Saturday, June 27, 2009

BTO: Bites of the Big Apple

Business Times - 27 Jun 2009


Bites of the Big Apple

James Ching

Former centre director,

New York
International Enterprise Singapore

NEW York City needs no introduction, but is extremely diverse. It is probably better understood as smaller neighbourhoods with distinct personalities - so let's try to unravel them.

Phoebe Buffay's New York

Phoebe, who used to busk on the streets of the West Village and was a freelance masseuse, would be hard pressed to get away with her old vice today (although there are plenty of legit Asian-owned spas today who may still frown at hiring a blond promiscuous masseuse who takes liberties with hunky spa customers). The West Village has been almost entirely gentrified, but its brownstone buildings in tree lined streets still hark back to the New York Singaporeans know from watching Monica, Rachel, Joey, Ross and Chandler.

Most memorable experience in WV: Jazz at the Village Vanguard. Some of the best up and coming national talents perform here in a very cosy and understated venue.

Carrie Bradshaw's New York

Carrie is a successful columnist, eligible single woman who parties at swanky clubs, and shops at the three shoe temples of New York - Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and Manolo Blahnik. Carrie's New York is enshrined along Fifth and Madison Avenues. The surefire way to get another eligible single's attention is still to walk your (preferably pint-sized) designer dog in the parks, toting a Prada dog-bag. Instead of Madison and Fifth Avenues though, try walking your dog in SoHo now, where the younger clientele attracts retailers such as Zara, Uniqlo and Top Shop.

The closest I got to a Sex And The City moment: going to a reception at Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week in 2008, where the tents are tall, the models taller and the cameras flash non-stop.

Jerry Seinfeld's New York

Jerry, the consummate comedian, will probably still find a ready audience for his talents today, but now it is more about business than art. Professional street promoters (and sometimes touts) peddle same night tickets to unsuspecting tourists momentarily bedazzled by the lights of Times Square.

Best Comedy Club Experience: at Carolines' on Broadway (on Times Square) one night when Jeremy Piven of Entourage, Flight of the Conchords, and Craig Robinson (The Office) were headliners.

Betty Suarez's New York

Betty's non-flashy 'hood in Queens is reflective of the real New Yorker today - a non-Anglo-Saxon fairly recent immigrant with a good American degree, hardworking, and trying to support her large extended family while dreaming of living the American Dream. The fashion magazine business, with its prima donnas and hysterics, is best experienced along 7th Avenue in Manhattan - take a stroll near the Fashion Institute's campus (West 25th St).

My most frequented neighbourhood in Queens: Elmhurst Avenue (subway G, R, and V lines), where two sizeable Asian supermarkets (China Supermarket and Hong Kong Supermarket) somehow managed to squeeze in a small but authentic Malaysian/Singapore restaurant between them where freshly made hainanese chicken rice chili sauce brings a tear to many homesick Singaporeans' eyes. The restaurant's name is in true Asian fashion, functional and unpretentious: 'Taste Good'.

New York, New York

If you only have one day in New York, an interesting slice you can try is 42nd Street between the East River to 8th Avenue.

At 1st Avenue, find the Singapore Flag outside the UN building and take a picture, whilst enjoying views of the East River overlooking Queens and Long Island City. Walking West, through 2nd Avenue, marvel at the old houses and buildings. Third and Lexington Avenues bring lofty skyscrapers (including the iconic Citi Center with its sloping roof), while a short detour leads you to popular eateries such as Mr Ks (pricey Chinese patronized by blue chip clients), and Smith and Wollensky's ('if steak was a religion, this would be its cathedral' according to its ad).

At Park Avenue, hit Grand Central Terminal (GCT) and be awed by the constellations painted on the ceilings and check out Oren's Coffee for your mid-day cuppa. Continue west on 42nd Street and you will pass New York Public Library, scene of Jake Gyllenhaal's triumph in Day After Tomorrow. Pet the giant stone lions if you must. Verdant Bryant Park wraps around the Library and is a great place to people watch.

You are now one avenue away from Times Square or 'centre of the Universe' as George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld put it. Pick up discount Broadway tickets at TKTS under the giant 'staircase'. Dive into Toys 'R Us and marvel at the giant T-Rex and equally big Ferris Wheel. End your day with a Broadway show or comedy at Carolines on Broadway. Big shows like the Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, and Wicked are always sellouts so book early. Pre-show dinner options abound, but for an affordable and quick Asian meal with no fuss good service, consider Pongsri (Thai) or Saigon48 (pan Asian) on 48th Street.

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