Every day life, food & strangeness in a big city

Month: February, 2013

Max Brenner’s Chocolate Factory

Last Saturday, my Korean friend and I went to Max Brenner‘s chocolate cafe on 841 Broadway. This place has been termed by some (quite rightly, if I might add) the real-life Willy Wonka’s. There’s certainly enthusiasm about chocolate and sweets, and plenty of panache. My eyes turned the size of saucers when I spotted the treats brought to tables around us: chocolate fondues with strawberries and what looked like cute little brownies to dip in – a death by chocolate type of cake gleaming invitingly, surrounded by berries and dollops of cream – or golden pancakes with an array of toppings bursting with colour.

My friend and I arrived on time for our reservation, which was a bit before noon, and contrary to other reports, there was no hour-wait or anything of the sort. The service was extremely friendly and cheerful  – but we did wait for our food for more than 50 minutes, which was a bit extreme considering it basically amounted to a sandwich and an omelette. We ignored reviews online who advised against savoury dishes and recommended sweet ones only – and in this we were wrong. Our sandwich and omlette sounded good on paper, but were mediocre at best taste-wise. The milkshakes, though, were a different kettle of fish altogether.

(Paranthetically, if you ever wondered the provenance of the phrase “kettle of fish” here’s your chance to find out:

According to The Phrase Finder, the earliest actual citation of the term in print appears to be in Thomas Newte’s A Tour in England and Scotland in 1785:

“It is customary for the gentlemen who live near the Tweed to entertain their neighbours and friends with a Fete Champetre, which they call giving ‘a kettle of fish’. Tents or marquees are pitched near the flowery banks of the river… a fire is kindled, and live salmon thrown into boiling kettles.”

Charming, no?)

But to return: no fish was harmed or in anyway involved in the making of our shakes. My friend ordered a strawberry white chocolate one which was quite yummy but its consistency resembled more a purée or smoothie than a shake. Mine, however, was a hazelnut chocolate shake, and it tasted, without any exageration, like liquid bliss. So yes, I would return, if only to try some more sweets and feel like Alice in Wonderland having a drink.

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How Baddie got to hold a stranger’s collapsible bike

And that, gentle reader, is not a metaphor. This afternoon, as I rushed to catch the lift (elevator?) after one of my classes which is held in a very strange old building* I almost bumped into a red collapsible bike. “Oh, sorry” said the owner of the thing, who was alone in the moderately-sized lift at the time. As I waited for the doors to shut, he proceeded to make his bike smaller. And smaller. And smaller.

“How small does that thing actually get?” came out of my mouth before I could swallow the words. Whaaaat? I was only supposed to think that. Think, not say it.

“Just about … this small” the stranger replies with a final click, and the bike is now perfectly collapsed. It looks pretty neat.

“And is it heavy?” I follow up. It’s like my tongue has evil powers or is on a five-minute strike from my brain.

“No” the stranger chuckles. I look down in shame. And I notice that he’s extended his bike for me to take hold of. I look at him. I look at the bike. What the heck, it’d be rude not to, now that I’ve been pestering him about it for the last three floors. So I grab the thing under the saddle. It’s heavy.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to lug this around with me, but it’s not too bad” I conclude and hand it back.

He takes the bike and half-covers it with his coat. I glance at him, uneasily.

“I have to make it smaller” he explains. (And hide it? I wonder) “It’s because every time I come down with the elevator and it’s big, the security guard starts shouting at me.”

I picture it and begin to smile. A delinquent collapsible bike. Now that has made my day.


* strange building because it is not 100% rented out / owned by my university; they just have one or two of the floors – the rest are occupied by firms or other organizations so I keep seeing all sorts of interesting people in the lobby; on the upside, it does have a gorgeous wooden staircase.



Brooklyn Bridge area blue hour

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Chinatown: curious, colourful, kitsch

During a two-hour walk through my neighbourhood, I have spotted:

pretty lanterns – yep, hard to believe, but Chinatown has some of these…

the Statue of Liberty taking a break

a very scary dragon…

unidentified yummy objects in an Asian bakery on Canal Street


cute-looking cupcakes (?) in a bakery on Canal Street… also in stock: green tea custards – must try!


the biggest and ugliest snow-man I’ve ever seen (1 Essex Street)

jewellery-store window decorations

Cafe Grumpy’s delightful flat white (13 Essex Street); also, their chocolate brownie is to die for!

street vendors offering delicious-looking fruit

Chinatown looking its best at night, arrayed in glittering lights

At the end of my walk I wanted dinner – and this comes with a story. After a bit of walking around, I was starting to get hungry so I stopped in front of an unassuming… well “restaurant” is too grand a term for it – a neon-signed, formica-tabled place to eat where some Chinese-looking people were happily chomping on some food that didn’t look half bad. The menu was mostly in Chinese, with some brief description in English, but by looking around I had already decided I wanted some of those mouth-watering dumplings and some green tea. I point to the menu, and clearly say the words “dumplings with pork and chives”, receive the news that no tea is available, and quickly opt for some noodle soup to warm me up instead. “You want both?” the diminutive Chinese lady asks incredulously. “Dumpling AND noodle soup?” I nod affirmatively, a bit annoyed. That’s surely not disproportionate, I think with a frown. One big dumpling and a bowl of soup… would hardly qualify me as a glutton…

I sit down, and watch as they freshly prepare the noodles in the open-plan kitchen. Five minutes later, the bowl pictured is placed in front of me:

Noodle soup in a restaurant on Catherine Street

The clear broth was light yet tasty, and I added soya sauce and vinegar for that extra umami and sour taste. The noodles were great – and the green leaves – I presume they were bok choy – coupled with the pork made me think of a Romanian specialty I love called “ciorba de salata verde” (salad soup). This soup also had seaweed in it, which I happen to adore, and so I started eating happily.

What I neglected to say was that the size of this bowl was huge. It was the size of a small watermelon – and probably held more than a kilo of soup. Half an hour later, I had managed to eat about 25% of the soup, and was thinking about my lovely dumpling, when what is plonked down in front of me? Why, my dear peckish reader, it was a second bowl of soup. With a rather large dumpling in it. In about one second I realized my mistake – this is why the lady had asked if I wanted both. Not because she was mean, but simply because I had ordered two enormous bowls of food!

I look at my second bowl in dismay and slight despair. A Chinese couple nearby notice, and call out to the waitress. I smile at them. I smile at her. And to cover up for my mistake, and because I am sometimes too ashamed to complain (but not do the passive-agressive bitching-on-my-blog routine) I exclaim: “Oh, I do apologize, I forgot to say I wanted my second soup to go!”

I am delighted to report that my dumpling soup is obediently waiting for my pleasure in my fridge. All’s well that ends well.

The National Museum of the American Indian NYC

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in lower Manhattan is situated in a luscious Beaux Art Building – the 1907 US Customs House, designed by Cass Gilbert. Besides the stately architecture, you can enjoy an extensive and varied collection of American Indian arts and artifacts spanning 12,000 years of history and more than 1,200 indigenous cultures throughout the Americas.

“Ranging from ancient Paleo-Indian points to contemporary fine arts, the collections include works of aesthetic, religious, and historical significance as well as articles produced for everyday use” – in addition, if you are interested in photographic and media resources, there is plenty of that too. Most importantly, it is quiet, lovely, and free.


Snow in Lower Manhattan














Battersea Park

Bowling Green

Views from Staten Island Ferry






Today’s Bit of Weirdness

5 minutes after walking into my class today, this lady in her late 40s / early 50s sitting on my right, whom I had never seen or met before, oggled me intently, and declared: “I can just picture you as a little girl.” Pause. “It’s because I’m a mother, you know, and with some people it’s really hard, but with you it’s easy – I can just imagine what you looked like as a little girl.”

One Day of Firsts – in 10 Words

NYC hotdog – bleah. Metropolitan Opera – glitzy. Threesome. MMF. (On stage!).

“The Lunch Hour” at the New York Public Library

While ambling along the streets of Manhattan, I ended up in front of the New York Public Library and couldn’t resist going inside.



Once there, I stumbled across a quaint little exhibition entitled Lunch Hour NYC.


This is how the good people at NYPL describe their curatorial focus:

“The clamor and chaos of lunch hour in New York has been a defining feature of the city for some 150 years. Visitors, newly arrived immigrants, and even longtime New Yorkers are struck by the crowds, the rush, and the dizzying range of foods on offer. Of the three meals that mark the American day, lunch is the one that acquired its modern identity here on the streets of New York. […]

Lunch Hour NYC looks back at more than a century of New York lunches, when the city’s early power brokers invented what was yet to be called power lunch, local charities established a 3-cent school lunch, and visitors with guidebooks thronged Times Square to eat lunch at the Automat. Drawing on materials from throughout the Library, the exhibition explores the ways in which New York City—work-obsessed, time-obsessed, and in love with ingenious new ways to make money—reinvented lunch in its own image.” 

There’s really everything you could want in there, from little manuscripts documenting street-vendor cries, to real-life original seafood vendor carts. There is a wall  dedicated to the history of the peanut butter sandwhich, too, but my favourite was definitely the automat. 


In addition to the real thing, this section also includes projections of some snippets of 30s and 40s Hollywood movies which featured these contraptions – such as the glamorous Thirty Day Princess and That Touch of Mink. Also present was an automat coffee-spout which burst into a little jingly tune (“let’s have a cup of coffee… tra la la” or something of the sort) as soon as you pressed the button. Simply marvellous!



Also noteworthy are charming artifacts such as this letter from an automat-fan par excellence:


The exhibition is on until 17 February 2013, in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and it is free of charge.