East Coast Redux

I’ve been to New York and D.C. a few times in my life. Blogged about it in 2007, 2005 (briefly), and 2004. And, long before I had a blog (hard as that might be to imagine), I had visited a few times with my family. As a result, this seemingly umpteenth trip to the heart of the East Coast took on a different character. Sure, I had a little work to do at the UN and NSA Archives, but what really set it apart was that I would pretty much wing it. There were sporting events, of course (4 in 11 days), there would be tourist-y things (for I am a tourist), but compared to the road trip, this was much less focused, much less traditional.* The result was fantastic. It’s really been a great month.

*In that vein, I’m going to opt from doing the normal daily recap photo blog, and instead do a much shorter themed version. Besides, I really don’t have it in me to write another 12-parter.

Part 1: Food

My visit to New York coincided with the Feast of San Gennaro, who is apparently the patron saint of the overweight (I would arrive home to find the same festival going on in LA). My religious convictions led me to Lombardi’s with my cousin for pizza and Italian raspberry soda. Fresh pizza is always very good, and this was no exception. I wouldn’t proclaim it great though, much less Zagat’s “Best on the Planet.” That honor goes to either the pineapple and ham pizza I had in Costa Rica… or any of the three selections I enjoyed at the swanky-ish Pizzeria Mozza months ago. (P.S. I’m not that douchey; the Pizza Man pizza I had as a kid would make the short list as well)

Dessert break! This booth in the festival definitely won the prize for aesthetics, with a variety of chocolate-covered candy apples. But it was the chocolate-coated (and sprinkled) marshmallows that caught my eye. Combined with a lemon ice, I got pretty much everything I wanted from the festival. …except maybe for chicken parmigiana. And lasagna. Man, I love that stuff.

Thanks to the people over at Yelp, I located a cheap and well-reviewed Japanese place Midtown. On break during my second day at the UN Archives, I went in search of Donburiya, located at 137 E. 47th St. To my surprise, it was actually a market with a counter in the back. I ordered a steaming hot beef udon, then bought a delicious lemon drink. It was great. Only when I looked at the receipt afterwards did I realize I had enjoyed the meal in the wrong place.

I was at 125 E. 47th St, not 137. Even looking for a place that started with the letter-D had not been good enough: I was in Diamobu Deli & Grocery. So I returned to find Donburiya the very next day, this time with success. I love Japanese-style pork cutlets. And I love tempura. As a result, the meal was pretty much heaven, even if they opted not to include a yam tempura (but I’ve never had an onion tempura before, so that was neat). My favorite part was the sweet sauce they had on the pork. That was fucking fantastic.

Dessert break #2! A candy store on 2nd Ave had FIVE different kinds of cola candy (well, four, as the blue cola bottles weren’t cola-flavored, and reminded me more of gushers, which I never tried in my childhood, but whose commercials aired a billion times during after-school programming). The classic. The sugar free. The sugar-coated. And, most innovative of all, cola gummy bears!

One aspect of New York I’m supremely jealous of is the food cart culture. I love the idea of having a guy selling hot dogs at every corner: if that ever spread to SoCal, I’d be horrifically broke. Rather than hot dogs, though, I took some more internet advice and went searching for the Biryani Cart just south of Rockefeller Plaza. The Indian-style lamb gyros (called “kati rolls”) were cheap. And solid. But they didn’t blow my mind.

On the other hand, the Halal Cart on 53rd and 6th DID blow my mind. I didn’t even go to the right one! Apparently, there’s an imitator there during the day (…to my credit, however, it is noted that some people do prefer the imitator over the hyped-up real deal). But when I dug into the lamb over rice, you could have fooled me. Because the ambiguously-named white and hot sauces that coated the healthy portions of meat and rice made for an amazingly delectable combination. It worked over my stomach for the next couple of days, but it was well worth it.

Dessert break #3! I’m not a big ice cream person. I had a terrible experience with Coldstone’s during the aforementioned 2005 trip, and even my visit to Fosselman’s in Alhambra left something to be desired. But the Deep Purple Cow flavor at Emack & Bolio’s? That was unmatched. In fact, a part of me almost wished I hadn’t ordered the M&M chocolate cone, which diluted some of the taste. Then again, who am I kidding? That cone was awesome.

The tour of ethnic foods continued, this time on the home turf. Living up to the stereotype, Prosperity Dumpling was a ridiculous bargain. Schoolchildren flooded the dining area that was no bigger than my kitchen, holding dollars and screaming orders in Chinese. Five dumplings for a buck! An onion bread slice for .75! Won ton soup with noodles for three! And it was good!

There was even time to check out the Chinatown in Queens. Nothing beats late-night congee with jellyfish, chicken, and fried dough thingies. Ordering the honey lemon drink was probably another bad idea, as I already had enough liquids. But both drink and dish were very good (am I the worst food critic ever or what?) Sadly, I should probably reacquaint myself with eating porridge on a regular basis, as I have wisdom teeth surgery schedule for the end of the month.

Another dessert break! A recommendation of the highest level from a friend pushed me over to Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea for beautiful-looking cupcakes. I made a myriad of mistakes though: 1) I had it late in the morning (where it came in lieu of a normal-time lunch), 2) I had two, and 3) I had a hot chocolate in addition to them. The buttercream icing slayed me. I have no idea how I made it through the second one, and no idea how I didn’t cough anything up the rest of the day, because I sure as hell wanted to. Umm… the first cupcake was good though.

The food tour moved onto the District. My host made some excellent beer-battered fish tacos, and I had some good fried chicken, rice, collard greens, and awesome beans in a jazz club; sadly, I neglected to take any pictures. Instead, the depicted cuisine remained squarely in East Asia, with this Thai tapioca soup the first course at Wolfgang Puck’s The Source (Asian Fusion). You might be shocked to find out that this was my first experience with any sort of tapioca immersed in liquid. I know, what kind of Asian am I?! The soup was incredibly sweet.

The house-made pickles provided with the main course were the best pickles I’ve ever had (and given the amount of burgers and sandwiches I’ve had in my life, that’s saying something). They were so incredibly sweet, and didn’t even taste like pickles!* Oh, and the enormous American style Kobe cheeseburger was pretty great too. I have no idea how I managed to finish the whole thing – that was a fucking ordeal.

*Did you know pickles aren’t really a vegetable, but describe a process? Wikipedia that shit; it’ll blow your mind like it did mine when I read it a few years ago.

I even managed to find room for the final dessert break of the trip. I never used to be a big fan of cheesecake, but I’ve definitely become a convert. I love the way good cheesecake just melts in your mouth. It was a perfect capper to the most expensive lunch I’ve ever had in my life (after a very nice gratuity, I might add). And a perfect capper to the first trip where I sought particular places for food. Mmm… food.

Part 2: Sports

As you might imagine from a $1.3 billion building, new Yankee Stadium is insane. It towers above all the stadiums I’ve visited the last few years. The sightlines are fantastic, the food options are immense (and it smelled nice everywhere!), and the whole thing (other than the tunnel under the bleachers) feels incredibly spacious and luxurious. Peering into the old building just made me sad.

There’s a nice but small (but free!) team museum on the premises. Hell, there’s even an interactive locker display that allows you to type your name and have it flashing above you for a photo. I wondered aloud whether I could type a curse word or something as my ‘name,’ before noticing the security guard nearby, presumably to prevent people from doing that very thing. But people seemed well-behaved. Even walking around in Angels gear, I did not get too much flak (I did enjoy the usher who told me I had to enter “through the Angels’ gate,” and the guy who cupped his mouth to boo me walking up a ramp).

The hot sausage looked tiny at first glance, but fortunately, it was deceivingly so. It was nice and thick and juicy and delicious and whatever adjectives you can think of to make this sentence sound more gay than it already does. The garlic fries were great too. The only bad part of the night was that the Angels lost. As I walked down the steps into the Subway station, someone yelled, “Go home, Angels fan!” …But that’s 3,000 miles away. =(

Besides, I had another game at another ballpark enjoying its inaugural season to attend. “Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and greet the Mets!” Just like Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is conveniently located right off the subway. Unlike Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is in Flushing, NY, which means you had to be on the 7 train a good 40 minutes to get out there from Manhattan.

Citi Field was very nice. They had a little market out in right field (where Gatorade is definitely not the price it would be in a real market), a ton of family entertainment attractions in left field, and a nice club at practically every seating level. I have to say, though, there was definitely a ‘back to Earth’ vibe after checking out the new Yankee Stadium. The fact that it was Mets and Nationals didn’t help matters.

To their infinite credit, however, the Mets had the best giveaway of any baseball game I’ve ever attended (short of the Angels’ replica championship ring night): free batting helmets! Best of all, there was no age discrimination, as the plastic toys went to the first 25,000 in attendance. I could not have been more excited. Furthermore, the footlong hot dog was great, as was the delicious sweet sausage. The only disappointment was the lack of home runs for the home team, which meant that the giant apple did not rise in centerfield.

Off to DC, where the long ride out to Fedex Field was reminiscent of trip to Citi Field. The only difference was the 25 minute walk after we got out of the station in Longover, Maryland. By the way, I’d highly recommend making friends who work for sports teams. I only have one, and it’s still worked out amazingly. The Redskins home opener – thanks Todd!

Offensive.

It was only the second NFL game I had ever attended, and the first I had the opportunity to take in. The Redskins were inept offensively (3 or 4 red zone trips, 3 field goals), but I was still shocked to hear the home team booed steadily throughout the game. The crowd continued to voice their displeasure even after the 9-7 victory, and the drunk woman next to me kept reiterating that “a win is a win, BUT.” Three hours passed in the blink of an eye, and soon, we’d be partaking in the catering postgame. We stood directly behind Ladell Betts, waiting for barbecue. For once, I was inside the fence.

Nationals Park is incredibly well-situated. It’s only three subway stops or so outside the National Mall, centerfield is literally two minutes away from the station, and there’s a beautiful view of the Navy Yard from the upper deck. The park looks practically brand-new, yet it doesn’t feel cavernous; there’s a nice, homey, minor league feel to it (in a good way). I guess the only downside is the team that plays there.

There was even a Ben’s Chili Bowl inside the stadium! For the second day in a row, I had the famous half-smoke and chili cheese fries. The concessions in the park were actually reasonably priced… at least, for a stadium. After all the food from Ben’s was devoured, I bought a bargain of a mini-helmet sundae (two swirls of ice cream, topped with cherries, peanuts, and fudge, all for $5).

And to top it off, the Presidents race! Sadly, Teddy Roosevelt remained a scratch, but George took first by a nose. The news wasn’t as good for the home team. For the first time in a long time, I left a baseball game early. The score was 10-2 at the time, and the Dodgers would go on to win, 14-2. Maybe that old Senators adage needs to be updated. Washington, it seems, is “first in war, first in peace, and last in the National League.”

Part 3: Sights

I realize I’ve already done the food entry, but nothing at the Feast of San Gennaro – including the clown dunk tank – beat the smell of sausage. That would be the recurring (and welcome) olfactory sensation of the trip, as I got whiff after whiff of the heavenly aroma at street carts and baseball games. One negative of the Feast? The same stands repeated a million times: the sausage booth, the carnival game booth, the pina colada booth, the fried oreos booth, and the restaurant patio.

The Top of the Rock offered a nice, if overpriced, view of the city. For a host of reasons – most notably, the search for food carts, I ended up in that area three separate times. I was disappointed not to see a skating rink AGAIN (not to mention the Christmas Tree, obviously), but lucked out my last day there when I got tickets into Studio 8B for a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday Edition (yes, that’s the full title) dress rehearsal! That was awesome, even though I haven’t watched SNL regularly since the Ferrell years.

And for the first time, I went ahead and took the Roosevelt Island tram! That was pretty neat, although I have to admit I was pretty creeped out when the tracks diverged from the Queensboro Bridge (“My eyes are getting weary, my back is getting tight…”). I mean, you’re just hanging there, by a thread. Although, to make two more pop culture references, I suppose everybody gets one. Roosevelt Island was pretty boring though.

Touring New York City seemed like a rundown of Will Smith’s filmography. I stopped by Washington Square Park on the first day, and the Intrepid the last (I am Legend). In between, I managed to check out the Guggenheim (Men in Black), take the Staten Island Ferry for a view of the Statue (Hitch), plus the city smelled like urine (Men in Black II, Wild Wild West). The Guggenheim sold really cool-looking lego sets. Too bad the miniature replicas cost a ridiculous $40.

It was a short (not really) walk over from the Guggenheim to the American Museum of Natural History. And, as I have said many, many times, dinosaurs are pretty much the coolest things in the world. But I discovered two things. First is that I’m quite bad at taking perfectly even pictures. Second is that I’ve really gotten spoiled by the auto-focus feature on my camera. In the words of a very nice foreign girl who requested that I take a picture of her and her friend, “Could you take it again, except maybe not shake your hands?” Photography fail.

I even did a little shopping in the Soho District. Then again, ‘shopping’ is probably the incorrect word. More like walking. The only place I really checked out was Kidrobot, where I emerged with adorably awesome – again, if overpriced – Simpsons and Futurama figurines. I also bought a Nick Hornby book from a street vendor. Word of advice: do not read “How to be Good.” It sucks. Instead, go check out “A Long Way Down.”

The Newseum in D.C. is easily one of my favorite museums ever. For starters, the six-story structure had a collection of old newspapers (I was especially amused by the one tracing the exploits of Blackbeard), a gallery of Pulitzer Price-winning photographs (with their amazing backstories), and a devastating 9/11 exhibit and video. The entire museum was incredibly informative and thorough, but interesting as well, allowing you to relive a variety of memorable events – including through a cheesy 4-D theater show.* Hell, there were funny article excerpts on the bathroom stalls (…yes, I took pictures). This museum was MADE for me.

*Although, when I opted to view the OJ Ford Bronco chase in the newsroom archives, some woman walking by exclaimed in disgust, “Oh my god.” Hey lady, he loved her too much. That’s all.

Todd also volunteered to provide a nighttime tour of the Capitol, which was pretty awesome. Not only did it save us hours of walking – and I say hours from experience, but it was great: the monuments and buildings glowed in the dark of night, and everything was quiet. No need to visit the Jefferson Memorial! (And if you got that reference, we should be friends).

The National Archives was all right (despite the hordes of people, myself included, who felt fit to make National Treasure references, especially in the gift shop), but I enjoyed the massive National Portrait Gallery much more. The architecture of the building itself was beautiful, most notably in the courtyard and on the third floor, and there were sections as varied as a presidential exhibit and modern art. I mean, there was even a gallery for sports and entertainment portraits. And Katherine Hepburn’s display of victory.

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