Thursday, April 26, 2012
Recently, I rejoiced in finally finding good Mexican food in New York City. It was way, way off-the-beaten path, though. All the way in Parkchester, in the Bronx, a good 40 minutes from Downtown. Their spicy steak burrito and horchata were both noteworthy, and definitely worth the long, boring trek on the 6 trains (which, even on the 6x rush hour express, felt like an eternity). As always, while in the Bronx, I take the time to enjoy the Art-Déco heavy Grand Concourse, of which was built as the Champs-Élysées of the Bronx. It is a shame that 99% of the businesses seem to be Dominican-owned hair salons and barbershops, along with the corner bodegas popular with up-and-coming cornerboys. Not even a decent place to charge my phone! The plight of the Dominicans is curious; they currently have the second-lowest levels of college education in the city, and the hard-working and entrepreneurial ethos of the immigrant arrivals seems to have been forgotten by their American-born children. The downward trajectory of the Dominican and Puerto Ricans in NYC bears much more in common with that of African-Americans, vis à vis Chinese, Indian, Russian immigrants, etc., and their American-born children.
Saraghina, located in the eastern, still-dicey, no man’s land part of Bed-Stuy, offers up superb, artisanal (as much as I hate that word) pizzas in a rustic, almost nautical-themed interior. I love all of the reclaimed wood on the communal tables, and the hexagon and subway tiles that seem to be on the walls of all of the trendy new Brooklyn eateries. I was also surprised that, given the huge debate on gentrification in Bed-Stuy, much of the nabe east of Nostrand is fairly rough and run-down. A late night walk to a popular restaurant, Peaches Hothouse, a new-wave take on classic Southern cuisine (the fried chicken, with corn and bacon bits, was fantastic, as was the mason-jarred sweet tea), revealed well-entrenched thug hangouts and sketchy cornerstores. Of course, the hood trinity of bullet-proof Chinese restaurants, bullet-proof liquor stores, and storefront churches were all present.
On the topic of Chinese restaurants, I made sure to pay a visit to Flushing, the city’s bustling, vibrant Chinese heart. I am imaging that, at this point in time, the nabe has eclipsed Manhattan’s Chinatown as the city’s premier Chinese neighborhood. In Flushing, I went to a basement-level food court inside of an exclusively Chinese mall. There, I had hand-pulled noodles with sirloin steak, and black milk tea boba. Both were great. I always enjoy visiting Flushing, because its non-stop Chinese vibrancy and street life, coupled with the plethora of lights and neon signage, and crazy, rocket ship-like train ride there, all make me feel as if I am visiting another country.
I also visited Flatbush, a dense, sprawling Caribbean neighborhood with retail strips (Flatbush and Church, for one, but also Nostrand) entirely comprised of jerk chicken, beef patty, and Trinidadian roti take-out restaurants. My favorite parts of the neighborhood, though, were the side-streets filled with handsome Art-Déco and Moorish-themed walkups. NYC always impresses me in that it has these big, incredibly urban neighborhoods so far from the dual cores of Downtown and Midtown. I am a sucker for NYC’s periphery former middle class areas; Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Jackson Heights in Queens, Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. To me, they serve as a NYC analogy to LA’s oft-forgotten, semi-gated mansion communities (of which, too, have fallen on hard times); Lafayette Square, Victoria Square, and Country Club Park.
Sunnyside, Queens was another place on my itinerary. After buying a pair of jeans at APC in SoHo, I decided to trade the never-ending, frenetic human madness and chaos of Soho for the neat, quiet rows of Art-Déco and Neo-Tudor apartment blocks visible from the elevated 7 train tracks. I was finally able to find time to check out the place on foot, this time from the perspective of a pedestrian. It was your typical, hyper-diverse, United Nations multicultural experiment-like Queens neighborhood. There was, what appeared to be, a Colombian-oriented retail strip located to the south of the train tracks (of which are done in a charming, gold-accented Art-Déco design). After eating an Afghan chicken-over-rice dish from a halal cart – ordered from an Afghan guy with white skin and blue eyes, no less – I stopped at a random Colombian storefront, and ordered a batido de fresas y plantanos (strawberries and bananas blended with milk).
Other, random observations: I really, really like the somewhat sketchy part of Broadway between Madison Square and Herald Square. Located in the shadows of the Empire State Building, it has this cool, eclectic, almost forgotten feel, with lots of underused, grand old hotels. Stuff like the hyper-trendy Ace Hotel, looking across from shabby Pakistani halal restaurants and storefront mosques, and blow-out jewelry stores a block away from 5th Ave. All in all, it feels a bit strange. As a shabby chic Pacific Northwest outpost of cool, it is fitting that all Ace Hotels feature a Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Enjoying my latté over a standing-only, gold-accented counter, while watching African street vendors take off their shoes and enter the aforementioned Pakistani storefront mosque certainly made for an “only in New York experience.”