Yes, it’s the Empire State Building seen from the 39th floor of a building on 32nd and Broadway. Isn’t it beautiful? Bit like a Sin City scene. This is where we had dinner at a Korean BBQ place called Gaonnuri. This isn’t a part of town we generally go to, it’s too near Penn Station and the horror of that area, but it’s also home to a few streets called Korea Town. K Town, as R is now calling it, was a revelation on a Saturday night. It was buzzing with young Koreans out on the town, cigarette in hand, hanging around the bars and restaurants. I liked the look of Bunn which was a tiny cafe with large steel vats in the window which sold pork buns. R liked the fact that if you glance at the name, it looks like bum. Hmm. Anyway, we are going to go back in daylight with E and J and check out Bunn for the buns and maybe some other new foods. I also loved the Korean supermarket, a vast place packed with unpronouncable and unrecognisable foods. Still open near midnight when we stopped by. Only in New York.
Whilst many tourists are going to SoHo for Balthazar and a French bistro style meal that is lovely but expensive, others are going the opposite way along Spring Street to buy their pudding from Rice to Riches. I see it’s been open for over ten years, but it looks super new inside, with wacky white and orange decor and comically named bowls for your rice pudding – including the Moby for those with large stomachs.
I have always been a fan of Ambrosia Rice Pudding and it is possible to get it here, in the British section of supermarkets for three times the price in Sainsbury’s. So I was pleased to find an entire shop dedicated to the humble rice pudding. How can you make it better than Ambrosia? Well, you can flavour it left, right and centre (center). You can bung in some cheesecake, some wild berries, chocolate etc. The list is extensive and changes according to the season.
And it’s cold. Did I say that? I always had my Ambrosia warmed up. Not here. It’s cold and I have to say it’s rather nice. And I liked the spoon too, despite the fact I managed to spill some on the table with every scoop, but I think that probably says more about me than the pudding.
And their advertising company is hilarious. The whole shop is festooned with comic lines related to rice pudding. I photographed a few to see here. Worth a trip – maybe skip the pudding in Balthazar and walk this way, you won’t regret it.
I remember in Sex and the City when they visited a restaurant called Balthazar. I presume it had just opened back then and it is still going strong. It is hugely popular and rammed pretty much all the time. It’s downtown on Spring Street, which is prime SoHo and a great shopping area.
And yes, it was rammed when we went too. It was hard to even get in the door there were so many people packed into the tiny waiting area. Once we’d worked out who was doing what and whether we were queue jumping (you don’t want a pissed off New Yorker yelling at you because you jumped the ‘line’) we were told we had to wait. We made our way carefully to the bar – in danger of running into a waiter bearing plates or stumbling into the lap of some poor sod who got the worst table in the place right next to the door.
It’s kind of a French brasserie in side and all Christmassy looking at the moment. I expect if you did a straw poll you’d actually find very few actual New Yorkers in there. I saw lots of shopping bags, ladies in groups looking very excited and a slightly out of place group of young lads in school ties, or something like that. So glad we went without E and J, there were no kids in there under 10.
I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary to have a lady in the toilets hand you a paper towel when the dispenser is right next to you and New Yorkers are clean freaks so this kind of goes against the grain of the ‘don’t touch anything’ mentality. But I did like the fact that in the spirit of its French vibe, they had a fancy ‘Toilettes’ sign high up on the wall but had to have an explanatory ‘restrooms’ in modern type below it, just in case.
The food is good, they specialise in steak and chips, which is always a winner. It’s not cheap, so probably more of a treat kind of place. Even if eating that in the middle of the afternoon seemed a bit decadent, it’s a bit like time isn’t relevant, you can’t see outside, it could be any time of day.
Just think about the operation behind this place with hundreds of diners there from pretty much 6am to midnight seven days a week. The New York Times did a great behind the scenes piece on them which is well worth reading. Makes you appreciate that steak just that bit more.
It reminds me of the Wolseley in London, which is on Piccadilly and based in an old car showroom. They don’t have such an obvious Parisian brasserie thing going on, but it’s always rammed in there too and for good comfort food at odd times of day, it’s well worth trying.
And no, I have no clue why it’s so popular.
So my trip to a local cafe went like this:
“Hot tea, please”.
(I have learnt to ask for hot tea, as opposed to iced tea.)
(He looks confused.)
“No. Hot. Tea. Please.”
(The server looks pleadingly to his co-worker.)
“She wants tea. Hot tea.”
(The co-worker looks bemused, just like me.)
“Yes, hot tea.”
I point to the packets of tea behind him. I am relieved to see earl grey (gray here) as an option. I am more relieved to see him put the bag into the cup and then pour the water on. A proper cup of tea.
Really. Since when does ‘hot tea’ sound like ‘cheese Danish’. And more importantly what is a cheese Danish?
Yep, that’s what all the restaurants in New York want. Mayor Bloomberg introduced a new health inspection regime in July 2010 that means that each restaurant now displays a ‘Sanitary Inspection’ grade by the front door. An A is very good, means that the inspectors only turn up once a year; a B not so good, as the inspectors will turn up four times in a year to see what you’ve been up to. E and I have been tracking these letters and often comment on them, wondering if anyone would get an A+ and what would happen if you got a Z. I am yet to see a C grade, which is the lowest grade you can get. I had a look at the New York Department of Health guidelines on inspection and grading. It’s a thrilling one page read. If you don’t get an A first time round, you get another chance, with a random inspection a month later. This explains the ‘Grade Pending’ notice on a restaurant near us, which has been puzzling us. But given it’s way more than a month, I’m not sure the regime is working perfectly and with 24,000 restaurants to inspect, it’s no surprise.
Today, the New York Post got all in a lather about this, calling the Department of Health staff ‘killjoys’ who walk into restaurants and ruin everyone’s dinner as service pretty much stops as the inspection takes place. The Post goes on to say “Bloomberg’s blue-coated buzzkills are increasingly invading city eateries during peak times, shutting down service for several hours and leaving diners hungry and businesses broke”. Fantastic alliteration and I suspect total overkill on what’s actually happening, but entertaining as usual from the Post. So watch out next time you fancy a meal out!
Yep, still on about the weather. I was walking home from my sweaty spin class (enough said about that) this evening and was amazed by the change in atmosphere here. All the cafes and restaurants that normally hide under awnings and behind double entrance doorways to keep the freezing drafts out have converged onto the pavements. The pavements are alive with chatter, clinking glasses and happy people sitting outside, eating in the warm air. What a lovely way to spend an evening, I felt quite envious. They are in sharp contrast to the cafes that don’t have outside space and the poor souls trapped by the 2nd Avenue subway works, which are almost empty save a few solitary diners who eat alone, reading newspapers and looking out the window. I walked home, buzzing from the exercise and no longer hiding from the weather: jacket open, my red face warming the evening air just a bit more. I could get used to this.
Obviously it’s a drink, but what kind of drink? What is that mysterious substance at the bottom of the glass? Any ideas?
Answer. It’s a lychee flavoured milk bubble green tea. The stuff at the bottom is tapioca. It’s huge and chewy and a bit like frog spawn. You need a really fat straw just to drink it. Quite nice really.
I am amazed at the number of nail bars in our neighbourhood. I think there is one on every street. Why is this? I love a pedicure, even in Winter and am eying up the nail spa near our building but how do they keep going all year round? Same goes for eating places. I think there must be dozens of cuisines within a street or two. I see now why the realtor who showed us the flats (apartments now) said that New Yorkers don’t cook. I am more worried about putting on masses of weight due to the portion size. R was delighted to learn yesterday that you can get a half sandwich – which to any non American means a normal sized sandwich. We went to 40 Carrots in Bloomingdales at the weekend – chosen purely because of the name – and discovered frozen yoghurt ( check pronunciation before ordering to save blank looks). Horrible. Why would you do that to perfectly fine yoghurt? Our waitress, with her fabulous retro 50’s hair and carefully drawn on eyebrows, was called Betty. Perfect. And of course, my favourite food place so far has to be ‘you don’t know nothing’ food and produce. Fabulous. Joey from Friends would be proud although probably hanging out in the ubiquitous Starbucks and not Central Perk which would have gone bust by now or taken over by the green mermaid.