Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hipster Brooklyn

For my last full day in New York, I decided to visit Brooklyn, a borough I've never been before.  My uncle decided to come with me, so we met on the platform for the L train and rode to the Bedford Avenue station.  I had done some research on the Williamsburg neighborhood before we left, so I headed right to the Cafe El Beit on Bedford Avenue, which, I was told, is appropriately hipster.  We ordered our coffees and sat and talked for a while as the neighborhood woke up.


As we started our tour we passed "Sweet Chick," which I had read about during my research on hipster Brooklyn.  The place was packed for Sunday brunch and for its combination of chicken and waffles.   Here's its sign on the side of its building.


As you might expect, the neighborhood is full of funky little stores and cafes.  My uncle couldn't believe how many cafes we passed in such as short space.  The neighborhood apparently runs on coffee.


We stuck our head in a few places, like an overly garlicky bagel place, but I had my heart set on cheese and chocolate.  For the first, we went to the Bedford Cheese Shop.  There, all the cheeses in the case weren't merely labeled with the name and price of the cheese; each came with a small story about how the cheese tastes and what it would best be paired with.


One cheese, the Serpa, had an intriguing description, but we both decided that the "naughty Portuguese shepherd" was too noticeable.


Instead we got the Tomme de la Chataignerai, a cheese neither of us had ever heard of before.


We also got a baguette to go with it and we munched on both along the way.  They were fantastic.

Our next stop was Mast Brothers Chocolate.  These guys roast their cocoa beans and process them all in house.  Their chocolates are all a minimum of 75% cocoa.  [By comparison, milk chocolate is usually 35%, semi-sweet chocolate is 55%, and bittersweet is usually about 65%].


I decided to try the almond truffle, which was bitter, buttery, and intensely chocolate.  One was more than sufficient. 


As we continued along the way, we passed Ludlow Blunt, an old-style barber shop.  This is a bit of hipster pretentiousness, but I couldn't help but notice how closely it resembles my grandfather's beauty salon in Berlin in the 1930s (whose photos I've seen).


Along the way, we met this adorable two-year old bulldog:


By this point we were pretty close to the East River, so we walked down to see the view of the Williamsburg Bridge:


And the midtown Manhattan skyline:


On our way back we stopped in at Artists & Fleas, a combination collection of artisan and flea shops.  I'd read about this place online and it was characteristically and pretentiously hipster.  For example, they had a DJ spinning Brazilian jazz records.


I ended up buying a t-shirt for roughly what I would have paid for a button-down shirt at Macy's, but this came with its own version of hipster preening.  As the owner explained, they print them in their car as they travel around the country.  Each shirt, therefore, has a hand-written note on its tag indicating in which city it was printed.  Mine says "Syracuse, NY," as if one could sense its "terroir."

Having seen a good chunk of hipster Williamsburg, we headed back to Manhattan in order to visit an area of Brooklyn called "DUMBO," short for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass."  The best way to see this neighborhood is to get to it by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.


While the weather today was the nicest since I arrived in Manhattan, it meant that everyone came out to walk across the bridge, and one had to be somewhat aggressive in defending one's personal space against not only encroachment but outright assault.


This is the DUMBO neighborhood:


My hope was to get some traditional Italian pizza, but the line for Grimaldi's, the most famous, was very long.


I thought Juliana's next door would be just as good, but my uncle pointed out the line for Grimaldi's was moving fast and we were seated in about 15 minutes.  Our pizza took much longer to arrive, and my uncle decided it was not up to snuff.  The crust was soggy, not crispy, and the sauce was merely "eh."  We still ate it all (or almost all, I left over one of my pieces).


Part of the problem, my uncle felt, is that the coal-fired oven was just too small to accommodate all the patrons efficiently.


From there we walked down to the Brooklyn Promenade through a neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, that reminded me a lot of my old neighborhood in D.C.


From the promenade we had a spectacular view of lower Manhattan.


The promenade itself was also quite lovely.


Eventually, though, we had to head back, and I did see this great shot of the Empire State Building through the Manhattan Bridge.


We said goodbye on the train and then I headed back to the Pickle Guy on Essex Street to buy some pickles for the road.


I bought two sets of pickles, which I will bring to Thanksgiving (if they survive the flight):  a traditional sour pickle and a very untraditional pineapple pickle.  While the latter sounds really strange, I assure you that all of us who tried it last week said it was the best thing we ate on the food tour of the Lower East Side.

They also let me try the mango pickle, which was similar in its flavor profile to the pineapple pickle, and the okra pickle, which I really didn't care for.

I explained that I intended to take the pickles home in my suitcase, so they not only sealed them in plastic containers, they then wrapped each plastic container in many layers of plastic wrapping, and then put them inside plastic bags.  To be extra, extra safe, I bought gallon sized ziploc baggies tonight and placed each one inside one and then sealed it again.  Hopefully, this will be enough to protect both the pickles and my clothing should they leak.

For dinner, I decided to try Eataly, a combination Italian restaurant and food supply store.  It's sort of set up like the food court at KaDeWe, where you have areas devoted to certain Italian foods, and you can sit and order those foods to eat.  Thus, if you are in the vegetable section, you can only order dishes that are vegetable based; if you want a pasta dish you need to go to the pasta section.  I went to the pasta section and ordered the agnolotti. 


For dessert, though, I had to go to a different section of the store.  I had a slice of the Toro, which is made with chocolate and hazelnuts.


That was it for the night.  All that's left for me to do now is pack.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Full Circle

This morning I met my uncle and some of his brunch friends for breakfast at Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side.  They all met many years before at a different restaurant, but switched after it changed under new management.  Now they regularly meet here.


It reminded me, just a little of the gang who regularly met at the corner in Beverly Hills, though our group was less tightly bound and more transient.


I saw they had homemade blintzes on the menu, so I went for them.  I miss the wonderful ones I had at the Kiev in the East Village.  These were nearly as good.  They were just fantastic.


It was still awfully cold this morning, so I had no choice but to wear not only my scarf, but also my gloves and ski cap and still it was cold.  And today was the day that it was going to begin to warm up!

We went to Zabar's and walked around a bit.  I love markets of any kind, so this was definitely a treat for me.  Eventually, though, I left for the crosstown bus to head to the Neue Galerie.  I arrived just before they opened at 11, so and another patron clung to the side of the building to stay out of the wind.  After two minutes they let us in.

The Neue Galerie was founded to celebrate modern art created in Austria and Germany between 1900 and 1940.  Many of the artists, their art, and their patrons were persecuted by the Nazis.  Some of the most famous paintings in the collection were stolen by the Germans and only recently recovered by surviving heirs.   There's no photos in the museum, but I did snap two shots in the stairwell highlighting their special exhibition:  the works of Egon Schiele:



The museum is really small, just three or four rooms per floor, but they have an excellent collection.  The other major attraction is their Austrian cafe:  Cafe Sabarsky.  Like any Austrian cafe, they have the day's newspaper on wooden poles by the door, so I grabbed the front section of the New York Times to read.  I didn't have much chance as the mother and son next to me spoke to me for most of the meal.

They both got the gulaschsuppe, but the sp├Ątzle appealed to me:


It had vegetables, mushrooms, and dill.

For dessert, I went with the Feuilletinewhich is composed of a variety of layers with a meringue japonais (with hazelnuts) on the bottom, then the layer of chocolate feuilletine, and finally, the chocolate hazelnut mousse. With Schlag, of course on the side, and a Milchkaffee.  It was very, very good.


By now it was after 2 pm, so I decided to head down to the Strand Bookstore, one of the last independent bookstores in America.  Of course, that meant having to deal with the subway again.  All day long, there have been delays on the Number 6 line.  "Please be aware that due to a water main break [in the Bronx], there are significant delays on the 6 line today."  I was nearly late for breakfast as our train sat for 10 minutes at the 59th Street station.

One good thing about the subway today, though, was that as I was getting off at 14th Street and Union Square I heard some fun music coming from one end of the platform.  It was a three man band called "Too Many Zooz." I had never heard of them before, but I enjoyed their music and tipped them.  I found out later that they've been written up in several local papers.

On my way to the Strand I passed a great scifi/comix store called Forbidden Planet that I'm sure my niece would love:


The Strand Bookstore was just two door down from it.  This is a four level bookstore with both new and used books.  On the store's map, the fiction section was marked by the symbol for whale (I assume a reference to Moby Dick).  I bought a collection of short stories by Stefan Zweig to read on the plane.

I headed home when it got dark to plan out tomorrow when I head to Brooklyn.  I decided that after such a rich breakfast and dessert (in both senses of the word), I needed something lighter.   I decided to go to Chinatown and get more of the dumplings I had yesterday.   Unfortunately, Vanessa's Dumplings was full and there were no seats to be had.  I walked next door to Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine Restaurant, also listed in the guide provided by the Tenement Museum, as catering to recent Chinese immigrants to the neighborhood.  It certainly looked the part.


I ordered a small plate of six dumplings and a small wonton soup.  Along with a can of soda, this came to $5.  It was also very good and filling, without being heavy.


I started off the morning with eastern European blintzes, moved to Austria for a lunch, and then went on to China for dinner.  I decided for dessert to go full circle and return to the bialy shop for a bialy as a snack.  They were just about to close when I arrived but I still had time to buy a bialy.  Actually, she gave me two for the price of one, but I couldn't finish the second one.

After that it was another long wait for a north bound 6 train.  Hopefully tomorrow they'll have fixed the problem.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bundled Up

As I think I've mentioned before, I've not been thrilled with my choice of lodging in New York. When I  booked this place, I thought it was a B & B; instead it turned out to be less a hostel and more like a dorm room.  They do, however, have a nice breakfast.


It was 28 when I woke up this morning, and I knew the temperature might get as high as 33 during the day, so I bought some winter clothing to stay warm.  When I headed off to the Museum of Modern Art, I not only had on two layers of shirts and a leather jacket, but a scarf, gloves, and cap to keep my kepi warm.


My uncle is a member so he got me in for free and early.  We headed up to see the Matisse cut outs.  I'd seen some of these before at the East Wing of the National Gallery and I enjoy his use of color and shapes.  One of the things I noticed this time was that most of his major works in this medium were in the years immediately after WWII.  In fact, he had been moving in this direction in the 1930s and started to do more during the war.  So many of the artists I love were strongly affected by the rise of the Nazis and the war, that it was almost shocking to me, how little the war affected his work or vision.

When we left the Matisse exhibit, we got coffees and sat and chatted for a while.  Then we resumed our visit to the museum with the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition.  It opens with his famous and powerful portrait of Aristide Bruant.


I think I saw a version of this at the San Diego Museum of Art around 1980 and was so moved that I bought the exhibition poster and hung it in my various dorm rooms in college.

Toulouse-Lautrec liked to draw the dancer Jean Avril, but I particularly liked this version where she wasn't on stage or dancing.  It depicts her as someone taking charge of her own image, as she inspects the proofs at the printer.


We didn't have much time to tour their permanent collection of post-impressionists; I had to leave early to make my tour of the Lower East Side.  So I sort of raced through looking for things I particularly like.  I had told my uncle that I liked the art and food in Vienna, but not so much the people, so he took me to see "my" Klimts.  But I think Klimt is fun but not particularly special.  I much prefer this Kirchner:


Or the four Kandinskis next to it:


I also very much liked this piece of Italian futurism by Umberto Boccioni:


Unfortunately, I simply ran out of time.  You can only visit the Tenement Museum on timed tours, and I had decided to book two tours. The first, a food tour of the neighborhood, started at 1 pm.  The second, a tour of the tenement focusing on sweatshops started at 3:15.

The food tour was fantastic but a little chilly, even with all my outer garments.

The idea was to sample the various foods immigrants have brought to the Lower East Side from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present.   Here's the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street (photos were not permitted inside):


One of the original businesses in the basement was a beer saloon.  In the 1860s, there were four beer saloons on just this one block of Orchard.  One of my great, great grandfathers, the first to immigrate to the United States, had just such a beer saloon in the 1870s a few blocks over on Houston St.

To celebrate the food of these mostly German-owned business we had pretzels (made by a local Austrian cafe) with two dipping sauces:  mustard with horseradish and a mixture of butter, farmer's cheese and paprika (which I had in Budapest).


As you can see, here as everywhere else on the tour, we didn't enter the food locale, but had the food brought to us.

From there we walked a few blocks to a popular, kosher pickle shop called, not surprisingly, "The Pickle Guys." 


There we had two sets of pickles. The first were these traditional sour pickles, that had only been pickling for about a week. They were yummy, but I think we were all blown away by the pickled pineapple (with some chili pepper). Wow! Absolutely fantastic!

Our third stop was for bialys!  We heard a little about why the bialys never caught on like their more popular cousin (hint: they go stale very fast).  Then we got to sample bialys with a "shmear" of cream cheese.



From there we headed over to the Essex Street Market, where we learned how angry shop owners tried to shut off competition from food carts by banning them from selling food on the streets.  Instead, the cart owners found a home in the newly created Essex Street Market.  Now the place is a mix of high end retailers and low end groceries.  The shop keepers don't like the tours taking pictures so we were asked not to.  I snuck back later, however, and took a few shots indoors.  Here's an example of one of the high end stores:  a clearly hipster-owned and operated "Brooklyn Tacos" stand:


By now we had passed the 1940s and started moving towards more contemporary immigrants.  Our next stop was the Dominican restaurant, El Castillo de Jagua where we ate tostones, a snack made from fried green plantains:


After that we walked around the neighborhood, trying some chocolate covered pretzels from "Economy Candy" and some high end Chinese cream puffs with black sesame filling.  I focused on the over all feel of the neighborhood.


Our tour ended back at the Tenement Museum with some contemporary Chinese dumplings.

The tour of the Tenement House started a few minutes after the food tour ended.  There are a couple different themed tours you can take.  I took the Sweatshop tour, which looks at two Jewish families who lived in the building:  the Levines who lived there in 1900, and the Rogarshevskys from 1910.  They had a few items on display and I noticed a flyer in Yiddish for learning English fast from the "Brooklyn Preparatory School."  

The hallways and rooms of the tenement building are appropriately decayed.  The building was not upgraded to meet the 1935 housing code (which required them to replace the wooden stairs with metal ones), so the upper floors remained vacant until the museum acquired the building.   One can only imagine how hot it was in those apartments in the summer with the heat from so many people living and working there.  Sweatshop indeed.  They estimate that 7,000 people lived in this building for some amount of time between 1863 and 1935.

Afterwards I walked around the neighborhood for a bit, but it was getting colder and the sun was setting.  By 4:15 pm, the sun had nearly set.


It's hard for me to get used to how little daylight there is here in the fall and winter.

For dinner tonight, I stayed in the neighborhood.  I went back to the Greek-owned diner and had their
pastitsios:


It may seem like a lot of food (and it was, though I skipped the potatoes), but then the only lunch I had were the snacks on the food tour.  I also got their homemade baklava:

 
 Tomorrow:  the weather warms into the 40s; I meet my uncle for breakfast at Barney Greengrass, and I visit the Neue Galerie.