This past week or so, I made a much-anticipated return trip to New York to meet up with my boyfriend, many of my old friends from school and work, and even my good friend Bryce who drove down from Boston. Now because it’s me – all of my friends knew to prepare for a little drinking, a little dancing but most importantly a schedule organized entirely around where, when and with whom I would be eating.
Over seven days, I walked all over NY, ate, drank and had great conversation with great friends. I don’t know how I’m really going to capture how wonderful (and long overdue) this trip was, but I’ll get there slowly.
First up – supermarket envy.
The first two days of my trip I spent with my dear friend Adi whom I’ve known now for almost 15 years (believe it or not). Adi is currently living in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn where I stayed with her the first two days of my trip. I’m embarrassed to say that in the year I lived in Manhattan (from ’06 to ’07), I only ventured into Brooklyn once and it wasn’t a memorable trip. But this time I couldn’t believe what I saw – Park Slope is absolutely gorgeous! Of course, it didn’t hurt that the day I landed was the first day of great weather NY has had in awhile. I have to say, if I ever move back to NY, I might have to live in Park Slope!
So – back to the point – Adi and I had a foodie-filled two days and one night from Park Slope to Chelsea to West Village. I’ll get to the eating bits in the next post. I wanted to start off with something Adi said only I would have – supermarket envy.
First stop – Union Market in Park Slope.
The minute I walked into this place I gasped at the gorgeous display of fresh fruits ranging from the usual bananas and oranges to mini pineapple and plantains. I literally just turned my head to the left and another gasp came out when I saw that they sold heirloom tomatoes – big, giant ones. This was the first time I had ever seen them being sold before which probably doesn’t say very much about the super markets I go to. But nonetheless I was very impressed by their size and the variety of colors. There seemed to be a lot of mini-sized vegetables which I am always thrilled about (such as cauliflower and artichoke).
They even sold purple cauliflower! Another first for me. But then, oooh then there was the mushroom section with a wide range from white button to chanterelle to bluefoot. Despite having just eaten a very filling Italian lunch, my eyes and stomach were going into overdrive just thinking of all the delicious meals that could be concocted from this one small market. I wanted desperately to take my time and inspect every single piece of produce, but I was embarrassing Adi enough with the two photos I had taken already. She was also keen to get me past produce to the most important part she wanted to show me – the CHEESE section.
Now when I say cheese section – do not underestimate the selection. To think that millions of Americans buy plastic cheese slices or even cheese out of a can is just shameful when you see a cheese selection like this. The smell is overwhelming as you get such a variety from goat to blue to strong cheddar. Seeing this cheese selection reminded me of the little International Cheese Shop in Marylebone Station in London which I used to pass and smell every day. Sorry Marylebone but Union Market kicks your little French butt (the proprietor was French at least) except for the fact that everything in the US has to be pasteurized by law. The photo you see is only showing two thirds of the cheese section. There’s an entire other display to my right but I was trying to be quick about the pictures. This little trip made me realize how little I actually know about cheese and how ridiculously picky and non-adventurous I am when it comes to trying new kinds. Like many people, smell is such a large factor of my appetite. This means I’m not exactly dying to eat cheeses like the Stinking Bishop, but I have been reminding myself that if I am going to culinary school I MUST get over my food fears like this one. Since I wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to try anything I thought was ‘smelly’, we went for middle ground and went for one of Adi’s favorites – Taleggio.
It was a little difficult to top the cheese section, but we made our way around the rest of the store. They had a wonderful little section of teas, a nice large olive bar with other antipasti items, great readymade dishes, and something else I haven’t ever seen in any regular old super market I’ve been to – a locked box of caviar. Now I’ve seen my share of locked containers. I found it incredibly amusing that Tesco’s in Amersham had a locked container of some sort of beef roast that only cost £18! I guess it makes sense though in comparison. I mean it IS New York after all. All in all, even with a very full stomach, I managed to buy a huge slice of Taleggio, a packet of black pepper salami, thin sesame crackers, some sort of truffle pâté and a huge baguette. All of which was for a picnic I decided Adi, Chris and I would be having down by the Hudson in Battery Park later that afternoon.
Next stop – Chelsea Market (also known as home of the Food Network Channel).
I really can’t believe that in all the years I’ve been going back to NY, I never made it to Chelsea Market. But at long last, I made my way around. It’s funny when you’ve heard about a famous place and have all these preconceived notions of what it will look like, sound like, smell like. This wasn’t what I expected at all. I think I imagined something a bit more like the farmer’s market at the Grove Center in LA but in a basement underneath the Food Network studios. I was completely wrong. First off, there weren’t nearly as many stores as I thought there’d be. Really – the layout felt more like a very gourmet food court than anything. But I do not want to disrespect Chelsea Market because the artisan foods there were very impressive.
Of course we stopped at another cheese shop – Lucy’s Whey which was very tiny but had some very nice options. Sadly, the entire experience was a bit ruined by the staff who, understandably, were not very patient with our questions (an assumption based on the rolling of the eyes). The cheese we did end up with was nice but forgettable. I don’t know – is it just me or should service in an artisan shop (much like in a restaurant) be considered important? I understand Adi and I weren’t exactly celebrity chefs or producers from the Food Network, but I’d assume they’d be more used to customers who didn’t know exactly what they were looking for. Plus it wasn’t like we were holding up a line since there was no one else in the shop at the time!
As always here’s another review on it since I’m aware my experience might have been unique (http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/archives/2009/11/a_first_look_at_2.php).
Anywho, on to a more positive experience, Buon Italia. Since I have never been to Italy, I felt like this was the closest I was ever going to get in terms of buying Italian products. Again, my eyes felt like it was going into overload by variety of pastas, cheeses, oils, and charcuterie. Oh my the meat. If only you could smell this place. It was a sexy blend of cheeses, olives and dry cured meats. The great thing about the charcuterie is that the counter is tucked away in the back of the store, so you won’t see it unless you know it’s there. Another familiar gasp came out when my eyes locked onto the giant slabs of prosciutto, salami and Mortadella.
The man who helped us seemed very serious about his meats, but was very helpful and explained the various types. He very kindly sliced samples for us and patiently waited while we made our decision. We ended up with a tray of individually laid out thin slices of Sopressata. I just loved the attention paid to slicing such a small portion of salami. The fact that each piece was laid out on its own seemed to say – this is not to be thrown into some child’s school lunch and slathered with mayonnaise. Oh no – this meat will and must be eaten slowly and appreciated. Even better it was very reasonably priced (probably cheaper than the salami we had bought at Union Market) and yet the entire store had such an air of sophistication. Thank goodness I don’t live in NY. I think I would have to go to this place every week, and either go broke or gain 20 lbs… But just to reiterate, I have great appreciation and respect for this place. If you like to cook Italian food and you live in NY, please please go buy your products from here. And let me know how it turns out
Okay – last but not least – The Lobster Place, Seafood Market.
Now having gone to college in Boston and growing up in the San Francisco Bay, I’ve had some pretty good seafood. But now that I’ve been living in Arizona for a few months, I think I’ve been so deprived that I was completely blown away by this seafood market. I was just in awe by the quality and variety of fish and shellfish so easily accessible. Even the little containers of fresh lumps of crabmeat! I mean they’re just sitting there waiting to be eaten! Granted some of the crabmeat prices weren’t exactly cheap but the lobster prices weren’t half bad! Same goes for the shellfish as well. I mean take a look at those jumbo scallops and tell me you’re not thinking of how juicy and sweet they’d be quickly browned in some butter. Mmmmm. Looking at these pictures is making me sad. When I go back to London I really must find a seafood place like this, not that I’ve really looked. But I won’t even bother looking in Arizona where seafood isn’t exactly a specialty due to its lack of coastline. Personal reminder – must go on seafood expedition in the UK.
Wow – as you can see this post has become very very long. And I’ve only covered two shopping trips! I think it’s time to wrap this one up, but I hope you can tell that there is more delicious-ness to come!