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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chelsea Markets: Better than Disneyland

I wandered around Chelsea today, originally intending to check out the Greenmarket Farmers Market, but alas had neglected to notice that it only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and not today, Thursday (doh!).

Happiness was restored in the form of City Bakery, funny because Robyn had only just mentioned it in an email to me that morning. Suddenly it appeared before me and I had little choice but to go in. City Bakery is a help-yourself eatery where salads, vegetables, hot food and pastries are weighed for payment. The food here looked sensational though - fresh, tasty and with plenty of vegetarian options.

I couldn't resist a scoop of the Greenmarket pears poached in walnut maple which were pear halves in a sweety caramelly thick syrup. Plagued by a sore throat of an incoming cold, I bypassed the chocolate cookies for the oatmeal and raisin cookie which was Delicious. Chockful of raisins and with plenty of sugar and butter to give it a crisp but chewy texture.

Their other specialty seems to be their hot chocolate with homemade squares of fluffy white marshmallow. Alas the sore throat prevented this option, but another time perhaps.

There was a quick detour via TJ Maxx, that hardcore bargainers' paradise where you must devote at least two hours to scouring through racks and racks of hangers. I had whiled away many a hour in this store in Croydon, London but attempting to browse whilst holding a heavy winter jacket in a heated store was all too exhausting.

Instead I had much more fun at Chelsea Markets which should really be called Food Porn Markets. Within the giant converted warehouse are about two dozen food shops which not only have tasty wares, but have glass-walled production kitchens for maximum window-steaming action. Watch the bakers knead artisan breads, look at the giant vats of simmering soup, admire the cupcakes coming out of the ovens.

There were giant black and white cookies and beautiful red velvet cupcakes from Ruthy's, gourmet brownies from Fat Witch (as seen on Oprah!) and fishmongers handpicking lobster at The Lobster Place. I stared with unabated lust at the candiest snowiest gingerbread houses of joy, watched the soup men add giant blocks of butter to soup, and admired the swift precision of the pizza guys in action.

This was better than Disneyland.

A quick subway ride was made to Peanut Butter & Co, a sandwich shop which sells all manner of peanut butter snacks and sandwiches. Forget ordinary PB&J (peanut butter and jelly). Here you can have a PB with: pineapple jam and chicken; cream cheese and apple; marmalade and almonds; and cherry jam and coconut.

Their best one is apparently the Elvis (PB with bananas, honey and optional bacon) and you can buy their mixed spreads (PB with chocolate, raisins or chilli) in supermarkets too. Cute concept but a pricey one with sandwiches starting at US$4.50.

We had dinner at Junior's in Brooklyn, home of the best cheesecake in New York apparently. This diner is huge and was filled with families, couples and even a 30-member work function. My Southern Fried Chicken meal was a lesson in American excess. I enjoyed my basket of a bread roll and a square of cornbread (tastes so cakey!) and a small bowl of salad (ack, there are so many dressing options here!). Then came my plate of chicken: a wing, a leg, a thigh, a breast, indeed half a chicken battered and fried to a finger-lickin' golden brown. Then a plate of steamed vegetables and wait, don't forget the whole baked potato which arrived with a paper cup of sour cream.

All this for a moderate US$13.25. I think I managed a little over half of it. The chicken was good though. Tasty and surprisingly not too oily.

We made emergency room for the cheesecake and alas, I was somewhat disappointed. I didn't realise though that Junior's is famous for its ultra-light cheesecake, whereas I am a big fan of the heavy dense so-thick-you-need-a-hacksaw baked cheesecake. Junior's still bake their cheesecake but it's deliberately light and fluffy and almost tastes Continental. And for non-Americans, we Aussies call cheesecakes either Continental (meaning non-baked and set with gelatin) or American (meaning baked and usually involving lots of cream cheese).

The Americans I've spoken to here find this concept weird as they love a light cheesecake, whereas most Australians associate a New York Cheesecake as being extra dense and heavy. And apparently most New Yorkers don't even like cheesecake, even though it's much lauded everywhere else!

We concluded our evening in style... watching a performance of Beethoven's complete Opus 18 at BargeMusic. This unique venue is on an enclosed barge on the Hudson, moored at the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn. The quartet of performers were highly accomplished musicians and listening to Beethoven against a backdrop of a gently bobbing Manhattan skyline was pretty spesh.

Even better was the surprise display of fireworks which generated a gorgeous rainbow of reds and yellows over the city's skyscrapers in the distance. Noone knew who had arranged them but it was a spectacular 20-minute display, and a fitting finale for Beethoven's date of birth.

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posted by Helen (AugustusGloop) on 12/15/2005 11:59:00 pm


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