Friday, June 27, 2008

Eating Around NY, Part 3: A Nosh Here, A Nosh There

My production class is at DCTV (pictured above) so I've been checking out a few things in the Chinatown area, with detours to Astor Place and 14th St. It's an easy trip from my parents' apartment on the Upper East Side to DCTV riding the 6 line, and just as easy to hop on and off the train to explore different neighborhoods.

One of the first places I visited was Nha Trang Centre, a Vietnamese restaurant just around the corner from DCTV. The food wasn't anything special, but I did order a durian fruit milkshake. The durian is reknown for its stench -- it even it made Andrew Zimmern retch -- so I was pretty interested in seeing how they were going to serve this thing.

There it is. And, boy was it bland -- icy with a vaguely tropical flavor -- which made me think there wasn't much durian in this durian milkshake. But after drinking half, the waitress came over and asked, "You like it?"

"Yes," I said. "I've never had durian before, so I thought I'd try this. Do you like durian?"

"Oh yes!" she exclaimed. "But Americans usually can't stand the smell." And she flitted off.

The milkshake had only a vague green banana scent. I think I'm going to have to eat an actual durian to know exactly what she's talking about.


Before going to class the following night, I grabbed a quick drink and snack at the Egg Custard King Cafe.

Pictured is a banana egg custard and a Taro bubble tea with chewy black tapioca pearls. The custard was very rich, and I think I'd get a plain egg custard next time as the banana flavoring tasted artificial. The crust was very flaky and mild in flavor; I'm guessing it uses plenty of shortening, not butter. The tea had a watery flavor -- a bigger taro punch would have been nice -- but the pearls were fantastic: sweet and vaguely almondy.

After class, I strolled around St. Marks Place and Astor Place. There was a huge crowd at St. Marks around the Dessert Truck.

I wasn't hungry so I didn't get anything, but there were many, many people happily scarfing down milk chocolate mousse, coconut tapioca, lemongrass soup with fresh strawberries, and other tantalizing goodies.

I did stop at Beard Papa, which wound up being a bit of a trip down sad-sack lane (and looking back, why did I get a stupid cream puff instead of a gourmet dessert at the Dessert Truck?). Beard Papa was nearing closing time and its employees were camped out at the door, selling hawking the day's pastries to passers-by.

"Cream puffs! One dollar! One dollar cream puffs!" they called out, plaintively.

I almost didn't buy one. There is something sad and desperate about selling -- and buying -- discount pastry. But then I rationalized that it was still the *same* puff I'd come to check out (after reading so much about them), and I'd just gotten lucky that they were on sale.

So I stopped being a food snob and got a vanilla. I liked the choux better than the, but again, I wasn't hungry and that may have thrown my perception off. (That, and I'm not the biggest cream puff fan. So, again -- WHY did I eschew the Dessert Truck for Beard Papa?)


Last night, I picked up another pre-class snack at the Canal Cafe Bakery; taro bubble tea with black pearls again, plus mini black bean moon cakes.

The taro tea was fantastic: sweet with perfectly chewy pearls. I wish I could describe the flavor of taro for you, but I'm at a loss. Just go have a taro bubble tea and taste for yourself.

The moon cakes were also very good, reminiscent of a fig newton. The filling is mildly sweet with a slightly sesame flavor. And look a the pretty design on the top of each cake! Again, go to Chinatown and taste it for yourself.


At some point, I stopped at Papaya King to eat their kick-ass hot dogs.

Ohhh, Papaya King. How I love your snappy dogs and banana daiquiris! (I know everyone goes crazy for their eponymous papaya drink, but I've always preferred the banana.)

Alas, they'd run out of banana, so I opted for pina colada instead -- delicious. And the dog, loaded with kraut and spicy mustard, did not disappoint, either; it fabulous as usual.

I have no pics of this but after stopping at the Morgan Library & Museum to look at not one, not two, but THREE Gutenberg Bibles (here's the signifcance) and an advertising exhibition at the NYPL ,I stopped at Tiffin Wallah for their lunch buffet. The food is terrific. Nothing was labelled, however, so I'm trying to remember exactly what was available: Palak Paneer, I think, a lentil curry, and a delicious hot entree featuring beats, plus two types of breads, two types of rices, various condiments, salad, and gulab jamun.

And here's the kicker -- access to this buffet is only SIX DOLLARS. The downside is that the space is small and, at lunch time, the restaurant is busy, so it's not the place for a leisurely meal.

But, six bucks! For lunch! In Manhattan!
It's weird, but that was the same day that a giant bumblebee found its way into the packed subway car I was riding in, plus a man actually moved over so that I could sit down, so maybe it's miracle time in NYC.

Next up: dining in high fashion with the Goddess of Bread.

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