I’m in a “New York State of Mind”!

Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in Travel Tales | 6 comments

I’m in a “New York State of Mind”!

On my flight to JFK, my co-passenger on the next seat was a very serious looking Dean of a private University in Hyderabad. Not only did he disrupt and disturb me all the 9 direct hours from Brussels to JFK, with his obnoxious snoring, he also was a very bad man. No, no..hold on…not bad because of misbehavior! But bad, because he doesn’t like New York. Unbelievable.

“I’ve said over and over to so many people that I’m really just not all that into New York.  I have this idea that New Yorkers and people who love New York, just really like the idea of New York. This is my attitude: who really wants to spend all day in a concrete forest? Central Park is not that green. Food is way overpriced and where is all that bountiful local produce? People try too hard. People are crazy. That place is dirty. I’m always exhausted. I can’t wait to pack my bags, after this meeting and go back to California to where the rest of my family is”.

Needless to say, the only feeling I harbored for my co-passenger was hatred!

First day out in Manhattan, and a carefully chosen packed agenda. A visit to the Whole-Foods Store in Union Square, a brunch of a caramelized pork belly sandwich at Num Pang, a Cirque du Soleil show at the Radio City Hall at 2pm, late lunch at the Lobster Place and ‘figuring out’ Chelsea Market…and a reservation for drinks and dinner at the Seaport near Wall Street Waterfront in the evening.

As I rose out from the Union Square subway, and entered directly into the Whole Foods store, I knew I had a long day ahead. But deep down, I also knew this was the only way I would have wanted it. I have always been a mental planner, while traveling; often fitting into my in-scribbled schedule more than I could chew on! But this trip was a little different. It wasn’t a hurried long weekend trip to New York. It was laid out, at a slow and steady pace. It was a journey that would feast my senses, cleanse my soul and make me feel blessed, eventually, that I had such a fantastic family back home, that enables me to make trips of this nature, that are so close to my perfect ‘alone-vacation’.

“It’s a long walk, Sam”, Gabe, my niece’s Cuban boyfriend warned me while I left their pad in Brooklyn. ” Take a cab from Union Square once you are done with your Farmers’ Market stroll…and ask him to drop you at the Chelsea Market.” Nope, I told him. I had to walk. I had to walk New York. I had my map, and I was all set. So, how do I recognize the Chelsea Market building, Gabe, I asked. “Okay”, Gabe said…So, when you’ve stumbled upon a  red-coloured brick building, which is a one-stop, NYC culinary food shop, a gourmet lover’s wholesale-retail wonder world, and an energetic, industrial-chic hotspot, all meshed into an entire city block of space in the heart of West Chelsea.. you have reached your destination”!

First off, the Greenmarket  or the Farmers’ Market at Union Square. The teeming throngs that pinch, poke, and sniff the Greenmarket’s edibles include home cooks and four-star chefs, kids thirsty for after-school cider and Chinese grandmothers seeking squid and lemongrass. Whether they know acolytes of Alice Waters or ever heard of Chez Panisse is questionable, but they’re certainly beneficiaries of her back-to-the-land regional food movement. Here, at the city’s flagship Greenmarket, customers not only have access to homegrown produce, pretzels, meats, cheeses, jams, and honeys but a chance to meet the local farmers, bakers, and harvesters behind them. Much of the fare is organic or naturally-grown, and all of it is local, including brick-thick marbled Delmonicos cut from grass-fed beef, succulent tangles of organic greens, and bushels of heirloom apples and pears. It is held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8 AM to 6 PM. Saturdays are the busiest day of the four.

On an island of 1.5 million people, Union Square serves as point of convergence for people, cultures, and ideas that contribute to Manhattan’s unique global identity.  It is where the downtown vibes of Soho and the Lower East Side meet the fast paced world of midtown.  I could not help but notice the synergy of the area as I walked through the Union Square farmer’s market. The fresh fruit and produce from local farmers creates a relaxing, homegrown atmosphere amongst the racing cabs and honking horns.  You can find produce ranging from vibrant red cherries to artisan baked breads to fresh fish at the monger stand. You can spot purple and mauve coloured chilli peppers and lavender bushels and purple potatoes! People from all walks of life come to partake in the simple joy of hunting and gathering in the market.  In a fast paced city where human connections can be overridden by the digital world, this is a market that takes us back to the basics– buying, selling, negotiating, and sharing one experience!

With heartfelt respect for the people across the stands and a delightful memory of sounds and smells that are almost visual in nature, I pranced along across the road to have my mid-day snack of the pork-belly sandwich.

Desires of the stomach satiated, I resumed my walk towards Chelsea Market. Anthropology greeted me with a smile! Unique gifts, outrageous floral arrangements, fine dining in a casual atmosphere-all fitted into one-stop. And you get lessons in architecture and American history in the bargain. The Chelsea Market is located at the northwestern tip of Greenwich Village, on 9th Ave. between 15th and 16th Sts. Housed in the original headquarters of the National Biscuit Company–known today as Nabisco–it’s where Oreo cookies and Fig Newtons were invented. And the building retains much of its heritage, with exposed pipes and other fascinating remnants of an early 20th century high-production factory. The stores in the Chelsea Market include The Manhattan Fruit Exchange where, if you arrive early enough, you might run into chefs from some of Manhattan’s finest restaurants picking out ingredients for that day’s menu. The very unique Anthropology Store (from where I have the prettiest apron and hand-painted porcelain measuring spoons that had been gifted to me a year back!), boastfully displays its merchandise.

The smell of fresh-baked cookies and bread will lure you into Amy’s Bread or Fat Witch Bakery. Eataly isn’t your place? Try Buon Italia. If you need wine to go with your pasta, the Chelsea Wine Vault is the place to go. Lunch crowds throng to the numerous eateries in the Market. The Gramercy Park Flower shops offers dazzling arrangements. And don’t forget to stop by Bowery Kitchen Supply for that hard-to-find garlic slicer or French steel fry pan or the utterly essential spice and coffee grinder, that I had to just pick up for my kitchen in Bangalore.

 

I split my Tour-de-Chelsea to two halves. The pork-belly sandwich (really, there is nothing in the world more soulfully sinful and satisfying than pork-fat. It’s not a myth, it’s the gospel-truth!) had filled my appetite enough to keep me going till 4PM, till the Cirque show got over. I have to candidly mention here that Zarkana wasn’t half as spellbinding as what I was expecting it to be. The Radio City Hall(just by itself) was a spectacular venue, one that leaves you gasping in awe and wonder. Resplendent, majestic and lavish.

The revisit to this red-brick building took me straight to The Lobster Place, where I gobbled up a platter of sliders of fresh lobster, prawns and sea-bass. Six sushi chefs packaged the sushi rolls for the day, right across the window pane and pounds and pounds of lobsters stared at me in display! An young woman shamelessly devoured her butter-garlic lobster, sharing another of those red crustaceans with another lady, distantly and remotely interested in her blabber!

Chelsea is a market place, no doubt, but such an upscale market  it was, that  you can find well- dressed business men and women can crack lobsters alongside of tourists, then in the same garb and pace go shopping for flowers, imported cheese, oils, books, birthday cards, wine, and gelato, among other things. And probably head back to work.

I grabbed a coffee and got comfortable in one of the many seats because, the people- watching is also a top notch time-pass, as we call it in India. And that’s the way I wanted NY to be to me. Slow, steady and regular and growing onto me, making it addictive.

There are two things that happen in New York: On one hand, you have these flashy, over-priced places where it seems everything is about cultivating a certain image, and having to dress things up a lot more than you really need to (or can afford to).  On the other hand, you have a food court full of crazies, every single type of cuisine, and the hip frozen yogurt kids next door (Read : East Village).  I remembered the man I hated so much in my flight.  I could imagine why he would say that New York isn’t his favorite walking city; why he would get depressed staring at concrete and over-priced retail stores all the time, and why he would hate taking the (he would term it “terrible” and “indecipherable”!) subway system.

But, that’s exactly what New York is meant to do to me! Stay “indecipherable”. Hit me with a veritable assault of color, graphics, style , smell, weirdness and novelty on my suburban Bangalore senses. New York never fails to amaze me. Each time. Every time. Flashy…shocking…garish…..scandalous …expensive and delicious, all at the same time..yet with ingredients that can bring immense joy to all your senses. Its like the Food Capital of the world has married the Capital of Capitalism !”

I also must mention here, that even before I visualized this trip, there has been this one blog that had almost inspired me to take in New York, as a food-lover would. And then eventually write a ‘food-a-logue’!  Of the several motivators behind this trip, this was by far the first and powerful enough to initiate a plan. Pia, I owe a part of my decision to your beautiful writing @ Peppercorns. You all must read her blog, and check out the beautiful country-esque motifs and appliques she  designs and box frames at home through Etsy.

There will always be something new to catch a glimpse of something else around the corner, whether it’s a great design store, or another over-priced retail shop or fancy boutique, a playbill for a musical I’d like to see, or  a new veggie restaurant, or a delicious pastry in the window…or various places from where you can watch the city lights of the skyline slowly adorn a diamond crusted jacket, every evening…New York never ceases to amaze.

And here’s shamelessly admitting it. New York, I have my heart on you.

“It comes down to reality
And it’s fine with me ’cause I’ve let it slide
Don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside
I don’t have any reasons
I’ve left them all behind
I’m in a New York State of Mind

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6 Comments

  1. I cannot explain how much I love this. This is me.. in each and every line. Everything I feel for NYC have been extracted out of my heart and soul and have been poured on this page of your.

    also you should have bitch-slapped your co-passenger!

    Chelsea market is my mecca…the lobster bisque has my heart and I shamelessly go to the wine vault everytime they have a free wine tasting (Yes, I am that cheap! You gotta be cheap at times when you are living in the city, you know)
    You have to come back and we should do all of these things together. 🙂

  2. Thank you Madhu. Your comment made my day! Absolutely…next time, we will do all this and more!

  3. ah, sambrita – you dipped me back into the city! you’ve summed up manhattan gorgeously, and just like it is – one big plate of good food with a big green park in the middle.
    thanks for such a lovely mention – muchos appreciated 🙂

  4. Wherever I am in the US I always want to be back in NY as quickly as possible. There’s something about the place that makes me nuts about it. No wonder I loved your post.

  5. Well written post on my favorite city in the world!

  6. I would use one word to describe this post -“exciting”. As exciting as the city is. As exciting as it gets when you try to absorb a 1000 different sensations in one go – just like New York.

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