I know what you’re thinking – 24 hours in New York? There’s no way you’re going to finish seeing the city in one day. But hey, one day is better than nothing, right? Having never been to New York before (nor anywhere on the East Coast), I was peeing in my pants a little exited. And having heard countless stories about the myriad of dining options, I then found myself in somewhat of a pickle. Where am I going to eat? I had way too many ideas and not enough time (and probably not enough funds either). And being the self-proclaimed tourist that I am, I couldn’t exactly leave New York without checking out Times Square or Central Park. So I sought a balance between the two and this is the result.
First thing I did after arriving in New York after a red eye flight was to get a MetroCard. Public transportation is basically nil in California so I was going to be taking full advantage of the subway. Unfortunately, the MTA ended the unlimited one day Fun Pass (which would’ve made my life a whole lot easier) and I had to continually refill throughout the day. One thing to keep in mind is the transfers. With every ticket, you can get a free subway-bus transfer within a two hour time frame. We ended up staying on the island of Manhattan, and we first visited Columbia University. It’s in a stellar location and the campus was beautiful but come on, I didn’t come to New York City to listen to financial aid seminars! We then walked through Central Park (where they were filming a Ben Stiller movie; I may have seen the back of his head… which is an unconfirmed, and highly improbable fact) and down to Times Square. Now, let me tell you something I learned the hard way. On the map that the hotels give you, the southern tip of Central Park and Times Square look maybe 3 blocks away. In real life, it’s more like 13. Not such a pleasant surprise when your feet are already unhappy with you. So don’t do what I did – take the metro. After checking out some of the attractions in that general area (Rockefeller Center, anyone?) we then took a bus down to SoHo where we proceeded to kill our feet once again walking through Chinatown, Little Italy, and up to Union Square. The following morning, we snuck in a quick visit to Wall Street before flying out to Berlin.
And now comes the good part; what did I eat?
After having heard so much about its cheesecakes and various Italian pastries, Veniero’s was the first place I visited, with my high expectations in hand. They claim to have first opened in 1894 and were voted ‘Best Desserts in New York City’ in 2010. Needless to say, I was expecting to be blown away by a plethora of old school, authentic Italian desserts. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – far from it, actually. Coming up to the pasticceria, the old school New York façade with the neon lights instilled a hope within me – a hope that I would soon be reunited with real good Italian cheesecake that I haven’t had since I was in Florence. However, everything went downhill after stepping foot into Veniero’s. The first thing I noticed was the amount of people in the store – or rather, the lack of people. We were the only ones in the store but no fear, I was not to be deterred from my slice of cheesecake quite yet. Upon entry of the store, there were two giant cheesecakes that they were selling New York and Italian cheesecake by the slice and further down, there were various Italian pastries (mini fruit tarts, cannolis, cream tarts etc.) being sold by the pound. I took advantage of both these options getting a slice of Italian cheesecake (presumably made from ricotta cheese) and some cannolis and fruit tarts. The Italian cheesecake tasted grainy and undercooked, without any of that light, fluffy goodness that I’d been craving. The cannolis and fruit tarts were alright, but it was the cheesecake (that everyone seems to rave about online) that really killed it for me (in a bad way).
My verdict? This place sounds and looks better than it tastes.
I was first introduced to Katz’s by Mr. Anthony Bourdain on his New York episode of No Reservations. It’s famous for its sandwiches, especially the pastrami. You grab a ticket as you go in and then you head up to one of the many stations at the counter to order. You also have the option of waiter service where you can just sit yourself down at one of the tables at the back. I arrived at around 11 am and the place was already buzzing. Since I’d already eaten not too long ago, I just went ahead and ordered a pastrami sandwich with extra pickles on the side. Part of the fun of coming here is watching them make the sandwiches. And the little sample of meat (in my case, pastrami) that they hand you with every order doesn’t hurt either. The sandwich itself consists of a large pile of freshly carved smoked pastrami on sliced bread. The meat was quite tender and juicy and it really filled you up. While I did think that the brine that they use to smoke the meat could have been improved, it was already very good. The pickles were only lightly pickled so they offered a satisfying crunch between bites of the heavy pastrami sandwiches.
Despite being a tourist attraction, I definitely recommend a visit to Katz’s. The experience is unique and the food is pretty great to boot.
Russ and Daughters
Upon leaving Katz’s, I found myself at the front of Russ and Daughters only a few steps down. I’d also heard about the terrific bagel and lox available at Russ and Daughters so obviously I hopped in to go get myself one. And let me tell you – that is one sterile store. But in no way am I complaining; the fact that raw fish is one of the major items that they sell, I’d hope that I’m purchasing it from a clean and healthy environment. The white lab coats that the employees don also add to the overall image. When ordering a bagel, you can have the option of salmon from various regions of the world and you can pair it with different flavors of their cream cheese. I got Norwegian salmon with plain cream cheese on a plain bagel. I promise I’m not normally this boring but I had some skewed thought in my mind that the salmon would taste better if I got plain with everything else. Don’t ask me why. I do believe, however, it paid off because that salmon was pretty phenomenal. The texture was incredibly tender and silky and it was definitely the star of the show because I was not impressed by the bagel at all. It tasted hard and stale like it was a week old. Even my neighborhood Einstein Bro’s bagels are much better. I had all these high expectations for the New York bagel but alas, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t have the opportunity to try any of their caviar or herring, but both those items looked very promising.
Russ and Daughters, despite their stale bagels, is a mighty fine place to visit and if you ever find yourself wandering around the Lower East Side with a sudden, intense craving for some smoked salmon, you know where to go.
La Maison du Chocolat
I first fell in love with this place after buying a small box of pralines from their St. Germain des Près location in Paris. The first bite was nothing less than heaven in my mouth. The same goes for the second bite and so on and so forth. I’d planned on returning to get some truffles the next day but unfortunately, they decided to close their store on a Sunday. So, fast forward a year later, and I’m back in La Maison du Chocolat… except I’m in New York this time. They only have 5 locations in North America and wouldn’t you know it, three are in Manhattan. I ended up visiting two boutiques – Rockefeller and Wall Street. The store was pristine and the service was exceptional in both locations. I got a bag of truffles and another assortment of chocolates they were selling by piece and everything I got was amazing. Although I had a slightly better impression of it when I first tried it in Paris, it might be because the element of surprise was taken out of the equation.
One thing that really got me excited was the free samples they always offer you. I am a huge macaron fanatic so when the saleslady gave me some chocolate macarons to sample, I did not hesitate. That is probably an understatement – I probably more like lunged at her.
To be honest, the food I had in New York didn’t really reach my expectations. But that may have been because my expectations were way too inflated. However, I do think that New York could be the best food city in North America and in terms of the number of cultures being represented, New York is definitely sitting proudly at first place (of all the places I’ve been to).