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. 

Continue Reading

A Personal Geography of a New York City Breakfast

breakfast

 

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.

 

Continue Reading

Late Summer in the Hudson Valley

Summer is almost gone, only days away from ending! New York City seems to say goodbye around Labor day but I like to stretch it out, languishing in that humidity a little bit more.

This summer was packed with mini-trips for me since I usually skip a vacation in the summer in favor of off-season big ticket travel. This year it was excursions to the beach, events around the city, a weekend to Washington DC, trips up the hudson, and a yearly stay a lake house with my close lady friends in Connecticut.

Saying goodbye to the sun and lounges in the park is a bit hard, but I’m a bit conventional (ahem, basic) when it comes to the leaves changing.  Like a born New Englander, I want all seasons to have an end so I can keep looking forward, it’s that anxious Puritan spirit in me. 

I’ve been reminiscing about a later summer trip around the Hudson a trio of us ladies took. Now that a dear friend of mine lives on the edges of Westchester and Hudson County in the city of Peekskill, I’ve been making more regular trips to explore the  region. All of the stops the trio of us made on a weekend trip would also be great for the fall getaway out of the city. A car is necessary to galavant around  with ease,  but it is easy to make any locale in the general region your base for exploring. 

I’m hoping to make more time to explore the area this coming season, dipping my toes into the Catskills, now that a beautiful Victorian in Peekskill is a frequent friend base!


Our Weekend Itinerary

Peekskill Brewery

You can make it up to Peekskill on the Metronorth easily and the town is accessible by foot. Luckily still, the Peekskill Brewery is right by the train station. We traveled up early on a Friday for a happy hour at the bar.

I’ve been spotting their brews around the city now, too. I’m a fan of their sour draft. Pick up a growler for the weekend!

A general fan of Peekskill,  there are a few great spots to eat in town too.  Check out Birdsall for brunch if you’re headed to that way either to or from NYC.

Vernooy Falls

The hike was a delightful trek up a moderate path to a series of shallow and cool waterfall pools, a carved picturesque scene. The three of us braved the icy mountain water, dipping our bodies in. I pretended the pools has a magical quality to will my body in the cold water. 

We stayed in an airbnb cabin for a night in the Catskills, driving to the falls trail on a Saturday afternoon after we checked-in. It was the highlight of our quick weekend jaunt! 

Phoenicia Diner

We couldn’t turn down stopping in at the a trendy (dare I say…hickster) spot in the Catskills. The wait was around a half hour given the Sunday crowd but we enjoyed the scene, sipping cups of coffee before eating at the bar. The food was a fancier take on the filling diner standards, with nice accents like great jam and a pleasant asthma charm from the place mats to the decor. 

New Paltz

The city of New Paltz served as a charming stop on our ambling drive back home on Sunday. We made a point of asking our waitress at the diner where we could do some quick antique browsing before we headed to New Paltz. She recommended the Antique Barn, which turned out to be a nice area to stop and eat ice cream in the late summer heat heat.  Next time I’m in the area, I’d love to explore Mohonk Mountain.

The Bradley Farm

On the outskirts of New Paltz there is a small farm with a petting zoo of sorts that features a small brewery called Pull Brewing. We stopped in, admiring the ripe tomatoes and tasting all the beers on tap, then enjoyed a draft in the yard.  It was a nice time to have drink and meet goats, a first of its kind imbibing experience. 

Continue Reading

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.

sushi_yasuda_one

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

 

Continue Reading

Favorite Bookstores of Brooklyn

bookstores_of_BK

Word / Spoonbill & Sugartown / Powerhouse Arena / Idlewild / Unnameable / Bookcourt* / Greenlight / Community Bookstore / Terrace Books / Freebird

I have a habit of keeping visual notes of the best things, from what I’ve eaten to days I’ve spent. Bookstores in New York City are on the top of my best things list in life. Even if they’re fewer than before–I still miss the old Rizzoli space, sigh!– they’re still numerous enough to keep me happy. I often just plan a weekend day with Brian around ending up in a bookstore. After sketching my favorite Manhattan bookstores, it took me a while and an illustration class project to get them all down.

My favorite of the favorites is probably Unnameable because it’s the right mix of new and old, as well as in the perfect location for meandering around stores in Prospect Heights. Who doesn’t want Ample Hills AND a book on a Saturday bike ride? A close second is Community Bookstore in Park Slope because it’s cat is on the cover of a Japanese book about bookstore cats. I love a bookstore cat.

*update Feb 2017 Bookcourt closed! But soon enough Emma Straub is opening Books Are Wonderful in the ‘hood.

Continue Reading

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

 

Continue Reading

Sketching, Spending Time at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

themet.jpg

I love going to The Met but never in a large amount of unstructured time. It’s because I’ve finally been back in New York City long enough that I find a particular joy in repeat patterns of my own city life and in also knowing my limits with any cultural activity.

Almost three years back and I want to be an old lady, shuffling past everyone to see exactly what I want and nothing more. I want to complain about tourists under my breath while also being a tourist for a Sunday. I want to be too tired to see too many galleries, asking for lunch and an afternoon cup of coffee by the time I’ve gone up and down the main stairs twice. I want friends to tug me along to what they want to see until we can see no more, knowing that my hunger will triumph when you reach those immense front steps, warm or cold air hitting at once.

The hot dog stands out front are my forever friends. Once, drawing one of them, they came over to look at my notebook.

 

favorites_themet

It’s all about knowing my mood while there. It’s about finding favorite galleries and repeating them I move on.

I love finding the Chinese Court most times, even if I’m really looking for the bathroom. If you know your way around The Met, I commend you. I’m perpetually lost inside. On the way, though, I like to stop to take in those immense Buddhas, considering with respect the simple question: how did they get these in here?

The stark arts of the Northern Renaissance will always have a sway. I’ll stare at Netherlandish portraits over and over, both because they’re funnily giving you a side glance with shaming eyes and because they’re just so viscerally real. They look like real people, like the people on the streets, I always think, except in lots of black and white cloaks which is actually not that wholly different from New Yorker’s black wardrobe today.  

Portrait of Madame X  by Sargent is a favorite. Maybe it’s my New England yankee in me. I remember going into Boston to see Sargent’s work, both my artist mother and grandmother admiring his work. Perhaps a proto-feminist narrative lurking behind that falling dress, that scandalous barren shoulder, keeps me looking.

Another favorite is in the captivating Islamic galleries. The repeat patterns of the Iranian prayer niche, a mosaic of stunning color from 755, is arresting. It’s also a moment place to stop and consider how such scared, ancient items make their way into a museum in New York City, and what cultural exchange could (should?) look like under other circumstances.

I walked right past Woody Allen and Sun Yi back in December, right smack dab in front of the museum. I think might be the most New York  moment I’ve experienced yet. Goodbye its over for me, I’ll never have another Met moment like this. But I’ll keep coming back. I’ve got rooms to find before I die.

 

Continue Reading

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.

tumblr_nydql6g7Dq1ti52lvo1_1280

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.

Continue Reading

Batata Pita Bar

batata

 

My love affair with falafel started with Mamoun’s $2 sandwiches, enjoyed hastily between college classes.  But as of late my favorite is falafel variety is found at Batata, an israeli-style falafel cafe located on a sleepy strip of good restaurants and shops on the border Kensington and Windsor Terrace . Batata, which means sweet potato in Hebrew, is quickly becoming a beloved spot of the neighborhood with what I’ve read is true to Tel-Aviv style falafel.

Batata’s crispy sweet potato falafel plate is my beloved standard. The plate’s sides offer a colorful mix of vegetables, pickled and lemony, with velvety hummus and tahini smoothing it all out. The schug–a middle eastern style hot sauce, — is piquant and fantastic. I always ask for pickles on the side of the plate as an extra because the world needs more pickles, please.

Other favorites on their menu are their schwarma sandwiches and the schnitzel with waffles.  And I really enjoy saying the word schnitzel, too.

Batata Pita Bar
3021 Fort Hamilton Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11218
b/t 3rd St & 2nd St

Continue Reading

A Few of My Favorite Manhattan Bookstores

bookstoresofmanhattan

Once in a New York City bookstore I saw a framed map of long gone great bookstores of Manhattan.  I’m paying homage to that literary map of Manhattan by noting a few of my current favorites.  Bookstores come and go so fast but let’s hope the city is never without them.

A Bookstore tour of Manhattan:

  1. Book Culture: This is full of academic,  used, and nice spot for browsing
  2. Kitchen Arts and  Letters: All cookbooks! Enough said.
  3. The Corner Bookstore: Classic Upper East Side bookstore.
  4. Albertine: French language books in a beautiful 5th Ave mansion.
  5. Kinokuniya: The Japanese chain delights with extensive collection and of course Japanese reading material too./
  6. Rizzoli: Art books everywhere.
  7. Idlewild: Travel guides and foreign language.
  8. The Strand: Iconic, a classic.
  9. Union Square Barnes and Noble: A chain but the best of it, perfect browsing spot.
  10. McNally Jackson: Champion indie, good for a cup of coffee too.
  11. Posman Books: Another champion indie, with several locations around the city.
  12. and a tiny hidden Strand

 

 

Continue Reading