Smoked Fish at Shelsky’s

Shelsky’s is on a drag of Court Street in Brooklyn that is busy and appealing to browse, a frequent haunt for me off of the F train.  It’s also right around the corner from a great walking strip of antique stories on Atlantic as well as the delights of both Sahadi’s and Damascus for middle eastern prepared foods and pastries.  And it’s easily followed by a long meander to Brooklyn Heights, a favorite neighborhood of mine every since watching Moonstruck in my room as a lonely middle schooler.

Shelsky’s is perfection of smoked fish and cream cheese on an everything bagel or bialy. It is an old school Jewish deli with a modern twist, an engaging palate giving the lox-and-cream-cheese a rebirth.

Much of what’s sold at the deli counter is made in-house or sourced from top Jewish food purveyors across the city. The appetizing shop brings the main stays of the like of the Upper West Side’s glorious Zabar’s, so Brooklynites don’t have to go that far for quality smoked fish.

It’s quite busy at breakfast or brunch during the weekend. I’ve found the best time to find yourself in the beautiful smoked fish heaven is the late afternoon, for that either late lunch or early pre-dinner snack. We always split a sandwich, sitting at the counter in the front.

I use to be a bialy novice before Shelsky’s.  Yet a delightful combination of the Gaspe Nova, Smoked Whitefish Salad, Pickled Herring, and sour pickle, on  bialy convinced me otherwise.

Remember to wash down with a Dr. Brown for that classic New York City Jewish deli flavor experience.

Shelsky’s
141 Court St,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Ruminating on things eaten in Paris last year

Maybe it’s that my sister in-law is headed to Paris right now. Or that I’ve recently joined the fan club for those normal French pharmacy beauty products that just seem so much better every time I use them, like this dry shampoo and this really basic moisturizer. It’s probably also that I was in Paris a year ago crazily enough, and being stuck inside during a snow day had me wistfully thinking about that late winter trip.  If you’re looking for even more inspiration, Cup of Joe’s recent city guide of Paris has me thinking France is always a good idea, whatever the weather.

Of particular note to me, even a year later:

baguettes, always good, with butter even better
gastro pub Les Deux Cigales , very delicious
mint tea at the Grand Mosque of Paris worth the marauding pigeons 
all pain au chocolat forever!

 

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Embrace The Pretzel Croissant

I love breakfast. It’s the best meal, hands down. You can eat it early, you can eat it late or you can eat it twice like me most days.

There is a strange promise in being fancy for breakfast every once in awhile. It’s like seizing the day, reminding me of being on vacation. Making any day commuting in Manhattan to feel like a vacation day is a good approach for making my life more enjoyable.  I love to put in a little effort some morning to make it in earlier than usual to stop for a croissant and a cappuccino because Im old enough now to just embrace my love of frivolity without caring.

This week at the office my lovely coworker brought in pastries from The City Bakery to celebrate Mardi Gras. My favorite of the bunch is by far the Pretzel Croissant.Call me an iconoclast but It’s a beautiful, salty thing of butter wrapped into a pretzel homage of sorts. The crispy outside is saltier than a regular croissant. The inside is the familiar buttery goodness. I have a fondness for it’s brown-flecked flakey layers. I enjoy that while saltier it’s still a croissant, through and through.

I like it even more jam, a perfect blend of sweet and salty, eaten at my desk. Those tiny crumbs of course ruin my usual attire of dark on dark.

The City Bakery
3 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011

 

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Happy Lunar New Year

I recently got back from a wonderful birthday trip to Hong Kong! Which is to say, Happy birthday to me and Happy Lunar New Year, I’m so grateful to spend any time exploring the food and lives of other people around the world, ever slightly unhinging the way you can feel your experience is the central way of life.

Before we took off I started thinking about New York City’s Chinatown, seeing that it was first settled by Cantonese immigrants to the city . It’s the largest Chinatown in the United States, too.

It’s easy to ignore the beautiful, unique nature of Chinatown’s busy, neon signed streets. It’s easy to accept it as a part of Manhattan’s core, not stopping long to appreciate it’s flare for out-of-the-norm. After being in Hong Kong, I’m ever so ready to score it’s back alleys for egg custards and waffles.

e. There has never been quite a time to appreciate an immigrant enclave in New York City that right now, to think that at a time we also excluded Chinese immigrants from coming and settling in the United States. I’m so thankful that it is a part of the fabric of New York City, though, with more Chinatowns in both Brooklyn and Queens growing today.

A local favorite Chinatown favorite is Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles, a staple in my journeys through the neighborhood.

If you’re there at the right time, when the tables aren’t too busy, you can easily watch the chef slap the hand-pulled noodles down in the tiny side kitchen with a loud, sudden whack. The noodles are chewy and fresh. The thicker the cut the better in my book! I prefer them stir fried with vegetables.

Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles
1 Doyers Street
New York, NY 10038

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Pastrami on Rye

katzI’m thankful for Katz’s Delicatessen, perhaps too much.  This love affair started in college during an immigrant’s history class when we took a culinary walking tour of the Lower East Side. After I devoured a knish at Yonah Schimmel’s faster than humanly possible (it was free) we emerged into Katz’s. Then I finally greeted the joy of pastrami on rye under those neon lights, walls plastered with celebrities who’ve dined there.

A jewish deli that’s been around since 1888 is a perfect emblem of New York City’s past and future; it’s the immigrant’s foodways become American, become everyday.

These days I enjoy stopping in for dinner, splitting a pastrami on rye with a plate of pickles with Brian. It’s hard to imagine but I do enjoy that it’s a place simultaneously full of tourists and locals mingling over plates, taking photos near the notorious When Harry Met Sally table.  When you’re out for a few drinks but haven’t had dinner, Katz’s is also there for you.

The small ritual of tasting the pastrami at the busy counter before they make your sandwich is always welcoming. I have never delighted more in the tart, tangy bite of mustard and meat than when at Katz’s. As the meat disappears, I pick up stray pieces of pastrami, dipping them into leftover mustard because I have no shame. Please don’t order the sandwich on white bread with mayo,  embrace the mustard!

In thinking about this love of pastrami the other day I realized I’d never been the other long standing pastrami haven Carnegie Deli.  Since it’s closing in December, uptown we went. We sidestepped the tourist line to sit down, getting the pastrami on rye to go. We ate at almost dark at the edge of Central Park. It was different than Katz’s, I think a bit fatties, but we devoured it all nonetheless.  We made several hungry dog friends that evening. Each bite attracted a new strolling pup.

Later still hungry on a Friday evening,  we wandered into a Momofuku milk bar. We ate both a confetti cookie and a cereal milk soft serve with rainbow sprinkles.

In thinking about pastrami, and these weird and scary times in our country, I find solace in the food of New York City. A love of pastrami is like a love of a diverse city. From the Jewish Deli to the Korean American David Chang’s food empire, all that’s good on our plates seems to come from cultures meeting in cities.

Much of the noise following the election is that our coastal cities, and those cities across the country even, are liberal bastions at odds with the real America of the rural inner America.  I’m not sure why that invalidates cities as real America, though. Real america is also encountering other people, from what they look like, where they’ve come from, how they’re different and similar to us, and what they eat.

New York City, the iconic prototype of the immigrant city, will never stop being an immigrant palate’s delight. And I’m thankful for that! Let’s hope it stays that way. 

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A Personal Geography of a New York City Breakfast

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The night is fading as my preferred time to be awake in the city. The morning has that new feeling of home, both because of age (thirty in three months, how’d I grow up this fast?) as well as the fact that I’m one of the many who work in lower manhattan, repeating those morning rituals on city blocks with strangers. 

There is a real promise in breakfast that I’m beginning to love, from preparing it at home to indulging in a deli sandwich in the park. As I get older, I’m struck about how the city is here for everyone at different points of their lives, at different times of day even, with all our cumulative experiences defining the same place but often never converging. New York might be a place for the night revelers always (I hope so) but the morning is a quiet, other side to the city, a slice of the day that can we enjoyed liked nothing else. 

My personal breakfast geography begins with a simple breakfast at home,usually.  What is better than your apartment, that sanctuary against the city, with the ritual of making a meal and brewing coffee? My kitchen breakfast is toast and coffee eaten with the radio on either in the kitchen standing up (less time) or in the living room, on the couch with a book. The weekend is reserved for to crepes (Brian) pancakes (me), or eggs with arugula and toast (both of us.) During the week, I only make it through one cup of my french press, knowing that by Saturday I’ll be able to drink the entire pot. 

I drink coffee all over the city, from everywhere. I mean it.  I drink coffee from the deli that I can only purchase in quarters pilfered from bedside jean pockets to fancy cups lingered over in coffee shops on my route to work or as a reason for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. While I drink a cup high and low I don’t have a favorite New York City coffee shop, I think the ability to find it everywhere is the most charming. Lately I particularly like to splurge on a cortado from Toby’s Estate, with the hidden Strand in the back, since it’s near to my office and makes me feel a little bit like Aziz Ansari. 

On my way to work, if i’m feeling lucky, I’ll indulge with an everything bagel, not toasted because they’re fresh in the morning. I take mine every time with veggie cream cheese.There are so many bagels and I’m terrible at the game of best-of but I’m a standard girl with Terrace Bagels and Murray’s bagels because they cross paths with my life. If not a bagel, it’s two eggs and cheese with bacon on a roll from whatever deli crosses my path. Currently my deli is called 666 deli! What an omen, I think.

Many days are just bananas from the fruit sellers, an unexpected joy of living in New York City. When you can get fresh fruit all over, such a regular street companion, I tend to stop noticing how frequent fruit sellers are. The local fruit man by work always promises me he’s giving me the only good deal on blueberries and bananas in town. I think he might tell that to every customer, but a girl can dream. 

There is much to be had in the quick, fancy breakfast, too. The pursuit of a perfect chocolate croissant keeps me eying pastry counters, popping into coffee shops to see what they’ve got. All bets are off if they’ve got a a chocolate almond croissant. I’ve recently discovered though that the pretzel croissants at City Bakery are an amazing savory morning twist on the sweet croissant tradition.

On a weekend morning, especially in the summer, I love to split a Breads Bakery babka in Union Square with Brian. Actually, everything at Breads Bakery is out of this world indulgent.

But really, is New York the capital of brunch? If I’m being honest, I like to skip out on brunch. I’ll take a diner truck stop special over most brunches unless it’s Miriam in Park Slope because nothing convinces me like Mediterranean meets middle eastern food to stop and eat saucy eggs. In our corner of the city in Ditmas Park Brooklyn,  I’m less a fan of brunch (too much waiting) than a good coffee shop breakfast. Our local stop is Quathra on the charming strip of Cortelyou, where you can linger with coffee and a plate from their breakfast menu without the rush and crowds of brunch. There back garden is perfect for summer. I’m a waffles or spicy eggs girl there too.  

Anyway, I’m here for breakfast. I like to trace my way around the city in mornings.

 

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Sushi Yasuda

sushiyasuda

When Brian turned thirty this past January we looked high and low for a few indulgent things to do in New York City. The thing is, so many of the fancy restaurants don’t keep my interest for very long. Give me a plate of dumplings or slice of good pizza and I’ll be more happy than I am with tiny plates of foraged mushrooms at every-other-farm-to-table-restaurant or upscale Italian joint in the city.

Ahem, but sushi, I’m ready to burn a hole in my pocket for sushi.  Elegant fish prepared piece by piece is exactly the kind of thing worthy a big milestone. So after a bit of a research, we decided that Sushi Yasuda was perfect for marking an entire new decade.

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Sushi Yasuda is one of the top sushi restaurants in Manhattan even if Mr. Yasuda has moved on. It’s tucked away on a nondescript block near Grand Central. The simple layout has an understated elegance, the kind of light and minimal restaurant I’ve already created fantasy narratives about visiting Japanese business travelers stopping in for dinner.

For the full experience, the kind worthy of splurging for because that’s what you’re going to do here, we sat at the bar for the Omakase set where the chef prepares the sushi meal piece by piece for you. There was no set menu or price when took our spot at the warm colored bar. We didn’t even order drinks, instead sipping green tea that is generously refilled by attentive waiters. The only question we were asked was what we didn’t want before the chef began. I decided I didn’t want to try sea urchin, but Brian did, fish being one of the few times he’s more adventurous with food than me. When we weren’t supposed to use soy sauce he let us know, which I loved, because of course we’re woefully unaware Americans. Often he’d set down a trio of fish, my favorite being variations of salmon. He’d note for us if something was flown in from Japan. Each bite was velvety and rich, the right balance of fatty fish to sushi rice’s slight sweetness, with a hint of wasabi underneath.

sushi_yasuda_two

The older Sushi chef had a sweet smile, a bit of a quiet wit. He laughed when he asked us if we were finished after what felt like a million years marked in single pieces of fish. When the bill was paid we left,  it was lightly raining in the city but warm for a January so we decided to stroll across town, thinking we’d probably never dine that well again because to be honest, some roundtrip plane tickets are cheaper.

Sushi Yasuda
204 East 43rd Street
New York, New York 10017
212-972-1001
www.sushiyasuda.com

 

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Turkish Delight from Kalustyan’s

turkish_delight

I may take for granted that while living in New York, I can find almost any food on any old regular day, no matter the time. I do just that by stopping to buy turkish delight, a sugary gummy confectionary often studded with nuts and flavored with rosewater, in the evening at my local bodega-turned-grocery-store.  Somehow the eastern European owners stock it, tucked away in bins next to cheerios and vitamin water.

My Bulgarian sister-in-law whom grew up eating Turkish delight marvels at its prevalence in the city, from my neighborhood all the way to Brighton Beach, because elsewhere you’ve got to go looking.

I mistakenly forget it’s not normal to eat candy of the world whenever you’re feeling the sweet tooth. The nougat ones, milky white and studded with pistachios, are my best friend.

 

But the truth is that for the best selection of Turkish delight and almost anything else you’ve longed to try and cook with, there is no other place to look than Kalustyan’s in Murray Hill,the Middle Eastern and Indian speciality food and spice emporium operating in Manhattan for forty years. Or as it’s colloquially known, Curry Hill, because of all the indian restaurants that dot that section of Lexington Avenue.

I first came across Kalustyan’s in the back of a cookbook with instructions on just how to find what you’re looking for when the local grocery store doesn’t even stock Goya beans.  Since then, it’s been a yearly pilgrimage spot for me to pick up hard to find dried beans, a beloved prepared spice mix of Ras-Al-Hanout among the other world food items for my kitchen. Not to mention the copious amounts of Turkish delight which is bountiful and the bane of my dentist.

Come to Kalustyan’s to try Turkish delight but definitely stay to try grape leaves or hummus at the cafe, while stocking up on their own brand name of spices.kaluystans

Kalustyan’s
123 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

 

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Dumplings of Sunset Park, Brooklyn

sunset_park_dumpkingtour

 

Sunset Park is about a twenty minute bus ride from my apartment, a ride that jostles through Bangladeshi, Orthodox Jewish, Chinese, and Mexican enclaves of the borough,  You’ll pass halal butchers with live birds, kosher bakeries packed on a Sunday afternoon, dim sum joints and dumpling houses easy to miss if you’re not looking, tacos stands and mango sliced on street corners with hot sauce. It’s a microcosm for all the recent immigrant patterns changing and shifting the food landscape of Brooklyn.

Sunset Park is home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, too. There are two other Chinatowns in New York City of course, the oldest and most well-known Manhattan enclave as well as the currently expanding Queens’ community in Flushing. Brooklyn’s Chinatown formed in the 1980s with a mix of Cantonese speaking immigrants and more recent Mandarin speakers. It too shares new growth in common with its Queen’s sibling.

Walking 8th avenue in Sunset Park centers you on the main thoroughfare of Brooklyn’s Chinatown from where you can observe busy cafes, banquet halls, video stores, fishmongers, and grocers where (if you’re like me) you can stop to look at prickly durian fruits hanging from awnings with both reverence and trepidation. And of course, you’ll pass by many nondescript dumpling restaurants beckoning you to eat more than you’d expected was humanly possible.

I’m not an expert when it comes to Chinese food and Chinatowns–full disclosure–but after reading Edible Brooklyn Dumpling Tour of Sunset Park I thought I’d use dumplings as my guide to eat and draw a day’s worth of Sunset Park.

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The first stop was Great Taste Dumpling which is supposed to have some of the best and cheapest dumplings in Brooklyn. The inside was sparse and barebones but every seat was taken when we arrived, a testament to how good the owner’s 4-for-a-dollar dumplings are. We ordered boiled pork and chive dumplings and sesame pancakes stuffed with pork with several pours of the vinegar soy sauce poured into reused sriracha bottles to make everything that perfect bite of savory and salty. The owner of Great Taste is friendly and fast.  I found an article about the dumpling house’s purveyor from Open City quite poignant, speaking to the pleasure but obscured hard work behind the food immigrants sell,

Next, we kept our hungry stomaches going by settling down at Kei Feng Fu Dumpling. Similar to Great Taste, this dumpling house was minimal but packed. While we were there a church group ordered around a hundred dumplings which the small staff didn’t even blinked at. We opted to try pan-fried pork dumplings and another sesame pancake,. These dumplings were  of the  cheap 4-for-a-dollar and delicious variety as well.

To change up our the dumpling palate, we ended the crawl at He Yi Yiao Chi, which is hard to recognize as a restaurant with so many car ads plastered to it’s outside but don’t be fooled, it’s worth it. Inside, we ordered six pork ting buns for 3.00. Each bun was light and fluffy on the outside, with a dark savory pork filling inside. Six buns with hot sauce and vinegar soy sauce was more than enough to fill our savory cravings for the day.

Though we couldn’t leave without satisfying a sweet tooth so we stopped by a Chinese bakery to grab a slice of honeycomb cake, something I’ve never tried before but it had an irresistible but strange texture with a deep molasses sweetness.

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