I was in New York last week on a seminar and as a major food maniac, I had organized weeks ahead to meet with my cousin and a friend for the two nights I was to spend there. My cousin, a young man of 27 with many corporate talents, was coming in from Pennsylvania and had suggested we dine his style - hitting a couple of bars, a Indian-Kebab-roll hole-in-the-wall, followed by another bar and finally a food truck on 57th and something. I very enthusiastically agreed in a vain attempt at wanting to be 27 again but when I landed in NY and got to my hotel at 6pm, I got a little worried.
I am a good deal older and further along life in terms of children and gastric-wall deterioration. As I knew I had at least two hours before I was to meet with him, I sneaked out to a sushi restaurant, Monster Sushi, a very decent chain close to the hotel. I thought I'd get a small platter, but it turned out a little bit more generous than I thought. It was very good... And yes, I was pretty full when I met him, but he doesn't know that!
My cousin arrived at my hotel at 8:30pm and off we went to the Village! It was crawling with the young life of New York. We drank a couple of beers and went quite quickly to Kati Roll.
The Village - where the young folks are
Kati Roll was a place set up by a Bangladeshi immigrant who had understood very quickly how simple street food from South Asia could prove very profitable in the West. There were a few seats and most of the place was taken up by the kitchen. We had chicken unda rolls (egg roll?). It was a flaky, tasty parata-type bread which wrapped tender chicken marinated in chilli and mint, and charcoal broiled to perfection, garnished with cilantro (coriander) and onions. It was delicious and made me wish that I hadn't eaten all the sushi. My cousin quickly cottoned on to the fact that his older sister was getting...well older and we spent the rest of the evening walking off the food and beer before dropping me off at my hotel.
Charcoal broiling kebabs
Filling the unda roll with toppings
The next night, I had dinner with Mrs. Ice Cream. Truffle and I had met Mr. and Mrs. Ice Cream a few years ago in Amsterdam at a close friend's wedding and we have been keeping in touch ever since. It is one of those friendships that feel very old and deep even at the beginning. Anyway, Mr. Ice Cream makes his own delicious creamy icy product in the hills of Adirondack, using hormone-free milk from the local farms in the Adirondack area and distributes it in New York. Yes, our kind of guy! I keep telling them they are the next Ben and Jerry's. If you live in NY, you just have to try it (click here to go their website AFTER you've finished the post).
Mrs. Ice Cream had chosen a Thai restaurant in the Village - Zaab Elle - that specialized in Isan Thai. Isan is Northeastern Thai and is meant to be similar to Lao food. I almost cried that we don't have a single restaurant comparable to Zaab Elle in Charlotte. It was so authentic, spicy, tangy, crunchy, succulent, aromatic and satisfying. I felt that I was back at Cafe Siam in Lang Kwai Fong in Hong Kong. Thank you, Mrs. Ice Cream. It was good catching up and the food was superb!
Thai in East Village. Hey, doesn't this look like a Peranakan restaurant in Singapore?
I also had a couple of lunches during the seminar itself. OK, the seminar was held in what I call the armpit of Manhattan - Times Square. There are very few things to like about Times Square - the tourist crowds, the peddlers preying on the tourist crowds, the garbage lining the streets, the noise and the flashing lights. I had not been too optimistic about finding good lunch locations, but on day one of the seminar, I set out to look for a restaurant, and thanks to the seminar leader's tip, walked away from Times Square.
I bumped into another seminar participant, a lady from Belize who asked if she could accompany me. I went against my initial instinct of wanting some solitude and cheerfully agreed. She seemed accepting of my patience as we passed many restaurants and kept going. I am proud to report that I too have been blessed with the homing device that my sister, Truffle, talked about last week (see Singapore Takeout) as we stumbled across Traffic on 48th and 9th Ave. It was a wall-less restaurant that completely opened up to the street. The decor was very modern with large panels of wood and steel and we went completely by its look. But what was the food like?
The food was superb! They had a 2-course lunch special for $15. To start, I had what the waiter called a crab cake - beautiful guacomole, layered with fresh, succulent crab sprinkled with raw onions, and topped with ripe mango - it was divine!
For the main course, I went with an Asian steak salad. The meat was tender and perfect and still warm when it was served. It was an impeccable meal.
Viewing the traffic from....Traffic! Corny? Hey, that's me.
Somehow, my lunch companion, who was actually lovely and quite fun to talk to, managed to spread the word that I had good restaurant-finding karma, and so the next day, we had a group of four who went for lunch together. They were all pretty happy for me to find them a restaurant and we found a great spot, with not so great food.
It was called Blockheads and we sat outside. The weather was just perfect - sunny, 73F and ideal. We had a good time chatting between us, discussing the seminar, and enjoyed ourselves so much that we didn't mind that the food was not quite comparable to the previous day's meal. If you are stuck in Times Square and are looking for a place to go for a beer with friends and colleagues, Blockheads is the place to go.
Overall, I had a good time in New York. I think Truffle and I should go together sometime, what do you think Truffle? Catch some shows, do some shopping and try out some good food? Maybe we can get Chilli Padi and Rice Krispie to join us! Whadya think?
PS: photography note - all photos were taken with my iPhone. Not bad, right?