Tuesday, 18 February 2014

New York, New York

Look at how imaginative my title is! Anyway, I went to New York! All on my own. I was somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of a different country all alone but somewhat hurt that other people seemed to share that view. No one said it but everyone was so keen to hook me up with their (sometimes very peripheral) friends who lived there that it seemed to imply that I wouldn't hack going it alone. I'm probably taking this too personally as it's a throwback to times past when I perhaps would hate being alone and struggle to interact with strangers in a positive 'hey dontcha wanna know me?' way. But just so you know: guys! I can be normal when it's expected of me! I am capable of making a good first impression (just about). Anyway, it's New York City; I'm hardly going to get bored.

However, everyone was right to think that company would enhance the experience. (Isn't it curious that the things that most tickle you that people say are the ones with the greatest foundations in truth? No it's not.) So I actually did get in touch with a lot of people and they certainly improved my stay. I nevertheless spent a fair amount of time alone and that encompassed eating alone. I'm pleased to report that my bristled protests that I'd be fine turned out to be true.

My first 'meal' alone happened in Heathrow at Comptoir Libonais. My rescheduled flight was itself an hour delayed and my phone was slowly being depleted of battery so I thought I'd get a snack, throwing my 'I'm going to do the 2-5 diet this week as I hate eating on planes' plan into disarray. I don't regret it, the fig jam which came with my croissant was unreal. I'm going to buy some when I return! That was where the happy food stories ended for a while. I hate long haul flights, I cope poorly in the high altitude and my headphones didn't quite work and I'd forgotten my actual headphones. (But Rush is a great film which you should all see.) 

Upon arrival, US immigration took the piss with its ridiculous queues and precious attitude to its borders. Then the shuttle service took the piss with its half an hour waiting time. And then the New York traffic crushed me in my thirsty, nauseous, 'recovering from the bends' state. I was really pleased to enter a lovely Upper East Side apartment with warmth and fresh food and herbal tea. That didn't stop me coming out in hives though. I woke up, surprisingly non-jetlagged and pondered what to do with my day. I had heard somewhere that the weather wasn't the most temperate in February and that there had recently been a storm and so I aimed very low. I decided to spent all day in the Met since that was walking distance but still a worthy way to spend a day. I spent around 6 hours in there but still covered barely any of it (what Dutch masters?) and had to split my day into two halves so I'd feel less museumed-out.
During break time, I walked a few blocks down to JG Melon. Firstly, great decor. I love melon themed things and I'm impressed that they've found so much of it. Particularly since they probably found a lot of it before the Internet existed. Well done! The food itself was less impressive. The burger was a little grainy though still juicy. The pickle a little too tart. The whole thing was crying out for some freshness but apparently Americans hate putting salad in their burgers. The cottage potatoes were the best bit although they were just a different shape of chip.

On my walk home from the Met, I thought I'd wander by the Two Little Red Hens bakery to pick up some cheesecake. I was so under-caffeinated by this point that I felt compelled to stay for a coffee and a red velvet cupcake. So red and sour. (I mean that as a compliment.) Seriously, I have no idea how people stay so thin with so much temptation everywhere. As I've previously discussed, self-denying is too difficult for me. While I was in New York, I even planned to go to yoga every morning to make up for the all the food I'd inevitably eat. As it turns out, being away from the Explorer and drinking a bit more than usual results in eating less so yoga wasn't necessary. But let's not pretend that's why I ended up not going: I just couldn't be bothered. Anyway, that evening, I ordered a SALAD. As a MAIN. For the first time EVER. It was a green mango salad and came with prawns and squid and chicken. It was so hot and fresh and exactly what I wanted. And it was surprisingly filling! I had some beef satay which came with the most moreish peanut sauce as well.

Despite having mainly fruit for dinner, I wasn't hungry for the cheesecake afterwards so I had it for breakfast and that really set me up for the day. Previously, I've found that the baked cheesecakes I've had given the whole thing a too heavy dizzy quality. But not here! I finally understand that point of baking it. This is the most appropriate point to talk about American TV as that's what I watched as I munched on cheesecake. Good Morning America is SO SHINY. And they had a competition where couples did humiliating to task to have the chance to be married on air! What a shit prize. OH and they have adverts for medication to treat BIPOLAR. 'Do you have mood swings and sometimes feel depressed? Go to your doctor and ask for this drug with all of these side effects!' Seriously, it's the hypochondriac's dream. Lastly, we must mention the woman who went on the show to give a testimonial about a newly developed orgasm injection and asked for her real name not to be used but then proceeded to give an interview live on air with her face on show. I just don't understand.

Anyway, now we're on Thursday. My first day with interaction with a peer! I did some daytime tourist stuff which I won't discuss as this isn't a travel blog (although let's just mention that I had a lame 'look at me in front of where they give UN Security Council press conferences!!' photo shoot) and then went to meet Devil and Egg for some gallery hopping. We saw a lot of beautifully drawn vaginas and unwittingly engaged a stranger in a conversation about the feminist debate even though it seemed like we agreed with him. After all that activity, I was glad to see that Cull and Pistol wasn't too full. We were sat and it was suggested that we order oysters since I've never had them. Oysters: overrated. Although one of them tasted like fruit! Specifically like jackfruit, I think. The other one tasted more like how I would expect an oyster to taste: briny. They were nice enough, I just don't know that I'm crazy over oysters. The lobster roll that I had for a main though, that was ON POINT. So buttery and luxe! My only criticism is that the fries were maybe a little too salty but that is major nitpicking. The salt-baked fish was similarly delicious, really fresh and clean tasting while retaining all the flavour that the crust was supposed to provide. OH and there were devilled eggs (which explains the nicknames) and they were SO creamy.

Cheap(ish) seafood had been one of the things I'd made a point of trying in New York. Dim sum was another and that was what I had for lunch the next day with a friend from college who lives in Westchester. Having walked through the park and valiantly looked for some good value socks and wellies ('rain boots'), we headed to Chinatown. We then had another useless wander around some opticians as my eyes had decided to play anti-ball before dismissing and being dismissed from a string of Chinese restaurants. This is where the travel guide that I'd been lent came into its own: it pointed us towards Excellent Dumpling House. The restaurant really does stock excellent dumplings. We ordered so many that I began to think that I couldn't distinguish between one good dumpling and another. But then I was able to rank order them (pork, prawn, chicken, crab, pork) so I must have been able to. I'm still such a dim sum novice that I can't really comment beyond that. But this was the first only dim sum, nothing else meal I'd had so maybe one day I'll get there.

The evening was spent in the company of bell ringers who were also great cooks. And then it was BRUNCH TIME! Already drunk from a screwdriver that I'd had to ease the pain of watching sport, we went to Commerce for fried chicken in the mid afternoon. We ordered a fair amount and were presented with even more than we'd ordered. The biscuits were the best bit. They were fluffy but chewy and had the savoury that only cheese (hardened cheese?) can give you. And they came with bread sauce that everyone called gravy and little meaty morsels of sausage. The fried chicken was finger-lickingly good so probably infringed some KFC trademark. The fries were fully unnecessary and seasoned with something a little Cajun which was fun. The (many, many) puddings were all excellently executed but I think the banoffee pie was best. Sweet things are unfamiliar territory once more but man, these were enjoyable. Also, I was well beyond drunk at this point so my tastebuds and memory had failed me.

MOVING ON. Let's skip a day as I'm getting bored of writing and you're more bored of reading. I felt BAD on Monday morning. The weekend had involved so much company and so much drink. I think the company was more exhausting. Obviously, it's fun to meet new people. But having to function as a normal person and move your mouth and make conversation and ask questions is not something I have to do often and so I get tired. Also, I hadn't quit my jetlag yet so I was actually tired too. So I think it's OK that instead of going to the Guggenheim, I had LOADS of lunch with Egg and then sat still with her playing 'chess' for a while. (I did my first ever checkmate!! This has never happened before!) Lunch took place at Artie's Deli. They brought us really fruity tasting coleslaw and sweet little gherkins without us even asking so there's no way this place will be poorly reviewed. Brisket: it's so mellow! Gravy: well done, Americans! Mash: why is it so white?!

Did I eat that evening? I was so tired that I think maybe I went to bed REALLY early. WAIT NO I had Chinese food! At the dumpling place, I was salivating over the saucier, anglicised main dishes and I decided to go and succumb to my craving for beef and broccoli at a place around the corner from my hotel. Cottage! The broccoli was crunchy and the saucy wasn't toooo strong and that's exactly what I needed in my almost-delirious state.

This entry is really long and I'm finding it trying to write it at this point. That's probably good in terms of how the tone of this entry will go. Despite sleeping for a fairly long time, I awoke still tired. Not just physically tired. I was tired of -- WAIT I GOT IT WRONG. I didn't have Chinese food the night before! I didn't eat dinner but went for drinks instead! That was a mistake as it meant that I abruptly left my host on the walk home to her lovely Williamsburg flat as I felt like there was a chance I was going to pass out from tiredness or throw up from hunger. I stuffed my face with Gray's Papaya hot dog though. I had made a list which I showed the dumpling man and he found it so amusing that I had Gray's Papaya on my list of New York food experiences. I understand why now. It's on a par with... OK, there's no equivalent. But it's probably below McDonalds. But the sausage was quick and filling and that's all you need in the early hours when you're too drunk and too sleepy.

Anyway, yes, Tuesday. Still tired. So tired. Of wifi hunting and walking around and being cultured and being alone but also talking to people. I needed a rest. I can't be switched on for that long! A friend once, when discussing a friend who'd left a usually enjoyable event early, said that 'sometimes you're not in the mood for fun'. That's how I felt on Tuesday. I was in the mood for rest and switching my mind off completely but that wasn't an option as I had the Forbes collection to see and friend to meet for catch up coffee. This culminated in me avoiding 'taco Tuesday' at a B sanitary inspection rated bar in the evening. But I didn't feel even a hint of FOMO which I think is the clearest indication that you just need to sleep. And that's what I did.
That left me in a much more positive mood the next morning. It would've been a real shame to leave New York wanting to leave New York so I'm glad I avoided that. I had the best food of the trip on this day in between bouts of shopping and marvelling at how cheap all the things are. I had the best burrito I've ever had at Dos Toros. My favourite bit was the fresh salsa I think. No, it was definitely the carnitas. It was so fatty (in a good way) and tender and crisp on the outside. Oh no, I'm hungry for it now. Sadly, I wasn't so hungry for dinner, a Spreads chicken escalope sandwich which I ate while squatting on a metal railing next to the security queue in JFK airport. This sandwich is the best I've ever tasted. Getting a crumbed chicken light enough is no mean feat. And getting that much flavour into mayonnaise isn't either. OH and there was a juicy slaw involving kale. And the bread! So crusty and country cottageish. Next time I'm in New York (and there will be a next time soon though this time possibly not in winter), this will be my first stop.

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