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Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

So like I said, I visited New York last week with my mom. We’ve been taking trips to the other coast since before I can remember because my parents both started out over there, and the majority of my mom’s family still lives there.  While I’ve been there more times than I can count (in fact, this was already my second time this year), for whatever reason, my family and I never really go out on our own to the city.  Even when my sister was at Columbia, I can only recall one time that we went exploring, but that was without my parents and we stuck really close to campus.
With my growing obsession (extreme? who knows?) with food, well, growing, I decided to force my mom to go food hunting with me this time whenever we weren’t at family gatherings.
Here are the highlights:

Balthazar, in SoHo, has a beautiful, French atmosphere.  Even though I didn’t get to eat a full meal here (we were there at an awkward time, 3:00), we decided to stop by the bakery next door.  My research told me the bakery was a must see (must taste?) anyway, because it’s a French bakery, obviously. And it didn’t disappoint! The crust was thick and crumbly–in a good way–and the filling was light and refreshing.  My mom got an apricot croissant-like pastry of some sort. She said it was really good as well.

Clinton St. Baking Co. has received critical acclaim as one of the best, if not THE best, breakfast spot in NYC.  Located on the lower east side, this little restaurant draws a crowd.  My mom and I made the mistake of arriving there around 10:50 and we were seated a little after 12. Crazy, right? But once I got those famous pancakes, the wait was definitely worth it.  Bobby Flay had a “Throwdown” at this place over these pancakes, for crying out loud! I don’t even like pancakes all that much, and I almost despise blueberries, but these guys converted me. My mom and I also split a “Southern Breakfast,” complete with cheesy grits, eggs, a fried green tomato, and sugar cured bacon (amazing), which was good, but if/when I go back next time, I’ll be sure to just order a round of those amazing pancakes, served all day…and I’ll be sure to wake up early enough to beat the crowds.
Let me preface this by saying that xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, are one of my absolutely most favorite foods in the world.  Yes, I know I said I don’t like Chinese food very much, and yes, I know these are definitely Chinese, but they’re truly irresistible.  According to the Chinese newspaper that my mom was reading while we were in New York, Lonely Planet recently ranked the top ten foods in the world, and what do you know? Xiao long bao were on that list along with other heavy hitters like Indonesia’s nasi goreng (fried rice) and New York’s hot dogs.
These little dumplings are like packages of joy, each one bursting with a hot, delicious broth and a bundle of meat.  The official way to enjoy such a delight is dipped in a soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger mixture.  You then place the dumpling in a Chinese soup spoon (carefully! breaking the skin of one of these guys before you intend to is something close to a tragedy) and proceed to eat cautiously, slurping the very hot soup out.  My cousin Brian and I are known as heavy weight eaters in our family, so for a group of just six people, we got five orders of these.  The waiters looked at us a little suspiciously because believe me, these things are extremely filling, not to mention the fact that we ordered a handful of other things like two noodle dishes and beef with vegetables, but something tells me our ordering isn’t all that uncommon at Joe’s Shanghai.
The restaurant itself is modest, a seemingly normal Chinese restaurant, but their Zagat placards hang proudly on the wall.  We got to the Flushing location (the original, and supposedly the very best) at just after 11 at the suggestion of my uncle, and we arrived to almost half the restaurant being empty.  Fifteen, twenty minutes later though, it was a different story.  The restaurant had filled to capacity and families poured out onto the sidewalk waiting for a table.  Who could blame them? At around $4 for an order of 8 xiao long bao, these dumplings are worth every minute AND every penny.
So after hitting all the above restaurants, I thought about famous places in New York, famous landmarks, that I had never been to.  And it was really hard to think of any.  I thought I’d seen it all, the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, Fifth Avenue, all the bridges, but then I realized–I had never been to Coney Island!
It was a really hot, sunny day, the first in a while following a string of thunderstorms.  Living in Southern California and always having my choice of beaches, I forgot that people in New York might want to go to a beach too, and that Coney Island was actually a beach destination for hordes of people.  So we got off the subway along with hundreds of beach goers and when we got to the boardwalk area, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  I don’t really know what I was expecting, but a bunch of the rides were closed down, and it seemed that the only thing to do was eat or tan.  At the same time, the historical significance of the area was tangible and the feeling that the atmosphere probably hadn’t changed in a very long time was pretty cool.  But since my mom and I weren’t planning on tanning at this overcrowded beach, we decided to eat, of course! And where else to eat but at Nathan’s Famous.  Probably one of the newest editions to Coney Island is a huge sign on the side of the main Nathan’s Famous restaurant counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until the next hot dog eating competition on the Fourth of July.  My mom and I grabbed a few hot dogs with sauerkraut and an order of crinkle cut fries, despite the calorie contents almost proudly listed next to each item on the menu.  Neither was especially thrilling, I mean, I’d still prefer a number 2 at In-N-Out, but again, I appreciated the history of Nathan’s Famous, and enjoyed the meal.
The prospect of visiting New York used to bore me.  I almost dreaded it.  Now that I know just how much is out there for me to explore, I can’t wait to go back!

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