Friend J, whom I have known for ten years, visited from Singapore over the Christmas holidays. We planned an eight day trip to New York City, and arranged for the flight back on Christmas eve to be back in time for the annual family Christmas dinner at godmother’s house. Arrived at 11.55pm on 24th December 2012!
While planning for the trip, I compiled information from Serious Eats and Ladyironchef and came up with a list of to-visit places.These are some of the interesting places I visited in NYC, grouped by boroughs.
We stayed at a friend’s place in Brooklyn, right next to Prospect Park. On our first subway ride from the airport, a kind New Yorker gave us directions but warned us about the danger in Brooklyn. I guess some people still consider Brooklyn as a sketchy neighborhood but during my stay in NYC, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Brooklyn!
Jacques Torres Chocolate served the most decadent hot chocolate I have ever had. We ordered the special Wicked blend –
Jacques makes it with real chocolate – never cocoa powder. The result is a thick, rich, creamy hot chocolate which bursts with flavor. Feeling daring? Try the Wicked Hot Chocolate which features allspice, cinnamon, ground ancho chili peppers, and smoked, ground chipotle chili peppers!
The store was generous with cookie samples. Friend J and I literally had “lunch” out of dark chocolate chip cookie samples. Once you start, you can’t stop! The Pithivier beside the hot chocolate in the photo above is a golden flaky puff pastry filled with almond cream. This is an excellent store for souvenirs.
After reading all about Di Fara on Serious Eats, I simply had to try it for myself. $5/slice? Definitely overpriced, but quoting Serious Eats –
If you treat it as a once-in-a-while thing, what’s the big deal?
It was a very wet, small slice. We opted for the basic plain, which had simple ingredients like cheese, sauce, and some greens dancing on the crust. Friend J was not too impressed with the lack-of-value of the small slice, but we agreed that it was a good slice. The crust was slightly soaked in grease but was still very crunchy. It was thin, yet still very chewy. I could probably describe it in more detail if I had more than half of a teeny $5 slice, but our wallets begged us to head off to somewhere else for a more substantial meal.
It will probably be a better value to go with a larger group of friends and get the whole pie ($25 for 8 slices).
Cafe Grumpy was said to have the “best staff” of NYC coffee shops. This cafe at Park Slope barely had sitting space so friend J and I took the counter. The beans, roasted in-house, were just spectacular! The espresso had so much depth, with different aromas and flavours blending in beautifully. I had to purchase a bag of their signature Heartbreak Espresso to bring home for Y.
Current components are:
El Injerto, La Paz, Honduras
El Meridiano, Tolima, Colombia
Desarrollo, Huila, Colombia
Blackberry, Honeysuckle, Orange Rind & Molasses
History of the Heartbreaker: Cheryl once described a macchiato as a “heartbreaker”…as in it was so delicious, it melted or broke her heart. When we had our espresso-naming contest, Liam remembered this and shouted out “heartbreaker.” He won a Chemex, and we won the name.
While strolling along the streets of Park Slope, we stumbled upon Cafe Martin. The owner/barista, Martin, has a very strong personality and raised an eyebrow at me when I started snapping away at the cuppa joe. “It’s just coffee”, he shrugged. I laughed. Yes, it is just coffee and though it did not have fancy schmancy art, I was impressed with the balanced cappuccino. This cafe is a perfect example of Friend J’s traveling philosophy of minimal planning to enjoy the unexpected encounters.
As we had more snacks than meals during the trip, one of the very few sit-down restaurants we visited was Mimi’s Hummus. With only 7-8 tables available, I was told that this is the typical NYC restaurant size.
I rallied for the mushroom hummus – Y hates hummus so whenever he is not around, I gotta get my fill of those delicious mushrooms! The hummus was creamy, rich and delicious, but probably not the best I have had. I think Arabesque’s hummus could definitely rival Mimi’s.
I loved their beef tagine though. Lovely presentation and very tender flavourful beef.
Brooklyn Heights also allows for a magnificent view of Manhattan’s skyline.
We also went cafe hopping in Williamsburg, which is supposedly the hipster hub.
Blue bottle coffee cappuccino.
Toby’s Estate cappuccino.
I was too mesmerized with the art and barely paid attention to the taste. Literally, I was paying to drink cappuccino art. Despite great reviews for these two cafes, Friend J was not too impressed with the coffee flavour and the milk foam of both cafes. She preferred Cafe Grumpy/Cafe Martin.
Friend J & I love peanut butter too much to pass on the opportunity of visiting the original Peanut Butter & Co store in Greenwich Village. We ordered the $8 sampler platter, which came with every single PB variety they had. Our favourite is the dark chocolate PB. The weirdest one has got to be the cayenne pepper PB.
The famous DKA – a caramelized croissant that is crispy on the outside and flaky and tender within, is my favourite flaky pastry of the trip.
Ever since the hyped-up opening of David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar in Toronto, I have been looking forward to try the original restaurant in NYC – another NYC friend swears that Momofuku pork buns are the best in the world. Unfortunately, my expectations were probably set too high and I was disappointed.
For a pork bun, it was delicious – meat was fatty and moist with the bun soft and fluffy as cotton candy. However, for a $5 pork bun that will be gone in 2 bites, it failed to meet the expectations of being a darn good $5 pork bun. Since Friend J is from the food heaven (aka Singapore), Momofuku failed to impress.
I randomly chanced upon Momofuku Milk Bar’s website a couple years ago and thought the concept of soaking cereal in milk before making the soft serve ice cream is pure genius. I am sure everyone has had a fair share of spending their childhood (and/or adulthood) loving those residual milk after you finish all your cereal, especially for chocolate flavoured cereal. Instant chocolate milk! It is the legal dessert-for-breakfast.
The milk bar generously provided samples of their signature cereal milk soft-serve. Cornflakes flavour. I applaud their unique concept but the ice-cream was too sweet for our liking.
In addition to cereal milk, I was ultra excited to try their crack pie –
Anyone who has taken a bite of this Milk Bar best seller immediately knows the reason for the sassy name. Once you start eating this rich, salty-sweet pie with its oat cookie crust, you won’t be able to stop.
Sadly, I was disappointed again. The crack pie was served in a prepackaged box. The pie was cold, hard and stale. We had a lot of trouble prying it apart with our plastic forks. Although there were warning signs (first three ingredients – butter, sugar, brown sugar), we were shocked with the level of sweetness! Although I have a shamefully low salt tolerance, I am actually rather proud of my love for insanely sweet and rich desserts. This pie was just too excessively sweet. Friend J could not even finish her half.
On my quest for the perfect cappuccino art, I had visit Ninth Street Espresso as it was rated the best latte art in NYC. Friend J said that I am superficial beyond hope… b-b-but pretty coffee makes me happy!
They have 4 options for espresso with milk – three/six/nine/twelve oz. When I ordered my cappuccino, I asked the barista which option should I choose? She explained that the amount of espresso in each cup is the same so the different oz refers to the amount of milk. I am confused – isn’t cappuccino a third of espresso/milk/foam?
Anyhow, the three & twelve oz were ordered for comparison.
Too bitter. Isn’t this a macchiato?
Too milky. Isn’t this a latte?
I am still confused. Since I ordered a “cappuccino”, shouldn’t the barista recommend the six or nine oz option? Also, the title of “best latte art” felt weird. Doesn’t the standard of art depend on the barista working that day? How is it fair to award one coffee shop over another when the best art depends on a single person?
Despite all the confusion, I did enjoy both cups of “cappuccino”.
Luke’s Lobster is a real tiny store with real fresh food. The $16 lobster roll is gone within three mouthfuls. With the toasty buttery bun topped with generous fresh lobster in my hands, I kept questioning whether the mini roll was worth the price. The lobster was chilled while the bun was toasted, so each semi-cold/hot bite felt slightly odd.
We ordered their famous pastrami sandwich as well as a brisket sandwich. The brisket was okay, slightly dry and not as impressive. The pastrami, however, was simply out of the world. SO juicy, SO tender, SO flavourful – it just melted in my mouth! At almost $17/sandwich, I would recommend sharing since each sandwich half is massive and generously filled with pastrami. Friend J jokingly said that the meat-to-bread ratio is so terribly wrong that she should have brought another two slices of bread to split it into 2 balanced sandwiches instead trying to bite into the mega thick one.
Eataly is like Vincenzos, except that it is five times bigger and houses seven dine-in restaurants.
It was too crowded so we only had gelato. Friend J ordered hazelnut (think ferrero rocher) and I had coconut. Definitely a place worth visiting.
Upper East Side
The one hour we spent at Central Park was not enough to cover even half the park.
The magic of fresh air from a park.
I bought the most expensive take-out cake of my life at Lady M – the $8/slice Mille Crepe. Perhaps because it was Christmas eve, the Lady M Cake Boutique did not allow any customers to sit in the cafe to finish their cake despite the chilly weather.
That did not stop me from having my cake and eating it! I stood by the corner of the intersection and devoured the cake, enjoying every single bite.
The green tea mille crepe is just perfect. Perfect, I tell you. It was extremely delicate, with a slight tinge of creaminess but not overly rich or sweet. Every bite left me wanting for more, and more, and more… until I peered into the box and realized that I had finished it all! My heart tingled at the thought of just finishing the absolutely perfect cake but also quietly blamed myself for finishing the cake too quickly.
The magnificent City Hall.
We chanced upon Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man Coffee & Tea. As it was in the NY Mercantile Exchange building, we had to get past a stern security guard before being allowed into the building. Donald made us a lovely cappuccino & latte, and explained that a good cappuccino should make you feel like you are drinking a cup of cloud. His definitely did! Among the 7 cups of cappuccino(s) I had during the trip, this is my favorite.
A random gorgeous sunset by the habour.
We did an up-slope hike for almost 30 minutes before finally arriving at New Asha Sri Lanka Restaurant. The mutton curry was worth the sweat! The portions were huge, with a spice level sufficient to bring tears to my eyes. A highly satisfying meal with a very friendly owner/cook, who is so passionate about her restaurant and food that I felt loved eating the curry she served.
We enjoyed sunset on the island.
Friend J and I had planned a trip to Wave Hill, which failed due to my hopeless sense of direction. We spent 4 hours getting lost on buses, despite extremely helpful bus drivers giving us directions. On the bright side, we still managed to visit the Yankee Stadium and Arthur Avenue!
Pulled pork pizza at Full Moon Pizzeria. Also at $5/slice, it differed from Di Fara in that each slice was HUGE – larger than both my palms put together! Now, I do have small hands but… it is still one ginormous pizza slice! It was tasty and saucy with very thin crust. Ratio of meat, cheese, sauce and crust was absolutely perfect. Now that is quality with value.
The only borough we did not manage to visit is Queens – definitely on my itinerary for the next NYC visit!
I surprised myself as I slowly fell in love with this magnificent city despite not being a city-loving girl. During our eight day trip, we experienced the New Yorkers’ way of crossing streets (on red lights), basked in the crowded atmosphere of Times Square, watched two broadway shows, experienced a Tara Stiles’ yoga class, and received many surprising acts of kindness from locals. I spent my last day in NYC (Christmas Eve) walking aimlessly on the streets of Manhattan for two hours and really enjoyed the Christmas atmosphere. It was such a fun trip with Friend J and I look forward to be back soon! Extremely thankful to Holly for letting us stay at her place!
Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree.
One thing’s for sure – Times Square (aka tourist trap) needs to have better food!