Saturdays in Brooklyn: Wandering around Williamsburg

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Went to a coffee shop today. It was so amazing that we did half a photo shoot over there…

After a week-long sickness (A cold? Or a flu?) I felt like leaving the house again just for fun again (and not for work). I first got a new haircut in Greenpoint and then wandered through McCarren Park to Williamsburg, where I met up with a friend for brunch. Brunch was Southwestern Style biscuits. Read More »

Projeto Giganto Reloaded: Fast-forward to 2013

My post on the Giganto from May 2012
My post on the Giganto from May 2012

About one and a half years ago I blogged about Raquel Brust, a young artist and photographer from Sao Paulo. Raquel is the founder of the Projeto Giganto (or: Project Giant), a creation that features large-sized images throughout the Brazilian metropolis. Founded in 2008, the Giganto artist has photographed hundreds of Brazilian residents.

Taking these pictures of mostly aged people, she then prints them out in large dimensions and glues them to public places all over Sao Paulo. The contrast between an aged face in a modernized city, an old-fashioned mind and new ideals, and young and old in general is usually the focus of Raquel’s art work.

It’s all about combining different lives and showing the contrast: The focus of her art are people who have grown past a certain age and who have spent a great amount of time in an urban environment which sometimes has a hard time showing a heart and a soul understanding for their generation. They are marked by the pollution, the constant (traffic) noise, and other typical city exposures – attributes which seem universal to other westernized cities, as well.

So one and a half years ago Raquel went on a big international mission and hung her work – the hand of an old person – in Brooklyn’s most driving neighborhood filled with young people, students, and irresponsible hipsters. You get it – the contrast between young and old once again. It was a great success, this mission in Williamsburg, and it was fun to be a part of the nightly excursion and making sure our little group of people wasn’t caught by the cops before we successfully accomplished our goal. You can read more on it here.

Now, at the end of 2013, Raquel and her Projeto Giganto have FINALLY received national attention in Brazil: She has been featured in well-known publications such as National Geography Brasil, Cultura TV, Noticias, Jornal Nacional – to name just a few. Frankly, I’ve always wondered why it took the media so long to get around to her beautiful story and thoughts. But better late than never, right?

Project Giganto featured online.docx

I am happy for Raquel and I hope that one day she will receive even more international attention (other than my faithful blog).

For more info on a great mind and intention, visit the Giganto’s web site and the Giganto’s Facebook page. If you love what you see, just click the “like” button and support her work.

Restaurant Review: Williamsburg Chique and Not-so Chique!

Throughout the past one and a half years I’ve had many chances to try out great and bad restaurants in Williamsburg. It’s only a short hop on the G-train from where I live and it’s very convenient in terms of being able to stay in Brooklyn but still get the busy vibe of Manhattan streets, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, I won’t bother, it’s simply too complicated to explain!

Anyhow, Williamsburg can be very chique once you trot away from the walked-by-many-appreciated-by-few roads of Bedford Avenue and Co. Matter of fact, I rarely even go to Bedford Avenue anymore just because this entire stretch down to the Southside turns into a true frat house atmosphere once we hit the weekend hours. And who needs that when you can simply walk down another street and land somewhere truly interesting? Yes, that’s exactly what I think, too.

Therefore, instead of getting of the Bedford Stop on the L-train, ride one stop further and make your way to Lorimer/ Metropolitan Avenue. It is here where you will find…

1) Dumont

Now this is a pretty chique restaurant compared to some of the washed down bars you have in its proximity (take Union Pool, for example). I’ve come here for birthday dinners and on other occasions. Originally known for its burgers, it has strutted far away from that reputation. One time I tried the shrimp fettuccine, which I can recommend once it is in season again. The veggie ravioli is equally as good. But the true hit was the Dumont Salad with its Danish Blue cheese, radish, pecans and the slightest hint of its balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Dumont's shrimp ravioli
Dumont’s shrimp fettuccine

There is always an appeal to dishes where you can taste they are home-made and not factored down to the conveyer-belt-atmosphere found elsewhere. Dumont also has a great cocktail list but unfortunately I have not yet come around to trying these out. Next time for sure!

2) Dressler

I went here once, for a friend’s birthday. It was pretty amazing. Due to the servers knowing him, we got a higher end treatment (and lots of water refills, even though our glasses were still full). It is owned by the same folks who opened up the Dumont, an already classy joint off of Lorimer. But the Dressler is definitely its higher end version. Look at its proximity to classics such as the Peter Luger Steakhouse and you will understand why. It’s breathtaking and awing but in the end, it is a restaurant. The food is on the pricier side so be prepared to bring your second wallet tucked in your nice tuxedo.
When we went here, we got the butternut squash ravioli. A gift from anywhere but earth! The marinated beets were also appealing and great for starters. They have a nice selection of wine and cocktails, just like the Dumont!

Beets appetizer and home-made pasta
Beets appetizer and home-made pasta

Given the fact that all of this happened post-Sandy (about five days after the mega storm), I was greatly impressed at the freshness of this food and the cheerfulness of the place. We even discovered an Indian actor sitting at the bar (but of course you don’t disturb these people or gawk at them..).

3) Walter Foods

Another goody, especially when it comes to brunch. I can highly recommend their Bloody Mary’s (so rich in ingredients it will make your head swirl when you see the amount of olives you are able to snag). Also, their French toast has left a lasting impression, especially after coming here more than a few times already. If you are not into sweet stuff, try their egg dishes or, even better, oysters. That’s right, they offer oysters for brunch (market price, usually).

Mouth-watering French Toast!
Mouth-watering French Toast!
Oyster time
Oyster time

Walter Foods has an outdoor patio in the back, and it’s especially gorgeous in the late summer/ fall time of the year.

4) Rye

Rye is simply amazing when it comes to brunch, and food, and pretty much everything else. Walking in here was impressive by itself. The décor was very classy, resembling rustic wooden creations in Germany, but then more elegant due to the white table sheets. We sat at the bar, so no white sheets for us. However, after waiting some time for our food to arrive, we did get the chance to taste one of the best gourmet pieces I’ve tried in New York so far!

I ordered a Croque Madame. For those of you who’ve been to France: It’s similar to a Croque Monsieur. The last Croque Unisex I had was in Paris. This one at Rye was so much better than anything I’ve tried in the French capital (I am unsure if this is a compliment or not, but let’s let it sit there for a minute). My friend had the omelet with sides – equally appealing and also tasty.

Croque Madame
Croque Madame
Omelet with side of salad and toast
Omelet with side of salad and toast

I glanced around and saw a random girl order the French toast. It was such a large amount, I would recommend splitting it among two people. Seriously, her oversized plate was clustered with the goodies! Since we were pretty full, we didn’t get the chance to try out their home-made donuts. Next time for sure!

5) Mother’s

Now to the not-so-chique: Mother’s is a joint that has a dive-bar-kinda vibe. Other than that it has one of the best veggie burgers I’ve tried in this area and one of the cheapest. For 7 bucks a pop you can get a full burger. Meat costs extra, I believe you would pay 8 dollars. Cheese is 1 dollar. Then you can choose between either a side of fries for $2 (totaling everything to an even $10) or a basket of fries for $3. For some reason we always end up getting the basket because our thought process is that we can simply share it and save one dollar (instead each of us getting a side of fries). A basket is humongous, though, so half of it goes uneaten. I am not sure if I should approve of the waste of food or the savings of money… They have decent beer, too. Gaffel Koelsch from Austria, who couldn’t say no? If you’re in the Graham avenue area, feel like having solid bar food and not waiting too long, this is the place you should end up at. As simple as that!

Williamsburg is so darn close to Greenpoint that I have decided to come up with a special post on restaurants in the former Polish neighborhood soon. Keep tuning in for the best of the best, or at the very least, the most interesting when it comes to a German discovering her eating ways through New York errr Brooklyn!

My First Halloween Party Ever in America!

This weekend brought a few premieres with it. Aside from the hurricane rumbling up and basically destroying our precious city (read more here), I had the chance to participate in an event I have been burning to be part of: Halloween in New York!

Yes, of course there was last year’s parade with all the craziness and drunkenness going on. Coming from other people, not me, I would like to add. No dressing up for me, no real partying for me. And then my very first year here, in October 2010, we I ended up spending the night before Hollow’s Even sipping a glass of wine with an anxious friend who was blabbing about how dangerous it can be to be out on the streets during Halloween. “You might be mugged by a lone ghost that jumps you in the dark!” he shrieked and was pleased at the effect his words had.

So this year I finally wanted to make it happen. I wanted to be drunk and made up, all messed up, dancing in the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan, or heck, even Queens. My friends sent me a few invites to dubious parties happening throughout the entire weekend. Since Halloween is once again in the middle of the week, all the fun started early and people got dressed up beforehand. Preferably when they didn’t have to work so that they could drink and celebrate at the same time. And oh yeah, when the subways were still working, half the city wasn’t out of power, and no one was too shocked to friggin celebrate. But yeah, let’s please do not get into that!

A long-lost “friend” sent me an invite over Facebook (yes, I am back on the devious site). He probably also sent it to the rest of his 300 something friends, but I thought it would be fun to crash the so-called Club 305 Party in the midst of Williamsburg. Oh had we just known better….

The day before the party, on Thursday, I met up with my one friend to go through one of the biggest costume collections at the New York Costumes around Union Square. I feel that these random Halloween shops pop up all throughout New York the month before the event is scheduled to start. I really don’t know how they manage to rent out a space for 4 weeks only, but after Halloween they are abandoned warehouses or buildings.

Now – the New York Costumes is located in NYU territory, meaning many students were seeking out a fantastic and spooky outfit the night before the weekend started. After shoving through the masses, my friend and I had enough of all the junk and decided to call it the quits. I then met up with friend no. 2 in the noticeably less crowded Ricky’s around the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was here that I managed to snag some fiery red, devilish-good looking accessories for my costume on Friday. My friend bought a “Hipster” outfit for the proud price of 20 (!) bucks: fake glasses, a bow tie, and suspenders… Feeling slightly ripped off, we were nonetheless still happy to finally have found something.

Blurry picture of us on the train

On Friday, we all started in a happy mood: The Hipster, the devil (me), and Roger Rabbit (a cartoon character from 1988, in case you didn’t know). While wandering around Chinatown to look for the right train going to Marcy Ave, we got some curious looks and a mistaken “Easter Bunny” comment (my friend was furious!). Club 305 turned out to be house number 305. We rang and rang and were wondering if it really was worth all the trouble just to crash a party where we most likely did not know anyone…

Then we heard people on the roof and a guy opened the door. “You are trying to get upstairs? Sure, just come up!” It became apparent what kind of party we had crashed: A gay and transvestite party! But what a party it was. After the initial shocking silence, the people resumed their talks and only eyed us every once in a while as we scurried up the steps to the roof in order to get some fresh air. Here we met a friend of a friend someone who knew the friend who had invited me. The guy, as it turned out, had gotten trashed at an after-work-party and was never to show. We, however, had the time of our lives, and our empty vodka bottle proved it at the end of the night.

Surprisingly amazing house party

Since the theme of the party was “Film and Movies,” Roger Rabbit fit right in. She got so drunk that we almost had to carry her back to the subway station when we called it the quits around 2:30 AM. All of us would have never expected to stay at such an extraordinary party for so long but it really was a great time. We met some fun people (not everyone there was gay, evidently), danced with the transsexual host, and were able to feed on some home-delivered cheese pizza. All in all, quite a success story!

Now, party number 2 got all our hopes up just because of how hyped up it was to begin with: 12 bucks just to enter. 2 bands, a live DJ, and mixers… Bam! What a great party this would be! Or so we thought.

At 10:30 PM, while my friend and I sat together and pre-gamed, she received a text message from one of the guys in the first band: “We are re-locating to the Financial District due to unforeseen circumstances!” was his short message. The party was to go down in Midtown and both of us were quite perplex at how suddenly it had been re-scheduled and in what area it was supposed to take place.

Sometime after 11:30 we showed up around Johns Street, ready to have a great but already thoroughly confused evening. With our printed tickets, we marched to the bouncer, just to be blown off from the start: “What is that? Which party are you here for?” he barked at us. A girl standing next to him pulled us to the side and verified our information. “Oh yes, we had to reschedule” she nervously exclaimed while putting yellow bands on our wrists. “It’s all the way on the roof now! I hope you have fun!” she chirped.

Kraftwerk band

The first band, dressed up as Kraftwerk, was having a hard time getting up the stairs with their heavy instruments. We looked at each other. Then we looked at the crowd that seemed mostly underage. And then we go to see two other parties going on while passing through three floors on our way up. There was a hip hop party, most likely with a few drugs here and there. On the roof, people were already drunk. Or on drugs. Who knows. The band was confused as to what to do. A girl dressed up in a blue cop uniform was hopping around, then she squat right next to us and peed all over the band’s instruments.

Grossed out we jumped to the side. Word had it that the cops were downstairs raiding the place. All of a sudden a detective in a suit opened the door to the roof, shone a flashlight into everyone’s eyes, and yelled: “Party’s over! Everyone go downstairs!”

Cops raiding place
Cops trying to get rid of people

What a shock! And what a hot mess! We were scrambling to go downstairs. As we were making our way down, we stepped through a few puddles that looked like more pee. Since there was no bathroom anywhere, people had decided to just go out into the staircase and…
While passing the second floor, we saw about five boys lined up by two NYPD cops. They had their legs and arms in a typical spread-eagle pose while they were standing against the wall. So I really got to see an arrest before I left the place.

Everyone was confused as to how the evening should continue. We ended up in a loft party in Williamsburg where 100 other people had found their way to. I decided I had enough of Halloween until next year and left around 3 o’clock. Boy, what a night! And the best news: Sometime after I left, this place was also raided by the cops! A spontaneous, noisy party in Wburg – go figure!

Bummed out Roger Rabbit

So that was my Halloween in New York. I got to dress up, was drunk, and hung out with some friends. I also got to pay for a really bad joke of a party but now I know that the best parties are probably the free ones! Or the house parties!

Happy Halloween y’all!

The Euro 2012: New York in the Front Rows!

Jubilant crowds of people jumping up and down, making the bar shake and the waiters despair. Five different tricots watching a game of two teams. Many versions of why the winning team was on top but in the end the fun factor determined how great the game had been.

It’s been a month and I still haven’t had the chance to blog about it. The Euro Cup from June 8 to 30 was a wonderful time for New York to demonstrate how embracing this city is towards European soccer. The bars were eager to show how willing they are to accommodate a large mass of viewers. Many fellow citizens couldn’t wait for their favorite team to win, or at least try to win. All throughout the month of June there was a total of 31 matches being carried out on large screens here in the entire city.

Two years ago the World Cup had already channeled a great interest throughout the New York, with more and more bars showing the games on their screens the more they saw how interested the drinking masses were throughout the four weeks of the tournament. Back then I was still working in a bar, so I had the perfect view on every other event and was able to follow every tedious move of the teams. I had a great time watching the rest of the games in the German Loreley in the Lower East Side or the Austrian Blaue Gans in Tribeca. While the German spot was at times way too overcrowded for us to move more than a few inches and was horded by a moody bouncer who wanted to kick me out for smuggling in a bottle of water (Hello? Dehydration?), the Austrian place was depressingly calm during the final match despite a humorous bartender from Düsseldorf. Yes, the World Cup had definitely been an event the first time around and the Euro was soon to follow in the footsteps of its big brother.

Bars were in it again this time. But surprisingly I was able to find even small joints, such as Bark Hotdogs or other “fast-food” places showing the games on a wide-screen set in their spot. More and more people were participating and this year the American team was not even part of the tourney. Not that it mattered much; most American viewers tend to be on the side of any other country but their own. Italy and Spain always being a favorite, it seems. But also Germany was among the top of the notch when it came to jubilant screams and cheering from the American side. With glowing eyes they witnessed how Deutschland won against Denmark. But with angry and sad faces they saw the same team depart when it came to the Germany losing against Italy in the all-or-nothing match right before the finals.

Viewing at Barks Hotdogs

I had the chance to see a total of 7 games throughout the entire season. Of course some German games had been amiss, especially the beginning ones. Work did not grant me off, unfortunately. The entry game I indeed watched at Bark’s Hotdogs. I remember it well, as I was just recovering from my first summer flu and walked into the joint, wondering what all the noise was about. A veggie burger and soccer – a great way to start viewing the Euro Cup, I find.

Other viewings soon followed. Most were indeed just around the corner from where I live, in Fort Greene and our now favorite sports bar called Mullanes. The American-Irish pub miraculously always had two seats open for my friend and me. After a brunch, which usually consisted of a choice between (veggie) burger and fries or egg dishes, we went ahead and enjoyed what little was left of the game. Sometimes the bartender was entertaining enough, especially in the beginning, but of course towards the end of the season the bar got more and more packed, leaving less room to swing over some well-mixed Bloody’s. Yes, we had a fun time in this bar and I can only recommend it to other sports freaks as the screens are of great quality and dispersed throughout the pub.

Which I cannot say of the Blarney Rock Pub around Penn Station, to which I had snuck out on a typical work day (lunch, of course!). During the losing match between Germany and Italy I had been switching from screen to screen, in a desperate attempt to find a TV without a grainy or a shaking picture. Finally, I found a niche filled with other Germans in the last five minutes (including) overtime and was able to witness the single goal Deutschland managed to shoot to defend their position throughout the game. Yes, it was quite depressing, this day, but perhaps not as depressing as Italy must have felt a few days later in the final game. dirty-laugh

The best experience I had (aside from some Mullanes’ viewings) must have been in the humongous Radegast Hall & Biergarten over in Williamsburg. I was with a huge group of German people and already too drunk to say more than “meh.” Their screen was good, the viewers fair, and altogether this memorable Sunday afternoon made out for a great day which ended hopelessly drunk in the streets of the Burg (Note to self: Do not drink superstrong Bloody’s at Juliette’s before going out for the Euro Cup!).

Viewing at the Radegast

So yes, the Euro in New York: It has been a wide success. And if you’re thinking the average crowd consisted of Europeans mixed with a few Americans, you are mighty wrong in this assumption. I would say the average crowd consisted of 75 percent of Americans and the rest was a mix of South and Central Americans and Europeans. I had Americans explain the term “offsides” to me in a more comprehensive way than any German guy has ever managed to blurb out so my respect for this type of crowd has grown over the past two years. And while Europe is known for its Public Viewing and games under the sparkly blue sky, this approach would simply not be feasible in New York. Thanks to the heat wave and summer (and New York bar laws) it was all shoved in a cool room inside.

Brazil is hosting the World Cup in 2014 and I am already looking forward to it. If I am not here anymore and cannot be in Rio either, I know I will find a good game pretty much anywhere!

The final viewing at Mullanes

From Sao Paulo to New York: How a Street Art Project Changes Lives

(images via Raquel Brust)

Last Thursday night in Brooklyn:

A suspicious-looking group is huddled around the Bedford Avenue Stop in Williamsburg. One girl is carrying a huge pipe-like figure, another is hoisting a heavy white bag on her shoulders. The group is in a good mood. First a stop at the local liqueur store, then off to N 5th Street. Only interrupted once by a madman, who is curious if this mixed crowd of cheerful people happens to be on the look-out for aliens.
“I saw them once” he proudly claims. “The Martians came in a huge spaceship. I was close-by when it all happened!” The group giggles and laughs and then continues on its way – with a very different goal in mind.

The girl carrying the pipe-like form is no one else but Raquel Brust, a well-known street artist from Sao Paulo, Brazil. What she is carrying is her newest creation of art: an oversized photography of a woman’s pair of hands in poster-format. To understand her art is to understand the city she has lived in for the past years.

Raquel, who moved to Sao Paulo to pursue a career, quickly found the city anonymous and overwhelming. “I wanted to shut my ears and myself off from the outside world”, she describes her first impressions. “I couldn’t stand the noise, the chaos – everything going on all at once.”
Although she had initially intended on working in the city, she also wanted to give Sao Paulo a personal note. This is why 4 years ago she came up with her own interpretation of street art: the Project Giganto, from which she obtained approval by the city.

Her idea involves taking pictures of mostly aged people, who are marked by the side effects of urban life, and portraying their lives in this very city. Being exposed to Sao Paulo on a day-to-day basis can take its toll on especially the older generation. The constant pollution, (traffic) noise, and even just the fact that life in the city can sometimes be rather anonymous – who really wants to grow old like this?

The photographs are then blown up to a monstrous poster size. Some show a person with a personal item, such as an elderly man holding a picture of his beloved ones. Others are focused on different body parts. For instance, in her first year of creating the project she took the face of an old Brazilian native and glued it to the windows of an urban family. “It’s all about the contrast: Shooting pictures of people who will never be used to certain attributes of the city and putting their faces on well-known places that have a lot of foot traffic”, she explains in her charming Brazilian accent.

The artist in front of her own work
How far-reaching her work can be
(all images via Raquel Brust’s Web site)

Raquel wants people to stop and think about what her art could mean. She therefore started hanging her photographs in places that were once common meet-up points of an area and that have been destroyed by the city or government to make room for new but to her eyes ugly buildings which mean nothing to the citizens who have lived there for so long.

Important to her is to bring some human presence to the big city – a place she considers rather inhuman and impersonal. Therefore, an ordinary object is brought to an extreme and hung on popular places throughout the city – for the past 4 years already. Each year has been different as she focused on a different topic. And 2012 was the year she decided to bring her Giganto to the Big Apple.

The group she is with this night is a mixed assembly of folks: Her Brazilian friend, her friend’s cousin, two guys who are seeking out an adventure, and me. All of us have probably only one thing in common: We have never hung up posters in the middle of the night in Brooklyn and we are all very interested as to where the night will lead us.

It is first all about finding the right spot. Raquel is good, she comes prepared. She wants it right there, on a well-lit construction site (which is likely to be monitored by security cameras). Although she was here only a few days ago, her favorite spot is now taken by random ads that take up one side of the wall. And here is where her respectful manner can be detected: Instead of tearing the ads off, like one of us suggested, she walks up and down the street to find a different spot. “No, because then they could do it with mine, too,” she declares. The rules of street art – she is familiar with them.

After some back and forth, the artist finally starts unwrapping her tools and wants to get it on with. By now it’s probably 12 PM. A street full with bars and drunk people is only one block over. Although two cop vehicles pass the scene within only five minutes apart, we decide to continue the project. Two people position themselves on different street corners to look out for police cars.

Raquel, her friend, and another helper start unwrapping the two posters and drag them across the street to its new home. Each poster depicts a hand of an unknown older Brazilian woman. The Brazilian artist decided not to give the poster a face. Instead, she chose this picture to show the contrast between the very young neighborhood and the old hand which will never get a chance to see it. Williamsburg seemed to her the neighborhood she saw the most change in the past few years. Its transformation from a traditional neighborhood to a trendy and over-generalized spot where the masses stream for enjoyment was exactly where she wanted to set an example.

They have to work fast in the dark. The first hand tears. Raquel tries to fix it with glue, but her efforts end in vain. By then, 10 minutes have already passed. The artist and her helpers decide to disregard the first hand and roll out the second poster. This one also starts to tear beneath the oversized thumb but it can still be fixed in the very last stride. No one tries to think about the fact what a fruitless night it would have been otherwise.

The last straw of the Giganto in NYC

After a good ten minutes, she steps away and critically examines her work: A monstrous picture of a woman’s hand right there, on a bustling street in the heart of Williamsburg. The guards are called away from their look-outs. Raquel still fiddles around for another 5 minutes. The paper wrinkles have to be straightened and the right side of the picture still needs some more glue – here and there. “I like the tangible feeling of glue and the waves of the paper. It makes me feel I am creating something, this is work with my hands,” she says happily.
The rest of the group is slightly panicking and urges her to leave the poster alone before the cops show up around the next corner.

Then it’s done! Project Giganto has found its way into the most populated city of the USA. Everyone is thrilled and excited to have been part of this. Whiskey disguised in a bottle of vitamin water is handed out. Raquel and her two friends who hung the poster are full with glue but also carry a very special glow on their faces: The glow of having been part of something that withholds a big meaning in another big city. The glow of having been part of art with such a complex history but that looks so easily created on the blue background …

Joyful jump in front of the finished poster!
The artist and her remains of the second poster

With tears in her eyes, Raquel finishes her interview before she gets drunkenly lost in the streets of Williamsburg. “The people back in Brazil do not forget about the Giganto. It meant a lot to them four years ago, when the project started,” she describes. ”And it still means a lot to them today. They are the very first to call me every year on my birthday. Their faces hanging in Sao Paulo – they still sometimes cannot believe it!”

Her art can be found on the streets of Sao Paulo (make sure to go through this city with your eyes wide open!), in London, and now in New York City. Keep an eye out for the monstrous hand decorating the construction site on the corner of N 5th St and Wythe Ave. Now you know the story!

The Giganto at night….
… the Giganto at day!
and Raquel’s very own interpretation of it!

[Find out more about Raquel Brust here!]

[Find out more about the Project Giganto here!]

[Find what else Raquel is up to here!]

If You’re Ever Looking for Good Mexican Food in New York….

I already forewarned you in Diablo Royale back in October of 2011. There are plenty of good (alternative) Mexican places to visit here in the Big Apple and I claim to have found at least four other decent ones.

My friend and I came here straight from Germany with practically no previous knowledge of good Middle-American food. Taco Bells and some disappointing Mexican joints on the German economy weren’t really a great hit to both of us.
He was the first one to discover the small spot Dos Toros right next to Union Square. I imagine he just came across it on a random weekend day, as Union Square used to be our favorite spot to hang out in the Spring of 2010. Either way, Dos Toros has still proven to be a representable food place when it comes to the Tex-Mex cuisine. Their serving sizes are pretty huge compared to what you would get elsewhere. And instead of making up the size with high prices or crappy food quality, you actually do purchase a good tasting piece at a reasonable price. Dos Toros was mentioned in the New York Times and Time Out New York in 2010 – in this case it was for a good reason.
I still like to go back once in a while just to taste their delicious tacos or burritos when the appropriate appetite overcomes me every so often. Their menu is easy to oversee and even though the line can be quite long during certain hours, there is no reason to be discouraged of trying this place out.

The line at Dos Toros...
Dos Toros at Union Square

A second, really nice, quick dining spot I’ve only discovered a couple of months ago is what I like to call the hidden gem of the East Village: The underground taqueria called Snack Dragon! While going on a pubcrawl through this part of Manhattan, my friend recommended the sweet joint to me. It is indeed so inconspicuous that I would have stumbled past it, not even paying attention to this Taco Shack. A variety of sides for the total amount of 12 bucks bought each of us a meal that filled our bellies and left us with the feeling that we had indeed feasted on something special. I call the Snack Dragon the alternative choice to Mexican cuisine as you order dishes as exotic sounding as Quinoa Pilaf and Quack’-n’Cheese. The dishes might seem like a culinary adventure to you but I encourage you to go down this road, you will be positively surprised. So I’ve come to see that I really like to feast on tacos filled with Quinoa, cilantro, and a great mix of vegetables once I am in the area. Luckily, the Snack Dragon is open quite late and it is worth the stop if you’re stumbling out of an Irish, German, or any other pub, searching for an edible midnight meal.

Quinoa Pilaf at the Snack Dragon
The funky inside of Snack Dragon

A highly recognized place in Manhattan has also opened up in Brooklyn and can now be found in both boroughs: La Esquina! Yes, the spot where celebrities go and where you can only sit downstairs when you made your reservation well in advance (at least two weeks ahead of time). I really don’t know how my friend heard of this one but one summer day in June I found myself sitting with him there and simply enjoying the best of spicy side dishes served on the upstairs level. The price is okay for this spot, but what can be rather annoying is the amount of scarcely dressed girls who are trying to get in to the downstairs area by sweet-talking the bouncer (at least in the Manhattan location). I highly recommend this place on Kenmare Street. It’s close to the Canal Street stops and would make a fantastic detour from a trip to Chinatown or Little Italy.

Another restaurant to recommend is seated in Williamsburg: la Mesa Coyoacan (yes, it has the exotic name dreamt of). I’ve fallen for their four dishes of Salsa which are served at every entrée you order. The servers actually take their time and willingly explain them to you once they notice you’re new to the place. Of these four, one is the least spicy and one is very spicy, so be careful not to confuse the two. I recommend their Tacos De Camaron, three shrimp creations which can very hot, so prepare for it. Their Enchiladas Verdes are equally fantastic and might be the better option if you’re really hungry, as they are served in big portions.

Shrimp Creation at the Mesa

In general, it’s more about the seemingly unimpressive places that will blow your mind when it comes to tacos, quesadillas, and decent Mexican cuisine in New York. I will always remember one hella birthday in December during which my German friend and I sat in the most disgusting looking spot in Williamsburg on the border to Bushwick and couldn’t comprehend how this little taco shop could have the best burritos we’ve ever eaten to that date. Europeans and maybe even fellow Americans might think that a place that looks rundown from the outside is most likely not worth trying out but my experience has taught me different in New York. I would suggest to go for it, try out some of the food, and indulge in the culinary experience brought to you!

Welcome to the New Year!

January 2, 2012 (!)!

And I am finally able to drag myself in front of a computer, not to mention to sit and stand. This has indeed been my first New Year’s celebration in the city of millions. As last year I had been making a trip out to visit some family in Philly (more to come in a different post, that is a promise), this year there was no back-up plan to escape the New Year’s Eve madness surrounding the Big Apple.
I know, most tourists come here just FOR this season. However, people who actually LIVE here try to stay away from Manhattan as much as they can. It’s just no fun being squashed in the horrendous mass of foreigners and locals that has mysteriously accumulated over night at Times Square. I already had this experience on an unforgettable July 4th (read more here) – I was definitely not in the mood to experience it another time.

My friends all had their neat plans of evasion laid out. Most were out of town. Off to Chicago, New Orleans or other exotic places. I knew I would stay in Brooklyn. There was no way I would have paid those $200 for a club in the Meatpacking District just for one night. This price did not necessarily include an open bar. Yes, New York can be ridiculously overpriced during certain times. So Brooklyn posed to be the (fiscally) safer solution. Most likely Williamsburg, as there were more options in bars than in the Slope. A few friends and I got together earlier on in the last day of 2011 (sounds so … memorable!). A few glasses of champagne kept the party rolling. At around 10 PM we made our way to the first stop during that NYE: Night of Joy, a quaint bar with an open rooftop for hot summer days and a comfortable interior in 20ies style for cold winter months. Which was exactly the bizarre thing: This year both Christmas and New Year’s have been excitingly warm. Not even close to freezing temperatures. Rewind to one year ago and you would have found us in the midst of mud puddles and snow mountains… Brrr!

One of those many glasses of champagne...

This time you wouldn’t have needed a winter jacket, not necessarily. So hanging out during that night was a bunch of fun. Of course there were no fireworks. New York is one of those weird cities were fireworks are only allowed on July 4th. I guess if you want to feel the crackles and see some colors, you shouldn’t stay here. I didn’t really mind it this year. We still headed outside around midnight, albeit there was not much to see outside. Our group made friends with three nice French people, who were a bit disappointed with how their night was going. “Paris is the best city to be in for New Year’s,” one claimed nostalgically. Well, if you want the big party, you better pay those 200 bucks, fella! Otherwise it’s private parties or bar-time over here.

(nostalgic) French people

Which turned out to be surprisingly fun this year! We went on to two other spots whose places I don’t remember and had a few more drinks. Everyone was out on the streets and having a good time.

The next morning and entire day was quite awful. I guess I spent my entire January 1 inside, a krass contrast compared to the day before. And I am about to swear to myself that I won’t drink for the next few weeks, but we will see how that goes. The first day of 2012 was also surprisingly warm. With 10 Celsius it almost felt like spring! Today winter has arrived though. Two more months for a change in weather to kick in.

I hope you had a good time, too, and Happy New Year from the City of 8 Million!

Christmas in New York

One of my favorite seasons in New York is this time of the year! Christmas and the days leading up to New Year’s Eve are simply amazing. I would have never imagined a city could be brighter than Paris and bear ornaments more colorful than in the City of Lights. But when Christmas came around one year ago, the first significant holidays I spent in New York, I witnessed the fast change of this hectic city to a festive one – within days so to speak.
I have never really been the one who plans much for Christmas. It used to be a day spent with family and eating huge amounts of food. But last Christmas was different, of course. My family was far away. And friends came to visit me from Germany. They flew in on Christmas Eve, which is an important day in my home country. We already give presents on the evening of the 24th, as opposed to unwrapping them on the morning of the 25th. In Deutschland, this holiday also lasts until the 26th, which is the Second Day of Christmas.
So my friends flew in right when the holiday was about to start. One was jetlagged, the other joined me and my roomies in preparing a fine buffet underneath our Christmas tree. The first Christmas I actually had a Christmas tree in the place I lived (aside from living at home). We then went to the HUGE TREE in Rockefeller Center and walked around Radio City Hall and other parts of Midtown Manhattan. The Second Day of Xmas proved to be the day the biggest snowstorm of the 21st century hit New York, but that is part of another story.

Last year Xmas
Rockefeller Tree 2010

My point is: Last Xmas had been good. It hadn’t been lonely and sad, but rather filled with many people, good food, and presents. This Christmas was different in some ways but nonetheless still entertaining. I spent it in Williamsburg at my friend’s house. We cooked a well-tasting sweet potato casserole together and mixed some Brussels sprouts with squash underneath it. We even made our own pumpkin pie, which tasted so good, I am inclined to make my own pies from now on!

The highlight of Christmas’ Eve was our home-made Glühwein or Glögg, whichever variation you prefer. Warm wine enriched with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange peels, raisins, almonds, and whatever else you desire. Ours had a bottle of Brandy in it, as well, because we made it according to a Swedish recipe. It was so good, that we drank it within two days (for four liters of alcohol that is not too bad, ay?). The first day of Christmas was a rerun of last year: Taking the train up to the Rockefeller Center, shooting pictures of the Tree, this year during daytime. I noticed, albeit it was still impressive and huge, it looked just like last year. Even the colorful decoration was the same. The tourist masses are quite annoying around that area, so we walked away, but still with the flow. Then off to the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, only four blocks away. They were about to start a mass and people seated themselves. We didn’t stay for it.

Glühwein for Xmas
Part of our dinner...
This year's Rockefeller Tree

Then a surprise Christmas party at my friends’ house only 2 minutes away in Williamsburg. The newly-wed couple had made lasagna and eggplant dishes and invited their friends over for a bubbly wine party. I guess they still had a lot of leftovers from their wedding last month and wanted to share their “champagne” treats with everyone. Every guest added a bottle of sparkling wine, so that everyone was in quite a good mood when they left five hours later. We had a blast, eating the food, making fun of their adopted cats, chatting with each other, and getting to know everyone.

Christmas Party Round 1

Ikea was open on Monday, and I got to redeem one special Christmas present: My first bed in New York! After 20 months in this city, I had never possessed a real bed. I slept on a mattress in my first apartment. A futon that you could fold in and out in twin size was my second choice of sleeping. But this time, in my new apartment, I got a full-size bed with a fancy mattress. New York almost feels like home now… It definitely is an improvement from sleeping on the floor or crappy futon quality.
The Second Day of Christmas, or rather December 26, my friend invited me to a house-party in Sunset Park. A few of the guests I knew already. Everyone brought a dish of food, except for me, I made Glühwein right there. The group consisted of a variety of different cultures and people: The Bronx-bound New Yorker who had been here forever. The German who had moved here less than two years ago. The Jewish teacher, who worked in special-ed. The Asian who liked to travel. And other characters mixed into the group. We sat together well after midnight, until everyone started to disperse into the night. Tuesday was a working day for many.

Christmas Party Round 2

And that was pretty much how I spent Christmas this year. I got to meet many new people, dine at many different tables, and drink from many glasses.

Although I love this holiday in New York, I am unsure about New Year’s Eve. Last year I hurried out to Philly, which ended up being a phenomenously great weekend. But this year I don’t have real plans other than searching for a good party in Brooklyn. Avoiding Manhattan and those parties at which you pay 200 Dollars just to get in is my main goal for the last day of this year. And so it goes, two more days of 2011. An eventful year has come to an end and I am looking forward to an exciting 2012. May more travels, more acquaintances, more experiences happen. Which I am sure they will!

A Happy New Year to the people from WordPress!