“Welcome back brother…we haven’t kicked it in a cool minute. Let me tell you what really happened…”
NYC, I was long overdue to revisit this place. Not only for the establishments I failed to experience the first time around but also uncover the more intimate side of my wanderlust desires and perspective. Taking 15 hours to travel from the Canadian territory back down the Hudson River and into the NYC boroughs, my mental and physical state resembled a wandering zombie. Equipped with a disheveled urban outfitter outfit, wrought with bloodshot eyes and a pre-meditated 5 o’clock shadow. Deprived of sleep due to inconsiderate Hotel Room neighbors while enduring the effects of the Johnny Walker Royal Route signature hangover, my body begins to crumble in a fetal state, wondering: when will this journey end? Four Trains later, I reach the eastern end of NYC; and after walking a few blocks, I stumble through the door and onto my friend’s couch. This is home…for the next two and a half weeks.
Me and my bff, caught up on all the finer details in life: traveling, dining, camaraderie, and our respective futures. After sorting through the luggage and hooking up with some Canadian edibles (not the MJ kind), we got a bite to eat and some rest before the long day of exploration. One train is all it took, the F train, some referring to it as the “You’re F*cked line” if it goes out of commission and you have to transfer to additional lines on a late-night trek back home. For me it was considered Freedom, a temporary freedom away from the difficulties of life and everything that entailed.
My love of coffee knows no bounds and just as I mentioned about my top-tier list of coffee bean heavens, this holds a special place in my heart. Whether it’s ice coffee, mocha, or standard drip, the lack of grit and the silky finish makes me miss this place dearly. Do yourself a favor and grab some if you’re ever in NYC (or make the trek) in general to SoHo before you go on a fashion shopping spree.
In the East Bay Area, there’s a sushi spot called Kirala #2 that serves up fresh and semi-affordable sushi platters for people on the go. Thankfully in NYC, the equivalent also lies within SoHo and I had to get a few of these every other day to keep my energy up. Price point is similar and quality is definitely manageable. You don’t always have the luxury to enjoy fresh cuts of Japanese seafood, so this alternative diet sustained me for the most part.
During my time, I couldn’t believe the abundance of Baos (or Buns) I’ve had within those weeks of walking, training, and capturing food and landscape. Here’s my verdict of which places made me ‘Bao’ down to its craftsmanship:
4) Eddie Huang’s BAOHAUS Baos
The true leader of this trio is the Haus Bao (made of Tofu), more resembling traditional Chinese flavors. The popcorn chicken and Taiwanese pork belly iterations, I can appreciate for what it is, but felt a little over seasoned. The baos were a bit dry and the proteins lacked depth. My companion agreed before we headed to other spots in the city that same day.
3) Talde’s Lobster Baos
Dale Talde, knows how to make Stoner Friendly Ramen, but can his Bao stand the test of Asian-American time? The choice of Bao is flawless, moist with very slight hint for sweetness, complimenting the sauce he used in the lobster sauce. The Lobster was cooked fine and the garnish unnecessary but I guess it adds some color?
2) Ippudo NYC’s Hirata Buns (Pork Flavor)
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “WTF, how did this become number 2 over the other iterations.” One could argue the simplicity and lack of photo quality shows, even a Kindergartener could have made this. Surprisingly, if you’re nostalgic like me The Big Mac (as evil as McDonald’s can be), holds a special place in my food sanctum of memories. This Bao tastes eerily similar to that Big Mac that I enjoyed as a kid. Yes the lettuce is nothing special and neither is the quality of the bun. The signature spicy sauce and mayo, caramelized into the crevasses’ of the pork layers. The sweet, salty, savory elements of oral indulgences spike your sensations like Crystal Meth. If Walter White took his expertise to Bao creation, this is one masterpiece even he’d happily be addicted to.
1) Momofuku Ssam Bar’s Steamed Samgyeopsal (Steamed Pork Belly) Buns
David Chang isn’t one to shy from the spotlight when he confidently creates straight forward, delicious dishes. Conveniently while getting my Milk Bar fix, I had to try one of David’s restaurants to get a feel for his Culinary Portfolio. All the Uniqlo ads in SF, Top Chef Appearances, and Lucky Peach magazines coerced me to get down to the bottom of this. Seated at the bar by one of David’s employees, I managed to order two different dishes, this and another one (mentioned later in the article). This particular one played into the classic Korean flavors with modern taste. Texture and flavor profile wise, everything about pork belly was perfect down to the last slice.
Unintentionally going through a tour of Baos, here were my somewhat worst moments in NYC…
3) Stale Bagel at Russ & Daughters
What happened? Everything about this combination was perfect, but the bagel… it’s like they scraped it off the underbelly of the Brooklyn bridge.
2) The Terrible Two’s in Tehuizingo
I know, I know it’s NYC, not California. For three years, it has been touted as a nice hidden late night gem. However after a little bit of fame, exposure doesn’t really do some places justice and it continues to be a work in progress both in quality and execution.
2) Not so Magical first impression of Dominique Ansel
I came at the wrong time in SoHo, to try out this well sought after bakery. By the time I got here, like all NYC’ers after 9am, the Cronuts were gone… for the day. I was disappointed so as a consolation, I tried the soufflé and Cookie shot. Welp… suffice to say it wasn’t that great to me. The bread was nice and definitely soufflé like in texture but the flavors of chocolate or orange isn’t to my preference. The cookie shot was nice, hoping for a bit more vanilla bean but it got drowned out by the chocolatey soggy texture and flavor of the cup.
1) Abomination of a Wait for Summer Slushies
Smorgasburg is a mecca of food and drink vendors, similar to Oakland’s Art Murmur or any SF Food/Drink festival you’ve attended. The difference is the quality of products and the wait times that ensued. I’ve waited for my fair share of stuff… but for a slushie you cannot justify a nearly two-hour wait. I think 20 minutes is long enough (even in especially sweltering conditions at Williamsburg aka NYC’s Hipster Capital of the World).
With the bad comes the good and here are some of the best eight things about the trip, that I didn’t want anyone to skip out on incase you were traveling to NYC in the future….
8) Laduree’s Epic Croissant
There’s Kirkland (Costco) brand, local artisanal brands, and then there’s Laduree. I’ve had my fair share of carb consumption and one of the best croissants on the East Coast stands on an NYC import concept. The balance between the elements of flakey and buttery layers with a touch of airiness. You mustn’t deprived yourself, try one now!
7) Talde’s Breakfast Booze Potion
I’ve had a lot of ramen and this was one of those things that screamed, where were you during my college years? Everything from the salty bacon, egg, noodle texture and even the broth. No matter what type of hangover you had, finishing a bowl of this would make your day in Park Slope, twenty times better.
6) Legendary Heat Sweats at Legend Bar
Meeting people from different places brings the best in everyone (sometimes); in this case, it brought out the sweats, the heat sweats. The spicy and savory Sichuan flavors, are bold within this Chili Oil Chicken, having you crave for more.
5) Sweet and Savory Pair at Ansel’s
Cronuts were delicious, the flavor was Strawberry Basil in case you were curious. The wafflegato was a unique experience because waffles ice cream form should’ve been created 5 years earlier. The blending of the vanilla bean with the bitter espresso makes anyone delighted to eat it, whether its 9am or 9pm.
4) The Real Italian Menace
I watched Dennis The Menace growing up, but I don’t believe he would’ve finished such a hearty and filling Italian sandwich of epic proportions. Sandwiched between Foccacia, layers of chicken cutlets, tomato, pesto, basil olive oil, mozzarella. You got the making’s of the classic NY Deli with a bit of Jersey Shore attitude. Don’t worry, the only Situation you’ll be in is finding which bench to sleep on after finishing your last bite.
Sushi remains a staple in my diet (Post-Fukushima), so when you ask for a Chef’s Omakase on a Wednesday night of all things, Blue Ribbon at Columbus Square knows the definition of feast, even if its for two people. Sure it isn’t made by Jiro, but if you’re a big fan of the “See-food” diet then you can see why it’s worth trying even for a one time experience.
David Chang’s splendor doesn’t stop at Pork Belly buns. No this guy played more Duck Hunt than your older brother. Presenting his Rotisserie Duck Ssam: Wrapping the giant Napa Cabbage, topped with fried shallots and gojuchang (Korean chili) inspired Ssam sauce makes for a great savory meal at 2pm( just leave room for Milk Bar’s crack pie or it would be for a lost cause).
Lexington hosts a gang of corporate buildings, for the numerous pseudo-mad men secretaries and wolves of wall street clientele it hosts from time to time. Presenting Waijima Japanese Restaurant’s Japanese Lunch Special. You get an enticing array of Japanese small plates for $20.00. If you wanna go big for lunch, you cannot go wrong with the Five Japanese Shoguns: Chawanmushi, Miso Soup, Chirashi Bowl, Tempura Shrimp and Cold Soba Noodles.
Everything I mentioned doesn’t even graze the surface for what I experienced with my five senses in this truly remarkable (and arguably) diverse landscape of the East Coast. Comparing it to my last visit is like two different people looking at two alternate dimensions. The first man was young and full of naive attitudes embarking into the unknown head first; the other being older, semi-jaded, conservative, creating a more pseudo-composed self portrayal more than anything.
I wasn’t expecting much from this trip and what I learned in the process was an important piece of the puzzle, establishing one’s calling in life without any regrets. I know what I must do…. but how I must go about it? The trials I have endured and the days I sacrifice to get one step closer are all important but what if the end result is in vain? Was it worth the years of struggle? Can someone reach the upper echelons of career stability without taking a few more detours late in the game? When we seek acceptance within society, we present it on a golden platter (or mirror). The best angles, lighting, and colors are all highlighted for everyone to bask in adoration. Sometimes filtering (or fishing in this case) for content may not be in everybody’s best interest. You can put a smile on your face, read every tumblr motivational quote, end a long-term relationship on the basis of being “bored”, and still become ridden with depression.
If we as a society are teaching ourselves to reinforce the whole “fake till you make it” approach then what happens when you’re consumed with frustration, disappointment, and betrayal of self-worth? Well you get what most people consider, natural social phenomena…the Columbines, the Fergusons, the Fukushimas, and of course the Sugarbabies. I am disappointed, you rejected me because I wasn’t there to show up on your doorstep to become an admin slave at the drop of a whistle. I am frustrated you under-minded my brand and my results all for the lacking years of “CPG, Tech StartUps, and National Branding background.” I feel betrayed because even within my own network, I share so much and gain so little… as a result I write my own admission of humanity by the fine cursor of this keyboard and use my voice within this humble podium to speak out through this passion of mine.
…Now I shall face The Price of Seafood