New York, in bites (part one)

Wednesday, Apr. 27

Arrived. After turning back twice for forg

Descending toward Manhattan

otten items, we finally left Humboldt, made it to SF intact, stayed over in Ocean Beach, cabbed to SFO and over 24 hours after driving away from home on one coast, landed on the other. Worn out and impatient to reach my brother’s place in Brooklyn, I opted for a cab ride instead of navigating unfamiliar subways. Thirty bucks later, we’d arrived. Along the way, a cacophony of horns. Buildings scraped the sky. We were here.

Carmine’s Pizzeria. Oh, yeah. That’s some good stuff. Most any real food would’ve been great after a day spent with only Lara bars and Safeway sandwich left over from a stop in Willits the day before. But this wasn’t just any real food. This was New York pizza. Tomato pie. Fat, fresh mozzarella. Why is it different? The perfect balance of ingredients, ratio of crust to cheese to sauce? No clue. Man, it was good.

Tag and Kaylee deep underground.

Good Units. Hugs and showers, then back out to attend this Ketel One showcase of Alberta Cross. We bought our Metro cards ($29/week), took the subway into midtown, passing buskers along the way. Unlike anywhere else, New York dominates the movies, TV shows and books I’ve consumed over the years, so being there in real life takes on a quality of dream made fact. New York is exactly how I thought it would be. In midtown, we trundled down three flights of stairs to arrive at this — literally — underground club. Ketel One neon and hanging tea lights counteracted the darkness. We couldn’t figure out why the free drinks had such seemingly pretentious names — “Broken Part of Time,” “Money for the Weekend” — and until my brother realized they matched Alberta Cross’ song titles. Hey, if you’re handing out free high-end cocktails via sharp, good-looking bartenders, no cover charge and a small enough crowd that one barely has to wait for another round, you can call those drinks anything you want. Mildly snarky review of event here. Note: the forthcoming commercials are directed by the same guy who did The Fighter.

Times Square. Neon assaults the eyes, honking horns and yelling people the ears, falafel stands the nose, salty pretzels the mouth and complaining feet complete the sensory excess of Times-Square. Thus immersed, we marveled.

Times Square!

Grand Central Station. First thought: It’s beautiful. Second thought: That shootout scene in The Untouchables. Third thought: It’s gorgeous. I could hang out here for hours admiring the architecture, the bustle, the history.

Thursday, Apr. 28

The Bagel Store. My brother departed for work in Manhattan, so K and I were left to navigate breakfast and the subways on our own. Two immediate goals: try the famed New York bagel and find the cast of Glee, in town filming the season finale. We traipsed down the street to the aptly named The Bagel Store, stood inside awkwardly until we figured out we needed to order from the guy in back near the kitchen, not the woman at the front counter. Total Seinfeld moment! The choices of bagels startled me — I’d imagined New Yorkers to be purists, maybe a sesame option, maybe something with garlic, but what greeted us but French Toast and Pina Colada bagels among the more common circles of bread? I couldn’t pass up the French Toast, asked for walnut-raisin cream cheese on top, omigod, the crisp outside, the fluffy inside, the sweet, the chewy, the taste, the feel… wow. Wow. ($3)

Stalking the Glee cast!

Sardi’s. We found the famed Sardi’s where Glee was filming for the day. Dark paper covered the windows, trucks abounded, but no luck seeing any cast members. If we’d hung out longer, maybe, but we had a city to see. We took some photos, which prompted this short, buff, middle-aged Italian guy to come off his truck and over to us. “You ladies need to both be in the picture! You want I should take one?” Sure, we said. He backed up, we posed, Broadway theater marquees across the background. “Looks good,” he said. He asked where we were from. First time in New York? Oh, it’s a great city. He’s from here. We should see a show, definitely. Johnny, good to meet ya. Be nice to see us ladies again before we leave. We thanked him for being so friendly, so good to know New Yorkers were so nice, and made for our lunch date with Tag.

Disrupto. His office is all wood floor and glass, a view of water towers and towering buildings serving to illustrate a time when adding the word “ornate” to “architecture” would’ve been redundant. On the way to lunch, we passed by the Flatiron Building, thought to be so tall when first built that it would soon collapse on itself. It didn’t.

Eataly. Combine a way upscale Trader Joe’s with a fancy Italian food court and you have Eataly. I spent $3 on a fried rice ball (sounds sexier in Italian) stuffed with sauce and another $1 on an apple. We strolled the labyrinth of Italian foods, both shelved and freshly served at the various stands and counters, then rolled back out into the downpour. Luckily, Tag’s girlfriend had loaned us an umbrella.

Midtown glistens.

Soho. Lots to look at, not much to buy unless your pockets stretch far deeper than mine. We escaped into the subway back to Brooklyn.

Caracas. If all Venezuelan food is this good, I may eat nothing else ever again. We sat in the covered patio, the rain having gave way to a evening perfect for short sleeves and the drinking of rum. The arepas, light-dense, smooth-crisp agents of delight, delighted. All the food amazed, elevated the meal from the simple fulfilling of hunger to a celebration of family, friends and adventure. (About $20 per person, which included appetizers and a cocktail, plus K and I shared a salad.)

Williamsburg/Greenpoint. Manhattan skyline across the river. Graffiti’d walls lining the streets. Band practice emanating from otherwise darkened warehouses. Near-empty streets alternated with bustling rows of coffeehouses, restaurants and bars. We wandered among them, aching feet no match for our desire to explore. As we walked through one section of warehouses, music rocked and rolled down the street to greet us. Radio? Karaoke? Through an upstairs window, we found the band, rehearsing, tight, agreeable. When they finished a song, we applauded from the street. On the way back to Tag’s, he pointed out Grand Monument, where you can purchase both breads and headstones.

Friday, Apr. 29

The Bagel Store. I couldn’t help it. I had to try the Pina Colada bagel with guava cream cheese. I apologize to all people of Jewish descent, my only excuse being, it was hella good. ($3)

Central Park

Central Park. Prettier than I expected, with turtles, egrets, ducks and red-plumaged birds I could not identify. Sun warmed us as we entered past the Dakota, stayed with us as we climbed the stairs of Belvedere Castle. Again with the stunning views. I imagine New Yorkers grow used to it the way we do the redwoods, but for us, the magnitude of the city never ceased to impress. I could not stop singing, “Miss You.”

MOMA. High 5 has a deal where all middle- or high-school students can get $5 tickets to the museum and bring the companion of their choice for no additional cost. We took advantage to check out the Picassos, Modiglianis, Van Goghs, Monets and other luminaries of modern art, as well as Music 3.0, an exhibition featuring the evolution of the popular music scene over the past 40 years or so. Highlights included a counter of Bikini Kill zines, a wall expounding on the influence of rap and hip hop — Public Enemy, Run D.M.C., the Beastie Boys — another wall illustrating the experimental trips of David Byrne, Brian Eno, etc., and looping full-wall music videos by Grace Jones, A Tribe Called Quest and this crazy wild German band whose name I will have to look up. Ever the compulsive notetaker, I wrote down the names of other, newer artists whose works intrigued me. Although not all contemporary art interests me, I appreciate that the artists try to capture and express ideas, as opposed to objects, in a way other than representational. Lots of proverbial food for thought.

Book of Mormon ticket lottery. We didn’t score tickets, but it was fun to try.

Thai food. I missed the name of the restaurant, but the tofu gaeng karee resulted in satisfaction, as did the fact that we haven’t had to wait to be seated or for more than a minute at a counter, despite choosing places clearly popular. I thought everything in NYC would involve standing in line for 15-20 minutes. So far, what I expected to be good has exceeded those expectations and the things I thought might be less than fun have failed to manifest as such. I may be falling a little bit in love. ($14 for curry entree, and my share of the appetizers and tip)

Glee. Once again, Twitter led us to the filming location, this time near Washington Square. But before we found the shoot, we took a breather in the park, just in time to see Ashley arrive and notice the guy holding the “Will You Marry Me, Ashley?” sign a few minutes after we did. She teared up! She smiled through her tears! She said yes! Everyone in the vicinity clapped and hooted! He dropped to his knees, pulled out a ring. She teared up again. He teared up! He slid the ring on her finger. They kissed! “She said, ‘yes!'” he shouted. Sunshine shone. Cherry trees blossomed. Birds sang. I thought the entire crowd might burst into song.

Hearts buoyed by the witnessing of such romance, we hustled over to find whatever Glee cast members might be found. After an hour of standing among similarly giddy fans, we managed to spot Cory Monteith (omg, he’s so cute!!!) and Lea Michelle. EEK! We could’ve stayed more, stalked harder, but opted to take our weary legs and feet back to Brooklyn for some well-deserved rest. They’ve been so faithful, working without pause to take us round this very big city.

Saturday, Apr. 30

TKTS. Jen (Tag’s girlfriend) made pancakes, then it was off to the TKTS booth to score, hopefully, discounted enough tickets to take in a show. Sadly, the offers still exceeded our budget — I know some folks will think it a crime to miss the chance to see something on Broadway and definitely some show reviews promise mindblowing experiences, but for the price of a ticket, even a “cheap” ticket, we can do so many other things. I’m sorry!

On the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Flea. The crowd looks transplanted from Portland and the clothing prices are silly high, but the food! The food! Seriously, the food! Donuts to die for. ($2) Fresh bread stacked high with mozzarella slices, drizzled with olive oil. ($4) Asian-style tofu dogs piled with pickled cucumbers, shredded carrots, kim chee and hot sauce. (2 for $7) And I did find a $5 flannel for our trek over…

The Brooklyn Bridge. Sun bounced off the river, the wind tousled our hair, bicyclists yelled, “Get out of the fucking bike lane!” OK, so that last one only happened once and it was my fault as I was too entranced by the scene to notice I’d stepped into it. Fair enough, although packing hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists into a shared side-by-side lane situation begs for confrontation and collision. Poor planning, people! But that aside, the experience served up our first view of the Statue of Liberty, a sky-wide portrait of the city, an appreciation for the breadth of the river and more of the same general awe that’s taken hold since our arrival.

A scene from Battle of the Bowery, Part One.

The Battle of the Bowery, Part 1. We met up with Ayun Halliday to check out the Downtown Art Association’s debut performance of The Battle of the Bowery, Part 1. The way Act One unfolds involves the audience wearing synchronized mp3 players laden with dialogue, singing, music and narration as we follow the players through the streets of New York. They pause every so often to act out the vignettes, much to the amusement and wonder of random passerby. The action unfolds quickly, so we had little time to do anything other than pay attention as we moved in mass throughout the staging area. A benefit to this sort of production is you end up with serendipitous moments incorporated into the show, such as when the actors paused for a musical number outside a church, right as a wedding party was exiting for the limo. Or when a lamp salesman, intrigued by the crowd, burst outside and called out, “Lamps! Come on in, I got lamps! High quality!” Or when barbers came out of their shops, smoking in white barber coats, to see what all the excitement was about. The teen actors impressed me with their bravado — in front of an audience is challenging enough, but dancing, miming and lip synching your way down over a mile of New York street? That’s some bold moves. Loved it.

Indian food. Dinner in the East Village — I need to look up the name of the place, as it was, no surprise, fantastic. Soft naan to scoop up creamy, spicy bengan bhartta. A lychee martini rounding out the flavors. Chai to end the meal. A waiter who brought cheer with each food delivery. A corner table with, again, no wait, despite the business of the scene. All the walking around wears one out, so to sit at length becomes a luxury, to sit at length and indulge yet again in fine food, drink and company, well, a little slice of heaven in my book.

Strand Bookstore. Speaking of books (like how I did that?), we checked out the Strand Bookstore. It’s legendary for offering 18 miles of books, many used, clearly some staff favorites, but to an avid reader spoiled by not only Powell’s in Portland, but Green Apple in SF (my all-time fave), the Strand comes off as a little meh. Nonetheless, I pulled something off the $5 shelf (Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip) and picked up a bunch of postcards.

Uncle Louie’s. This was actually our second stop here. Uncle Louie’s is an ice cream stand between the subway station and Tag’s place in Brooklyn, and is run by this white-haired Italian guy who talks like your favorite Italian uncle who had a bit part in the Sopranos. “Lookit the lucky guy! Three in tow!” he says to my brother, commenting on the number of women surrounding him. I could listen to him gab with customers for hours, believing the entire time I was in a movie after all.

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7 thoughts on “New York, in bites (part one)”

  1. Wonderful post! I had lots of fun reading it to my just-turned-5 yr old, who now has millions of followup questions about New York. After answering the first several thousand, I told him to save the rest for when he meets you…

  2. So much fun to read (and I totally agree with Kym about that pina colada bagel but applaud your adventurous culinary spirit.)

    I missed out on a trip to New York last week, but I still have the ticket! Thinking about autumn. I can’t wait to hear about all your other experiences.

  3. Yay, Jennifer! Soak it all in, try not to miss a bit of it! If you are like me, you will find yourself lifted up by the memories of that place years later. Not that I didn’t enjoy my walk this morning, with the sounds of distant lawn mowers, smell of someone’s Sunday breakfast cooking, and the cats who barely bothered to look up at me as they sprawled on the warm sidewalks of our quiet little town. But all that will be waiting for you. New York is your mission now: do it up, Girl!

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