Going yard

I can’t find it for the life of me but I recently read a delightfully snarky tweet saying something like: the only things we need to read about Hudson Yards are takedowns of the architecture and details of all the food.

This cut a little too close to home. And so I found myself at Hudson Yards on this fine Saturday to check out the black-and-white sandwich and the egg kimbap at Peach Mart and basically avoid the weird new dumb statue that someone (Dave Colon?) called a giant bedbug, an apt comparison. (Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find himself transformed into a monstrous statue for tourists that you’re maybe not supposed to take photos of?)

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of impersonal malls (the Oculus, the nearest impersonal mall I encounter on a regular basis, drives me crazy since it’s a transit hub but impossible to navigate through). And I loved Alexandra Schwartz’s recent takedown of this one (“a plaza that bears the same relation to New York City as a police-sketch artist’s drawing does to a face”!). However, I also find Vanishing New York’s brand of nostalgia for a grittier New York pretty tiresome, and would have to admit that I had a pretty good time (for sort of serendipitous reasons, more than from the Yards per se, but I’ll take it).

I do like how near Hudson Yards is to the subway (even though the station itself is so far from everything else; I usually just think of it as the place I’d rather avoid by taking the Bolt Bus from Grand St). And it was striking how popular it is–Jon Orcutt’s observation about how people like car-free space, regardless of how you feel about this particular one, is spot on. I wish we had greener, more centrally located places where people could hang out, instead of having to wait on lines to ascend the bedbug, or wander around the mall looking for the food. But if you do wander around the mall looking for food, it can be pretty tasty.

Happily, my navigation instincts were good, and I found the David Chang corner of 20 Hudson Yards pretty fast. It turns out Peach Mart’s black-and-white was pretty forgettable, to be honest, while the kimbap was pretty good (and came with a delightful tiny pig-shaped bottle of soy sauce). But I didn’t find that out for a while since I impulse went into Kawi, the fancy Chang-affiliated restaurant next door (chef Eunjo Kim used to work at another of his restaurants), which was delicious and fed me so much that I would not be able to even consider my Peach Mart loot for hours. First off, a refreshing sake, fino sherry, ginger, salted apple concoction (served in a too-adorable cat mug). Then, to apologize for a long wait for my main course (an issue with the rice cooker) some chicken wings…brought to me by someone I know! We had a nice conversation, and he said he’d give me too much food again next time I come back. (I always seem to run into people I know when I go somewhere on impulse; I like to imagine that the whole city is just full of these encounters if I could only break my routine.)

My main course lived up to the wait: egg yolk and grilled avocado rice, plus a crispy vegetable pancake with dipping sauce, another spicier sauce, some almost-sweet and refreshing kimchi, soup, and an elegant bite of tofu cake. Washed it down with a sour salty plum beer from Hudson Valley, my favorite of breweries, and felt like I’d had a tiny resort vacation all the way on the city’s west coast.

Still can’t pay me to contemplate the Vessel for long, though.

 

 

We must cultivate our garden

Once upon a time, I planned a yearlong project where I took a picture of the torii at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden every week. Somehow, four years have passed and visiting the garden has slipped from a project into a routine (more like a biweekly one at this point). I still find it a magical experience, even in the dead of winter, even when the pond has been drained for months while they improve the water flow. In fact, I almost prefer visiting in the off times, when there’s snow on the ground and you can walk through the whole place barely seeing another person. But today the air felt sweeter than it has in ages and I admit to being a sap who welcomes spring just as much as anyone else. Looking forward to some warmer weather; maybe I’ll meet some more avian friends.

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Li’l vacation

I often feel that vacationing is a form of conspicuous consumption,* a feeling which doubtless is not shared by the many people I know who flaunt their lovely vacation photos at every opportunity. Still, I’m sure I take things too far in the other direction since I hardly ever go anywhere. Which means I hardly ever take any time off (which is not great, I’m working on it), since why would I use hard-earned vacation days to sit around at home?

Sometimes, however, I do manage to plan a nice sort of day (a staycation, if you will, but I won’t, it makes me grimace for some reason), as I did today, as a combo recovery-from-being-sick-for-like-a-month and getting-ready-for-a-busy-work-season respite. I doubt anywhere I went fell more than a mile from anywhere else, and it was all quite reachable from home. Or should have been, minus the emergency repairs on my train line today.

After waking up at an ungodly late hour and working around the train by waiting for a bus for a very long time (I should have probably taken a different bus, or walked to the express train stop, but such is life), I headed out on what was largely a food-based day, as will no doubt shock you. So below please enjoy my own conspicuous consumption:

First stop, Babydudes, where I got a nice, fruity iced coffee and the world’s most lovingly made sourdough waffle, and read The Reign of the Kingfisher, which I think I like but don’t quite love yet (it’s a sort of mystery novel wrapped up in superhero trappings). Perhaps I should have taken notes on the waffle; maybe one day I’ll try making one myself. [I dunno why the picture is so blurry, oops, but I didn’t want Babydudes to be left out of the ensuing photographic parade.]

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Next, the lovely Hunky Dory, which I’ve already told you I quite like. I had 2 of the world’s tiniest pancakes, along with tea eggs and a smoothly drinkable Bad Penny, made of sweet-potato bourbon, sweet vermouth, and orange-y wine (HD’s descriptor; it was delicious).

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Then I hung out in the botanic garden for a couple hours, and chatted with my best buddy in Miami on the phone, a dying art, and she had to go exactly when I arrived at my final destination, MeMe’s Diner, where the cake is so good I preemptively ordered a slice to go and the hospitality is a part of the mission (my server complimented me on reserving the cake, saying a lot of orders were coming in and it could disappear at any moment). While I admired the light in the sky, I ate a leisurely dinner of the world’s most instagrammable (and delicious) salad, bright pops of purple cauliflower and yellow raisins, underpinned by tahini and spice. And then home again not so many hours later than I started out, a little fortified for the busy coming days.

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*At least, the kind of vacation that involves flying to far-flung locations. Man, flying is really bad for the environment. Please don’t hate me for my crankiness.

Quizzical

You may have noticed I have a lot of opinions about food and drink. Though I usually become a regular at places I find especially delicious, I’ve allowed myself one exception. Despite my indifference to its beer selection, I lived a decent chunk of the last 7 or 8 years inside Pacific Standard’s doors, and I do not regret it.

I don’t even remember why I first rolled into Pacific Standard with some friends. I think we were just looking for somewhere to hang out. I fell in love with its living room atmosphere, which soon became for me that ultimate cliche, a home away from home. I wrote my grad school application on one of its couches. I learned to care about football while watching the Giants play the 49ers (an ill-advised choice as a new Giants fan at a California-themed bar) and go on to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I trash talked my way through many a cooperative card game.  But most important of all was the ritual of pub quiz.

I’d always thought it’d be nice to have a pub quiz team, even though I am not especially great at trivia. It seemed like the sort of thing cool grown-ups would do to hang out (or, well, like having Friends-type friends, but for nerds). It took a while for my team to cohere but it did, with four core members, along with many guests putting in appearances through the years, including a couple of notable ringers who’d join us at finals time. (We return the favor up in Williamsburg.)

My boyfriend is the quiz expert (one legendary tiebreaker round he wrote down about 30 New York counties in a minute), but I had my moments (food, subways, identifying pictures of dog breeds). Our two regular teammates also have their areas of expertise, particularly movies–a category my household is comically ill-equipped to contemplate–and a devotion to current events and the world around us (the quizmaster had an especial fondness for asking about meteor showers). Almost every Sunday, as easy as breathing, working, sleeping, we’d show up, get a table, spend a couple hours answering questions, play some board games, gird ourselves for the work week with some friendly faces. (I called one team our fremeses, since one of them used to work at one of my publishers and we developed a jovially insulting friendship of sorts; it turned out one of my current coworkers was also a quiz devotee.) Attending quiz was so much our default mode that lots of weeks we might not even bother to ask if anyone was showing up, since we knew they were unless we heard otherwise.

My team and its train portmanteau names (The Love Song of Jay Street–MetroTech our flagship) were pretty darn successful, generally coming in the top 3 each season once our lineup cohered. We rolled on through all sorts of stresses and joys, through endless summer walks and begrudging winter Lyft rides, fancy dinners and bar quesadillas, other friendships made and lost. Even when I wasn’t in a very good mood, I was grateful for the opportunity to keep in regular touch with my teammates, and to not give in to ennui and self-pity on otherwise dead-end Sunday nights. Most everyone I care about passed through Pacific Standard at some point or other, whether to play trivia for a night or a year or four, or just to help us drink away our winners’ bar tab or, one glorious time, our chosen keg of Berliner weisse.

I can’t believe it’s over. I keep reflexively trying to plan my weekends around it. I’m sure I’m forgetting a hundred things about it that I want to tell you. If you have any leads for the endless future of Sunday nights, let me know.

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Note: I was inspired to write this since one of our competitors wrote a lovely article for Grub Street encapsulating what made the bar, and especially the trivia, so great; I encourage you to read it.

Y tho

Many things about the present me would puzzle my past self, but perhaps the most surprising is that I go to the gym. I have in fact been so diligent in my gym-going habits that I have made other people feel bad in comparison. Gotta admit, this is really not a part of my self-concept. But it seems to be true.

By gym, I mean I go to the flagship McBurney Y on 14th St, ideally 3x a week, to walk and swim in the water. (I also do a quazillion stretches every day but won’t get into that.) Before I psyched myself up to first breach the Y’s doors in October of 2017, I probably hadn’t been swimming for 10 years. Happily, it’s like the proverbial bicycle and I’m back at it. It’s nice to move around without my knees complaining quite as loud. And to see such a wide range of other people move through the pool and the rest of the building, living their lives. (Sure beats a Tribeca Equinox.) And while I don’t quite feel the need to make friends at the Y, I do appreciate the familiar faces I encounter: the woman who used to try to get me to go to aqua aerobics class; the man I see many mornings who, when I once asked how are you, said something along the lines of, I’m good, and it takes a lot of effort!

Ah yes, another shocking fact. Sometimes (more than half the time, these days) I even go to the gym before work. *Youth self pulls the covers over her head, goes back to bed, while current self extols the virtues of early-morning exercise like a goddamn Y testimonial.*

Just as gratifying, though different, are the days when I hit the pool in the evening (it’s open ’til 11, after all). Like maybe it’s Friday and I am a grown-up now so I can go sit at a hotel speakeasy with a fancy spritz then hop the train down to the Y (“the train is not your friend!” I overheard; I disagree) and revel in the relative emptiness. Not totally empty though; late Y nights are not a secret. Someone must be reading all the testimonials.