Friday, April 29, 2011

Grimaldi's: Pizza Under the Brooklyn Bridge

Ask 10 New Yorkers where to get the best pizza, and you'll get 10 different answers.

Ask 100 New Yorkers, however, and there's bound to be some repeats. And one of the pizzerias you'll likely hear over and over again is Grimaldi's.

Grimaldi's fame has spread so far and wide that I'm not sure if the 90 minute line we stood in was filled with more locals or more tourists. My party of four was a bit of both -- Paul and I took my parents there when they visited a few weekends ago.

Grimaldi's is justly famous not only for its pizza, but also for its location. The pizzeria is practically right under the Brooklyn Bridge, truly putting the "Brooklyn" in Brooklyn-style pizza.

In truth, this really was probably the best Brooklyn-style pizza I've had. What I dislike most about standard Brooklyn-style pizza is the floppiness -- I neither want to fold my slice in half before eating it, nor do I think two hands should be a requirement to hold a piece. Grimaldi's coal-brick-oven pizza, however, had a firmer crust while maintaining the lotsa-cheese-to-little-sauce ratio so common on Brooklyn pizzas.

I still prefer both deep dish pizzas and thin, crispy-crust pizzas, but I had no problems polishing off three pieces of Grimaldi's either. And three pieces? That's half a 16-inch pizza. And a 16-inch pizza? That's a small.

The final word: Grimaldi's is delicious and worth a 30-minute wait, especially if you combine your visit with a walk along the East River -- just a stone's throw away -- with its sweeping views of Lower Manhattan.

Mom and I, in front of one of our two "small" pizzas (by Gary R.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Roses in Bloom on Park Avenue

Everything's coming up roses along 10 blocks of Park Avenue this spring.

Forgive the pun, but it's true. Giant fiberglass-and-stainless-steel roses were erected in January on the islands in the middle of the avenue, from 57th to 67th streets. They're scheduled to come down in May.

Me, at left, taking photos (by Gary R.)

According to the New York Times, the art installation by Will Ryman encompasses "40 buds ranging from 5 to 10 feet in diameter, with the longest stems among them sprouting 25 feet above the street."

The sculpture I came across on 59th Street, was certainly large enough to provoke a second glance and prompted an inspection of the petals and larger-than-life insects crawling across the stems.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring in Manhattan

Trump Tower, 725 Fifth Ave., Manhattan

You can tell it's spring in Brooklyn when the flowering trees lining the sidewalks start to bloom.

You can tell it's spring in Manhattan when the trees on the buildings begin to change colors.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dim Sum Discovery at East Harbor Seafood Palace

I briefly had second thoughts about trying dim sum at East Harbor Seafood Palace in Brooklyn after we arrived and received a number that would be called over a speaker when we were to be seated. It didn't take long to realize that the numbers the man was calling were in Cantonese, Mandarin or some other Chinese dialect. In any case, it wasn't in English.

Finally, a pinch of English. "Forty-six!" the man called. We were 84. Until he got to us, we heard only one more number in English -- a testament to the mostly Chinese clientele at this restaurant located where Bay Ridge meets Sunset Park and Brooklyn Chinatown.

I'd lately been eager to try dim sum -- small dishes, kind of like Chinese tapas -- and what better place than a restaurant that had been getting rave reviews online (like from The Girl Who Ate Everything, who took terrific photos of the food) and, better yet, is only a mile from our apartment? The place was hopping when we arrived at 11 a.m. on a recent Sunday and was no less crowded when we were seated an hour later or left an hour after that. And for a place the size of a basketball court, that's a lot of people.

East Harbor has only tables for large groups, so Paul and I were seated with a party of three who didn't speak English -- or at least didn't do so with us. No matter -- we were too busy inspecting the passing carts of food to bother with too many niceties. The worst part of the seating situation was my deplorable chopsticks skills. I'm sure they got a good chuckle out of the number of times I dropped my dumplings.

But on to the food. A-maz-ing. I did some research and knew what a few of the must-haves looked like, but I had no idea what their names were. No big deal. The servers carting around the dishes or carrying trays of food knew at least enough English to tell us if the dumplings were filled with pork or shrimp, and to give us a rudimentary idea of what we were digging into.

Dumplings, turnip cake (center), calamari

With each dish we selected, the server would stamp our card, which was tallied at the end -- about $30 for the two of us. It easily could have been cheaper, but we were so eager to try everything in sight, we kept eating long after we were full. We even brought most of two of our favorite dishes home with us:

Fried whitebait

The fried whitebait looks like french fries, except for the tiny eyes that are still visible. Crunchy, salty, yummy.

The black sesame paste inside the coconut-and-peanut covered mochi looked like tar but was sweet and delicious.

I still have so much I want to try; I wish I would have learned of the glories of dim sum long before living here for 3+ years. I suppose the only thing to do is to return to East Harbor Seafood Palace soon and often.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Other Upper East Side Museums

Guggenheim Museum

Visitors to New York City who are museum-minded generally have two in mind: the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side and the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side.

In my mind, they certainly are the two most impressive of New York's many museums, but they're not always my favorites. Both are striking-- the buildings themselves and the collections inside -- but also unwieldy. Too big. I always feel like I'm missing something, and I probably am.

When I feel like getting a jolt of culture, I like the Guggenheim Museum. The primary space is round, and visitors view the main exhibit by walking around and around a giant ramp. A few other exhibits fill up the annexes, but everything is easily accessible. Best yet, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is dramatic inside and out -- and just a few blocks from the Met if you just have to go there, too.

Paul and I visited the Guggenheim just a few weeks ago, and we decided to make a museum day of it. Instead of going to the Met, however, we went to the Whitney Museum of American Art for the Edward Hopper exhibit. I was excited to go since he's one of my favorite artists, although the setting isn't nearly as nice as the other museums. I find the building blah inside and out; it's easy to miss even if you're walking by.

Whitney Museum of American Art

The Hopper exhibit was crowded. Even still, we got through the bulk of the museum -- all that we wanted to see, in any case -- in about 90 minutes.

To me, the Met and the American Museum of Natural History are like nice, expensive meals -- something to be indulged in and savored, but only once in a while. Most of the time I just want something hearty and filling, but still of good quality. That's what the Guggenheim and Whitney are for me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Burger Bistro: Create-Your-Own Burger in Brooklyn

Paul's burger creation at Burger Bistro

The Burger Bistro catapulted over the competition and jumped onto my list of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn's top restaurants after just one visit.

Yes, the burgers are delicious. Cooked-to-order with customized toppings.

Yes, the atmosphere was great. Dark lighting, upbeat music. I agree with a guy on Facebook who called Burger Bistro a "real adult burger joint."

But what really won me over were the sweet potato strings. Crunchy and yummy and the best $3 I've spent in a long time. I'd return just for a side of these to go.

It would be tough, however, to pass up the burgers. They really are that good, and even more fun to create. Each customer is given a laminated menu and a wax pencil to mark their selections. Would you like a beef, lamb or turkey burger? How many of the 10 cheeses, 10 toppings and 6 sauces? You can even choose from five rolls.

It's a little more expensive than the average burger -- the meat is $6 ($8 for lamb) and each cheese, topping or sauce is an extra $1. But the sides are terrific deals at $3 apiece, with options like frizzled onions (also delicious), lentil salad, french fries, homemade potato chips and, of course, those sweet potato fries.

My beef burger on an onion roll topped with smoked gouda, guacamole and frizzled onions was tasty, and Paul was well-pleased with the Greek-style burger he created: lamb topped with feta cheese, bacon and a cucumber yogurt sauce on an olive roll.

Even the desserts stuck to the theme -- create-your-own ice cream sandwiches, with a variety of cookies and ice cream flavors to choose from. Unfortunately, we were too full to partake.

I'm eager to return, but what I'm really yearning to try is one of Burger Bistro's occasional specials: burgers served on glazed donuts. It might not be long before this becomes my favorite of all Bay Ridge restaurants.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Neon Signs -- Outside of Times Square

Times Square still dazzles me, but it doesn't hold the same magic it once did.

It's difficult not to be struck by the shear number of lights and signs, and it's a nighttime experience no visitor to New York should miss. Now, however, I'm taking greater notice of New York's smaller neon signs -- the ones that have been up seemingly forever that don't threaten to give you a seizure every time you glance at them.

They're like Times Square's countrified cousins.If ever neon signs can be homey and down-to-earth, these are it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pret A Manger vs. Panera Bread

Pret A Manger: Definitely No Panera

 I miss Panera Bread.

I used to eat at the one in Springfield with my coworkers almost every week, and I'd nearly always order the same thing: french onion soup and a cobblestone muffin. Sometimes I could even convince Paul to go to the Panera at the Mall at Tuttle Crossing in Columbus. I'd order the same thing there, of course. I'm nothing if not consistent. Or monotonous, perhaps.

I've never once passed a Panera in New York, although I was told they exist. Panera's cafe locator tells me there's one in Staten Island and two in Queens. What that really tells me is that there is a limit to my love: I miss Panera, but I'm not willing to commute an hour to get to one.

Of course, New York has no shortage of cafes -- just not within walking distance of my work. There's an Au Bon Pain that I've visited a couple of times. And a Pret A Manger opened a few months ago; I finally tried it out just recently.

It looks like a bakery, but looks can be deceiving. Pret's specialties are soups and pre-packaged sandwiches. The bakery selections are slim: a couple of muffins, a couple of croissants, and a cookie or two. Half of a chicken-avocado sandwich and a chocolate croissant came out to about $6.

The sandwich was delicious; I just needed about three to fill me up. The chocolate croissant was good but nothing special. (Why is that always the case with chocolate croissants? Yet I regularly crave them, knowing I'll be disappointed.)

Like the croissant, Pret was good but nothing special.

I miss Panera Bread.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ground Zero: A New Building at Last

The Ground Zero building is the one with the crane on top.

Zigzagging around the tourist-photographers has become a daily part of my morning routine as I exit the subway at Courtland Street, across the street from Ground Zero and a few blocks from work.

I barely pay them any mind nowadays, other than perhaps snickering to myself. I get it -- visiting Ground Zero is a pilgrimage, but you don't have to go to the World Trade Center site to get a photo of a giant crane.

Until, all of a sudden, Ground Zero was more than just a crane.

I looked over my shoulder one morning and was shocked to see anything that even resembled a building -- more than a dozen floors now. I wasn't the only one surprised. At least one other coworker mentioned the same thing.

It's been 10 years since 9/11. The time has flown, yet it's a long time to wait for something to rise from the ashes.

The empty site (looking from the opposite end) in June 2010.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Paul's 36 Hours in Washington, DC

When Paul found out that one of his good friends from Columbus would be in Washington, DC, for a soccer game, it didn't take him long to decide to meet him there. After all, DC is a lot easier to get to than Ohio. Instead of driving, Paul took Megabus, a discount bus service that runs between several cities in the Northeast and elsewhere. All in all, it was a whirlwind trip -- he left Saturday morning and was back at our Brooklyn apartment in time for supper Sunday night. Here's Paul's account of his weekend.

My friend Ryan is in a Columbus Crew backer club that gets together at a bar to watch home games and travels to various cities to watch away games. I met him in Washington, DC, for a game between the Crew and DC United.

The game was at 7 p.m., so I had plenty of time to get there that Saturday. Spending the four hour trip sleeping or reading sounded a lot more pleasant than driving, so for about $30 I got a round-trip Megabus ticket.

The bus left right on time from Midtown on the far west side of Manhattan, and the seats were surprisingly comfortable. As a bonus, I was able to get all my fantasy baseball draft research done during the trip.

I arrived at the hotel -- in a Virginia suburb of DC -- just about the same time as Ryan and the Crew backer club. We soon left for the stadium.

I've always liked watching soccer, but I've never really followed it and probably never will. Living in Columbus, I'd always go to a game or two a year. Part of the charm was that it was a laid-back scene. There was a decent crowd, but it was mostly families and kids and it really felt like no one took it too seriously. It seems that the MLS now has real fans to rival any other sport, if the level of douchery at the game is any indication.

After the game we headed to some local bars, and it was confirmed for me that DC has just as many hipsters as Williamsburg and Park Slope.  If anything, they're more dedicated to the hipster ironic lifestyle if the vintage clothing and fedoras were any indication.

The next morning we drove around and did some sightseeing. My friends dropped me off at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where I was able to view Rick Flair's actual wrestling robe (WHOOOO!!!!).

The return bus ride was a little longer than the trip to DC, owing to some bad traffic.Still, it was much more relaxing than a drive, and there were no intrusive pat downs or security lines to deal with. I will definitely take Megabus again if I need to go somewhere in the Northeast.

Read Paul's blog, Presidents by the Book.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Carlo's Bakery's Comfort Food Cupcakes

Carlo's Bake Shop cupcake -- and my keyboard

My department at work has dubbed the last day of the work week "Cupcake Friday" because we so often bring those treats to share on that day.

A couple of Fridays ago a coworker who lives in New Jersey decided to do the honors. He delivered a box of cupcakes from Carlo's Bakery, in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Sound familiar? That's the bakery featured in TLC's show, "Cake Boss." I've never seen it, but I've had the cupcakes twice. They're delicious. Not quite drive-to-New-Jersey delicious, but definitely I'll-take-three delicious.

Carlo's Bakery sells the meatloaf of all cupcakes -- the ultimate comfort food. The vanilla cake is spongy and rich, the frosting is creamy and smooth. A coworker said they are reminiscent of box-mix cupcakes, only a million times better. I agree.

New York City and its environs offer cupcakes of all shapes, sizes and flavors. Gourmet cupcakes made with rare (or at least rare-for-cupcakes) ingredients. But Carlo's Bakery? That's where you go for birthday cupcakes that won't let anyone down.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

Everyone knows of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the behemoth near Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets. Less well-known, however, is St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, a comparatively small church in Soho that served as the New York diocese's first cathedral for 70 years in the 1800s.

We belong to a church in Bay Ridge, but we tend to go to mass based on whatever our plans are for the weekend. I long ago lost track of the number of different churches we've visited, but we've become repeat visitors at several because of their location and mass times -- particularly a church near Union Square that offers a 4 p.m. Saturday mass (the earliest I've found), and a church in the East Village that offers a 7 p.m. Saturday mass (the latest I've found, and perfect if we want to eat supper at one of the many yummy restaurants nearby).

But St. Patrick's Old Cathedral was new to us when we visited earlier this year. Had the name not given it away, I never would have looked into its history. It was a nice church; nothing fancy. Only two things were notable:

How cold the mass was. I know there was still snow on the ground outside, but I'd never before worn my gloves throughout a service.

How short the mass was! Perhaps it was only this one service, but there was no music. We were out of there in something like 35 minutes -- a Catholic record?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Skinflints: The Best Burgers in Brooklyn?

Since we can't have a grill in our Brooklyn apartment, the best place to satisfy a burger craving is Bay Ridge's very own Skinflints.

Even better, we can see it from our living room window.

Skinflints started out as an ice cream parlor in 1915, but over the last century it transformed itself into a nice, low-key bar in front, and a restaurant with consistently good hamburgers in the back. One thing that hasn't changed much from the beginning: the decorations. The stained glass, the tin (or tin-looking?) ceiling -- somehow it all seems to class up plain old burgers and fries.

When we ate at Skinflints for supper recently, my blue cheese burger was even better than the bacon burgers I've eaten there before. All the burgers are served on English muffins, which ups the ante and makes me wonder why more restaurants don't offer that. The french fries, however, are only so-so -- a little too floppy for my taste.

But what really makes Skinflints stand out from other sit-down, casual burger joints is the bread basket. Really, it's more of a sesame basket -- I skip over the sesame buns for the sesame crackers and sesame sticks. I could practically skip the entree.

The sesame sticks are so good that they were gone before I could snap a photo.

Dinner for the two of us is easily below $20 -- not bad for a Saturday night in New York. And it's only slightly more than what we'd spend at McDonald's, which wouldn't be half as good.

Skinflints has an extensive menu of other favorites -- chicken pot pie, fish and chips, french dip and more -- but I've always stuck to the burgers.

Skinflints also has outdoor seating, which we've never been able to snag. The bar and restaurant are both consistently busy, and it's easy to see why.

Monkey lamps!


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