And so, there I was, standing on the corner of Broadway and 51st. I’d climbed up out of the subway and looked up at the buildings towering above me, and the river of taxis alongside me. Then it hit me— ‘I’m in New York!’
After a morning flight out of San Francisco, I found myself standing at twilight in a city completely foreign to me. San Francisco felt big, Tokyo felt bigger—New York was a whole different story. It felt totally unlike any other city I’d been to before. Lugging my bags towards my hotel, I couldn’t help but feel I’d just stumbled onto a movie set. I’d never visited New York, and as cliche as it may sound, arriving in Manhattan felt dreamlike; until that moment, it was a place that only existed for me on television screens and in movies.
What brought me to New York was a strange sequence of events. There was a bit of a mix up in a photography contest I’d entered. One of three judges chose my photo to be among the three winners, but notified the sponsors too late, and three other winners were named. The prize for winning was an invitation to attend a small private dinner in Brooklyn’s Sunday Suppers. Along with a handful of talented photographers who were chosen to attend the event, the three winners would join photographers Hideaki Hamada, and Justin Chung for a panel talk at the Brooklyn studio. Though I couldn’t be named a winner, the event sponsor, Nirit Gur, kindly offered me an invite nonetheless, due to the mix up. I’ve been a huge fan of both Hamada and Chung’s work for sometime, so it was a chance I couldn’t pass up. I made arrangements and found myself flying to New York that weekend in mid-April.
I arrived in Manhattan the night before the event. Tired and hungry after traveling through space and time, I made way for my hotel.
Just one block from the southern edge of Central Park, you’ll find 1 Hotel (Instagram; Twitter) perched on the corner of 58th Street and 6th Avenue. This lush oasis of a hotel would be my home for the next three nights.
The interior is stylish and modern, with an abundance of verdant and organic motifs. Brick, marble, and Corten steel form the walls of the lobby space, while potted plants and salvaged wood elements bring a softness and an inviting warmth. On the ground floor you’ll find a restaurant called Jams. Though I didn’t get to try it myself, a food editor friend of mine spoke highly of it, so its definitely worth a try!
After checking in I went upstairs to my room to freshen up before dinner.
My room was gorgeous. I almost couldn’t believe how nice it was! Two huge windows flooded the room with soft evening light. The king sized bed had soft linens, and the bathroom was nothing short of luxurious. My room had its own little window garden, and the bathroom too was decorated with plants and reclaimed wood. The shower was a lovely marble, and had a rain-shower head fixed to the ceiling. All the amenities smelled so good! The soaps all had very natural crips scents, some with cedar.
It was so tempting to just rest in the room and read a book, but the city was calling— and my stomach was grumbling. I’d made plans to meet with Erin, a friend I’d only known through Instagram. Upon the suggestion of my food editor friend, we decided to try Ootoya, a Japanese izakaya-style restaurant.
I boarded the subway just a block from the hotel, and made my way towards Chelsea to meet Erin.
I met up with Erin in the Chelsea neighborhood, along the iconic 5th Avenue. After a short wait, we got a seat at Ootoya (OH-toh-yah). The interior was softly lit, and had plenty of tables as well as counter seating, with views into the kitchen. Sliding doors with wooden slats and paper covered lights gave the space the feeling of a traditional Japanese izakaya.
The menu is pretty extensive, offering several options from robata grilled chicken (yakitori) to noodles and sushi. Ootoya’s speciality is teishoku, Japanese meal sets, usually consisting of a main entree, rice, miso soup, and assorted side dishes, often pickled vegetables.
We ordered tea, and both ordered variations of Japanese hambaagu or “hamburg steak” (not to be confused with hamburger). Hambaagu is made from ground beef (sometimes mixed with pork), with chopped onions, egg, bread crumbs, and sometimes other ingredients like miso. Its served on a plate, rather than as a sandwich, and is much lighter and fluffier than an American hamburger. Erin ordered the traditional demi-glace sauce version, while I ordered the ponzu hambaagu.
While we waited, Erin and I talked about life and work. She told me something interesting that struck me, she told me she believed that “life is long,” — a direct opposition to the traditional notion that life is short. On this she said:
“I think so often young people are rushed to be someone, be big, be famous,” she said, “be exactly who and what they dream to be right now. It’s like there’s a lot of eyes watching us to be great. But I try to remind myself that it takes time to fulfill your dreams and that I don’t have to want to grow up to be one thing—like a doctor or astronaut or teacher. I can be many things. But to be many things or any things I try to remember it takes time. maybe I’m not living my “dreams” right now but that’s so totally ok because it’s the journey of everything that is rich, not about the destination. In this day and age, whatever is the destination, it will always be changing because life moves and is fluid and takes time, lots of it. so instead of the classic ‘life is short; you only live once,’ now my philosophy is, ‘you only live once; life is long,’ —and I feel much more comfortable accepting and loving who and where I am knowing that fact.”
I found this viewpoint refreshing. We drank roasted tea, talked about other thing and had a wonderful dinner.
—For the record, the ponzu hambaagu set meal was amazing, and I can’t recommend it enough!
After dinner we headed out for dessert. I remembered a video I saw going around Facebook about a shaved “cream” spot that was in New York. Erin instantly knew I was talking about Snowdays, so we headed to the West Village location.
The streets at night were so vibrant and bright. It was early on a Friday night, and tons of people were out at the many restaurants and bars we passed in the hip West Village neighborhood.
After a short walk, we made it to Snowdays. I’d heard a lot about how good this place was, and was really excited to experience shaved cream. I’ve had shaved ice before, but never shaved cream. Unlike shaved ice, shaved cream uses a frozen dairy base, rather than plain water that is topped with syrup. The result is a fluffy ice cream like treat, and you can customize with a ton of different toppings.
We both ordered the matcha green tea base; Erin got hers with condensed milk, grass jelly and mochi, while I opted for condensed milk and raspberries. I highly recommend this combo! The slightly bitter sweet matcha flavor pairs really well with the creamy condensed milk, and the raspberries are a nice contrast of slightly sour.
After Snowdays I went back to the hotel for some much needed rest. My first night in New York City already had me feeling pretty amazing. Back at the hotel, I was feeling sleepy, but full of anticipation for what tomorrow would hold. I was looking forward to meeting so many talented photographers, and getting to meet Hideaki Hamada and Justin Chung in person at Sunday Suppers.
I snuggled into the covers and fell asleep.
Next up I’ll be sharing photos from the gorgeous Sunday Suppers studio, and relaying some of the interesting points from the panel with Hideaki Hamada and Justin Chung.
Be sure to subscribe to my stories, so you won’t miss the next chapter! If you enjoyed this quick first look into the journey, please let me know by clicking “Enjoy”.