The sun rays that seeped through the windows of the airplane as I land in The Big Apple told me that it was the beginning of Spring. I peeked through the windows and saw for the second time what I respectfully agree with what people called as “The Concrete Jungle”; Manhattan is a huge metropolitan island that is packed with high rise skyscrapers standing closely side by side with each other, and right in the middle covering about one-third of the island is Central Park. The uniqueness of this city comes when the greenery of the lawn, thick canopies of the trees and pale blue water of the lakes greatly contrast the tall buildings that surround it. To me, New York City is a huge and organized labyrinth of historic and modern places blended together in a delightful orchestra of roads and buildings.
The pace of life here is certainly much faster than what I experienced daily over on the other side of the country, and I could feel this right at the moment when I go down on the streets and strode alongside the New Yorkers. The people filled the city with so much energy such that this vibrancy is flowed through tourists like me. I unconsciously found myself walking at a much faster pace than usual and crossing the streets even when the walkman sign is not blinking yet. But I truly understand why New Yorkers are born in this way - because there are simply too many stuffs to do in this city that never sleep and time is never enough.
Right after I touched down and reached my hotel at Hilton that is located in Midtown, I quickly started the day by getting breakfast at the famous Magnolia Bakery at Rockefeller Center. The smell of freshly baked cupcakes, cheesecakes, crumbles and cookies was distinct right at the moment when I pushed open the door. The interior of the bakery gives me a “home baked” feel and every single cakes on the shelf looks amazingly delectable. I got their famous Banana Pudding, which was creamy yet light in texture and filled with fresh bananas, Hummingbird Cupcake, which was a delightful blend of pumpkin and carrot cupcake topped with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecans, and the Classic Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes, which were prettily decorated with flowers and sprinkles.
What really excites me about New York City is its gourmet food and gastronomic delights that are apparent all around the city. It is home from the finest traditional Japanese dining like Izakaya and Yakitori to the world’s famous artisan chocolates. Housed in Rockefeller Center too is Jacques Torres chocolate shop. I tried their most popular Chocolate Chip Cookies and Wicked Hot Chocolate. I think what makes them special is the chocolate that they used, which is really intense, dark and flavorful in a well-balanced mix of sweetness among the bitterness. The Wicked Hot Chocolate was unlike other usual Hot Chocolate that I had before. Not only sweet, it contains a unique kind of spiciness when you sip into it.
Above the underground shopping complex of Rockefeller Center is actually 19 commercial buildings rising into the clouds, covering 22 acres of space between 48th and 51st Street and spanning across Fifth and Sixth Avenue, right at the center of Midtown Manhattan. It is no wonder that Rockefeller Center is one of the national landmark of New York City. When I was there, the famous Christmas Tree is replaced by a cute Easter Bunny that is decorated with pink flowers.
Central Park in sunny Spring time is a really beautiful and perfect place for a stroll or picnic on the endless field of soft green grass and under the bright blue sky. Lined with elegant and pretty pink Cherry Blossoms that have just bloomed for Spring days, I can easily spend hours wandering around the world’s largest urban park and enjoying the cool Spring breeze. I especially love standing at the center of the Great Lawn where yellow trees are surrounding me in a distance away and the skyline of Upper East and West Side and Midtown Manhattan is in the backdrop of each of the three sides.
I love strolling around East Village and SoHo too because the historical buildings here are more like shophouses as compared to the commercial office buildings in the Midtown. Each of the shops and cafes here are unique and petite, each selling things that you can’t find elsewhere. One store that especially grabbed my attention is David’s Tea - an artisan tea shop that creates over 150 flavors of tea, ranging from traditional blends like Dragon Jasmine Pearl Green Tea to quirky yet fun flavors like Chunky Java Monkey or the sweet and colorful Ice Cream Cake Tea. This place is like a tea playground where I had lots of fun sampling about 25-30 flavors of tea. Each flavored tea carries its own uniqueness and aroma, and I like how they named the teas too - fun and full of flavors!
My favorite place in Hell’s Kitchen that is situated behind the busy and lively streets of Times Square is Kyotofu - a bistro for modern Japanese infused desserts. Just like what’s in the name, this place houses tofu specialities, both in savory and in sweetness. We ordered the Chicken and Tofu Slider with their housemade crisp Sweet Potato Chips and the patty for the burger was really exquisite in taste and one can tell that they made it from scratch because the taste is light yet so flavorful. We also had the Yuzu Citrus Tofu Cheesecake and I must admit that this is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. The fusion of the citrus makes the cake taste fresh on every bite and the tofu makes the texture smooth and fluffy. And the meringue that topped it gave the right needed amount of sweetness together with the summer berries that accompany it. The place that is decorated with white walls and clear glass gives a clean touch and an elegant and chic atmosphere. The small candles that were placed on the tables instead of bright lightings also make the bars perfect for cocktail drinks and dessert pairings.
I remembered how I queued for the legendary Laduree macaroons in Paris last winter to taste the finest and most exquisite classic macaroons. Since then, I’ve always been wanting to get these sweet little things again. Thankfully, Laduree just opened its branch on this other side of the world at the posh and elite Madison Avenue in Upper East Side. The queue outside the store here is just as long as the one along Champs Elysees and I believe that this must be because of the charms of the patisseries that are housed inside. The elaborately decorated store in classical style is just as pretty and sweet as the one in Paris and being laid in front of me is an array of fifteen different flavors and colors of macaroons together with fine chocolates and patisseries. This time, I got Fleur d’Orange, Cherry Blossom, Rose Petals, Pistachio, Chocolate and Pralinee. And my favorite is still Rose Petals and Fleur d’Orange. As fragile as the macaroons can get, their soft shells and intact rich fillings never fail to make up for any imperfections that they had. True to what Marilyn Monroe says, “Imperfection is beauty…”
Walking back from Upper East Side to Fifth Avenue along the sides of Central Park was an enjoyable thing to do in the late afternoon. Upper East Side is a semi-quiet neighborhood with famous luxurious brands that lined the main street, Madison Avenue, and numerous streets of New York style apartments that branched out from it. The seventeenth century Dutch and English architecture style buildings that filled Upper East Side is what make the neighborhood elegant and elite.
In contrast to Upper East Side, Fifth Avenue is a much more bustling shopping district though it houses similar brands. This shopping street is crowded with shoppers on the sidewalks and congested with the famous New York yellow city cabs on the streets. The neighborhood is also condensed with Victorian style buildings that lined the street and house numerous manequins posing in their latest Spring style behind the shops’ windows. And not forgetting it is also home to the original Saks Fifth Avenue.
One thing that’s not to be missed is the flagship Apple store that is made of glass and stands out among the other Neo-classical buildings. This 32-feet-tall glass cube across the Plaza garnered as much attention as the products that it houses and has a tubular elevator and a floating spiral staircase that leads to a bright, sprawling space crammed full of Apple technology. Apple is certainly living up to its “Think Different” motto through its sole subterranean flagship.
My last dinner in Manhattan is a very memorable and wam one. I felt really lucky to have the chance for Izakaya dining in the small neighborhood called St Marc’s Place. The traditional Japanese place that I went to is called Yakitori Taisho. This restaurant is located at an underground and basement of other shophouses but it hides a gem for Japanese Yakitori. The place is small and cramped with tables lying an inch apart from each other. We even had to hang our bags and coats on the wall, which I thought was really interesting. The food it serves was splendid and very authentically Japanese.
I wish I had more time to spend in New York because there’s simply so many so many things, food and places to see and explore here. The city is diced and sliced up in blocks, which makes walking an easy thing to do. But the iconic Subway that runs in an underground maze is very convenient too if one wants to go uptown and downtown. For me, I like the Subway stations because they are nostalgic - just like the city above it where I had my New York Minute.