Archive for June, 2011

Battery Park City

It blows my mind that Battery Park City exists and that it is in Manhattan. Each neighborhood gives off a different vibe, but they are all warm, culturally rich, and unique. Battery Park City sits there at the tip of the island, cold and soul-less. It is full of new buildings, state-of-the-art technology, and modern art, but there is no Manhattan culture or home feeling. My professor last semester always talked about this international professional creative/business class and how they stay in a city for a few years then fly off to the next one. They didn’t have permanent homes. And that’s exactly what Battery Park City is. Professionals come and go. They aren’t tied down to the culture or the city. Battery Park City is simply yet another temporary home. It is the stop before Shanghai and Hong Kong. And that’s not okay with me.

Just look at the stupid monkey: Is that the New York you know? Sure isn’t the one I know.


Murray Hill: Ethos

After tanning for a few hours on my friend’s dad’s rooftop (which had gorgeous views of the East River), we decided to go to a Greek restaurant around the corner. I am not the biggest Greek fan – I don’t really like feta cheese or olives, but both have been growing on me as of late. I figured that I’d just find a neutral appetizer and that’d be that.

My friend and split an appetizer and we both decided on Spanakotopia. The spanakotopia, pictured above, is sautéed baby spinach, leeks, scallion, dill, and feta cheese wrapped up in delicious and flaky phyllo dough. It was absolutely delicious! Another friend ordered dolmas, but only wanted one so she passed the rest to us. They were meatless, but they were still delicious, too. The waitress also served us complimentary bread and olive oil which consisted of a few small rolls and fresh pita bread. The pita bread and olive oil were out of this world. Later, a friend ordered octopus and even that was cooked to perfection. We joked that the Asians next to us, pictured above, were having a feast, but little did we realize, we were eating just as much.

I’m truly starting to rethink Greek food. I love Mediterranean, and I know that they are very similar, but I just feel like most Greek food that I encounter has olives and feta cheese. But, again, I’m starting to realize that they are tasty. Perhaps I was just eating it wrong all these years. Ethos also served complimentary baklava at the end. I’ve had far better baklava, but I’m not going to complain when it is free, especially after the bread and amazing food.

Hell’s Kitchen: Room Service

I took the weekend off from work to relax and rewind. Most of my friends, including myself, are leaving the city next weekend, so I figured I’d have an extended weekend with them this week. I’ll have to work double this upcoming weekend, but that’s fine.

I met up with three friends last night for dinner. One of them suggested going to Room Service, a Thai restaurant that I’ve been eager to try since I discovered it on Yelp a few weeks ago. Room Service has two locations in the city, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. If anything indicates quality and quantity in New York, it is having multiple locations. Spice, a popular Thai restaurant, has nine locations in the city. My beloved Cafetasia has two. And then there’s Holy Basil with only one, for good reason.

One friend had preference to the Hell’s Kitchen location because she had to leave after, so we made the trek there. I’ve always felt that Hell’s Kitchen is too far out of the way and has unreliable subway lines (ACE,123), but the neighborhood is loved by its residents. Personally, I’m more of a fan of Greenwich Village or Union Square, which both have amazing accessibility to multiple subway lines, as for I like to travel and go throughout the city. But there are some self-sustaining neighborhoods, like Hell’s Kitchen and Siberia Battery Park City that work for their residents.

We started off the dinner with two appetizers: Sesame Tofu and Flank Steak. Sesame and tofu are one of the few tasteless ingredients in the world, so the thought of ordering them together was a little stupid, but they turned out okay. We asked for soy sauce in addition to the sauce that came with the sesame tofu and proceeded to drown them in both. The flank steak was a complete miss. It claimed to have come in a “roasted jasmine rice sauce,” but that sauce tasted like balsamic vinegar. And I hate balsamic vinegar.

I ordered extra, extra spicy Chicken Basil Noodles as my entree. I was excited because I love spicy basil noodle dishes and I now had the opportunity to use my green chopsticks. It’s nice when Asian restaurants uses plastic (and sometimes ceramic) chopsticks instead of the break-apart wooden ones. There also seems to be something marketable in green features – Starbucks having green straws, Room Service having green chopsticks – both of which I think are really cool. The actual dish was tasty. I won’t say that it is the best chicken basil udon I ever had, because there was hardly any chicken, but it was not bad. It was only $8.90, so it isn’t like I could complain. It was a relatively large proportion and the flat rice noodles were great.

I recommend Room Service as a cheap lunch or cheap dinner. I wouldn’t order any appetizers though. You can get Pad Thai and Basil Noodles for $8.90 each. Leave a little tip and dinner for two can be about $20 dollars total for two.

Club Monaco

Some refer to it as the black and white store. Some refer to it as Club Monaco. And most don’t even know what it is. Club Monaco is a subsidiary of Ralph Lauren, but it takes its own less-preppy spin on high end clothing. It is most notably known for its black and white collections with little injections of color. It is more formal in the fall and winter, but relaxed and cool in the spring and summer. It is popular among city dwellers and black clothing lovers – like me.

Last week, as I was buying a pair of black chinos, I went out on a limb and asked if they were hiring. She promptly replied yes and handed me an application. I filled it out, spoke to the manager, and two days later, I was offered the position. I don’t need the job. I don’t want the job. I just want the discounts. So I made it clear that I want a part time gig – 2-3 days a week, preferably two – and they happily complied.

I figure it will be another fun adventure. I am excited to meet new people, reap the employee discounts and benefits, and have some extra cash. I created a new category for Club Monaco because I think I’ll be reporting on it often.

Little India: Spice Corner

Little India spans a few blocks on Lexington Avenue between 24th and 30th. Unlike Little Italy or Chinatown, both popular and tourist infested ethnic neighborhoods, Little India is relatively unknown to tourists and most Manhattanites. The only street walkers are those who live there, mainly Indian or Near Eastern descent, and students at Baruch College. The streets are lined with Indian curry houses, grills, and formal restaurants. On the corner of 29th and Lexington, a little Indian and Middle Eastern grocery store occupies the lot: Spice Corner.

Two men, presumably the owners, eagerly and warmheartedly welcomed me when I walked into the store. I scoped out the general feel of the store – clean and organized. I asked for couscous and basmati rice, to which one of the men directed me to the shelf and offered a discount. I asked about olive oil. Another direction and discount offered. The back of the store was lined with spice shelves (pictured above): beans, powders, relishes, dried fruits, spices, seasonings. You name it, it was there. I found the bread aisle and was amazed at the selection of poori, naan, and other Indian and Middle Eastern breads. I found package of 10 naan flatbreads. “For you, three dollars,” the man said. I brought it to the counter and handed him three dollars. He walked behind the cash register and came back with a small and sweet looking baked good. “No, no. Just the naan,” I said. “No, for you and your friend.” He sliced it and handled it to me. I don’t know what it was, but it was delicious. It was about a three inch ball of a dense, fried dough, sweet and sugary. I was tempted to buy a pound’s worth of it.

I was amazed by the collection of currencies under the counter glass. I stared at them for a while, hoping that I’d recognize one. At most, I saw a Lebanese note, but I couldn’t confirm as for it was on the Arabic side and I didn’t see any French writing. I didn’t look for long, but I’ll be sure to ask questions next time I am in the store. It’s truly fascinating to see bank notes from other countries. I want start my own collection when I study abroad next year.

Problems with Starbucks in Manhattan

I’ve been an avid Starbucks customer for six years now. I am sure my Starbucks addiction would have started sooner had a Starbucks been constructed years earlier in White Plains. But the first one was on Main Street, some odd years ago, an all glass structure plopped right next to the fountain, to serve as both a homeless shelter and refreshing coffeehouse. (It acted more as the former and less as the latter as the years went on.) I found another Starbucks in Ramsley Square after the move and I’ve been addicted since. The cost was offset by a soothing atmosphere, delicious taste, and the pompous feeling. Let’s face it: everyone feels above everyone else when they have Starbucks in their hand. It was a source of both refreshment and elitism for me.

I set aside $250 every month to sustain my elitism, but that soon developed into an addiction. I’ve had crying fits of rage when I didn’t have my Starbucks. I’ve gone from depressed and lonely to happy and cheerful in just one sip. Starbucks is more than its coffee. But Starbucks in Manhattan continuously forgets that and serves substandard drinks with attitude at astronomical prices. Here’s a list of complaints, annoyances, and sources of hatred that have dwindled my budget to a mere once-a-week habit, at most:

  • Bad Drinks: I am understanding and sympathetic when my name is spelled incorrectly as “Micheal.” But when you destroy my drink the first time, don’t be annoyed when I ask you to make it for a second, third, and as it has happened before, fourth time. My order is not complicated (venti sugar-free vanilla, non-fat chai), but it is specific enough to have a distinctive taste that I notice when a shot of chai is missing, or when the barista completely forgot the sugar-free vanilla. There are only two Starbucks in the city with commendable baristas: Starbucks on Spring/Crosby, and on 41st and Madison. The Starbucks at Astor messes up on average of two times per order, and leaves a one inch margin of nothing at the top of the drink. (They don’t even have the courtesy to kill that space with ice!) And the one in Union Square on 15th is in its own world. It is dirty inside, the staff are completely rude, and they manage to destroy every drink, if they even remember to make it.
  • Terrible Wifi: The internet was shoddy at best when Starbucks required that you either pay for it or enter your Gold account information. But now that they’ve enabled it for the public, it has dropped to the terrible status. I have longed for the opportunity to order a decent chai and sit and surf the internet on my laptop. The anger is amplified when you wait fifteen minutes for a seat and the internet doesn’t work at all. I highly doubt it would cost more than $50 per location to increase the bandwidth, speed, and reach.
  • High Costs: I pay $4.74 for my Starbucks in the suburbs. That same drink is $5.24 in the city. My Gold card brings it to the 4.20s in the suburbs, but only to 4.70s in the city. I’d be understanding if the drinks were heavenly, but they are the opposite. It is a huge turn off to go to Starbucks, pay higher prices, and receive a drink that tastes terrible.
  • Rude Baristas: I am sick of the looks the baristas give me when I ask them to remake it. I don’t care how long the line is. I don’t care how many drinks you are working on it. If you made it right the first time, then I wouldn’t be requesting a new one! Some have even had the audacity to come up to patrons using their laptops and asking them if they have ordered a drink or will be ordering a drink. When the barista asked me, I ignored him. How dare you ask if I’ve ordered a drink? I was tempted to pull out my Gold card, and even my Black card that I keep in my wallet because its design is beautiful, and throw them at him. I understand that Starbucks wants to ensure that the public is not mooching off its internet (and bathrooms), but then the company shouldn’t have enabled free, public wifi. I’d be more than happy to log into my account to use internet. I’d be more than happy to swipe my Gold card on the bathroom door. But don’t come asking if I’ve ordered a drink.
I can keep going with my list, but I’ve come to accept some of them and am understanding. But these problems are the most occurring and the most annoying. Starbucks has such a large customer base that these rants and lists don’t matter, but it’s nice to vocalize my rants through blogging. I have complained before and exchanged emails with HQ Starbucks employees, but to no avail. My addiction has diminished and I’m sure Starbucks will continue to be an infrequent refreshment.

Zaro’s Bakery

The Hudson lines pour into the upper 20s and lower 30s tracks at Grand Central. Right around the bend is a quaint, but bustling, bakery: Zaro’s Bakery. I found this bakery years ago when I first started to come to the city on my own. I would idly walk around the terminal to kill time until my train departed. I found a few places, but Zaro’s stuck. It became a habit to negate my hundreds of calories worth of walking and exercise with their delicious and fattening cookies on the way home.

I haven’t gone home much in the past year, so I rarely went to Zaro’s. But on the occasion of heading home at 8AM, I figured it’d be nice to return back. I never came during the morning, so I had no clue what to order, but there was a large assortment of bagels. I was tossed around by morning commuters who barked their orders at the workers until I screamed “I’ll have what she ordered!” in reference to the person before me. I didn’t hear her whole order, but the words I did hear – honey, wheat, and cream cheese – were enough to win me over. I learned that it was a Honey Whole Wheat Bagel when I read the receipt. It was the perfect blend between delicious whole wheat, sweet honey, and cream cheese.

I make it a mission to try new bagel flavors when I am out for breakfast. My family only orders plain and cinnamon raison, so I try to explore and change things up. I highly recommend honey whole wheat to anyone who comes across it!