Part DOS (NYC): Jazz, Russian Caviar and Argentine Tango

Continuing on my little NYC work/play adventure trip…

During traveling, I greatly treasure the random or completely different experiences or activities that come about spontaneously and do not fall under more classical “traveling to-do’s” such as sightseeing standard monuments (although of course those have their own merits but they are expected activities)

Spontaneous Random Experiences, scientifically known as a “SRE psychological state” (hehe I just made that up) create an excitement, an exhilarating rush as you undergo a heightened awareness of whats going on around you. I mean as you travel you are automatically already undergoing RE (random experience) psychological state (I will make this a real psychology phrase yet!)–but the best parts are when you do something completely unexpected/out of the blue/spontaneous! I’m not sure if its a universal thing, but for me, I find those moments the most fun, amusing, carefree and joyful. For example, it is like you are at a club dancing…and then someone decides to just randomly do jumping jacks–with great vigor and passion–to the beat nonetheless! I personally would be filled with great admiration and amusement of that said person..but alas, I cannot speak for those who have beared witness to my, heh, dancing jacks. BUT, I digress!

Blue Note Jazz Club

So after a lovely Sunday afternoon spent leisurely strolling Central Park, Lora suprised me with booked tickets to Blue Note Jazz club in SOHO, specifically to watch Michel Camillo–a jazz pianist. Now, I am totally unfamiliar with the world of jazz, but learned that the pianist is a world famous artist performing from Tokyo to NYC. Being a classically trained pianist myself (hah that sounds so hoighty-toighty–basically learned piano for 13 years), I was always in awe of those who could just improvise on the spot–which jazz seems to be all about!

During the performance, it was truly an amazing experience to witness Michel, the bass player and drummer communicating in an impassioned, raw and absolutely free language of music. Not restrained to the confines of say, the beat, but rather dancing around–expanding the measure or phrase until it becomes a pure expression of the artists’ emotions–a beautiful thing to behold. And despite my not being familiar with jazz or the music, I was swept up by the energy of the performance, left me practically teary-eyed at moments and at the edge of my seat at others.

Outside the Blue Note jazz club
Outside the Blue Note jazz club
We had great seats--near the front with full view of the stage.
We had great seats–near the front with full view of the stage.

Blue Note

 Michel Camillo playing away

Onward to Russia!

So the next evening I had returned to the hotel after day of physician meetings and also visiting the lovely architecturally unique Guggenheim Museum (heh again work + fun). Below are some shots of the museum (again I was blessed with a gorgeously sunny day)

As I'd mentioned--a refreshing curving structure after seeing so many right-angled rectangles
As I’d mentioned–a refreshing curving structure after seeing so many right-angled rectangles
Interior of the Guggenheim Museum
Interior of the Guggenheim Museum
They had these unique color liquid filled plastic bag material tube-esque things streaming across each floor. (I initially thought it was made out of glass or something but realized huh! Its just color liquid).
They had these unique color liquid filled plastic bag material tube-esque things streaming across each floor. (I initially thought it was made out of glass or something but realized huh! Its just color liquid).

I was fully set on just ordering room service and crashing early (the jet lag was catching up to me and I’d spent most of the day walking).  I ordered an actually very delicious version of Fried Chicken and Waffles (ohhh yeah comfort food) with a side of steamed vegetables (which of course negate all of the calories in the fried chicken). The room service arrived promptly, with white table cloth and all, and I settled down to some deliciously crispy skinned chicken (juicy and tender under the skin) pairing beautifully with subtle sweet waffles.

Upon finishing the meal, as I shall now dub “Dinner #1,” I receive a text from Lora. We had split up earlier that day since she was catching up with a friend of hers, Maria Blanco , a professional Argentinian tango dancer who is apparently well known in the tango world (as I would find out later).  She invited me to accompany them for dinner (since they hadn’t had anything yet) at a Russian restaurant, Russian Samovar.  To give some background, Lora is a full mother wonderful passionate Russian—complete with strong emphatic accent (i loff accents) and so when she herself says I must not miss an experience going to a real Russian place with vodka and caviar, I could not say no.

Thus begins Dinner #2.

So first to describe the ambiance of Russian Samovar–imagine that you are in Russia…never been? Either have I! But this is what Lora tells me heh—so dim lampshades, walls covered with black and white photographs of Russian either famous or not–and a large grand piano being played by a slightly drunken older man who was formerly a concert pianist (you can request anything from Russian love songs to Rachmoninoff etc. and he will play with passion and aplomb.) Since it was a weeknight, it was not packed (heh Lora was sharing that normally it is super packed, the bar especially with potential KGBs (j/k..kind of) and “Natashas” heheh…which I am sure you can deduce which category that lovely group of ladies fall under.

Ambiance of Russian Samovar
Ambiance of Russian Samovar

We started off with a “Nostraovia!” (cheers) with their house made cranberry-infused vodka (actually quite delicious! Unlike say, a cranberry vodka with its harsh acidic zing, this one had a more softer but rich cranberry flavor).

House-made cranberry infused vodka
House-made cranberry infused vodka

Then we had caviar, Russian style (instead of a blini–it is a big thinner one, like a pancake. And the waiter prepares it for you with flourish–adding a smear of rich sour cream, caviar, then finely chopped red onion and hard boiled egg. Sigh, i could get used to having caviar everyday…

More Caviar...
More Caviar…
Caviar Burrito hehe
Caviar Burrito hehe with chopped onion and egg

Then we had the absolutely best Beef Stroganoff I’ve ever had! The sauce and beef were cooked in a rich tangy sour cream sauce, in its own iron pot with buttery herbed egg noodles.

Best beef stroganoff
Best beef stroganoff

Then we concluded (my) Dinner #2 with traditional Russian tea—made in a Samovar (to me, it tasted like strong black tea–but the best part was that it was served with preserved cherries in a sweet syrup that actually super accentuated the fragrant flavors of the tea! Who knew that that combo would go together so well!

Classic Russian Tea with a side of sweetened cherry preserves
Classic Russian Tea with a side of sweetened cherry preserves

Tango in Argentina!

Then last but not least, we made our way to a Ukrainian restaurant (yesh, random I know–but cheers to that!) which was hosting the milonga (basically a dance hall event for tango dancers).

Now Lora had recommended that my friend Jenn and I go to one last year when we were in Istanbul, Turkey and to be honest, it was a bit boring when we last went. Firstly, we were totally out of place in our rainboots and totally not knowing any tango. But most importantly the dancers at the Istanbul milonga were well, not very good and thus not very fun to watch. So when Lora invited to me to go along with her and Maria, I was thinking ehhh well maybe it’ll be different this time and boy was I right!

So to describe it, you pay an entrance fee, and enter a large room with a dance floor occupying the majority of the space with tables are arranged on the perimeter of the floor. Maria, being in the tango world of NYC and recently just starting her own tango show with her dance partner Jorge Torres.

Here is a lovely photo of Maria and Jorge (we were marveling how in the photos or for her show she looks like a vavavoom WOMAN –perhaps in her mid 30s –and the night she hung with us sans stage makeup and done hair, she looked much younger than her mid-twenties age (more like 18 or something!).

Jorge Torres & Maria Blanco

Ph: Franco Meligene

Here is a link if you want to check out some legit tango (i am completely again unfamiliar with the tango world but it is a beautiful thing to watch): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQf6OjCODmc

All in all, it was a special glimpse into a completely different world–the life of a professional dancer–hearing Maria’s stories of traveling around the world to perform and then landing this show in NYC. Indeed it is such a different concept of “work” compared to the majority of us 9-5-ers or traditional ‘lawyer, doctor etc’ type professions. Though it was just a brief encounter, I find it fascinating to get a glimpse into yet another way of living life;) Salud to that*

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New York City (Part 1): Pork Belly, Caviar and Strawberry Fields

About two weeks prior, sitting in my boss’s office, we decided that I should also attend the upcoming Skin of Color Seminar in NYC with my friend/colleague Lora (basically a dermatology meeting specifically focused on treating skin of color.) And to squeeze in on that trip as well, schedule a meeting with one of the physicians and conduct a site visit. Since he was only available the Weds following the weekend meeting, my entire trip would be a full week.

Now usually my first thoughts are hesitant–I greatly treasure my “flop around at home with cubbie” time and being away for a week, I’d miss him and home a lot. Plus the added thing that work trips can be quite tiring–and isn’t always the “glamorous” concept that those who don’t have to travel for work, imagine.

But then of course, I do love to travel, and combined with my ever persistent belief that you must make the most of every moment beit work-related or personal, pretty soon those initial hesitant thoughts faded away and more cliche phrases like “variety (of scenery/places) is indeed the spice of life!” come into full effect.

So this and the next posts are just random somewhat chronologically ordered snippets and blabs of my thoughts and experiences while in NYC. Overall man….I truly fell in love with this city. I’d been previously back in 2007 for with nuttie visiting a friend and that was my first introduction. And then in 2009 for a short work trip (not as inspiring). And this time, wow this time was awesome—One of those trips from start to finish where you feel absolutely blessed to have experienced it all. HAh and all from a “work trip”! Enjoy 🙂  (and to be honest, this is perhaps more for my own enjoyment in the future as I look back and read and re-experience this lovely trip 😉

PORK BELLY

So the first night we had free from the conference, Lora and I met up with her son and his gf at the nearby (we were staying in Times Square) Mr. Robata restaurant. I gotta tell you, my initial thoughts on the restaurant was a bit (again) hesitant because #1, it was near Times Square (and I’d heard repeatedly, and it made sense, that places to eat near this mother tourist attraction would be the cliche, overpriced, mediocre blah food to please the hordes of masses visiting this area. #2, hello…wasn’t there a song called Mr. Robato…Arigato? and though I am myself full of cheese, believing this restaurant to be named after such song, I couldn’t help but be a bit skeptical (like oh great this must be a Japanese themed restaurant catered to non-Japanese whose only reference to that far east culture is through that 80s song…yahoo..). Although on second thought looking at the spelling…it is different “robata” vs. “robato”–and thus…would no longer rhyme with “arigato”…which perhaps means I was completely mistaken about this connection with that 80s song…or not 🙂

BUT what lead me to suspect I may be incorrect, or rather encouraged me to keep an open mind, was that heh #1, Lora herself had been there (she’s been to NYC multiple times) and proclaimed she had the most delicious dish there and #2 Lora is also a great appreciater of delicious foods and loves travel etc. and fine things of life.  Thusly, I was very happy when my initial hesitant thoughts were again incorrect (hah perhaps another lesson amongst multiple ones, where one must always keep an open mind! I see that I am constantly re-learning this lesson)

We started off with a delicate Yuzu Seaweed Salad with Grilled Eggplant–where the seaweed itself was fun to eat because of the odd variety of shapes and subtle flavors and textures, along with the brightly colored flowers–all watercolor-like flavors of its oceany source–perfectly dressed with a citrus dressing.

Started with delicious seaweed salad
Started with delicious seaweed salad

Then to the title of this memory-highlight: Pork belly with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes. Perfectly braised in a soy sauce? base and flavored on a creamy bed of wasabi mashed potatoes. The wasabi was the perfect zesty ingredient along with the smear of whole grain mustard to cut through the richness of the dish.

Perfectly braised pork belly over wasabi mashed potato with a smear of delicious whole grain mustard.
Perfectly braised pork belly over wasabi mashed potato with a smear of delicious whole grain mustard.

We also had classic sashimi–which was nothing crazy new or unique, (Salmon), but it was probably one of the best basic Salmon Sashimi I’ve tasted—creamy, smooth texture with that soft pure and clean salmon flavor.

Perfect salmon sashimi
Perfect salmon sashimi

And for my entree I had Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass–nicely seasoned with a light and buttery miso glaze, tender sea bass–sigh, I was happy 🙂

Miso glazed Sea Bass
Miso glazed Sea Bass

A PERFECT SUNDAY…CAVIAR, STRAWBERRY FIELDS 

Central Park–I’d visited its periphery in my past two trips to NYC, but I think this time I was finally able to experience its full glory; leisurely strolling through on a sunny Sunday afternoon as well as on a cloudy post-rain storm Wednesday (which I’ll go into on another post).

Sunday morning we had our conference to attend but it ended by lunch time and we had no other work engagements for the day. Traveling, important tasks tend to shape my itnerary–specifically: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since we’d already had breakfast at the conference (boring bagel and cream cheese but good coffee), I was looking forward to Lora’s suggestion for lunch: PetrossianPer Lora, they’re known for their caviar and was brought over by  about 100 years ago, exporting/importing the fine caviar. There is a super fancy restaurant and then there is a bakery/cafe (we went to the more wallet friendly one ;)–and the theme is a Russian/French vibe.

Here are some shots of the interior of the lovely restaurant (on the corner in a beautiful building). We were able to venture inside and take a few photos of the beautiful glass etchings/art originals –a hushed elegant ambiance in the art deco style. Its like where I would imagine the Great Gatsby would be filmed.

Beautiful glass etchings in the restaurant Petrossian.
Beautiful glass etchings in the restaurant Petrossian.
Loved looking at the details, the costumes--1920s art deco...
Loved looking at the details, the costumes–1920s art deco…

We had a lovely lunch at the Petrossian bakery–very reminiscent of bakeries we visited in Paris, with delectable pieces of pastry art in the front window displays–but with a difference,–rows of the metal blue containers of famous Petrossian Caviar. The seating was towards the back in an intimate little elevated loft area. Heh during lunch, you can’t help but overhear conversations, and sitting next to us, an elderly couple with their son–I imagined that they were the classic and elegant “wealthy old New York.” Understated and elegantly dressed in Chanel –and stating “Dahling…” and discussing which horses they were going to purchase or something etc.

Speaking of observing people–I noticed this big difference in just everyday people in NYC vs. So Cal, or perhaps ..LA and then in SD…in NYC…people look more…how do I put it…natural? There is a subtle stylish vibe…and I suppose (I’m going to be very stereotypical here in my generalizations) but I suppose vs. walking around in LA, there is a decidedly more intense “trying” vibe…perfectly straightened and bleached blonde hair…vs. naturally tousled (maybe not so natural but certainly looked so)…and then Lora said she’d heard the saying that in NY, women wear clothes (fashion etc.) whereas in LA, women wear bodies (purchased boobs, lips etc.) And I thought I suppose that is part of it, but also, and this may be completely off and apologies for any offense (cuz heck I am from So Cal) but there seems to be an air of just intelligence that women in NY wear as a perfume, lacking in what I notice majority-wise elsewhere. Or maybe its just the plain worldliness that is forced upon those who live in such an amazingly diverse city (diverse in terms of culture, social class, income, art etc.)–that they just seem to exude that inexplainable sophistication. Hmm and of course, not all people are like that in either place I’m describing but just a very general overall observation…

OKAY back to the important stuff hehe FOOD! There is something absolutely decadent about caviar–the little shiny pearls of seafoodie flavor, with the rich soft creme fraiche on a pillowy warm blini. Ahh I could have that everyday…

The outside of the bakery/cafe
The outside of the bakery/cafe
Little pieces of art--pastries in the front window display (Petrossian)
Little pieces of art–pastries in the front window display (Petrossian)
Nothing increases one's anticipation than a solid sliver plate cover (keeping the blinis warm)
Nothing increases one’s anticipation than a solid sliver plate cover (keeping the blinis warm)
The set-up--take a blini, smear the creme fraiche and add a dollop of caviar
The set-up–take a blini, smear the creme fraiche and add a dollop of caviar
Wah-la! (we of course didn't get the um Sturgeon heh)
Wah-la!
(we of course didn’t get the um Sturgeon heh)
Delicious cobb salad
Delicious cobb salad
Asparagus, wrapped in cured salmon, with a soft cooked egg
Asparagus, wrapped in cured salmon, with a soft cooked egg
And can't end it without something sweet: Chocolate Lava Cake (beautiful balanced rich flavor--not overly sweet like other lava cakes I've had--with a hint of sea salt to pop through the richness.
And can’t end it without something sweet: Chocolate Lava Cake (beautiful balanced rich flavor–not overly sweet like other lava cakes I’ve had–with a hint of sea salt to pop through the richness.

So after a lunch like that, we definitely needed to walk it off! And luckily, Petrossian is located right at the southern end of Central Park.

Sunday afternoon in the park indeed—with throngs of families, people soaking in the rays and enjoying the gorgeous weather. Now normally I dislike when there are crowds of people in a naturey setting–seems to ruin the natureyness of it all. However this park, which of course is not “natural” but created in the midst of a concrete jungle, the crowds of humanity seemed somehow fitting and actually accentuated the pleasant experience of it. Hearing multiple languages being spoken all around me–I loved it–such a beautiful mix of cultures and people from all walks of life, religions, cultures, professions, ages…it made me feel as cheesy as it sounds, more “alive.”

We walked up towards a little area called Strawberry Fields, in honor of John Lennon’s memory–and lo and behold a motley band had gathered singing lovely raw covers of his music.

Gorgeous trees with shimmering vivid green leaves, branches swaying gently in the breeze and peaceful spanses of grass
Gorgeous trees with shimmering vivid green leaves, branches swaying gently in the breeze and peaceful spanses of grass
Beautiful pathways in zee park
Beautiful pathways in zee park
The lake in the park
The lake in the park
Music in the park- crowd gathers singing along to Beatle's songs
Music in the park- crowd gathers singing along to Beatle’s songs
Imagine indeed :)
Imagine indeed 🙂