Monday, July 23, 2012

New York, USA

I have always been a fan of Chelsea FC and always had plans to watch them live when I got the chance most probably in the UK. So when I found out that they would be playing a friendly at Yankee Stadium against the newly wealthy PSG I just had to go. The day I just became hell-bent on going was on that day they finally won the Champions League at the expense of Bayern Munich. I bought the tickets within an hour after the final penalty kick that won the cup.

The fastest and cheapest route from Toronto to New York I learned involved going by land, sea, and air via Porter Air. A route which I am inclined to avoid in the future. From our place I had to take a bus, TO subway, shuttle, ferry, plane, skytrain, train, and finally the NY subway and some walking to get to our Manhattan destination where I got free lodging (Thanks Mia). All in all, including the wait times, a total of 5-6 hours. Riding the bus suddenly didn't seem so bad. Double the travel time but ¼ the price.

Planning for New York, there were only two things I was looking forward to, watching the game, and dining. Anything else would just be a bonus. As I was laying out my plans on which restaurants to go to I realized I needed at least a week stay. A 3 day stay just didn't cut it, and having my flight cancelled and rescheduled 12 hours later did not help our cause either.

Day 1
In no particular planned order we somehow ended up going to the best restaurant on my list first, Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Rated as one of the top 25 best restaurants in the world at one point, I find it unbelievable that such a place would offer a 3 course prix fix lunch for only $25. We ordered 2 sets of different combinations to get the most out of the visit.

I got the famous momofoku pork Steambuns as my appetizer, the deep fried duck duck dumplings as my main, and the tri strawberry sorbet for dessert. As each dish was served to me each element of the dish was described which only heightened my interest.


My wife got the Spanish mackerel with strawberries, black garlic, and lime as the appetizer, the grilled trout with artichokes, green garlic, pistachio, and the corn cream pie for dessert.


In one simple lunch my whole perception of fine dining had been altered. I now get it. Why people pay hundreds of dollars for a meal, why certain chefs get described as exciting. I now understand. It isn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had, but I can safely say I’ve never tasted anything like it. It is memorable, and that’s why it deservedly costs more. The sorbet had something like a crust pasted at the bottom of the bowl. You scrape it off with your spoon, have the sorbet, and they work together. Everything was properly cooked, vegetables were fresh and crisp, the trout was perfectly grilled, seasoned, juicy, but with a nice char. Everything was just spot on. No screw ups.

This whole experience has left me wanting to try top restaurants now, spare no expense.

After every meal, especially on a trip, we typically try to squeeze in an espresso drink if the stomach permits. Since momofoku was really about quality and not quantity it gave us the chance to try one of the highly rated espressos in the city, Abraco. We got the cappuccino which I typically do not order but it was an excellent cup. Properly pulled and as usual I appreciated some art at the top and considering this was a cappuccino and not a latte, it was a great effort.


We got to walk around SoHo afterwards which is a shopping neighborhood. This place was just one shop after the other and went on and on appearing endless. It sort of reminded me of my Osaka trip but this was longer, wider, more crowded, having a lot more shops and brands. It was exhausting.


We had several plans for the afternoon till the end of the day but we had to meet a friend that gave us a quick tour of the city. Most our time was spent hanging out at Central Park up until the evening which wasn’t ideal as far as my plans went but we just had to roll with the punches.


For dinner I had my sights set on Ippudo NY.

I’ve heard all the stories of how long the wait times were at this ramen place and I came prepared and resolute . Unfortunately, at around 9pm on a Saturday, the wait time I was informed, was 3 hours! 3 hours freakin hours for a bowl of ramen. And it’s not as if this was a big deal. The lady receptionist that gave us this information didn’t even seem a bit sorry for us which means this is a common thing, which in turn means people actually wait this long. Well screw that, I’m sure the ramen was good, but it can’t be “3 hours of wait time” good.

Hungry and disappointed we were scrambling for a place to eat. I would have been happy to cross out one of the pizza or burger places on my list but going around town looking for place to eat and with parking tough as it was, we had to settle for a place call Tommy Lasagna. A restaurant that specializes in different kinds of lasagna. Nothing notable as far as my experience went, I had the lasagna sampler where I got the classic, sausage, and truffle varieties.


For dessert we went to a very interesting spot along Bleeker St, Pasticceria Rocco. They had all sorts of cakes and desserts and coffee which makes the shop a winner in my book. A wide wide range of desserts with quick service there really isn’t much I can complain about. We got the pistachio cheesecake and something like a cream puff cake.


The day was over and I was looking forward to my next lunch where unless some catastrophic event or geological calamity occurred, I was having lunch at Ippudo.

Day 2
For some reason I woke up really early the next day, around 7:00am to be exact and the only place on my list that was open was Katz delicatessen. I’ve always wanted to try this place just because it’s always mentioned everytime some show on NY eats is featured. Since I found Schwartz delicatessen in Montreal to be amazing and I was hoping for a similar experience.

When we got there the place was practically empty, I got the $17 pastrami on rye with mustard and coleslaw which was highly recommended to me. It was a big sandwich as expected, a tad overpriced, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was ok but having already savored the smoked meat in Montreal sort of already set the bar pretty high for me and anything less is officially a disappointment. As was the case here.


For my post meal caffeine fix, we got to try one the cafes at the bottom of my list, Blue Bird coffee. We had to wait for around 5 minutes to open and 5 minutes after just like their website said they would, they opened their doors at 8:30AM. We got the mocha which is my go to gourmet coffee drink and it was another winner. Only a few cafes really get the ratio of chocolate to espresso right and this was one of them. Great strong fresh espresso with just the right amount of sweetness from the chocolate. It was at this point I was thinking to myself, I haven’t really tried any bitter disappointments in New York. Man what a city!


There was one more place I just had to try before Ippudo which opened at 11am and this was a place that was recommended by practically everyone who had been to New York and knew that we were going. Balthazar seems to be popular for brunch but unfortunately, I couldn’t really have brunch knowing I was having lunch somewhere else. Just to give it a try we ordered the most expensive French toast I’ve ever seen on a menu and it consisted of 2 slices of brioche with 3 slices of applewood bacon.

In retrospect, having the best French toast I’ve ever had for $20 seems to be a bargain now. Expertly made not with the sloppy egg batter mess that normally accompanies French toast. This one was clean as if no batter was used but when you bite into it you realize it is French Toast and the texture and flavor on it really makes me wonder how they pull it off. The bacon adds a great balance of saltiness and crunch to the dish. I really wanted to order the $25 eggs Benedict but I had to leave space in my stomach. I’ll be back.

I’d already gone to 3 different places right before lunch but interestingly enough, all the walking and the proper food choices allowed us to look forward to finally enjoying that highly elusive bowl of ramen. Ippudo opens at 11am, we showed up at 10:55 on a Sunday morning and there was already a line when we got there. Fortunately, the place was huge and everyone lined up got accommodated immediately. As soon as you enter the dining area after a seat has been confirmed the entire stuff gives you their “irashaimase!” Japanese welcome as if to say, “welcome o lucky one to get a seat here!” After all the wait, it had better been worth it.

We got the hakata tonkotsu Ramen and the Akamaru ramen which translates to the classic tonkotsu ramen and the tonkotsu ramen with red miso. After my first sip everything made sense. What the big fuss was about and why people wanted to wait. It was damn good. It was the best ramen i’ve had outside of Japan. If I rate my best ramen experience in Tokyo as a 10, this ramen was a 9. It was very very close and for $15 it was properly priced and absolutely worth it. I still wouldn’t wait 3 hours though but now I understand why other people do it. The kakuni pork sidedish we got was a big letdown compared to what we had in Tokyo. What we had in Tokyo was delicious with rice and a side of toasted garlic. That meal was truly a revelation.


Considering what weve already eaten at this point, I was full. I couldn’t think much about food. This gave us time to burn some calories, walk around, and just kill some time. I got to visit B&H Photo Video to get my close up and variable density filter, and got to do more shopping although I ended up with nothing after.

Approaching game time, I got to sample two of the trips disappointments in succession, PinkBerry and Blue Bottle Coffee. Pinkberry tastes exactly like regular yoghurt in ice cream form and adding brownie bits to it only ruined it. They do not go well together.The yoghurt ice cream in ikea is miles better.

Blue bottle coffee is one of the higher rated cafes in NY. Their name seems to be at the top of best espresso in NY list. Either the good barista was off that day or I ordered the wrong thing because the mocha was pretty horrible. Not strong enough espresso, too watery, and just bad overall. The latte art was pretty good though.


Game Time:
Going to NY Stadium was pretty convenient, just one long subway ride (no 4) from Manhattan. I knew I was on the right subway line as new passengers wearing Chelsea blue shirts kept on getting on. By the end, as we were about to get off it was a sea of blue shirts and a handful of PSG supporters everywhere. As a fan it was quite a sight.

Making our way to our seats I was getting goose bumps hearing the Chelsea chants as we were approaching the field. It was unbelievable how good our seats were most probably because I purchased it really really early. My first glance at the field I immediately recognized petr Cech training with Ross Turnbull. At this point, this whole trip was already worth it.

Almost all the time the anticipation leading to the event is always better than the actual event and that was the truth for this case. It was a pretty dull 1-1 draw where Chelsea played pretty awful and uninspired. I guess that’s what you get for watching a friendly. If there is any consolation, I got some pretty great and pics of Chelsea’s old guard. I love my 18-200m lens.


Here's a video of the warmups. Just so that my I can claim my blog has videos:

The reason for my NY trip was over. We were back in Manhattan earlier than expected and hungry. This was a good thing, I get to eat. I’ve always heard of Gray's Papaya so I wanted to try it. We got two chili dogs served up with their papaya shake. The hotdogs were pretty much average and a bit smaller than I expected but the shake was pretty good and refreshing. Nothing amazing but what can you expect from a $4 meal.


As we were walking home we passed by this pizza place called Slice & Co brick oven pizza at 14th and 6th ave which I always passed by and, from the point of view of a non-New Yorker, they did look to have very interesting pizzas. A lot of people have said NY pizza is way better than Torontos so this was my last chance to prove that theory. At 11pm at night immediately after having a hotdog and a beverage, I had my first taste of NY pizza. It was FAAAANTASTIC! It was definitely one the best pizzas i’ve ever had. The crust was thin as too were the toppings. It was foldable and yet it was crisp. It baffles me how they made this and has basically ruined all other pizza for me. For me to get a decent pizza now I have to shell out 15$ at a gourmet restaurant while this pizza slice was less than 5 bucks and I still find it even better. Just knowing that this pizza wasn't even one of the good ones in NY just makes me want to go back even more.

Day 3
Before heading out to the airport just one last stab at another coffee place. This one called Cafe Grumpy which was pretty hard to find because they had no signage. Coffee was pretty average unfortunately.

Well that’s it. For a 48 hour trip I got to accomplish a lot. What a great city! Where pedestrians and motorists make you feel like you are in the Philippines while every restaurant seems be Zagat rated. I love this place!

Before I forget I need to list down stuff I should have gone to and will eventually.

Pomme Frites
Lunch at Per Se
Shake Shack or some other Burger place
More NY Pizza
Lunch at Morimoto NY

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