Wednesday 23 November 2016

NYC Diaries: Day 6

Unexpectedly, as if from nowhere, I bring you Day 6 of the NYC diaries.  This is an extract from my travel journal which I kept during a trip to New York with the Man during October half term.  I like to journal when I travel as it's great scrapbook material, and then blogging it helps me match up photos and gives me a chance to share the experience.  However, mainly I write it for my own amusement, and because it's lovely to look back on happy times and reminisce, and as such I make no apology for the intense and clearly unnecessary level of detail. If you want to catch up with previous days, they're linked at the end, but for now, here's Day 6!

Radish Fact of the Day: Citizens of Oaxaca in Mexico celebrate the Night of the Radishes (Noche de los rábanos) on 23rd December as a part of Christmas celebrations. Locals compete to carve a large type of radish up to 50 cm long and weighing up to 3 kg into religious and popular figures, buildings, and other objects, and they are displayed in the town square.

This will be the last Radish Fact of the Day as the Man is still not enjoying them. I thought we might have a Radish Quiz tomorrow but he didn't want to do that either. Strange.

We had a lazy morning; it was nice to read in bed and the Man made tea and it was cosy. The weather looked promising with some sunshine peeking through the shutters.  It was his turn to do a bakery run as I made another round of tea, and he returned with a rich bounty indeed! A blueberry and ricotta danish, a muffin and two slices of banana bread! We split the Danish, had a banana bread each and saved the muffin for later. All washed down with a cup of tea and a perusal of the delights Central Park has to offer in the trusty Lonely Planet.
We set off to get the A train up to 81st street, or around there. We climbed out of the station to a sunny-ish day and strolled the park as the sun oscillated behind clouds, teasing us with the occasional flash of warmth.

We loitered on a bench overlooking the boating lake for a bit, before deciding to walk around the lake and then go boating. Yay, boating! The lake, incidentally, proved very picturesque with some pleasing autumnal colours and glimpses of sunshine.  Prime self-timer selfie opportunities.  If you can get your partner to cooperate and be a good focus point.

  On our walk, the Man spotted a couple of little tortoises sunning themselves on a rock which protruded from the lake. (Or were they turtles? Hard to tell. They looked like tortoises but can tortoises swim?) The park is alive with wildlife, predominantly chubby, very blasé squirrels who rummage around vigorously in the leaves searching for their autumn hoards and cramming nuts into their mouths, but also lots of sparrows splashing in puddles, ducks and geese, and even the odd rat put in an appearance. Classy. But tortoises were a treat.

We came round to Bethesda fountain and the sweeping staircases and iconic arches. It's a lovely spot where it meets the lake and people were pausing for a break and enjoying the weather whenever the sun broke from behind the clouds.
Having successfully circumnavigated the lake, we fetched up at the boat house to do some boating. We rented a boat for an hour and the Man took the first boating stint, I did the middle half hour and then he navigated us home again. We fully explored each corner of the lake, bravely hunting for ducks (as the Man sang "you think they're cuddly but I think they're sinister, ducks, ducks, quack quack, quack quack" which I believe he got from the Internet).
We also came right up alongside our little tortoise friends and one blinked at me and turned his head a bit. Busy day then. And what with the Canada geese mucking around and flipping themselves over backwards, there was quite a lot to look at. Every time they flipped they would bob to the surface panicking and flapping in great splashy surprise before immediately forgetting and flipping over again.
We made our way around the lake's perimeter attempting to get in the way of everyone's perfectly posed Central Park selfies and then after an abortive attempt at rowing the boat together, we sadly had to return our little vessel.

All that rowing malarkey generated some hungries so we did the NYC thing and got a hotdog. From a cart. A spicy one with ketchup and onions (I declined mustard and sauerkraut but the Man is unafraid and went all in) and it was absolutely. Blooming. Delicious.
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon strolling aimlessly through the park. We somehow ended up going in a circle and so made a more definite plan and decided to walk around the other side of the lake, where all the tourists had been taking their photos, passing the horses and carriages on the way. We clambered onto the rocks looking out over the water and sat in the sunshine, admiring the autumn colours in the lakeside trees which spanned a full spectrum from green to gold to vibrant red.

We left the park and went for a cuppa after that, and after exiting Central park, and failing to find anywhere for numerous blocks, we gave in and did Starbucks before riding the subway home.
Our evening plans involved food which is always marvellous, and more specifically Zenkichi. Zenkichi is a Japanese restaurant that I came across in my pre-trip research, which is located in Brooklyn (perfect) and did a tasting menu which suited our budget. Plus it was so cool!

When we arrived, we were shown to a little booth where we nestled in on two sides of our table. Then our waiter handed us menus and drew down a little bamboo blind that left us in privacy. It was lovely and adorable. There was also a button on the table to press if you needed anything but the waiter was attentive and we never needed it.

After almost no debate we decided to do the tasting menu, called an Omakase, which had eight courses and varied according to the season. The drinks menu was extensive and featured mainly sake, which is Japanese rice wine, numerous different kinds and most costing hundreds of dollars for a bottle. There was also a note on the back explaining that while they do serve champagne, they really don't recommend you drink it. Because sake. They also say that if you absolutely MUST have champagne, they take no responsibility for the way your palette and the flavours of the food may change, because the food is designed to be served with sake, losers. The menu didn't say losers, but I embellished as that was the implied tone.

We decided to try the standard flight of three sakes as neither of us had ever had it. Our waiter came to take our order and he was very friendly and informative. When we explained we wanted to try three sakes each, he recommended we upgrade to the premium flight as the standard had stronger rice flavours, whereas the premium was more fruity and suitable for beginners. Duly convinced we placed our order and waited.

Each course arrived quickly and efficiently which was nice but meant that we never got to ding the dinger for service. Each time a course arrived, the waiter explained what it was, which was both helpful and necessary as once the menus went away we instantly forgot what was in each course.

The first course was something of a surprise in that it was made up of 5 little bowls of things to taste. After a brief debate along the lines of whether this was actually five courses, we decided it was just one and tucked in. The waiter advised us to eat each little dish in a particular order to avoid flavour clash, and we duly followed his suggestion.

It was SO good. We had mushrooms in a chilled broth which had so much flavour and was one of my favourite things, a scallop, a persimmon, watercress and goji berry salad with tofu (another fave), tuna tartar and a lovely cream cheese that was infused with miso; this was the last bite and confirmed that the waiter's advice was sound as it had a very different texture to the other things and lingered. A great end to the assorted platter and a terrific start to the meal! 

We ate with lovely wooden chopsticks which we kept with us on their little rests and we both would like to use chopsticks more often as they make you savour the meal.

The sake turned out to be delicious. I was expecting something bitter, harsh and burning, like the feeling of drinking neat vodka, but the sake was smooth and delicious, much more like wine than I thought it would be, and with less acidity. Sake is served slightly chilled and is supposed to take on the warmth of your hands as you cup the glass and it's bouquet gradually develops. I spread my three sakes through the meal, but the first of the trio was my top pick.

Course two was a trio of sashimi which were pretty good: tuna, some sort of bass, and some, um, other kind of fish. Excellent listening and attention-paying skills there, Smith. It was just too exciting each time more food came and I was trying to simultaneously eat it with my eyes and take a photo, and therefore listening got pushed out of the park.

It also came with a radish.

I'm not crazy, they're everywhere.

Fried oyster came next. This was not one of your insipid slimy things in a shell, this was two breaded and fried oysters, piping hot, served with a fried pepper, and urchin tartar sauce. So delicious (reminded me of eating conch in the Caribbean) and an absolute winner of a course. YUM.

Next came creamy, chilled fresh tofu with salmon roe and wasabi (which I tasted, and then avoided for the rest of the meal) which was delicate (wasabi aside) and quite different to the other dishes.

It's at roughly this point in the meal where you're a few courses in but it feels like more because the first course was really 5 mini courses in itself, and you're two glasses of sake down, that you realise that you don't know how many courses you've had or how many there are to come, and you don't care as long as they keep bringing you food like this. SO GOOD. I flipping love tasting menus.

Another favourite came next: blackened cod. Give me blackened fish any day, but this was so tasty, a layer of crisp flavour and lovely moist fish with a berry or two on the side.

By the way, the reason I recall this  in such detail is that once we got home, I looked up the menu on the Zenkichi website, screenshotting each course for posterity. Useful, otherwise this description would read "OMG SO YUMMY JAPANESE FOOD BEST OYSTER MUSHROOM MISO FISH YUM MISO"

At the risk of repeating myself, another favourite came next: the most divine pork belly. This is not something I wood ordinarily order but this pork was PACKED with amazing flavour, so moist and soft and tender, I don't think I even needed to chew. It was braised in a rich broth, according to the menu, and then alongside came half a soft boiled egg and a few vegetables.

On a side note, when a dish comes with Japanese mustard, this means yellow wasabi (that's what it tastes like) and is a cunning way to con the unsuspecting diner into eating wasabi again.

Wasabi-in-disguise aside, this dish was phenomenal and gets top billing from me. Along with the mushrooms and the oysters and the cod, obviously.

The final savoury course, because somehow we were there already, was snow crab, lightly seared salmon, and salmon roe served on a bowl of sticky rice and with a side of miso soup. Another course involving lots of little bowls then! Very tasty and kind of fulfilled my idea of what Japanese food is.

The last course was desert which we could chose from a selection of four. Craig went for grapefruit pudding (yuck) which was pretty cool because it was served inside a grapefruit. I sensibly opted for chocolate walnut pudding. Which was amazing: rich, chocolatey, moussey goodness topped with toasted walnuts that had all of the yums.

The sake was all gone, the food was all eaten, and having offered to treat the Man, my handy-dandy post office travel money card was refused frustratingly so he got "the check" (I insisted on reimbursing him later but it lacks a certain spontaneity somehow). We then had no choice but to waddle home to lie on the bed in a pleasingly full fashion.   Not a bad way to spend our last night.

Not at all.

Kisses xxx
P.S. If you are fascinated by this saga, or really want to know more about radishes, you can find Day One here, Day Two here, Day Three here, Day Four here and Day Five here.


  1. I do believe that's a terrapin!! Loving your tales of NY. I so want to go!

  2. Ah, brilliant! Mystery solved ��