Thursday, December 29, 2005

Eating in NYC

As I mentioned, my sister and I spent Tuesday traipsing around New York, where the sky was blue and the air was not freezing. We were very happy. It was Erin's first visit to NYC since eighth grade (she's now a senior in college) and my first in just over a year. And, as the saying goes, I love New York. I'd never want to actually live there, but it's a great place to visit.

The official purpose of our visit was research-oriented. Erin's writing her senior thesis on the Guimard metro entrances in Paris, and she needed to actually see one up close, and photograph it. Last fall, when I was in Paris, I took a few pics for her. Unfortunately, I am a miserable photographer. She really needed to see one for herself. We tossed around the idea of taking a quick trip to Paris, but between the cost and the scheduling (her Christmas break is only two weeks long), that just wasn't going to happen.

But, when she discovered that one of the original entrances was transplanted from Paris to the MOMA sculpture gardent, we made plans to get to New York, toute de suite. It's only a two and a half hour train ride from Baltimore - child's play.

Once we arrived, we dispensed with the "work" part of the trip immediately. We both love modern art, so we spent a very enjoyable several hours touring the MOMA galleries and gift shops, where I picked up this super cool bowl.

After our visit to the MOMA, we were starving. Several hours of expressionism and beyond will do that to you. New York is an amazing town for restaurants. However, the neighborhood immediately surrounding the MOMA is not exactly representative of the melting pot of restaurant fabulousness the city is famous for being. We were a little lost.

But not for long. As our stomachs growled in the gift shop, Erin looked at me and said, "I know you're going to hate this, but Rachael Ray would ask the guy behind the counter where to go." As much as I do hate supporting anything Rachael Ray, I knew she was right, so I asked. And thank God I did. We were only a few short blocks away from Hell's Kitchen, and the culinary wonderland I was looking for.

Once we hit 9th Street, we were totally overwhelmed. How to decide where to eat when we have, literally, 20 choices in two blocks? And choices of every type imaginable? I wanted to cry...mostly because there were more restaurants in those two blocks than there are in my entire zip code. And I knew that almost every one of them would be fantastic.

In the end, we played it safe and went with Thai. Can't go wrong with Thai in my family. We decided that a restaurant called Chanpen was cute enough on the outside to earn our business. It was a good call.

The place wasn't super busy, but it was also almost 2 pm on a Tuesday. The service was good and the menu was, well, everything we were looking for in a Thai place. And cheap. The decor was...Thai. The requisite shrine to the Queen, some gold elephants, lots of pink. Standard stuff. I don't go to Thai places for their minimalist design.

And the food was great. Standard Thai fare - nothing fancy or unexpected. Which was perfect.

We each chose one dish to share. I, not surprisingly, ordered the panang curry, which was darker than what I'm used to, but tasted exactly the same as my hometown panang (and that is a good thing):

panang in NYC
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

Erin ordered her Thai favorite, yum woon sen. It's a salad of clear noodles, peppers and shrimp in lime. It, too, tasted familiar:

yum woon sen2
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

After stuffing ourselves full of Thai, we walked around for a looong time, eventually (after a cab ride) ending up in Soho. After a few hours, we'd both reached the point of complete exhaustion and just needed to sit down and have a glass of wine. We chose the first bar we saw - which turned out to not really be a bar at all, but more of a chocolate cafe. Mariebelle's Cacao Bar is a little jewelbox of a tea room, cozy and very inviting, especially after walking around for hours. The tables are charmingly tight, the walls are mirrored and girly, and silent movies play near the ceiling. It was perfect.

We each got a glass of wine, and Erin ordered a pain au chocolat:

pain au chocolat
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

She'd been complaining, just the day before, that after visiting France, she'd been spoiled forever by "real" croissants, and that simply nothing in the US would do. This did. It was so buttery and so perfectly chocolatey. Not too sweet, not too bitter. Flaky and smooth. Delicious.

After finishing our wine and croissant (we shared a little more than she might have liked), we dragged ourselves back out to the street, where we eventually found a cab to take us back to the train station. I won't torture you with tales of the miserable spinach dip we had while waiting for our train. I do mean miserable. And expensive. I'd recommend staying away from Houlihan's in Penn Station - at all costs.

But despite the sucky spin dip, overall, our big day in the big city couldn't have been better. Or more nourishing.

And, with that, I'm starving. Must go fix a snack.

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