Food Diaries: New York City

Those who know me know that I am not a woman of food. I don’t have a particular fondness for it, and usually don’t care too much about what I eat. Of course, this is in stark contrast with the rising “foodie” culture among social media. Many of my friends are self-professed “foodies” and are often chatting about the latest hot eateries. (I’m from NYC – home to Smorgasburg and other hipster foods.)

However, starting from my trip down to Miami a few months ago, I’ve come to appreciate food from a more cultural perspective. Also, now that I have to cook my own meals, it definitely makes me appreciate and think about food more.

I don’t have a sophisticated palate, so I’m not very good at articulating what I taste. Especially when dining out, I pay much more attention to the holistic experience – the ambiance, the setting, and the company – than the food itself. (Because, again, unsophisticated palate so my food reviews are quite blasé: food either tastes good or not good.)

Looking back on the photos I’ve taken this year, there is a sizable collection of food photographs, mostly from my time between New York City and Cleveland. Thus, I’ve split these photos depending on location and type.

(I’d like to give a shout out to my best friend Sharon [@SharonCai]. I love the way she composes her posts and photographs, and it inspires me to think of different ways to divide up my post. Plus, she was the one who suggested the food diaries set!)

For the first installment, I’ll be showing some of my food adventures in my hometown — New York City. Since I never intended this to be a documentary, I’ve never properly written down what I ordered and from where. But for the places I do remember, I’ll be sure to include those vital details. 🙂

 

Asian / Asian Fusion

Lately I’ve been seeing this Youtube commercial for a food service in NYC. The man in the ad talks about all the different types of food you can find in NYC – dumplings, tamales, pizza, etc. – various ethnic cuisines all packed into one neat little city. I couldn’t agree more.

With all that NYC has to offer, though, I always find myself going back to Asian cuisine – especially Japanese ramen shops. They’re cheap eats that are quick and low key. And perhaps because I grew up in a Chinese family, I’m biased towards the umami you can only really get from Asian food.

Now, I must confess, with all the options in the city, authenticity can still be difficult to find. This is one of my major critiques on a lot of Asian restaurants – especially the new, mainstream ones. I’ve visited a few eateries that have been hyped on social media, such as Very Fresh Noodles, located in the beautiful Chelsea Market. I visited with my best friend, after a lot of hype on social media and because we both love noodles, but we left a little bit underwhelmed.

We had visited Xi’an Famous Foods on W 45th the day before (not pictured), and was similarly underwhelmed. The food at both places weren’t bad – but the soup was sometimes too sour (as in Xi’an Famous Foods) or the noodles too soft (as in Very Fresh Noodles).

One of my trusty places is Shanghai Cafe in Chinatown. This restaurant holds a special place in my heart because I’ve been coming here with my grandmother since I was a kid. Through the years, the prices have gone up just a bit, but the interior and the flavors still remain consistent. It is now one of my favorite places to bring friends when we’re in the area and looking for a quick but delicious eat. I could eat orders after orders of the haifen xiaolongbao — the soup dumplings with crab meat!

Every once and a while I’ll venture out of my usual orders and restaurants to try something new. The seafood hotpot at Five Senses in Korea Town is one such example. It was such a treat to watch our server cut and prepare all the seafood in front of us, including expertly peeling shrimp with only a pair of scissors! Yummy! My only quip is that because it is a hotpot boil, some of the seafood may over cook – but honestly the soup is so delicious I don’t really mind that much.

 

Italian

If there are any two foods that are synonymous with New York City, they are: pizzas and bagels. Perhaps it is because of the fresh and crisp NYC tap water, or because of the hundreds of years of history of skilled immigrants, but New York City dough truly is different than any other.

Growing up, I never felt like New York-style pizza was that special… but after spending some time in the midwest where the definition of pizza can be wide ranging (ahem, Chicago, that’s a casserole not a pizza! But I digress…), I’ve really come to appreciate how special a good ol’ New York slice is.

On chance, I got to visit Lombardi’s Pizza, famously America’s first pizzeria, and was absolutely delighted. John’s Pizzeria in Times Square is another one of my pizza go-to’s. L&B Spumoni Gardens (not pictured) is an another classic held near and dear to my heart.

Good Italian restaurants in NYC don’t just stop at pizzas. Sharon and I stumbled upon this neat restaurant, Bottino, in Chelsea when we were gallery hopping. (We had actually planned on going to the Rocket Pig, which was right behind Bottino.) Sometimes, the best way to explore NYC restaurants is just to get in one!

 

American & Seafood

Continuing the theme of accidental discoveries, another friend and I decided to try out The Smith (which has quite the cult following) when we were hungry for some brunch one day. I loved the ambiance, though I could’ve spared the grapefruit juice.

Alas, with New York being a port city, you cannot not get some seafood! Though it can be on the pricier side, I think seafood is always worth the splurge. After all, when else are you going to have truffle scallops? Aside from Upstate, there are a plethora of other seafood restaurants, such as Greenpoint Fish & Lobster co. (not pictured). Moreover, I hear Louisiana crawfish boils are becoming the next big thing! I can’t wait to check out some places when I head home in August.

 

Dessert & Drinks

There’s a joke among New Yorkers that there is a Starbucks on every other block, except it’s not really a joke. There really is a Starbucks waiting for you at the next corner. But in a city as diverse as New York, I find it hard to convince myself to splurge on a cup of joe from a chain when there are so many mom-and-pop options available.

Two of my favorite that I’ve explored is Radiance Tea House and Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. I visited Radiance Tea House after a tour of the Japan Society, a mere few blocks away. I was immediately shocked (in a good way) at the decor in the restaurant — it reminded me of the tea houses my family and I would go to during our time in China. The staff was friendly and very helpful, and there was a large selection of loose leaf tea. Two gentlemen sat two tables down from us and had a nice mid-afternoon chit chat over some fragrant tea.

The other, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain evokes a nostalgia of another kind. It is an old-school shop located in an equally as old-school pharmacy. It’s incredibly family friendly, even though empty glass jars of toxic chemicals line the walls. Their hot chocolate was the perfect fit on a cold, damp late-winter day.

For a gal who doesn’t like sweets, I frequent a lot of dessert parlors. Part of the reason, I think, is because dessert and drinks are an easy grab-and-go thing you can do with a friend. A conversation over some ice cream on a hot day is the epitome of a college summer to me.

There are a lot of new and interesting dessert places opening in NYC. A few years ago, frozen yogurt ruled the scene, but now it seems that ice cream is making a strong comeback. Since many of these places are opened by millennials, these shops are all very social media-conscious. They often have brightly colored decor beckoning to be instagrammed.

If I’m honest, I think a lot of these dessert places are incredibly gimmicky. There are very few I’d say I’ll revisit as I don’t find the desserts to be particularly impressive. I’m a simple gal; if you’re selling ice cream, then make sure your ice cream is damn good (and homemade!). I don’t care much for the toppings.

I am particularly impressed by Soft Swerve, which I first visited with my mum. She’s got a sweet tooth, but I don’t, yet we both really liked the ube ice cream. It was sweet punctuated by a touch of savory, and the purple yam flavor really came through. (I’m also biased, as I have a soft spot for purple yam.)

A neighborhood to visit if you’re interested in the exploring food trends (a.k.a hipster foods) is Washington Square Park, particularly Macdougal Street. WSP is the considered the center of NYU, and the area is mostly populated by college students and young 20- and 30-somethings looking for the latest food crazes. The shops here, especially dessert places, tend to be smaller with limited seating, but with WSP a block away, it’s usually not really a big deal.

Honestly, at the end of the day, what you eat is secondary to who you’re eating with. When you’re with people you love and care about, any plain dish will be enjoyable and delicious. If you ever find yourself in the glorious Big Apple, head on in to any restaurant that catches your eye. While Yelp reviews may be helpful, the gastronomic experience is unique to each person. After all, tasting is believing!

Fin.

P.S. if you have any restaurants or places in New York you think I should check out, let me know!

Writer’s Notes:
(1) Some of the photos here are taken with my Samsung S6 and then edited using VSCO, usually with either A5 or HB1/HB2 filters. If you click on the photos, you should be able to learn more details about them — i.e. the camera used, aperture, etc. 
(2) The nickname “Big Apple” actually has nothing to do with NYC’s apple production. Apparently, it has something to do with horse racing but I’m still kind of confused. Read more here.
(3) The last two photos were taken using B612, a Korean selfie app. I’m addicted.

 

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