“I’m surprised you’re so close with them,” Alda told me. “You guys are so different!”
It was the first time Alda had met my friends, though she’s heard a whole lot about them from me via our regular gchat sessions. And of course, I had to ask what she thought of my friends. Although she really liked both of them, Alda’s good at observing people’s traits and she detected our distinct traits at once.
And indeed, we are different. We share the same common love and enthusiasm for food and travel, but we’re three individuals from three completely different backgrounds, personality and careers. And I love that, because dear God, I would hate to hang out with two people exactly like me. We would clash and it’ll be a bloody mess of strong-minded, obstinate fools weighing each other down.
But my friends complement me well because what I lack, they supplement, and vice versa. There are many things about my friends that I want to emulate; they challenge me in certain ways of thinking or attitudes, and always push me to improve myself. Actually, I think you can roughly compare us to…
(Picture credit to Wikia)
Take Marilyn, for example. This girl is most definitely Bubbles.
She makes friends wherever she goes because she’s always bubbly and cheerful. She’s certainly not ditzy (all my friends are super intelligent!), but she can be indecisive at times, which sometimes drive me and Tracy crazy. But honestly, you can’t help but love Marilyn. She’s just radiant with a sort of unconstrained joy that can put a smile on your face even when you’re having the worst day.
I think Tracy is more like Blossom.
I’ve seen her work as an entrepreneur and a savvy businesswoman, and I’m constantly amazed by her strong leadership and people skills. This girl can sell you the Empire State Building with her warm confidence and smile. She’s incredibly mature for her age of 22, and she’s always so…zen. I’ve never seen her anything less than level-headed; she’s the girl you want to call when you’re in a crisis.
And that leaves me with Buttercup.
Ack. Honestly, I want to be sweet lovable Bubbles or practical, confident Blossom, but given my fiery temper and aggressiveness, I know I’m a Buttercup. I say and do things recklessly, and always kick myself for it—yet I just can’t help speaking exactly what’s on my mind.
But that’s why I need my buddies. They keep me sweeter and calmer by absorbing the rougher ends of my character. I appreciate and love them for that. And that means that we really got along well throughout the trip.
Together, we were freaking invincible. I mean, we had the strength to overcome a wanton afternoon of intense sugar-load. But enough is enough and by evening we just wanted some savory meat.
Which brings us to Shake Shack.
This ubiquitous burger chain in New York was the first restaurant Alda brought me to. It won’t be long before a Shake Shack will open doors in Los Angeles, I’ll bet. But since none has invaded the West Coast yet, Marilyn was dying to try their acclaimed burger.
We were actually planning to get a Concrete (a frozen custard sundae) as well, but uh…as you know, we had our fair limit of sugar that day.
There are currently seven Shake Shack branches in New York City (including the one in Brooklyn), and the one we first visited was the Upper West Side branch.
People will argue that In-N-Out and Shake Shack are different breeds, but I can’t help comparing the two. They have both gained fanatic burger fans on both coasts; they are fast food chain-style; they both have a minimalistic menu; they both have a “secret sauce”; and they both have a “secret menu.”
But atmosphere-wise, while In-N-Out adheres to an old-fashioned burger joint kind of atmosphere, the ambience at Shake Shack is definitely more upscale. Just check out the dining indoor patio, where people munch on good ol’ American fast food while basking under sunlight and looking over the American Museum of Natural History. Only about 8 years old, it certainly tailors to the more hip and urban crowd.
Unfortunately, the price reflects that too. I’m sorry, as a college student, price weighs heavily in determining the winner.
Taste-wise? Shake Shack’s burger is GOOD. Seriously good. The beef patty is a blend of three cuts: 4-ounces total of brisket, sirloin and short rib. The meat is definitely the shining quality of this burger. Instead of being formed into compact patties, it’s just kind of squished into a flat pancake, so that the texture as you bite down into it is always interesting.
But…I prefer In-N-Out’s slightly griddled bun, its toppings that include pickles and onions (I always get extra onions!), and its sweet and puckery secret sauce. And its cheapness. And yeah, I’m also unconsciously biased, so don’t completely trust my word for it.
Later that night Tracy had to go meet her godparents for dinner, so it was just Marilyn and I for din-din. We used that opportunity to chow down as much meat as we can, since Tracy is mostly vegetarian.
Ever since we started planning for this trip, Marilyn have been telling me about the halal carts. She said we just absolutely had to try them, and I didn’t believe her. I’ve seen those halal carts everytime I visited New York, I argued. They didn’t seem that impressive—just some goopy rice with meats slapped on top. Bo-ring.
But I WAS WRONG. Thankfully Marilyn pushed it and I relented. When this girl knows what she wants, she gets it. She read about this cart from a popular L.A. blogger, KevinEats, and apparently a few other food bloggers like Eats.Meets.Wes also recommended it.
You see, the halal cart Marilyn had heard about wasn’t just any halal cart you see lining the Manhattan streets. It was the halal cart on 53rd and 6th Ave.
I don’t think it’s the original halal cart that produced the flight of lamb and chicken-roasting carts that promulgate NYC, but it certainly caused some sort of a phenomenon.
(“The Halal Guys: We are Different.” Bold statement, indeed.)
Every night at 7:30 pm until 4 in the morning, you’ll see a line trailing on the sidewalk a few blocks south of Central Park.
You’ll also see a string of diners camping by the sidewalk, chowing on platters of aromatic food.
You’ll discover that the line is connected to this cart manned by two guys constantly slicing slivers of meat from a gyro and packing up aluminum boxes to go.
All the rice is pre-cooked, the pita breads laid out and ready to be shoveled at lightning speed into aluminum bowls.
If you’re getting this to go, don’t forget to ask for extra sauce. The sauce is the most famous component of the halal cart’s dish.
Here’s a tip. You actually don’t have to go through the 20-minute wait to get your halal fix. There’s another halal cart open across the street that is owned by the same people, selling the same food. But why do people line up here? Because someone has told them to go to 53rd and 6th. In fact, when the 53rd and 6th cart runs out of food, that other cart provides more food for this cart.
I didn’t know about this beforehand, so we just lined up. Which wasn’t too painful because those two halal cart guys were super fast.
They were super nice, too. Marilyn told them we’re from Los Angeles and that we had been dying to try their food. And of course, since she’s Marilyn, somehow she cajoled them into taking a picture with her:
So. Here’s our $6 first dinner course, the combo platter:
Chunks of lamb and chicken, piled over a bed of fragrant yellow rice, topped with a few slices of pita and lettuce. Drizzled with their famous hot sauce and their “crack” white sauce.
I had no expectations when I chomped onto a bite of rice and meat and sauce. I was just eating it because it was time for dinner and the food was in front of me.
But oh God. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! I kept shoveling mounds of that fabulous stuff in front of me. Can’t stop…Must. Eat. More.
The meat is just so tender and soft. It’s sort of shredded up so the texture becomes even more ethereal, best gobbled along with the fluffy, lightly seasoned rice.
And oh! The rice! I don’t know why it’s orange. But it’s the kind of rice you’ll gulp down without even chewing, because it’s so delicious and light.
Tears were falling down my cheeks—partly because this was seriously the best thing I ate in New York so far, but eh, mostly because I went for another round of sauce-topping, and I squirted a buttload of hot sauce into it.
That hot sauce…is like liquid volcano!!! It was spicy even for my standards, and that’s saying a lot because I eat a lot of spicy foods. I underestimated the fieriness of the sauce, so I unfortunately put way too much and I had to eat all of the red-sauced portion because Marilyn can’t stand the spice.
But the white sauce? Squirt away as much as you want. We ended up making about four trips to the sauce stand, squirting on miles of white sauce. Now I know why they call it “crack” sauce. I have no idea what it is—it’s not tzatziki, it’s not aioli, it’s not mayonnaise, it’s not raita—who knows, probably the combination of all the mentioned? It may be laced with crack, and I wouldn’t be surprised because it’s just so darn addictive.
We were so freaking happy. Oh so happy. I wouldn’t mind eating this every night. In fact, I wanted to get back in line and order another plate, but we already had an agenda.
Halal cart, and then biryani cart, located at 46th and 6th Ave. So we totted down several blocks for the second course of our dinner menu.
This cart is simply called the Biryani Cart. Apparently it won the People’s Choice Award 2008-2009!
My expectation after that halal cart was definitely raised a few bars.
Mmm…The flavors were just spot-on. I think most of the chicken were dark pieces, because they definitely juicy and tender. The rice was also nicely cooked—feather-light and individually separated.
I just wish like the halal cart, we could have kept visiting back for more of that yogurty sauce.
We may have made it uptown, but it was a street food kind of dinner. NYC doesn’t really need food trucks—it’s got its amazing carts! After our dinner, we met up again with Tracy (who had sushi with her godparents) and hiked down to Times Square.
You know what? By the sixth trip to Times Square, it’s gotten a bit boring for me. It’s a glittery, glitzy tourist hotspot, but when you get down to the heart of it, it kind of lacks…character. It’s actually colorless.
But of course we had to visit at least once. We went to the big-ass M&M Store.
I think the M&M Store is a trademark representation of Times Square: visually attractive, freaking expensive, big corporate and one-dimensional.
It’s cool to browse around for a few minutes, and then it just loses its appeal. But it certainly made me crave chocolate!
We were originally planning to go salsa dancing at Copacabana, a famous nightclub near Times Square, but it was a couple hours till midnight and we were getting tired. Plus, I desperately wanted to hang out with Alda one last time. Alda came to meet us at Times Square, and she led us to a Korean cafe nearby called Caffebene.
It’s a super cute little shop, a tranquil oasis amidst the hustle-bustle glamor of the Theater District.
(Alda and me)
I wish I had gotten more time with Alda. Time is always so short!
As we sipped on tea and nibbled on bourbon brownie bites and slices of bread Alda scored us from a food festival…
…Alda helped us plan the next day’s itinerary, because we’ll be at her neck of the woods: Brooklyn!
Alda is a walking and talking NYC travel guide book. She not only helped us narrow down which places to visit, she even provided subway and walking directions. Thanks, Alda! You were a terrific help.
We didn’t get back to our Airbnb apartment until past midnight, which meant technically, it was already the next day. But as much as I was looking forward to Brooklyn Day, I kind of dreaded it because that meant it’ll be the last day we spend in NYC.
By the way…Will someone in Los Angeles please open a halal cart like that in NYC? Otherwise I might have to do that myself…
Question of the Day: What do you admire most about one (or two) of your closest friends? And…which Powerpuff Girl are you?
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