Anyone living in New York City will probably have noticed the proliferation of food markets over the past few years. And while they may seem fairly new, similar concepts have flourished for a long, long time in Southeast Asia. It seems ripe for the current climate though, as foodies move toward more casual (and let’s face it, more Instagrammable) dining options and restaurateurs move toward mitigating risk and reducing overhead.
We’re pretty unabashed brunchaholics. We register an abnormal amount of excitement when a well-regarded restaurant moves from serving dinner only to offering brunch. We’ve got a Google Map with a list of restaurants that we’ve saved, with enough potential suitors to secure a weekend brunch schedule through 2050. But our favorite thing to do AFTER brunch? Head over to Russ & Daughters to pick up bagels, cream cheese, smoked fish and any other number of goodies so we can have a second brunch for dinner.
We can’t possibly be alone, because when you step in there on a weekend, it’s packed to the gills. (Hey, did I just pun?)
I grew up in Malaysia, a small Southeast Asian country that calls Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia its neighbors. It’s a relatively young country, achieving independence only in 1957. It was colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch and then the British, with British rule being the longest. You might be wondering where this is going. This little history lesson is, quite simply, my roundabout way of justifying my penchant for afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea is still a common practice in Malaysia thanks to its colonizers, and many hotels and restaurants offer their take on it. Some keep with the original British traditions and serve scones and sandwiches on tiered plates. Others offer creative variations that incorporate more of the local cuisine. Here in New York City, there are also a number of places to partake in afternoon tea. While you can certainly find impressive spreads at the Ritz Carlton, the Plaza or the Mandarin Oriental, it can sometimes feel a little stuffy under the weight of all that tweed. So I’ve picked out a few places that offer a more informal, fun experience. Just in case you decide to throw your very own Mad Hatter Tea Party.
Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon
My love affair with New York City started out as a long-distance relationship filled with whirlwind visits, teary goodbyes and months of longing in between. As my feelings for it grew deeper, the distance became unbearable and the decision to close the geographical gap became inevitable. Once we were no longer apart, I endeavored to explore it more deeply, anxious to unearth all its secrets. I was enthralled by its charms and blind to its flaws. But alas, time is no friend to commitment. Adorable quirks began to turn into grating annoyances. Fortunately, New York City is a savvy lover: it realizes when it’s been too trying, too needy, too demanding. So it does something special to remind you how great it is. This past Saturday it pulled a little velvet box out of its pocket and gave me Summer Streets.
My obsession with New York City started early, and when I was a college student in Cleveland I would regularly fantasize about a life in the big, bright city. I browsed through the New York Times’ real estate listings and weekend magazines, perused the New Yorker’s articles and cartoons, and pored over New York Magazine’s news and reviews. I’m still a New York Magazine subscriber today because it was quick to move into the online digital arena, where, like the growing majority, I choose to get most of my news now.
New York Magazine has built several successful online brands — The Cut, Grub Street, The Science of Us, and of course, Vulture. Vulture is their entertainment arm, providing movie, television and music news and reviews. A few years ago the Vulture Festival was hatched: a weekend extravaganza filled with panels, performances, and screenings to fill all your pop culture dreams and desires. The third annual festival included a tour of the Met Breuer led by their in-house art critic, a Rent sing-along, and a morning with The Muppets, among many others. Eclectic, to say the least.
Living in New York City is not without its challenges: sky-high rents, overcrowding and a consistently manic pace. But those who suffer it do so for the trade-offs: great art, great food and great entertainment. Besides its 8 million residents, visitors also pass through here in droves, making it a great market for… just about anything. Enter Zoolander 2 and Kiehl’s cross-promotional stunt: The Derek Zoolander Center for People Who Don’t Age Good (or DZCFPWDAG to those in the know).
New York City has mood swings. Really, really bad ones. One moment it can be sweet, seductive, nearly—dare I say it!—tranquil and the next it can be capricious, defiant, and impossibly, impenetrably aloof. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that you have a better statistical chance of winning the Powerball Jackpot (1 in: 292,201,338 in case you were wondering) than predicting which mood you’ll encounter on any given day. This can make planning an infuriating exercise in futility.
Such was the case during one of our recent excursions. We set out late on a Sunday morning with an established agenda: a whimsical visit to a nearby gallery, followed by a properly gluttonous brunch. So easy! And yet the City, from the get-go, simply wasn’t having any of it and wasted no time gesticulating a spirited rendition of it’s signature, passive-aggressive response: thumbs in ears, fingers splayed, eyes glaring, blowing a raspberry.
To start, not one but two buses jumped the schedule. Then, once we descended the steps into the subterranean depths of the station to switch to a train, we immediately noted the ubiquitous MTA Service Advisories, with their prosaic, Helvetica-esqe typeface, haphazardly posted along the platform declaring numerous “service disruptions”. Finally, when we reached our destination—significantly later than anticipated, mind you—the door to the gallery was locked.
Peering through the glass into the dimly lit space, with only the faintest light penetrating the threshold and illuminating sparkling flecks of wafting dust particles, there was the reception desk, with its seat pushed in, empty. We read the stenciled hours of operation on the glass: Wed-Sun, 12-7pm. Then, we revisited their website on our smartphones. Same hours posted there. It was Sunday. It was past noon. What gives? Only after L. (clever woman that she is) called the gallery’s number, was it revealed on their voicemail that they had abruptly changed the days and hours of operation: Sunday—Closed.
We skipped ahead to brunch where the massive number of calories soon extinguished the fire of exasperation in the pits of our bellies. We emerged somewhat pacified, but as we made our way through the East Village down into SoHo, we discovered the following masterpieces along the way:
I’ll confess: I’m a planner. I download maps and menus. I read reviews. But you know that Yiddish proverb, “You plan, God laughs”? That’s what this city does too. You’ll be walking through Central Park on your way somewhere and be mesmerized by a group of a cappella singers. Or you’ll be heading to a favorite dinner spot and be pulled into a small little cafe you’d never noticed before. This city seduces you with its endless possibilities. And Moth StorySLAMs very much embody this sensibility.
For those of you who may not be familiar, The Moth is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art of storytelling. They host competitions all over the country where, similar to an open-mic night, people get on a stage and tell a story. Each event is assigned a generic theme (for example, “betrayal” or “joy”), and the stories are tied to the theme. The stories have to be true, and they have to be yours. And boy, some of them are fantastic.