There was a hiccup before our trip to NYC even began.
My body immune had already been low for the past few days before I flew to the East Coast. It started with showering in cold water for almost a week (hot water machine broken in my apartment). And then I painted a wall at my internship by myself for more than an hour without a mask (stupid!) and after breathing in the toxic fumes that stunk up the whole building, my body went berserk.
Gorging on fried and spicy foods didn’t help. When I woke up Monday morning (the first day of our NYC trip), my throat was swelled up like a boiled sausage and my body was aching as though I just ran the marathon.
“Do you have to go to NYC?” my dad asked me in concern that morning as I lay under covers groaning in discomfort and pain. “Maybe you should just stay home.”
“OF COURSE I have to go to NYC!” I rasped, finally propelling out of bed by the sheer horror that my dad would suggest such a thing. No way was I missing trekking around Manhattan with my friends!
So. That’s how my experience of our first NYC morning began: drugged on Nyquil.
I don’t even know how I made it to Union Station; I was so drowsy that I could barely stumble about on my rubbery legs. Now that I think of it, I should probably have stuck with Dayquil, but I just gulped down what my parents gave me.
And it worked! After knocking out for four hours in the bus (I recommend taking the Bolt Bus if you’re traveling Mid-Atlantic), I was feeling much better by the time we reached Manhattan.
We were here. Finally. After months of obsessive planning and anticipation, we were right here, smack in the middle of the Big Apple.
(Picture by Marilyn)
How long has it been since I’ve hailed a taxi? That harkens me back to my Singapore days.
We took the cab straight to lunch. That’s just how we roll. We knew exactly where we wanted to hit first.
Russ & Daughters, a Polish Jewish market in the Lower East Side that is just so intrinsically New York, from its history to its heritage in tastes and culture, that it’s been hailed “a part of New York’s cultural heritage” by the Smithsonian Institute.
Many argue that bagels aren’t just Jewish—it’s American, and I see the support behind that statement. One of the most wonderful thing about New York is that it’s a conglomeration of so much history and cultures because it’s been a destination spot for many early immigrants.
The story of Russ & Daughters can be traced back to Joel Russ, who was born in southern Poland (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire), then later immigrated to New York in 1906 and apparently sold Polish mushrooms on a pushcart. He opened his first shop in 1914.
Russ & Daughters here is Russ’s second shop, to which he moved in 1920. Almost 100 years later, it’s still standing and still loved by the community. Ah, it makes me tear up a bit whenever I learn about generations-old, tradition-honoring establishments like Russ & Daughters.
And it’s not just the tradition that makes Russ & Daughters famous and beloved. Their stuff is seriously GOOD.
Its lox bagel was deemed one of the best meals he’s ever eaten by Anthony Bourdain, who also added, it’s “not just the best, but ‘ours.’” Put so simply, but means so much.
I was still pretty groggy when we entered the store, so nothing looked appetizing to me at first. My throat felt raw and chapped and I was still trying to get my mind back into earth. And to be honest, I was feeling kind of annoyed that I was sick on the day this much anticipated day finally arrived. Imagine coming to a three-day trip with your close friends, only to be robbed of your voice!
But my mood started brightening as I wandered around, gazing in wonder at all the colorful and interesting edibles showcased for visual pleasure.
Caviar can be so beautiful. Like jewels. Emeralds and rubies and black pearls…
The famous delicacy at Russ & Daughters is their smoked salmon, but they also stock other high-quality smoked fish like sturgeon, whole whitefish, various trouts and peppered mackerel:
They also sell picnic-ready salads:
Chopped liver, herring, Roumanian eggplant salad, beet, apple & herring salad, German potato salad, even smoked salmon tartare…
Have you ever had a bagel sandwich that cost $9+? Because this is what it cost. A teeny bagel (because that’s the original size of the bagel, before America supersized everything), three slivers of smoked salmon and a smear of cream cheese = almost $10.
But I’d say it’s worth it—amazing chewy bagel, popping fresh smoked salmon and incredibly satisfying cream cheese.
I had zero appetite before tasting them, but a couple bites in, I couldn’t get enough.
After our appetizer, we hopped a block down for our lunch “main course.” Hello, Katz’s.
Even if you haven’t watched When Harry Met Sally, you’ll still get on board the hype for this quintessential New York deli.
Katz Delicatessen has an even older history than Russ & Daughters. It opened in 1888 on East Houston Street and still stands there, despite having seen the comings and goings of generations of families.
There’s a lot of talk in Los Angeles about comparing Katz to Langers Deli. Loyal patrons pitch the war between the two coasts on which deli has “the world’s best pastrami sandwich,” but whoever’s sandwich is better, Katz still wins in having at least 60 years more of history. And they’re so damn proud of it. Just look at the plaques and pictures on the wall of all the historical figures and celebrities who visited this famous deli:
The place was packed when we arrived, and I think half of them were tourists. Marilyn and I definitely weren’t the only ones totting DSLR cameras around.
To be honest, I never got why that scene of Sally faking a public orgasm is so popular. Was it controversial? Because it seems more like an appetite-killer for me if I heard a woman moaning and screaming “Yes yes yes” next to me while I’m trying to eat a sandwich.
I’ll bet these guys get a lot of tired jokes about “I’ll have what she’s having” though. If only I could sit them down and ask them for the most eye roll-inducing jokes they’ve heard while working the counters.
At least they seem to get a fair number of tips!
Katz has a HUGE-ass menu as do all good ol’ delis, but we’d already decided on what to order. We got the pastrami:
And the matzo ball soup.
With a side of cucumber pickles:
Funny thing about these pickles, they were more cucumber than pickles. I didn’t get much of a pickled taste; they were more like cucumbers that have been marinated briefly in a vinegar solution. While Tracy loved them, I missed the puckery brine of real pickles.
Oh and as for the main entree?
The pastrami was good. So, so, so good. It’s not at all cheap, but if I lived in Manhattan, I would make it at least a monthly tradition to pop by for another happy taste of that luscious, melt-in-the-tongue pastrami and that wonderfully piquant homemade mustard.
Didn’t think much of the matzo ball soup though. It kind of sank into my stomach like a brick. Or maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be?
Okay. Our finale to our “lunch” was dessert, naturally. And it was just right next door to Katz.
Il laboratorio del Gelato, a gelato shop that makes its gelato in store. They handmake their frozen desserts in small batches to preserve optimum freshness—no ice particles in their products!
The retail store has a very urban, industrial style to it; I’m guessing they really want to emphasize the “laboratory” part of its concept. And speaking of laboratory, Il Laboratorio has over 200 different flavors under its belt, though obviously it doesn’t sell all those flavors in one day.
How fun would it be to be in charge of coming up with new gelato/sorbet flavors? I hate science but I wouldn’t mind that kind of experiments.
Just check out some of the flavors available, a mix of classics and originals:
Peppermint stick, fresh mint, sweet potato, pumpkin, maple walnut…
Malt, milk chocolate malt, rum raisin, black sesame, buttermilk, tarragon pink pepper…
I can see people wanting to go crazy with free tastings here. So Il Laboratorio del Gelato has a two-taste policy: two strikes, and then it’s time to ka-ching.
Tracy, Marilyn and I shared a three-scoop cup: the Braeburn Apple sorbet (Tracy), the Pistachio gelato (me) and the Rosemary (Marilyn). I have a habit of choosing the pistachio flavor, no matter which gelato shop I visit. I firmly believe it’s the best flavor profile to judge the quality of the gelato.Il Laboratorio del Gelato makes excellent gelato and sorbet. I was really surprised by the purity of the apple sorbet. They have other variety of apple sorbets too, from Gala, green apple and even Honeycrisp.
It’s definitely worth a visit, but even if I lived nearby I don’t think I’ll be back. The service sucked. I’m sorry, that’s all I can say about it.
So that’s how we spent the first hour or so in New York City. That was just lunch, or an appetizer to a full day’s of eats, if you will. We were just getting started. To be continued…because I need to pay attention to a documentary my professor is making us watch.
Question of the Day: Is there a historically rich eatery around your neighborhood? Feel free to leave a link to the website or even your blog post on it if you want. I always love learning about other neighborhood landmarks!
Also…just in case you’ve never watched that famous scene on When Harry Met Sally…Here it is: