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2007-08-06 - 2:56 p.m.

Thursday 26th July

Got up early again (ie when Jo left for work) and headed out to Flushing, Queens on the 7 train. I was planning on getting off at the end of the line, checking out the food options and then heading back towards Flushing Meadows and Shea Stadium, but seeing as the train stopped a couple of stations early I did it the other way around. There wasn't all that much to see around Flushing Meadows- some relics of the 1964 World Fair, but not a lot of information about it, and after doing a fair bit of walking between Shea Stadium (home of the NY Mets, and also site of pretty much the first ever Stadium rock concert by the Beatles), The Tennis Stadium and the World Fair sites, I jumped back on a train out to the end of the line- Flushing Main Street. It was very much like Chinatown, except it was a combination of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese- bustling with activity even early in the day. I knew I would have a hard time deciding where to have lunch, but in the end I found just what I was after- good value, authentic (enough) Korean. I got the BBQ Bulgogi Beef box, and while they were making it I got no less than 7 little side dishes (including Kimchi, which they offered to refill when I'd finished). Then when the beef came out, I got sushi, miso soup, salad and rice (I'm not sure if this is typical Korean and shows how their cuisine has been influenced by Japan, or if such fusions are common in America, but either way it was great).

So by the time I'd had my lunch I'd pretty much seen all there was to see of Flushing, and I caught the subway up to Harlem to walk around. That's pretty much how I spent a lot of my days when Jo was at work and Sally had other plans or wasn't there- walking around and ticking off that I'd now seen that part of New York (even if I didn't do anything there per se). So I wandered around Harlem, feeling perhaps unjustifiably concerned about being too touristy, and then caught the subway back to our apartment.

Before too long I decided to walk down Amsterdam Ave from our apartment past Hell's Kitchen, seeing that was a part of Manhattan I hadn't really been through- not that there was that much to see. We were supposed to be going to the Cubana Cafe that evening and I had some thoughts about walking across the Brookyln Bridge and meeting Jo over there, but as it turned out I ran out of time and we had other plans for our early evening anyway. So I walked through Chelsea (where there was another Cuban Cafe anyway and I stopped in for a Mojito), The West Village, Greenwich Village, and probably bits of Soho, Noho, Nolita and Tribeca but it all gets a bit confusing. And finally a bit of the East Village before meeting Jo outside her work at 6pm.

Jo had 3 other work people in tow who hadn't come out for drinks on Monday, and we proceeded to try to find a good place to have a few drinks. The place Jo had in mind was a bizarre little bar that was inside a Japanese Restaurant- which only allowed a maximum group of 4 in (and we had 5). So after getting quite confused, we found a place that was a restaurant but did cocktails at the bar- called Serafina's. I had 3 rather good Caipirinhas, and it was probably between 8-9pm when we left.

In the meantime Sally had been at her pre-Contiki tour meeting up near our apartment, and having a few drinks with the tour group- and given that she had to be up before 7am the next morning she decided not to come to Karaoke in Brooklyn with us. Undeterred, Jo and I went to the Alligator Bar, which as well as having the most extensive Karake list on the planet, they also gave you free brick-oven margarita-style pizzas with every drink you bought. Unfortunately due to the cumulative effects of numerous late nights, we couldn't stay until the end (which I think was about 3am)- and instead opted to sing one duet- "Candy" (Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson). But man, they had 10+ Crowded House songs, about 30 Beatles' songs, "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel- it's probably a good thing we couldn't stay longer (for everyone else). And boy were some of the people taking to the microphone good. The very first guy could have been Morrissey singing "The Boy With The Thorn in His Side", and there was one girl whose song choices were not as cool but she looked and sounded like she was trying out for Broadway. So anyway I think we were home by 2am.

Friday 27th July

Today was I think when walking around in 30 degree heat in jeans waiting for Jo to finish work kinda wore out its welcome- which was fortunate as it was the last day I had to do so. I had plans to find the pricey bistro on Times Square which made a $30 burger of prime beef allegedly stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles, but it seems to have moved, and in the process of looking for it I was peddled a hip-hop CD by a guy who wouldn't take no for an answer. It's less the fact that he offloaded one on me that I resent (and as far as hip-hop goes it's not terrible), it's that after saying he wasn't about the money, he wouldn't accept $2- in fact he looked into my wallet and asked for the $5 he saw on top of the $2, then asked if I could do $20 (he tried to tell me that most or some people gave him $20- come on, I could get a brand new CD of a band I know I like for under $20 in America), and in the end settled for pushing me for one extra dollar of change (so a total of $8). So then I was not in the best mood, and decided I was going to go across the Brooklyn Bridge as I had thought about the afternoon before. I'd done it in 2004, but it is a pretty impressive piece of work- though as I said I was starting to get tired of just walking around for the sake of it. After crossing the bridge, I finally headed down to the Cubana Cafe- which was a disappointment (particularly my shrimp ceviche which tasted like watery prawns in mayonaise)- I think I preferred the Chelsea one. So next I took the subway back to Williamsburgh (where the Karaoke place was) in an attempt to get a bit of a feel for the area, but there really wasn't much around, and I really was starting to get too hot and tired to keep walking around, so I hopped on a train back to Union Square. I took some photos of the Flatiron Building (not as good as the ones I took in 2004, but I wanted to add them to my digital collection), and then caught the train back to the apartment.

That night was our flash dinner at "Ouest" on the Upper West Side (well, the more upper than we were), which was a lot more casual than I expected. That doesn't really bother me as it's more about the food, but we did want to have a posh "jacket required" type of New York dining experience. Who's to say if we would have enjoyed such an experience any more than we did though? When we had a look at the menu for "Per Se" (which is about as flash as they come- it is the sister restaurant of "French Laundry" in California which is the #1 in America) I was altogether unimpressed. In fact expectations have never really been met when it comes to eating in America. My best experiences have always been places I had given little thought to.

Having said that Jo and I both had fantastic appetisers at "Ouest". And they were big enough to be a fine dining main. I had squab stuffed with sausage and cabbage with lentils (I guess that combination might be an example of something that wouldn't look that flash on a menu, but it was really good) while Jo had a souffle with a hint of truffle. The mains on the other hand... my veal sweetbreads were interesting, but the braised veal was in a tomato based sauce with chunks of carrot that I'm sure I could have made myself. To me a good "Modern American" (or Mod Oz etc depending on where you are) is about subtelty- interesting combinations but such that you can tell for example that the quality of the meat or the way it's cooked runs rings around what you or your local restaurant could do. I'm not sure that you can do that with veal braised in a tomato sauce. Jo's rabbit was more subtle- but it felt like it was lazily plonked onto a bed of noodles.

I'm certainly not saying I didn't enjoy the dinner- or the experience of having a nice meal with Jo when we had each other to ourselves- but I was always going to critique the food- whether I was showering it with praise or criticising it. I'm pretty sure we enjoyed desert- though I can't quite remember what we had- I think it was at "Public" that Jo had the cheese- ah that's right, Jo had the something or other Bombe- which I said could have involved flames, but it didn't and come to think of it maybe the deserts were also a little lacking in something. It's all blurring together now.

Saturday 28th July

Jo and I had a much deserved sleep in before eventually (most likely after midday) heading down towards Chinatown. It's a bit more spread out than Chinatown in Sydney- or at least it seems to be separated into more distinct areas, with Canal Street (which we had to walk along with great difficulty among the throngs of people and stalls on the sidewalk) being like a streetside version of Paddy's Markets while most of the food places were further down on East Broadway (not to be confused with Broadway- something we did which had us heading well out of Chinatown and into the financial district). We evetually found "Dim Sum a Go-Go" (cute), which either because it was late in the afternoon or because it's just what they did, had menu's to select from rather than carts and steamers. Not the best Yum Cha/Dim Sum I've had, but still some interesting selections that I hadn't had before.

After lunch we wandered through the Lower East Side, past the Mercury Lounge where we were headed that night, and into the East Village. We had Sangria in a place opposite the park (the same park I'd spent recovering from a night out 3 years earlier when the hostel's lock out was on) and then spent an hour or so in the park, watching what I first thought was probably a same-sex commitment ceremony but turned out to be a hippie wedding (the confusion was due to people being in the way, not any ambiguity on the part of the bride). We then stumbled upon Jo's favourite dive bar from her time in the East Village 6 years ago, and had a drink there before trying unsuccessfully to locate the Chelsea Centre hostel where we had both stayed 3 years apart.

Dinner was spent at a Vietnamese Place technically still in the East Village, but close enough to the Latino Alphabet City to feel a different vibe as we walked down to it. It was probably one of the dining highlights of the week- a delicious tuna tartare wrapped in- I can't remember now if it was pastry or something else, and dipped in something truffly, and frogs legs with aioli- and that was just the appetiser. We decided on just the one main- iron pot chicken with quail eggs. And some yummy sake cocktails (which for some reason didn't taste at all alcoholic, but I'm sure they were).

We headed down to the Mercury Lounge, which was a suitably small indie venue, and had a couple of beers. The first support band didn't impress me at first, but I'd changed my tune by the end, and the second support, who were also Amanda's backing band for some of her set, were pretty good. I guess I've accepted that I'd rather see Amanda Palmer than not, when I haven't seen her before, and that New York is only a couple of hours from her home and she'd billed it as a solo show and had a bunch of new songs to play with, but I was still disappointed that there were no Dresden Dolls songs on offer, and I think the afternoon drinking was catching up with me and I was exhausted- so much so that I couldn't even muster up much enthusiasm when Amanda wandered through the crowd (and less than a metre from my face), singing "Creep" while playing the ukelele. I could've taken heaps of photos but for some reason I didn't feel like reaching for the camera. So yeah, she was good but the set would have been better mixed up with Dresden Dolls songs. Her solo piano songs weren't bad, and some of the songs she played with Aberdeen City (just remembered their name as I was typing) were good but some wore a little thin (eg the ode to ecstasy which I'm sure was a cover, as were quite a few of the songs late in the set). She obviously really enjoyed playing with them, but it was like she was so caught up in the show that it didn't feel like she was engaging the audience as much as she was the backup band.

Sunday 29th July

We were up and out of the apartment by 10am, leaving our bags in the luggage room (for $5 per bag- no way we were giving them a tip as well!) and wandered to a pub for breakfast, before pretty much spending the rest of our time in Central Park. We went on the Carousel, and lazed around the pond before the rain started. We escaped into the "Shops at Colombus Circle" (in the Time Warner Centre), where we checked out the menu of "Per Se", and hung out in Borders to kill time, before buying an umbrella from a street vendor and heading back to get our bags. We weren't swayed by the bad weather and lugged our bags to the nearest subway station before taking the A train back to JFK (resisting the temptation of a taxi or a shuttle). And with that Jo and I said our goodbyes for another couple of months (or in fact just under 2 months), at the Air Train station. I boarded my plane about when it was due to take off, and then we had to sit on the tarmac for over an hour while we waited our turn- apparently pretty common at JFK (and based on my experience in 2004 not uncommon coming into La Guardia either). I slept a bit on the flight to LA, and it was about 1am LA time when we took off for Sydney. Thanks to the fact that I'd been up all day, and the considerable delays, I didn't have too much trouble sleeping on the plane- at least for the first half of the trip, and then I used the second half to watch movies, instead of the other way round. And I was back at my apartment by about 10.30am. I'll fill you in on the week just past next time- but that was New York New York. I always enjoy going there (the whole twice I've been) but I think I can lay it to rest for a while now while we catch up on all the other places in the world we want to go. But somehow I think I'll be back someday...


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