July 27, 2011

Weird Things Happen in Harlem - New York City, NY

I woke up the morning of the wedding extremely hung over after the previous night of drinking at the White Horse Tavern. Law school has made me a homebody, so I don't drink much at all and hardly ever have a night on the town. So when I woke up that morning, I was surprised by how terrible I felt. I remember thinking, "Holy crap! This is what a hangover is like! I almost forgot!" Of course, it also may be alcohol taking revenge on me for my long neglect.

In any case, I stumbled around my hotel room in a state of confused, achey dehydration and gathered everything I would need to look presentable that afternoon. I was meeting the groom and some other members of the wedding party in Harlem to get ready for the festivities. This would mostly consist of eating greasy food, drinking beer, and trying to properly tie the gentlemen's bow ties. So I grabbed a bag and headed on my way.

Once I arrived at the apartment in Harlem, I decided to have a cigarette before going inside. As I was standing on the sidewalk people watching, I saw a very disheveled woman under the influence of some narcotic stumbling towards me. (This is the nicest way I can think to say, "I saw a homeless woman on crack.") She was slurring her words and yelling what I could only identify as syllables to no one in particular. After she passed me, she started to empty out a black plastic bag. But it was already empty.

Then she waved around...a shallot. To this day, I still do not understand why that woman had a shallot. Where did she even get a shallot? I often cook with shallots and know that they are expensive little delicacies; they definitely cost more than your average onion. So where on earth did a homeless woman under the influence of crack get a shallot? And why was she waving it around?

And thus ends my story about weird things that happen in Harlem.


July 26, 2011

White Horse Tavern - New York City, NY

After our meal at the Spotted Pig, we walked up the block to have drinks at the White Horse Tavern. This was actually my second visit there. When I was in college and went with friends to New York City, we went to White Horse Tavern specifically to have a drink because of its association with Dylan Thomas.

There is a story that Dylan Thomas, the poet most famous for his line "Do not go gentle into that good night" and his ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol, supposedly went to the White Horse Tavern the night of his death. As was his style, he drank heavily through the night and uttered his famous last words, "I've had 18 straight whiskeys...I think that's the record" before slipping into a coma. This is mostly a legend, there were numerous rumors about what killed Dylan Thomas but ultimately it was ruled to be brain swelling from pneumonia (a lot less glamorous than death by 18 whiskeys).

Of course, Dylan Thomas is not the only famous person to drink at the White Horse Tavern. Over the years, the White Horse has become the watering hole for some of Americas most famous musicians and writers. The other famous Dylan - Bob Dylan - was also a patron along with Jim Morrison and Hunter S. Thompson. One of my other favorite stories about the White Horse Tavern is about Jack Kerouac. When Kerouac was living in the West Village, he frequently visited the White Horse. He was also frequently kicked out of the White Horse. Because he was consistently removed from the premises, someone scrawled on the wall of the bar, "Jack Go Home!" (Fun Fact: The golden years of artists drinking at White Horse are memorialized in Gene Raskins' song "Those Were the Days." The opening line, "Once upon a time there was a tavern" refers to the White Horse.)

So on the night before the wedding, the bride and groom were joined by friends to imbibe vast quantities of alcohol in the old stomping ground of this country's artistic elite. And imbibe we did. The patrons were incredibly friendly (although there was one table of particularly loud yuppies who had apparently decided they were entitled to break every rule of drinking etiquette). And the bar staff was amazing. One extremely friendly bartender gave me a couple free drinks when I told him I had come all the way from Kansas.

I cannot say enough how much I love the White Horse Tavern. It is part of American history and our artistic culture, but it also continues to be one of the greatest places to grab a drink in the West Village.


July 20, 2011

The Spotted Pig - New York City, NY

One of the best parts of attending Aubrae and Joel's wedding was the food. Aubrae was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, so when she chose The Spotted Pig for the rehersal dinner I knew I was in for a real treat. The Spotted Pig in the West Village serves seasonal British and Italian cuisine, using local ingrediants whenever possible. It is one of the most famous restaurants in New York, tucked away on a hidden corner with no sign and just a literal spotted pig hanging above the door. Because of its fame and notoriety, I am hardly the first blog to write about the restaurant. You can actually read other blogs about the restaurant, many of them food-based blogs with much more knowledge of the gastronomy arts than I can hope to offer here. (Click here to read them.)

We took the room on the third floor for the evening, complete with a bar and a chef preparing our indescribably delicious small plates. On the tables were marinated olives and roasted almonds for us to taste in between the plates of appetizers and salads.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!


July 19, 2011

World Coffee - New York City, NY

Just down the street from my hotel, World Coffee became my coffee house during my stay in New York City. Because my hotel room did not have a coffee pot, it became essential to surviving my trip. For example, on my first day in New York I had been up since 4:00a.m. but was attending wedding festivities until 4:00a.m. that night. Enter World Coffee with a brilliantly strong soy latte that kept me awake for the rest of the evening. It was especially appealing because it was the only real independent option. There was a Starbucks not far away, but I only really stopped there when I needed a bathroom (honestly, it is impossible to find a bathroom in New York and Starbucks is about the only place to go. Luckily, there is one every couple of blocks).

I really enjoyed the coffee at World Coffee. The small lattes were strong, served normally with two shots of espresso and I can't say as a coffee fiend how happy that made me. But they did come with a steep price tag. But it was a nice place to get a nice cup of coffee and sit quietly while reading my book. Also with Central Park just across the street, it was easy to grab a park bench and sit sipping my coffee while people watching. It made for an especially enjoyable Sunday afternoon when the Farmer's Market was along Columbus street.

I also enjoyed their blueberry crumble cake, although it was a bit stale. But to be fair, all their pastries were a bit stale. I tried the fig pastry, but the filling was tacky with staleness and the pastry itself difficult to bite because it was so hard and dry. It seemed to be a common problem with their pastries. I tried the apple crumble cake as well and found myself wondering just how many days it had been sitting in the case.

Despite the stale pastries and the steep price for coffee, World Coffee became my regular stop for caffiene in New York. If you are staying on the Upper West Side, then World Coffee is definitely a great place to make your coffee shop.


July 13, 2011

Gazala's - New York City, NY

Gazala's serves authentic Druze food on the Upper West Side. The Druze, also known as the "Sons of Grace", is a a small religious sect largely of Arab descent but they also have Iranian, Kurdish, and European heritage. By tradition, the Druze mainly depend on olives and fruits for food, but because of their wide range of ethnic and regional influences, Druze cuisine also includes Turkish bourekas and salads, Lebanese vine leaves, zaatar and olive oil, and Israeli falafel.

I stopped by Gazala's before my trip to the Strand, craving something refreshing and affordable. I ordered the Gazala salad - lettuce, tomato, cucumber, scallion in a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. It was a huge portion when it arrived and smelled amazing, the lettuce, tomato, and onion were all incredibly fresh and the citric scent of lemon was strong and refreshing. But unfortunately, it didn't taste as refreshing as it smelled. The dressing was completely overwhelming and had drenched the entire salad, to the point that there was a two inch broth of lemon and olive juice at the bottom of the bowl. Every bite tasted like an oily lemon, completely masking the lettuce and tomato and only letting the occasional bite of raw scallion through. It was inedible.

I spent about a half hour struggling to eat the salad while reading Virginia Woolf's "The Waves" at my table. But each bite was overwhelming and required at least a couple minutes of mental preparation for the intense rush of the dressing. After a while, I just gave up. I probably should have sent it back but I was far too shy for something like that in New York. In Lawrence, where I know the restaurants and often a lot of people who work there, I would have felt much more comfortable asking for a salad with about a gallon less dressing. But there I was too shy about it and so just let the majority of my salad sit there uneaten.

Eventually, I paid and went to the door to leave. Unfortunately, I was confronted by a heavy rain storm outside. I hadn't even packed an umbrella, let alone brought one with me and so I decided to stay and wait for a break in the weather. While I was waiting, I opted to order one of my favorite desserts in the world - baklava. The baklava was baked in a round and sliced into medallions of phyllo pastry filled with chopped pistachio nuts and honey-lemon syrup.

It was incredible. The filling had an incredible fresh and sweet crunch and the phyllo was flakey and crunchy. It also avoided one of the most troublesome aspects of baklava when the baking and the syrup make the bottom layers of the baklava impossible to cut. But by serving it in rounds instead of thick triangles, each medallion was no more than a bite or two big and avoiding some of the perils of eating baklava.

I had to leave my delicious dessert quickly when I saw a break in the rain through the window. So I ate my last bite quickly, savoring the sweet nuttiness of the filling, left my money on the table and dashed out to try and catch the train before the rain started again (but, of course, I've already told you how miserably that turned out).

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!


July 12, 2011

Strand Book Store - New York City, NY

On my second day in New York City, I had an entire afternoon to wander the city before the wedding festivities began. Naturally, I decided to go to my favorite place in the city - the Strand Book Store. Of course, getting there proved to be a unique challenge. A sudden rain storm hit while I was on the street, soaking me completely through in a few minutes. And I couldn't get a cab to stop on Broadway to save me life (although one did stop briefly, to laugh and tell me there was no way he was going to Union Square).

So I spent twenty miserable minutes sloshing through the wet streets of New York before I finally made it into a train station. Of course, that didn't make it much better because everyone in the train station smelled like a wet rat...although that could have just been the smell of wet rats. As much as I love public transportation, I had subway train stations. They are dirty, cramped, and humid. Every surface has been covered with graffiti and some kind of bodily fluid, so I'm afraid to touch anything even accidentally. But the worst part is the stale air. I just find it had to breathe waiting on the platform and suddenly when the train comes flying past and brings a gust of fresh air through the tunnel, it is such a relief. I can breath and I can leave the platform, even if it is only to be packed into a crowded train car like cattle to the slaughter.

The trip itself was unpleasent, so naturally I was relieved when I finally arrived in Union Square. Although the city did have one final insult for me. As I was walking down the street and attempting to light a cigarette, I stepped on a grate that sent a gust of air up my skirt. With my skirt over my head and trying to balance my purse and cigarette, it took me about ten seconds to get it back down. In my Marilyn Monroe re-enactment, I flashed the city of New York City for about ten seconds. Not one of the moments in my life.

Luckily, the Strand was there to comfort me. Eighteen miles of new, used and rare books - the Mecca for nerds in the city. (However, I was corrected by one person. It is not the "Mecca for nerds", it's just the Mecca). As soon as I walked in the door, I was taken in by the displays on modern classics and staff choices. They had a great selection and I should know, because I had already read most of them (although I did pick up a copy of J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories" from the modern classics table).

Strand was first built in 1927 on Fourth Avenue, New York's "Book Row", as one of 48 bookstores. Today, the Strand is the only one left. The family business has been steadily growing over the decades. In the 1950's, it was moved to 12th and Broadway where it occupied 4,000 square feet. In the 1970's, it had accumulated 8 miles of books. Today, it has 18 miles of books, about 2.5 million indiviudal books, and occupies 55,000 square feet. But it still remains a family business, owned by Fred Bass, the son of the original founder Ben Bass, and his daughter Nancy Bass Wyden.

Strand is not just a wonderful place to spend an afternoon wandering the stacks, it also offers full services for bibilophiles. Want a personal library? They will build you one designed to your tastes. They have even rented libraries for films, such as American Gangster, and television shows, such as Law and Order. You can also hire their book detectives to hunt down rare volumes, first editions, signed copies, and even fine bindings. You can even rent the rare book room for special events and celebrate your occassion surrounded by some of the greatest works of literature.

Strand is my favorite place to be in New York, so it was worth the hellish journey to get there. There is something amazing about being surrounded by that many great books, something comforting and relaxing. If I only had one day in New York, this is where I would spend it.


July 6, 2011

Fette Sau BBQ - Brooklyn, NY

After the American Museum of Natural History, I went to my hotel to shower and change for the subway ride to Brooklyn. But first I have to say, I was not supposed to take the subway to Brooklyn. Before I left, my mother told me "Do not even think the word subway!" She was especially horrified at the concept of me going to Brooklyn at night. But it was Joel's fault. For him, I was riding the subway in the evening to Brooklyn for barbecue. It was Joel and Aubrae's joint hen and stag party, which I wouldn't miss for the world. And I wanted to see just how Brooklyn does barbecue.

I almost missed the restaurant walking by. It looks like just another garage or lot of autoparts on a street that seems full of similar locations. But then I saw a pink neon sign with a line of people stretching beyond the chain link fence interest. The restaurant appeared to be in a garage with long picnic tables for family-style eating. At first glance, the whole thing seems a little sketchy. But the food is as good as it comes. All the meat - beef, pork, cornish hen - are raised on organic and/or family farmed heritage breed animals. This is not the meat you buy frozen at the grocery store. And it is prepared with the same loving dedication that it is raised. It is smoked on locally sourced word and dry rubbed to perfection. Because it was prepared dry-rubbed, I opted not to try any of their sauces with my meat (although I heard they were delicious) just because I think dry-rubbed meat should be eaten dry.

The menu changes constantly based on what the farms are able to supple, which is both the blessing and curse of using small farms. Your product will be some of the best, but you may not always be able to get it consistently. Luckily, they had the one thing I will always order when I get barbecue - ribs. Specifically, they had Berkshire St Louis Style Pork Ribs. It was a little difficult to order because they don't offer them by number of ribs but by pound. I had never actually considered how much an order of ribs weighs before. I discovered it weighs 1/2 lb., which was something for me to think about as I tore the meat off the bone with my teeth. It was wonderful. Now I live in the land of Kansas City barbecue and I'm not going to pretend that Brooklyn barbecue comes anywhere near to taking our crown. But it was great barbecue, and not just for Brooklyn, it was just plain great.

However, the sides weren't so much. I ordered the coleslaw. Like sauerkraut on my hot dog, I always have coleslaw with my barbecue. Good rich and smokey barbecue needs the crunch and vinegary acidity of coleslaw, I think it is the perfect combination of flavors. But at Fette Sau, I just had slices of cabbage is some kind of oil. There was no flavor, none of that sour and vinegary tang that bounces off the earthy richness of the barbecue. It was just cabbage.

But overall, it was an amazing meal. So amazing that I ate way too much of it and had to run to the grocer next door for some antacids if I was going to make it through the rest of the night.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!


July 5, 2011

American Museum of Natural History - New York City, NY

After lunch at Shake Shake, I still had a lot of time until I could check into my hotel. So I headed across the street to the American Museum of Natural History. On all my previous trips to New York City, I had never actually been. I'd seen the Metropolitan Museum of Art a twice and the Museum of Modern Art once, but never the Museum of Natrual History. So I was extremely to see what one of the most famous museums in the country had to offer.

Unfortunately, the first sight I was confronted by were hoardes of children. And I don't mean a crowd of children or even a mob. I mean a literal hoarde of children like regiments of an invading army that occupied every floor, room and exhibit available. They were not polite hoardes, they were running, screaming, shouting hoardes with screams that echoed off every imaginable surgace. It was not how I had hoped to see the museum. That doesn't mean I don't like children, I'm actually fond of them. Just not when they seem to be re-enacting a scene from Dawn of the Dead.

The first exhibit I was was the Mammals of North America. It was extremely disconcerting because it was pretty much just taxidermy animals in backlit glass cases with plaques that were difficult to read in the dark hallways. Taxidermy has always given me the willies. It was also strange to see exhibits about animals I usually regarded as road kill, included one of the oppossum. I decided to skip the rest of the exhibits on the floor, mostly because I didn't have enough time to take in the museum in its entirity. So I hopped an elevator and jumped straight to the dinosaur exhibits.

I am officially not smart enough to appreciate any of the exhibits on palentology. Everything I know about dinosaurs I learned from "Land Before Time", "Jurassic Park", and the BBC sci-fi show "Primeval". These are apparently not reliable sources of scientific information. A lot of the displays focused on the claws and wrists of the dinosaurs. I was really confused by that and when I mentioned it to my mother on the phone later she explained at great length why this was important, but I still didn't get it. So my reaction to the most important palentology exhibit in the country consisted almost entirely of: "Cool, the skeleton of a T-Rex! Cool, the skeleton of a triceritops! Cool, the skeleton of that dinosaur with the really long neck! You know, the one Little Foot was in "Land Before Time"."

With my admission, I also bought a ticket to one of the special exhibits. There were several available, including one on the world's largest dinosaurs (which given my failure at understanding the permanent exhibits, I'm glad I didn't choose). Instead, I opted for the exhibit on the brain.

It was absolutely fascinating! It started with an explanation of the parts of the brain and their function with an introductory video similar to what you could have seen on PBS. But it continued with very thought provoking displays. The sensing brain portion focused on how our brain interprets sensory signals, such as what we see and feel. For example, you stood in one spot and saw a person walking in the rain while hearing a sound. At first, my brain heard it as the sound of rain based on what I was seeing but it was later revealed to be sizzling bacon. The display on the thinking brain was probably my favorite as it showed how our learning and developing can actually change the physical nature of our brain. For example, London cab drivers have to learn every possible route throughout the city from one location to another. In order to accomodate this incredible amount of information, studies found that part of the brain associated with long term memory in these individuals actually enlarged! The final portion of the exhibit focused on exciting new developments in brain technology, such as anamotronic limbs that can be controlled by thought. This would allow ambutees to control their prosthetics with their minds, like a natural limb.

By the time I finished the brain exhibit, I realized it was time for me to check my hotel. In about three hours, I had only managed to see a few of the exhibits, which made me sad. But I still was happy to see as much as I did and especially happy to have been able to see the special exhibit "Brain: The Inside Story."