Monday, May 25, 2015

NYC Trip 2015 - Day 3: Flushing, Sushi Yasuda, and Spot Dessert Bar

Day 3 of our amazing New York City adventure, April 28, 2015, started with our emergence from another peaceful and restful night at the Hilton Garden Inn Midtown East around 10am.  We hopped on the E train, transferred to the 7 train until we got to the last and final stop:  Flushing, Queens.  Travel from the hotel room to emergence on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing took about 45 minutes, our farthest excursion from Manhattan.  Flushing, near Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street, is another Chinatown, Wikipedia describes it as "one of the largest and fastest growing ethnic Chinese enclaves outside of Asia, as well as within New York City itself."  We ventured there to experience the culture, and of course eat good food. We made our way to Main Street and walked towards the Golden Shopping Center.  The basement of this shopping center is our destination; it houses a food court of sorts that, so we have read, is a gastronomical gold mine.

Main Street, Flushing, Queens
 We enjoyed strolling through various markets along Main street.  So much fresh produce, meat, and seafood! Wouldn't know what to do with myself if I had this much fresh food at my disposal...

Restaurant window, steamed squid for sale

Basement food court in the Golden Shopping Center - We ordered the lamb and squash dumplings at the Tianjin Homemade Dumpling stall, pictured below with the blue awning.

Lamb and squash dumplings
Seating was at a premium, and it was not clear to me that seating was not a free for all like the typical shopping mall food courts I'm accustomed too.  I originally sat down in the area in the photo below, just across from where we just bought our food.  Very quickly, a nice young lady from another vendor informed me that I did not purchase food from her restaurant, therefore could not sit there.  I hadn't even noticed seating at the Tianjin Dumpling stall, but quickly found it as to not get kicked out of the entire food court.  Scroll back up to the photo, do you see the little red counter and stool? Typical seating in the Golden Shopping Mall Food Court (not exactly roomie).  Really though, it was a fun adventure, with great food.  Zac ventured off to get a bubble tea, and came back with a Chinese savory crepe from another vendor. That crepe, oh man. Delicious!  Never had anything like it before.  Golden Shopping Mall = very good eats, and a destination for any NYC resident or vacationer!

Main Street, Flushing

Main Street, Flushing
 Next stop - dessert!  Zac ordered a sesame bun of some sort, and I got the green tea sponge cake.  Oh, and of course more bubble tea.

Dessert destination
 We stopped in more markets and were fascinated with all the seafood.  We saw geoduck!

Geoduck in center of photo, white shell.  Razor clams to the right. 

On our way back to the subway station we stopped at a large shopping mall at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street.  I got a back massage (wonderful!) and Zac rested while eating a very spicy noodle dish. I can only guess it was spicy based on all the peppers on the top!

After leaving the Flushing Chinatown area, we went to visit Flushing Meadows.  Only 1 stop away on the 7 train, headed back towards Manhattan - We got off at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park stop.  We had another day of perfect weather!  Wandered around the park, visited the tennis facility, then back to Manhattan!  

Our evening plans consisted of dinner reservations at 8pm at Sushi Yasuda, just a short walk from our hotel.  Our hotel was on 52nd between 2nd and 3rd avenues, close to 3rd avenue.   Sushi Yasuda is on 43rd, also between 2nd and 3rd avenues, so not far of a walk at all.  We left a bit early to have plenty of time to meander around midtown on our way south.  I will take this opportunity to express my obsession with the buildings of NYC.  Maybe it is the engineer in me, who knows, but I could not get enough of just looking at interesting buildings, particularly the landmarks.  One of my absolute favorite things about walking around was seeing the expected and unexpected, such as looking left vs right down a street and seeing things like the photo below!  We walked west on 52nd, crossed Lexington, over to Park Avenue.  This is a view of the Chrysler building while crossing Lex. Stunning! 

Once at Park Avenue, we turned south and walked several blocks past this very interesting and old church. I also enjoyed looking at the building at the end of Park, where it zig zags around the Met Life building and Grand Central. I do not know the name of this building, but it is beautiful (even more so at night!).

At 47th we turned back east, then south on 3rd avenue, nearing our destination.  On our right at 46th street Zac sees this giant blown up rat, and the awning for Sparks Steak House.  Another very fun thing about our trip - Zac knows everything about everything.  I would see this and think, how odd, a giant rat, but he sees the restaurant, understanding the significance in the mob history of NYC. Right out in front of this restaurant, by that Lincoln town car, a major Gambino crime family hit went down in 1985. Crazy! I would go into details, but just go to Wikipedia and you will then know all that I know.  Oh, back to the giant rat - some of the staff was on strike, this is to draw attention to their strike, I can only guess!

Have I mentioned my obsession with the Chrysler building?   Plus that sky, just beautiful.  Can't say too many times that the weather on our trip was perfect!

We've worked up an appetite by now, and arrive at Sushi Yasuda at 7:45pm.  We don't have to wait long for our 8pm table.  The restaurant interior was quite nice, lots of wood everywhere, fresh and clean looking.  They were undergoing some sort of renovation at the time, but I would have never noticed had we not had to go in a different entrance.  We opted for the Omakase menu, meaning "selected by the chef."  We are by no means sushi experts, but have had our fair share while traveling and locally.  I could positively tell that what we were eating at Sushi Yasuda was on a completely different level - the freshness, presentation, taste, and buttery melt in your mouth quality to the fish; all of these contributed to what was an amazing dining experience!   And so it begins.....

Soft Shell Crab

Another photo of the soft shell crab

Cucumber and seaweed appetizer

Cooked fish appetizer with fish cake flower

Sashimi platter

Sushi platter (we ate a few before remembering to take a photo :)

We alternated seats half way through so we could both watch the sushi chefs at work

Sushi assortment, Top = Sea urchin, Bottom = oyster

Sushi assortment - eel two ways
No dessert at Sushi Yasuda (we have bigger plans on that front!).  I was slightly worried the meal at Sushi Yasuda would not be filling enough, but those worries were unfounded.  We both left quite satisfied, and really too full for dessert.  But hey, we were on vacation, and there is always more room for dessert!  We take our time and spend more time exploring the area, end up at Grand Central, visited the terminal before catching our train.  What a beautiful building!

Our sights are set on Spot Dessert Bar on St Marks Place in the East Village. We hop on the 6 train down to Astor Place, then take a short stroll over to St. Marks Place.   We discover Spot Dessert Bar on several "best of" lists including best dessert in the city, notably their green tea lava cake. While walking down St Marks we first stumble across what we think is the restaurant, a small narrow store with cases full of sweet treats, all of which I want to devour at once.  The nice young man at the counter realizes we are not regulars and lets us know this is there "to go" location, the sit down service restaurant is a few doors down.  So on we walk.

Spot's To Go location

So many tasty treats! 

Can you tell we are having fun? 
We order three items to get a good sampling, including their #1 seller, the Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake.  It's a warm dark chocolate cake with green tea ganache, green tea ice cream, and walnut soil. My first reaction is that it's too beautiful to eat! Then I realize how crazy that is and dig in.

It was even better tasting then it looks!
2nd up was the Golden Toast - It's like a deconstructed strawberry shortcake.  Very good!!

Third up, and lastly, we ordered the Yuzu Eskimo.  I can't recall if I'd ever had Yuzu before, but am now a huge fan! Quite refreshing and a good contrast to the richer chocolaty dish.  This dessert consists of frozen Japanese citrus creme bar, fresh strawberries, chocolate pearls and the Yuzu sorbet/creamy element.

We only discovered Spot Dessert Bar that afternoon when researching possible dessert options, and boy are we glad we found it. The entire experience from the presentation, to taste, service, atmosphere, everything was perfect.   It was an very nice and unexpected addition to our gastronomical adventure! Would recommend to anyone traveling to NYC.  

And that concludes our 3rd day in NYC! Stay tuned for Day 4, Wednesday April 29th, which includes Katz's, Russ and Daughter's, Chelsea neighborhood, Brooklyn, and Peter Luger's Steakhouse! 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

NYC Trip 2015 - Day 2: Momofuku Noodle Bar and Babbo

Monday, April 27, 2015 - Day two of our New York City getaway!   If you missed Day 1, check out my post here.  We ate at Thomas Keller's Per Se, need I say more?

I should have started the last post on Day 1 with the picture below. Zac saw this at the Chelsea Market (stay tuned for Day 4!), thought the sign below was perfect.  Treat Yo Self.  Pretty much summarizes the theme of our trip!

Day 2 was a Monday, so we headed down to the Union Square Greenmarket to start our day.  The Greenmarket is one of many farmer's markets throughout the city.  Have I mentioned how beautiful the weather was our entire trip? Plus everything was in bloom!  

Union Square

Union Square Greenmarket

The largest carrots I've ever seen

I'd love to have this kind of selection at my fingertips!
We had a light breakfast at the Greenmarket, some juice and fruit. Very tempting to buy more, but we had to save room for what we had planned in the near future....

Could not leave Union Square without taking a quick look at Tamany Hall on the NE corner:

Next stop was the East Village, just a couple blocks away from Union Square.  We started on St. Marks Place and wandered East.  What do we see but a Papaya King! We stopped for a small snack and shared a couple of hot dogs (yes, a couple of hot dogs can be a small snack). 
My mouth is full of hot dog

On the way we passed by some interesting shops and had to stop. First was Forbidden Planet, a comic book store on Broadway SE of Union Square. We also stopped in The Strand bookstore down the block to peruse the rare books on the 3rd floor. 

A costume store that takes up what seems like half a block? Yes, we must stop. 
I am quite impressed with this Batman costume
Along St Mark Place, while eating our hot dogs and waiting for Trash and Vaudeville across the street to open, who do we see? Helen Mirren walking down the street! She seemed to be exercising, and I abstained from accosting her.  St Marks Place was a very neat street, we went into Trash and Vaudeville and Search and Destroy, both punk rock vintage clothing stores.  The Ramones used to shop at Trash and Vaudeville, so we had to go in!

Ok, now to what you really want to hear about, food food and more food.  We made our way over to Momofuku Noodle Bar, located in the East Village.  (Hence our visit to the East Village).

Brisket Pork Buns - as good as they look!
Smoked Chicken Wings

Momofuku Ramen bowls 

Empty Momofuku Ramen bowls
Momofuku Noodle Bar was nominated for Best Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, not just for the Northeast but for the entire US.  There is a good reason for this.  It is freaking amazing.  I'm talking you need to leave whatever you are doing, get to NYC, go to East Village, and eat there. The broth is something like we've never had, the buns exceeded expectations as well, and the wings were icing on the cake.  We realized we probably should have shared a bowl after eating those appetizers, but hey, you only live one, and as you can see we cleaned our plates anyway.  

I was worn out after this meal and exploration of Union Square and East Village neighborhoods, so yours truly headed back to the hotel post haste to rest.  This was my first big test for my back, and so far so good, but lets not push it I say.  Zac walked back and ran into Chuck Shumer!  There is a story there, but I'll let you ask him.  They are best friends now. 

Post afternoon siesta - Evening of Day 2, April 27th :

Our plans for the evening centered around ending up at Mario Batali's Babbo at 8pm. Babbo is located in Greenwich Village.  Neither Zac or I have spent much if any time in Greenwich Village, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to browse and see the main sites, Bleeker Street, MacDougal Street, Cafe Wha?, Comedy Cellar, and any other surprises along the way.  

our first good view of the Freedom Tower

MacDougal Street

 Bob Dylan's first NY show was here

Inside Cafe Reggio - JFK gave a speech from here. They also claim this machine made the first cappuccino in the US, not sure about that

MacDougal street looking South
One of the coolest things about our trip was all the unexpected moments.  So there we were.....(Zac loves stories that start that way) walking down MacDougal street in the hub of Greenwich Village. I look up and what do I see? The Empire State Building!  I turn around to take in the area more, and look! there is the Freedom Tower!  So from that one block anyone has the perfect view of two NY landmarks.  Wow.  I was impressed as you can tell. 

It's nearing 8pm by now, and we are hungry. Off to Babbo!  Babbo is just off Washington square on a very quaint and quiet street.   Once we stepped in side we were right in the middle of a very bustling and happening place!  Was not expecting ACDC greatest hits album to be playing in the background while we were eating, that's for sure!  

Complimentary appetizer of crostini with a chickpea salad
We did a full meal with each ordering Antipasti, Secondi, and Primi courses.  Passed on the dessert, you'll see why soon!

Antipasti #1 - Marinated Fresh Sardines with Caramelized Fennel and Lobster Oil

Antipasti #2 (mine!) - Grilled octopus with 'Borlotti Marinati" and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette
My personal favorite among our Antipasti was the octopus, but I LOVE grilled octopus.  At least the first and only other time I've had it, which was at The Optimist in Atlanta, GA, chronicled here.

Primi #1 - Sweet Potato Lune with Sage and Amaretti

Primi #2 - Chianti Stained Pappqadelle with Wild Boar Ragu

Secondi #1 - Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads with Sweet and Sour Onions, Duck Bacon, and Membrillo Vinaigrette

Secondi #2 - Rabbit with Sweat Peas, home-made pancetta, and carrot vinaigrette

Overall a very nice meal at Babbo, no Mario Battali sightings, but didn't expect it.  

We skipped dessert at Babbo because we had ice cream on the brain, Big Gay Ice Cream that is! One of the two locations of the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop is just a couple of blocks from Babbo further West from Washington Square. 

A display of some sort of "what do to do if you or someone around you is choking" poster was displayed at many of the establishments we visited.  None was quite as memorable at this one!  The other quite noticeable unique aspect of the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop is the fascination with all things The Golden Girls.  Someone is definitely a fan.

We ordered a salted caramel variety of the vanilla dipped cone to share.  Should have ordered one each!   This location is very close to several subway lines, so if you are in NYC be sure to stop in a get a cone!  The ice cream was fluffy yet creamy, not too sweet with just enough vanilla.  In other words, perfect! 

And that concludes Day 2 of our trip.  We could have ended it there and called it a huge success! Stay tuned for Day 3 - Exploring Flushing, dinner at Sushi Yasuda, and The Spot!