Saturday, April 5, 2014

Postcards from New York City: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ramen, and other Indulgences

The Dutch took me to New York City last weekend. I have been to the Big Apple twice before and although it’s not my favorite of destinations, it is still an enigmatic place and I don’t forsake the fact that I’m privileged to travel as much as I do.

Spring weather in NYC, I learned, can be dreary. I apologize that this post is already sounding sour, but I am used to three hundred days of sunshine.  However, the silver linings on this damp cloud are:

1. A fatty broth of slow-cooked ramen is perfect on rainy days
2. And so is getting lost inside world-class museums
3. It is New York and there is an abundance of both #1 and #2! Cartwheels!

Ramen and Other Indulgences
With a mishmash of countless cultures and a population of 8.3 million, with much of that populace possessing discerning taste in food, New York could very well be the center of gastronomy in America.  After a long day of sloshing around in the rain, there was no other place to be than at one of the plethora of ramen houses in New York.  At the suggestion of a friend, I skipped David Chang's Momofuku and instead chose to slurp at Ippudo. They open at 5pm and not even realizing that my timing was perfect since I rendezvous-ed here with the Dutch at 4:45 PM.  There was already a line of groupies forming in the rain, but good thing we got there in time.  And that I had an umbrella.

Ippudo opened right at 5PM and since we were about #12 on the queue, we were seated promptly.  I had their "Akamaru Modern", a shoyu ramen mystified with a "secret" sauce and was good, if a bit underwhelming.  I tried to shush that voice in my head that Katanaya in Union Square, San Francisco, is exponentially better and less hyped up.  We also had the hirata buns which are open-faced steam buns with some veggie slices and meat.  But yet again, I found those so-so.  We did enjoy the atmosphere, however, and the service was pleasant and efficient. (For a list of the best ramen houses in NYC as collated by the New York Times, click here.)
What's worth writing home about is this little dive-y place called Pok Pok Phat Thai of the Portlander Andy Ricker fame.  Since my solo trip to Thailand four years ago, I've been looking for this authentic pad thai I devoured enroute to Krabi.  As opposed to the westernized version, this was savored up with shrimp paste and did to go anywhere near a peanut butter jar.  This style of noodles has been elusive to me in four years and just when I have given up on this search mission,  I was stunned at first bite to have found it on this unglamorous basement.  The taste exploded in my mouth and I was brought back to happy days in Southern Thailand. Chased with their house lemonade, it was the perfect. Pokpok Phat Thai is testament that good food does not have to be pretentious nor expensive.    

Times Square is a tricky area to find good food.  But we discovered quite a few!

Breakfast:  Amy's Bread, 672 9th (between 46th and 47th) for breads and pastries
Happy Hour:  Snack EOS, 522 9th Avenue (at 39th) for half off appetizers and drinks
 Dinner:  Mercato, 352 W 39th (at 9th).  Don't miss the straciatella and amazing Italian wines.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I've been to the Guggenheim three years ago but have never set foot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This museum just floored me and I must admit that it is because I probably set my expectations too low.  I’ve been to Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and the Smithsonian, so I was unprepared for the gargantuan collection that would startle me here.  You really cannot tell from the outside how staggeringly beautiful, massive, and old The Metropolitan Museum of Art is.  

If you are planning a visit, let me share some practical advice, if I may.

1      If you can, enter the museum from behind by taking a stroll in Central Park.  Two birds. One stone. 
2     I find it perturbing that people stood in the long line to get tickets when you could bypass it and buy tickets from a kiosk.  An adult ticket costs $25. (TIP: If it’s your first time and want to see the major highlights, you can also get a CityPass which gives you access to the top attractions (Empire State Building, Ellis Island, MoMa.. the works), plus the benefit of bypassing lines). 
3   This museum is massive and I would recommend figuring out in advance which galleries and collections pique your interest the most, then center your visit around that.  Succumb to the fact that you just cannot possibly see everything in one visit.  You could, of course, wander around aimlessly, but I’ve done that at the Louvre and after four hours, you just feel museum fatigue. 
4       Grab a schedule of free museum tours at the information desk.  Each tour lasts about an hour, which gives you the opportunity to see about nine works.  I highly recommend taking at least one tour (I took two) because the beauty of these tours is in the storytelling.   Remember, you are likely to remember a higher percentage of something you hear versus reading alone.  The tours are  led by qualified and (seemingly) credible art historians (or at least people who sound credible enough like they are) who are very impassioned and fervent in their descriptions of art and artifacts.  They walk you through the historical and political context of a piece of work, which then enriches your appreciation of art.
5     If you want a more thorough visit or prefer to fly solo, you could rent an audio guide at the museum for $7.  The museum shop also sells booklets of museum highlights – museum guide and souvenir rolled in one! 

Love it, Hate it...
I like New York plenty, but I am not head over heels with it.  My infatuation of this grand city that has tapered down over the last three visits was fed mostly by sleepless nights spent on Sex and the City marathons. You have to admit, it is a brilliantly spun series of romanticized stories of New Yorkers that somehow never really lived up to any experience I’ve had of it. (Great writing, though, Candace Bushnell).  I’ve said it before and I’ll make the statement again – I’m glad - no - relieved, that New York is not my everyday reality.

Don’t get me wrong. I do possess the conviction that everyone has to see New York in their lifetime at least once. Don’t scratch it off your bucket list. It belongs there. It truly does.  It is hyper-dimensional and each visit, a layer comes off, then another, then another...

In other words, I will be back.

And no matter.  Love it.  Hate it.  Take it.  Leave it. There is still no other place in the world quite like New York.


  1. great post! would love to go back to new york again! and that pad thai sounds amazing!

  2. Hi Celyn! Thanks. NYC is a behemoth and any metropolis in its scale just cannot be fully explored in a few visits. Even people who live in the City don't claim to know it in its entirety. Yes, that pad thai from Pokpok is amazing. I still get lucid dreams about it to this day. :)