Month: September, 2006
This is absurd: since when does the holiday season kick off before October 1? Can the crystal UNICEF Snowflake at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue be far behind?
On this last day of September, SYB and I decided on a lark to try to cash in our “Free jar of peanut butter with sandwich purchase” coupons that we picked up from Peanut Butter & Co. at Time Out New York’s “Back to School Blowout” in Union Square a couple of weeks ago. The only difficulty would be in deciding which cutely-named peanut butter variety to pick: the standard creamy (“Smooth Operator”) or crunchy (“Crunch Time”)… or the quirkier blends: “White Chocolate Wonderful,” “Cinnamon Raisin Swirl,” “Dark Chocolate Dreams” or “The Heat Is On” (natural peanut butter blended with fiery spices.)
I was somewhat intrigued by that last one, figuring it wouldn’t be much different, from say, Chinese takeout Sesame Noodles (minus the noodles). And I like those, on occasion — ever since first being introduced to them in the 8th grade at DLW’s Upper West Side apartment. On the other hand, the combination was potentially really, really vile.
I decided to try out the blend in a sandwich before committing to an entire jar. The PB & Co. menu offers “The Heat Is On Sandwich” (“Spicy peanut butter and chilled grilled chicken, with a little bit of pineapple jam. Like a Thai satay — only better.”) Hmm, interesting… though I actually had my heart set on “The Elvis” (“A grilled peanut butter sandwich, stuffed with bananas and honey. Try it with bacon for that extra indulgence. Long live the King!” Yow.)
So after work, I hopped into a towncar and headed down to the Village. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention, and the driver — newly arrived in New York City — hadn’t yet built up the wealth of driving experience to know that one should never, ever, attempt to cross town on Bleecker Street on a Saturday night. Oh, he knows now. It took about ten minutes to get downtown, and another twenty-five of stops and starts to reach Sullivan Street.
SYB actually beat me there by subway from Sunnyside. I was sitting in traffic a few blocks away when he called my cell phone with the sad news: Peanut Butter & Co. had run out of bread for the evening. (?!) No bread meant no sandwiches. No sandwiches meant no free jars of peanut butter. Alas. Technically, the shop was still open, so we could still be seated for salads or milkshakes, but that just seemed to defeat the purpose of the outing.
Damn. That’s the last time I plan my night around a peanut butter sandwich.
We ended up at Rare Bar & Grill, the Bleecker Street offshoot of the burger joint located in the lobby of the Shelburne Murray Hill Hotel. Pretty good — and they actually prepared the burger medium-rare as I requested — but still not my favorite hotel lobby burger joint.
While we were picking at our side order of somewhat soggy sweet potato shoestring fries with too sweet maple dipping sauce, a seriously skeletal Kate Bosworth ambled past our sidewalk-side table, looking as if she hadn’t enjoyed a fry or a sandwich in quite some time.
Despite its proximity to downtown Manhattan -– a mere six-minute ride from the World Trade Center PATH station (Yes, I timed it) — I’d only ever been through, not to, Jersey City. On the way down to the train platform, we passed a familiar face, riding the escalator in the opposite direction. It was DK, on his way home from work.
“Where are you going?,” he called.
As the escalators pulled us deeper into the station, widening the gap between him and us, we called back, “JER-zeeee!”
In the late 19th century, Jersey City served as an inviting destination for immigrants coming through Ellis Island, offering easy access to Manhattan and plentiful jobs in its thriving manufacturing center. But decades of government mismanagement and a history of political scandal and corruption produced a classic example of urban blight by the late 20th century, leaving abandoned waterfront rail yards and shells of warehouses in its wake. In the past decade, though, Jersey City has undergone a major renaissance and the yards have been replaced with public parks and massive residential and commercial development. Trump Plaza: Jersey City is in the works at Washington and Bay Streets, and will include New Jersey’s two tallest residential towers (50 and 55 stories tall.)
M’s apartment, is located in the Van Vorst Park historical district. The park itself is 1.8 acres of landscaped public space, named for Cornelius Van Vorst, onetime mayor of Jersey City. It is surrounded on four sides by historic brick and brownstone rowhouses, and separated from the waterfront by a legacy of older infrastructure. The park features pathed walkways, garden areas, a playground, an ornate iron fountain and manicured lawns. The space underwent a $2 million renovation in 1999, and is maintained in large part through the efforts of the Friends of the Van Vorst Park Association.
M’s apartment was enviable: easily triple the space of the Chelsea pad, with a granite-countered kitchen and the almost unimaginable luxury of two bathrooms (one en suite). One week in, and she already had in place some serious, grown-up furniture pieces, including a substantial four-poster bed “as nice as the ones in the Sheraton!”
At our first group dinner, we were thwarted in our attempts to order the pumpkin dish at Pam’s. Talk turned to other pumpkin offerings around the city, and once JS described the pumpkin turnovers at Bamiyan, our next dining destination was set. Same crew as the last time, minus CC (who was in Barcelona for a conference), plus JG and HN.
Through the mosaiqued entryway, and we were ready for another culinary adventure. The restaurant itself is located in the heart of Curry Hill (a play on “Murray Hill“) — an area which is still sometimes referred to as “Little India.” Though nowadays that moniker will sometimes be applied to East Sixth Street, between First and Second Avenues (a.k.a. Curry Row ) or to the area in Jackson Heights, Queens, around Roosevelt Avenue and 74th Street. Point being that if you’re making plans to meet friends for dinner in “Little India,” it’s best to be specific.
Prior to this night, I’d not actually eaten much in the way of Afghani cuisine other than the Hells Kitchen kebabs, so this was something of a revelation. The cuisine melds together Middle Eastern, Persian and Indian influences. The last, particularly, at least in terms of the appearance and presentation of the dishes. The spicing of Afghani food is milder, though, and the flavors seem lighter, relying on just three or four complementary tastes to bring the dishes together.
As to be expected, there was an impressive array of shish kabob offerings (minced beef, lamb, chicken, filet mignon, cornish game hen, salmon…), but we were lured in by the pumpkin, and the Kadu did not disappoint. The crispy turnovers were stuffed with creamy, sweetened, spiced orange flesh and served with a garlicky yogurt dip, sprinkled with fresh mint. Delicious, and possibly my favorite of the evening. We appointed JS in charge of selecting appetizers: the Bouranee Kadu (sauteéd fresh butternut squash), the Baunjaun Bouranee (eggplant slices layered with mint yogurt) and assorted dumplings (Mantoo and Sambusa ). There were grilled meat entrees, served with fragrant basmati rice (Chalows ), intermingling flavors of lemon, cucumber, saffron and coriander. Also the Asheh Keshida -– homemade “Afghan pasta” with tangy yogurt, butter and garlic sauce. And accompanying my meal, a pot of Shir-Chay: traditional Afghan tea brewed with milk, sugar, cardamom and rose petals. Could I replicate this brew at home with black tea, cardamom pods and rosewater? I’d like to try.
After dinner, CS, HN and I continued the evening with wine and beers at McCormack’s Pub across the street. The rugby game being broadcast inside reminded HN of home. The bar’s soundtrack of Morrissey/The Smiths, Joy Division/New Order and The Cure reminded me of high school.
The three of us shared a cab back to the Upper West Side, after which CS and I somehow ended up back on stools at our local haunt, sharing stories and sipping Diet Cokes late into the night.
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