A New York state of mind: food, travel and life as we know it

“Some folks like to get away

Take a holiday from the neighbourhood

Hop a flight to Miami Beach or Hollywood

But I’m takin’ a Greyhound on the Hudson River line

I’m in a New York state of mind”

I lived these lines penned by Billy Joel as we set out on our much awaited get away to the ‘city that never sleeps’. Even today, as I sit by these massive glass windows, as the sun comes streaming in, while the corner of my eye catches a glimpse of the pristine white Viennese structures, with windows so artfully carved that one can’t help but silently bless the hands that added one block at a time, to the beauty that surrounds me today, I will shamelessly admit that I am still hungover from the jolt that was New York.

I recall my first time in the city 4 winters ago rather vividly. The fact that I was travelling alone gave me an extra adrenaline rush. I remember being utterly smitten by the sights and the sounds; the blinding lights at Times Square; the residents, diverse in terms of looks but unified by their impeccable sartorial choices, strutting down the streets on a weekday; the way you have to crinkle your eyes in an attempt to scale the towering skyscrapers. The subway spelt out the word ‘busy’ for me. Every average person on the train, leaving aside the occasional gospel preacher (whose victim, yours truly ended up being, for a good half an hour) seemed to sport the same expression on their faces; pensive with a hint of disdain and a teaspoon of misery.

Since I was still in college then and my trip was on a shoestring budget which was sanctioned by my dad after a day’s worth of negotiations, I clearly remember making the choice to eat at food trucks (no regrets) through most of my trip, excluding the occasional beer chugged at the shady looking pub, so that I would still have enough cash to splurge on my own sartorialism. I recollect the way my face froze on the ferry to Staten Island, to witness the Statue of Liberty for the very first time, that it almost felt like ceramic by the time I got my feet back on the land; the sense of utter (un)belonging, if there were such a word, as I walked up and down Wall Street for I always knew that my calling lay at least a thousand yards away from the term ‘finance’. I also remember walking down Times Square, wide eyed, enamored by the lights and the sights and thinking to myself that I would come back sooner if not later.

And so, I did.

This time, a lot seemed to have changed. I was of course older and not much wiser, but married and travelling with my most favourite travel companion. There is indeed something about visiting a new place on your own and then coming back after a few years to pay the place a visit again with your partner. I cannot put my finger on what exactly it is that feels different; maybe it’s the companionship, maybe it’s that scowl on your face when you know you both need to hit mid ground in terms of your ‘live in the moment’ or ‘be spontaneous’ plans versus his complete order in life, maybe it’s just the change in perspective, but the one thing I can tell you is that, it is nothing short of beautiful.

It was also a planned reunion with my soul sisters. Two beautiful women who stand by me through all the battles I fight; two women who laugh with me while we crack the poorest of jokes seventy five times at a stretch; two women who have seen me at my cringe worthy worst, never judging, their steps never faltering.

For some strange reason, I happened to witness NYC in a new light this time. I wasn’t quite blinded by the lights nor was I as wide-eyed as I was when I first set foot in the city. I had always felt that New York had something about it that makes you feel like a sheep in the big city; something that makes you feel meek; insignificant. Something that tends to suck out every bit of life in you, in your eternal attempt to fit in to a social bracket that is merely a figment of your imagination. I feel so, because time is an exceedingly precious commodity there and no one has enough of it to be wasted on something as inconsequential as you. It is almost as though you have to struggle so much to keep up with the pace at which the city glides that you are left with severe palpitations. If you pay close attention to the people around, you can just about see the slight grey tinge tarnishing their façades that look like they are effortlessly holding their heads above the water. I could sense the pressure that was built up in society to look a particular way, even feel a particular way. I tend to feel a slight constriction in my windpipe when feelings and emotions are dictated by societal norms, and I felt that there.

I shall now take a detour and talk about happier things, in fact, the one thing that I find fascinating no matter where I go; the food. This visit did not see me loitering around food trucks or other street eateries. Apart from spending quality time with my girlies, the sole purpose of my visit was to find a couple of places that would leave a lasting imprint on my palate and you bet I did. Considering the amazing diversity in the population gifted to this massive city, the vast number of incredible eateries offering exquisite varieties of cuisines should come as no surprise. I take this opportunity to confess that I did not chase after great burger joints during my stint there (yes I know, NYC, burger, beer, yada yada yada) and that is mainly for two reasons. One, I am not the biggest burger fan coupled with the fact that I have already found my go-to burger joint here in Vienna, that satiates my burger craving, without leaving any room for error, as and when it knocks. Two, if you are the die-hard burgerholic (just had to resort to a cliche, for want of a better word), you don’t need me to write about it since enough, if not too much has already been said and written on the best burger joints in NYC by other seasoned burgerholics.

So, I shall proceed to take you on a virtual gastronomical tour to a few of the places that left indelible marks on my palate.

1. Laut Malaysian/Singapore Kitchen: One of the first Malaysian restaurants in NYC to be awarded a Michelin Star, Laut was the definition of the usage “blew me away” and I could not possibly emphasize it enough. Although this list is in no particular order, I cannot help but place this restaurant, that gives off a mini Malaysian food street vibe, right at the top. Quite contrary to the popular notion on what Michelin Star restaurants should look and feel like, Laut is a welcome change. The place has a lovely, jovial ambience with people chattering away to their hearts content while digging into yummy looking plates of food, which works best for someone like me who prefers a relaxed, comfortable environment to a place that makes you feel like even the cutlery is judging you.

Even the food was so heartily presented and that I feel deserves more credit that it gets, since it helps in building an appetite in me, as opposed to the fancy-schmancy, sometimes bordering on over-the-top plating which makes me rethink my life choices. But hey! That’s strictly a personal opinion. As I keep harping time and again, I feel food is supposed to bring you joy; it is something that should fill your tummy and your soul. The food at Laut ticked all these boxes for me as I could taste the love and the sheer effort that had gone behind the preparation of every bite on our plates.

What we ordered:

Singapore Chili Crab– Crispy fried, soft shelled crabs dunked in a lovely, sweet and sour chili sauce with a dropped egg adding wonders to the velvety texture of the sauce. Served with fried and steamed Manatau. It would be a crime if you were to walk out of Laut without giving this dish a go. Period.

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Nasi Goreng: Nasi Goreng translates to ‘fried rice’ is Indonesian and Malay and is a popular main dish in those areas. The Nasi Goreng served at Laut, with sumptuous amounts of shrimp was by far the best I have had in a long time. The explosion of flavor in my mouth after the first bite will not be forgotten that easily. Huge hit.

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Nasi Lemak: Considered to be the national dish of Malaysia, the Nasi Lemak yet again was nothing short of amazing. This was a plateful of food comprising rice, some pineapple sambal, dried anchovies fried, some pickled prawns and succulent pieces of chicken coated in a thick gravy, somewhat resembling a ‘roast’ as the term would mean in south India.

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Young Coconut Pudding– The soufflé which was filled into an actual green coconut got my thumbs up even before I tasted it for the sheer beauty in presentation. And when I did taste it, boy oh boy, the silky texture of the soufflé with the right amount of sweetness made it so refreshing and light on the tummy that it felt like the perfect way to end such an incredible meal.

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Having said all this, if you have an inkling at the back of your mind that this meal (along with other appetizers) would have cost us a fortune, please rest assured that you are thoroughly mistaken. The Michelin Star is solely in terms of food quality and this is yet another feather on Laut’s cap.

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2. Sigiri: This unassuming nook placed on quite an insignificant location on 1st Ave and specializing in authentic Sri Lankan cuisine deserves its own dot on the world map for the brilliant, spicy food it serves. This is a place that focuses solely on the quality of food. The ambience is plain and minimalistic although clean and well kept.

What we ordered:

The Black Chicken Curry and the Fish Curry, both of which were spicy and so full of flavor. The chicken was cooked in fried coconut and has sumptuous amounts of whole spices infused in to the gravy and this got along beautifully with the plate of hot white rice. The fish was cooked in a tamarind paste with basic masala simmered in a thin coconut milk and this reminded me of South Indian cuisine in parts. We ended the meal with a plate of homemade caramel custard which was on the house (additional delight). Must visit for all spicy food lovers!

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3. BCD Tofu House: Impeccable Korean food. Period. This was one of the last meals we had in the city and for this reason I cannot stop thinking about it. The fact that this spacious restaurant, nestled in Korea Town, was packed on a Friday afternoon speaks volumes about the quality of food.

What we ordered:

Seafood Pancake– A yummy pancake stuffed with all kinds of seafood. Perfect for an appetizer and tasty.

Spicy Pork Bulgogi– This was one of the best pork dishes I have had in a long time and possibly a strong contender for the best Bulgogi I have tasted. This dish comprised succulent shreads of pork in a semi dry, spicy paste served with stick rice and a super spicy seafood (clams, mussels, shrimp, squid), tofu and beef soup. The ‘Tofu’ in the name stands there for a reason I realise and the reason being the silky, melt-in-the-mouth tofu these guys serve. Coming from a person who is not even a fan of tofu, you may want to take me seriously. You can let them know your spice tolerance levels when you order.

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-12 at 18.30.404. Levain Bakery: You haven’t had the best cookie in NYC (or maybe anywhere else on earth for that matter) if you haven’t eaten at Levain Bakery. It can’t get much better than those huge, warm, heavenly cookies oozing chocolate from all sides.

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Special Mentions:

1. Grom– Best hot chocolate ever, I mean seriously. Thick hot chocolate whipped to perfection with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Perfect for those grey, rainy days when all you need is to snuggle under a warm blanket with a book and a cup of this lovely creation.

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2. Sprinkles– The cupcake ATM was super fascinating. Lovely cupcakes with a lot of attention paid to the base cake, which I loved. The butter or cream cheese frosting is a tad too sweet for my liking but certainly worth a solid mention.

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3. BEA– Beautiful looking bar with bare bricked walls and lots of indoor greenery, perfect for a casual date or a night out with friends on the days your wallet does not feel too slim. Haha. Great drinks and average food.

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(image obtained from http://www.beanyc.com/inside/)

Be not fooled into thinking that these are only places we visited in that one week. These are just the places I would want each of you to visit if ever you are to find yourself in New York. I hope you had a good read and don’t forget to let me know your thoughts. 🙂

 

 

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