Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happenings: Bon Appetit Supper Club & Cafe

Every year, the Bon Appetit Supper Club & Cafe "pops" into town for a week, featuring cafe items designed by celebrity chefs, cooking demos and tastings in a beautifully designed space. Think a fancier version of Europa Cafe or Pret-a-Manger. You choose from sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts by chefs like Tyler Florence, Cat Cora, Mario Batali, Ben Ford or Charlie Trotter. They do dinner too, apparently, but by invitation only.

Today, on the penultimate day of the supper club, Mr. Aussie and I went to lunch there. We got there early, around 11:30 to avoid the midtown lunch rush and didn't have to wait in line at all. I ordered Cat Cora's Thai Chicken Salad Spring Roll and Ben Ford's Clam Chowder with Leek Cream and Applewood Smoked Bacon and Claudia Fleming's Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookie.

The clam chowder was my favorite item - really flavorful and not thick and heavy, like other clam chowders. The spring roll was really disappointing. Where was the dipping sauce? Also, this spring roll was the size of a burrito. Not very Asian at all. The brownie cookie was good too--moist like there was cream cheese in there--but ultimately, I've had better food elsewhere.

What really made the trip uptown worthwhile were a> the free Bon Appetit tote bag, b> the free copy of the November issue of Bon Appetit Magazine, c> the sample Ghiradelli chocolate squares and finally d> the gorgeous space. When you first walk in, you order your food, cafeteria style and pay.

Then you walk into the dining room, where they do cooking demos while you eat. The only problem is you couldn't really see what the chefs were doing because they didn't have one of those reflective mirrors over the cooking station. The fairy forest decor was stunning, and I just loved the gas fireplaces and cozy lounge areas. Upstairs, there's a cookbook bar where you can browse cookbooks by the various featured chefs, a wine & cheese sample bar, Maybelline samples, Ghiradelli chocolate samples, and Gold Peak Tea samples (great tea, btw - a new line from Coca-Cola).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happenings: Japan C

This afternoon, Miss Fashion and I went to Felissimo Design House on 56th St & 5th Ave to check out the 11-week celebration of Japan product design, known as "Japan C." On Monday, the exhibit will begin its final week, but for 10 weeks, each week has had a theme--for instance, paper products, Japanese make-up, household products, or Japanese foods, which was the theme this past week. The nice thing about going today is that you can see products from the entire run of the showcase all at once. And next week, they're having an auction to sell the items being displayed.

Don't be fooled by the anemic displays on the first floor. There's a lot more to see on the four floors of the design house. Some of the stuff they're showing you could just as easily find at a Japanese grocery or department store--stationary, Hello Kitty figurines and bento boxes, for instance. But there were a few items that jumped out at me.The freeze-dried Koya tofu you see on this table caught Miss Fashion's eye. Just soak in water, and you have tofu!Okurin--officially marketed as "recyclable gift bags" - these bunny shaped canvas bags unzip at the mouth and hold things. I love that the Japanese so love to give gifts they've developed an eco-friendly way to do it.Cedar laptop case, anyone?Not like we haven't seen stuff like this before, but how cute are these persimmons, each with their own facial expression?

Nezca--Swarovski-studded rope essentially. Crafters, let your imaginations run wild.Random dogs in aloha shirts.At first glance, a platter of lovely cakes and parfaits...On closer examination, they're made of towels!
A "file cabinet" style recycling in-home recycling station. Perfect for cramped Manhattan kitchens!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Great Find: Suba

Suba, a Spanish tapas restaurant on Ludlow in the Lower East Side, has great food. The restaurant has a bar on street level, then a room over a pool on the second level called the "grotto" and a third, more quiet level below that. On Saturday, City Guy and I treated ourselves to a tasty dinner there--one of the best deals in town, it turns out.

For $50 a head, you get seven course chef's tasting menu. The items on the menu are sort of a surprise, i.e., not listed on the menu, but you can ask your waiter to exclude certain items or request others that sound good. Our menu had everything, from octopus to sweet corn risotto with suckling pig to this tasty egg, potato and mushroom concoction:It tastes better than it sounds, and this picture doesn't do it justice. The chef does amazing things with potatoes and sauces too. It's flavorful, rich food, and they've got a good amount of space, so it might be a good place for a dinner party with friends. On Sundays at 8 pm, they have a flamenco show.

People on Chowhound seem to prefer the grotto for the pool, but to tell you the truth, I'm glad we sat in the more private lower level b/c the smell of chlorine from the pool water was pretty strong. I don't like smelling chlorine while tasting my food, but that's just me. I've got a super sensitive nose.

By the way, it's not the most quiet restaurant. We got there around 8 pm, and it wasn't so bad (see how empty the room looks in the pictures above), but around 9 or so, it was packed, and then it got harder to converse.

Monday, October 20, 2008

On My Mind: The Changing Of The Seasons

For most of my life, I've enjoyed just two seasons--hot and dry and cooler and wet. Now that I live in NYC, I enjoy all four (some more than others). Now that fall is upon us, I'm contemplative. The year's winding down. Only two months to go, but those two months are speedy.

Halloween is upon us (see Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven display above), signaling the beginning of the commercial holiday parade. Rockerfeller Center rink is already open. Soon, the city will be decked out for Christmas (I love the city in December--see above). The foliage is changing, and my life is too:
  1. My closet has changed over. Summer clothes are in storage. Wool is now king.
  2. Like the colors of my clothing, I feel grayer, darker and more insulated. I pat around the house in my sweats and yoga pants. Socks are back.
  3. We eat more soups and oatmeal and stews. More beets and root vegetables, fewer good tomatoes or fruits.
  4. The bed has a new look. On Sunday, we pulled out the down comforter and duvet.
  5. Plants and flowers go into hibernation.We all know what's happened to Begonia.
  6. My skin gets dryer. I've stocked up on moisturizer, face cream and night cream.
  7. My hair looks better. Cold weather supposedly seals the hair cuticle. Keeps it tame.
  8. Travel becomes more of an ordeal, so we tend to stay closer to home.
  9. I get more productive. As they say, "summertime and the livin's easy..." Wintertime, and I spend less time enjoying the weather, more time making up for lost time.
  10. I spend less time outdoors. It was nice for most of last week, but since the weekend, it's been cold! I think the real feel temperature on Sunday night was in the 30's.
The days are getting shorter and colder, and that usually means feeling less perky as the winter wears on. But guess what? I just bought a light box! Maybe I'll be able to trick my mind and body into thinking it's summer all year round. Will keep you posted on whether it works.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stuff I've Learned: A Non-Touristy Tour of NYC

Let's say you have a friend visiting from a city like, say, Los Angeles. Very cool, smart, well traveled girl, uninterested in waiting in long lines to see tourist attractions. What should you do? What is the quintessentially NYC experience?

My answer: food, fashion and art.
  • Go on a shopping / walking tour of Soho, the Village (East, West and Greenwich), or the Lower East Side
  • Skip all Mexican food or sushi. They're better done in LA. Instead take her to a cute little West Village eatery, like Blue Hill or Little Owl, or dazzle her with the architectural marvels of celebrity chef joint like Perry Street, Morimoto or Gilt. Or if you can get reservations, take her to one of NYC's restaurant crown jewels: Per Se, Le Bernadin or Bouley, for instance. Better yet, get hot dogs at Gray's Papaya or pizza at Two Boots.
  • See some art. Do a gallery walk in Chelsea. Go to a lesser known museum, like the Cloisters or the Tenement museum.
  • Take a walk in a park - Central Park, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Bryant Park or Hudson River Park.
  • Have dessert/ candy / chocolate. This city's full of amazing sweets. Sit at Madeleine Patisserie for macarons, Le Maison du Chocolat or Jacques Torres for anything chocolate, or go to Dylan's Candy bar and stock up on old-fashioned candy.
  • Celebrate the written word. Go to a reading at a local book store like McNally Jackson or hang out at the NY Public Library. Buy a used book from the Strand or Biography Book Shop.
  • Park yourself at a cafe and people watch. No Starbucks allowed. Try 71 Irving Place or Aroma Coffee Bar just off of Hudson.
That's the plan if you're entertaining your friend for a few days. If you only have one evening, you might do what Ms. Pinot Noir and I did on Monday, Columbus Day. Here are some snapshots:
  1. Have dessert first at Jacques Torres. In this case, warm giant chocolate chip cookies.
  2. Walk up to the West Village, passing cute little shops, like Yamak and restaurants like Pink Tea Cup, a soul food place. Stop at Magnolia for cupcakes and buy used book at Biography Book Shop.
  3. Pass the Little Owl on a whim and find out if they can accommodate two without a reservation. They can! Eat amazing food two feet away from record industry legend Clive Davis and entourage of pretty boys (the guy in the picture is not him!).
  4. Walk up to the Meatpacking District. Sightsee. Stop at Apple Store so Ms. Pinot Noir can pay her phone bill online.

NYC Rant: Late Night Weekend Subway Service Sucks

I've been busy this week and only now getting around to blogging about the weekend. Let's start with the helluva time I had getting home on Sunday night.

The night was going well. I had dinner with a friend visiting from LA, let's call her Ms. Merlot, and a friend of hers at Shabu Tatsu, one my all-time favorite places to eat in the city. We then caught a 9:15 showing of Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist with a couple hundred NYU students in Union Square. Not necessarily my first choice for cinema, but a fun, brainless movie that fit the bill for a girls' night out. My two companions were thrilled to play "spot the NYC landmark" throughout the film, which is about a couple high schoolers falling in love as they hunt for a lost friend and a secret rock show in the city.

Anyhow, after the movie let out, around 11 pm, it took me an HOUR to get home to the Financial District. Let me explain my journey.
  1. First I try taking the R/W . I wait a few minutes, but realizing something is weird, check the little route signs. It turns out those lines stop running after 11 on the weekends--Sunday included.
  2. Bummed, I walk over to the L, but I just miss my train, and the LCD signs tell me the next train isn't coming for 23 minutes!
  3. I go back to the R/W platform, thinking I'll ride to Canal and transfer to the J/M/Z.
  4. I get to Canal Street, and it turns out the J/M/Z is not running late on Sundays. At this point, I think why don't I just take a cab home, but the stubborn fool I am, I have one last idea.
  5. I decide to walk out along Canal, all the way to the 1 stop past West Broadway. That walk is soooo long! And creepy and not very well-lit. I decide Canal Street is one of few streets in Manhattan I don't feel safe walking on alone at night. I'm completely freaked out, afraid of being kidnapped or assaulted. I wear my down winter jacket, even though it's 68 degrees out, to cover up "the girls."
  6. Finally, I get to the 1 station on Canal. But guess what? The 3 is running on the 1 track! Gosh darn it!
  7. So I ride the 3 to Wall St and walk 10 minutes home. Thank god for the armed security men in the Financial District. They make me feel safe.
Ugh. I know. I should have just taken a cab home, but it just gets me that a cab home from Union Square costs me $12-15 with tip. At any rate, the MTA is completely unreliable south of Canal Street on the weekends. Also, their trains are also really screechy and probably causing hearing loss. Where is all my fare money going?

Friday, October 10, 2008

On My Mind: Blue States and Red States

With the election less than a month away and the economy going down the tubes, I'm trying to keep my anxieties at bay, but one thing I've figured out is living in NYC, I am really out of touch with so-called "middle America." NYC feels a lot more like home when I think about all those places in America that aren't like NYC.

I've been staring at the electoral map a lot (this one from CNN is my favorite), trying to make sense of how the country got so split between the coasts and inland, and then just for fun, I counted all the states I've spent any real time in (airport layover do not count!). The big number? 23--mostly in the West, South and Northeast. I've never set foot in that region from Idaho down to New Mexico, the Dakotas to Kansas. It's no wonder I'm so out of touch with the people who live there.

I guess it's easy to be a cynical East Coast liberal and say, why the hell would you want to go to those parts? There's nothing but farms, mountains, cattle and corn. But I sat down and looked at the list of states I've missed. Some of them have some really cool stuff that I'd like to see. Like all those gorgeous slopes in Colorado and Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and the beautiful beaches in South Carolina and the amazing glaciers in Alaska. I have to admit there are other states I haven't heard much about - like what's there to do in Montana or North Dakota or Nebraska--look at fields and mountains?

I figure if I know more about the people and places that make up this country, I'll have a better understanding of what America is and maybe I'll be less blindly frustrated at the people from the red states and more sympathetic. When I have time, I'll have to take a road trip to find out.There's always a complex reality behind stereotypes--and that goes both ways.

In the meantime, I thought I'd pass along my new favorite site for electoral polls: One thing that is bringing the country back together, as least from what the polls indicate, is the economy. We all seem to agree: it's painful to see the stock market at levels it was at in 2003.

If you're reading this from outside of NYC, yes, even in NYC, we're feeling the pain. When I do my household shopping these days, I check myself. Do we really need this? I turn out lights I'm not using. I cook every night. City Guy likes to order pizza once in a while, and the other day, I suggested I buy him a microwavable pizza the next time I went grocery shopping. He thought that was pretty funny. I can't even think about shopping for clothes. My dad's birthday's this month, and even dear old dad is getting a less extravagant present this year.

Boy, the holidays are going to be fun. I bet if there were a Walmart in NYC, they'd be making out like bandits right about now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On My Mind: Confessions Of A House Plant Killer

This was Begonia when I brought her home from the Greenmarket in April, and this is Begonia today:She bloomed her last bloom in July, and she's been all leaves and stem since. I've been watering her faithfully, thinking she might reward my effort with an encore, but alas, the fall is upon us, and now I believe there is no hope for us. I really thought there was a chance for us, Begonia and I. I thought she would bloom her heart out all summer, and I would somehow keep her tuber safe and warm throughout the cold winter months, and we would meet again next spring.

But now, I am grappling with a difficult decision: admit she's looking sickly and throw her down the trash chute to join the ranks of numerous orchids, bromeliads, african violets, and cyclamens I have killed in my lifetme (not counting the plants I killed on purpose for my 8th grade science fair project) or marshall all my resources to save her in the hopes that she'll flower again next spring?

What should I do? Is there any way to save her, or is she just a casualty of the changing of the seasons? Do other people struggle with keeping plant life alive in this City? With limited light exposures and moisture-sucking, temperature-variable air conditioning and heating, no ordinary flowering plant stands a chance. At least not under my care. I have failed again! Arghhh!

In any case, thank you, Begonia. At least for a while, it was lovely to wake up and see you blooming. When I bought you, I desperately needed a reminder of the miracle of natural life in this city full of concrete, and you did your duty.

P.S. Begonia, I have decided I can't bear to throw you away. I don't know if you're too far gone to re-flower next spring, but I've done some research on the Interwebs, and there's hope! I'm going to dry you out, so you don't rot, cut back your stem and store you in a cool, dry place over the winter. Sleep tight and see you in March.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This NY Moment: Korean Day, My Way

Yesterday, I had plans to meet up with my friend, Funny Dude and some his friends in K-town for an authentic Korean dinner at Kunjip (my favorite all-around Korean restaurant on 32nd St) before we went to Radio City Music Hall to see Margaret Cho in concert. But when we got to the restaurant, there was line snaking out the door with gobs of people on the streets.

Funny Dude informed me that he'd seen a float in Chelsea earlier in the day--there had been a Korean Day parade apparently, which we missed. Anyhow, 32nd Street between Broadway and 5th Avenue was closed off for a street fair that was held in conjunction with the parade (I assume), complete with concert stage where contestants of a karaoke contest (mostly women as I could see) were singing their hearts out. Boy do Koreans love to sing.

The wait at Kunjip was beyond our collective levels of patience, so we went a few doors down to look for a less crowded restaurant, and guess what? We stumbled upon a BCD Tofu House, which just opened this week! BCD Tofu House was one of my favorite places to eat in K-town in LA. They are part of a Korean chain that is well known for their "soon dubu" -- a traditional soft tofu stew. I was sooo happy! We had a great meal--most of us ordered the spicy tofu stews--but they also have bbq and bibimbap and other Korean staples.
We headed uptown for Margaret Cho's show after dinner. More people clogging the sidewalks; this time, no karaoke contest, but Margaret did close her show by serenading the audience with a dirty song. She's got some lungs on her. Again, Koreans love to sing.

She looked great, by the way--super skinny--and pretty and had me in tears with laughter throughout the 90 minute set. I had had the kimchee tofu stew at BCD, so I'm sure I smelled great during Margaret's show at Radio City Hall....

Great Find: Good Dumpling House

Poetess was in town on Friday :) so we met up for lunch in Chinatown. Poetess and her husband are Chinatown foodies, so she is my ultimate source for eating in Chinatown. This time, she took me to Good Dumpling House on Grand between Mott and Elizabeth St. Though they have 246 items on their menu, they're of course known for their dumplings (duh!).
Unlike the doughier thick skinned dumplings you usually get in Chinese restaurants (Poetess says Dumpling House on Eldridge btw Broome and Grand is the best of that breed), the dumplings here have this wonderful thin skin, so you don't get full so fast and the filling isn't overwhelmed by the starch. They're made fresh on the premises, where you can see the woman pan frying them in the wok as you wait. They are so delicious. We had the pork and cabbage, which was flavorful and moist, but there are many other varieties, including pork and chives, chicken & mushroom, duck and shrimp. Drip a little vinegar on there and you're good to go. Oh! Another plus--especially in this economy--is the price: four dumplings for a $1! Micky D's got nothing on Good Dumpling House.

Just so you know, there is limited seating. I get the feeling most of their business is to-go. There are two windows to order from--one, streetside, and the other just inside the restaurant (shown below). But if you order to-go and can't wait to scarf your dumplings, you have to try for one of the few tables in the front (the back is limited to table service) to open up. The day we went, this dude was selling CD's of Chinese pop songs (I think) off a table to the side. That was pretty entertaining and random...