[EDIT: It has been noted that the photos in this entry don’t show up in Internet Explorer. I’ll try to fix this soon, but in the meantime, I suggest converting to Firefox.]
[EDIT RELOADED: Manually fixed. My endorsement of Firefox still holds, though.]
For the first time since August, my inner conscience begs pardon for the prolific plastering of my face on mitblogs; the bloggable fraction of my life has, since the start of Spring Break, swerved cleanly out of MIT. But, enough with preliminary disclaimers. My current state of unadulterated chillaxedness mingled with exhaustion calls for photoblogodocumentationism.
On Sunday morning, I was up before sunrise, stuffing my worldly possessions into an oversized gym bag and wishing that someone would invent a backpack on wheels and call it a suitcase and sell it at places like Target for $49.99 or so. Three hours and 15 dollars later, Ben ’10 and I were on a last-minute, cheap-as-anything-in-Chinatown bus in (guess what) Chinatown bound for New York City.
Should you ever find yourself at MIT with 48 hours of absolutely nothing worth doing*, I suggest hauling your personal belongings over to the South Station subway stop and forking over 15 bucks for the next bus to NYC. No reservations. Just straight-up efficient, thankfully frillless transportation service.
*This if-condition is hilarious for several reasons that you will discover upon matriculation.
When I say no frills, I mean that the highlight of the trip may well have been the infamous Burger-King-or-McDonald’s pit stop. The driver stops at a gas station. Passengers get out and inevitably confront the eternal question of whether Burger King or McDonald’s is better at mutagenizing potatoes.
Not-so-shortly thereafter, in the infant hours of the afternoon, New York City rose up like a second sun beaming carcinogenically on my smiling, sleep-deprived face.
My first impression of Manhattan was cemented by the shockingly audacious sight of a Chinese-operated fried chicken joint.
Deposited squarely in the bowels of Chinatown, Ben and I took our luggage and walked about 19 steps before running into a boba tea shop, not-so-subtly flaunting a “How to Not Choke” sign in the faces of boba-slurping patrons. I love the straightforwardness of New York.
In a subway station en route to Ben’s house in West New York, New Jersey (a wonderful name for a fake city, by the way), the strains of old showtunes mercilessly adapted to chainsaw and violin bow grated against the loud buzz of public transportation. Unbelievably charming.
We reached Ben’s house at around 3 in the afternoon, where Ben’s mom had prepared a late lunch of fish and porridge. It’s good to not-really-be home.
I went upstairs and discovered out my borrowed mattress in the attic was decked out with Watchmen-style smiley faces.
The remainder of the afternoon was a paragon of tame, residential normalcy. Ben and his dad played tennis. We walked the dog. I took a run in some park in New Jersey. Dinner was served at home. Afterwards, Ben and I gleefully jumped on the bus to Times Square. The eye-frazzling shock of Manhattan at night was akin to thousands of multicolored 100-watt Christmas lights spontaneously exploding in the docile lap of a neat and well-trimmed living room that happens to look like New Jersey.
Advertisements loomed overhead like pop-up ads delivered by Godzilla
In search of internal peace and meditation, we dug into the Lower East Side and hopped through a string of sushi bars, most of which fit the category of glorified basement.
Settling at last into a posh-yet-Zenlike bench at one of the swankier, less-fluorescent restaurants in the neighborhood, I dove into a second dinner of Theme and Variations on a Piece of Tuna. Pure slices of raw fish, gingerly soaked in soy and glazed with wasabi, tastes like Monet, or maybe special relativity. Elegant and subtle.
The spellbinding mouthfeel of sashimi in tranquil concord with tiny pearls of rice was shattered soon after when I walked outside, turned the corner, and met the Indian restaurant where aestheticism crawled to die. Tackiness on an astronomical scale was all over the place.
A few hours later, I managed to sleep.
The next morning was a tribute to subway rides, cold sunshine, and $1 pork buns gleaned from a tiny Chinatown bakery.
Followed by a quick noontime fling into a recession-priced dumpling house, where Ben and I bought pork-and-chive fried dumplings, beef-stuffed pancakes, and duck bone soup for less than 5 bucks.
Northbound to pricier climes, I passed through Soho and found absolutely nothing worth blogging about.
Until I practically tripped over the front step of Momofuku Ssam, a restaurant so infamous among the type of people who would call a restaurant infamous that its name appears nowhere on the building. I was feverishly tempted to step in and have a 3-course lunch that Winnie ’02, mitblogs interim communications director by day and NYC food blogger extraordinaire by night, would consider one of the best meals in the city (this says a tremendous deal about the food). But, I didn’t because I was poor and not really hungry, both of which are inadequate excuses in retrospect. Anyway, enough about my personal faults.
Here’s the address, in case you ever pass by under sunnier circumstances:
As measure of consolation, I went next door to the recently-opened, borderline experimental Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery, where foodies all around the city reverently flock to indulge in the likes of banana green curry bread, chorizo challah, and cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate-chip cookies.
To my unending sadness, the milk bar no longer had salty pistachio caramel soft-serve. In an act of unknowing brilliancy, I substituted the cereal milk soft serve, which tasted like nothing less than silky, creamy gelato made out of cornflakes. My sensory receptors went clinically insane upon contact. It was bizarre and confusing and mind-blowingly delicious.
Ben skipped out on the opportunity to radically expand his understanding of the cereal + milk equation, so he went to a teahouse down the street and had a bowl of noodles. I didn’t approve.
When I had finally recovered sufficiently to recognize the concept of dinner as a tangible necessity, I was sitting with Ben’s family in a florescent-lit cafeteria in the middle of an Asian grocery store in New Jersey, preparing to surmount the generous helpings of Korean dishes spread over two tables. Starters consisted of a spicy/salty jell-o, garnished with haphazard vegetables. This defies my powers of explanation.
Followed in line by spicy seafood noodles, egg pancakes, clay pot tofu, and fried chicken glazed in honey orange sauce and what might have been dynamite powder, judging by its semi-violent spiciness.
The next day, much to the shock of my personal fan club, I stopped eating for a while and took a picture of the exceedingly vitreous Apple Store next to Central Park.
Then I went back to dining and food-photographing in desperate profusion, because I only had about 12 hours left in New York and was getting depressed by the fact that I hadn’t yet eaten at every single restaurant in the city. Next up was Ippudo, a high-end ramen restaurant recommended to me by Winnie ’02. Lo and behold, stepping through sheets of red drapes and other aggressively-hip, pseudo-Japanese d√©cor, I waited for a table and was accosted by none other than Winnie herself. Never mind that the probability of two mitblogs acquaintances randomly running into each other hundreds of miles away from MIT in a city with over 1.6 million people is about as slim as next year’s iPod release; the real punchline is that Winnie’s recommendation changed my life, or at least the part of my life that has a serious emotional investment in pork.
Ippudo’s rendition of pork buns is miraculous: a luxuriously soft cushion of bread folded over slices of meltingly-rich, thickly marbled meat indulgent enough to make bacon look like celery. Engrossed in a transcendent moment of sublime saltiness, I could have died happy, or even failed all my classes happy.
Then came the firm, honest ramen noodles soaked in rich pork broth and topped with thin slices of (guess what) more pork.
Which, in itself, was worth the trip.
As far as my memory is concerned, the rest of the night was nothing more than puddles in the momentous footsteps of an unforgettable dinner. Time probably passed: stumbling awake at 5:00 AM on Wednesday morning, tripping back into unconsciousness, waking up again, Ben’s mom compelling me to swallow another slice of toast, Manhattan blurred at dawn, an impromptu bus ticket purchased 20 minutes before departure, waiting at the side of the street with a gaggle of strangers, a bus, heaps of luggage, slipping into a neck-cramping sleep that lasted all the way back to Boston. Finally, home arrives in the beloved form of Random Hall. Life resumes to regularly scheduled programming.
Two hours later, I was in a basement research lab at MIT, preparing to check whether my batteries had exploded over the weekend.
So it goes.