This was my fourth visit to New York, and every time I go I love it more and more. My eyes welled up in the back of the cab on the way to JFK for our flight home, and that's not just because JFK is a huge ball of rage-inducing queue-mageddon. This time, for the first time, I wasn't leaving a boyfriend behind either. It's hard to describe what it is I love about it so much; the architecture? Probably. The people? Yes. The restaurants? Absolutely.
This time round, we stayed in Williamsburg, right under the bridge. I wouldn't recommend our Air BnB apartment, unless you're fond of cold showers and sleeping in woolly hats and sleeping masks. But Williamsburg is a great place to stay; it's village-y. It has cool coffee shops and nice people. It has GREAT bars. It's easy to get to Manhattan, if you so wish. They freaking love brunch.
We popped into Egg on a weekday, needing sustenance for the day's sightseeing. I couldn't resist organic cheesy grits (stone-ground from South Carolina, apparently) and eggs, with a side of country ham. I'm a huge fan of any corn product. The portion sizes of America caught us off-guard here; I worked my way through piles of country ham (basically ham, fried) and oozing egg yolk, while my friend worked through two hefty sausage patties, and I helped my other friend out with her candied bacon. The eggs are offered any style, and were poached perfectly which, you know, given its' name. We passed by on a weekend and the place was packed, an obvious wait-list in force.
Grits became a slight obsession of mine. We did a very hungover wander around Dumbo in Brooklyn on a freezing but beautifully sunny day, lighting the bridges spectacularly and the warehouses a rich red. The decor in Vinegar Hill House was completely surprising (a theme that ran throughout my restaurant expectations in New York); for some reason I had expected a bright airy room, perhaps light wood and stainless steel. I think it's the website. Instead, it was small, a bit dark and ramshackle, mismatched furniture, tables packed closely together. Trying to remove my very padded and REALLY COOL ski jacket was quite the kerfuffle. The toilet, conversely, is massive. Anyway, sitting down for a 3pm brunch when service finished at 3:30pm obviously really endeared us to the staff. Nevertheless, 'cheddar grits (see?) with braised beef, salsa verde, poached egg and scallion' was a flavour sensation. Smooth, creamy grits topped with shredded, crispy beef was lovely enough, but the salsa verde was tart, spicy and herbaceous; it sorted that richness right the rich out. My friend's biscuits and gravy with bacon was made that bit more with slivers of pickled apple, while eggs benedict was given a makeover with delicate pink smoked trout and wafers of pickled onion. The kitchen looked like a galley in which three people at the most could operate, so it was all the more impressive that they could turn out the food that they did. My only disappointment was that we didn't have time to give the menu a full work out. And the coffee was a bit shit.
Obviously you can't go to New York and not visit Flushing's Chinatown*. A whole hour on the 7 train out to deepest Queens, we were escorted by our new BFF who, as a stranger, suffered through 6 hours of us talking at him on the plane ride from the UK in an effort to stay awake and prevent jetlag. He still agreed to hang out with us after all that. Anyway, after 18 years living in Brooklyn, not even he had been this far out. But these are the things I will do at the promise of a new and exciting Chinatown, like the good Asian kid I was brought up to be. We embarked on a little tour of some dumplings.
Tianjin Dumpling House is not a house. It's not remotely a house. With the aid of Google maps we navigated our way into what seemed like the basement of a department store, also known as Golden Shopping Mall. Everywhere you turned were counters serving noodles, dumplings, and big steamy polystyrene bowls of stews and broths to people bundled up in their winter jackets.
Best North Dumpling was through another door, down another arcade that was damn near closed - perils of visiting on a Sunday night - and this was a slight upgrade in terms of space and room to actually put your belongings down.
Beef and turnip dumplings, served straight from the steamer, again benefited from a splash of vinegar and chilli sauce. The skins were thin, the fillings juicy. We worried that dinner would become difficult, and they gladly packed us up a polystyrene box of leftovers which were promptly demolished after a quick blast in the microwave the following evening, when we rolled in steaming from a night on the absinthe cocktails. Literal life-savers.
We carried on upgrading our surroundings, and we ended the evening in Biang!, the posher outpost of my beloved Xi'an Famous Foods. Swinging filament lightbulbs, cold beer and dark wood tables juxtaposed with the ramshackle stalls we'd been at made it fine dining indeed. Fiddlehead fern salad had to be had, given the rarity of finding that vegetable, and they were dressed in a chilli-heavy oil, cold yet fiesty.
The chicken 'longevity' noodle was one giant noodle, coiled round and topped with a star anise-spiced chicken and vegetables. On the menu it says the chicken comes on the bone, but ours was bone-free - probably a blessing, given the mess I made with just the noodle itself, flapping around. The noodle was made from wheat, and chewy and elastic, satisfying on the teeth.
Cha'ang tofu was slightly disappointing - my last experience at Xi'an Famous Foods was wobbly, hot, bright, salty, sour, sweet, in your face - this seemed dumbed down, though I'm not sure if it was maybe my memory from two years previous that built it up.
Tofu skin, skewered and grilled was served with a lick of spicy, numbing chilli oil. We were quite meat-light on this visit, of which I was a little glad - I was stuffed to the brim by this point. The bill was so reasonable it was laughable.
I loved Flushing. I would live there if I could, which seems converse since most people like to actually live in the town they work in, but hey - I did East Dulwich for 3 years - an hour-long commute is nothing new to me.
We finished our trip with the only pizza we had - at Paulie Gee's. We arrived initially at 6:30pm on a Saturday night - HA! Fools! 2 hour wait! - and slinked off, tail between our legs. We are nothing if not determined though, and returned all eager at 5pm on the day of our departure. Ha! Fools! They open at 6pm. Anyway, I don't have a picture because it is so hilariously dark inside, I can't tell you what my pizza looked like. I can't tell you what Paulie Gee, who pops out for a chat with his customers, looks like. All I can recall accurately was the flavour of a great crust, and a shit-load of kale that came on my Lacinato Red pizza.
Next up - the Manhattan Binge.
*This is a complete lie. Only do this if you are a Chinatown fanatic, as I am.