Friday, April 2, 2010

Only in New York

Coffee at the Empire Diner, NYC

In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothing you can’t do, now you're in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you, let's hear it for New York.
~Jay-Z and Alicia Keys

Yes, let's hear it for New York- this city so rich in culture, history, incredible art, music and architecture, and crazy-good food. New York is a one of a kind city, perfect in its mix of the gritty and the pretty, and home to many things one of a kind. During my recent trip there I discovered some unique and impressive spots, specialty shops and eateries. Here are a few of the standouts.

Empire Diner, 210 10th Avenue, Chelsea
Housed in a chrome-lined converted train car, this 24 hour eatery makes for a retro-sleek and cozy dining experience. Upon our very early morning arrival into New York after an overnight flight, this low-key, yet popular diner made for the perfect hangout. Hearty traditional breakfasts are accompanied by taters that are a cross between home fries and potato chips, and the Irish oatmeal with walnuts, raisins and bananas on the side was the perfect comfort food for a tired soul. New York still has a fair share of the old school diners, and this one has that same nostalgic feel. And dining in a train car restaurant is pretty damn cool and something you just can't do in Vancouver, unless you count the McDonald's caboose...

American Museum of Natural History,
Central Park West at 79th St, Upper West Side
For nature and culture enthusiasts, and for those who just love spending hours looking at really cool stuff, this is the place to go. The animal dioramas are fascinating and the creatures both familiar and strange, are sights to behold. Each scene is creatively composed and often dynamic, with beautifully painted backdrops and detailed recreations of natural habitats. Also awesome is The Hall of Biodiversity which holds a huge variety of species, from gigantic to microscopic, hanging salon-style on a translucent wall. What I love about this museum is that it's a view into the world around us that we rarely see, set up in an engaging and artistic way. If you do visit however, you may wish to avoid the toad that gives birth out of its back. It will haunt you.

Congee Village, 100 Allen Street, 
Lower East Side
Being the congee lover that I am, it was imperative that I seek out a congee house in New York. I needed to know - would it be the same? different? better? And lucky for me, I had the fortune to discover that it can be better at Congee Village. Apart from my mother's congee, I can honestly say that this is the best congee I've ever had, and it actually tasted pretty damn close to that of my mother's. I ordered a pork liver and century egg version, and when it came out, it was still boiling hot and looked like it was served in the vessel it was prepared in - a rustic clay pot, reminiscent of something you'd see in a Chinese grandmother's kitchen. And even though it was plunked on the table by the server in haste, it tasted as though it had been lovingly cooked for hours. Unlike the sheet white colour of congee found here, this was rich brown, full of flavour (no condiments required), and accented only by a perfectly puffy Chinese doughnut. Although the restaurant is quite huge, the front room is intimate with decor that is total tiki disguised as a bamboo forest. Replete with overhanging leaves and tree trunk serving station, the kitsch factor only added more flavour to the already satisfying experience. And it's not only about their famed rice porridge, Congee Village has a full menu of Chinese food ranging from your average fare to more unususual delicacies such as baked fish intestine, duck's blood, and an adventurous array of frog dishes. There is definitely something to appeal to everyone here, and it has received many kudos from local critics. It's worth a visit, even if only to experience a Chinese version of a tiki lounge.

More New York to come...