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The City That Never Sleeps - New York, USA - 2013

Friday 12th July
Really excited to be in the big apple, yes, last stop is none other than New York. After the red eye flight, a 1 hr drive from the airport, and then a short wait while we got our shared apartment sorted, I really needed sleep.

Time flied and I haven’t eaten anything all day so time to find a place for dinner. Sofrito is my choice, serving Puerto Rican food.

From the reviews they said the music is loud – they’re right, not a place for a quiet romantic dinner. People are having fun though. The front is a bar, a bit like a nightclub, and the restaurant is at the back though there’s lots of activity happening here too.

I got brought some soft bread which had been toasted and had a slight garlic flavour. I ordered an appetizer of minced beef surrounded by a banana mixture, served with mash potato. It’s an unusual combination and the sweetness of the banana overshadows the dish though the mash potato helps to bring it back somewhat. Really filling.

Mains were brought out before I’d finished my appetizer. Lots of ox tail, more grilled banana, potatoes, rice, and a thickish spiced pea soup. The soup was flavoursome, full of body, and a mini meal in itself. The ox tail was cooked perfectly, tender, juicy, full of flavour. Lots of meat juices to enjoy with the potatoes. I’m not used to the sweet banana so after one bite I set that aside. The rice I also left as this meal is very filling. I’m stuffed. Enjoyable meal and great to sample dishes from another country’s cuisine.

Walked around a bit exploring the nearby blocks in drizzling rain before heading back to wind down for the day.

Saturday 13th July
The day started off with an interesting twist – bang bang bang “Open up NYPD!” OK it wasn’t that dramatic but we and every apartment in our building got a visit investigating a complaint that someone was using a unit as a hotel – our unit maybe??? Should have taken a photo of the police – the incident was just like on TV.

Lazy start to the day, we headed off after 12pm to take a relaxing walk to Times Square. Stopped by a high end kitchen store where they also had several temporary vendors displaying their wares. Got some jalapeno spiced chocolate.

Also stopped by David Chang’s Momo Fuku which is a milk bar selling some interesting milk shakes and other goodies. Behind is a restaurant. Had one of their pork buns which was so delicious. Juicy large pieces of pork with fat rendered down in a lovely sweet sauce typical of a pork bun with the bun like a thick pancake encasing its contents.

Also passed by a mozzarella bar so I picked up a tomato, basil and mozzarella toasted panini. Really fresh flavours. So love cheese. They also have a mini degustation! Tempted but have to keep walking.

Bit humid so after a long walk we reached Times Square and headed to the theater to watch The Lion King. Got to see a Broadway musical while in New York. Missed the opportunity in London. It was fantastic! Excellent performance, love the props, the music, the stage scenes, use of lighting, and the choreography. It’s been a long time since I saw the movie in my teens but it all started coming back to me.

After that we spent some time walking around Times Square which is a crowd on steroids! Activity everywhere, markets, crowds of people, traffic, huge electronic billboards, blink for a sec and you lose the people you’re with. Got to come back tomorrow to explore in more depth.

We then walked at least 14 blocks to our dinner destination – the 5th ranked restaurant in the world: 11 Madison.

Sunday 14th July
After the early morning return, needed a good sleep and set off in the humidity.

Popped by Momofuku again and had miso butterscotch milkshake (yum!), pastrami pocket (intense flavour of pastrami and fennel, pretty good), crack pie (not what it sounds like but a brown sugar baked pie) – sweet but quite nice.

Had a browse around various shops on my way to Times Square. Popped into M&M World, Hershey’s, Bloomingdale’s, caught the metro for a quick visit of Wall St (will return for a tour), and back again to Times Square to rest and then head off to watch Chicago the musical on Broadway.

Unlike The Lion King, the orchestra took up most of the stage so the performance was at the front. Regardless of where you sat, you had a good view. Really enjoyed the show, excellent to see live.

Bit peckish and since there’s hot dog and kebab vendors on several street corners I thought I’d try the kebab. Pretty good flavour but the cut of meat not the best so a bit chewy at times. Served in a bun with ketchup and mustard, was a perfect late dinner snack. With the stifling humidity, one doesn’t feel hungry, just parched.

Monday 15th July
Up early and to the shop for more water as I’ll need it. Already the walk to the metro has me pouring in sweat – can the humidity get any worse? On top of that the underground is full of warm air and the carriages are not air conditioned like yesterday.

I cut my trip short to take in Grand Central Station. It’s huge and crawling with people. A very wide open space with shops tucked away to the sides. The only balcony overlooking the central area, a common scene in many a Hollywood movie, is home to the Apple store. It’s a bit unusual because it’s not enclosed, there’s no entrance into the shop, rather you just climb the steps to the balcony.

Headed off on the metro wondering why I’m the only one sweating – obviously the New Yorkers are used to the humidity. I’m off to Wall Street for a walking tour of an iconic area in New York and world finance. As I’m writing this the New York Stock Exchange is on my right with plenty of tourists gathered in the area. Behind me is the Federal Hall, like the Greek Pantheon, which is where the first ever US government was based.

The Wall St Walk was led by a former trader who started his way from the bottom and has also done some acting with roles in Law & Order SVU. The tour was excellent, lots of history about the area.

Wall St gets its name from a wooden picket wall erected by the Dutch to keep the British out. The Dutch were doing a roaring trade so the British decided to move in.

A lot of the area is under the river line so during Hurricane Sandy, a lot of flooding occurred including major buildings and the 9/11 memorial. We also visited ground zero and can see some of the towers of the World Trade Center (there were 7). I love listening to the New York accent, some of the comments by our guide were hilarious.

Cooled down for a moment and then headed to Times Square to visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Pretty good but some of the creations were superior in Paris’ Grevin Wax Museum. However there were a lot more recognisable faces being American over French. But then there’s sports stars and TV anchors which I haven’t heard of.

The visit finished earlier than expected so I made my way to the Empire State Building level 86, not bothering with the extra fee to the very top on level 100-something. The view is amazing and I paid extra for an audio guide which explains what you’re looking out at plus some history. Quite remarkable they built this building in 14 months which would unlikely be repeated in today’s era. They’re also spending some millions to make it greener and more energy efficient via computerisation.

Headed back for a quick shower and then to the world’s 11th ranked restaurant by Thomas Keller, Per Se.

On the taxi ride back we found out since the time we arrived in NY, it coincided with the start of a heat wave which is only going to get worse. I guess it beats the cold!

Tuesday 16th July
Up early and out to the Brooklyn Bridge walking tour. I got there too early and despite doing a walk of a few blocks in the surrounding area, I didn’t find anything of interest so I sat in City Hall Park which has lots of benches, lots of trees, a lovely fountain, and even a cute squirrel.

My tour began and to the surprise of the tour guide I was the only person so I got the personalised experience. The walk along the bridge is long but really scenic and there are cool spots at the towers. It was quite hot and humid but not as bad as yesterday.

The tour was pretty good and informative. It’s interesting seeing the diverse mix of people which is literally like a mini world with over 100 countries represented and over 100 languages spoken. Brooklyn was a major trading center with heaps of warehouses which has now developed into an artistic region.

We also made a stop at a chocolate store to cool down and sample some chocolates.

I then headed back to Wall St to visit the Museum of American Finance which was really interesting and nice and cool.

Next stop Chinatown for a quick bite. Managed to find a place with dim sum, Dumpling House, round the corner from the metro on Canal St and Lafayette St. Pretty good meal.

Next headed to Times Square and then the pier to catch a 90 minute cruise of NY including a close up stop of the Statue of Liberty. It faces east across the Atlantic while the smaller version in Paris faces west. The cruise was pleasant and scenic and with a tour guide providing commentary, it made the ride so much better.

For a late supper I met my friends at Serendipity 3, the home of frozen hot chocolate – yep, only in America. But since it’s so popular we required a reservation which meant we had to order a main otherwise you wait at least 45 minutes. I had a chilli cheese crepe which was a large crepe well filled with a chilli con carne mixture (not spicy) and plenty of cheese, plus some sour cream. Quite tasty and enjoyable.

Then the main event, a big glass bowl of frozen hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream and chocolate shavings. It’s hot chocolate poured over ice in the mould of a frappe. Really enjoyable but didn’t meet the high expectations I had set. Despite that it’s a like the adult version of a kid’s dessert – you get excited and it brings a smile to your face when it’s served. It’s so filled it spills over the sides into a plate the bowl rests on. There’s heaps of wonderful desserts to choose from. Talk about ending the day on a high.

Wednesday 17th July
Today it was off to the Rockefeller Center to take in a NBC Studio Tour. It was excellent and I wished it went longer. We got taken to several sets – newsroom, The Today Show, and Saturday Night Live. It’s amazing the amount of lighting – one set had over 300 lights! They accordingly have super cool air conditioning to offset the heat. With HD, fingerprints and smudges are magnified on the desks so they’re covered. We were led by 2 pages, just like Kenneth in 30 Rock.

Next, in the same building we took the Top of the Rock experience which takes you to the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center. The lift’s ceiling is glass and the shaft illuminated as it goes up and down. The views from the deck are amazing and it’s more open so you can get unobstructed pictures. The Empire State Building had wire fences around.

After visiting a few stores, we made a journey to Penn Station where we went on a Food on Foot Tour, led by Cory who had run this tour for 4 years. The tour takes you away from the tourist areas to the neighborhood, riding the subway like a New Yorker.

First stop was Mile End Sandwich, a Canadian eatery selling smoked meat like pastrami but done the Canadian way. I shared a smoked meat sandwich with mustard and pickle which was delicious. The meat had a lovely flavour and was better than the pastrami I’ve tasted so far. There are 4 stops so it’s important to share to leave room for the food to be consumed.

Next, we visited Mighty Quinn’s, a BBQ house. We shared pulled pork, spare ribs, and beef brisket, with a side of slaw ($25) and I had iced tea. The meats were so tender and moist. The ribs needed a bit of BBQ sauce (on our table) which was pretty good. The pulled pork was fantastic! They have the chunk of meat sitting in it’s own juices and then they take the tongs and just pulled out a chunk. The pork holds together but is still moist and tasty. I really loved the beef brisket. The first piece was juicy and succulent but every other piece just had this extra special flavour that had you saying OMG!

Next stop was Paul’s Burgers, the best in NY. They’re made to order and cooked to your preference. I shared a deluxe bacon cheeseburger (< $12) with American cheddar that had just melted into this gooey cheese that was yum. The patty needed more seasoning and was not hugely flavoursome. I also got chips which I shared amongst the tour group and then gave to some homeless people we had passed on the way here.

We got a surprise extra stop which was a Jewish bakery selling all kinds of interesting stuff. There’s this flying saucer thing which is like a cake biscuit. Can’t describe it but got a small piece to taste from a member of the tour and it’s addictive. I had a chocolate cigar which was very dense. Not to my liking.

Then we visited a hand made ice cream shop where I had a small cup of passionfruit sorbet. On a hot humid day like today it was perfect. Smooth, cool, refreshing, slightly tart but so yum. The tour concluded there, some 3.5hrs later. We thanked Cory who gave us directions for our next stop. He also gave tips to the group for other restaurants to visit around NY.

I popped by Sak’s for a moment (9 floors of all kinds of stuff) and headed to the apartment to call it a day.

Thursday 18th July
Slow start to the day but finally made it out to the lower east side. We had visited around here yesterday on our food tour. It was predominantly Jewish but now is a melting pot of various cultures. So if you want the world’s cuisines you will probably find them here.

However, there is one very famous relic that remains from the Jewish era and that is Katz’s Delicatessen, home of the pastrami sandwich. It was also made famous in the movie Where Harry Met Sally – the “I’ll have what she’s having” was shot here. In fact, I was one table away without realising. The place is absolutely buzzing with activity. There’s 6 server lines where you order, the meat is hand cut and very quickly, you take your meal and eat, then pay at the counter giving your ticket. Lose it and you’re up for a hefty price.

My pastrami sandwich has enough meat for several sandwiches! It’s absolutely packed, with mustard and a plate of pickles. One bite in and the soft, tender, juicy meat is evident. So delicious. The pickles add acidity to help cut through the meatiness. I tried but finishing was futile. I noticed they also had half a sandwich and matzo ball soup. Wish I had that, missed it on the menu. Totally stuffed and I didn’t even eat breakfast!

I walked around the area which is a little derelict in some parts – there’s an overgrown park by an abandoned? apartment where a few adults sit and no kids in sight understandably. Other parts are full of eateries each representing a different cuisine from the other. I dropped into Whole Foods Markets, a kind of supermarket but it leaned towards organic. They had alcohol, bags of different coffee bean varieties, fruit & veg (had some mango which is a little tart), grains, nuts, even a gelato stand. I had mint & watermelon sorbet and asked for the small which means two large scoops so the cup is struggling to hold it’s contents. Lovely refreshing sorbet. Ventured upstairs where there’s seating which is where I’m eating and,writing this with more mini eateries and goods for sale. Interesting place.

Next off to Macy’s after a few metro trips. Had a look around, not all the 9 floors mind you. Exited to the front which is like a courtyard on the street (no traffic). Tables and chairs lie scattered about but then there starts music and a free zumba session. People join in and the crowds watch. There’s always something happening in NY.

Killed a bit of time and cooked some more riding the subway and walking around different areas of Time Square. Thank goodness for McDonald’s – air-conditioning, mango passionfruit smoothie (so refreshing), free Wi-Fi, and toilets.

Finally wasted enough hours waiting for my comedy show at LOL NY. There were 4 comedians plus the host and a 2 drink minimum. Small cosy theatre and some hit and miss entertainment. I liked the 2nd guy the best. But it was a good relaxing night away from the heat and there were enough laughs.

Caught the subway back to the apartment. Still hot on the platforms even late in the night. There’s plenty of people about on the streets, especially Times Square which never empties, and there’s sufficient lighting. Calling it a night.

Friday 19th July
Today I set off towards Wall St again to visit the Federal Reserve on a self guided tour. The guided tour was booked out so I missed out on the opportunity to see the gold vault housed beneath the building right down to the bedrock. The tour is not bad and takes about 45 minutes. I was interested to learn the US Secret Service was created to stop counterfeiting in the early days of America’s life as an independent nation.

After that, yet another full security check as I visited the 9/11 Memorial Site which had the largest man made waterfalls with the names who passed away inscribed. It’s a really lovely place which does an excellent job at paying tribute to the lives lost in the 4 plane crashes and responders to the attacks.

Also at the site is the survivor tree. It was a tree at the twin towers that was reduced to a stump but was then nursed to health at another site before surviving Hurricane Sandy and being replanted at the 9/11 site. The tree acts as a symbol of hope and survival. Other towers are or will be constructed. The original debris is still being sorted through and remains of another victim were found a few weeks ago.

For lunch I made the trip out to the far east side again to visit Katz’s Delicatessen. This time I tried the matzo ball soup and a knish. The matzo ball is some kind of large flavoured dumpling in a lovely broth. Really tasty. The knish is crunchy on the outside and filled with a soft mashed potato and herb mixture. Also really yum. Both are very unique and something new. I love trying new things.

I headed back to Times Square and was very lucky to be just in time to get 50% off Annie that was starting just across the road in about 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately Jane Lynch of Two and a Half Men, and Glee fame, wasn’t acting in it in today’s afternoon performance. But I’m thrilled to catch another Broadway show…and be in air conditioning. Another Broadway spectacle, this play was fantastic!

I was feeling really hungry so I headed to Via Della Pace, one of Corey’s recommendations from our food on foot tour. Next door is where I ate hand made ice cream. The restaurant is on East 7th & 2nd avenue.

I was brought a plate of Italian bread which was typical of my visits in Rome. Boy that was a long time ago! I’ve seen and experienced lots since and the end is near, home in Perth awaits.

I decided to order home made fettucini served with meat sauce and pork ribs. The fettucini is slightly al dente but quite smooth. The meat sauce is a bolgnaise sauce and you can taste the herbs. There’s also a piece of Italian sausage which is lovely and 2 pork ribs which were a little overdone but had a nice Italian herbed flavour. Filling meal. It’s simple and nothing to rave about but you have to appreciate the simplicity of the subtle flavours.

For dessert I chose New York Cheesecake, typically New York, not sure how Italian. It doesn’t have a biscuit base but the top has a certain sweet flavour I can’t put my finger on. It’s really delicious and with some chocolate sauce and tart strawberries, they help to enhance the meal.

Time to call it a day, return early and cool down.

Saturday 20th July
Last day in New York and of my trip. All packed and ready to go. One final descent down the 4 flights of steps with luggage in hand. Fortunately while we have to check out early I’m able to leave my luggage round the corner at the Laundromat.

So it’s a walk to the subway and it’s cooler today, but the platforms are their usual oven hot self. I got a ticket to White House Down in Times Square then set off to Hershey’s for some more chocolate to fill the remaining empty luggage space.

Back to the movies to watch the movie which was excellent and predictable but that’s Hollywood. While traveling about I’ve had the fortune of pay TV so have watched the Food Channel. There’s this show Diner’s, Drive-ins, & Dives hosted by Guy Fieri.

I’m here in NY and notice he had a restaurant on 43rd so this is my last meal stop. Lots to choose from but I went with crispy shrimp po’boy – lightly seasoned and fried cornmeal crusted shrimp, dressed in New Orleans style with Creole mayo, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, pickles, and fries.

Really enjoyed the spicy crumb and tender shrimp. Very tasty sandwich and fries tasted good with bowl of tomato sauce.

Walked around the Times Square area to kill some time. Then headed towards our now vacated apartment to stop by the Laundromat to pick up my luggage. Early arrival at the airport at JFK so just have to keep patient and entertain myself in an airport.

It’s a huge airport and since I was hungry after checking in, it took me an hour to walk around the terminal and back. I eventually settled on a bar and had 3 pulled pork sliders with their own BBQ sauce. Delicious meal but the pulled pork was a little dry but with the sauce, livened it up.

My flight left late but we eventually got off the ground. Watched 3 movies and really enjoyed the delicious food Emirates served.

Landed in Dubai at 8:15pm to be greeted by 38°C weather. Fortunately, we step straight off the plane and into the air conditioned airport. The stopover was significantly reduced due to the delayed take-off so had about 50 minutes before having to board again.

After another long flight, another 3 movies, sleep, and more delicious food on Emirates, I’m glad to be home in Perth.

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1 comment to The City That Never Sleeps – New York, USA – 2013

  • Susan

    Hi Shaun, just discovered you’re in NYC tho only read a few lines of your blog. Happy and safe travels on this special hol – Aunty W

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