21 June 2008

an underground journey



So rather than taking pictures of the beautiful day outside, I decided to instead get familiar with my new camera and take some pictures inside the flourescent jungle that is the NYC subway system. There is some blur in the pictures below as I didn't have enough time to get a steady photo and still capture the movement with a better ISO and slower shutter - i.e. I was in a rush to board a train. Anyone have any suggestions about this?



With pictures like the ones above, I wanted to evoke the feeling of entering some sort of dungeon.



But there is life in this dungeon. note: how many asian accordionists have you ever seen?





I like this composition a lot.

20 June 2008

a sign of the times


how can one discern
between ghetto and affluent?
an open starbucks

19 June 2008

The Superest (tea edition)




this self described "continually running game of My Team, Your Team" (see link in title) is truly one of the more constantly updated delights of the web. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, the site consists of drawings of superheroes, each designed to defeat the previous superhero. For those of you who have yet to visit, it is a good waste of time filled with safe for work humor. Some selections below:



this is of course defeated by this character. Of some resemblance to yours truly:



Further down the chain of superheroes, we get this lovely character:



now please do go and waste some time.

Tea & Sympathy (a review)



go here to view my review criteria.



Charming. That is the only acceptable one word description for any patron of Tea & Sympathy. It is not, I daresay, a fairy-wand-malfunction caused restaurant interior kind of charming, but a home away from home I only wished I had so that I could be a more interesting person kind of charming. Cramped may be another that comes to mind, though for reverse claustrophobics such as myself (claustrophilics? that sounds too much like a sexual disorder), that isn't too much of a problem. All this charm is necessary for us non-Brits who unfortunately do not have the rose-tinted glasses for the oh so comforting but plain English fare. Apparently, the food isn't spectacular, but mind-blowing food is not the reason that people spend their money here. This is a place for the homesick. A place for those who want to feel smothered with the cozy feel of low light, hanging portraits of the queen, and eat food that feels like its been made with love (perhaps an effect of fat content?). That is a charm I can appreciate. Even the waitstaff is charming, though in that seemingly short-tempered though its probably because I am not British and I can't relate kind of way (I swear that will be the last near sentence long descriptive phrase I will use in this review).

Having said all that, I do wish you potential patrons luck in getting a seat at this place. Its popularity is well known so a moderate wait is more than likely. Those who are looking for a venue to hold a small tea party between friends could hold it here though there are really better and more appropriate venues for that kind of frouffy activity - not that I disapprove of course. Really, those in the know go here either for the food (which I have yet fully try and thus cannot review) or the cream tea which consists of two scones/biscuits, clotted cream, jam, and a pot of tea:



At a little over 10 dollars for the entire setup, it might seem a little expensive for those on a budget (please tip well). However, the experience is well worth it as there are few places in the city where you can even find clotted cream, jam, and scones at the same and particularly charming place. My only complaint is that the scones were rather cool the first time I received them - warm or at least room temperature would have been nice. The afternoon tea on the other hand is pricey at best and a waste of caloric intake at worst. I might have been better satisfied had I been allowed to share the tower with a friend, albeit with a second pot of tea. Unfortunately, sharing is not an option.



Regardless, the above selection is rather lackluster - though perhaps I shouldn't have expected any better. The cakes, though decent, lacked excitement, or even any hint of luxuriousness which isn't very difficult to work into a cake. The scones, despite my good review above, could not hold up the rest of the service especially at that price point. Really, most of the fault lies in their fingerling sandwiches which really depressed the entire experience with their oh so bland flavor. True, I should not have expected more out of mayo, bread, and assorted ingredients (my way of relating its forgettability). I just couldn't shake the feeling of wanting something more. Perhaps I have been spoiled by other establishments and their more resplendent offerings at lower prices.

The tea can be best described as of consistent quality - and by that I mean that it is forgivable. Those expecting at least "Far Too Good For Ordinary People" grade leaf should stay away as it will definitely not be your cup of tea. However, those of us willing to come down from our lofty perches will not recoil in horror. The leaf grades used in these lovely porcelain pots are not of the best quality - though not my personal taste, the pots are rather an entertaining and necessary part of the atmosphere. Although there is a respectable collection of flavored and brand name bagged teas, most of the single region selections are few and far between and of regular quality. The tea is also served loose in the pot (traditional I suppose) and comes with an English tea strainer to catch the leaves. While being a slightly better way of serving tea than using crumpled up removable strainers, I still have a large problem with serving tea in this way. Not only does it rely on the customer's knowledge of tea strength (which is sometimes absent), it also puts those customers who do have such knowledge on an unnecessary clock by forcing them to be mindful of the remaining leaves. The risk of an overbrewed second cup is so high that it might as well be unavoidable. For some concoctions which consist mostly of herbals or rooibos, this might not be a problem. However, for traditional blends such as earl grey and average grade single leaf varieties, bitterness is an all too often result of this method of serving tea. Milk is the only option left for those not wanting to waste liquid. As a purist, however, this is an all too depressing outcome (I don't drink Assams much either). Yet, it must be remembered that Tea & Sympathy is less about the tea as it is about having a British dining experience - which is why it lacks the focus and meticulousness of other tea specialty establishments.

The store, Carry On Tea & Sympathy is equally, if not more charming than the actual eating establishment. With a large stock of consumables, tea, porcelain and other tea brewing paraphernalia, shopping here can be a lovely experience.



Regular tea purchasers should note that the store does not carry any bulk loose-leaf tea. However, this deficiency is somewhat vindicated by the large selection of prepackaged bagged and loose-leaf varieties on sale. Though hardly breaking the boundaries of the traditional British implements, the sheer volume of porcelain and other paraphernalia is still impressive. A sample of what is available can be found on the website (see link within title of post). In addition to tea related goods, there is an impressive selection of British goods on sale such as candies and souvenir type baubles for those looking to purchase. All in all, the store, like the restaurant, is more of a collection of British related goods than it is strictly a tea store. That being said, the store still carries an impressive amount of tea related goods as tea is very important aspect of that culture. Those looking for a regular shop to fulfill their tea-drinking needs could be more than satisfied shopping here, though there are many better options around the city and on the Internet.



FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite the charm of the establishment, the tea and the afternoon tea set can leave those looking for a top notch tea experience wanting for more. The tea is of your standard quality so those expecting high end leaf grades should either lower their expectations or turn away. Sadly, those looking for a perfect afternoon tea are likely to be disappointed as well due to lackluster tea sandwiches and your average quality cakes. A shining light can be found, however, in the scone/biscuit service which is generally well priced for the experience. All in all, the selling point of Tea and Sympathy is its charm. The waitstaff is lovely and the decor is cozy. Those willing to stomach a moderate wait and a loss of personal space to feel like they waltzed into a small English diner should not hesitate to make a visit. In that respect, I can guarantee that both Tea & Sympathy and Carry on Tea & Sympathy will deliver. 3.49 stars (rounded down below).



link to yelp for restaurant and store.


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