I think I’ll always feel 25 when I come to New York City. I came here at 18 for college and didn’t leave for good until I was pregnant with my first child at 29. Back solo for the first time in years, I am breathing in energy. This is the place of my heart.
I spent my shower time this morning thinking about all the things I wanted to show you. My NYC expertise ends pre-9/11. But many of my old favorites are still around.
My friend Lisa, who I’ve known since first grade, still owns the Midtown studio apartment she bought when we were in our 20s. Shortly after college, she landed an ensemble role in Miss Saigon on Broadway, a rare long-running musical theater gig. Now our junior high school friend Kathleen lives in the apartment, which she generously runs as an unofficial couchsurfing locale for her many friends that come to crash.
Lisa still comes here with her husband, twin toddlers, and an Aerobed, and the six of them all squeeze in. To a studio apartment! This is true friendship.
When Lisa lived in the apartment, it was pink and cheerfully stuffed with craft supplies, stuffed animals and Hello Kitty trinkets. In the Kathleen era, it’s a peaceful lemon and blue oasis.
My sister-in-law Michelle flew in from Columbus, Ohio to meet me here for a Macklemore concert. Nashville is more the scene for my country-music-loving husband (though he’s a devoted former New Yorker too), but Michelle was a perfect match for the concert as well as the food, shopping, cultural exploration and miles of walking that to me make a perfect NYC recharge.
I wouldn’t bring just any stranger to stay with Kathleen – hosting someone at your studio apartment is really inviting someone to stay in your bedroom – but Michelle, a do-it-all mom of four, is an easygoing personality who knows how to contribute.
We hit a lot of my must-do list yesterday. I came on on the overnight flight into JFK and took the subway into Midtown, thinking of my dad, who figured out how to get from La Guardia to my Upper West Side apartment by bus. The AirTrain wasn’t around during my NYC years. I love it – $7.50 into town instead of $65 for a cab. It wasn’t fast – definitely over an hour – but a cab would have taken a long time in morning rush traffic too.
I love the subway. So efficient – all those people in one vehicle. And cabs always make me queasy anyway. The AirTrain is newer than the subway, though actually most of the subway trains have been updated since the old days.
First stop – Shanghai Cafe in Chinatown for xiao long bao (“shao-loang-bao”), the Shanghainese “soup” dumplings. These are a real specialty – you can get them at some Chinese places, but they’re never as good as places that specialize in making them.
As the dumpling’s ground pork filling steams in its wrapper, it produces a rich, savory broth. You eat the dumpling with a deep soup spoon in one hand and chopsticks in the other. Take a little bite of the hot dumpling, and you’ll release a cloud of steam as well as a spoonful of golden-brown broth. Dip the dumpling in black vinegar with slivered ginger, eat the dumpling and drink the soup. It’s beyond.
Michelle says she’ll be dreaming of xiao long bao now too. She also loved the amazing vegetable dish I always get with the dumplings. It sounds weird on the menu – tofu skin with preserved vegetable and soy beans – but really it’s a delicious leafy chinese vegetable, kind of a mix between spinach and broccolini, with edamame and noodles made of soy. It’s a fresh, crunchy complement to the deep meatiness of the dumplings.
We passed Little Italy, but it’s pretty much been overtaken by Chinatown. But you can still get some awesome fresh mozzarella here.
I love seeing what’s new and what’s still around. When I lived in Noho, we were so excited when a little shop filled with a rainbow array of boho-chic wear opened nearby – Calypso St Barths kicked off the boutique-filled Nolita (NOrth Of Little ITAly) neighborhood. Calypso is now in posh shopping districts around the country, but now I only go to the Calypso outlet where, when I went yesterday, everything was another 50-60% off already marked-down prices.
We had my usual downtown tea break at Ceci-Cela, a tiny bakery/cafe that feels like Paris. Amazing croissants, of course. But they also have a killer almond brioche – sadly not yesterday, but as I recall it’s a thick slice of brioche, baked again almost like French toast, with almond paste, slivered almonds and powdered sugar.
I also took Michelle by my old 6th floor walk-up apartment in the West Village, down the street from Bleecker Street Records, which is amazingly still there, selling vinyl as always. On the way we checked out Murray’s Cheese Shop, out of its old cramped corner and now at a new and shiny Bleecker street location. Michelle loves cheese, so we bought some for Kathleen (a win-win for all!).
Kathleen met us after work for Korean food. We were headed to Korean BBQ but got waylaid by Korean chicken wings, which are hugely popular in Korea. I heard they’ve been available in Los Angeles for a while, but I know they weren’t in NYC last time I was here. So we had to stop in for a taste. Garlicky, salty, slightly sweet, incredibly crisp on the outside and juicy inside, they were astoundingly good. And chicken appetizer makes perfect sense for a BBQ beef dinner, right?
I’m including this picture not to show you the chicken wings, which taste incredible but don’t look any different from other wings you’ve had. I had to show you Michelle, who as Lisa told Kathleen via email before we came, has NO WRINKLES and DOESN’T EVEN MOISTURIZE. This woman has four kids, including an almost-21 year old. I can tell you when my oldest daughter is 21, no one is going to think we are sisters like they do with Michelle and hers.
And finally, the Korean BBQ. I can’t tell you which is the best in K-Town – we’ve been through many over the years. But I will say that Korean food in NYC is pretty kick-butt.
Gotta run – Michelle is patiently waiting for me to start day two here. Oh – I’ve LOST MY VOICE – and yes, I am going to yell it in all caps to make up for the fact that I cannot make the tiniest whimper in real life. In high school, I damaged my vocal cords by continuing to whisper when I got laryngitis, and ever since, my voice fades away with the slightest overuse. A full day of chatter yesterday was enough to kill it.
I downloaded a text-to-speech app this morning so that I can make my phone say what I type. But I’m not getting too many words out, because every time I use it we are laughing too hard to continue a conversation.
So today is Michelle’s day out with Siri. It’s goofy, but we’ll get by. And fortunately Michelle is the kind of friend that understands me without words.