Monday, November 30, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jorge Munoz: Working Hard to Feed the Hungry in New York

It will be especially hard being away from our family tomorrow; our second Thanksgiving apart from them. But we also reflect on so many people who are having such a hard time, who are in pain and alone. I also think of Jorge Munoz, a man who doesn't have much but gives so much of himself, his time, from his small paycheck to feed the hungry in New York. This New York Times Article The Chicken and Rice Man about Jorge Munoz is uplifting and makes us think we're not doing enough of the things we should be. Watch the Tribute to CNN Hero Jorge Munoz clip.

What's really inspiring about Mr. Munoz is that he makes a commitment to these people everyday to hand out the meals himself; much harder than just writing a check or passing out some spare change. Equally important, he does so with compassion, love, respect for these people, understands their situation, relates to them, doesn't judge them, doesn't expect anything in return. Much respect!

How this man can give so selflessly yet there are so many wealthy people who would rather buy 10 luxury cars or 15 Gucci bags than to part with some money to help a hungry person is beyond my comprehension.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Small Islands

Typical scene in New York - standing on a small concrete island in the "middle of everything."

The view from this island - diagonally to our left - is Macy's Herald Square flagship store. The size and volume of this Macy's store is insane. It's also one of the last turn of the century department stores in existence.

El Papasito

After we turned in the keys to our Chelsea apartment, we stayed at the Holiday Inn on West 57th for our last two nights in New York City. We recommend this hotel if you're on a budget but want something in a good location (it's in easy walking distance to Central Park). We were able to get a special rate of $150 per night, which is unheard of for a last minute reservation and for the area, and our room was extremely spacious and clean. Thanks Erika for the recommendation! There's a decent amount of dining options along 8th Ave., but we bypassed them all and headed to El Papasito instead (346 West 53rd Street between 8th and 9th avenue). And yes, this dark photo was taken with flash.

It's wasn't a good sign when we walked in and we were the only customers on a Friday night at 8:30 PM in New York City, especially since we just walked past dozens of crowded restaurants where people were waiting to get in through the doors. But for some reason, part fatigue and part a desire to try (Dominican) cuisine we didn't think we could find as easily in the Northwest, we were dead set on eating at El Papasito.

Their big menu selection includes: Mofongo with Spanish Sausage, paella, lobster salad, pigeon peas gumbo soup, creole gumbo, tripe soup, hot oxtail, goat stew, pig feet with chick peas, Dominican fried pork, baked chicken, pickled fish, liver steak, and Codfish stew. One of the entrees we ordered were pepper steak, served with plantains and yellow rice, all for $10. Everything on this plate was good, we especially liked the plantains, but nothing to rave to your friends about.

The other entree we ordered was the Dominican-style spaghetti, $9. We ordered this because we love spaghetti and wanted to see what made this "Dominican style." What made this different was the spicy kick and it consisted of cilantro, olives, and red peppers. Eh, it wasn't earth shattering but it was satisfying. A good dish to try recreate at home.

We decided to skip their desserts, which included papaya chunks with cheese, coconut custard, and flan, because we got our sweet fix from their pitcher of Sangria, which was just too Kool-Aid sweet for our taste. A really loud blues band came in to play right in front of the opened restaurant doors, probably to try to draw in some customers. It didn't work. There was only one other customer besides us the whole time we were there.

However, their delivery business seemed to do much better and we understand why. The food is pretty good but the dining experience sucked. If this restaurant was in our neighborhood, we would definitely have breakfast or lunch delivered, especially since they have $6 lunch specials and $3 to $5 breakfast specials. Our waiter was nice, but very slow, inexcusable because there were no customers. The other workers were sitting around watching sports on T.V. The interior could use a makeover (first thing, please take down the collage of soccer players). And although we like Blues, perhaps playing Merengue or Bachata would be more fitting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Those Late Night Wine Deliveries

Our favorite wine shop in New York City was 86 Chelsea Wine Country, which was right around the corner from our apartment. It's a small shop so you aren't overwhelmed with selection. It's the kind of no-frills wine shop you go to when you're on a budget, know what you want, don't want to be bothered with pushy workers or snobby wine connoisseur types.

We knew which areas to go for the good deals - either by the cash register or all the way in the back near the floor. The owner of the wine shop or his daughters are usually there and their sales guys are mellow and friendly. If you go there and buy just a $5 bottle of wine, you won't get any strange looks or attitude. Actually, once when I went in looking for a Pinot, one of the sales guys offered me the cheapest bottle of Pinot they had. It was actually quite funny . . . that he knew our budget by then.

But our relationship with 86 Chelsea Wine Country consisted mainly of those late night calls, when at 10 PM or so, we'd have the craving for a nice bottle of something but didn't feel like getting dressed for the cold to get it. So we'd call our friends at the shop and they'd deliver the good stuff to our doorsteps in no time. Again, another great thing about New York is free alcohol and food delivery. We also discovered this budget sake at 86 Chelsea Wine Country - the Itami Onigoroshi - a very mellow, dry sake that's very easy to drink (maybe too easy). Good times. Cheers!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Junior's Cheesecake

The Broadway production of Billy Elliot at Imperial Theatre ended past 10 PM so we were starving and decided to head right across the street to Junior's Cheesecake. Sure, its convenient location from the Imperial Theater was motivation to go there, but we also wanted to try their cheesecake since we first moved to New York. Initially we wanted to go to their original location in Brooklyn (386 Flatbush Avenue), but time is never your friend in New York and we never made it down there.

Their West 45th Street location (between Broadway and 8th Ave.) is a gigantic restaurant, probably one of the largest sized restaurants we'd been to in New York, and at 10-something P.M., there was still a line to get into the place. A money-making machine. The wait wasn't too bad and we were able to even sit outside.

Service from the front of house to the manager to our waiter were all very nice. For example, when I exited the restroom, the staff literally parted the sea for me - it was a little strange but nice, so nice that you can tell the entire staff has been rigorously trained to be extra nice. But anytime you have a polite and friendly staff, whether it's genuine or forced, is fine with us (we're not paying good money to get an attitude).

We started off the night by ordering a Junior's 10 oz. char-broiled steakburger on an oven toasted bun with lettuce and tomato, served with onion rings and steak fries ($12.50). The burger was pretty good. Although it looks burnt, it was quite moist and juicy. We were hungry, so the hefty size was perfect.

The toasted bun was also good. The fries were unfortunately too soggy and greasy, and despite the large size of the onions rings we were disappointed that there were only two . . . until we tasted how horrible they were and so we ended up only taking two bites anyways.

We also ordered one of the thickest tuna salad sandwiches we'd seen ($9.95). What really made this sandwich worthwhile was the thick cut challah bread. Junior's Cheesecakes has a huge dining menu which includes other sandwiches like fresh brisket, prime roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, beef tongue, chopped liver, and reuben. Other menu items include baby back ribs, Hungarian beef goulash, baked meat loaf, broiled cod, and potato pancakes.

Of course we ended the night with a Junior's cheesecake. Since it was our first time eating it, we had to start with the plain option - a true test of a good cheesecake. What can we say, the cheesecake was wonderful. One of the best we've ever tasted. The cheesecake crust was very different from other cheesecake crusts. The Junior's cheesecake crust was more like a light pie crust. The cheesecake was creamy, the texture was perfect, and it wasn't too thick. We didn't mind paying $6.25 for one slice considering the huge size of the slice and how good it tasted. We couldn't believe how fast we ate this after eating the enormous burger and sandwich. When in New York, go big.

We were glad to confirm that Junior's cheesecake wasn't an over-hyped dessert spot the way Serendipity was; Junior's lived up to its claim-to-fame with their cheesecake. Junior's offers other cheesecake options like brownie marble swirl, a Reese's cheesecake or red velvet cheesecake from their fancy and seasonal selection,and even a sugar free option. If cheesecake's not your thing, they also have a "Junior's Famous Fresh Strawberry Shortcake," coconut layer cake, pound cake, rugelach, brownie, skyscraper ice cream sodas, mountain high sundaes, Fox's U-Bet Brooklyn Egg Cream, and a whole page of liquor options as well.

It all sounds very appetizing, right? Check out this photo we recently discovered.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Traffic Sucks, Thank You Subways

One of the many things we liked about living in New York was not having a car, which meant not being stuck in horrible traffic, looking for parking, registration fees, blowing money on car issues, and high gas prices. NY subways are fast, convenient, can take you pretty much anywhere you need to go, and you're waiting mostly underground so you're sheltered from the winter extremities (summer heat is a different story).

It took me 7 minutes on the A train to get to work (almost 50 blocks up from our apartment). By far the easiest commute to work I've ever had in my life (when the trains are running properly or you don't zone out and get off at the wrong stop).

Sure, it can get annoyingly crowded during rush hour, but I'll take a quick subway right smashed, prodded and elbowed between people after a long day at work over getting in a car and dealing with traffic, rain, snow, congestion, road rage, and drunk drivers any day.

Sometimes there's nut jobs on the train; that's when your iPod shield or book comes in very handy. Leaving your iPod at home in New York when you're planning to ride the subway feels as naked as not having your seat belt on when you drive a car.

We've probably caught the L train a million times. Our least favorite subway station is the overly crowded Union Square. Always too much activity going on there.

Last stop on the train.

Now why doesn't this type of public transportation exist in more cities?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kunjip Korean Restaurant

We've been to several Korean restaurants in Manhattan's Korea town, like Shilla Korean Barbeque, but Kunjip (West 32nd Street) is the only restaurant where returned to on several occasions, mainly because of their really great menu selection (not all listed online) and also because there was always a line out the door. By far the busiest, most popular restaurant on the "Korean street." They're open 24 hours a day and like most restaurants offer free delivery.

Our eyes popped out when we were handed their menu. It's always best to eat at Korean restaurants during lunch time to take advatnage of their lunch specials. Kunjip's lunch specials are Monday-Friday 10 am to 3 PM. Also, it's worthwhile to spend a bit more for combination offerings.

We loved Kunjip's banchan (side dishes). You know Kunjip is a real Korean restaurant that heavily caters to Korean clientele by looking at their banchan size and selection (as opposed to the Korean restaurants in the East Village / West Village / Union Squre areas.

This type of kim chee is one of my favorites. It was delicious.

This salty, hot egg dish is classic, at-your-grandma's house Korean comfort food.

This healthy rice is one of my mom's favorites. The flavor kind of throws me off since I prefer white rice, but it doesn't taste so bad when you mix it with the soups.

This was very good Pajan. Note the wonderful crispy edges.

Soon Dae (Korean blood sausage) is one of my favorite Korean dishes, which for some reason isn't offered at all Korean restaurants. So I was happy to find it at Kunjip even though it wasn't the best I've had. It was good enough to satisfy me!

Not sure what the proper spelling of this dish is but it's pronounced fhe-da-pa. It's rice mixed with sashimi, vegetables, and hot sauce. This was just okay, mainly because their sashimi didn't quite taste fresh.

Chigae - another Korean comfort food staple. This was spicy enough to make you blow your nose several times during the meal, but not too overbearing.

Kunji's Sulungtang (mild beef soup) was not bad. Perfect soup when you're feeling under the weather but don't want to aggravate your stomach with spices. I was a bit disappointed that the soup didn't come with other intestines/animal parts (like the marrow) that I've had with other Sulungtan. Then again, the soup was affordable so I can see why they kept it very basic.

We've also tried Kunjip's Dduk Boki (very good) and Duk Mandoo Guk (not bad, not great). So to summarize, the few things we tried on Kunjip's menu we'd rate average to above average. Again, not the best Korean food we've had (i.e. like in L.A.), but Kunjip was the best we had in New York City. It was too bad that we didn't have more time to explore the great Korean food options in Flushing, Queens.

And the perfect way to end the meal. We love this cinnamon drink. But why do the restaurants always give such a small shot?

One thing we have to note is that soon after we ate our final meal at Kunjip, we popped into a discount jewelery store owned and operated by a really nice Korean family (some of the nicest people we met while in the city) that talked story with us and gave us a great discount. One of the workers who was about our age recommended another Korean restaurant in Korea town that we didn't have time to try, but he also added that he didn't like Kunjip because they use MSG. There's no way for us to know how he knows this but we probably wouldn't have eaten there all the times we did if we had this conversation with him when we first moved to NYC.

Well, in addition to Kunjip, there's a ton of other Korean food places to try on the same street if you don't have time to make it to Flushing. This Korean mart pictured below was great.

The well known "dumpling lady" in Korea town that's supposed to make phenomenal dumplings for your viewing and tasting pleasures.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Blue Ribbon Empire

Everyone raves about the eight Blue Ribbon Restaurants in Manhattan, which includes three sushi restaurants. We've only been to the Blue Ribbon Bakery (on Downing and Bedford) and went there because we read such great reviews about their weekend brunch.

Maybe we caught them on an off day, but the food was just okay and the environment was a bit too hectic and cluster-F'd even by Manhattan standards. It didn't help that we were seated in the corner in a tiny, cramped and hot area in the basement (where their bakery is located). On a positive note, seeing their bakery and experiencing the unbelievably wonderful smell coming from their old-world oven was the highlight of our visit.

Dark Smoothie

Monday, November 16, 2009

Those Come-Hither Signs

Follow the Food

Often times you feel like you have attention deficit disorder when you walk down a street in New York City. Restaurants and bars and bodegas and food carts and food trucks and cafes. It's dizzying and exciting.

Simple and intelligent window display - an image that reminds you of your grandma and comfort food plus a sign that says Free Mac & Cheese Tuesday. Brilliant.

An awning with the words "Burgers and Cupcakes" just makes us smile.

Not big fans of lumping together Korean and Japanese food. Note the sign "EXOTIC sake bar" - we take it this is to lure in customers who really don't know the difference between Korean and Japanese food. Peculiar pub sounds more interesting.

Esposito Pork Shop (located on the same street as Manganaro's Hero Boy and Manganaro's Grosseria and Ristorante). If you don't like animal knuckles, nose, ears, tails, and butt bits, you would hate Esposito Pork Shop's window display.

Even the strongest people have a hard time resisting "FRENCH FRIES" on a big red banner. The come-hither smell of french fries being fried in artery clogging oil will always test your will power.

We walked past this neon sign in the East Village several dozen times, especially since our temporary sublet was right around the corner. But we were always one our way to somewhere else and just never made it in Paul's Da Burger Joint (is the owner from Hawaii?). So we have no way of agreeing with or disputing their "the best hamburger" claim. We're cool with not having tried their burger since we fell in love with the J.G. Melon, Shake Shack, and The Burger Joint burgers.

Although we were never out until 5 or 6 am like many young and old kids in the city, it was just nice to have so many options for 24-hour food places.

Marie's Crisis Cafe is on our still growing list of places we want to go go to when we visit or MOVE back to New York. It's been an underground West Village piano bar for musical theater performers, gay men, and people that just like to have fun. The underground space itself has been around since the 1850s.