Recapping what I did and ate in good ole’ NYC. I’d been super looking forward to chilling out and catching up with my peeps back home, because in the last year or so, I didn’t feel much like connecting with anyone anywhere. I was drowning from plot twists that life’s been dishing my way; coping as best I could but seriously getting sick of all the bullshittery.
Reconnecting with the tribe back home and being around peeps who “get” it feels so damn comforting. Besides, it’s the summer! My New York summer of feeling sand in between my toes at Fire Island, stuffing face with lobster rolls, cooling down with hipster ice cream at West Village, indulging in $1 oyster happy hours, and enjoying kickass food without losing a limb. Nobody’s got time for melodrama, yo! Happy times all around.
Oh, Eddie Huang. Yep, I read the book, watched the telly series, love both. Can def relate to being an immigrant Asian kid in America, especially the journey of navigating two sets of cultural backdrops and establishing your own identity. Totally behind the concept of crossing over cultural boundaries through food.
Chairman Bao: Braised all natural Berkshire pork belly served with Haus Relish, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, and cilantro. US$4.05 | Baohaus Full Menu
It is just a gua bao 刮包 – and it’s been served in New York forever before Eddie burst into the scene so what’s the big deal? Back in the early nineties, I used to (and could only) get this from Lin’s Taiwanese in Elmhurst; it was one of the cheapest items on the menu, described as Taiwanese burger. But today, it’s more than just a gua bao. This melt-in-your-mouth slab of tender pork belly, lacquered with rock sugar then dusted with crushed peanuts and chopped sour mustard, sandwiched by a cloud-like steamed bun has kicked down the front door of cultural barriers, thanks to Eddie. There were about a dozen people in the tiny hole-in-the-wall Baohaus when I went and I noticed I was the only Asian there.
After checking out in person what the hype of Baohaus is all about, I’ve reached a conclusion. Simple idea + timing + business savvy + big personality = this boat has docked, son. Walking crosstown on 14th street one afternoon, I even spotted a deli with over a dozen bao varieties on the menu. Looks like bao-s aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m excited about the prospects of bao 2.0, there are so many fun ideas that can be spun off this.
The Seafood Place at Chelsea Market
1.5 lbs whole Maine lobster, succulent and perfectly steamed, US$25.95 only. Hells yeah!
I was overzealous and my bird stomach got stuffed from the lobster, so I had to forego the raw uni in shell which was the actual reason for going to The Seafood Place inside Chelsea Market in the first place! Tsk.
I swore I would return in a couple days for it, which I did that weekend. Turned out it was sold out by the time I went around lunch. Damnitz! Went back again a couple days later, this was the third trip, but didn’t see any sea urchin shells anywhere on the ice bed. So I asked the staff, who told me that they don’t serve uni on Mondays and Tuesdays. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuug. A couple of days went by and this time, I called prior to trekking to Chelsea Market for the fourth time to make bloody sure it wasn’t going to be a wasted trip.
Finally I had my raw uni and interestingly the only other people standing at the counter next to me slurping raw uni too were Asian tourists. Not surprised since the uni here cost only US$16.95! Other tourists, aka white folks, were walking behind us and I could hear audible gasps as they had never seen uni before.
Uni is admittedly an acquired taste and there was a time when I found it to be too funky so I didn’t touch any at all (WTH right!?). But it was the raw uni I had in Chelsea Market circa Nov ’13 with my mom and sis which got me turned on to this strange glob of ocean delicacy with an ugly disgusting exterior.
Given that I made four friggin’ trips to Chelsea Market just to have this, I contemplated getting more than one but sadly, that day’s stock wasn’t as sweet as the first time I had it so I went for a dozen of Little Neck clams instead. I love raw clams, more than raw oysters in fact. So cheap, only 75¢ a pop. Clams are super low-calorie, aren’t they? Dangit, should’ve gotten at least a dozen.
While we’re still on a seafood roll, THE lobster roll to have in NYC would be from Luke’s Lobster. So one afternoon, my friend and I went to the kiosk inside Plaza Food Hall for it. I wish I would be raving about it, but to my disappointment I found the lobster roll served at the Lower East Side to be much tastier. Something in the seasoning was off here and it wasn’t as kickass as I remembered (and expected) it to be. :| Catching up with my friend was great though.
During one of my previous trips to NYC with my sis, we stumbled upon a tiny seafood-market-cum-restaurant-and-bar by Midtown and ended up treating ourselves to a yummy seafood meal that was exceptionally fresh and affordable. I was hankering for some raw oysters since everyone’s been telling me about $1 oyster happy hour (summertime love!) offered in a bunch places, and I happily found out Wild Edibles does too. I really liked the Pan Roasted Whole Branzini with Arugula on the menu. I had it last time and wanted it again as a no-carb light summer meal, so off I went.
Ended up with a half dozen raw oysters as well. Happy hour indeed.
Xe May Sandwich Shop
I feel so damn lucky and grateful to have lived for so long in New York, where there’s a diverse offering of Asian food that’s affordable, tasty, and accessible. Even though I spend a lot of time in Singapore now and jetting around the region checking out local eats, I still find myself back to having Asian food even back on American soil for comfort.
Vietnamese food is one of my faves and a quick search for banh mi yielded over a dozen shops that have opened up outside of Chinatown, where the classic old skool ones can be found. Decided to check out Xe May because of the interesting menu – oooh, Grilled Beefsteak with Pineapple Chutney! Coconut Curry Lamb! I didn’t read the board carefully when I placed my order for a Super Cub Classic; would’ve liked to have whole wheat baguette instead of regular.
Verdict: Suuuuuuper crispy dry bread and I wonder if this is deliberate or overly toasted by mistake? After having half, I felt the roof of my mouth starting to get cut from the abrasion, so I ended up cracking the other half open and picking at the fillings. Love the crunchy pickled carrots and radish! The head cheese disappointed me, as I was expecting it to be slathered all over the base of my banh mi and served as the flavor anchor but no, this banh mi tasted kinda plain.
Saigon Banh Mi So 1
Dissatisfied, I went to the banh mi store that I always frequent by default, at the edge of Chinatown. This no-frills tiny shop has been around for years and I always get #1/House Special. The House Special banh mi is packed with Nem Nuong – grilled minced pork that’s sweet like char siu while sporting a texture very much crumbled bacon bits. It’s so good that I don’t miss getting paté in this. I like paté in my banh mi, but that’d be a different sandwich on the menu.
In all the years I’ve frequented this shop, I’d never looked carefully at the menu because I always get the same item every time. But hm… Sardines! Curry Chicken! Wonder what those are like. Next time I want to pay extra and request for a combination of #1 and #5.
IMO all banh mi baguettes should be soft enough to bite, sturdy enough to contain all the yummy fillings inside, and toasted just right for the crust to give off a crunch when you bite into it. That’s how I remember Saigon banh mi-s are, both here at this store and when I had it in the actual city in Vietnam.
But jeezuz, banh mi in Chinatown used to be $2.95 then $3.50. Now it’s $5 to $7, soon it’s going to be $10 a pop for a sandwich. -__-
When another friend suggested we spend the day at Fire Island and laze by the beach, I readily agreed because I’d never been there before and for good reason too. Namely, coz no motor vehicles (yes, including cars) are not allowed on the island and getting there is a bitch. Let’s see, from Manhattan we took the LIRR train from Penn Station to Jamaica where we transferred to another train, then we got off at Long Island somewhere to hop into a shuttle bus before catching a ferry across. After arriving at Fire Island, there’s quite a stretch of walking before reaching the beach and shoreline too.
I was told there’s three section of Fire Island: the gay section, the nudist section, and the PG-13 section. Right, we went to the boring-est section.
Got up early and left the apartment at 8am to catch train/shuttle/ferry in order to arrive at beach by noon.
In recent years I shied away from the beach coz seriously who’s in the mood to bake when it is humid and sunny every darn day? I used to love going to the beach whenever summer arrives. I guess this is why I miss the four seasons, summer activities feel that much more special after months of cold winter. It was a very warm day, sun was beating down pretty strong too. Coz I’m trying to avoid getting tanned, I spent the entire time cloaked in SPF and hiding under a sunbrella, but I still ended up two shades darker – argh!
It was a super relaxing day and whether it was from the sun and/or all that commuting, by the time we got back into the city I pretty much zonked out.
Comfy studio with private balcony in an elevator building, Midtown East. I don’t think people visiting NYC realize this, but it’s literally a drag to be carrying bulky suitcases up and down a walkup building (the configuration of a lot of apartment buildings in Manhattan!). I am not a light traveler whenever I fly back to the US, so it’s imperative for me to stay in an elevator building. Those suitcases would only get heavier as the days went by. :X
Use my discount code when you’re booking with Airbnb and save $29. This one’s a studio but definitely spacious and comfortable for me. It’s situated on a quiet tree-lined street off 2nd Ave which was good and because this was summer, air-conditioning definitely helped.
Uhm… temporarily stuffing my shopping bags into the closet for now.
When friends were asking me how I feel about being back in the city, I had to say the first few days I was really feeling very out of sorts. Definitely from being away for too long.
I used to be one of those impatient Noo Yawkers who’d audibly tsk-ed at people taking their sweet-ass time walking in front of me, for no other reason than they were being an obstruction and slowing me down. I’ve got a power stride whenever I’m zipping criss-cross back and forth the streets and avenues eastbound, westbound, towards uptown and downtown. But I notice that it has reduced gusto compared to before, and I’m rather content with not having to rush anywhere. I walked a lot anyway since the weather was pleasant for that. So much walking that I had sore glutes by the second night, which was oddly gratifying. I no longer felt guilty for not working out all year. :x