I really love being able to say that I was born and raised in Northern California. I love that I get to call the Bay Area home. It feels even better to be able to say that after traveling to some of this country's oldest and largest cities. I recall Anthony Bourdain once calling San Francisco 'a nice town' and when I think about the beast of a city that New York is, I think I understand what he's getting at. Like any other 90's kid, I grew up watching Hey Arnold! The towering brick buildings, the sea of people, the sounds of a city - they were all inspirations to leave my home in wine country for something new and unfamiliar. New York City was that foreign land on domestic soil that I was searching for.
In recent years, I've tried to make my birthday a reason to go somewhere. Vacations never seem to go as planned. This one definitely took some wild turns, but I won't get into the drama. Let's just say, two couples went on vacation but only one couple come home together. They say there's a first time for everything! I just didn't know my first time in NYC would be first time I traveled with a couple who broke up on our vacation. All that aside, I did have a ton of fun in the Big Apple. We had hardly any obligations on our trip, so naturally we let our bellies lead the way.
Am I crazy for being into red eye flights? I don't know what it is about them. Maybe it's eating dinner at the airport, or being able to fall asleep so easily in spite of the excitement of traveling. It's probably dinner tho. International Airports in big cities can have some hidden gems. The first stop in a journey of culinary adventures was Cat Cora's Kitchen in SFO's Terminal 2. I had Skirt Steak Tacos, and my boyfriend had Lobster Mac & Cheese. My tacos were better, he agreed.
We had to get some candy before the flight, because duh.
I didn't expect it to be so hot when we landed. But even at 5am, it was already in the 80's. They say say Shake Shack is a must when visiting the east coast. So while waiting for our companions, we decided it was probably a pretty good opportunity to grab some. Plus, it was one of the only decent things open. I don't know if I can make a fair assumption about Shake Shack, since I only had breakfast. But who doesn't love eggs and bacon covered in melty cheese pressed between a soft bun? After a 5 hour flight, at 5:30am. It's the perfect thing.
As I said earlier, I've lived in California my whole life. Sometimes I forget that the West Coast was settled much later than the East Coast. I mean just compare the populations. The Atlantic coast is home 112.6 million people, while the Pacific coast has only a population of 47.8 million, 56.9 million if you include Nevada and Arizona. The sheer density of the city and it's surroundings are so foreign to me, I cannot imagine living around that many people. I do have to admit it was quite a sight. I've never seen buildings built for so many people. We took an Uber from JFK over the Williamsburg Bridge and into the city. Our building had no elevator, and we were on the second to last floor. It was quite a walk to the top. But the view was stunning.
I took this photo with my iPhone. If we looked north, we could see Manhattan & Times Square.
The subway was our main mode of transportation. We got there on a Saturday, and that monday was 9/11. Between weekend service and the extra safety precautions we were always stuck taking alternative routes and getting lost. I couldn't imagine trying to navigate that subway system daily.
I was hot and muggy on our first day there. We had no plans, so we set out to explore. After this point - our trip becomes more dramatic than anything else. So I'll focus less on our experiences, and more on where we ended up. My first New York slice of pizza came from Rocco's Pizza Joint in the Chelsea neighborhood. We could see the pizzas on display in the glass case as we walked by and as soon as I walked in, I knew I wanted the eggplant parmigiana slice.
The slices were huge, I was definitely a fan. And when people say that pizza in New York is different, I get it now! I mean, I've always understood why, but it's different than actually experiencing it. The texture of the crust was bready and chewy but in a really enjoyable way. I wanted the eggplant to be crispier, but what can I expect when it's been surrounded by cheese and sauce. Either way, I finished my slice. And I loved it. After the pizza, we navigated our way to Grand Central Station where we found a Jacques Torres Sorbet Shop. We ended up with a scoop of passion fruit to combat the heat.
The rest of that day was spent exploring the neighborhoods and photographing. The density of New York was still so much to take in. My favorite thing about exploring was seeing all the graffiti and recognizing artist I had seen up in California. It's an inspiration to travel more, at least for me. As the evening approached we decided to find somewhere to grab dinner. Café Habana was just a few blocks away from us and seemed like a perfect option.
We ate Mexican Grilled Corn, Sopesitos, Enchiladas con Mole Poblano, and Caribbean style Carnitas. Now, I honestly don't know much about Cuban food, but a lot of what we had seemed Mexican to me. Tasty though! We ended the night by picking up boxes of pastries from Ferrara Bakery on the way back to the apartment.
There are many comparisons made surrounding the relationship between New York City and Brooklyn and the relationship between San Francisco and Oakland. If you think about it as a slightly smaller city across a body of water from a slightly larger city, then yeah I guess it's similar. If you think about it as a cheaper place to live than the slightly larger city across the water, then yeah I see it. But Oakland, the Bay Area, the West Coast, just has such fewer people, you can't compare the two. The parallel I see is gentrification and it stands out more in port cities like San Francisco and New York, where immigrant families once lived in tight knit communities. These communities are harder to find now. And the few things left that are authentic become novelties to the neighborhood's new inhabitants. I think gentrification started with the best intentions. In the 80's - 90's, the Mission District of San Francisco saw a major influx of artists. Artists could easily be considered low income people, so naturally cheap housing was a priority and easy to find in immigrant communities. Fast forward 20 years, there is no more cheap housing. The shops and greasy spoons that once catered to it's Hispanic and Latino community replaced with bougie lounges, overpriced clothes and 5 star restaurants. Some call it natural progression, I call it entitlement and disrespect. I went to a comedy show a few days ago where the comedian talks about being a gay, white, male living in South Dakota. He had recently moved to Echo Park in Los Angeles, another mainly Latino community who's going through it's influx right now. He said he 'would knock the sweet breads out of a Mexican grandmother's arms' if it kept him from moving back to South Dakota. I understand people want to experience new things, to live somewhere far away from where they grew up. But you can't act entitled, and you can't disrespect those who were there before you. In my opinion, that's the problem with gentrification, the lack of respect. It happens everywhere, and I wonder if it will ever change. But honestly, that problem is bigger than me. (I'm looking at you tech bros.) People focus so much on living somewhere else, but they don't think about the impact they make on the places they are going, or the impact they could have made in the place they came from.
Brooklyn was like The Bay in the sense that you could be standing on a street corner, walk two blocks over, and be in what felt like a completely different city. We ended up on the greenest block in Brooklyn! And wandered into a Japanese restaurant named Ganso Yaki, which unfortunately closed shortly after our visit. Which kind of surprises me, considering how good the food was. We had a spicy salmon roll, octopus salad, and a katsu plate I didn't photograph.
I also had a delicious Gose by Lost Nation Brewing. I love seeing coriander popping up more in sours.
Followed by a Flying Dog Bloodline Blood Orange Ale on nitro at Hollow Nickel, an adorable little gastropub with great food, beer and pretty decent sized backyard. The bartender gave us a few destination suggestions, the first of which was Threes Brewing and I absolutely fell in love. The space was elegant and inviting, the patio was open and the sun was warm. We sat under the hops growing up the fence that enclosed the patio. It was lovely. The beer was great too. I had a small pour of their Mexican Lager called Echos of Nothing, followed by their Internal Contradictions with Passion Fruit, an insanely crushable Berliner Weisse. I wish I remembered what my boyfriend had, because it was damn good too. I hope this beer makes it west one day, but I have to admit a huge part of it's appeal is it's lack of availability. You always want what you can't have!
The next stop was the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. I always thought shuffleboard was for retired folks, but not in Brooklyn. I've never played shuffleboard before, and I can't say it was super fun or anything, but a it wasn't a bad time. Especially while enjoying a few cans of Smuttynose Brewing Blueberry Short Weisse. Talk about tasty! The club was described to us as 'Florida-style,' which made sense considering all of the Florida pennants hanging on the walls. The space had a very retro, beachside vibe to it. Not sure I would go back, but a fun, new way to kill some time.
We headed back to the city shortly after to have dinner at a place I was too excited about visiting, Beetle House NYC. If you can't tell by the name, it's a Tim Burton themed bar and restaurant! Although there's not actual connection between the restaurant and Tim Burton himself, the walls are covered with movie art. The soundtrack in the bar was rather odd in my opinion, it was like a someone shuffled a top-40 radio station with Tim Burton soundtracks and The Cure. It kind of felt like being inside a Hot Topic. I couldn't complain about the food though! My boyfriend had the Sweeney Beef, an 8oz filet mignon with sauteed mushrooms and onions served with mashed potatoes and red wine reduction. Our companions ordered Mad Shrimp, sauteed shrimp and chorizo on a bed of plantain mofongo. We also enjoyed, not photographed, a burger called Edward Burgerhands as well as a serving of Cheshire Mac. The over-the-topness was topped off with a Bettlejuice impersonator. I could have sworn Michael Keaton was in the room.
Day three was our first day flying solo as a couple. So naturally, we hit the first dive bar we could find. We walked into the Spring Lounge, on the corner of Spring & Mulberry. Talk about a New York experience! The seats at the bar were almost all taken, while the rest of the sizable bar was empty. You could tell they were regulars. There was man in a suit, standing with his briefcase on the bar and a martini in his hand. Next to him, a tall and slender man with grey hair dressed in all black with pointy leather shoes drinking different combinations of gin and fruit juice. There was a 'dad' type looking very comfortable in his swim trunks, t-shirt and old blue baseball cap drinking cans of PBR. And an upper-middle class Indian man drinking Jameson like it was water. It was a colorful crowd.
After a standard Goose Island IPA, I had the Smuttlabs Blueberry Short Weisse, which I am finding out now is the same beer I had the shuffleboard club! I should have made the connection then, but was happy to have been able to enjoy a second glass of it. The man drinking Jameson was getting increasingly more out of line, and the bartender urged him to go home. As soon as he did, the rest of the regulars questioned the bartender as to why he hadn't been 86'd from the bar yet. Apparently, he had a habit of being a creep. The bartender offered us a shot before we left, but the day ahead of us was long and we had to decline.
If you can't tell by my website, I love food. For most of my childhood, I wanted to be a chef. I was a line cook for years in my early 20's and it was one of my most rewarding jobs. Some of my biggest idols and sources of inspirations are chefs. David Chang is up there on that list and making it to one of his restaurants was one of the biggest priorities I had while in New York. Two of his restaurants were on the same block, two doors down from each other, so I was happy to have the option. Noodles seemed like too much on such a hot day, so we decided to visit Fuku located in the East Village. Fast-food style and a limited menu, it was the perfect lunch option.
We shared a Fried Chicken Sandwich, their staple we ate too quickly for me to photograph, as well as a frozen strawberry lemonade and a serving of sriracha pulled pork cheese fries. I had seen the fries on David Chang's facebook page and had to have them. I can't wait to go back just for his food.
We decided to wander around the East Village a little more, where we came across Academy Records. It was tiny little spot with a great selection of vinyl. Last year, I was spoiled by Portland's record stores where the most I paid for a record was $10, this place was a little more expensive but all the vinyl was in great condition. I ended up picking up two soundtracks, Zoot Suit and Sparkle with Aretha Franklin.
At this point, I wanted more food. On our walk back to the apartment, we walked past a taqueria and when I saw the trompo in the window I knew I needed some. The place was called Empellon Al Pastor, and the second thing I noticed was the tortilla machine in the back. Fresh tortillas and slow roasted pork, count me in! And at just $10 for two tacos and a beer, you couldn't beat it.
We spent the rest of that afternoon walking around, killing time before heading to The Bronx for a Yankee game. I didn't make many plans, but when I saw the Yankees were playing the Dodgers, I had to be there. I'm a huge baseball fan, so going to a historic park like Yankee Stadium is a bucket list item for sure. While slowly making our way to the train, we walked past La Esquina / The Corner Deli. We didn't stop or anything, but I had to take a few photos, it was so cute!
We ended up at Brinkley's Broome Street for some pre-game snacks, because you can always have more snacks. I wasn't too impressed with the place, the fries were too thick for my taste and the calamari was nothing special. But it was a nice bar with great light and scenery, just not somewhere I'd end up again. After a little rest and hydration, we headed to the train.
The train was packed! Which made sense for a Monday night. We were all packed in the train like sardines. Not everyone looked like they were on their way to the game, which seemed funny to be because in The Bay crowded trains on stadium lines are filled with fans. We got to the stadium and headed to a nearby bar to drink some cheaper beers before going inside. The Bronx Alehouse was there for us. Grimm Ales was doing a tap takeover with lots of tasty sour beer.
I bought our tickets on Gametime, and was surprised at how cheap they were! And the view from the bleachers wasn't bad at all. There were more Dodger fans than I was expecting, which always makes things more fun in my opinion. We sat for most of the game before leaving our seats to explore the stadium. Representing The Bay was crucial, Alexis was brave enough to wear an A's jersey, I was a little more discreet with my San Francisco Seals jersey.
We ended the night with pizza at Piacere, because it was right around the corner from the apartment. The pizza was a San Daniele: fresh tomato, mozzarella, arugula, shaved parmesan and proscuitto.
We really wanted to make the most of our last day. So we woke up early for a 'real' breakfast since we hadn't done that yet. We had walked by Jack's Wife Freda on Lafayette a few times, so I thought that would be a good option. And I was right! The food was fresh and super yummy, plus we had a seat outside the weather was beautiful. My friend had a cantaloupe mimosa and the rosewater waffle, while my boyfriend had the Prego Roll: a portuguese skirt steak sandwich with garlic butter, the best thing on the table in my opinion. I kept it simple and had soft boiled eggs with challah breadsticks (not pictured) because I love egg yolks and the house cured duck bacon. I'm pretty sure it was my first time having duck. What a meaty bird!
This day was very beer focused for me. I was determined to find more micro brews I couldn't find at home. While we were on our way to the taproom I had researched, we realized we needed to kill some time before the opened. So we found Tom & Jerry's bar on our walk and popped in for a drink. It was a big bar with lots of natural light a bunch of stuff to look at. Aside the huge (real) taxidermy on the wall, there were all kinds of stickers and drawings all over the place, definitely a place I could have had a few more beers at.
After a few non-noteworthy beers we headed to Top Hops, an amazing taproom with over 700 bottles to choose from as well as an extensive draft menu, I was in heaven. I wish I would have taken more photos of the interior. The bottles were organized by style if they were an East Coast based brewery, but if not they were organized by region. I was proud of the California section. We tasted everything on the menu. I couldn't remember exactly what we had, but there were a lot of breweries I hadn't even heard of! We bought some bottles to take back to the apartment for rooftop beers on our last night.
We also popped into Fort Gansevoort Gallery where Ron English, Hansky and Healy Made were having a show. I should have taken more photos, but my mind was caught up in the dinner we had planned. I think, I would hope, most people know who Bobby Flay is. I've never been the biggest Bobby Flay fan, but I do respect his determination as well as him as a cook. I felt very fortunate to be able to eat at one of his restaurants. Bar Americain is in the heart of Times Square, and we felt very underdressed for the occasion. We had oyster and lobster shooters, roasted mushrooms and onions. I had the Florida style red snapper and my boyfriend had the filet mignon (again). Everything was delicious, just what I would have expected from an Iron Chef.