Day 4: Tuesday 13 May 2008 (Sunny)
I have decided to add the weather report to the diary because (did you know?) according to Chinese grammar it is a rule that the date must be followed by the weather summary. Ah the useless stuff I imbibe from watching TVB serials.
Wake up. Turn on Food Network. Ah, it's still too early, have to watch infomercials instead. C, my 4th sister, goes for a jog. Try to read the subway map. Give up. We'll wing it.
Plan is to return to Bleeker St. C wants to get that super-tiny dress at Ina. It's made of toile de jouy- "curtain fabric" I say to her- but she is set on it so we humour her. With ignoble intention to eat breakfast at either Rocco's or Amy's Bread along the way. That is, until we pass by Zucker's Bagel & Smokefish on 146 Chambers St even before entering the subway station, and get distracted by a hitherto unknown diversity of smoked salmon and other exotic fishes. Basic cream cheese and lox bagel lavishly piled on. Bagel a bit too dense. F is frustrated by the stuff that passes for coffee.
Ina opens at 12. With 1.5 hours to kill we explore the rest of Soho. Major credit card damage. Shopping with the sisters can be very testing on self-restraint, they are both totally in love with fashion, we encourage each other on, and end up with loads of pretty things.
Shopping is hungry-making. C is set on pizza while I am distracted by groups of people eating grilled corn at a corner sandwich shop. Not just any grilled corn mind, but Mexican style , the specialty item of Cafe Habana at the corner of Prince and Elizabeth St. They grill it to black blisteriness, then smother with a funny white cheesy coconutty substance before finally sprinkling with mild chilli powder and serve with a wedge of lime. Seriously, effingly amazingly delicious.
New York is full of cute cars like these yellow school buses, yellow taxicabs, brown UPS vans and construction vehicles with gleaming front carriages. I've been to other American cities but here, the vehicles just seem bigger and more vividly coloured. The exuberant colours go very well with the energetic buzz everywhere and I love it.
Waiter is very king & patient. All vegetarian on one side, a bit too many anchovies and Italian sausages on the other side but on the whole pizza is very tasty. House salad is really just an old-fashioned cos lettuce and tomato ensemble.
Sun shining too brightly. Hot hot hot. More shopping at corner pharmacy for Burt's Bees lip balms and kiddie shampoo. Stressed that it is nearly 5 pm and we are still in Houston. Get lost in subway maze again before emerging somewhere outside Central Park. C & F wait in square outside FAO Schwartz while I buy presents for V, then they invade Bloomingdales while I admit defeat and make the long trek home.
Cousin's apartment a cool and quiet oasis. Nap. Shower. Primping. Sisters return and do the same. We ride the subway past Houston again to the Upper West Side. Ouest expecting us because I made an Opentable reservation beforehand; they give us a very nice big table. Dry martinis all round. The martinis are ginormous; I can loll in them all day long. This is the defining New York experience for us, sipping dry martini and giggling together, feeling young and carefree. Well, until the two of them get into a little 'disagreement' as is vont to happen when family gets together. Cousin arrives from work, he orders dirty martini. We imbibe his lesson on what makes a good 'dirty' martini. So young, and so sophisticated already. The food arrives, the sisters stop squabbling for the moment. Generous portions, excellent food. Foie gras and cauliflower mousse for appetisers. Meat-falling-off the bone porkribs, grilled pork, roast squab, entrecote steaks, all things that go well with a large martini. Equally large and lavish desserts. Coffee. Still tipsy from the martini. I feel the beginnings of a sore throat but hope the alcohol would somehow nullify that.
Cousin irons his workshirts while we watch bad food TV. This week Food Network is showcasing "Drive-ins, diners and dives"-retro diner cars, all-day breakfast menus and hearty variations of dishes based on the triumvirate of eggs, ham/bacon and cheese. The one thing in common seem to be lack of moderation, most of the food seem too much, too rich. CNN says the current food crisis is the fault of people in China and India who are eating more meat. I disagree, the Chinese do not eat nearly as much food and in terms of meat, hardly as much of the massive steaks, the orgiastic bbq fests or the fittingly named 'heart attack' burgers. I don't understand the so-called expert on CNN who said that large tracts of the South America rainforests are being cleared to grow corn for the Asian cattle industry; I am Asian and I don't know of any Asian country that can even boast of a cattle industry, well except for that of rarified wagyu in Japan which does not really count. In the end we switch channels and I catch the last episode of this season's ER. Does Abby die? Do I care? No, all along I thought she was not good enough for broody and handsome Luca.
Day 5: Wednesday 14 May 2008 (Very hot)
C flies back in the afternoon. She wants a last shot of culture and goes off to MOMA. Me and my sore throat just want to lie in bed. Decide to take it easy with visiting market at Union Square and a walk through Gramercy Park to Madison Square Gardens. Tulips in magnificient bloom.
Stand in line. A very long line. Why, it's for the famous Shake Shack burgers of course. After 35 minutes could finally put in order. Then wait a bit more for the food.
The burger is really good, F and I rate it as the best we've ever eaten, ever. Very juicy beefy patty with fresh vegetables. And soft buns which are a surprise, we were expecting sesame crusted ones, must have been years of conditioning by McDo's. Soft buns make good hamburgers because they do not distract from the meat and vegetables, and they mash agreeably with the savoury juices myumyum. The fries are excellent too, extra crispy outside and fluffy soft outside. Unfortunately sore throat means I can't eat much of it. We don't like the hot dog- too hard, too dry in spite of the pickles etc, too boring. The frozen custard is godsend to scratchy throat. Cold, soothing, creamy. Natural taste of the day's flavour of banana foster.
Meet up with happy C, MOMA is super she says. On way back to apartment, stop by at Kitchenette at 156 Chambers St. Their red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting is good, we finished that this morning. This time I am lured by coconut cake. It is good, but the portion is way too large even for the three of us.
Crash out in apartment. Watch the construction work in tower block opposite. F visits the Borders bookstore and later comes home to cook the asparagus we bought from the market. Watch more tv, this time it's The Golden Girls and A Different World, these oldies are actually good.
Day 6: Thursday 15 May 2008 (Sunny)
Take a very long train ride to Flushing. It's way out in Queens and has a thriving Chinese community. All the caucasians exit the train at the stadium stop just before Flushing and the last leg of the trip it is only us the yellow-skinned people left.
I buy a generous amount of American ginseng as present for husband and self. After walking aimlessly for lunch we return to the medical hall and ask them for recommendations. Budget or high class? High class I say. End up in Canton Gourmet. Bright. Tiled flooring. Formica topped tables. Large posters of delicious looking food on the walls. Lots of Cantonese spoken, I feel so reassured. Today the throat is actually worse, the left side is completely out of service. But I cannot resist ordering a plate of their special fried rice. Eat slowly, swallow with a lot of difficulty. Sedap nya! Perfectly fried, separate grains imbued with breath of the wok, light and fragrant. Bits of fried egg and shredded conpoy add to the enjoyment. So happy.
We wanted, or rather, I wanted to try Korean fried chicken. But clueless about which subway station to exit from. Decide against asking the medical hall people again. Big mistake. Ended up in a hispanic community instead. Shop at Rite-aid and Payless Shoes.
Back at TriBeCa. Explore the shops along Greenwich St. There are some very snooty sales people in this neighbourhood, everyone in the pet shops, the Pilates studio, the children boutiques are reluctant to answer questions or muster a smile; Parisiens can probably learn something from them.
No dinner. F eats leftover cake and cookies. I drink warm salty water continuously. Cousin does not actually have salt in his apartment, so I go down to the 24 hour convenience for that.
Day 7: Friday 16 May 2008 (Rain)
F leaves at 6 am. Cousin goes to work.
Clear up mess. Drink more warm salted water. At some point feel better. Yoga. More Golden Girls. Finish the Sunday NYTimes paper. Pack.
Still raining. Walk to Devin's Tavern, chosen randomly the day before because I have never heard of it. It is big. Rustic, beige and upscale. Soup of the day is of white beans and bacon. It's good but as expected, will later cause bloatedness in the plane. Sandwich of lobster and truffled cheese chosen but did not expect it to come grilled. Grill marks did not pose as much problem to sandy throat as expected but still, sandwich not up to expectation. Too little lobster meat. Too heavy on the cheese and the truffle oil taste does not go with either the cheese or the lobster it's place in the sandwich seems superfluous. As this dish cost 17 dollars before tax, I make an effort to finish the sandwich at least.
The Devin's Tavern lunch is not one of the best meals but we're at the end of our holiday and on average have been eating incredibly well. If only I did not have such a painful throat, think of how much more good food I could have ingested...