A culinary tour of NYC, Part III.

Believe it or not, I saved the best for last. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.

Shake Shack — Madison Square Park/Flatiron (multiple locations)

There used to be only one Shake Shack location. I think it was also only open for certain months, and it was so popular that you could easily wait an hour or more in line for its legendary burgers, fries and milkshakes. I attempted that line once or twice, but I just never made it through. Now, there’s a Shake Shake on every corner in NYC. I’ve even heard they’re expanding to locations in London.

At the close of another full day of eating, we ended up at the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The line was short, and there were tables aplenty. Perfect. Except that it was slightly north of freezing — a bit chilly for eating outside. I was quite happy, though, to tuck into a classic cheeseburger with ShackSauce and crinkle-cut french fries doused in this light, creamy cheese sauce. None of that neon-orange, gloopy, chain/stadium-style stuff here. Shake Shack’s selling point is quality — and you can taste it in the freshly ground meat and homemade sauces. My only regret is that it was too cold outside and I didn’t fell well enough to order a milkshake. So, guess I’ll have to go back. Poor me.

After so many years of waiting, I’m glad to report that Shake Shack lived up to the hype. It was dee-licious.

shakeshack

burger

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A culinary tour of NYC, Part II.

My culinary tour of NYC continues. Don’t miss Part I.

Sunday Brunch — Harlem

You’d think that since I’m southern, I would know soul food. And I thought I did, until I went to Sylvia’s in Harlem. It was years ago, but it’s still the best fried chicken and red velvet cake I’ve eaten anywhere, including in any southern state. Sorry to betray my roots with truth. So I was excited to get my Sylvia’s fix again this trip. We attempted Sunday brunch … but here’s the rub. Sylvia’s is so good that it’s in demand. (Read: constantly packed and touristy). On this rainy Sunday morning, we could barely squeeze in the front door. And since we were on a bit of a schedule, that wouldn’t do.

Instead, we walked across the street to Corner Social, which was unknown to us but had a great look and an even better-looking menu. I spotted exactly what I wanted before we even sat down — an item that had long evaded me, even earning a spot on my official culinary bucket list: chicken and waffles. Well, in this case, it was chicken and pancakes. (Close enough.) I find crispy, savory fried chicken over fluffy pancakes drowned in maple syrup a genius combo. It’s sweet and salty. Soft and crispy. The perfect marriage of opposite, yet complementary, flavors and textures.

chicken-pancakes

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A culinary tour of NYC, Part I.

Last October, I was able to sneak away for a weekend in New York City. It was my first trip there in two and a half years, and I went with grand plans for great adventures. I returned excited to tell you all about it. Then a little storm system called Sandy hit. It was heartbreaking, and I just had trouble reconciling the city I know with the devastation I saw on the news. Suddenly, talking about all the fun I had just seemed wrong.

So, rather than chronicling every spare second as I am wont to do, I instead offer a much condensed version of my trip.

During my tenure as a New Yorker, I reveled in the food scene. My friends and I tried out all the top restaurants as soon as we could get a reservation — brunch at Sarabeth’s or Balthazar, dinner at Butter, Pastis, Spice Market, Eleven Madison Park, Aquavit, the Rainbow Room, Gramercy Tavern. (The “hot spots” circa 2005.) Exciting trends in food are usually born in or come to the U.S. through New York first. Within 20 minutes, I could sample a Magnolia cupcake, a Jacques Torres hot chocolate or a Serendipity3 ice cream sundae.

My worst realization, coming a couple of months into building my new life down south, was that the food scene moved on quite easily without me. As I left, Pinkberry was becoming all the rage, as was Momofuku. I tried but never had time to wait in the mile-long line for Shake Shack, and Eataly opened several years later. As time approached for this trip, I had built up quite a list of things and places to eat … my own culinary tour of the city, you could say.

Takahachi — East Village

First stop was this little sushi joint (really, it’s tiny) in the East Village. Takahachi was the first place I ever ate sushi, back in 2000. We just stumbled on it one Sunday afternoon after wandering most of lower Manhattan. That meal was spectacular, and I was hooked (har har.) I ate there again several times, and it never disappointed. Until now. Continue reading

Cooking Spree: Chinese Takeout

For many years I lived in the heart of NYC, where anything you can imagine was delivered straight to my door:  food, groceries, laundry, cupcakes, wine, even prescription medicine. That came in really handy when I had the flu and could order Gatorade, a bagel and some chicken soup from the deli downstairs. You become friendly with your regular delivery folk, in an awkward, overly-familiar kind of way. When the laundry comes back, you try to meet their eyes, smile and thank them at the door while hoping they weren’t the ones folding your clean underwear earlier that day.

In Manhattan, almost all restaurants deliver, and you’ll find a folder crammed full of countless menus in every NYC kitchen. When I didn’t feel like cooking, I reveled in my ability to order takeout from anywhere at anytime. I explored the world’s cuisines from the comfort of my own couch — sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Hawaiian, Greek. Now that I’m back in the suburban South, my options are limited to pizza. Or pizza. Needless to say, I don’t have food delivered anymore.

That’s okay, since I discovered how to make some of my favorite Chinese food at home. I give you sweet & sour chicken with coconut rice and sesame noodles. I won’t claim either to be authentic, but they’ll do for me.
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I ♥ NYC.

When I was 7, my mom won a trip to New York City over Thanksgiving. We stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria (in the smallest room known to man), saw some Broadway shows and ventured out to watch the parade. My parents let me walk in front of them because they said I was good at parting the crowds. I just held my hands out in front of me, clapsed together like a rudder, and weaved through the sea of people. (Hey, I was 7.)

In middle school, my mom, grandmother and I flew up for one-day shopping trips during Christmas season. (My mom scared an elderly Asian lady in Macy’s when she put her arm around her from behind, thinking she was my grandmother. Oh, how we’ve laughed about that over the years.)

When I was in college, my dad and I spent fall break in New York, just walking around the streets and hitting all the tourist sites. We climbed the Statue of Liberty, where I had a heights-related panic attack on the spiral stairs, and took a photo at the top of the World Trade Center (freezing, since it was October). I remember feeling so let down coming back to my dorm room that night after I’d spent the morning walking in Central Park. Keep reading »

I come from a land Down Under.

Ah, Sydney.

I’ve just returned from a weeklong trip on the other side of the world. (Well, I actually returned last week, but the jet lag hit me so hard on Monday that it wasn’t until yesterday, Saturday, that I felt normal again).

C* and I took off for a glorious 24 hours in L.A. full of glitz, glamour, fame and Sprinkles cupcakes. Then we hopped aboard the largest plane I have ever seen (double-decker A-380) for a 15-hour jaunt over open ocean. You can get through anything with enough Xanax and Sauvignon Blanc, I tell you. Truth said, it was an easy flight – we watched movies, ate every three hours and actually slept. Bravo, Qantas!

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