Everything I ate in New York City

I recently spent a fortnight in the Big Apple, where I ate not a single apple, but did have roughly 28 meals, maybe more. None of which were bad. I repeat, everything I consumed existed within a scale of This is good to Holy shit this is the best thing I have ever eaten. I was on culinary cloud nine. I was eating ice-cream for dinner. And I know its boring to masticate endlessly over past meals, but I’m transferring my knowledge to you in the hope you will visit New York and eat as well as I did.

Tip: If you’re looking to eat on a budget in NY, then look for descriptions on Yelp or Google that describe the place as ‘no frills’ or ‘bare bones’. This is frequently lingo for stripped back decor or a pocket-sized venue, but it by no means captures the quality of the food, which is more often than not frilly and fleshy. (That sounds kind of weird and gross, but you get where I’m going).

Tuesday

Split pea soup, coffee and chocolate rugelach (a Jewish delicacy, like a cross between a croissant and a pain au chocolate, but adorably minuscule) from Zabar’s deli. Came to about $6 and was incredibly satisfying. The coffee is particularly good there. Plus you get to sit at a communal table and eavesdrop on old lady regulars gossiping about mutual acquaintances.

Wednesday

Breakfast at Veselka, a Ukrainian institution known for its 24hr service. I had its flagship dish – the pierogi – with a seasonal twist – a blueberry filling. So sweet. So indulgent.

 

Had an ice-cream from the Big Gay Ice Cream shop in Greenwich Village. I had the Salty Pimp, which before you start making assumptions is vanilla ice-cream, swirled with dulce de leche, sprinkled with salt and dipped in chocolate and it was a religious experience.

Dinner at Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery, a sort-of bodega (look at me using New York lingo) in Hells Kitchen that has a sort-of food truck at the back with an astonishing array of choice. Burritos, tostadas, tacos, flautas, fajitas, enchiladas, tamales. Name a Mexican food and they will probably be able to make it for you. I had a veggie taco and tostada, both of which were incredibly spicy but tasty AF.

Thursday

Brunch/Lunch at Roberta’s pizza in Bushwick. I had been warned about the queues that can accumulate at Roberta’s, such is the level of fame it has generated amid the foodie, hipster scene, so planned to stop by around 11.30am for a scandalous pizza brunch. After encountering a little bit of trouble in locating the entrance, I was promptly seated and scoffed an entire ‘Famous Original’. Toppings include tomato mozzarella, caciocavallo, parmagiano, oregano & chilli. It was sensational. I forgot to savour. I ate it way too quickly and kind of wanted another one immediately afterwards. I still think about it on a regular basis.

The only downside was on the subway from Bushwick towards Brooklyn Bridge a guy flashed his penis to me and it rather dampened my dough-based high.

Friday

Lunch at Chelsea Market, not in itself an entirely pleasant experience due to the hoards of tourists (of which I was one, I know, I’m not above them. Except I am slightly because I’ve been to NYC before and was traveling by myself, which automatically makes me less of a nuisance than the massive, meandering groups of tourists that clog everywhere. Ok rant over). However I did discover Beyond Sushi, a plant-based alternative to standard sushi and therefore a vegetarian’s dream.

I had the ‘Spicy Mang’ sushi rolls: Black rice, avocado, mango, cucumber and toasted cayenne sauce, and the ‘Smokey Tom’ dumplings: Sun-dried tomato, spinach, smoked butternut squash, and tahini. I took it to the High Line and basked in my brilliant culinary choice.

Saturday

Lunch at Num Pang, a Cambodian sandwich shop that packs its delicious fillings into baguettes. I had the Spicy Organic Tofu with a ginger-soy honey glaze and took it to Washington Square Park and basked in my brilliant culinary choice. Theme appearing.

Dinner at Bar Pitti, a renowned Italian restaurant in the West Village and by far the most extravagant meal of the trip. I had spaghetti al pesto and a glass of red, and when the waiter served my meal, declared it’s time to stop with politics and fuck with some pasta (I was reading Naomi Klein’s ‘No’.)

Sunday

I had Junior’s Cheesecake. This blog has been published posthumously because I actually died and went to heaven after eating it.

Monday

I had a bagel with cream cheese and slice of apple pie from Katz’s Delicatessen. It was the most beige meal I might ever have eaten, but it was reliably delicious. Katz’s could be regarded as a pointless pitstop on my culinary journey, because I’ll never get to try the pastrami on rye, which is feted by patrons and food professionals alike as the star of the menu. But the atmosphere is enough to make it worthwhile.

Tuesday

Late lunch at Totto Ramen. Solo dining proved itself winningly advantageous when I skipped a very long queue because I could be seated at the one stool left at the bar. It’s super tiny and minimalist, but the ramen is stunningly good. The veggie option is packed with vegetables (no kidding right?) and felt like the healthiest I’d been since arriving.

Wednesday

Mealtimes definitely became somewhat skewed during my trip. To save on money I was trying not to eat three time a day, and instead opted for a brunch and early dinner situation. On Wednesday I had no shame in starting the day with a slice of salted caramel and apple pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a winsomely rustic outfit replete with a case full of homemade pies.

For dinner I went to Nom Wah Tea Parlour in Chinatown. Styled like a diner-cum-canteen, its stripped back vibe doesn’t apply to the food, which is cheap, generous and sumptuously good. I had the vegetarian dim sum and scallion and cilantro rice rolls. It came to $8 and you could’ve rolled me home I was so full. Highly recommend.

Thursday

I stopped for a snack at Baohaus, a tiny, industrial-style Taiwanese eatery in the East Village that specialise in steamed buns. And by specialise I mean they knock these bad boys out of the park. For $4 you get about two bites worth of food, but they’re two of the most exquisite mouthfuls of food you might ever hope to chew. I had the ‘Uncle Jesse’ which consisted of organic fried tofu served with crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, cilantro, and ‘Haus Sauce’.

Friday
Breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant,  another institution where you can expect to queue (or skip right on through if you’re just dining with you). I sat at the bar, indulged in refill coffee (seriously London, can you catch on with this trend please) and had the stack of blueberry pancakes with maple butter which only really deserves expletives to describe it. Seriously, even the guy next to me admitted to have food envy when my plate arrived. He’d ordered an omelette and I quietly cursed his foolish behaviour and then went back to a whirlwind romance with my pancakes.
Saturday
At this point I’d given up on mealtimes and vegetables, so finding myself in Brooklyn I paid a requisite visit to the Ample Hills Creamery. I ordered a large and told the merchant the two flavours I wished to spoon into my face. She looked at me, bemused, and said, the large gets you four flavours. I silently declared my affection for America, then promptly ordered: 1 x scoop of ‘PB wins the cup’ (vanilla ice-cream, chocolate flakes, peanut butter cups), 1 x scoop of ‘Salted Crack Caramel’ (self-explanatory), 1 x scoop of ‘Dark Chocolate’ (self-explanatory) and 1 x scoop of ‘The Raw Deal’ (vanilla ice-cream and cookie dough). I came, I had no shame and I conquered.

 

Sunday

Lunch at Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village, a venerated Venezuelan restaurant that prides itself on authentic arepas. I had the ‘La del Gato’, a cornflour bun with Guyanes cheese, fried sweet plantains and avocado. I could’ve gone for more, but apparently I swallowed my pride as well as their sensationally stuffed arepa.

***

All this and I barely even scratched the surface, barely even grazed the epidermis (again the weird skin analogy. I’ll stop. I’m sorry) of New York’s growing culinary scene. I also had really good coffee at The Bean, DTUT, Cafe Grumpy and bought the most exquisite ground coffee from Sarabeth’s because I’m a bourgeois caffeine addict.

I then came home and purged myself on broccoli for a week.

What is a New York movie?

An exploration of Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip and Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behaviour.

In film criticism, the term ‘a definitive [insert genre] movie’ is frequently bandied about, placing its subject on a pedestal because it exemplifies the very best of it’s type; thereafter held up as a litmus test for all its successors to borrow from and be inspired by.

New York is a city so iconic, cinematic and beloved that it has become a genre itself. To set a film there is to immediately bring to mind such classics as Taxi Driver, Manhattan, The Naked City, Goodfellas, Breakfast at Tiffany’s – so on and so forth.

Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is a recent example of a film that has been lauded as “a modern New York classic” (The Playlist), whilst Little White Lies called Appropriate Behaviour “an original and charismatically honest New York comedy”. But what is a New York movie? Can a city so multifarious and dynamic ever be pinned down?

I took it upon myself to explore  what it means to make a film in the most illustrious concrete jungle.

AB_001

In City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination, Wheeler Winston Dixon argues that,

New York has a hold on our imagination because it is so compact, so violent, so energetic, so full of possibilities, a place where neighbourhoods change from one street to the next and strangers can become intimate friends or deadly enemies on the slightest of whims. (p. 243)

New York is a breeding ground for possibility and heterogeneity, and the films which emerge from and about it can mean almost anything to almost anyone. By accepting the impossibility of creating a definitive vision of New York, it becomes a place where you are free to project your own vision.

In his maker’s statement, Alex Ross Perry explains that Listen Up Philip reflects “what [his] New York looks like, and it is one I seldom see depicted with any honesty in cinema….Listen Up Philip is a summation of all I’ve observed, lived through, laughed at, narrowly avoided and absently longed for during my time in New York”.

Similarly, in a behind-the-scenes interview with her producer Cecilia Frugieule, Desiree Akhavan states that she wants her film “to reflect [her] morals and [her] tastes”, thus Appropriate Behaviour’s rendering of New York is very specific to her.

A native New Yorker herself, Akhavan argues that too many movies about the Big Apple are “like a love letter – and I feel like the love letter I want to write points out all the flaws and is like, ‘I love you, despite all those flaws’”.

elizabeth_moss_and_jason_scwhartzman_in_alex_ross_perrys_listen_up_philip___photo_by_sean_price_williams

Both films are set in and around Brooklyn, using locations in Dumbo, Park Slope, Red Hook and Bushwick. Of the locations he chose, Alex Ross Perry, in the director’s commentary says he wanted to capture “a New York that isn’t identifiable or modern”, whereas Akhavan has deliberately chosen, played up to and satirised a very recognisable and hipster Brooklyn.

New York is a breeding ground for possibility and heterogeneity, and the films which emerge from and about it can mean almost anything to almost anyone.

As Shirin tries desperately to win her ex-girlfriend Maxine back, we watch her manoeuvre the absurdities of life in Brooklyn. Though her new roommates in Brooklyn are tattooed artists who met at Occupy Chelsea and she encounters a hair model named Tibet, this is a feat most notably achieved in the sequences where Shirin teaches 5 year olds (the likes of which are called Kujo and Blanche) how to make movies: “I could lock them in a room with a half-eaten apple and a tic tac and come back to The Mona Lisa”.

Speaking of this satirical tone, Akhavan says “Each neighbourhood [in Brooklyn] changes identities so quickly that jumping through them is like trying on personalities for size sometimes…I was writing from what I knew. I knew what it was like to come of age in those particular neighbourhoods — in Bed-Stuy or Williamsburg or Cobble Hill…. So it was about figuring out where was the right location for the character [Shirin] to undergo whatever experience she had.”

For both filmmakers then, Brooklyn is a way to film New York from an outsider’s perspective. As Perry remarks in his commentary, the only time his protagonist Philip ventures into Manhattan is to interact with his literary idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), and whilst there he marches frantically and avoids eye contact with everybody. “It is ugly. And loud. It’s always moving, and I never feel still long enough to hold a thought”. Contrary to popular depictions, New York actually seems to stifle Philip’s creativity and he feels the he needs to escape the city.

Listen Up Philip expertly highlights the general alienation of living in a vast, sometimes hostile city like New York, with the film’s narrator (Eric Bogosian) pointing us towards the loneliness and vapidity of a creative hub, where an individual is surrounded by similar people all the time. Conversely, though Akhavan deals in alienation, hers is more inward. Shirin feels alienated from her own culture and history because sexually she identifies with something so antithetical to it.

Perry and Akhavan are both concerned with filming a New York that depicts their own personal experience. Philip Friedman, as played with incisive wit and acidity by Jason Schwartzman, is a distinctly male, academic, middle-class and Jewish representation of New York, whereas Desiree Akhavan’s Shirin is Persian, bisexual and female. These two characters embody the spectrum of lenses through which the New York experience can be filtered.

Whilst Appropriate Behaviour’s exploration of Persian bisexuality is strikingly original, there are moments that ring familiar. Akhavan herself describes the film as “a Lesbian Annie Hall from the perspective of Annie… if she’d been a closeted Persian Bisexual” and admits that she “grew up watching Woody Allen…There’s a sequence when they’re at the bookstore where we stole, or paid homage to a shot in Annie Hall. We were very aware of the references we were making and I wanted to make a real conscious reference to that film”.

Perhaps the seminal filmmaker associated with New York, Woody Allen became a zeitgeist for the pressures and peculiarities of modern living and urban romance. As seen in the likes of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah & Her Sisters, Allen’s films are ultimately concerned with his characters’ failure to find happiness in the metropolis.

It’s a theme both Listen Up Philip and Appropriate Behaviour reference without ever succumbing to stereotype or convention, and their respective directors cite Woody Allen as having a direct, and indirect influence on the tone and texture of their respective films. It’s present in the intertextuality, self-reflexivity and intellect of their narratives, as well as their stylistic choices.

Perry admits to being inspired by – and in some cases – directly lifting certain iconic camera movements and shots from Allen’s movies. As The Playlist notes, “Perry borrows from several influences to make something unique and idiosyncratic, so he’s also a pricklier Woody Allen, a less fastidious Wes Anderson, and so on”.

However, Perry’s New York is also more intimate and intrusive than Allen’s, predominantly using close-ups where Allen preferred long and medium range shots. As iterated in a review by The New Yorker, Perry’s is

“A big and exuberantly gaudy directorial performance that’s delivered in a modest and intimate format, and greatly aided by the remarkable images of Sean Price Williams, whose darting, agile camera work, often apparently with telephoto lenses, achieves a blend of intimacy and distance, of perception and opacity reminiscent of the camerawork in the films of John Cassavetes”.

The frenetic and spontaneous camerawork used in Listen Up Philip perfectly captures the energy of the city; at times chaotic and disorienting, but never boring, a sensibility accentuated by the use of jazz. The jazz-inflected score is something that has recently been seen in another New York set movie; Birdman, which coincidentally also explores notions of art, ego, success and sustaining relevance in an ever-changing landscape.

Shot on super 16mm film, the aesthetic of Listen Up Philip is warm, saturated and autumnal, an artistic choice that seems at odds with Philip’s caustic persona on-screen, but which creates a heightened paean for a bygone era, vividly reminiscent of the 80s classic When Harry Met Sally or indeed the muted greys and browns of Annie Hall.

Appropriate Behaviour has a much grittier feel. DoP Chris Teague, whose CV also includes the New York set Obvious Child – discussed Desiree’s influences in Filmmaker Magazine, citing the oeuvre of Noah Baumbach. “Appropriate Behaviour’s a little bit rough around the edges, [and was filmed] almost entirely handheld… it feels very loose”. This quality corresponds with the messy, ‘making it up as you go along’ aesthetic of Listen Up Philip and perhaps reflects an attitude to life so commonly observed in recent representations of New York and its millennial inhabitants.

Ultimately, New York epitomises the myth of the American Dream, and the illusion that opportunity and ambition will inevitably collide to fertilise success. Contemporary portrayals speak to an experience more cynical and fraught with anxiety than the glamour and romance oft associated with the city. One just had to look at Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture or Girls to see that feeling adrift is the main concern for New Yorkers in our era.

Both Listen Up Philip and Appropriate Behaviour – though very different in tone and humour – navigate the tribulations of being heartbroken, aimless and frustrated, with themes of isolation, belonging, exclusion and possibility at their core. They offer us perspectives of New York that feed into these familiar themes, but in altogether original and necessary voices.

To watch Listen Up Philip, plus behind-the-scenes extras, go here.

To watch Appropriate Behaviour, plus behind-the-scenes extras, go here.