch foods of the world, we finished off with gourmet s’mores from S’more Bakery. On second thought, throw your ideas about “nutrition” and “balanced meals” out the window, too. At least for this one special, magical time. It is a fair of sorts, OK?
  6. A pleasant surprise!

    Don’t be afraid to try things you think you wouldn’t like. I tried a free sample of those kale chips. They were OK. I also tried fried chicken with a cheddar waffle in maple-vinegar sauce and LOVED it. I never understood the “chicken & waffles” establishments in the South, but now I totally do. It’s two comfort foods together. Fortunately, we did not get a Southern-style portion of this fried goodness.

  7. Give into the pretentiousness. Be a foodie for a day! Yes, we paid as much for one panini-pressed grilled cheese as it would probably cost to buy a whole loaf of sandwich bread and pack of Kraft Singles (in any state other than NY, at least), but you know what? It was about 10x yummier than Wonderbread and a Kraft Single. And I also plan on repeating the experience zero more times. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not a habit.
  8. Take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan! For $4 a person, you get to go on a decently long boat ride while looking at the skyscrapers of Manhattan on one side and the hodgepodge of Brooklyn on the other. Plus, the subway ride under the river always makes my ears pop.
  9. Before you leave, absolutely get a donut from Dough. Best. Donuts. Ever. I heard the blood orange is a favorite, but Sean has something against citrus-y desserts. So YOU should totally get the blood orange donut, and tell me how it is!

Interesting graffiti on the walk through Brooklyn to the ferry port.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, sans a somewhat sticky situation involving my s’more (see what I did there? “Sticky situation?” I crack myself up). Smorgasburg is definitely a once-a-year or so venture because the cost of all that artisanal, gourmet food can make it add up a lot quicker than other casual lunches.

But it is a great idea for those of us who love to eat yet are indecisive about what we want to eat! You’re presented with so many appetizing options, you can’t help but want to try them all. Which brings me to my last and final Smorgasburg tip:

10. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach! I’m still working on that one.


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