Sunday, February 21, 2016

Communal Noshing in an UrbanSpace

It is the darkest days of February. And frankly, the runway to February wasn’t all that great either. Zany came down with strep throat and spent Christmas in the ER. I’ve recently recovered from a virulent bout of food poisoning and have been living on a steady diet of saltine crackers and Chicken and Stars soup.  The soup just doesn’t taste as good as when I was a kid. We are desperately in need of a little culinary excitement.

Zany proposes the remedy – a lunchtime excursion to UrbanSpace.  What is Urban Space, you ask?  Is it a new type of apartment? Or, a posh new department store?  Maybe a new club?  A short walk from Grand Central Station, UrbanSpace Vanderbilt is built into a 1929 space that flanks Park Avenue and it is home to dozens of food stalls.

Zany meets me inside the door at the 45th Street entrance and pulls me into a throng of hungry people who are queuing up at various food stalls for an early lunch.

“This place is basically like a food cart parking lot with a roof,” she explains.  “And there’s a bar so we can drink, too,”  she adds, with just a bit of glee in her voice. 

Lunch is about to take on a whole new dimension.  

Zany has already done recon, and gives me a quick overview.  “We’ve got Ramen noodles in this corner, dumplings to the left, a pretty decent chicken sandwich in that corner, and near the back they serve crepes and wine.” If she ever decides to change careers, concierge might be the way to go. 

The space has an industrial feel, framed with steel columns and girders. A torrent of polished, well-coiffed professionals are streaming into the space which is quickly taking on the rowdy feel of a tailgate party at Giant Stadium.

My eyes and stomach seem drawn to the Ramen noodles, but the line is pretty long, as it’s all made to order.  Zany eyes the competition.  

“I’d say that’s about a 20 minute wait,” she calculates.  “We’ve got to move faster if we want to sample as much as possible.”  Thus begins what can only be described as an international grazing experience.  

She pulls me towards the Hong Kong Street Cart – which looks more like a New York apartment-sized kitchen than a cart.  
“Appetizers?” she asks, and orders dumplings and scallion pancakes.  As we wait for our food, a chorus line of fetching felines provides a little entertainment.
We carry our food through an obstacle course of picnic tables.  Seating is already hard to come by, but we manage to squeeze into a small, partially occupied picnic table on the other side of the floor. 

“Doesn’t this take you back to the elementary school cafeteria?” asks Zany.

The dumplings are chubby, dimpled pillows of delight, served with a soy dipping sauce. The scallion pancakes are bronze and crispy, cut in kid friendly triangles.

It’s time to move onto our main course, and we debate the wisdom of giving up our seats. Fortunately, there is ample seating at a nearby bar, and with a blink of the eye, we are instantly transported to a German Oktoberfest.  

The Weihenstephan food stall bills itself as “the world’s oldest brewery,” which is cool because you know how we love a backstory.  The added bonus is they are serving German hot-spiced wine. 

We take a moment to debate the wisdom of imbibing on a work day (an afternoon document deadline creating one major obstacle) but in the end, the old adage “When in Bavaria” wins out and within minutes, we are giddy over our Gluhwein.

For our main course, we select a mountainous Reuben Sandwich, and what appears to be a foot long pork sausage slathered with a garnish of mustard and chips.  
Zany takes a bite of the Reuben – tender corned beef buried in tart sauerkraut – and proclaims sarcastically, “Oh that’s terrible.”   She then consumes her half in record time.  The pork dog does not disappoint.  We are feeling in a festive mood.  It all washes down so easily with that mug of Gluhwein.  It leaves us both with a warm glow, which is appropriate since Gluhwein is roughly translated as “glow wine.”

Zany leans back and muses, “I think this place can become our winter refuge.”  Yes, our winter refuge along with three thousand of our closest friends.

We discuss the possibility of indulging in crepes for dessert, (France is close to Germany, right?) but we decide that the Reuben sandwich and pork dog has been quite the formidable experience, so we hoist ourselves out of our seats and make our way over to a friendly little bakeshop called Ovenly. 
There, we split a yummy and dense Chocolate Truffle Cookie sprinkled with sea salt.  After all, we wouldn’t want to over indulge.  It’s the kind of cookie that leaves instant chocolate marks on your front teeth. 
Late that afternoon I get a text from Zany, that says, “For the record, I actually did some writing this afternoon. Apparently all those calories made for good inspiration.”

My response through heavy eyelids is,  “My productivity has been nominal at best.” 

I never did get those Ramen noodles and crepes, but Japan to France is a whole different itinerary.  I’m checking flights even as we speak…

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