Chicago: Deep-dish pizza (Luke)

While we’re on the subject of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza, I have to point out this fantastic Jon Stewart rant that was only aired a couple of weeks prior to our arrival in Chicago. The set up is that the new World Trade Centre building in New York is officially the tallest building in the United States, taking over from Chicago’s Willis Tower. While the Chicago media had to concede this, they couldn’t do it without bringing up something that, in their opinion, they have over New York – their deep-dish pizza.

That was too much for Stewart, a die-hard New York pizza fan. This is his response. Enjoy!

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New York: HAIR! (not the musical)

I’d like to have posted about my friend Julia sooner, but I had to wait for the video to go with the post  because the video is awesome. I mean that in the original sense. You will be filled with awe at the majesty of our combined hair-powers. Make sure you’re sitting down and don’t mind my slightly hysteric levels of enthusiasm, I’ve been waiting to meet Julia for 12 years.

Julia caught a bus down from Boston to spend half a day with us wandering around the city. We had a drink and nachos at The Olive Tree (our NYC go-to place) then dinner in China Town as Julia is partial to Thai food (as are we). I had the creamiest Tom Kah soup ever and we got to watch criminals being dragged into the jail across the road so that was like dinner and a show all in one.

We did some shopping and watched ice skating and just generally chatted. Once again it was nice to find out that someone I got along so well with online turned out to be just as great in person. At the end of the day I found myself wishing we had a lot more time to spend together – next time!

Thanks for coming quite a way to see us, Julia, next time I’ll come check out Boston :-).

It’s funny how seeing a photo of the back of one’s head is always surprising. We were both shocked by how long our hair was.

New York: Food

We were so busy when we were in New York that I’m going to have to keep coming back to it to cover all the things I want to remember.

We had some great food experiences in New York. I think that if you’re even slightly passionate about food (like most of the planet) and visiting places you may never, or only rarely, come back to, you need to put some thought into your eating plan. What kind of foods appeal most? What is in season? What is the area famous for? Then get recommendations from online, from friends, from tv shows, from cab drivers and work out how and where to spend your few precious meals.

If I was on a holiday for a couple of weeks I’d have breakfast, lunch, dinner and at least two snacks in between in order to try everything. But when you’re away for a long time, as we discovered with alcohol, you can’t live every day like it’s the weekend or things go pear-shaped. When I say ‘things’ I mean ‘my torso’. Everyone who comes to the states on holiday warns that weight gain is unavoidable – so many good things to eat and everything comes with fries and sides, drowned in dressing and deep fried.

New York definitely wasn’t like that.Healthy food was pretty easy to get. They have these great places there, a type of deli, where it’s a bit like a canteen with help-yourself bain maries and they charge by weight. Sure, some are mac and cheese or deep fried chicken, but you can also get a pile of steamed broccoli or fresh fruit and it’s not too expensive. This was a very appealing option when we needed a break from eating pizza and cooking for ourselves wasn’t an option.

Pizza is something you have to do in New York. Luke’s a big pizza fan and obviously I don’t mind it either because I have tastebuds. Luke read up on the subject and it seems people in New York take their pizza very seriously. The criteria for pizza here is different to home. The base is usually super thin, although most pizza places also offer Sicilian or ‘Grandma slice’ which have a thick base. Topping are scanty compared to home, the focus is on the crust, the sauce, and the cheese. People differ in what they think makes for the best pizza – so all you can do is get a few names and go out and compare for yourself.

Don’t forget to call it a pie.

Here’s a list of the places we tried, all were recommended as being among the top pizza places in New York – although about a hundred pizza places probably fill that bill so don’t think of this as definitive.

John’s Pizza on Bleecker St.

This place is old and looks it – people have carved their names into just about every surface. We got there at 6 and still had to wait a few minutes. Get there any later and you could wait quite a while, although the service is extremely fast. You can only buy whole pies here and they’re about $20 depending on toppings for a small. Small is still pretty big though and was enough for the two of us (although we’re not really big eaters). The pizza here was definitely good but I discovered that there’s about a five minute window between thin pizzas being the same temperature as the centre of the sun and the cheese congealing. You just have to bow to inevitability and cram it all into your mouth as quickly as possible.

Joe’s Pizza

Also in Greenwich, this take-away place was featured in one of the Spiderman movies – or so their advertising says. They sell pizza by the slice and whole. There’s a few stools to sit on but mainly people just stand around eating or take their pies away. We tried their Sicilian. Again, really good and the base was super fluffy and the very bottom had a great crunchiness to it. We had a slice of pepperoni as well, which was also good but I liked the thicker pizza better.

Arturo’s Pizza

Our last stop in Greenwich, I’m not sure if Arturo’s do take away, it’s a proper restaurant and has a piano and people singing in a kind of informal manner. The vibe is really nice and, despite being pretty crowded (we could hardly get into one of our chairs) I’m sure that if we hadn’t been sitting next to a table of shouters it wouldn’t have been too noisy. We ordered a cheese pie and arugula salad. I’ve been in love with rocket and pizza since forever and the salad here was perfect – small leaves dressed in olive oil with a little parmesan – perfect for piling on top of the pizza. Another place where it’s worth getting in early – a rule that pretty much stands for anywhere good in the city, although locals seem to prefer lining up rather than eating before 7.

Best Pizza.

This time in Williamsburg and on the same block as our accommodation, we couldn’t go past somewhere called ‘Best Pizza’. We actually ended up eating their pizza twice. The first time was on our ‘down’ day when we pretty much stayed in bed and gave our tired feet a rest. We got a whole pizza to take away – they only do one size, 20 inches. Which is huge. The box was the size of a small coffee table. Their pizza is super thin though, so really… it wasn’t *that* bad.

The next time we went was on our way home from a night out and we just bought a slice each and did some people watching. The cafe itself is interesting – patrons draw on paper plates and then the plates are stuck all over the walls and ceiling which makes for lots of things to look at while you wait for your pie.

We hid the box under the bed because it didn’t fit anywhere else.

Speaking of NY pizza terminology, the word ‘pizza’ is often used in signage and on menus, but when ordering you either want a whole pie, or a ‘slice’ – not a piece. White pie is pizza with sauce and white cheeses on it and usually nothing else. I asked for ‘a pepperoni pizza to take away’ when we were in Best Pizza. I should’ve asked for for ‘a pie with pepperoni to go’. ‘Pizza’ and ‘pie’ have the same roots as ‘pide’ and ‘pita’. They all essentially mean the same thing.

We didn’t just eat pizza in NYC though. We ate a few times at a place called The Olive Tree in Greenwich. It did great mac and cheese and there were always tables free. We ate hot dogs from street vendors (not bad.. not great) and we also tried some hip bbq food in Williamsburg on the recommendation of two friends.

Fette Sau

One of Williamsburg’s most hip restaurants, Fette Sau does bbq food – you buy as much meat as you want (by weight), it gets heaped on a tray with the sides you choose and you sit at a long bench table with strangers. A tv on one wall shows a fire… I think it’s supposed to be ironic.

Our pork belly, pulled pork, rolls and broccoli. The cornbread was a new experience – tasted a lot like cake so we ate it for dessert.

Katz’s Deli

If one eating experience shouts ‘New York’ louder than any other, it’s Katz’s deli. The scene from When Harry Met Sally – you know the one – was shot here. The walls are lined with photos of famous clients and there is a protocol here that can’t be denied. You get precisely two seconds, once you get to the front of the line, to shout your order ‘pastrami on rye’ (if you choose) to one of the extremely beefy guys behind the counter and they carve about a pound of meat and slap it between two pieces of bread. I got the pickles too, which made a nice crunchy accompaniment to the sandwich.

The pieces of bread aren’t out of the ordinary – it’s the meat that blows your mind.

A trip to Katz’s is a must do (for the non vegetarians, anyhow) but do not go right on meal times. They’re open 24 hours on the weekends so a late night trip would probably make the experience less hectic.

Luke looking fearfully at the decor.

So essentially, there’s a whole lot of great food to eat in New York. We ate lots of it and barely scratched the surface. If you’re reading this and you’ve been to New York I’d love to hear about your best dining experiences. Tell me!

 

 

New York: The Museum of Natural History

The MoNH is an icon. Alongside the Empire State Building, Central Park and Times Square, it’s something you know about long before coming to New York. We spent a day there and it was a good amount of time. There were four ‘extras’ you could pay for so we bought the deluxe ticket for $38 each. A tip if you’re going with a group – go to the same cashier together when you arrive as they allot you a time for each special exhibit and we had to go back to get Sean’s session times aligned with ours. The staff were very happy to help though and it only took a couple of minutes.

There’s a big gap in the ‘wow’ factor between the new exhibits and the old. A lot of the old stuff is basically huge dioramas that look quite faded, but still have a certain charm for all that. The first hall we walked through was African animals, with taxidermied versions of many animals we’d seen roaming the Serengeti earlier in the year. Sean had just been to the zoo too so he’d seen the animals live as well.

The new and special exhibits are fantastic though. First off we saw the frogs. They were definitely a highlight of the day, partly because the names and signs were kind of amusing…

How unflattering. And it wasn’t even that dumpy. Or at least, no more dumpy than any other frog.

Zombie frog is coming to EAT YOUR BRAINS!

But most because there were poison dart frogs!!! This is very worthy of multiple exclamation marks because poison dart frogs are possibly the most brightly coloured animals in the world, outside the bird and insect kingdoms.

How could something so deadly be so adorable?

 

So many! The yellow ones are the most deadly, poisonous even to touch – although in captivity they do not eat the same food and do not develop toxins.

I’ll take 10 thanks.

I could’ve spent all day looking at the frogs but it was time to move on. Next we went to the planetarium, where we watched a movie about the expansion of the universe and dark matter. I learned about red and blue light but I still don’t get how, no matter where you are in the universe, everything appears to be moving away from you. The movie was voiced by Neil Degrasse-Tyson.

After the planetarium was the live butterfly room. They had some species I hadn’t seen before but it was much smaller than Cairns or Melbourne Zoo, unsurprisingly, as it is not a permanent exhibition. No photos of butterflies because I seem to be unable to take decent photos of the stupid things.

Last of the special exhibitions was whales. It was a large hall with movies playing, skeletons and a lot of Maori history and things from NZ. They showed whales being dissected and a lot of awful stuff about how rubbish in the ocean is killing them. It was pretty depressing but necessary for people to know. Not as depressing as the news, in the frog exhibit, that there is currently a ‘death wave’ of fungal infection that is killing 96% of frogs as it passes through South America and is expected to continue across the world.

 

Apart from the temporary exhibits I quite enjoyed seeing a few dinosaur  skeletons and a giant turtle shell and bones. I had no idea they grew so big!

He looks so happy!

You can’t evolve to the point of having things like this on your head and then be surprised when your species dies out. I wonder how many got caught on trees and just couldn’t disentangle? And you can forget getting through doorways.

If I lived in NYC I’d think about becoming a member here. So much interesting stuff, and the crowds weren’t prohibitive either. I learned quite a lot and definitely left without seeing everything. I haven’t even posted pictures of the minerals section, which was also excellent. So if you’re in the city be sure to check it out!

 

 

 

 

New York: The Metropolitan Art Museum

If you pay the entry fee for your visit to The Cloisters (you can choose not to donate, but if you do I think it’s about $27) then you get free entry to the Met on the same day. So after catching the slow, slow bus from the stop outside The Cloisters (if you are reading this and thinking of doing the same thing I urge you to take the slightly longer walk back to the subway as the train is about 3 times faster) to Central Park, where the gallery is located. If you catch the train you get more time to see the gallery and also leave it before the closing time of 5:30, which is when twenty million people hit the streets of New York trying to get home. I recommend not trying to use the subway during peak hour unless you like being rammed up against strangers. Which probably does appeal to some people but they’re the ones making it even less appealing for the rest of us.

On arrival, the facade of the building is extremely impressive and imposing – very similar in some respects to the British National Gallery. Unlike the BNG though, there is a solid line of hot dog vendors right out the front.

The Met houses a huge and diverse collection of art. After looking at the map we (Sean, Luke and myself) agreed on a meeting time out the front and then wandered around, heading for the things that most interested us.

My strategy with galleries is generally to walk into each room, pick one or two works in each that catch my eye and spend a bit of time studying those, rather than trying to see every work in detail. If it coincides with the placement of a bench, all the better;).

Our first stop was the armoury. There were suits of armour, both dress and field, for people and several suits of horse armour. There were a few Japanese suits and even one Indian. Lots of swords, guns and other pieces made it a very interesting display.

My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father – prepare to die!

Next Luke and I wandered to the Japanese section. There we found my favourite single piece of the day, a taxidermied deer encased in clear glass spheres. It looked a little like a giant Christmas tree decoration, very light and ethereal. I don’t generally find Asian art very interesting (old art, I mean – new is a whole different story) and there were many examples of calligraphy, which are hard to appreciate without some sort of background knowledge. It was a shame there were no textiles displayed because I really love Asian fabric designs.

Don’t ask me what it means.

Next we moved onto the modern American artists and they were brilliant. I don’t remember the names of any of the artists but there were many stunning paintings in realist and impressionistic styles. The names of art periods in the US seem to vary from Europe so I’m not entirely sure what to call them but there were incredible portraits and landscapes that Luke and I both admired greatly. We had a bit of a chat with one of the guards about how the gallery moves paintings that are bigger than any of the doorways. I didn’t realise oil paintings rolled up so easily.

We walked quickly through the post modern and ancient art sections and the only other art that really sticks in my mind was a very large Tiffany window that was a rainbow of colours and depicted a fantasy landscape scene. The gallery had it mounted so it was back lit and very impressive… almost gaudy in fact.

By the end of the day my feet were absolutely killing me. There’s something about shuffling around galleries that makes my feet more tired than walking many more kilometres at a fast pace. In fact I’m finding New York has been harder on my feet that anywhere else we’ve been. My ankles, for the first time in my life, are starting to ache every day and I think it’s from rushing up and down all the concrete subway stairs. Then last night we were one of the last groups into a comedy show and had to stand for the whole thing – after being on our feet since lunch time. I think I spent about 10 hours on my feet that day. I used to do that at work nearly every day (I’m a teacher) but not having any carpet to soften the blow makes a huge difference. Anyway, we’ve lain in bed half the morning today. Hopefully that will help!

New York: The Cloisters

A couple of days ago we spent a lovely (albeit freezing) day seeing the Metropolitan Art Gallery, starting with its smaller and less visited gallery at The Cloisters. The Met is divided into two properties, the enormous building in Central Park and the much, much smaller Cloisters, located at the northern end of the Manhattan.

Many of the ‘Top Things to do in New York’ articles I’d read mentioned The Cloisters but didn’t really describe it in much detail. Our friend Sean wanted to go so we agreed to meet there at 10am.

It really was a long subway ride north – by the time we got to the right stop pretty much everyone had gotten off except a bunch of old ladies. There’s an elevator specifically for the Cloisters and Tryon Park from the station platform and it goes a surprisingly long way up through the hill. We walked out and into Tryon Park, a truly gorgeous stretch of landscaped gardens that was glowing with colour in the morning sunshine. We really picked a good time to see the city – I can’t imagine any other season being so visually impressive.

See what I mean? Beautiful!

The Cloisters building is relatively new, but is built to resemble a medieval cloisters and contains many elements that are genuinely antique. Old doors, stained glass windows, alter pieces and furniture are built into the structure and compliment the quite impressive collection of medieval art and artefacts. Impressive in terms of quality, not quantity – but I quite liked being able to peruse in detail a small but excellent collection.

The effect of the building somewhat spoiled by the bus stop and street lights.

They have some astonishingly well preserved tapestries – in fact you may well recognise this one, which is part of a set that tells the story of a unicorn being hunted and caught.

Poor, sad unicorn!

There were some really incredible books that were about 1000 years old, hand written (obviously) by monks and the writing and illuminations are so perfect that it is no wonder their art was preserved for holy subjects almost exclusively.

Another charming aspect of the building was the medieval garden, in which grew medicinal plants and edible herbs. It was arranged and tended beautifully. There were quince and fig trees and even the remains of hops vines.

My garden dreams of gardens like this.

There was a special exhibit there when we visited. The choir from Salisbury Cathedral in the UK had collaborated with an artist to record a special musical piece where the artist had recorded each member of the 40 strong choir individually then each voice was played at the gallery through an individual speaker. This meant we could walk between the speakers and hear what each voice sounded like and how the rest of the choir sounded to each member. It was amazing. The song was written in the middle ages by one of the most famous composers of the genre (don’t ask me who) and was very complex and extraordinarily uplifting. You could see everyone in the room being overcome by the beauty of the music.

The music was so right for the setting. A shame I can’t really convey it in a blog.

I’ll leave you with one last image, from a tapestry that was ancient. However I couldn’t help the fact that, because it looked rather cartoonish and I was surrounded by American accents, I could almost hear the two other characters saying in sad, Californian teenage voices to Jesus “OMG… you’ve got like… holes in you,” and Jesus, equally bewildered, replying “Like, yeah, god, I know… bummer.”

Or is it just me?

New York: Days 1 and 2.

Our first morning in New York we wandered out into the street feeling, as we’ve said many times now, like we’d wandered onto a movie set. Yellow cabs! Yellow buses! Brand names we recognised but have never eaten/shopped at! People in Halloween costumes! It was all so new and yet so familiar. Actually, apart from the iconic stuff, the area where we’re staying looks a lot like Melbourne – hipster cafes, vegetarian restaurants… it’s like a giant Fitzroy but with stoops and subway stations.

Beep beep!

Our apartment even has one of these retro/racist dime-store Indian statues out the front. Reminds me of Seinfeld every time we arrive home.

We had breakfast at an old-style deli, replete with an entire staff of old men. Since that meal I’m yet to see a woman doing anything more than cashiering at a deli. What’s with that? The meal we had was ok and the establishment was charming – swivel seats along the chrome counter, booths etc. Next we acquired a phone card. This was probably the highlight of our service experience in the first three days. All the staff were smiling and having fun and were very polite and pleasant. I cannot say the same for most other places, particularly eateries. You’d think smiling at customers cost money here. Then we walked north. We found the Flatiron Building, which looked great but the sun was in the wrong spot to get a decent photo. Then we walked through the library. We got up to Times Square, which was pleasingly gaudy and over the top. So many flashing signs – it was more Tokyo than Tokyo.

We bought comedy tickets from a guy on the street as seeing a comedy show was pretty high on our list of things to do. After escaping the rain in a slightly grotty deli we walked back down to Greenwich. Lots of people were on the streets dressed in their Halloween costumes. I had a secret hope that this was actually a normal New York day but sadly it was not, and the following day everyone was back to their all black uniforms. A bit like Melbourne, really. Anyone with a bit of colour really stands out in the crowd.

This lady is out to prove even New Yorkers aren’t immune to fashion faux pas. Double denim? Sister, please!

 

That evening we met up with Luke’s friend Sean, who has come down from Montreal to see the city and hang out with us a bit. We had a drink at the bar downstairs from our apartment and then walked a few blocks over to watch the Halloween parade. It was not at all what I expected. I’d thought, this being America, that it would be all glitz and glam and big budget. But it was quite the opposite. There wasn’t even much co-ordinating of dance or costumes. Mainly the parade consisted of people in their home made stuff walking along between floats sponsored by radio stations or local businesses. The best group was the first lot, who had done a Pink Floyd arrangement of mechanical rabbits and flying clocks.

One of the less blurry photos.

After an hour and a half and a whole lot of blurry, hand-held photos, we fought our way through the crowds and found a table at a nice restaurant and had a chat over dinner. Then Sean made his way home and we collapsed into bed.

The first thing we did the next day was meet up with my friend Robert who was, fortuitously, in NY for a couple of days, visiting from Oakland (and hopefully we’ll get to hang out some more there). I’d never met Robert in person before but we’re friends through blogging and other mutual friends… it’s a long story. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t have friends online how you manage to stay in contact with people for over a decade and yet never meet in person – you’ve either done it or you haven’t. Robert turned out to be just as lovely in person as online and we all got on very well. We had breakfast at a place he’d found and I tried ‘corned beef hash and eggs’. Corned beef hash is basically chopped up silverside that is then fried in a big mess. It tasted fine but looked kind of like it’d already been chewed. We were given complimentary orange juices but they were the tiniest juices I’ve ever seen – only slightly larger than shot glasses. It was weird.

After food we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

All the perspective lines!

Somehow, after drinking more coffee than I thought was possible, Robert seemed to grow increasingly tired. Then after we had a sit by a fountain and a chat and said goodbye, Luke also felt really tired. He’d had four coffees, so obviously he’d gone through the point of super awakeness and out the other side. He did say he felt NQR.

We caught the subway back and had a rest. It’s a bit sad that I need so much rest time but I feel that it’s better to just face it and have lie downs rather than burn out. Besides, we had a comedy show to get to that evening.

We walked up to the comedy show, getting a bit confused by the directions the guy who’d sold the tickets had given us. He’d pointed north west from his spot in Times Square and saying ‘just over there’. In actual fact it was 10 blocks further north. We’re staying further south than 1st Street and the comedy show was on 53rd street. It was quite a walk. Fortunately the north-south blocks are pretty short but it was still about 5kms away.

Before the show we met Sean for dinner. He’d been ticking off the sights he wanted to see but warned us against the Guggenheim, saying it was pretty boring. He wanted to spend the evening planning and declined a free ticket to the show – possibly a good idea as it was not at all what we’d been led to believe. The guy we’d bought the tickets from had said it was a taping for Comedy Central but it turned out to be four stand up comedians who were ok – one was pretty funny and looked kind of familiar. One of his best bits was about toilets. I laughed a lot but I’m starting to think I’m developing some kind of weird toilet obsession because everywhere we go the toilets are the thing I want to write blog entries about. I wished I’d been tagging all the posts where toilets are mentioned so I could check on whether it’s getting to a disturbing level.

Anyhow, the show! It was a small stage in a basement and you had to buy two drinks, which were pretty expensive. The ticket to get in gave you an extra entry for free but with drinks it worked out to be about $30 each. We looked online afterwards and the reviews for ‘Broadway Comedy Club’ weren’t great. We’re going to try to find somewhere different and hopefully see something better. Annoyingly, it’s ‘Comedy Week’ here right now but we didn’t know so we didn’t buy tickets to any of the really great shows that are on. D’oh!

We caught the subway home. It was packed – I stood next to two guys who’d just been to see an MIA concert and were covered in coloured powder. They were very friendly, unlike the people who sounded like they were about to punch on at the other end of the carriage. Despite the subway stations here looking like entrances to hell’s prison (bare concrete, everything looks dirty and there’s bars up to the ceilings to stop people getting on for free) it seems like a pretty easy system to navigate, even if the numbered and lettered lines are a bit sad after the elegant (Angel, Victoria) and hilarious (Cockfosters, Mudchute) names of the London underground stations. Plus here you don’t have to swipe your card upon exiting the station. How eminently sensible. We tumbled into bed, once again exhausted.