Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Ess A Bagel, New York
One cannot go to New York without eating a bagel – or several. In fact eating a bagel in New York (and everywhere else in the USA) became a daily ritual for us. One of the most famous places to get a bagel in New York is at Ess A Bagel which luckily enough wasn’t too far from our humble abode at the Waldorf Astoria. I’m not too sure how I heard about it but it was on my ‘must do’ list of places to eat at and we were not disappointed despite waiting in line for well over thirty minutes. The line up for the bagels was snaked through the store and out the front door (I had a video but the damn thing won’t upload).
The bagel teams assembling the bagels at the front of the store were like a well oiled machine and there were so many different ingredients to get on your bagel including 18 different flavours of cream cheese with everything from raisin walnut cream cheese to jalapeno cream cheese to chocolate chip cream cheese. The choices of what you could have on your bagel were literally endless, so much so that I found it a little overwhelming. I tend to stick with tradition and can’t go past the Lox (Smoked Salmon as we call it) with Cream Cheese and Capers.Never had I heard of lox before and it took some secret Googling in the line to make sure that it was in fact Smoked Salmon. MS went for the cream cheese with turkey bacon option with extra cheese, another tried and true tradition for him because he’s a fatty. The bagels were so fresh out of the oven they were still steaming when our expert bagel maker Gavin and his buddy Mad Rican cut them open and yet some dumbasses in the customer line still wanted theirs toasted. WTF?! Because American’s love variety with their 18 flavours of cream cheese there are also 14 different types of bagel to choose from at Ess A Bagel. You can get plain, sesame, poppy, salt, onion, garlic, oat bran, cinnamon raisin, 9-grain, pumpernickel, pumpernickel raisin, everything, whole wheat everything and bialy’s (a pastry/bagel type thing). By the time Gavin was done there was that much cream cheese and lox on my bagel that it weighed half a pound! That’s a whole lot of bagel!!!! It was without a doubt the best bagel we had on our trip, and we ate a sh*tload of bagels, much to the dismay of my size 9 jeans that I’m still having trouble fitting into 2 months later. It was warm, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with the perfect blend of lox and cream cheese and you seriously can’t beat a poppy seed bagel. Sadly for us though we went to go back another day and the line was even longer and we had a Broadway show to catch so we couldn’t hang around and I never got to go back for another *insert sad face*. One thing’s for sure though Ess A Bagel will be high on our priority list when we do return to NYC and it should definitely be on yours!
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York
First opened in 2004 Momofuku Noodle Bar was one of the original restaurants on my ever-growing iPhone list of restaurants that I hope to visit in my life time (and yes I know iPhone hasn’t been around that long). Now one of 13 restaurants owned by David Chang, including one in Sydney Momofuku Seibo, Momofuku Noodle Bar is renowned for its signature pork buns and having the best ramen in New York. Forget the ramen – we came for the pork buns. Usually my skills of navigation are on point but this time around I led us in the exact wrong direction of where we wanted to go so we ended hailing a taxi to take us there.
When we arrived there was yet another large line – much to MS’ dismay because he was getting a little fed up with having to line up for food everywhere we went. In my defence all the good places I take him to are usually quite popular hence the hefty line up but I always assure him that it’s worth the wait. For Pete’s sake if he hadn’t met me he would still be eating dinner at Cock N Bull on a regular basis, now he’s dining at trendy restaurants in New York that he knows nothing about and doesn’t care for either ha! I was well aware from reviews that it could take up to an hour to get a seat but I played it down to MS telling him that I read the wait was usually only about 15 minutes – what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Inside the door it was hard to differentiate between exactly who’d had their name taken by the hostess and who was waiting to get their name taken by the hostess. Lucky for me a friendly local (surprisingly the only kind that we met in NY despite their gruff reputation) arrived straight after us and ushered me up to the front of the restaurant with him and within ten minutes MS and I were in!
*Goddammit! Why didn’t I take more photos?!*
We took a seat near the end of a long communal table next to a group of three that were high up in the corporate sector of Starbucks. They had come together in Manhattan from various parts of the USA to inspect a few of the Starbucks stores and make sure things were up to scratch. MS and I ordered our meals and chatted to them about the terrible coffee that we had encountered on our trip so far with the worst of all being at bustling LAX diner LA Roadhouse Route 66 – the food was also terrible. We told them how Starbucks had become a beacon of light and hope on our six day road trip from Columbia, SC to New York City and that it was our ‘go to destination’ for a decent cup of coffee in the USA. Although he worked for Starbucks one of the men of the trio told us to go to Blue Bottle Coffee shop for a decent cup of coffee when we were in San Francisco much to the dislike of the other guy and girl in the group.
I’m 90% sure I saw that kid (now grown man) from Billy Elliot standing inconspicuously in the corner at Momofuku but either no one else recognised him or they are just so conditioned to seeing famous people in New York that no one gives a f*ck. I pride myself on my uncanny ability to pick random D grade celebrities out of a crowd and know exactly what obscure movie they were in back in 1996. Kind of like this one time back in 2007 when I served the kid from the 1st Jurassic Park movie at the Cairns airport. He’s been completely ‘not famous’ since starring in Jurassic Park except for a run with Meryl Streep down the Kootenai in The River Wild and man did he get ugly but I knew exactly who he was from the moment I spotted him. A true talent that I could really go places with I’m sure.The seating conditions at Momofuku are practically elbow to elbow and you have to shout to speak to the person you are dining with but despite how busy the restaurant was the kitchen was absolutely pumping out dishes and our bun entrée took no more than about 10 minutes to arrive. We had ordered two each of the Shitake Buns with Hoisin, Scallion and Cucumber (US$10 each) and two each of the Brisket Buns with Horseradish, Pickled Red Onion and Cucumber (US$12 each). The buns were actually quite filling and the Shitake Buns were a clear winner for both of us. Anything with Hoisin Sauce is normally a winner for me. MS enjoyed them so much that he ordered himself two more (he is a fatty though). Not long after we polished off our buns our bowls of ramen arrived.
Momofuku’s signature ramen is your typical ramen with Pork Belly, Pork Shoulder and a Poached Egg (US$16) but they also have a yummy sounding Chilled Spicy Noodle on the menu with Sichuan Sausage, Spinach and Cashews, only thing is that it was a little too cold out to have chilled noodles. The hearty bowls of pork broth were huge and we struggled to finish them especially since we’d already had entrees. Purported by many to be the best ramen in all of New York City it certainly may well be because we didn’t have any other ramen to compare it to while we were there. The ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar was delicious but, well, not to brag but MS and I were not that long ago eating ramen from some of the best ramen joints in Japan so our tastebuds have been a little spoiled of late. In the end I think I had hyped the place up a little too much in my head but the buns alone were worth walking in the wrong direction for. I just looked at photos of the inside of the restaurant online and I didn’t even recognise it because when we went there were that many people there you couldn’t even make out the walls and furniture. Don’t let that deter you though. If the crowds are anything to go by then even after 11 years as one of the most popular eateries in New York City, Momofuku Noodle Bar has still go it.
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Chelsea Market, New York
We ended up at Chelsea Market on the first afternoon after we arrived in New York from Philadelphia. It had taken us (MS not me) about 2 hours to drive from Philly to our rental car drop off point in the middle of Manhattan. Driving through New York was something that I had been nervous about for weeks leading up to the actual event but MS did an absolutely stellar job. Not only was he met with absolute wall to wall traffic when we arrived in Manhattan after a long drive through the Lincoln Tunnel but he drove straight through tourist mecca Times Square and didn’t even get honked at once in our Corolla with Florida plates. I was so proud, and extremely relieved!Chelsea Market was somewhere that I had penned in to go and was close to the High Line – another famous New York attraction which is a disused railway line that has been turned into a public space. It’s a pretty cool and popular place to walk along but the wind whipping through there was frigin freezing and we were a little unprepared in terms of winter gear so we didn’t stay too long. Chelsea Market is open 7 days a week from 7am till 9pm. Apparently it was known as one of the greatest food halls in the world so I was more than excited to check it out. Despite the accolade of being one of the greatest food halls I found it to be one of the most disappointing food halls I have been to of late. With only 35 food vendors I guess I was expecting a little bit more – that’s not to say that we didn’t eat anything there.
One shop that stuck out to me was a busy place called Beyond Sushi – an all vegan sushi restaurant. Now anyone that pays attention to my blog knows that I couldn’t give a rats a** about whether food is gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo or whatever the hell other food trend is going on these days. All I really care about is that it tastes good and Beyond Sushi more than delivered in the taste department! If there’s one thing Westerner’s know how to do it’s take one of the oldest forms of traditional food and completely destroy it so it has little to no resemblance to traditional sushi. Hey I’m all for tasty delicious sushi but if you have ever been to Japan sushi is a very different affair – they don’t even use avocado!
I ordered a roll of the Spicy Mang with Black Rice, Avocado, Mango, English Cucumber and Spicy Veggie Sauce and the Pickle Me with Six Grain Rice with Gobo, Carrot, Pickled Daikon, Avocado and Carrot and Ginger Sauce. I was blown away by the presentation and also the flavour these little rolls packed. Even better was what I thought was a one off shop in Chelsea Market actually had a couple more shops scattered across New York which MS and I visited a few days later.On our way out we spotted the Cull and Pistol Oyster Bar which looked like a fab place to sip vino and eat a plate of oysters (my favourite thing to do) but alas the wait to get in was well over 45 minutes so we didn’t hang around. Instead MS had a soft shell beef brisket taco from the Los Taco’s No.1 stall which was bustling with people hungry for Mexican food and also managed to squeeze in a Nutella and Strawberry Crepe from Bar Suzette Creperie while I happily ate my non-traditional, super Westernised vegan sushi.
There was a cool bakery called the Fat Witch, a Seafood Market called The Lobster Place that was full of Chinese but seemed a little pricey to me and even an Aussie inspired stall called Tuck Shop which served Australian meat pies, sausage rolls and strangely enough brussel sprouts and kale salads. I don’t know it just seemed like half of the market was either closed or under construction to me. Would I go back to Chelsea Market? Probably not – for the distance we travelled to get there it just seemed a little tired, touristy and lacking of the kind of food we both wanted to eat. If you’re headed to the Meatpacking District then sure, check it out but don’t make it your ultimate dinner destination like we did.
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Philadelphia
Last time I was in Philadelphia was way back in December 2003 and it was the same day that that the USA captured Saddam Hussein. We didn’t stop in Philly for long back in 2003 because it was snowing but I do recall losing the keys to our family’s RV. Lucky for us they weren’t lost in the snow and after a frantic search I ended up finding them in the kitchen sink, phew! This time around MS and I were overnighting in Philadelphia, a decision we later regretted because of Philly is actually a fantastic place to visit! Sadly I had only booked a one night stopover for the sole purpose of breaking up our drive to New York. After spending the afternoon there we realised that Philly wasn’t just A) the home of Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches B) where Rocky famously ran up the stairs and C) the only place other than San Francisco that serves decent coffee. Philadelphia is also quite an up and coming destination in the USA and well worth spending a bit of time to explore!For our one night in Philly I had booked a room on AirBnB at a place which also moonlighted as a yoga studio. The price was good and I am all for staying in places that are just a little bit unique – most of the time. When we arrived our host Valerie gave us a tour of what literally was a yoga studio and informed us that we would have to vacate between 6 and 8pm that evening to make way for her yoga class. In that time she would pack up the air mattress and bed side tables and then return it all to its original place for our return. Yes I know it’s a little random but you seriously couldn’t beat the position of the yoga studio in terms of location – it was literally a 10 minute walk from the Rocky Stairs, fantastic restaurants and the Eastern State Penitentiary (a National Historic Landmark that was no longer in use). The only downside to the yoga studio was a bit of an unpleasant smell that I attributed to her two cats that proceeded to wander in and out until MS locked them out. Also it turns out that sleeping on an air mattress pretty much guarantees you the worst nights sleep of your life! First place we headed after dumping our bags was to the Rocky Stairs where it seems we weren’t the only people attempting to follow in Sylvester Stallone’s footsteps (literally). There was tonnes of tourists there doing exactly this as well as quite a few locals using the stairs for some HIIT. As with most popular landmarks in US cities there was someone at the top offering to take photos of us. l’m not an idiot and I’m also not one to be conned by this type of ‘friendly and helpful’ photographer however I did want some photos of MS and I together for once. When handing him my iPhone I was fully aware that I was going to be asked for some money at the end of it all. What I didn’t know was that he would ask me for US$20. That’s nearly AU$30 to take a few pics with my own camera!!! When he finished and asked for the money I nearly fell down the stairs in shock – You’ve got to be kidding me?! Apparently the had been taking photos at the top of the stairs for nearly 20 years and in the end I gave him US$5 for his terrible photos and he moved onto some unsuspecting Chinese tourists.
Later on that evening, after a few rounds of shadow boxing, we were both feeling pretty hungry andI had carefully researched where to go for the famous Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich in Philadelphia. For those unaware of what a Cheesesteak is (do you live under a rock?!) well it’s a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese, served in a long roll. Despite there being plenty of places claiming to serve ‘the Best Philly Cheesesteak’ in all of Philly I thought it would be fitting to go to the place that started the Philly Cheesesteak movement – or so they say – “Pat’s King of Steaks”. Located in South Philadelphia Pat’s Steaks is directly across the road from rival Philly Cheesesteak restaurant Geno’s Steaks. After navigating the narrow streets and stopping to ask a friendly lolly pop lady just who had right of way at an ALL WAY STOP SIGN meant MS and I were lucky enough to find a park just across the road from the busy eatery.
The man that served us at Pat’s was abrupt and spoke in a thick Jersey accent which I found to be not only amusing but pretty awesome! There’s a sign next to the counter that explains to newcomers like ourselves just how to order the Cheesesteak. As a humorous reference to the Philadelphia accent ordering with the simple words ‘wit’ or ‘wit-out’ means with or without onions so ‘wit’ it. We also added the wiz cheese instead of provolone after a recommendation from a friend of mine who had only a few weeks earlier visited Philly herself.
The wonders of NYC next xox