Elsewhere in New York


It became clear to me the minute I started researching about mithai in Jackson Heights that Indians love their sweets. How else would one account for the proliferance of sweet shops, of which I counted at least 5 in the small triangle between Broadway, 74th St and 37th Avenue? Eager to reacquaint myself with Indian dessert, I arrived at Jackson Heights an hour before my scheduled dinner in search for some sweets.
sweets galore

sweets galore

The sweet shops in Jackson Heights are generally humble looking establishments. With the exception of Maharaja Sweets’ chandeliers, the main aesthetic feature at a sweet shop is its glass display filled with trays of sugary tidbits. Deep fried dough steeped in syrup, hard milk and cashew candy rolled with flecks of silver, moist milk cakes tasting of cardamom and saffron, all in full display. At the three places I did go, the shopkeepers were friendly and helpful, steering Sarah and I towards their favorites.

falooda

falooda

Curiosity got the best of me at Shaheen’s, where I opted for a very foreign sounding falooda. I am glad that Sarah was here to share the dish with me, as this dish of Persian origin was big and very saccharine. The dish, very popular in Mumbai is filled with kulfi, milk, milk curds, vermicelli, basil seeds and topped off with rose syrup, and is a myraid of textures in a bowl, ranging from icy, creamy to slithery. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I am glad I tried it. We also split a gulab jamun, a round ball, similar to a donut hole but denser soaked through with sugar. To our surprise, this was not quite so sweet, and really freshly fried and pleasant with cups of fragrant chai.

boxes

boxes

After dinner at Jackson Diner (good but overrated), I presented our group with the spoils of Sarah and my sweet escapade. From Al Naimat, I purchased Jalebi, straws of fried cake batter bent in a pretzel shape and coated with a crystallized sugar exterior. I say straws because the hardened strings seemed almost hollow, that sugar syrup flows into the mouth upon one bite. Strangely, it reminds me of Grandma Cheng’s favorite Cantonese sweet, Sa Chi Ma, also best when fresh and sugary. Al Naimat must go through a lot of Jalebi, because the box I bought tasted fresh, not tainted with the foul scent of stale oil.

From Rajbhog we had a selection of burfis, cham chams and halwas, more subtle than the jalebi, also not quite as sweet. Milk acts as a base, and mixed with other components allows the different flavors to shine. Kaju burfi remains my favorite, the smoky nuttiness of cashew clearly apparent. Cham chams are new to me and delicious, tasting faintly of rose syrup and saffron and very moist from the cream that is nozzled into it.

Indian sweets are not very easy to like, especially for people not used to the saccharine or the spice profiles that sometimes appear potpourri like. And while I still don’t know what makes one mithai good and the other mediocre, I’ve discovered a taste for sure, and am glad to extend my mithai education in Jackson Heights.  

Al Naimat

3703 74th St, Jackson Heights, NY

Shaheen Sweets and Cuisine

7209 Broadway, Jackson Heights, NY

Rajbhog Sweets

7227 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, NY

I took Thursday off, part of the plan to purge my 2008 vacation days before the unused ones are sacrificed to the strict “3-month rollover” rule. Food was my constant companion for most of the day, starting out with a strong cup of coffee from Simon Sips in the 1st Avenue park with heart-shaped foam on top.
 
Capuccino on 1st Ave

Capuccino on 1st Ave

After coffee, I cross the street and voila! Breakfast in the form of a sesame seed bagel with scallion cream cheese and the loveliest, fatty nova lox from Russ & Daughters. Weekdays are nice and quiet, with the countermen eager to serve you and only you, performing surgery on the fish to dole out perfectly thin slices of samples for the smoked fish fan.

Sesame Bagel, Nova, Cream Cheese

Sesame Bagel, Nova, Cream Cheese

Fish eaten, it was off to Brooklyn via foot, across the Brooklyn Bridge, amidst the rain and fog.
Brooklyn welcomes me!

Brooklyn welcomes me!

Yes walking on the bridge is touristy and sort-of cheesy , but it was one of those things I had wanted to do for a while, and since I was alone, there was no fear of recrimination by sophisticated friends.

Manhattan through rain and fog

Manhattan - a misty view

 I stepped off the bridge on the Brooklyn end, and landed in Dumbo, home to trendy design stores, art galleries and Jacque Torres

Jacques Torres in Dumbo

Jacques Torres in Dumbo

Home of floridly colored chocolates, tuxedoed marshmellow peeps, mountains of oversized chocolate chip cookies and wickedly thick hot chocolate. Restraint was definitely needed when it came time for decision making. In the end, it was 2 truffles for me, with good flavors, lovely designs but rather mediocre shells.
tuxedoed peeps

tuxedoed peeps

 The jaunt in Dumbo took longer than expected and by the time I got back to Manhattan, it was well past lunchtime. I foolishly thought I could check out Minetta Tavern, Keith McNally’s newest hot spot for some Gallic-inspired grub, but forgot to check the opening hours. Lunch, my dear is not served.

Too hungry by now to haul myself crosstown to Balthazar, I then substituted the French for the Italians at Lupa, Mario Batali’s Roman trattoria, where the wine is plentiful and food robust.

Bucatini and Brussel Sprouts

Bucatini and Brussel Sprouts

A bowl of Bucatini All’ Amatriciana really hit the spot on a damp, chilly day, the tomato sauce spicy and meaty, the chunks of guanciale (cured pork jowls) imparting an amazing smokiness. Soft grill onion slices were sweet as fruit, I could almost eat them as dessert.  A bowl of shaved brussel sprouts provided some fiber to the meal, the raw slaw tossed in a mixture of oil, pepper and sharp pecorino, something effortless yet tasty, and definitely one to replicate at home. For dessert, a bracingly sour cup of grapefruit sorbet, the initial reaction “Ooo! sour!” mellowing to a refreshing sweetness, characteristic of the fruit.
Nothing a carafe can't do to lift rainy spirits

Nothing a carafe can't do to lift rainy spirits

It took me a while to nurse my wine, so I hung out at the bar till 4-5, just marvelling at the number of people who drop in to eat at irregular hours (including people with babies. I thought baby schedules are like clockwork?). It is nice though to have functioning restaurants and good service during shift changes, and something I appreciate about Lupa.

Unfortunately, the fooding was cut short by the big bowl of pasta, and after that all I consumed was a pint at the bar with my coworkers and a handful of chocolate covered edamame I had lying at home. Was a nice day out, but I must say, I was expecting my appetite to be better than that!

Simon Sips (72 E 1st St)

Russ & Daughters Appetizing Store (179 E Houston St) www.russanddaughters.com

Jacque Torres (66 Water St, Brooklyn) www.mrchocolate.com

Lupa (170 Thompson St) www.luparestaurant.com

Forget what savvy advertisers have been telling you. Disney is not the happiest place on earth. Costco is. Well… at least for a money pincher with 12 mouths to feed for a weekend, and a grand old budget of $200. While Walmart staggers you with the breadth of choice, Costco stuns you with sheer quantity. Family sized is clearly the way to shop. For an urbanite used to shopping for one (i.e. buying 2 bananas, an avocado and 2 bars of chocolate at the bodega), it was refreshing to purchase 10 pound bags of chicken drumsticks and a clamshell of washed salad greens enough to feed a dozen yet cost the same as a lunch salad in my Manhattan deli, filling the car’s trunk at one go. A brick of cheese at Costco costs as little as 2 slices from Murray’s, albeit without the cheesemongers and the stickers with cute animal figures that informs if the cheese was made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Even the shopping carts are larger than life, big enough to truck a few people at once. As we got to shopping, my menu ideas changed with the sight of excessive food. Instead of a 2 pound pack of ground beef for my bolognese sauce, I ended up with 5. What to do? Make beef tacos the next day. And the giant bag of baby carrots ended up in the salad, the stew, was roasted as a side and eaten raw throughout the day. 

Best of all was the post shopping meal, when my fellow partners in crime and I noshed on jumbo hotdogs from Hebrew’s National replete with do it yourself condiments and a hand crank onion mincer, and washed it down with a 16 ounce cup of flat soda. All for $1.50 each. While sitting on a picnic table inside the warehouse. Gray’s Papaya, even with your recession proof deal, you lose.

Costco

Multiple locations with the closest in Queens

www.costco.com

Summer is not officially over until the 22nd, but today is the psychological end to a brief but sunny 3
strawberries in june

strawberries in june

months. I confess that summer is my least favorite of the 4 seasons given my childhood in ubiquitous heat and humidity, but I did a lot this year and consequently had an enjoyable summer.
I moved from Hell’s Kitchen into a tiny studio in the East Village and welcomed a host of visitors there. A sister, two cousins, both college roommates, the boyfriend and my dad. I explored east village restaurants with my siblings, countered the worst heat wave with pakshun by eating a lot of frozen yogurt, entertained friends for the first time in a long time in my building’s central courtyard on shopping from the greenmarket, whole foods and specialty grocers, ate my weight in fragrant berries and juicy stone fruits, and got to make amends to my father by bringing him around New York in summer, where we visited a musuem, shopped and people watched while dining al fresco in my neighborhood. It must have infinitely more interesting than his last trip made in winter, when mum and I made him sit through a not very interesting musical. 
Nathan's hot dogs

Nathan

I finally made it to coney island to eat a hot dog from the original Nathans, to ride the ferris wheel and take in the view of the boardwalk and ocean. We shared the beach with seagulls, mountains of trash and the assortment of people that made up the crowds.

Howard's fish, steamed Cantonese style

Howard's fish, steamed

Not satisfied with merely sitting on the beach, I joined rosie and co on a deep sea fishing trip, on a fishing boat docked on Sheepshead bay, Brooklyn. Despite over 20 cumulative hours of choppy waters and terrible sea sickness shared between the 6 of us, we caught fish in waters so populous with sea bass that the first catch of the day bit less than 30 seconds after Yu Gang lowered his bait. Once onshore, we sped to Flushing, Queens, begged the chef at Imperial Palace, a fancy for Chinatown Cantonese seafood restaurant- to steam our largest catch (courtesy of Howard) and devoured our spoils of war. It was one of my most well earned meal and darn delicious, as it should be, given the fish was still flopping around, alive, less than 2 hours before being cooked.

And now on labor day, after a few hours in the office, I am doing a stint as a tourist in the city, on a beautifully sunny but breezy day, one of those days when the city conspires to make you fall in love with it. I am sit beneath the shade of a palm in rockefeller center, bustling but mercifully not overrun with people, with a book (now blackberry) in hand and a cup of creamy gelato from a stand operated by the rock center cafe on the rink. It is an indulgent cup of bacio gelato by a Philadelphia base company called Capogiro, and the cold treat is both luxe in ingredients and in price, expensive even for NYC standards. Of the 2 fruit base sorbets and the sinful chocolatey gelato, I of course choose the fatty, creamy, sinful gelato. When one wastes empty calories on sweets, one might as well go for the extreme. The chocolate is sweet but not cloyingly so, and the luscious gelato is generously speckled with fresh roasted hazelnuts before it melts. A perfect antidote for the heat and 5th Avenue crowds.  
It has been a good summer indeed. I’m sad to see it go as everybody else is, but at the same time looking forward to fall fashion and cold weather foods. I wonder what I’ll be eating.

Nathan’s Famous

1310 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224 ( the original, multiple locations nationwide)

www.nathansfamous.com

Imperial Palace

136-13 37th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354

Capogiro Gelato Artisans @ the Rock Center Cafe

20 W50th St (Between 5th & 6th Aves, right by the rink)

http://www.capogirogelato.com/main.html

Dinner at a working farm, with food sourced straight from the barnyard and greens harvested in the fields, where mushrooms are foraged and butter can be attributed to the exact cows who produce the milk. That is a dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where one cannot find a greener dinner anywhere else around New York City.

P and I trudged to Blue Hill at Stone Barns on a steamy evening last week after a grueling shopping trip at Woodbury. After remedying the initial snag of being inappropriately (read too casually) dressed, we were ushered into a large, comfortable dining room inside a expansive barn. The server sat us with cold sparkling water, a menu with no options, just a long list of ingredients and set off a flurry of amuse bouches on us, including:

asparagus shooters

A creamy shot of asparagus soup with creme fraiche;

panko crusted asparagus

Skewers of asparagus crusted in panko and sesame seeds, a kebabs of sorts;

avocado burger

2 mini burgers stuffed with creamy avocado, sitting on a bed of white sesame seeds, while slathering on sweet churned butter sourced from the dairy cows on-site and thick ricotta drizzled with honey

charcuterie plate

We nibbled offerings from a homemade charcuterie plate, including an unctuous pork terrine, and great, spicy, slightly wet french sausage. Pickled ramps, cauliflowers and fennel, as well as sharp mustard helped cut the richness of our appetizers.

kampachi with rhubarb gelee

Our first courses only arrived after we polished the charcuterie, for me a beautiful slab of kampachi set over a bed of tart rose-colored rhubarb gelee and for P a refreshingly frothy shotglass of carrot yogurt and a tiny sliver of fiddle-head fern tart.

lettuce with edible flowers

Second courses were what I call a gorgeous pair of green, flowery things. For me half a head of young lettuce sitting in deep green, sweet lettuce broth.

asparagus terrine with goat cheese

and for P an even daintier plate of chopped asparagus wrapped with cooked chard on top of a swipe of tangy goat cheese.

smoked sturgeon

Finally we get to protein, some fleshy slices of smoked sturgeon, mild tasting yet reminiscent of bacon. Who can say no to smoked meats? The broth is green again, but this time nutty and creamy with the addition of pistachio and fresh green peas.  

gnocchi

Morels are in this season and the next course featured the meatiness and succulence of the mushrooms simply yet effectively. The gnocchi were plump and the potato pasta melds seamlessly with the ricotta filling.

this morning\'s egg

This morning’s egg is perhaps the most celebrated dish at Blue Hill and our tiny egg had a brilliantly orange yolk that spilled over the mixture of mushroom and greens to create a rich, savory dressing. However, the ones our neighbors had looked even more amazing with a deep fried poached egg and I suffering a serious case of covetou-ness

pork belly

We rounded out the savory courses with 2 meat dishes, a square of crackling pork belly on more green sauce and chickpeas. The meat was tender, the skin crisp but pork belly has become so de riguer that there is hardly any excitement in eating fatty meat left.

trio of lamb

The next dish of young spring lamb however was amazing. The trio of lamb included a lamb chop that was tender to the bone, a piece of confit lamb neck that was stronger tasting, and a quivering piece of sauteed lamb brain that was surprisingly mild tasting. These all sat on a bed of nutty couscous that were a delight to eat.

herbal tea trolley

We’ve been eating steadily for almost 3 hours by the time desserts were served. We polished off glasses of strawberries topped with champagne foam and other sweets that unfortunately slipped my mind. We moved outdoors to catch the last rays of sunlight and enjoyed a tisane of herbs freshly picked from the Blue Hill garden. The server picks honeysuckle, sage, 3 types of peppermint and other herbs I cannot even pronounce from a trolley wheeled to the table, boils the water in front of us and steeps the herbs in a see-through pot. A one-of-a-kind tea service, and at $15 is priced like it. But so is the experience of lounging outdoors with a loved one after a leisurely meal, watching geese amble through the slopes with the knowledge that almost everything you ate can be located within 100 miles. And that is almost priceless.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

630 Bedford Rd, Tarrytown

www.bluehillstonebarns.com