There is so much to see and do in New York, so a 48 hour visit can only scratch the surface of what the city has to offer. On this occasion, I focussed on baseball, some good eating and a lot of walking.
New York is my favourite US city and is only 750 miles from Bermuda, making it an ideal location for short trips. It was the first place that I visited after moving to Bermuda in 1984 and I’ve visited many times since then. It is perhaps fitting that it should be the last trip that I make before relocating from Bermuda to Europe in June.
The impetus for this trip was to see Derek Jeter get his number retired in a ceremony at Yankee Stadium on Sunday 14th May 2017. But it also allowed me to revisit a wonderful Thai restaurant in the East Village.
I arrived at JFK Airport on Saturday morning and rode the Airtrain to Jamaica station and the subway to Grand Central station. At only $7.75 for the entire journey, it is the cheapest way to get into the city from the airport.
I was able to check in at my favourite hotel in the city, the Shelburne NYC, by midday and was soon out and about, walking the city streets and taking in the views. Following some free wine at the hotel’s ‘Social Sips’ wine hour (5pm – 6pm daily), I hopped onto the 6 train, down to Astor Place station for an evening in the East Village.
The East Village is a wonderful neighbourhood to explore, overflowing with restaurants, bars and quirky retail shops. My first stop was Som Tum Der, the Thai restaurant that I first visited a few months ago. The restaurant features authentic Isan food from the north eastern region of Thailand, including the Isan-style Papaya Salad (Som Tum) that I enjoyed so much whilst in Bangkok. Reservations are definitely recommended. I had booked several days prior to my trip and the latest available reservation was at 6.45pm (booking is easy using the Open Table website).
I had loved the food on my first visit, so my expectations were high. Once again, the quality of the food was outstanding. In Thai style, it is common to order several dishes that can be shared. I was eating alone, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t order a variety of the menu options. On my previous visit, I had managed three dishes. This time, I pushed my limits and ordered four!
It was a given that one of the dishes would be ‘Tum Poo – Plara’, the original Isan style papaya salad prepared with fermented fish and field crabs. But for the other choices, I wanted to try something new. The menu is well laid out and includes photos as well as descriptions of the various options. After perusing the menu, I opted for ‘Larb Woonsen Goong Sod’ from the specials menu, along with ‘Yum Crispy Leaf Fish’ and ‘Moo Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji’. Some sticky rice and Singha beer rounded out the order.
The ‘Tum Poo – Plara’ is a bit of an acquired taste and the waitress offers a gentle warning when it is ordered, as some diners don’t appreciate the smell of the fermented fish. This authentic Isan-style of papaya salad is hard to find outside of Thailand, and is the reason that I was first drawn to this restaurant. I opted for ‘medium spicy’, as that is still plenty hot enough for me and it tasted as good as I remembered it.
The highlight of this meal was the ‘Larb Woonsen Goong Sod’ – Isan-style spicy glass noodles salad with shrimp, roasted rice grains, oringii mushrooms and Thai herbs. It was outstanding! Spicy with a lime-citrus flavour. Every mouthful was heavenly and the plate was soon empty.
The ‘Yum Crispy Leaf Fish’ proved to be a good choice, with a strong flavour that I think was lemon-grass based. The flavour worked well as a counter to the other dishes. I enjoyed it but the flavour became a bit too much after I’d worked through most of the dish. Half of the dish would have worked out better, if shared with someone else.
My final menu choice had been ‘Nui Ping Kati Sod’ – coconut marinated beef skewers, but they were unavailable. Instead, the waitress recommended ‘Moo Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji’ – house special grilled marinated pork with a dipping sauce and some sticky rice grilled on skewers. This was a tasty dish that was enjoyable but it didn’t have the ‘knock your socks off’ impact of the ‘Larb Woonsen Goong Sod’.
I managed to almost finish the entire meal, leaving just a few pieces of the marinated pork behind. It was a memorable dining experience that has secured Som Tum Der as my new favourite New York restaurant. It will be a ‘must-visit’ for any future visit to New York.
Following dinner, I set out to enjoy a few beers in some of the East Village bars. First up was ‘Please Don’t Tell’, a ‘secret’ speakeasy venue hidden inside a hot-dog shop. The official website features a single photograph and a telephone number. Nothing else! This hidden restaurant and bar is located at 113 St. Marks Place, where you’ll find the Crif Dogs hot dog shop. If you walk inside the hot dog shop, you’ll see an old-style telephone booth on the left. Enter the booth and pick up the phone and someone from ‘Please Don’t Tell’ will answer. If access is to be permitted, the rear wall of the phone booth opens up into the secret room. Unfortunately, I can’t comment further as there was a three-hour waiting list just to get a beer in the place! I guess someone did tell, as the place is very popular.
Whilst being turned away from Please Don’t Tell, the woman behind the secret door recommended The Proletariat, a short distance away on the same street. The bar features a variety of craft beers but it seemed a bit too pretentious for me. I tried the ‘Rare Form Bioluminescent Brett Fermented Black Ale’ at $8 for a half-pint. It didn’t appear to be bioluminescent and tasted of burnt wood. One drink and I moved on.
The next stop was a return visit to McSorley’s Old Ale House located at 15 E. 7th Street. This bar was established in 1854 and has enjoyed 163 years of continuous operation. With sawdust on the floor and old photos and artefacts on the walls, it is the polar opposite of The Proletariat. And the beer menu here is simple – Dark or Light? It works. The two bartenders are able to keep up with a steady pace of orders, with most customers ordering two mugs at a time.
As you can see from the above video clip, McSorley’s is a lively place. My plan for the night had included a visit to another ‘speakeasy’ called Death & Co at 433 E. 6th Street but I never made it. I enjoyed the atmosphere at McSorley’s and got chatting with a group of guys out celebrating a birthday, so I stayed for a few beers there before calling it a night, after a very enjoyable evening in the East Village.
Sunday was baseball day and it was going to be a long day at the stadium. Saturday’s game had been rained out and postponed to Sunday to create a single-ticket double-header. This meant that my ticket for Sunday allowed me to see two back-to-back games, starting at 2.00pm. But before that, I still had time in the morning to get out and about.
I jumped back on the subway and headed down to SoHo and Chinatown where I wandered around for a couple of hours. On previous visits, I had intended to visit the Bahn Mi Saigon Bakery but had never made it. This time, I finally got to try what has been described as New York’s Best Asian Sandwich. Located at 198 Grand Street in Chinatown, this small eatery has established a strong reputation for excellent Vietnamese sandwiches. I opted for the ‘Bahn Mi Ga Nuong’ – a grilled spicy chicken sandwich. The chicken is stuffed into a crispy baguette along with crunchy vegetables and some cilantro. It was delicious and I can see why the sandwiches gets rave reviews.
With lunch taken care of, it was time to head to the ball games. The number 4 train goes directly to the 161st Street station, next to Yankee Stadium, making it very easy to get there from Grand Central Station.
The first game against the Houston Astros started about 2.00pm. As it was Mother’s Day, the players on both teams wore uniforms with pink highlights. Attendance for the first game was somewhat sparse, as ticket holders had purchased with the intention of seeing the Derek Jeter ceremony and the night game.
The main attraction for the day was to see Derek Jeter get his number retired and have a plaque installed in Monument Park. Derek played for the Yankees for his entire 20-year career, during which he won six World Series championship titles and was a 14-time All Star. He was a fan favourite and respected around the league, so it was no surprise that tickets were in high demand and that the stands were full when it was time for the ceremony.
With the ceremony completed, there was still another game to play. Unfortunately, the Yankees starting pitcher (Tanaka) was having an off day and the Astros scored six runs in the first inning. They were up 9-0 by the fourth inning and spectators were already beginning to leave the stadium. But the Yanks put four runs on the board in the fifth and the excitement mounted in the ninth, when they looked like they might actually have a chance at winning. But they lost the game 10-6 to end a long night in the Bronx (ending after 11.00pm).
Before heading to the airport on Monday I had time for one more New York meal. I was tempted to head down to Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side for a pastrami on rye. I usually visit Katz’s every time I visit New York but, instead, I decided to stay in the Murray Hill neighbourhood where my hotel was located and try something different. The area has lots of ethnic restaurants such as Indian, Bangladeshi, Himalayan, etc. so there are plenty of options
I had seen an online review of New York’s best sandwiches that included a Basterma and Labney sandwich from Kalustyan’s at 123 Lexington Avenue in Murray Hill. Kalustyan’s is only about 8 blocks away from my hotel, so I decided to give it a try. The deli is located on the second floor, above Kalustyan’s specialty food store that sells all sorts of different spices, condiments and other food items from around the world. There is no signage outside that indicates the presence of a deli upstairs. Even the website doesn’t mention the deli. So, you really need to know that it’s there.
I wanted to try the basterma and labney sandwich (in pita bread) that I had seen recommended. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough basterma (an Armenian dried, cured beef) to fill a sandwich, so it was suggested that I take the remaining basterma as part of a platter with some others items. So, along with the basterma, I had a toasted lentil dish and a smoked eggplant dish with side salad, pita bread and hot sauce. It was a nice lunch. Nothing award winning, but tasty.
After lunch, I collected my luggage from the hotel and headed back to JFK on the subway train. There was even some entertainment on the train (see video below). You don’t get that on a $55 taxi ride!
It was only a two-day visit, but it felt like it was longer. I enjoyed some good eating and some good baseball. An excellent short stay in a familiar city.