7 Reasons to Love (or Hate) New York

New York City in the Snow

Maybe it’s because my rose-colored glasses haven’t quite worn off since I moved to the city in May, but I would just like to have it in print: I love New York. Surprisingly, I’ve realized after talking with my friends who are New York natives, that many of the reasons I love New York are the exact same reasons that they hate it. So let me make my case, one point at a time, letting all of my naive optimism just hang out in the open:

  1. Subway commutes. Yes, the 6 Train at rush hour is just about the closest I’ve ever stood to a hundred other strangers. And while I don’t love being able to smell the hair of the person I’m pushed up against, the subways offer a 30 to 45 minute respite from your to-do list. For the entire time you’re underground, all you have to do is read a book or listen to a podcast, plus paying for a monthly metro card is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for car insurance.
  2. Everyone is always in a rush. So many songs and books refer to the hustle of New York, and it’s true, sometimes it can feel like everyone in the city is late for something. While the speed of the city can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when someone pushes you aside as they run to catch their bus, the pace of the city is electric: There is always something going on.
  3. You’re never alone. One of my friends who grew up in L.A. but went to school in the city, pointed out to me that when people in L.A. meet up for a drink, everyone is extremely social because they’ve spent their entire day isolated in a car, but when people in New York meet up for a drink, they’re less likely to be social because they’ve spent their entire day surrounded by other people and could use a break. This may be true, but I love that there are so many opportunities in New York for human interaction. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t have a conversation with the man at my local bodega or share a moment with someone on the subway that makes me smile.
  4. It’s expensive. Okay, obviously the expensive part is sort of a drag, but some of the expensive places are really incredible and worth saving up for. And, there are just as many inexpensive as expensive places — there are so many places to eat, drink, and shop in New York that the price range and value run the gamut; you just need to know where to look. (Let’s just not talk about rent…)
  5. The weather. I often say that I couldn’t live somewhere that doesn’t have four seasons — I love the transition from snowy winters to bright and sunny springs. And while New York can take the whole four seasons thing a little too seriously (below-zero shouldn’t be a temperature), the city is so beautiful in the morning after it’s been snowing all night. And, Central Park in the fall — need I say more?
  6. Everyone’s alway busy. Yes, it’s nearly impossible to find time to see my friends with full-time jobs (especially when it feels like most jobs now are 24-hours) but most of my friends in the city are so busy because they are all working so hard towards something. Most of my girlfriends are pursuing their dream careers at publishing companies, in public health, and in advertising since New York is the heart of so many industries. So yes, we’re all busy, but I’d rather be busy pursuing something I love, than have free time and a mediocre job anywhere else.
  7. Everyone loves New York. If you’ve ever been to Times Square, you’ve seen the Instagram-ready tourists with bright eyes, thrilled to be in the city that never sleeps. They’re purchasing Broadway tickets to Chicago, taking the elevator up the Empire State Building, and eating overpriced Italian food on 8th Avenue, ignoring the more subtle, beautiful parts of the city. And while this unanimous love of the city can sometimes be infuriating when I walk through the throngs of tourists in Midtown, sometimes I have to remind myself that I was a tourist not even eight months ago, and that the lights of Times Square can be magical. Loving New York is a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.

On one of my first days in New York, as a student of the Columbia Publishing Course, one of the lecturers read this passage from E.B. White’s “Here is New York,” which has since become one of my favorite passages about the city:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.

2014 Best of New York

Buttermilk Channel Lamb Salad

Bear with me, but I’m about to make a huge claim: 2014 was my best food year ever (and maybe best year ever?). After graduating in May, then moving to New York City this summer, I made it my goal to try just about every restaurant I could get into – which was a lot. Eight months and countless bites (and pounds?) later, here are the restaurants and meals that have excited me the most this year:

The Best of the Best:

Favorite Overall Restaurant: Pok Pok Ny
Best New Restaurant: Cosmé
Best Cocktail BarEmployees Only
Best Beer Bar: The Cannibal
Best Brunch: Prune
Best Fancy Date Night: The NoMad
Best Easy Date Night: All’onda
Best Set Dinner for Two: Pig Out at Tuome
Best Cocktail: Hunny at Whiskey Soda Lounge
Best Bite: Uni with Truffle Salt at Sushi Nakazawa

Honorable Mentions:

Best Pop-Up Restaurant: Mission Chinese Pop-Up
Best Tasting Menu: wd~50
Most Unexpected Taste: Popcorn Parfait with Concord Grape Sauce at Contra
Best Ramen:Jin Ramen
Best Fried Chicken: Buttermilk Channel
Best Cocktail Name: Sippy Cup at The NoMad
Best Late Night Dessert: Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream
Best Ice Cream: Vietnamese Coffee at Morgenstern’s
Best Pastry: Blueberry and Cream Cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar
Best Piece of Food Writing: An American Ramen Master by Pete Wells

Review: All’onda (Greenwich Village)

Before moving to New York City – when the uni craze was at its peak – I saw a photo on Kate Krader’s Instagram. Captioning a bowl of Bucatini pasta nested in breadcrumbs, she wrote, “Yes on Bucatini with smoked sea urchin & spicy bread crumbs.” Although I had not yet graduated school, yet alone found an apartment in New York, I made a reservation for two at All’onda in May.

Yes on Bucatini with smoked sea urchin & spicy bread crumbs.

A photo posted by Kate krader (@kkrader) on

[Read more…]

How to Budget for Dining Out

How to Budget for Dining Out

One of my favorite things about living in New York is that every time I read the NYTimes Dining section, or see an Eater list of top restaurants, almost every restaurant is within a subway ride away. Since moving to New York, I’ve been to four out of five of Eater’s “hottest” restaurants and eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, even though chances are my salary isn’t a third of the size of those dining on either side of me. One of the most common questions I get when I tell people about the fantastic meal I’ve eaten the night before, is “How did you afford that?” The short answer is that food is something I care about and make an effort to prioritize, but here are some tips I’ve adopted for being able to eat out at an amazing restaurant at least twice a month!

Have drinks at home. While having a glass of wine is sometimes a necessary part of a meal (Say Yes to the wine pairing at Noma, say No to the wine pairing at the new trendy place down the block), whenever you feel that the cocktail or wine list won’t enhance the food, skip it and look forward to the bottle of 2 Buck Chuck you have waiting at home for you! Another tip: my boyfriend and I have a deal that if one of us is taking the other out, the other person will pay for all of the drinks.

When you eat out, make sure it’s somewhere special. Don’t eat out (or order in) just to eat out. On nights where I’m too exhausted to cook, and just don’t have it in me to make anything for dinner, I stay away from the Take Out menu drawer in my apartment and head to the grocery store. If necessary, lots of stores have great ready-made options that are a fraction of the price of take-out. Trader Joe’s has great frozen foods that (while not nearly as delicious as anything home made) cost $8 instead of the $20 that China Palace will cost you.

Bring lunch to work. Never, ever eat lunch out. Think of it this way: if you spend $10 per workday on lunch, then that’s $50 per week and $200 a month. That’s an entire twenty-course tasting menu at 11 Madison Park or Sushi Nakazawa, or a dinner for two with all the drinks you want at Pok Pok. Chances are you won’t remember the fried chicken you bought last Thursday, but I can still describe in detail every piece of tuna Mr. Nakazawa served me two months ago.

Ditch your gym membership. A gym can cost upwards of $80 per month. Instead of spending your money on treadmills and barbells, try running and working out outside (it’s a better workout anyways)!

Taste Talks: Do Restaurant Reviews Matter?

Do Restaurant Reviews Matter Taste Talks

This weekend, I attended Taste Talks, a three-day food festival in Brooklyn “exploring the culinary cutting edge for a food-obsessed generation.” Over the course of this week and next, I’ll be covering the meals and panels I attended under the headline “Taste Talks.”

To the left of Sam Sifton, the Food Editor of The New York Times sit the CEO of the curated review site Taste Savant and an Editor at Tasting Table. Ruggy Joesten of Yelp adjusts himself uncomfortably in his seat. The panel’s moderator draws the audience’s attention to him, “Ruggy, you’ve been quiet for the last five minutes.”

“Product reviews do well for Patagonia jackets but they do less well for three-start restaurants.”

Ruggy laughs. He seems like a likable guy, referencing “bomb-ass” burritos and apologizing for his surfer-dude vocabulary. But here, as the New York Community Director of Yelp, he’s the lone champion of crowd-sourced restaurant reviews in opposition to a panel of professional dining savants. He references the “wisdom of the crowd” and their ability to give a voice to the “small business owner in Des Moines.” (There are a lot of references to this uneducated, unsophisticated “Des Moines” representative throughout the weekend.)

“I use Yelp,” Sam Sifton says, “For products. Product reviews do well for Patagonia jackets but they do less well for three star restaurants.” He continues, “Restaurants are culture, and culture matters. Restaurants should be treated as our city’s artistic cultural pursuits.”

But reviews no longer have the power they used to. Restaurant-owner Carlo Mirachi of Roberta’s says, “A Times review used to have the power to close a restaurant, but that doesn’t really happen anymore because people want to make their own opinions about food.”

Diners today may take the time on an hour-long commute to read a 4,000 word review, but often they need instant gratification and access to what Joesten calls the “Twitterization” of reviews. “Some people just want the quick and dirty.”

“If you’re walking down the streets of New York at 7 pm,” Jocelyn Mangan of OpenTable says, “what’s going to give you decision confidence?” Sifton, who abandoned Yelp completely after a regretful Chinese dinner in Des Moines (again with Des Moines), cites the lack of context and education in the amateur restaurant review. Mirachi agrees, “The amateur food enthusiast who has never travelled to Japan does not have the experience to be able to review a sushi restaurant stateside.”

“If something is mentioned enough times, it becomes true.”

But these amateur reviews carry weight. Last year, Yelp’s revenue grew 72%, and there’s something to be said for the consistency of reviews. “If I see one review that the roast chicken is bad, I’ll probably still try it. If I see two or three reviews of the terrible roast chicken, I’m less likely to try it,” Mirachi says. Yelp has the unique power to combine hundreds of reviews and pull from them highlights that are consistent. “If something is mentioned enough times, it becomes true,” Mangan adds.

And then there’s the mother of all reviews. “Have you even read a Michelin review??” Sam Sifton asks, referencing the review created by two French tire manufacturers over a century ago. “I mean the actual review in the Michelin guide. It’s like it’s written through Google Translate.”

Maybe it’s time that the century-old maidens of reviews release their widow’s grip. Times are changing, creating a place for both the curated and the crowd-sourced. After all, Anthony Bourdain is a huge Yelp fan.

Fried Chicken 101 (and where to find it)

Buttermilk Channel Fried Chicken

Up until this summer, I could count the number of times I’ve had fried chicken on one hand (including the time my mom and I packed K.F.C. into Tupperware and brought it to a potluck). But for the past three months, I grabbed ice-cold beers and sunk my teeth into the best-battered birds North of the Mason-Dixon line.

What I learned:

  1. Classic fried chicken pairs excellently with champagne.
  2. K.F.C. also refers to Korean Fried Chicken, which is often fried twice and covered in garlic or sweet and sour sauces.
  3. A “dry brine,” also known as a salt rub, works along the same lines as a normal brine, but some prefer it because the lack of water means the fats won’t be diluted before cooking. On the other hand, a “wet brine” is usually done with salt water or buttermilk, which can enhance the flavor of the meat and make it more tender.
  4. Fried chicken descendants date back to the Middle Ages and include European fritters and West African chicken fried in palm oil.
  5. New Yorkers: You don’t need to trek out to Flushing to get delicious Korean Fried Chicken – Midtown and K-town have plenty of options.
  6. A twice-fried chicken has crispier skin, but less meat on the bone!
  7. Chicken fried steak refers to a piece of tenderized steak that is breaded and fried in the same style as fried chicken (so it’s about as chicken-y as chicken of the sea).
  8. Fried chicken is often brined in buttermilk because it is acidic and breaks down the meat fibers for a more tender dish.

[Read more…]

Pigging Out

Hecho en Dumbo Pig Island

While New York City (and my Instagram feed) has been flooded this past week by runway models, designers, and their thin-limbed entourage, I decided to take a trip out of the city to decidedly the most un-Fashion Week event possible: Pig Island.

After a quick ferry ride from downtown’s Pier 11 to Red Hook, Brooklyn, I arrived in Hog Heaven. My all-inclusive ticket gave me access to the roughly thirty white tents dotting the skyline, each manned by local farmers, brewers, and chefs turning out an array of swine-filled dishes. Think pork buns, sausage, chicharones, hot dogs, and pork loin, served up with a side of ice-cold beer (for the brave who dared to wait in the hour-long line for a brew).

Pizza Loves Emily Flatbread with Smoked Pork

Surprisingly, there was little in the way of traditional Southern barbecue. Instead, chefs used the opportunity to create dishes that are not regularly found on a gingham picnic table. Pizza Loves Emily traded in their mozzarella and red sauce for flatbread topped with smoked shredded pigskin, homemade BBQ sauce, and greens. Martin Høedholt and Pablo Ventura of Revolving Dansk served a traditional Copenhagen Street Dog with Danish remoulade, crispy fried onions, and salty Lakrids.

I tried to be picky as I passed by the stands; a seasoned friend warned me to pace myself. The self-control proved worth it as I found my favorite dish on the way out: Tacos de Chorizo Verde y Longaniza from the Brooklyn-based Mexican restaurant, Hecho en Dumbo. Served with tortillas stuffed with pumpkin seed and pinenuts, the green chorizo had the perfect balance of freshness and fat.

The scorching weather chased us out early (pork and humidity do not get along, it turns out), but I’ll be back next year – you’ll find me trying to balance a plate with a portable fan.

Best “Cake” in NYC

Momofuku Apple Pie Cake

Photo: Pancake Princess Blog

I’m just going to put it out there: Cakes are over-rated. Yes, a buttercream frosting can be delightful, and I don’t deny that carrot cake can really hit the spot. But there are so many other desserts I’d rather spend my sweet tooth on than your average cake.

Not surprisingly, New York City has plenty of worthy options. So for all the other Manhattanites out there unimpressed by the rubbish you get at your average birthday party, here are some alternatives.

Dominque Ansel: Extra Large DKA. Gathering dust on the shelf behind it’s acclaimed counterpart, the cronut, is the DKA (“Dominique’s Kouign Amann”). Somewhere between a croissant and a muffin, its larger counterpart resembles a cake, with a caramelized sugar crust and flaky center. If you need me, you can find me dipping these into my coffee for an extra-indulgent breakfast.

Momofuku Milk Bar: Apple Pie Cake. This cake is transcendent enough to inspire an existential crisis (Is it a cake or a pie??). Better to just not ask questions and grab a fork. A dense cake layered with apple pie filling and topped with a crumble, let’s just agree that the cake and the pie ran away together and blessed us with a delicious lovechild.

Ample Hills Creamery: Ice Cream Cake. It’s a little sneaky to call two slabs of ice cream a “cake,” but I’m not complaining. Covered in a thin layer of frozen frosting, their Nonna D’s (a seriously delicious take on oatmeal cookie) and pretzel-infused chocolate ice cream take the… erm, cake.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery: I Love New York Cheesecake. Collapsing under a layer of blueberries, this is not your average New York classic. The rich, cream cheese-based filling is enough to make me swear allegiance to the East Coast, home of the over-the-top cheesecake.