soho saturday

My sister and her partner flew up from Texas for a conference in NYC, so we spent a nice Saturday in Soho. I recommend each of these stops:

Quickly Shabu Shabu is a tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked away in the hustle and bustle of Chinatown (photos courtesy of nitrolicious). From the outside looking in through its steamy window, you can only see a crowded take-out counter, but there is actually a backrooom with 5-6 tables featyring hotpot portals in front of each seat. For those not familiar, Shabu Shabu is a Japanese DIY cooking method most commonly acheieved by swishing thinly sliced meats and various seafood with your chopsticks in a table top hot pot.

I know what you're thinking - Shabu Shabu in Chinatown? Sounds suspicious right? All I can say is that the food exceeded the ambience. There's an old call-and-response joke in our family where one of us justifies the cost of a fancy restaurant by saying "we're paying for the ambience" only to receive the reply of "What? I don't see ambience on the menu?!". Think of this as the opposite. Place looks crappy and service is lazy but the food is decent and you make the most of the surroundings. With good company, the environment transforms from hole-in-the-wall to cozy. The four of us shared stories, sipped bubble tea and shabu shabu'd 3 platters of meats, seafood and sirloin. Not mindblowing, but it was a great lunch on a colder than normal spring day.

The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz, located on Broome Street between Mott & Mulberry, opened in 2005 and is only the second church dedicated to Filipinos outside the Philippines. The first one was The Basilica of Sta. Pudenciana in Rome. The Chapel itself is fairly small and modest. The main area can probably hold 200 people and features dark wooden chairs in place of pews. The lobby area features community photos of priests and parishioners celebrating mass and sharing meals. As we walked in to "light" an electric candle, we observed a choir rehearsing hymns with familiar inflections interrupted by conversations in taglish.

I am not a religious man. I believe in God but not so much in religion. God is God and religion is interpretation. Depending on your experience, sometimes the interpretation is good natured; other times the interpretation is misleading and self-serving. History has consistently demonstrated the questionable role of organized religion in various world conflicts. I have problems with the agenda based presence of religion in politics and despise religious intolerance as much as racism. I suppose every organization is susceptible to corruption, but how serious do you take their efforts to evaluate themselves when they typically brush problems under the rug and reaffirm their holier than thou attitude. Youth and cynicism may be coloring my perspective at this moment and many people become more religious as they age or encounter a crisis, but like I said, in the grand scheme of things, I have a belief in God and a natural inclination to question interpretations.

At the "grass-roots" level, I appreciate the sense of community that it fosters and I respect people who find comfort in their religion - no matter what their belief system. Judging by my short visit to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz, I can see and appreciate that the Filipino Apostolate in NYC does a great job of promoting togetherness and involvement.

Enough religious talk. On to shopping! Uniqlo on Broadway always delivers the goods - unfortunately none of the goods were in my size. But my companions fared better. Uniqlo has a cool new series of t-shirts based on manga characters that appear in Kodansha's Weekly Shonen Magazine and Shogakukan's Weekly Shonen Sunday. Its sure to be a hit among American shoppers and hipsters who gush over Japanese denim and pop culture. The crowd at the store was full of urban hipsters wearing their regulation uniform of tight jeans, retro hi-top kicks and bright colors. I ran into a few Retro Kids wannabes with hi-top fades.

After exhausting ourselves in the hectic sidewalks of Broadway, we escaped to window shop in the more peaceful and expensive stores in Soho. We made a brief pit stop at a small cafe on Prince Street. By small, I mean shoulder to shoulder. Living in suburban Jersey makes you accustomed to an ample amount of personal space and it takes some time to acclimate yourself to the cramp quarters of the city. Anyway, the name of the establishment escapes me, but they serve some heavenly pecan pie. The Pecans were huge and the pie filling had a moist, almost gelatinous consistency with the right amount of sweetness.

We finished off the night with a dinner at Cendrillon with a few of my sister's contemporaries in the world of academia. I've written extensively on this place before and all I have to add this time is that the lechon was spot on. The textures and flavors were spot on: the unhealthily declicious fatty parts melted in your mouth as the crunchy skin enhanced the saltiness and stuck to your teeth. It was more than filling but I couldn't deny myself the customary halo-halo to finish the evening. Surprisingly, this group of accomplished academics were actually entertaining. I'm poking fun, but even though their professional world is foreign to me, its so easy to find humor in our common background. I'm sure my wife would also agree that it was nice to sit with a table full of smart, talented and creative filipinos.


Find It