New York 2016 (Part 2)

old-brooklyn-bagel-shoppeSaturday brought with it colder temperatures. While such chill might have called for a warmer meal, we decided to begin our day with a traditional N.Y. bagel. Courtesy the recommendation of family friend Kathryn, we stopped at the Old Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe.

Suffice to say, I was not expecting to have the best bagel of my adult life.

It’s difficult to explain exactly why the bread was so good. It was soft, but it also had a kind of heartiness that is difficult to replicate even among master bakers. But when I inquired, I was told it was just a regular New York bagel.

“It’s something about the water,” Cassie said.

I got curious enough to take a quick look around about the secret. According to an article from NPR, the calcium and magnesium in the water is a factor, but the primary reason they’re so good is by boiling the bagel before baking it in the oven. I have doubts however. The quality of these bagels would decimate rival businesses in the south. And although I’ve witnessed the bakers at Einstein Brother’s in D.C. boiling their bagels in a large vat, they still weren’t nearly as good as this.

A change in manufacturing techniques is easy enough to apply. Shipping large quantities of hard water akin to that of New York? Not so much. Geography and economics, man. There’s a reason you don’t grow bananas in the north.

Another subway trip sent us over the East River and into Manhattan. My words, the ones I did not know at the time would initiate this trip, were how much I’ve always wanted to see the city during Christmas. And although I desire to tour more of Brooklyn and the Bronx someday, Manhattan was undoubtedly the place to be for the seasonal festivities.

The nearby department stores held arrays of knick knacks and household items that were oddly unique compared to the wares in Washington. We wandered not one but two separate market spaces, where holiday gifts were acquired and sights beheld. During a search for a restroom, I accidentally blundered into Eataly (pictured above on the right), a vast space of Italian restaurants and stores, where we procured specialty olive oils and salts as presents for the people in our life who usually have everything.

When we returned to the streets, a thought crossed my mind. I couldn’t help but ponder what condition the soil and earth was like, far below the many layers of of cement and asphalt. I don’t know why I considered this. Perhaps it was simply from looking at Manhattan both on a map and the street. While the district is technically an island, the city has developed over the northern bodies of water that make it so. Thus the metropolis itself could be considered a peninsula, while the topographic location is not.

I pondered the economic realities of this. The cost of living here, the price paid for every truck delivering food, medical supplies, clothing. The infrastructure for providing potable water, fuel, electricity and high-speed cable. The every day needs of approximately 1,626,000 people. People divorced from the simple mundanities of grass, hills and fields. Far from forests and greenery, mountains and deserts. And employment. How could they all possibly find jobs here? Could there truly be that many opportunities in this jungle of concrete and steel? With so many occupations being automated more and more often, it seemed… unfathomable.

This line of thought was lost over a later lunch at 5 Napkin Burger on 9th. Cassie had dined at the restaurant some years ago, and since then it has expanded to the cusp of becoming a full chain, with four locations across New York and a fifth in Boston. Sitting down I could see why. The burgers were thick and the ingredients (gruyere and french onions) savory and memorable, satisfying in the way only a fine hamburger can. The service was lightning fast too, a relief for Cassie who was eager to secure our seats at the Westside Theatre.

Seats to see Othello: The Remix, the highlight of the day. If not the entire trip.

Now I freely admit that I’ve never read the tale of Othello, though I did have a basic understanding of its premise. That and the fact it had long given us the phrase, “the beast with two backs.” But the performance dazzled and entertained. The eponymous role was handled by Postell Pringle while Jackson Doran flipped between Cassio and Emilia, all to beats provided by DJ Supernova. And the Q Brothers, who wore many hats as directors, writers and performers; GQ juggling between Rodrigo, Loco Vito and Bianca, while JQ brilliantly portrayed main antagonist Iago.

othello-remixThe timelessness of Shakespeare’s work stems from utterly human themes. You could dial the setting to any time and place and still find the story as meaningful as the day it was written. In this case, Othello is the star of his day: a DJ who rose in the music scene to become the golden man of his record label. But the recruitment of his new best man Cassio enrages front man Iago. And when Othello meets, falls in love and marries off-stage Desdemona, Iago turns his jealousy into an arsenal of lies to undo all Othello has made.

Although the tale is a tragedy, we found ourselves laughing hard and often at the gentle and natural humor. Each performer handled some pinnacle virtue on the stage: if Pringle was the soul and JQ the brains, then Doran and GQ were the humorous heart and swift hands that held the performance high. I could see Disney someday trying to poach this, especially Iago’s villainous musical number which, just like the greatest Disney films, was the best of the performance.

Now when life hits, it hits hardest following triumphs, when we’re on a pillar to knock down. Following the play we ventured to Starbucks for some coffee. And soon after, I realized my wallet was gone.

In all my years, I have been very careful not to lose something so important. And the optimistic half of me, the part that still has faith in humanity, refuses to say it was stolen. Regardless, I took the most prudent measures. After backtracking and confirming we couldn’t find it, I cancelled the credit cards, ordered new ones and had a warning put out. I tried to file a police report on the phone about my license but it proved to be a real pain: you have to go into the precinct station of which the property was lost to fill out a report.

A little research revealed that a lost driver’s license can cause interesting problems. While my credit was fairly secured, the real problem happens if someone presents my driver’s license in case of a ticket or accident. The damages go to my name and the problems compound if ignored. Other than that, the more likely possibility is that some 16 year old is probably making bank buying and reselling liquor to his friends with my ID. If so then kudos to you, you little bastard/entrepreneur.

Anyway, I had done all I could at the time. Back to our travels.

It was getting dark, and was the prime time to go tour the Christmas decorations. Macy’s and other such department stores create wonderful displays in their windows and showcases each year. Although my mood was soured by my misfortune, it was hard not to be moved by the sights. The picture of the mannequin above drew my eye because of its whimsical and creative nature, some mix of innovative madness that I’d expect from Stanley Kubrick in his prime.

I must admit that I lacked foresight regarding one tiny detail of our trip. Perhaps it was all the holiday movies over the years, confusing my sense of how the world really works, but Manhattan’s sidewalks and streets are never so barren and without people. Least of all during what maybe the pinnacle tourist season, and we found ourselves struggling through hundreds of warm bodies just to get a meaningful glimpse of the Rockefeller Center.

treeBut… we succeeded.

We carefully passed the masses, surprised by the number of parents who bothered to bring babies in strollers. But the people there were good-natured and patient, taking moments to gather photos of themselves and loved ones, and then politely moving to allow others to do the same. Or even taking the pictures for them. Below us, crowds whisked across the ice, and we knew better than to entertain the three hour wait to go skating ourselves.

Some clever use of the tunnels allowed us to bypass bustling crosswalks. As we briefly went underground, I quietly wondered just how vertical New York would become in the coming decades. If entire underground plazas would someday be constructed under the surface, making way for more and more people at the cost of sunlight.

I suspect concerns for security would stop such a possibility. If architecture is an enduring physical manifestation of culture, there are those who would turn it against us.

Our final meal for the night was at Oiji in East Village. We managed to sit down earlier than our reservation and pondered the menu for a while. Most of my prior experiences with Korean dishes tended towards the easier lunch affair, especially my favorite: daeji bulgogi, a spicy pulled pork. I would describe Korean food as something between Chinese and Japanese in its main ingredients, but with spice combinations that tend to appeal more to the typical American palette. It can be hot, and many have underestimated the flare of kimchi.

But there’s a lot of familiar flavors under the surface of their dishes.

We began with smoked mackerel and a plate of their signature honey butter chips. The fish was good if a little strong on the nose with the flavors of the sea. I do not normally eat white fish, and dining upon it made me hunger from something tropical and red, such mahi-mahi or ahi tuna. The chips (yes, potato chips) were sweet and I found myself wishing we heeded our waiter and eaten it as a dessert.

We ordered the friend chicken with spicy soy vinaigrette, the jang-jo-rim with buttered rice and a soft boiled egg, and handmade dumplings in white beef broth. With each dish, we found a strange tendency to prefer not the main ingredient, such as the portions of meat, but rather the secondary components. The vinaigrette was more the highlight than the chicken. The buttered rice surpassed the jang-jo-rim’s beef. And while the large dumplings were good it was the broth itself that was great, whose secret ingredient was actually a hint of mussels. I pondered what the chef could do with a vegetarian or pescetarian menu.

As we had one more day ahead of us with a good friend of mine, we decided to call it a night and rest our exhausted feet. Tune in on Monday for the last part.

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New York 2016 (Part 1)

Disclaimer: The cityscape pictures are primarily of Manhattan, but are cataloged here as the primary focus is on New York as a whole.  

Until today, I’ve never really talked about my travels. A few drafts were scratched together over the years but stopped each time, due to some notion of it being too much about me. My blogging ethos has tended towards impartiality or “my professional writing life.” But there was an author, whom I will not name, that once said that confessing to being a professional writer scarcely impresses people.

And he was, and is, right. So today, I digress.

new-york

Last Friday we took the train to New York. In terms of raw value, it’s hard to beat a plane because the price is similar and it’s often a couple of hours faster. Still whatever time saved flying is lost going through security, baggage claims and then traveling to the city itself (airports tend to be arm’s distance from any metropolis), while the train deposits you near where you need to be. If the difference is an hour in comfort, then so be it.

The essence of luxury is waste.

Not to mention a plane’s turbulence can be quite jarring; my trip to Miami last year left me one shaken martini. But we smoothly glided into Penn Station shortly after I finished my book (Steel Victory by J.L. Gribble). From there we took the subway heading east, to Franklin Avenue.

One should never judge a city’s public transit, good or ill, based on a weekend experience with its subway. But the service then was good, especially compared to the faded glory of Washington D.C.’s metro system. Tickets were a flat fee of either $2.75 if you purchased a reusable one, or $3 for a single use. The trains’ range was expansive, a web connecting Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx with Manhattan as the primary center point. Despite what Google Maps suggests, it is quite possible to change trains while remaining inside the system (saving you the cost of another ticket).

Fulton Street, the strip nearest our Airbnb, was an eclectic mix of fast food joints, stores and pharmacy chains mingled with local businesses who satisfied any other needs corporations generally do not. We passed street-side vendors trying to sell scarves and pass out literature regarding Islamic faith.

From there we walked west, and I tried to make rhyme or reason of the various city blocks. While the streets took advantage of the grid system, there was little obvious central planning when it came to the various restaurants and businesses. Sometimes we’d pass roads packed with townhouses, sometimes we’d come across a few restaurants and bars at the foot of apartment buildings. As I grew hungrier, it became difficult to try and decide on a place with some meaningful New York appeal.

img_7805It was then we came across Ogliastro Pizza Bar on Washington Avenue. The insides were ritzy and attractive. The Brussels sprout salad was flavorful although I would have appreciated the sprouts slightly charred to impart some bitterness. But we were quite impressed with Coppa pizza: tomato sauce with fior di latte (a type of mozzarella), artichokes that were more mild, red onion slices that were lightly cooked to maintain their pungent aroma. The crowning discovery of capocollo, an improved twist on prosciutto that did not dry out in the oven.

From there, we briefly toured the northern part of Prospect Park before venturing north to handle a little shopping. We toured various shops where I found myself amused by the displays of Hannukah cards, an uncommon novelty in D.C. We sought gifts for a newborn niece in Australia. We sampled delectable chocolates at Cocoa Bar before heading in the direction of our dinner reservation.

With an hour to kill, we stopped by Soda Bar in Brooklyn, and I felt more of the spirit of D.C.’s night life there. There was a whiff of claustrophobia, chalk board signs, holiday decorations… the familiarity was palpable. If I ever found myself a resident of Brooklyn, it would be my watering hole.

As we walked to dinner, I found myself appreciating some Neoyorquinos’ philosophies on life, starting with their preparations for the winter. Being seated near the door was seldom an inconvenience thanks to glass patios installed before most entrances, thus sheltering those by the exit from windows and chill. And, aside from Soda Bar, the city’s peculiar spaciousness, certainly wider than D.C. at times. It was as though the city had tried living in a sardine can decades ago and finally had enough to do something about it.

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Dinner was at Olmsted, a few doors down from the bar. The inside was elegant and we found ourselves seated at the bar. ordered the lamb porchetta and scallops. From our dishes, I gathered that the restaurant’s culinary philosophy revolved around trying to bring out the flavors of individual ingredients to concoct a fulfilling meal. There are those who would love it; the lamb was certainly fresh and the scallops flavorful with umami. I have personally always preferred a more heterogeneous approach to foods, a desire for ingredient combinations to provide a balance.

But that is a topic of conversation to for the second part, during our time in Manhattan on Saturday… when we toured the city’s Christmas decorations.

Need to Read

Faithless readers, I need your help with book selections.

In little more than a week, I’ll be on a plane to London. I’ve got some planning to finish up on, some travel and lodging arrangements to make that I’ll take care of tonight. But of more interest, the flight will be a good 12 or so hours of reading time, one way. That’s time enough to finish off an entire book or two.

At the moment, I’m four chapters away from completing The Return of the King. A friend of mine was quite surprised that this was the first time I ever had read it and not the dozenth. I have the Black Library’s Fear to Tread to read, but chances are I’ll take a chunk out of that before I ever board the plane. I would prefer to finish it before I leave for that reason, if only to have a fresh book on take off.

I still have Mockingjay and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but my copy of Mockingjay is hardback and would not pack as easily as the latter choice. So I could use a hand in deciding what to read before take off.

So my fellow book cultists, I am open to ideas, suggestions, innuendo and insinuations as to further reading to cultivate my dark and evil mind. It is preferable that the books be of the Black Library persuasion, but any classic literature or modern (and good) pop culture hits will be fine as well.