Momofuku Noodle Bar and Milk Bar

Serious foodies will probably have heard of David Change, of Momofuku fame.  Chang has four places to eat in NYC, and I hear he is soon to open up a place in Sydney (hurrah!).

On my first morning in NYC, I decided to head to Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village (First Ave between 11th and 12 Streets).  At 11.57am, there was already a crowd lined up outside the low key exterior.  Everyone shuffles in at 12noon, and I put my order in as soon as I can to avoid the rush that the other 20 orders is going to create.

I started with the steamed pork buns with hoisin sauce, a dish that Momofuku is famous for.  The bun is soft and reminiscent of the bun on a yum cha/dim sum steamed pork bun.  The pork, though, is plain pork belly, generously loaded in.  It’s not all that crispy and is a little too fatty for my taste.

My next course is the Spicy chicken soup, which is loaded with noodles, crispy and tasty chicken, and other goodies on top, including a perfectly poached egg.  The egg, once stirred in, lends a beautiful creaminess to the tasty broth.  This dish is a sensation.

Cakes, pie, cookies at Milk

After the savoury courses, I hoof it a block West to 2nd Avenue and a few blocks up to 13th Street, where David Chang’s Milk has recently relocated.  The new site is cramped and the original venue (just across the street and next to Momofuku Ssam Bar), had much more room.  Importantly, only two flavours of soft serve ice cream are on offer.  Where did the sampling plate I tried last time get to???  Flavours include the cereal ice cream (literally, it tastes like milk poured off your cereal), and they also offer actual milk bottles in this flavour (I wonder what it tastes like if you pour it on your cereal).

Milk offers a number of pretty pricey pies, cookies and cakes, including the famous “Crack Pie”.  I’ve tried some of these, and think that the cake balls – or “cake truffles” are worth a look (and can travel home with you provided you keep them in the fridge for as long as you can and don’t dilly dally in scoffing them). 

However, in my mind, Milk has gone backwards since last time I visited.  Boooooooooo.

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Lower East Side / Doughnut Plant

When tourists visit New York, particularly the first couple of times, they become stuck on the usual roundabout of “must do’s” and miss some of the really special things that this place has to offer.  They line up for hours to go see the Statue of Liberty and shoot to the top of the Empire State Building, arrange shows and spend time gawking at the awful Times Square, hit the main museums, probably the Met and MoMA being at the top of their list.  Perhaps they zip around the city on one of those red double-decker buses and get a sense of the geography.  Some go on the Sex and the City tour or a Movie tour and are reminded of some of the many famous NYC locations from film and TV.  Probably they visit Bloomingdales, and maybe Soho or the Meatpacking District for shopping.  Without a doubt they visit Central Park.

Don’t get me wrong: all these things are essential, and some of them even I still take time out for (Bloomies and Central Park are NOT to be missed!).

But it’s when you manage to scratch below the surface of the city that you start to discover other areas.  One of the neighbourhoods worth seeing is the Lower East Side.  Like many areas, it used to be gritty as anything (hey, the Hell’s Angels still have their HQ here) but it’s becoming very worth a visit. 

Doughnut Plant...what luck! Today's offerings include mango donuts!

One place that may take tourists to the LES is Katz’s Deli, arguably the most famous deli in NYC, and home of that scene from When Harry Met Sally (one of my favourites).  It’s also home to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a museum housed in former tenements (buildings of no more than 6 stories) built cheaply and into which numerous immigrants were stuffed to dangeous levels.  A human and moving look at New York’s past.

But the foodie set really needs to visit the LES.  One of NYC’s “best” restaurants, WD-50, is here (I have eaten there; it’s a mecca if you are into foams and “clever” food.  Give me Union Square Cafe or Gramercy Tavern any day).   Although Magnolia Bakery is renowned for its cupcakes and attracts the tourist set, Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery is a favourite of many New Yorkers, who claim their cupcakes are the best in the city. 

I'll have....mmm...one of everything, thanks. To go.

One of my recent discoveries has been the Doughnut Plant.  This place, located on Grand Street, is attributed with starting the “gourmet” donut scene in NYC.  It’s an unassuming little place, but when you get in there and sus out the product, there’s no turning back.

Inside the magical peanut butter and jelly donut

The creme brulee donut is small, but packs a punch.  A toffee coating, filled with brulee custard, it’s the real deal.  And the square jam-filled donuts solves the jam donut dilemma of all the jam being stuck in one part of the donut and mouthfuls of dry donut dough…how did no-one think of this before? 

So, when you visit New York, make sure you leave aside a little time for the Lower East Side.

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Chelsea Market

The 9th Avenue entrance to the Chelsea Market

If you are a food lover, New York is like crack.  Around every corner, there are gourmet food stores, ranging from Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, to Wholefoods Markets with their aisles and aisles of healthy, scrumptious looking delights.

Decisions, decisions

If you love food and visit New York, you can’t miss Chelsea Market.  In fact, it could be worth you staying in Chelsea, the West Village or the Meatpacking District just so you can visit and pick up your supplies.  Located on 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets, it is a total haven of gourmet food from numerous different suppliers, and also boasts a fair few yummy places to eat.

If you are after fresh fruit and vegies, Union Square Greenmarket is worth a visit, but honestly it’s no more impressive than many fresh produce markets in Sydney (except on a Saturday when it would rival the Pyrmont Grower’s Market). 

For my money, the pick is Chelsea Market – not only for its variety and tremendous setting, but also for its cred.  It’s also the location of the Food Network – a 24 hour food channel that I’ve become addicted to whilst in the Caribbean.

The market itself is located entirely indoors, in an old building with beautiful exposed brickwork and the occasional fountain to keep things interesting.

Rather than keep raving, I’ll tell the Chelsea Market story in photos.  After all, a picture paints a thousand words😉.

Amy's Bread and their selection of breads - these are in "strips" and they'll tear as many off as you want to try. Amy's most famous bread is the semolina, raisin and fennel. Simply divine.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Jacques Torres chocolates. Their spicy hot chocolate is gorgeous.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fresh Italian foods. The store behind offers all things Italian - truffle pate, cheeses, hams, you name it...

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

One of the many cupcake offerings at Chelsea Markets.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Don’t miss the opportunity to use the bathroom…

Wet hand

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dryer set to the "blow hole in hand" operation

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Street Food

One of the "older" style mobile food places, offering bagels and breakfasts

Some countries, like Singapore and Mexico, are famous for their wonderful and inexpensive array of street food.

New York, too, has its own street food culture.  Back in 1989 when I first visited NYC, the street food scene extended only to dodgy hot dogs cooked on the pavement and, in winter, the smell of roasting chestnuts weaved its way into your nostrils, warming you right up.

One of the Halal sidewalk food vendors.

Soon after, I noticed the proliferation of silver boxes selling quick snacks like bagels and pastries. 

Then, a couple of years ago, I began to see middle eastern food “boxes” spring up.  They all seemed to have a similar menu, offering rice, falafel, kebabs and always seemed to be halal.

One of the scrappier looking food trucks, covered in graffiti and offering pizza. Didn't stop the line forming, though...

More recently, and this seems a phenomenon across the US, food trucks have made an appearance.  But gone are the dodgy days of suspect hot dogs and dubious taste.  These food trucks have become a legitimate source of gourmet food on wheels.  Often enough, they have their own fans and spread the word on their next location via twitter, and people flock to them.

At this time of year, there are plenty of food trucks offering the usual "Mr Whippy" style soft serve ice cream. This one, looking very appealing indeed, offered artisan icecream.

This visit I have been staying at Union Square, which seems to attract a lot of trucks, and people seem to genuinely enjoy the grub there.  It’s a pity that, each time I’ve passed one that looked interesting, I was either on my way to of from dinner and didn’t think I should scoff down an extra empanada or scoop of ice cream.

Ahhh, but when it comes to me and New York, there’ll always be a next time…

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Going Home

My "beach shoes", bought in NYC 4 years ago when my feet hurt. I wore these up and down the hill on my way to my daily swims in the Caribbean. They are worn and battered. I said farewell to the shoes too.

At last, I am going home.  I have been very slack with posting on the blog.  I do have more adventures to tell you about, which I’ll post when I’m back in Sydney.

A few months ago, I let Timothy know that I can’t stay beyond June.  My beautiful dog, Max, is having all sorts of problems with his leg and I couldn’t stay away any longer.  So, after a sad goodbye to my friends in the Caribbean, I departed St Kitts yesterday for the long trek home. 

I’m spending 4 days in New York.  The last time I was here, the place was overwhelmed by a dump of snow.  Today is Memorial Day, the “unofficial” start of summer. 

Each time I visit New York, I try to stay somewhere different to get to know different neighbourhoods.  This time around, I’m in Union Square, home of some wonderful restaurants and of course the Union Square Green Markets. 

Although I will miss the weekend market, which is much larger, I’ve poked around a little and bought myself some summer berries.  Berries are both pricey and old in the Caribbean, so slurping through them is a delight.

Soon, this will be me

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Vieques

You know it's a small island when this is the luggage carousel

After my farewell visit to my beloved Old San Juan, and my teeny tiny plane ride, I spent two nights on Vieques.

Hardly the most famous of all isles, Vieques came onto my radar because it is home to one of (if not THE) best bioluminescent bay in the world.  Seeing the photos, and doing some research, I didn’t want to leave the Caribbean without experiencing this phenomenon.  (More about this in my next post).

Vieques itself, part of Puerto Rico, is a small island, home to 10,000 or so people, many of whom as US expats who protect the place from too much development.  I think they’ve been pretty successful so far, although a W Hotel opened up last spring on Vieques’ north coast.  Vieques has a chequered history: for decades, the US military used the place for target practice and there are a couple of sections of the island that are still “Exclusion zones” where you can’t go and play.

They must outsource to Telstra

I must say that, now that I’ve seen a fair few Caribbean islands, Vieques must be one of the quirkiest places in the region.  For example, no-one seems to be doing much forward planning.  There are not enough rental cars to go around on the island.  Normally I can just arrange a rental car through my hotel on the day I need it.  But there’s little chance of this on Vieques, especially on the busy Easter weekend.  Even though the W Hotel doubled the number of rooms on the island, no-one has doubled the number of cars and you are left to scrounge around across different rental agencies (or, if you are more organised than me, pre-book).

But that’s not all.  It’s probably a good thing that there are no more cars on the island, because there isn’t enough petrol to go around.  The two petrol stations on the island are owned by the same person, who arranges for petrol to be shipped twice a week.  During high season for tourists, there are no more deliveries than usual.  Whilst I could have scrounged around and found a car in the end, once I heard stories of people queuing for 3 hours to buy petrol, I figured “No way”.  It was just easier, and about the same cost, to get cabs (which also seen scarce).

To add to this oddity, the capital of Esperanza (which comprises a waterfront of bars, souvenir places, restaurants, a couple of hotels and convenience stores) plays host to a parade of show-offs at night.  Young studs trot through bareback on some of the wild horses that roam the island, while one group parks their car, flicks on their speakers and a microphone and purports to entertain the crowd in an off-key, lunatic type of style before they move on and you remember what it’s like to be able to hear yourself think.

I am not sure how (oh, OK I am: it was sheer laziness) but I ended up booking myself into a “Green Resort” in the form of Hix Island House without realising I’d done so.  Buildings and interiors of bare cement.  No TV, no phone, no air conditioning, no windows.

No. Windows.

Oh yes, you read that right: no windows.  The design concept is that guests are cooled by the breeze.  The downside is that it’s an open invitation to the local mozzies, the birds (who took the opportunity to relieve themselves on my bathroom sink) and noise from other rooms. 

As I wrapped my bed in the mosquito net provided (hint: tuck it under the mattress so you don’t get caught up in it during the night), my upstairs neighbours spent their evening until 1am talking and stomping around.  Now, they were not unreasonably loud, but seemed not to appreciate how much their activities would echo around the joint.  I responded with pleas  of “Go to sleep” which they eventually did, but then rose at 6am and began chopping lord knows what in their kitchen.  Arrrrghhhh! 

Post-bird poo bathroom

I think I appreciate the place more in retrospect, as I read a lot went into the design, blah blah.  But give me air conditioning and glass windows any day.

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Teeny tiny plane

Our ride to Vieques

You can reach the island of Vieques (pronounced “Bee-e-kes” one of two ways: you can drive 2 hours east of San Juan and take a ferry the 11km or you can catch a plane.  Since I needed to head back to St Kitts on Monday afternoon, I elected for the flying option.

Now, I knew the plane would be small, but I really didn’t know quite how small.  I’d been used to the Dash-8 Liat flights – 32 passengers and propellers.  I’d even taken a flight to Antigua in a plane that only fitted 15 with a tight squeeze.  But, my friends, these were veritable giants compared to Cape Air’s fleet.

Feeling confident (another self-portrait)

I knew I was in for a different experience when, on check-in, I was asked my body weight.  Gulp.  This is usually between me and the anonymous lady at Weight Watchers.  Apparently, this is so they can “balance” the plane.  Quickly assessing the situation, I realised it was futile to knock a couple of hundred kilos off since it was a safety issue, so I mumbled a number.  And coughed.

At the airport, they lined us up in groups of 6.  I figured “Oh, this must be to make things easier for boarding.”  Oh, noooo my friends: it was because there would be 6 of us on each plane.  I resolved not to think about it.

Pilot holds window open: air con?

So, here are my snaps from that little experience so you can enjoy this for yourself.  I must say, it was fairly enjoyable and you certainly feel more “at one” with the outside world. 

I even got to video the landing!

See for yourself

Oh, and did I mention the pilot was rather cute? (OK OK, I’m just saying).

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