Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New York, New York

After going to Dan and Sejal's wedding, Laure and I spent a week with some of our East Coast friends in the city that never sleeps. We danced, attended some cultural events, and--best of all--ate to our heart's content.

As soon as we arrived in New York, we met up with our good friend Andrew, who took us to the first of many great meals.
Ramen at Ippudo.
Since moving to Switzerland, Laure and I had been craving some good non-European food. So we were happy to check out one of the restaurants in this Japanese chain of good quality ramen.

After eating delicious ramen, we settled into our home base in Queens. Andrew's good friend Jamie was kind enough to let us stay at her apartment there while she was out of town. In my opinion, New York easily has the best public transportation system in the country, so it worked out really well to be walking distance to a subway station with an express train to Manhattan.
Rug and Mochi taking a nap at Jamie's.
The scary big pigeons of Queen.

One of the benefits of visiting New York is that I was able to work from the NY office during the weekdays before hanging out with our friends at night. This worked nicely because most of our friends also had to work during the day and I didn't need to take extra days off work. It also gave a small taste of what it would be to live there. Laure spent her days exploring the city and doing some shopping. Since almost everything is cheaper in the US, she took advantage of the opportunity to refresh her winter wardrobe, stocked up on edible favorites from Whole Foods and purchased a few replacement kitchen items.
Sunset view from the New York office isn't bad.

As I've previously mentioned, one of the ways we connect with the locals while traveling is through swing dancing. One of the two venues we checked out was Swing 46, which is a restaurant where the George Gee's Big Band plays every week. Those guys can really swing, and the crowd of local dancers love them.
Laure with one of the local dancers at Swing 46.
The band and the dancers interacted in a way I had never seen before -- the band leader George Gee constantly stirred up the crowd and the dancers cheered when players finished their solos. Dancers also cheered and learned from one another regardless of whether they were beginners or advanced. Needless to say, this was a completely different vibe from what we experience in Zurich.
Andrew did pretty well for his first time swing dancing.
It felt surreal to dance in the birth place of swing dancing while listening to a great live band playing some of the classic swing songs written about the city (e.g. "Take the 'A' Train").

One interesting thing I noticed at Swing 46 is that most local dancers were African American, which is something that I had never seen in any swing dance club. Historically, swing dancing was founded by the black community in New York before becoming a national (and international) phenomenon. As other music trends became popular, most people including most of the black community moved on. Today's wave of swing dancers is quite international, but primarily not black. So it was great to see that in the heart of where it all started, some African Americans were still swinging with style.

Later that week, Andrew took us to another Japanese restaurant -- this time a more upscale restaurant called the Bohemian. Each one of their courses, including the cocktails, was impeccable. Interestingly, the only way for someone to dine at the Bohemian is to be "referred" by someone else that has already been there. This is similar to how Facebook started: you could only join if an existing member invited you. This unusual strategy of exclusivity creates a buzz in a city where foodies are always on the hunt for the hottest new restaurant.
The Wagyu beef at the Bohemian is delightfully soft and juicy.

During the last few days, we met up with more of our great friends Andy, who had just moved there from San Francisco, and Guillermo, who took a train from DC. We checked out the Christmas market at Bryant Park.
My buddy Andy and I in front of Bryant Park's ice rink.
One valuable find at the market was a food stand that sold the delicious Eastern European treat named Trdlo, with which Guillermo fell in love when we visited Prague in the previous holidays.
Trdlo is a delicious cylinder of dough coated with a mix of sugar and walnuts.
It is slowly cooked over fire.

The market was fun although significantly less decorated than the extravagant Christmas markets in Europe. I think the New York version is a bit less lively partly because people can't legally drink their Glühwein (hot mulled wine) outside, so the American Christmas market is not as good of a place to just hang out and socialize. Maybe that will change one day.

On the topic of Christmas markets, we also checked out a small one by the local Swedish community. They hosted it as a fundraiser for the local church and explained Swedish holiday traditions and foods.
Swedish community Christmas market.

Another follow-up from our previous trip to Prague was checking out Hospoda Bohemian Beer Hall, which is the sister beer hall of Lokál Dlouhá in Prague. Although we didn't find the same beer master that we met on our previous trip, we still had a delicious round of the Czech beer Pilsner Urquell on tap. Apparently the New York beer hall didn't serve the beer out of the big tanks like they had it in Prague, which may explain why the texture wasn't as creamy. But the flavor was still pretty damn good.
A round of Czech pilsner at the Hospoda Bohemian Beer Hall.

On one of the nights, we checked out an "experimental theater" play. In such type of play, the audience and actors are not separated into seats and the stage. Instead, the audience is free to roam around different rooms of a building where they can watch different scenes of the play. Audience members sometimes interact with the actors and become part of a scene. We saw the play Sleep No More, which is easily the most popular of this genre in New York. It's a really interesting experience and feels a bit surreal at times.
Audience members wear masks to watch (and sometimes interact with) the actors in the different rooms of Sleep No More.
Photo credit: Unit 24.

We visited some more good friends for another memorable meal at their apartment. Our host prepared an awesome meal that included his mother's delicious spring rolls, which we enjoyed while reminiscing about old times.
Our good friends accommodated us into their busy schedules for a delicious dinner by Huy.

Following Andrew's suggestion, we also checked out the semi-finals of a Poetry Slam championship in at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The contestants wrote amazing poetry with topics ranging from personal life struggles (such as taking care of a brother with a learning disorder) to national issues (such as the police shooting of Trayvon Martin). Writing excellence was only one of the many requirements of the competition. The best competitors also delivered their poems passionately and beautifully.
Setting up the stage for the semi-final Poetry Slam championship at Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Our last dinner in New York was at another restaurant that would be nearly impossible to match in Europe: an excellent Argentinian steakhouse named El Gauchito ("The Little Cowboy"). They serve the finest of Argentinian classics: thick and juicy steaks named bife de chorizo, which is commonly referred to as strip sirloin or NY strip in non-Argentinian restaurants. I had been salivating over the thought of this awesome steak since we had it in Argentina a few years ago. El Gauchito did not disappoint: the beef came cooked perfectly median-rare, although only Guillermo and Andy were smart enough to immediately remove it from the metal to stop it from cooking further. Noob mistake by the rest of us.

Accompanying the delectable bife de chorizo was another Argentinian classic: Malbec wine. Match made in heaven.
Guillermo, Andy and Laure with their bifes de chorizo and Malbec wine.
Don't forget me, Leslie, and Andrew.

After dinner, we checked out a nearby club with Latin music and delicious drinks, where we stumbled our way through some salsa and merengue moves. It was an amazing night apart from the moment of panic when we thought someone had stolen our coats.
This blurry photo reconstructs the ambience pretty well after a few drinks.

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