I had all my lists ready – To See, To Do and To Eat. Well begun is half done, they say. So the American trip promised to be really hectic.
Topping the `To Eat’ list was a simple entry – `One cheesecake per day’. Ambitious, I agreed, impossible Puja predicted. American portions, she assured me, were humungous.
The list wasn’t too grand. Chinese take away out of a white cardboard box, a fresh hot dog from a Manhattan cart, ice cream out of a tub, and of course burgers of every description (we have no qualms over meat of any kind – just about anything and everything is kosher).
Having landed at Newark and proceeded to our accomodation at Edison, NJ, we proceeded to tick off the Chinese take away. If Edison wasn’t disappointing enough (one felt one had landed at a Bangalore suburb), the Chinese take away was even worse – it tasted of the cardboard it was packed in, and we had to junk most of it. As starts go, it was inauspicious to say the least.
Off the next morning to Atlantic City. First stop – the world famous Nathan’s Hot Dog. Disappointing. The relish (their version of chutney) lacked punch, and Sowmya wouldn’t permit onions. So bland. The `funnel cake’ – again Sowmya’s recommendation – was just ok, nothing to write home about. American food – where art thou??? The answer lay in Atlantic City’s much touted `White House Sub'. At long last, we were actually tasting America!
|The Philly Cheese steak|
Off to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Cheese steak is world famous, and the one at Jim’s really lived up to its billing. The beef was tender, juicy and the sheer volume of the cheese made my arteries scream in protest! The next morning we tried the `street food’ version – off a cart just outside the Independence Hall, and it was, well, good.
Pork is a meat we generally avoid eating in India. Although the `pulled pork’ burgers we tried at Arby’s were quite good (Sid and Sowmya, do I see you salivating?), what was really WOW were the prime ribs we had at Jack Fresh at DC, and Home at LA. Tender, juicy and smothered with Barbeque sauce, these were worth walking miles to eat (and with the traffic/transportation scene at LA, we actually did walk miles to eat it!).
|Clam chowder soup|
Sea food is on my `take it or leave it’ list generally, but the clam chowder soup, served in a bowl made of bread (yes, a huge hard crusted bun with the insides scooped out) at the Fisherman’s Wharf at SF was a definite `TAKE IT’. After a ferry ride, which takes you around the island of Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge, all the while spraying you with the ice cold Pacific, the piping hot clam chowder is a God send!
|The iHop Breakfast|
The breakfast in America varies from the humble `bagel and cream cheese’ to the king’s ransom that the iHop restaurant dishes out. Philadelphia cream cheese, thankfully, is now also available at Pune (at Dorabjee’s), and am now scouring the local bakeries for a genuine cinnamon-raisin bagel.
Mexican food is a big hit on the West Coast, and the ubiquitous `Chipotle’ is a household name. But it left me quite cold. Imagine taking a roomali roti, and wrapping some rajmah-chawal in it, along with some sauce, some pickles and some greens – boy, these Mexicans must be really famished!
America is sandwich country. They have sandwiches and sandwiches – some even stuffed with, I kid you not, French fries! But the `Ike’s Sandwich Place’ in SF serves some of the most delicious, if messy, sandwiches. They even have a `Meatless Mike’ for the vegans!
Sukh, more on a whim than anything else, has turned vegan. So his frig has loads of `vegan’ sausages, and chunks of `vegan’ chicken. They are said to look and taste `just like the real thing’. But I wasn’t fooled for a moment. They look awful, and as for the taste – it’s like Hugh Jackman says in the Micromax ad - `They’re nothing like anything!
Have never been much of a pizza man. But the Chicago deep dish pizza at Patxi’s in SF, topped with two farm fresh eggs, was something else!
The sweet tooth of the Puris is legend. To add to that, I am an unabashed ice cream fan. And go ahead and de-friend me if you will, but the classic vanilla is the ONLY real ice cream! Add ons and toppings are a strict no no, except at Cold Stone Creamery.
There, ask for the cookie dough. The attendant takes two generous scoops of French vanilla, tosses them in the air with a flourish, and slams them on to the eponymous `cold stone’ slab. She then adds some cookie dough, some caramel and kneads the creamy mix before scooping the whole thing into a cup (or a cone). That, in short, is heaven in a cup (or a cone).
At San Francisco, there’s an ice cream outlet called `Smitten Ice Cream’. Here, they pour the ice cream mix into a churner, and pass liquid nitrogen through the mix as it churns. Liquid Nitrogen, at an astounding minus 198.5 degrees Celsius, instantly freezes the mix before your eyes. Since the process is instantaneous, there’s no time for crystallisation at all, and what you get is the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you can ever imagine. My choice of flavour? Classic vanilla of course!
|The Super-duper burger|
The third ice cream that is literally to die for is the `frozen custard’ they serve at Shake Shack. Now if you ever visit New York, you could give the Statue of Liberty a miss, you could skip the Empire State Building, but you cannot, you must not skip the burger at Shake Shack. We went to the outlet off Central Park, and had the juciest, smoothest, melt in the mouth burger imaginable. Despite being stuffed to the gills, we ordered a second round, and my resoundingly vocal `Oohs’ and `Aahs’ almost got me thrown out of the place (I totally ignored the glares of my children). I topped this with the frozen custard, and almost went to heaven!
And lastly, the best, the one single reason I want to migrate to the States – the original New York cheesecake! Walk into any outlet of the Cheesecake Factory, ignore all the other (30 odd) flavours laid out, and go straight for the original – the New York cheesecake. You don’t just want to eat it, you want to marry it, take it home, and make love to it – it’s that good! Oh, how I miss you, sweetheart!