I hate Times Square. While the bright lights are noteworthy, and can be mesmerizing (I begrudgingly admit), the throngs of slack jawed tourists staring blankly up into the sky or otherwise just looking lost make my blood pressure soar. They make me want to punch them in the face or yank their cameras and run. Normally a demure person, Times Square turns me into a hard-charging, elbow-throwing neanderthal, growling and hissing at innocent bystanders.
So I thought of it as a personal challenge when a friend suggested a visit to Taste of Times Square. Having worked in the area before, I was skeptical of the restaurants that would be presenting. Times Square isn’t exactly known for it’s culinary delights, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to subject myself to the uncultured masses, lines and other ridiculousness to eat a tiny plate from Hard Rock Cafe or Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. But a tiny voice said, “You’re so jaded. Just go! It’ll be an experience, if nothing else. You might be pleasantly surprised!”
So I get there and immediately have to stop myself from hyperventilating, freaking out and leaving when I enter the fray. I squeeze around, starving, and trying to see what’s on people’s plates, what looks good. The first thing I notice is the mob around the Virgil’s tent. When I worked in the Bryant Park area, I ordered a fried chicken po-boy from Virgil’s every Friday, so I was no stranger to it’s charms. However, I dodged the line my friends stood in and went for a dry-ish chicken sandwich from the Stadium Grill at Bowlmor Lanes (sparse on the condiments… the individual layers were good though). But not pic-worthy. I continued walking and became intrigued by the prospect of a raw oyster with creamy Guinness (yes, the beer) sauce on it. It was disgusting and a bad idea. I spit it out.
It was fun to see giant shrimp or anthropomorphic bowling pins in bibs dancing around to some pretty impressive blues music throughout the festival, but the best food by far was above 46th St. Toloache was serving up Tacos al Pastor spiked with pineapples and cilantro, Brasserie 1605 was serving up lobster potstickers with asian slaw, and there were two amazing desserts, a strawberry shortcake with some sort of fruit-mousse, and the killer, bananas foster cheesecake, which I was too full to actually eat. I think the cheesecake was from Ruby Foos. The shortcake was forgettable. But again, I could barely keep straight which restaurant was serving what between the music and the hungry throngs pushing each other around.
At 7:00pm, with one hour left, we realized that we were far too sober to be pushing through a bunch of sweaty tourists, so we made a detour to the $5 happy hour at Brazil Brazil on 46th. The caipirinhas needed extra sugar, but for $5 we didn’t complain. Two quick rounds, then we made our way back for the last of the festival. I had another plate of lobster potstickers (forgot to take pics, I was so busy gorging). The best part of the festival, though, was the lady hawking plastic ziplock bags for people to “take home” some of the food. We actually saw folks with entire bags of wings, ribs, etc. It would’ve never occured to me in a million years to bring ziplock bags to an event of this nature, much less sell them. But it’s that hustler ingenuity, the enterprising spirit of New York and it’s endless opportunities. It manifests itself in every nook and cranny of the city, from the darkest corners of a block to the penthouse suites of the same, all in pursuit of that nameless dream.
Reason #1 why I absolutely LOVE New York City.