It’s difficult to believe that we were in New York City last week! It was only my second time but Blai’s first time and we were gonna hit all the high spots and, of course, eat well! We flew American Airlines direct to JFK and I was pleasantly surprised by how much space we had and quality of the food provided. What wasn’t so great was the flight taking up most of Friday, which meant that we landed mid afternoon Friday, checked into our Airbnb apartment in downtown Brooklyn, and then went directly to find dinner.
My friend Diana had sent over a huge list of delicious places and one really jumped out at me – Yemen Cafe & Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, only a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. As soon as we sat down, we were brought a huge round of warm clay oven bread, lemon wedges and zhoug, the fresh green and spicy sauce served with Yemeni food.
Two bowls of lamb soup were also presented to us. It smelled very lamby but its flavour was much gently than that which its scent hinted.
And a plate of salad! This, we think, accompanied our main course and was brought as a sort of starter.
Being somewhat wary of American portion sizes and not wanting too much waste on our trip, we ordered only one main course and one appetiser to split between us. Weirdly, we wanted something quite comforting and ended up with hummus! It was excellent homemade hummus and we ate probably way too much of that round of flatbread with it.
And then our main course, the Yemeni national dish saltah, arrived. This was a hot stone bowl of a thick, slightly gelatinous vegetable stew topped with a frothy fenugreek sauce. We stirred our bubbling bowl hesitantly…and ate a little with rice. Then we tried it with bread and knew that we were onto a winner. It really is best with the warm flatbread – somehow the stew (with okra being the thickening agent) went amazingly well with it. I need to find saltah in London!
What we should have done was follow the lead of the Yemeni guy at the next table who dumped in a couple spoons of zhoug and stirred vigorously before tucking in with his wife. He was impressed by how we cleaned our bowl though!
The saltah came with a portion of their lamb haneeth, a falling off the bone chunk of tender spiced slow roasted lamb. The rice we ordered as a side dish and that highly scented pile of spiced basmati came with a little drizzle of saltah sauce on it.
And to drink? Iced Yemeni tea, which hit the spot.
Our first proper day in the city started early… like 6am early. Jetlag had hit us a bit and we used that early morning to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
After walking for a bit (and having a bit of tea somewhere), we found ourselves in Chinatown and we headed for a place on my list for cheap dumplings (also, it opened at 7am, which was useful) – Vanessa’s Dumpling House. One order of fried pork and chive dumplings and a veggie filled pancake (a thick wodge of soft bread) saw our tummies filled for under $4. Bargain.
Then it was catching the 6-train and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favourite places in the city and where we spent most of the day.
All that walking through the galleries builds up an appetite! We walked (some more) to a nearby Papaya King and grabbed hot dogs to eat in Central Park. On the way, we also ran into a Dean and DeLuca (the upscale grocery store) and picked up a doughnut from Dough.
It’s here I need to mention the fantastic weather we had during our week there. Thumbs up!
Anyway, lunch was great! Papaya King’s hotdogs were excellent (no, I couldn’t tell any difference from Gray’s Papaya from my last trip) but as for topping, I don’t really get the New York onions, a stewed mixture that hints of cloves and cinnamon. I preferred the relish – pickle relish mixed with mustard. Their corn dogs and curly fries are excellent too. And that doughnut! Oh, it was brilliant – this was a dulce de leche one with icing that wasn’t too sweet and topped with lots of toasted almond slices.
After lunch, we returned to the Met again! And still, after spending most of the day there, we didn’t ever make it to the second floor!
All that walking around the Met was killing our feet and we needed another sit down mid afternoon. Tea and a snack then and that snack was our very first black and white cookie, a New York classic. It was alright (soft cakey cookie with icing) but I didn’t see the great appeal of it.
One final round through the Oceania galleries (fantastic) and it was time to go. Dinner, as is normal for any jet-lagged traveller, was required a little earlier than usual. However, our chosen restaurant, Ootoya in Times Square, had a one hour wait for a table (it was Saturday night). No matter – we waited in the Starbucks next door. When we finally sat down, we were ravenous.
My kaasan ni set was a stoneware bowl of chicken katsu in a soy-dashi broth topped with lots of grated daikon and a poached egg. I ordered this as a set, with rice, miso soup, steamed egg, and pickles.
Blai’s buta shio koji with negishio was fantastic – the pork belly had been marinated in shio koji before being grilled and were then topped with sliced spring onions that too had been in shio koji. It was so utterly savoury and moreish.
Altogether it was a lot of food! I only just about managed to squeeze in some warabimochi (another big portion!) at the end!
And that was only our first 1.5 days in the city.