Favorite Bookstores of Brooklyn

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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.

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Turkish Delight from Kalustyan’s

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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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Sketching, Spending Time at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Dumplings of Sunset Park, Brooklyn

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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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Batata Pita Bar

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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

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A Few of My Favorite Manhattan Bookstores

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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

 

 

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Bao Haus

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Bao Haus is owned by Eddie Haung, recently well known for Fresh off The Boat but generally known as a rabblerouser in the food NYC food scene.

Bao Haus is a small Taiwanese fast eatery with steamed buns on a busy strip of East 14th. Since I work uptown, always commuting back to Brooklyn, Union square is my nexus for after work eating.  I like to combine two bao with taro fries and a Taiwanese soda for cheap dinner bliss.

Bao Haus
238 E 14th St
New York, NY 10003

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Claudia Pearson’s Illustration in Fodor’s Brooklyn Guide

 

I picked up the new Fodor’s travel guide to Brooklyn after spotting it at a few local bookstores in late September around, naturally, Brooklyn.

Turns out, it’s the first Fodor’s guide to Brooklyn. A much debated borough as of late for all sorts of important but complicated reasons–the guidebook mentions gentrification in albeit a brief section in the beginning–it is still strangely pleasant to have a travel guide to somewhere you already live, even if things close and change faster than I can count.

Luckily the guide has recommendations and tid-bits about the farther into Brooklyn neighborhoods of Kensington, Midwood, and Ditmas Park which happen to be where I live (in the intersection of them all.) Still, there is much to the borough I’d want to add, especially even more of those neighborhoods and places off the beaten path from most new denizens. Perhaps the next edition can expand even more into far reaches of the borough.

But illustrations in the guide were a big selling point for me. I’m a sucker for illustrated New York City and all the illustrations, including my favorite the chapter neighborhood maps, were created by a local illustrator Claudia Pearson.

Pearson made a quick video tutorial about her process for creating illustrated neighborhood maps which is super helpful for all the self-taught artists and drawers like me:

Pearson is known not only for local illustrations but also drawings of food. She sells most weekends at the Brooklyn Flea. I proudly haul my gym clothing around in her tote.

I particularly like the work she’s down for Sustainable NYC and Grow NYC.

 

 

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Little Cupcake Bakeshop

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Sometimes I eat something to immediately think: I need to make a version of this at home. It’s how I have some of my favorite recipes: lemon focaccia from France, an oven adaptation of tandoori chicken from New York’s ubiquitous Indian restaurants, noodles bowls based of Boston’s Bon Me food truck.

And now I really want to bake myself a birthday cake based on this dreaming princess cupcake I had at Little Cupcake Bakery last week. First, there is the meringue frosting that gets me. Next, there is just a little raspberry in the middle. Then, one of my absolute favorite flavors present with an almond vanilla cake.

It’s a simple combination yet I think it would make a killer double layer cake too, perhaps with a lemon almond cake to just get wild for my January birthday! I’ll see you in winter, dreaming princess birthday cake.

Little Cupcake Bakeshop

30 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

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