College reflection: The “good old days” that make today good

Visiting a place you called home for sometime and then moved far away from always brings forth a plethora of emotions and self-learning. Last weekend, I visited a place I called home for four years of my life. Perhaps if you live a long life, four years seems a very short period. However, it is these four years that have really shaped me into the person I am today. I am of course talking about my college town – Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Lawn, University of Virginia

The Lawn, University of Virginia

Most 20-somethings/recent graduates grapple with college nostalgia. College truly lays the foundation of exploration, helping us in the following and more- discovering things we are passionate about, adjusting to life away from home, making lifelong friendships, questioning our own beliefs and forming new identities for ourselves.  Of course, we do these things after we graduate too. In fact, at the University of Virginia, we don’t refer to ourselves as “Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors” but rather as “First, Second, Third and Fourth years” because our founder, Thomas Jefferson said that education never really ends. In that respect, I am currently a “Sixth year.” We use the foundation that college creates, to explore and educate ourselves for the rest of our lives.

My friend drove us in his minivan along route 29 last Sunday, which is the familiar road leading to our campus. I was reminded of the first time my family friends drove me and my parents down this road. Having never visited an American college campus before, I expected to see grand, sky-reaching silver gates with the sign “University of Virginia” embellished at the top, welcoming me to my new world. I was disappointed when I realized that this didn’t really exist.

We passed by familiar places, at each of which I associated different memories– a trek to the Teppan Yaki restaurant in the cold with no idea where it really was, a 2AM run to Harris Teeter to buy pancake ingredients to cook/eat while watching cricket world cup matches, a 6am trip to Bodos bagels café after having spent the entire night studying at the library, and so many more.

Bodos bagels

Bodos bagels

After eating and walking around, one of my friends’ and I began to chat with each other as though it was January 2009, and we were still second years in college.

Friend: Hey whats up?
Me: Hey! Not much just reading for class. Can you believe we already have work so early in the semester?
Friend: I know seriously. I wish we were working instead. It must be so much easier. You work 9-5 and then do nothing after that.
Me: I know. College life is so hard. Working must be heavenly. *
[As Jessica Darling would say – hardy-har-har]

This roleplaying act made me think of the classic “If I knew then, what I know now…” I never would have thought back then, that I would end up living in New York, or that I’d be working at a big corporation, or that I’d even become as close as I am now to the friend I was having this conversation with! Great as things are now with life in the Big City, I will always be grateful to the experiences along the way that brought me here. And in my “Sixth year” I hope to learn, explore, grow further, and create more experiences worth reminiscing.

The Rotunda, University of Virginia

The Rotunda, University of Virginia

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Clover Club Review – New York

If I ever used the word “swanky” to describe a place (and I don’t), it would be for Clover Club. You can say I usually am what they call a “Manhattan snob” – I rarely venture out to Brooklyn. I’ve lived in Manhattan almost a year and have been to Brooklyn twice besides going to Clover Club- both times involved meeting my friend who lives there. The only reason I went this time, (that too on a Wednesday!) was to try out some famous pizza place called Lucali. When we got there, however, it was closed for renovation. Having made the “long trip” to Brooklyn, I wasn’t too happy. But after grabbing dinner at another Italian restaurant, the course of the evening changed.

We stepped into Clover Club – rated as a place that serves the tastiest cocktails. I honestly expected it to be all right. However, the moment we entered, I was enchanted by the energetic vibe of this place. The main restaurant section was dark and had smooth classical music coming from a live band. As we walked further in, we entered a backroom that was a little brighter, softer, and had a warm crackling fireplace on the side. We cozied ourselves around it and enjoyed the hip old music (probably from 1920s? I don’t really know). I definitely felt that men in feathered hats and women in black gloves (all in a non-hipster way) would fit right in. Overall you could not ask for a classier atmosphere.

Normally skeptical of experimenting with cocktails (I usually stick to wine or a margarita) I ordered the Crystal Fall – and I am glad I did! Clover Club definitely does not have it’s reputation of serving the tastiest cocktails in New York for nothing. Apparently they have mixologists who work hard at creating the best cocktails with enriching flavors. The bartenders spend a while making the cocktails to make sure everything about it is perfect, fresh ingredients, perfect proportions, exact preparation times and lovely presentation.

Crystal Fall

My Crystal Fall had its ice crushed beautifully, such that it really resembled “Crystal Fall.” It is made of cognac, rum and Palo Cortado sherry. While the concoction of 3 types of liquor made me skeptical, the flavors of ginger syrup, lemon juice, apple cider and Angostura bitters were such that I almost couldn’t taste the alcohol!  My friend’s cocktail, the Blackberry Fool, was even better with lemon, vanilla syrup, cream, blackberries and rose flower water – definitely recommend checking it out!

Our extremely casual pizza evening turned out to be a super random and fun night out. Clover Club is great to hangout on the weekdays, on weekends I’m sure it would be more crowded, but just as fun. Clover Club has also converted me – definitely plan to check out more places in Brooklyn, as well as repeat this place and perhaps try all the different cocktails!

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Sarabeth’s Review – New York

I’ve heard about this brunch chain a few times – usually while walking around with a friend and deciding where we should have brunch. “Let’s try Sarabeth’s” is usually accompanied by “It is supposed to be amazing!” but also “There will be a long wait” and “Maybe another time.” However this past Sunday, on a friend’s birthday weekend, we made reservations at the Sarabeth’s in Tribeca and went there.

Sarabeth's

Sarabeth’s

The ambience had a nice, lively Sunday brunch vibe with white walls, the smell of eggs and coffee, tables ordering a drink, or two, happy servers and lots of conversations. Our group contrasted with swollen eyes and headaches, thanks to the previous night out in celebration of our friend’s birthday. However, that quickly changed once our coffees arrived! My mocha latte was a little too bitter for my liking, however I suspect that is because they add two shots (instead of the 1 that I am used to) of espresso. I prefer my mocha to be chocolatey and sweet with a hint of espresso instead of the other way around. Nontheless, I was able to enjoy some of it.

Mocha latte

Mocha latte

My food made up for the coffee. I ordered salmon eggs benedict, which came with a side salad and was just delicious! Honestly, I love salmon and eggs, so I don’t see how they could have messed this up, but it was great anyway. My friends ordered waffles, pancakes, fries and omlettes all of which were great. Besides, our little round table in the corner allowed for an intimate setting in a lively brunch place.

Salmon eggs benedict

Salmon eggs benedict

I would definitely repeat Sarabeth’s when searching for a good brunch place – but only after making a reservation. Though I enjoyed it, I don’t think I’d wait for an hour to get a table. 🙂

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Veselka Review – New York

Veselka is yummyness. I’ve been here twice – once when my friends visiting from DC reached NYC at 3am, and once after having a fun night out at Solas (very closeby). This place is an example of one of the reasons I love New York – where else could I have Ukranian food at 3 am at a lively sit down restaurant?

Both times that I’ve been here, I ordered steamed perogis and have tried all kinds besides the meat. Here is my order of favorites – arugula and goat cheese (sour and tasty), spinach and cheese (guess I love cheese), saukerkaut and mushroom (light mushroom flavor), pumpkin (rich taste), cheese (how can you go wrong?), and potato (like mashed potato in a perogi). All of these served with sautéed onions, apple sauce and sour cream make for a perfect late night meal.

Veselka

The hot chocolate here was very average – too watery in my opinion. My friends did order some other stuff, but I don’t really remember what. I know they loved the desserts.

Overall, this is a great place to go to. If it’s late at night and you don’t know where to eat, try Veselka. Granted its fairly busy and you might have to wait at least 15 minutes to get a table, however, it is certainly worth it.

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Casellula Review – New York

I love this place! Cute, small joint located in Hell’s Kitchen, this would be a perfect place to go on a date. The food portions are small – tapas style, so I would not recommend going if you’re super hungry. To start with, I ordered the shrimp tacos which are two round-shaped fried tacos that have a salty paste and pieces of shrimp over it. Delicious.

We bought a small bottle of red wine – I don’t really remember what kind as we asked our server to recommend something that wasn’t too strong.

The best part was the cheese. They brought us a platter which they said would go well with the wine. This was convenient because me and my friend both had no idea what to choose. Sadly my memory is a bit spotty, so I don’t remember the names of the cheese, but there were 3 kinds served with bread. The first was light and melted on the inside, with yummy melted white chocolate on the side. The next was a little stronger, still very soft, and was served with some marmalade. The third was the strongest and a bit harder, and was served with some strawberry jam.

Image

Be warned – this place is a bit pricey! Though overall, the flavors of the tapas, red wine, salty cheese and sweet jams/chocolate on the side was more than fulfilling. Definitely a great find.

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Grandparents and the Partition of India

A few days ago I saw a college acquaintance’s Facebook status. It went along the lines of her visiting the Indo-Pak border and asking older men and women what their experiences of Partition (India being divided into two countries, India and Pakistan, back in 1947 during independence from the British) were like. I suppose she planned to write a book or something about it. Someone else commented on her status saying it is nice that she is hearing the stories of old people, whose own families have such little time to listen.

That got me thinking.

It is very interesting that I have studied a fair amount of Indian History in college, (heck, even done a History Major!) and read a lot of memoirs about those who experienced Partition first-hand. However, I have never actually asked my own grandparents (who lived through it!) what it was really like. My grandparents grew up in Sindh in a town called Shikarpur. India was to be divided on the grounds of religion, with a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India. As my family was Hindu, and as Sindh was a part of the region that would belong to the new Muslim Pakistan, my grandparents had to migrate to present day India. They left behind their property and a lot of their possessions, were separated from their friends, and witnessed unimaginable violence and bloodshed at very young ages.

I’m not entirely sure why I never asked them much about Partition until now. But here are a few possible reasons-
1. Evolving Relationship – I know that my relationship with my grandparents has evolved over the years. To put it simplistically, I went through my own different phases as I grew up. These phases included having fun and being pampered by my grandparents as a small child, being too “busy” with school and friends to spend time with them as a teenager,  and going off for college and being away from them as an adult.
2. Sensitive Topic – I suppose I thought their experiences of Partition might be a sensitive topic to bring up anyway (for them to remember, for me to digest). I guess a part of me believed it easier to ask a stranger about their experiences, than my own grandparents.
3. The way we study History -I did not think too much about Partition until I went to college in America, because the way I studied Indian History in my school in Mumbai was so different – but that’s a separate issue all together, one I could spend a while talking about.

Anyway, now that I’m in my 20s – older (and I’d like to think wiser), I am spending a lot more time chatting with my grandparents. I enjoy their company and make more of an effort to meet them. I hear their point of views on different issues, and surprisingly agree or at least understand them. I tell them more about my life in New York. I ask questions about how I was as a child, how my parents were as children, and what their own lives were like before marriage. And finally, I have asked them about Partition. And glad I am that I did because they were so excited to share!

They were barely around 13 years old when Partition happened. Many families around them were slowly moving away to different places. Finally they made the move and left their homes. Bags were inspected by gangs who stole a lot of their money and possessions. They traveled from Karachi to Bombay (now Mumbai) in steamers for about 3-4 days and, upon reaching, had to begin their lives in Bombay from scratch, dealing with a host of new problems. The detail with which events, roads, houses and people were remembered is remarkable! And I learned a lot about my family, my roots and how things have changed for us over the years.

Perhaps in the future I will write about some of the experiences they shared. But for now, all I’d like to say is, sometimes we’re out searching for things far away that we forget what we have so close to home. Give your grandparents more of your time and really talk to them. Tell them more about your life. Ask them about their history. I am sure they have stories to tell that they’d love to share. And there is a lot that you can learn, imagine and appreciate by speaking to them.

Image of the Taj Mahal, which I visited in June 2011.
(Using this as sadly I have never been to the Indo-Pak border, or to Pakistan, to post of a picture from there.)

Posted in History, India | 2 Comments

Kyotofu Review – New York

This is a really small and cute dessert place in Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve been here twice and had a good experience each time.

The first time, I had the chocolate cake which was yummy. The second time I shared the tofu cheesecake with my roommates. I wouldn’t call it heaven in my mouth, but it tasted nice and creamy. I also liked the way it was presented. The plate was glazed with a strawberry syrup on top of which lay three little square pieces of cheesecake surrounded by cream and berries.

Tofu Cheesecake
Tofu cheesecake

The only negative? The service was a bit slow, but nothing to really complain about.

Tip – Check in here on Foursquare and you get a free chocolate cupcake!

Yelp

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Bagatelle / Beaumarchais Review – New York

Fantastic place. An expensive brunch? Yes. But this place isn’t meant to be just a typical brunch restaurant. Going here is like attending a day long, entertaining event. Here is what my experience was like:

1. We entered the relatively small space, and sat at a regular table. This was when I thought to myself -So this is the famous Bagatelle? Not so impressed.

2. On being seated, we ordered food for the table. Eggs Benedict and waffles with nutella and whipped cream, among a few things. Add some Mimosas and Bloody Marys. Alright, pretty good.

Then things get interesting. The same place that seemed like a quiet sit down restaurant with no space and lots of sunlight begins to slowly transform.

 

 

3. At first it feels like a bar with dimmer lights and louder music. We order some fishbowls and play some ridiculous drinking games.

 

4. Soon after, (and who knows when this happens?) we’re in a night club. Tables are moved. The space gets crowded. The music is better. Different colored lights flash around. Sophisticated Upper East Siders go crazy dancing drunk on their chairs and tables. Superwoman flies down to tables with a sparkler and gives everyone some champagne. Professional dancers in skimpy clothing perform on chairs. Drummers drum at your table. You get the idea.

We were there from about 12pm to 6pm – so yeah, it goes on for about a few hours. Even if you’re not a crazy partier, it’s a great experience. Would I pay a ridiculous amount again for said experience? Probably not in the near future. But it is definitely something to put on your bucket list if you live in New York.

Oh and a small update – I was walking around the meatpacking district one afternoon and heard crazy loud music coming from a small place whose door was closed. I was wondering, what the heck is going on, it’s 3 pm? And soon I realized it was Bagatelle, and that I was clearly missing out one heck of an afternoon.

Yelp

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Thai Select Review – New York

This place is very conveniently located for me, so I’ve been here a few times. Due to it’s nice ambience in comparison to nearby restaurants, it seems like a fairly upscale place. However the prices are very reasonable!

I’ve had the crab cake, fried rice, drunken noodles and green curry – all of which are delicious and spicy. Definitely recommend going here.

Crab Cake

Yelp

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Culture Shock

I realized something this weekend: If I’m not careful enough, by the time I leave NYC, I will be both, broke and obese. Really. Nonetheless, it was a great weekend.

Let’s start off with Friday. After heading over to Barnes and Nobles, Syl and I walked around a Japanese market and ate some good ol’ sushi. We also went for a Soprano musical at Carnegie Hall – not because we are cultured, but because it’s all part of the New York experience. To give you a fair understanding of the atmosphere we were in, all I need to say is that we were the only ones casually dressed, the only non-Caucasians, and the only students. (Don’t take that student discount for granted! We paid $25 when others paid about $100. Next time this year, we will have to pay the full price. This is disturbing. But, it will be my excuse to splurge for the rest of the summer.)

At the concert, they handed us descriptions of artists’ backgrounds. Naturally, being the nosy person that I am, I had to flip through their life histories while they performed. However, as I flipped, some guy a few rows ahead of us turned around and glared at me. Now mind you, this is in spite of us sitting at the very end in the balcony. I was spoiling his musical nirvana.

Ballet auditorium after concert

In any case, I have no idea how these singers reach such high pitches. Apparently, in singing lessons they are taught to raise their voices from their foreheads and their eyes. Somehow they can hit every single note that can reach the human ear. Now that’s talent.

It is pretty sad that us commoners are completely incapable of appreciating such singing. Instead, we listen to talentless artists like Kesha who use electric effects to make themselves sound bearable. I am guilty of this. In fact, we left halfway through the show to walk around Columbus circle. Not because it was bad, but because listening to high-pitched singing in a language we didn’t understand for two hours straight was impossible.

To draw a ridiculous comparison of Gen Y’s inability to appreciate/sit through a whole opera: We Indians (I’m making generalizations) cannot appreciate subtle flavors in food. We need to add sauces and spices to like it, no matter what. I became concious of this fact a few days ago when I went to Manhattan’s best Chinese restaurant, Philippe Chow and spent almost $50. On dinner. I know. It’s obscene. And the food was so-so. However, on Friday, I met Insha and family for a late dinner at what has to be the best Chinese restaurant I’ve been to in America thus far. I am convinced that it was only my favorite because of the spice.

As for Saturday, I was very kindly escorted around Queens. I saw little India, little China, little Korea, little Philippenes, and many other little things. It’s pretty amazing that just in one city you can get a taste of any country you’d like. I also witnessed multiculturalism personified in its finest form: An entire Indian wedding procession took place on the streets of little China. Yes, that includes the hand-clapping, the dancing and the road-blocking. What was even more bizarre was that there were Chinese folk dressed in Indian clothing.


Wedding procession in Queens

Later that evening, I went for “Next to Normal” with two friends. It was possibly the best Broadway show in the history of Broadway shows. Of course, I have only seen a total of 3 Broadway shows in my lifetime, but still. It was about a woman with bi-polar depression and her family, and it reached and surpassed all levels of intensity and of painful emotion. But the night ended on a happy note – we took pictures with the cast, passed by a crazy bus on Times Square with people strutting their stuff from their windows, ate the best food at an everything MeatBall restaurant, and finished off with delicious, sinful crepes!

But that amazing weekend, my friends, is why New York, my city of dreams with all its opportunity, diversity and culture, may also be my pathway towards bankruptcy and obesity. I need a Kiboo account.

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