College Visiting: A Mega Post– Day 1, NYC
We were originally planning on heading east and west (the west coast is just calling my name!), but since almost all schools are on break now, it just didn’t make sense. We flew to New York, then saw Brown, Amherst, Wesleyan and Yale. Lots of New England, ultra hard to get into schools.
Everything worked out perfectly– when we got to NYC it was just about lunchtime. Our original plan was to take a quick walk to Hummus Place, which I fell in love with when I ate there in December. Of course, since my grandpa, aunt, uncle, and cousin were all there and wanted to come with, it took at least an hour longer than planned, and since it was Sunday (brunch day), we didn’t sit down to eat until nearly 3:00. Hummus Place is so small and concealed that we were really lucky to find a table all together.
The beauty of Hummus Place is that their menu is extremely limited, but what they have, they do extremely well. Because we had so many people, we ordered a ton of food– too much, of course, in the end.
Pita– Hummus Place bakes their pita fresh (whole wheat or regular), and they’re so doughy, the opposite of the flat, flavorless pitas you usually find out there. My dad, who had never been to Hummus Place before, even compared them to man tou, which are Chinese steamed buns.
Eggplant, drizzled with more tahini. The texture was perfect: not too oily, the eggplant was tender and nearly impossible to eat because it started falling apart the moment it was touched with a fork.
Falafel.. but of course! We ordered 3 orders… once again, way too much, but they’re so incredible. The balls are small (I only ate two), so they get crispy quickly without being overdone. They’re served with some kind of cilantro or parsley sauce on one side and more tahini on the other. Like I said, the best falafel I’ve had in the states. It all boils down to texture, and the mealiness (is that a word?) of the inside is what keeps me coming back for more.
And finally, the main course, shakshouka! To refresh your memory, this is an Israeli dish of eggs baked sunny side up over a sauce of tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions. We’ve tried to duplicate it at home but always fail to get the egg consistancy right. We always overcook it, and the yolk is supposed to be runny enough that it oozes out and mingles with the sauce. Unfortunately, Hummus Place didn’t get it right this time either… my mom kept complaining that the yolks were hard and overcooked. It didn’t matter to me much because I mainly ate the sauce anyway. It was sprinkled with zaatar, a spice blend that has a lot of cumin in it.
I was really full after this, but I had to end the meal with something I’d been anticipating: Turkish coffee! Thick and cardamom-scented, served in a cute little pot… what more could you ask for? Just avoid the grounds that get thicker and thicker as you reach the bottom of the cup. I was ecstatic that the coffee hadn’t been pre-sweetened– even with Turkish coffee, I like my java bitter, man!
I had never ordered any desserts from Hummus Place (Middle Eastern desserts tend to be too sweet for me), but my cousin and uncle were there, and they both have sweet tooths.
My uncle ordered baklava (sweeter than candy), and my cousin ordered something called White Dream: some kind of frozen flan with chocolate sauce, coconut, and almonds. I tried one bite for the sake of trying something new– I have no idea how flan can achieve that texture, but it was really a texture like a cross between ice cream and sorbet. Interesting, but nothing I would crave. I’m picky when it comes to dessert.
Dinner that night was late, thank goodness, since we needed time to digest all this food. My grandpa had made reservations at a classic French Bistro– I found it ironic when I realized that I hadn’t eaten real French food for years, not even over the summer in Paris, where I was living on dorm food and falafel.
Because Paris just gets more and more touristy, and it’s becoming harder to find a classic bistro, it’s safe to say that this place was just as authentic as in Paris, if not more. Almost all the waitresses were French… I was so tempted to speak to them, but I think it would have been corny.
I’m not used to eating food this rich, but it was nice for a special occasion. To start with I ordered the endive salad with bleu d’Auvergne and walnuts. We always have endive sitting in the fridge, but we never think of serving it this way, with the leaves fanned out like flower petals. This salad is such a classic combination: bitter endive and walnuts paired with salty blue cheese (there was just enough cheese to give it flavor without it being too much… we Americans should learn from this and refrain from drowning everything in cheddar and bacon bits).
Mains: I was sad to see they didn’t have bouillabaisse, but I got over it. All the fish was served with super creamy sauces, but I asked that mine be served on the side. I debated between salmon and monkfish, but ended up going with the monkfish because I had never tried it.
I don’t understand why people say monkfish is like lobster. The texture is firm, but nothing like shellfish, and the taste isn’t nearly as sweet as lobster, so I have no idea how people made that connection. I do know that it’s sometimes referred to as “poor man’s lobster.” It was served in smallish pieces, resembling chicken more than fish. The sauce was called “lobster sauce,” but I think it was the kind of sauce that would be served with lobster (cream and fish stock) rather than containing lobster itself. some of this sauce was needed to bring out the flavor of the fish, but really not a lot. All the main dishes came garnished with vegetables even though it didn’t say it on the menu– cauliflower with gruyere, string beans, carrots, brussel sprouts, and potatoes (I got couscous instead).
Other peoples’ dishes:
My grandpa ordered a special, which turned out to be divine. It was horseradish-encrusted striped bass with a horseradish sauce. My first thought was whoa, waay too much horseradish for me, but when I tried it, it was mild and I couldn’t taste any hint of bitterness. For some reason, the sauce was pink. I fell in love with the fish itself… I was worried about striped bass being endangered, but now I’m confused… is it only Chilean sea bass that’s endangered? Honestly, I think all fish is nowadays…
My dad ordered sweetbreads, which are one of the few organs I actually have tried before (my mom didn’t tell me what they were), and I can say that they are delicious… although rarely served as a main course.
As for dessert, I was really hoping that they would have soufflé, preferably chocolate, but alas, they didn’t. We all felt like we should get some sort of dessert, but what? My grandpa ordered his usual double espresso (at nearly 10:00… he says he drinks it purely for pleasure and that it has no effect on him) and a slice of fruit tart of the day.
We each said we would only have a bite, but of course, as soon as we saw how beautiful and luscious the fruit looked, we devoured it. Actually, I was bad and basically ate the fruit off the top. My grandpa hardly got any in the end 😦
I forgot how long it’s been since I ate this sort of food. I’m so used to filling up on ethnic food (nope, I don’t consider French and Italian ethnic) that sometimes I forget how comforting European food is.
Next post: visiting Brown and staying the night in Cambridge!