Sunday, May 9, 2010

Only in New York, Part II

More places, and of course, more food... :o)

The High Line, Chelsea to the Meatpacking District

Although there are plenty of ways to view New York City from above, this one involves no revolving restaurant or King Kong references. What there is, is an architecturally designed walking path, that allows you to experience the bustle of the city, and the wild of nature hand in hand. Once a freight train line in the 1930's, the track was transformed into a public park through the vision of a few locals living in the area, protecting it from demolition.

Artists and galleries are also involved in the project, and have contributed installations that are strewn throughout the path. The Highline is an interactive experience and you can't walk it without taking pause. A particularly good place to do this is a tiered seating area reminiscent of a theatre space, with the stage being a giant glass window. The performance? New York City traffic whizzing by 30 feet below.

The best thing about the Highline is that it's ever-changing just like nature, just like cities. Each visit is an experience anew.

Cafe Habana, 17 Prince Street, Nolita

Cafe Habana is situated in the area known as North of Little Italy, a kind of a mini-SoHo, but more eclectic, less generic, and slightly more down to earth. And what could be more down to earth than corn on a stick. At this popular Mexican-Cuban cafe, they take this humble snack and take it up a notch. No butter drizzle here. It's corn on a cob that is char-grilled, and then smeared in a combination of cotija cheese, fresh lime, and chili powder. It may sound awful, but it's awfully good, and their signature dish. There is also a Habana Outpost in Brooklyn with a twist. The restaurant is almost entirely eco-friendly. It's run mainly on solar power, uses rainwater toilets, and diners can mix their own margaritas using bike-powered blenders. I say yay! to good corn and good conscience.

Cafe Sabarsky, 1048 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side

Nestled inside the Neue Galerie (featuring Austrian and German works), is the very charming Cafe Sabarsky. Feeling very old world, and very European with high ceilings, dark wood walls and marble tables, this Viennese cafe was one of our dining highlights. After ducking into the grand foyer of the gallery, and soaking wet after a surprise torrential rainstorm, we were hoping to seat ourselves and get comfy. Not possible at Cafe Sabarsky. This place is popular and lineups are a given. But it was all well worth it once seated. The menu is expansive and it was a challenge to decide what to have as everything looked amazing. I liked that the items were listed in Austrian and English, although I did not attempt to say, "I'll have the Kleines Wiener Schnitzel mit Kartoffel-Gurkensalat & Preiselbeeren" when I ordered my dish. But my Small Wiener Schnitzel with Potato-Cucumber Salad & Lingonberries was the right choice. The pickly-flavoured potato salad was quite
incredible and was the perfect pairing for the subtly spiced schnitzel. My guy had the Baked Pasta with Bavarian Ham, Cream & Emmentaler which was rich, savoury and delicious. And the desert, though simple to the eye, was mouthwatering to the palate. All I can say is, if you are there, please have the Quark Cheese Strudel with Vanilla Sauce.

Vanessa's Dumpling House
, 118A Eldridge Street,
Lower East Side

There is nothing glamourous about Vanessa's Dumpling House, and therein lies its charm. It is a no-nonsense, completely unpretentious place where you line up, order, try to find a place to sit in the very narrow seating area across from the long service counter, get your order and chow down. It is small and a little run down, but it's fun. It's so cool to watch the middle-aged Chinese ladies behind the counter boiling and frying dumplings, scooping soup, and slapping together sandwiches in perfect choreography, managing never to bump into each other. And the food! Their deliciously greasy dumplings are top notch and sold at an incredulous price. Four tasty Cabbage & Pork Fried Dumplings or Chive & Pork Fried Dumplings set you back a dollar. A dollar! My guy and I indulged ourselves for just over six dollars and that included eight dumplings, a delicious Sour & Spicy Cucumber Salad, a Sesame Pancake, a hot Horlicks (so good) and a tea. I only wished we had discovered this place earlier in our trip. On our next voyage there, I will most certainly have their Sesame Pancake Sandwiches which come stuffed with a variety of fillings, including the one I await to try: Peking Duck. And I will certainly be back at Vanessa's at the very beginning of our trip, so we can return again and again and again.

Big Onion's Walking Tour's
Original Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour
, Lower East Side

The Lower East Side neighbourhood was, and still is, home to New York's many immigrant families. As this has been the starting point for many a newcomer, it's full of fascinating history. The inhabitants of each area has changed dramatically throughout the years, as families established themselves and moved further north or to the boroughs. And that's what made this tour super interesting, to hear of the many incarnations a single building or block had taken. Throughout the walk we learned about hardships endured, stories of corrupt politicians, racist policies, turf clashes, gang mayhem and survival. Particularly notable stops were the infamous Five Points from Gangs of New York lore, the Bloody Angle in Chinatown, a blind corner where rival gangs would ambush each other, and the evolution of tenement housing. We walked, listened, learned, and yes, ate too. The tour was punctuated by stops at many of the local food shops and eateries. Along the way we ate Dominican fried plantain, Kosher pickles, Jewish halvah, Chinese rose petal candies, and Italian bocconcini,
salami, and cannoli. I'm so glad we took this tour. Not only was my stomach happy, I felt like I gotten to know this city that I love, a whole lot better. Yes NYC, I you even more.

Big Onion offers walking tours aplenty throughout Manhattan and the Boroughs. The guides are specialists in the fields of architecture, urban development, cultural history, sociology, and labour issues. They have also won several awards for their work.