SOUP DUMPLINGS • BOA BUNS • CEREAL MILK • BABKA • ART • EAT • NYC!
You know what I don’t like so much? Traveling. It’s true. I know, it’s weird. Who the fuck doesn’t like to travel?!? Well, more people than will admit it, I betcha, because when I tell people that I don’t like to travel they look at me all askance-like, and I can tell that they think there’s something deeply, deeply wrong with me.
What is it that I don’t like about traveling? Simple: Leaving home.
I fuckin’ love it here! I have a pet turtle, and there’s lots of stuff to eat. What more does a guy need? I know I know, “you gotta travel to be well-rounded,” and I have traveled here and there: Europe and Canada, Detroit and NOLA, and… Johnson City? Hey, I go places. Usually with Dawn, who loves to travel and travels a lot, usually without me, but sometimes she lures me on the road with promises of food, art, and romance. Dawn rüles. We recently went to NYC, and she mapped out an itinerary so awesome, that I thought I’d share it with you guys, just in case you’re going to NYC any time soon.
Below is Dawn’s Food and Art Itinerary for the four days and three nights we were there, my comments and photos have been added after-the-fact, and at the bottom is a break-down of which places we recommend, and which places were kinda meh.
Pizza Hour 4 to 5 every day
235 Mulberry Street (Between Prince and Spring)
We arrived in the afternoon, and took a taxi to our hotel in Manhattan. Next stop: Pizza! Yeah, man! It is motherfuckin’ New York City. Before we even left Asheville, Dawn found a place on line called Rubirosa Ristorante that has a “pizza Hour” so we went there and got a slice at the bar. It was so good, and I was so hungry, that I totally forgot to take pictures of the dang thing. A lot of that happened on this trip, so the pics are somewhat limited, sorry.
Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
Super fresh soup dumplings
100 Mott Street, New York NY
Next we went straight from pizza to dumplings. Chinese dumplings. Dawn had a powerful hankering for Chinese soup dumplings, and again, she found a place with a good rep on line while still in Ashetown. We met our friends Adam and Julie at a bangin’ joint called Shanghai Cafe Deluxe (gotta love that name), and we had a fucking awesome meal of Chinese soup dumplings! Now, I had never heard of such a thing, and being a white-bread, boring-ass, raised-in-the-sticks, European-American, Yankee hick, I’m picturing a bowl of soup with some balls of dough in it. Yum, right? Well, fuckin’ forget about that! Super yum: The soup was IN the dang dumplings! Whaaat?!? True stories from far away lands, my friend. Each dumpling was like a wee little sack full o’ soup, with either pork or vegetables… because we ordered pork and vegetable ones. There were a bunch of kinds, and about a million other delicious things on the menu. Again, I forgot to take pics, which was a fucking shame this time, because this shit was very cool to look at. Go to Shanghai Cafe Deluxe and see for yourself.
Greenwich Village tasting menu / gratuity included
13 Barrow St, New York, NY
Dawn booked us a reservation for dinner at a very fancy place called Annisa. She picked it based on a bunch of stuff she read about the chef, Anita Lo, who is a kick-ass woman. Dawn, who is also a kick-ass woman, likes to support other kick-ass women. I do too, especially if there’s something called a “tasting menu” involved. Nom nom! Not only didn’t I take pictures this time, but I was in such a food-haze by the end of the experience, that I can’t even tell you what dishes we ate. All I know is that it was fucking good, and there was a fucking lot of it. A regular “groaning board,” as my friend Chef Joe might say. If you haven’t ever done a fancy-ass tasting menu, here’s the scoop: You eat what they send you. There’s no “ordering” of specific dishes. The server starts by asking you if there’s anything you won’t or can’t eat. “Are you good with meat? Sea food? Nuts?” Check, check, check. We informed our guy that we didn’t want any foie gras, and to take it easy on the deep fried stuff, and then we were off to the races. There were five courses and an amuse bouche, and we didn’t have any clue what the fuck dish was gonna hit our table next. Part of what you pay for when you do a tasting menu is the mystery. For real. But, you have to be omnivorous-to-daring with your palate. Any number of odd bits of raw animal might be placed in front of you. We put our faith in Chef Lo and she didn’t steer us wrong.
The New Museum – At some point on Wednesday we also went to the New Museum and looked at video art by a guy named Anri Sala. It was fucking AWESOME!
While Dawn slept in the next morning, I ate a breakfast that consisted mostly of bitter coldness, angry feelings, coffee, and regrets. According to the Weather Channel, New York City was officially colder than fuck, but I thought I’d be warm enough in my multiple layers of cotton, as I took a jaunty walk to a bakery kiosk in a park that Dawn left me directions to. Yay! Gonna get babka! Unfortch, I was freezing my ass off for the entire walk, and somewhere along the way my icy, shaky, be-gloved index finger tapped the wrong part of the google map, and after a what seemed like way too much walking, I double checked and… mutherrr… fuuuck! I was way off target. By then I was super-cold, super hangry, and to top it off I saw a guy in a suit and tie completely puke all over the sidewalk only a few feet away from me. No joke. He was all, ” Hi-ho hi-ho, it’s off to work… YAAAAAK!!!… I go…” He kept walkin’ like it was nothin’. Okay, Buddy. How the fuck you doin’? I tried not to think about the possibility that I just got hit by vomit as I began the long walk back to the hotel. Fuck the babka. I never shoulda ventured out the door. I stopped into a Starb’s along the way to warm up with a cup of coffee. It was packed. Huge line. But it went fast, and to my surprise there was a free table, in a small, cramped corner, not the warmest spot in the house, but I was grateful for the chance to rest, and glad that the guy sitting next to me wasn’t vomiting. New York fucking City.
Back at the hotel I chillaxed while Dawn did her morning run on the treadmill, and by the time she got back to the room, I had turned my frown upside down, and I was ready for whatever! She informed me that she had more pizza lined-up for us. Fuck yeah, Man. BRING IT!!!
Don Antonio Pizza
309 West 50th Street, New York City
This time I took pictures!
We had dinner reservations for another fancy groaning board at 5:30, so we probably shouldn’t have powered through two pizzas for lunch, but we did, so there. Were they good? Fuck yeah they were good! The crust was a little on the puffy side for me, and could have been a bit more dense and doughy, but it tasted great, and the sauce and toppings were the bomb. One had basil and fresh mozzarella, the other had fresh arugula, prosciutto, shaved Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Fuck. Yes. That’s the shit right there. We threw it in us. We were really full. Groan.
Volta Art Fair – Next we went to a big art fair called Volta, and we looked at a ton of great art. I was more impressed than Dawn, but I’m easier to impress than she is in general. I’ll be all, like, “Oooh, this is goood,” and she’ll be all, like, “Meh.” I didn’t take any pictures of the art, except for one piece (above), because it said “HUNGRY HUNGRY” in big letters, and had a cartoon of a man kneeling in prayer, with the words “please don’t kill us.” The piece seemed to be making a political statement against racist, anti-Muslim, hegemonic, U.S. foreign policies… plus there was a giant, weird looking cheeseburger involved. I fucking love art. I decided to only take pics of food-related art on this trip.
Eleven Madison Park
Reservations for 2 @ 5:30
Metropolitan Life North Building, 11 Madison Ave, New York, NY
I wrote a long and very descriptive account of the food and service, and over-all experience we had a Eleven Madison Park HERE. It’s a very fancy, 3-star, Michelin rated restaurant, and we were there for 5 1/2 hours, eating, drinking, and having the time of our lives. For me, this meal, which Dawn booked well in advance, was the thing I was most looking forward to, and the highlight of our trip. Please read the review if you’re curious.
I had coffee for breakfast, and we grabbed an early lunch…
Ma Peche (and Milkbar)
15 W 56th St, New York, NY
Boom, more pictures!
Dawn is always talking about steamed buns, or “bao buns,” and how they are the greatest thing ever, and that we were going to Ma Peche, owned by David Chang, a famous chef just to get bao buns. Dawn was thinking that these bao buns might be the bao buns to beat all bao buns, and I was like, “Okay.” Well, fuck yes. Not only were the actual steamed buns fucking amazing — like soft, fluffy, clouds of edible happiness — but the contents were tasty as fuck. Cucumber, a sweet fish sauce, other stuff… plus pork belly. Now, I eat a LOT of pork belly here in Asheville, because there just seems to be a lot of it around, and it’s often on tasting menus and what-not. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it can have a straight-up ick factor. There’s a LOT of fat involved, and if it’s not piping hot, it’s kinda gross in my opinion. The pork belly on these bao bun sandwiches was fucking phenomenal. Hot, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouthy. MMMM! It was close-your-eyes-and-go-to-heaven good. We also got a bowl of ramen noodle soup, and it was also phenomenally good! The broth was super savory and perfect, and there were water chestnuts, fresh (wilting) bok choy, fresh scallions, and fresh cilantro on top. Each ingredient stood out on it’s own, and worked perfectly with each other. The noodles were also cooked perfectly. For dessert we got the famous “cereal milk” soft serve ice cream from the Milkbar, which is attached and also a Chef Chang venue, and yeah, it was pretty much the best fucking thing ever in the history of everything.
I also want to mention that our server at Ma Peche was frickin’ AWESOME. I regret that I did not get his name, because he was all smiles, and laughing almost the whole time, and he was very animated, but not in a phony way, and he shot us THEE most hilarious look ever when the baby at the table behind us started leaking poo our of its pants and poo got all over itself and its mother. Yep. That’s a fact… there was poo… like, a foot away from Dawn’s head. .__.
I know that parents hate when I complain about kids in restaurants, but can you see? For even a minute? How it might be ohhhh, I dunno, unpleasant? For other patrons to experience your child’s poo during lunch? Is that something we can universally agree on at least? That lunch + poo = not good? I can almost hear the indignant response of parents now: “Well, Babies poo, Stu.” To which I say, YES, and that is only one of several reasons that I think babies are not the best suited patrons for restaurant dining.
Let’s be frank: Babies do not care one iota about being at a restaurant. They aren’t enjoying the food, atmosphere, or level of service. They aren’t craving sushi, or having a business lunch, or out on a date. Babies are pooing and screaming and crying and… being total babies. Babies don’t want to be there any more than the baby-less patrons want to hear their loud protests. Or see their poo. The only reason that babies are in restaurants is because the parents want to go out to eat. Period. That’s the reason. The only one. If you don’t believe me, ask a baby, and a parent. I guarantee you that the baby doesn’t give a shit about eating at Ma Peche… but unfortunately one did take a shit at Ma Peche… while we were eating our lunch.
Guggenheim Museum – After Ma Poopy, we went to The Goog and saw a retrospective show of the artists Fischli and Weiss. It was awesome. They worked together over many years, in lots of different materials, modes, and motifs, to get their wise-cracky, somewhat obsessive-compulsive ideas across. There were sculptures, installations, videos, and photographs on display, and it was all highly amusing, and engaging, and intellectually challenging to look at. I loved it! I took a picture of one of their photos. It’s a hot-dog car crash, with cigarette bystanders. ARRRT! It’s the only thing I like as much as food… or sex… or hockey… or MMA.
Moving Image – After The Goog we went to an annual Art fair called Moving Image that was fun, but kinda not as much fun as the last time we went. As the name suggests, it’s an exhibit of digital/video art, and some displays were better than others, though nothing left me truly impressed. On this trip, I specifically wanted to spend a lot of time with video art, and I did, which takes time, so if it’s not great video art, I can end up feeling like I shoulda spent that time looking at something else. I definitely felt that way at Volta on Thursday, where I watched a couple of videos right at the start, and then had to race through the rest of the fair, because we were pressed for time. I didn’t take any pictures at Moving Image, because pictures of videos usually suck, and I don’t think there were any food related pieces. Also, Tom Colicchio owns a sandwich shop in the Volta space called Wichcraft that we were looking forward to revisiting, but it was closed. :(
35 E 21st St, New York, New York
After Moving Image, we had dinner at a place that I would describe as a haute cuisine Mexican restaurant. The decor it really cool, and the food is really fancy. If I lived in NYC, I’d write a whole review of the food, service, and atmosphere, but for now I’ll just say that the chairs at the hi-top table we were seated at were the craziest, tall, thin, spindly-ass muhfuckin’ chairs I have ever crawled up onto in my life. Seriously. Getting up and down off of these things was like doing a balancing act on a tinker-toy tower. Holy shit. I almost caromed right into a suit-n-tie guy when I got up to pee. “Perched” is the only word to describe our precarious position on these chairs. WTF?!? Yes, Dawn and I are both short people, but even a tall person would have found these chairs to be difficult, I promise you that. The service was great, and the food was great too, but the portions were very small and price was very expensive. Also, it was too dark in there to even attempt any picture taking. In the end, I don’t think we’ll be back to Cosme. There are tons of other places in NYC with great food and service that don’t have such super-awk seating.
Bryant Park Kiosk
42nd and 6th Avenue (7am to 9 pm)
Breads Bakery is the name of that kiosk I never found on my ill-fated trip through the frigid, pukey streets of NYC on Thursday morning. This time, with Dawn in control, we got there no prob, plus by now I had learned to dress for the extreme cold, and I was actually enjoying the brisk weather. When we got to Bryant Park, there was one of those little outdoor ice-rinks that NYC sets up for their citizens in the winter time, so we got our chocolate babka from the nice guys at the kiosk, and sat to eat it and drink coffee while we watched the people skate. It was snowing slightly, and before they opened the gates to let out the skaters, a Zamboni was resurfacing the ice. Anyone who is a hockey fan, as Dawn and I both are, has a special soft spot in their heart for the Zamboni. This one said “Powered by Hot Chocolate” on the side. It was an idyllic scene, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. The babka was good too. As soon as we got back to Asheville from NYC, I wrote to Fred at Geraldine’s Bakery to ask if if he makes babka. He said yes. Gotta try it!
Spring/Break Art Show – Next we went to a huge, amazing art show called Spring/Break that was in a really old US Post Office building. Holy moly, the best art I saw on the whole trip was at Spring/Break. The building, rooms, and space were incredible. More decaying mausoleum than Post Office, the space seemed to go on forever, and there was an overload of really amazing art at this one. Even Dawn was pretty much blown away. Again, I’m not qualified to review art, so I’ll just say that it was highly interesting and uplifting, visually, emotionally, and intellectually. Of course, I restricted myself to taking pictures of only food-related artwork. Below is a picture I took of a painted relief that depicts an unhappy-face emoticon made from a banana and two strawberries cast in plaster. I fucking love it!
Below is another pic I took, of a live installation that featured an actual person playing on an iPhone while a video piece looped on the TV. Note the Cheez-its, the giant marshmallow bunny, and the plushy poop emoji. I wanted to pull-up a fuzzy chair of my own, and live in this world forever and ever.
Of course, it’s not possible to live in an art installation, and besides, Dawn had mapped out one more food stop for dumplings and steamed bao buns at a different place, and then we had a plane to catch back to WNC!
248 E 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022
This place was pretty traditional, in terms of a NYC lunch-timey, Asian restaurant. It was kinda tucked away, and cramped, and kinda hip and not hip at the same time. (see photo of plastic mask wall at the top of the page) The pork boa buns were good, but didn’t blow our socks off the way the bao buns at Ma Peche blew our socks off. Probably because they didn’t have the variety of stuff inside, and the pork wasn’t as awesome. I didn’t eat a dumpling, but they looked phenomenal even though they weren’t soup-style, but pan-fried instead. Dawn wasn’t raving about them though, so…. I guess we’re not giving Hide-Chan a huge recommendation. Not like Shanghai Deluxe, or Ma Peche, two places we both highly recommend.
After Hide-Chan, we headed back to the hotel, and then took a taxi to LGA to catch our flight back to Asheville… actually Charlotte… and then a drive back home.
Oh wait! Somewhere along the way we stopped into one of the famous Blue Bottle coffee shops and I got a really yummy latter to go.
So, there you go! I just thought I’d share Dawn’s food and art itinerary, because for the most part, it was pretty kick-ass! For those of you who need things broke-down super simple:
- Rubirosa Ristorante – Pizza Hour 4-5 every day – DO IT!
- Shanghai Cafe Deluxe – Awesome soup dumplings and a huge menu – DO IT!
- Annisa – Pricey , chef’s tasting table, or a la carte – Do it.
- Don Antonio Pizza – Classic Italian Pizza – Do it.
- Eleven Madison Park – Super fancy and pricey chef’s tasting menu – DO IT!
- Ma Peche – Bao buns and other Asian awesomeness – DO IT!
- Milkbar – Amazing “cereal milk” ice cream – DO IT!
- Cosme – Haute Mexican food – Do it or not, once was enough for us.
- Breads Bakery – Kiosk in Bryant Park – DO IT!
- Hide-Chan Ramen – Do it if you’re int the neighborhood.
- Blue Bottle – Great coffee – If you see one DO IT!
Even though I really do hate traveling, I have to admit, I always have a great time whenever I do! Dawn and I will be back to NYC soon, and while I’m sure we’ll eat at some of these places again, I am equally sure that Dawn will map-out another one of her awesome itineraries. YOM!!!
— END —
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.