Monday, January 31, 2011

Last two days in New York

In the interests of calling this trip to New York a business trip, I decided to make my way this morning to Kitchen Arts & Letters, apparently the pre-eminent cookbook store in New York (some say the US). I got there early so (also in the interests of research for ummm Cake Committee?) I stopped in at the Crumbs cupcake and bake shop for breakfast. Crumbs is one of a large chain, and despite its pretty fitout and displays of nice baked goods, the muffin I had tasted cake-y and mass-produced. It has been the thing I have noticed most about food in New York: It seems that as soon as anyone has a succesful individual food store/restaurant/bakery or sees the success of someone else's, the first impulse is to open a chain of them or start franchising the concept. In my (humble) opinion, the product suffers from having to be produced to a uniform standard. The best food I had in New York was the food I that had been produced individually - Katz's deli where the pastrami for your sandwich is cut from the hunk of pastrami to order by your server. Sometimes this means you end up with a hunk of gristle or fat (and I have been told the fat is the good part!) but for the most part the sandwich is the better for it. At Zabar's bakery, the danish looks a lot more rustic than at some of the chain bakeries, but it also looks a lot more appetising and like it has been made by a person and not a machine. I think that's why I so enjoyed Bonnie's food tour, all the shops we visited were stand alone, and the closest they came to mass production was that the Yonah Shimmel supplies its Knishes to some delis and bakeries. And the donuts from the Donut Factory are sold at a couple of other outlets. And what was also notable about the places we visited (and the ones I visited on snow day) was that the owner was usually in attendance and they were staffed by people who had a pride in their product and had often been working there for years (decades in many cases).
Anyway enough of my own personal soap box. The only thing I took out of the Crumbs experience was the 'colossal cupcakes' they sold. Boy what a great birthday cake they would make!

So by now Kitchen Arts and Letters had opened and I spent an enjoyable half hour checking out their selection of new books. They have a tiny section of out-of-print (2 shelves) but I did pick up a couple of Russian cookbooks and also some purchases for myself - a book called "Save the Deli" on (you guessed it) Jewish Delicatessens and another on the radio cooking shows of the early twentieth-century in America. K A & L had a very impressive collection of food history titles which is something I'd like to expand in the shop, and I think in some cases I'll have to resort to buying new to provide the variety. However I came away feeling that our own Books for Cooks in Melbourne does new cookbooks much better (Tim is twice as big for a start) and visiting the shop wasn't the friendly experience I had at Bonnie's and I hope people have when they come into my shop.

Back on the subway to ride down to Canal Street which is notorious for it's counterfeited handbags and jewellery. On the way my mariachi band reappeared! Well A mariachi band appeared. They looked like different guys this time and I suspect they're a little like the Chilean bands that seem to spring up at every outdoor market in Australia (another franchise perhaps?)

I spent all of ten minutes at Canal Street before decideing it wasn;t my scene and decided instead to walk over to the Brooklyn Bridge which was ( kind of ) nearby. The walk was cold and at times a little difficult to negotiate because of the piles of snow which had accumulated. It took aout an hour to walk from Canal Street and over the bridge, with a couple of stops to ooh and aah (internally - travelling on your own means that these kind of spots require some restraint to avoid people thinking you're a crazy!)

I got a little lost trying to find a pizzeria which had been recommended to me by a Brooklyn local in of all places a Madison Avenue watch shop. When I finally found Grimaldi's it was clear that it had become a spot in the tourist guides. There was a line of people waiting outside in the cold and checking out the prices ( and the fact that they don;t sell slices ?!?) I decided that it wasn't worth wait in cold wet boots (there seemd to be more of those corner puddles in Brooklyn than Manhattan).
So instead I caught a subway back to Astor Place and took a long snowy walk to Bonnie's stopping on the way for lunch at "Bruce's - Baker to the Stars" (don't ask me, that's what the place was called, with no evidence of any stars) where when you order even the smallest toasted sandwich they present you with a sample basket of their baked goods - which I got them to put in a doggy bag for Bonnie (and Abrahamn Lincoln).
Saturday 29th:
The most notable discovery of my last day in new York was that I have reached that certain age- this morning as I took a last look around New York, a young man on the subway got up and offered me his seat!! I tried to be gracious, but was mourning inside!!
I paid a flying visit to Ellis Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty on the way. One interesting thing of note on hte ferries out to the isalnds and back was that the maritime workers must be some kind of closed union shop - for the first time in New York, every accent I heard among the men working on them was a broad New York accent, of the kind you hear in the movies, and of the kind I had heard very little of in new York.

I also decided to visit the World Trade Centre museum, as it was very close to the ferry. I had made a decision early on that I wouldn;t go to Ground Zero, I feel too much like it would be an intrusion.  I'm not sure I gained anything from the visit, it had me in tears, and I did feel as if I was intruding. I was also taken aback to see men on the street corners offering 'souvenirs' of September 11.

SO that was New York. I'm now back in my lovely (big) hotel room in San Francisco with a glorious view of the city and the bay (and it's own bathroom) and spending a rainy San Francisco day catching up on sleep, washing, business and blogging in that order. The flight back was a bit of a nightmare - who knew that a 4 1/2 hour flight one way could become a 6 1/2 hour on return? I've got a few things planned for San Francisco (well for me in San Francisco) mostly about book-buying but also a few food ventures down to the Mission district and also to see if there are any New York style delicatessens in the city.


Jean B. said...

Oh, as I read about KA&L, I found myself hoping you had also been to Bonnie Slotnick's shop. I live in the Boston area and collect cookbooks, and a bookseller whose shop I frequent told me about Bonnie's shop. Wow! I spent a couple of hours there and barely cracked the surface of her holdings. I have been telling my daughter that we need to take the new bus from Cambridge, Mass. to NYC. Of course, you can guess my motive!

Jean B., Lexington, Mass.

Barbara said...

Hi Jean I certainly did get to Bonnie's several times and you're right it is a real treasure chest and Bonnie has an enviable knowledge of cogo on a food tour of the Lower East Side with her.okbooks. You've probably read a couple of entries back by now that not only did I get to visit the shop, I was lucky enough to