Any one of you who has ever visited me in any of my far flung places know that Brittney the Tour Guide has only two modes: walking and eating. If I’m not walking you half to death telling you all that I know about everywhere, I’m probably trying to feed you all my favourite local foods. If neither of those, well you might want to make sure you’re still following the right blonde ponytail. Which is how I have spent my week playing tour guide to my visiting mother.
Before she arrived on Wednesday, I managed a rather run of the mill Tuesday with tutoring followed by a little training, and bit of a chat with my fellow tutors. Turns out I work at a rather popular little research centre. I suppose it helps that we’re under the umbrella of the mammoth that straddles this city and reaches its tendrils halfway around the world—yes, I’m talking about NYU—but I’m always chuffed when people get excited when I say where I work.
The following evening I met my mom, having just made her way in from JFK, and we settled in for the first of many meals. I started with low hanging fruit, a Sri Lankan restaurant on Broome, Kottu House. They make wicked hot, wicked delicious little boxes of stir fried curried goodness and they’re less than half a block away, so I’m a bit of a regular. Having burned our way through a box of kottu each, we then wandered out for a stroll around the neighbourhood which inexorably lead to another of my dangerously accessible haunts: Doughnut Plant. We strolled in the door less than ten minutes before closing, so the doughnuts were thin on the shelves, but we did manage to grab an apple cinnamon cake doughnut and a Valrhona chocolate yeast doughnut. Given the proximity to closing time, we took our doughnuts to go and headed back to my flat to eat doughnuts and drink tea until bed time.
Thursday I bounded out of Brooklyn right after tutoring and set off to meet Mom at my favourite Southern joint, Sweet Chick. Heartbreakingly, they were closed for a private party but the manager put in a very good show, urging us to come back another time and maybe even have some drinks on the house. We pencilled it in for the weekend and set out to find another source for food. After a few indecisive loops of the neighbourhood, I turned to The Google. A few minutes later, we were stepping through the warmly lit blue and white doorway of Souvlaki GR. It’s a small space full of pretty little tables, charming servers, and the most delicious food. We ordered an eggplant spread followed by beautiful lamb chops and a gorgeous tray of grilled vegetables all paired with pita and tzatziki galore. I don’t think I’ve ever had such lovely lamb. It was absolutely perfectly prepared with just the right bit of saltiness and savouriness. Not too gamey, but with just enough of that rich lamb flavour. Simply perfect. Full of Greek food, we then wandered back to mine for more tea and conversation before I collapsed face first into bed.
And then, finally, it was Friday. When I got home from work, we set out on a bit of a wander in search of tea pots. You see, one of our researchers brought fancy tea back from China and that fancy tea, the third fancy Chinese tea to enter my current tea collection, was the final straw. Yes, I decided that I needed to give in and finally buy a gongfu tea pot. But alas, none of my favourite tea shops had quite what I was after. I’m not saying I’m picky, but I’ve a small budget and a precise vision, so we gave up on the teapots and headed to Vosges. Have I ranted about Vosges before? I’m sure I must have, but just in case you missed it, Vosges is heaven. For the girl who is inexorably drawn to the maddest cocktail at the menu, Vosges is a bit like crack. They have all the most exciting flavours of chocolate and this time they were offering rosewater prosecco and rose caramels. The caramels were heaven, as was the sample of guajilo chile and chipotle chocolate and somehow I left with $18 of chocolate, $8 of which were made up of my favourite turmeric, ginger, and coconut bar. It’s like chocolate and lassi made love to a chai tea and somehow the offspring was more delicious than any of the progenitors.
Wandering back over to the Lower East Side, we stopped by my little tamale shop where we found that they were all out of everything but the chipotle tamales. We got one each and ate them while people watching in the park. One tamale, however, does not a dinner make so we left the park hunting further food. We ended up in Cheeky’s. I’d heard about Cheeky’s but never managed to stop by. It’s a genuine hole in the wall famous for delicious southern sandwiches and by god it’s well earned fame. I got an oyster and shrimp po boy and Mom got the beef on challah. To say they were heavenly would be an understatement. The beef was especially fine. I’ve no idea what they did to it, but I’ve never tasted such tasty beef, especially not on a thick slice of challah with arugula and horseradish besides.
And as if that wasn’t indulgent enough, we then set off for my favourite cocktail bar on the Lower East Side: Nite Cap. It’s a dark, cozy basement bar with all the most adorable details and a six page cocktail menu that reads like a gourmand’s wet dream. Every possible ingredient has found its way into that menu at least once and all in the most unexpectedly perfect combinations. Fortunately, for both my liver and my wallet, the cocktails generally run $15 a piece so I’m usually able to keep myself away unless I’ve a special occasion, but this time, we were in early enough to learn about Aperitif Hour. $10 per aperitif. I mean, I didn’t want a functioning liver anyway, did I? My particular poison this round was a pistachio, rose, and tea creation that tasted like paradise in a glass. If anyone feels inclined to join me before 8pm on a weeknight, well you know what to do.
Saturday morning, we met at Sweet Chick for brunch. We were seated by the sweetest hostess who then plied us with chocolate muffins and chocolate chip cookies while we waited for our food. Mom had her first encounter with chicken and waffles and I adventured into another new realm of eggs benny. This one began with a light fluffy biscuit piled with ham and shredded chicken forming a nest for a perfectly poached egg all drowned over in the most fantastically adulterated hollandaise. Normally I get a bit tetchy about people messing with my hollandaise but this was downright divine. I can only imagine that they’d added a smattering of barbecue spices to an otherwise perfect hollandaise but, until I talk the recipe out of them, I might have to make a habit of it.
After our breakfast, we took off wandering northwards. We stopped at my favourite shoe shop where I found the butteriest leather replacement for my current disintegrating footwear, dropped some books at the library, and then hopped on a train towards the Lincoln Center. We people watched by one of the water features nestled between the concert hall and Julliard for a while before heading inside to take in some music. I do love that I now live somewhere where I can whimsically purchase concert tickets for a world class orchestra the night before the show. This time it was Grieg, Shostakovitch, and Sibelius, a lovely northern trio as frigid as they are passionate. After the orchestra left the stage, the music librarian and three long term players took seats on the stage and shared stories of the almighty Leonard Bernstein. Honestly, I’d not really known anything about him before, but after that 40 minute panel session, I was inspired to learn more and to look up all the youtube videos they’d referenced in order to better understand this iconic individual.
Having sat in a concert hall for almost three hours, we then set out on foot and somehow ended strolling about fifty blocks south to Chelsea Market. It was monstrously busy so we snagged a bowl of Very Fresh Noodles and found a standing table in a quieter hallway to scarf down our dinner. The noodles were as fresh and delicious as ever and the lamb was nearly as tasty as the Greek earlier in the week. The chaos of the market, however, soon drove us back out onto the sidewalks where we wandered onwards until we found a quaint retro little coffee and cocktail bar with sidewalk seating in the Meatpacking District.
I sipped a ridiculous coffee cocktail composed of chocolate milk, ancho chile liquor, whiskey, coffee, and bitters—yeah, I said ridiculous already—while Mom drank tea and we both savoured a lovely chocolate lava cake. As the sidewalk shifted from tourists and daypacks to stilettos and style mavens, we turned back towards home via Washington Square.
Despite staying up a bit late chatting, we made it out early-ish the next morning on an adventure to Queens via Roosevelt Island. The 6 train whisked us up to the Roosevelt Island tram which swung out alongside the swooping arches of the Queensboro bridge and deposited us on Roosevelt Island. In a light drizzle, we wandered around the island taking in the old mental hospital tower and the smallpox hospital ruins before returning to an F train in search of food. One stop later, we were off the train on our way to Astoria and all manner of Balkan deliciousness. About half an hour later, we were sitting in a homely little restaurant eating two very authentic slices of burek. You see, I was watching documentaries about Yugoslavia a while ago and, like a bolt out of the blue, I was struck by a craving for the filo wrapped food that carried me through the entire final month of my trip through Europe. Yes, I basically lived off burek in the Balkans. It comes in ropes and wedges and is always a delicious combination of meat or cheese and layer after layer of heavenly filo dough. They were also blessedly cheap.
The burek of Astoria are very nearly as good as the ones I ate all across former Yugoslavia, only lacking the red pepper jam that provided my entire vegetable intake for the better part of a month.
With tummies bulging full of burek, we wandered off to Jackson Heights via Little India. Just around the corner from the saris and the goldsmiths, we found ourselves on Roosevelt Ave surrounded by everything Latin. There were meat, horchata, and vegetable carts, taquerias, and great crowds of families out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Somewhere near the end of the strip, we were getting a bit dehydrated so we stopped into a little bakery-cafe for a drink. Apparently, in Jackson Heights, you speak Spanish. I was sorely underprepared and made a bit of a fool of myself but managed to get my mom a snapple and myself a cup of jamaica. It was sufficient.
Another half hour of walking later, we found ourselves at Citifield, finally able to get onto a train, Flushing bound. We would have gotten on earlier, but the 7 trains were running express, so we got our exercise and made it to Flushing just in time to sip some tea and scarf down a few shengjianbao before heading back into the city.
Some sleepy stumbling later, we made it back and I passed out and rested my feet for an hour or two before hunting down another interesting place to sit, sip, and chat. I’m always amazed by the sheer density of awesome places in my neighbourhood and Black Cat was no exception. It’s a cozy basement cafe filled with couches and cushy chairs with affordable drinks and very lovely sounding sandwiches. I may have a new nest for novel reading and caffeination.
Today was that wonderful first day of the week, Monday. Thank goodness for tasty treats at Max Brenner and delicious udon in the East Village. Besides, there’re only four more days to the weekend.
Stuffed and tired,
The Salsa Girl