Hagi, 152 W 49th St (between 7th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas)
New York, NY
I’m at a very interesting point right now with my love affair of New York City.
Just this morning I was chomping down on two dollars worth of dumplings soaked in Sriracha and Soy Sauce; eight of them squished into a Styrofoam container- the surprising bubble of cartilage in every other bite I took was a humbling reminder that this was all I was going to be able to afford for the day.
I had planned out that I’d manage two, one dollar slices of pizza for dinner, but because I needed a caffeine fix; the price of my iced coffee locked my wallet up in my khakis for the rest of the day. Maybe If I’m lucky I’ll be able to scour a couple of quarters stuck to a dust and macaroni conglomerate staining the wood under the apartment’s sofa and buy some Ramen before going to that over-priced gym I owe money for.
The city’s starving me as much as failure of acquiring a satisfactory summer job has.
In the fall, I’ll be an RA for my dorm again- meaning, I’ll be able to whip out my school I.D. and receive ten free meals a week at the local ‘C’ rated dining halls. This year I’m planning to buy glad-ware and stock the hell up. Pasta and ‘fruit of the goddamned vine’ stir-fry for days. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll still present some chopped up vegan breakfast sausage as vegan taco meat with a side of steaming cheese wiz- I bet it’ll stay preserved for months.
The idea of being handed something not good enough is far superior to fighting to have an ounce of whatever the hell not good enough really is.
of course, I’m to blame entirely.
I should be frugal.
It’s when I neglect my bank account and wear my ray bans that I’m able to see the city clearly and swoon over it. These days must come with merit of course, and considering yesterday was me and my guy’s ninth anniversary- to hell with being frugal.
It started off without much harm- working our way up Broadway stepping into every Crate and Barrel and Restoration Hardware we saw. It became apparent that there was familiar taste in baby blue and epic slates of wood for dining tables.
We rode the glass elevators at the Hotel Marquee.
Then rounded off the evening at perhaps the greatest departure from my budgeting system I could think of.
Ignore the fact that it’s smack in the middle of Times Square. Ignore the fact that it’s going to smell like piss and sequins up until the point you actually turn onto 49th Street. Don’t ignore the M&M’s superstore though, they’ve got chocolates in all colors.
As a Restaurant, Hagi Sake Bar is difficult to get into. The entrance itself is simply a door; the words ‘Hagi’ etched onto a faded wood panel above the frame. From there, you climb down a steep stairwell and hit the underground mob of locals and out-of-towners alike looking for some of the freshest grub in all of Manhattan. Getting a table is really a hit-or-miss process considering they never take reservations. Luckily, you can usually gauge the crowd by the times the Broadway Theaters are putting up their revival musicals- though recently, many locals have caught on to this and have decided to attack the bar then. My personal preference: go late. It’s right off the local 49th Street NQR station so it’s no more than a ten minute ride from Union Square. It’s also open till 4 A.M; at one point I had the drunken opportunity to share a pitcher of Kirin with two chefs from other Japanese establishments boasting some of the best Kushiyaki (food that’s prepped, skewered, then grilled) in the East Village. Their take: Hagi does it best. We cheered to that and closed off the night.
This time, I am remarkably more sober, though my wallet could’ve thought otherwise.
First up on the list:
Pork and Kimchee Fried Rice.
No better way to dig right in than to fill yourself up and convince yourself you’ve eaten much more than you already have. Still though, the brown rice is muddled with strips of pork belly and a kimchee (hot, picked cabbage) slaw that cuts away the gaminess of the pork. The shallots and fried egg doused with soy sauce and chili pepper really make the rice kick both in flavor and that golden, mouth-watering golden brown.
Simultaneously, we’ve been working through our first pitcher of Sapporo- which at $12 a pitcher… is a hell of a deal in New York City, let alone Manhattan, let alone Times Square.
So, full stomachs underway, we finish off the pitcher and ask for another while we await the rest of our food. The Olympics are on. Those divers are really gifted.
Yakitori Kawa and Bara.
I mean, this is why I come here.
Quite simply, the larger thicker skewer is thinly sliced pig belly (Bara). layers upon layers of belly meat and belly fat sizzle to a perfect molding as the lemon cuts away at the richness of the meat rather than the fattiness. In other words, it compliments.
The tinier skewer is Kawa, and quite possibly the most incredible thing I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s skewer of chicken skin. It’s stupid how good it is, the crunchy/soft texture accompanying the fatty and salty flavor perfectly; I apologize in advance for saying that every ounce of juice that skin’s still marinating in just bursts in your mouth with every bite you take. I could eat it every day. It is Nature’s candy.
lastly, and most surprisingly,
Some li’l Frog Legs.
Listen, I’m a pretty big believer that you don’t need much to cook meat. My personal preference is always going to be salt and pepper, maybe some lemon- yogurt if I wanna work with chicken and make it as succulent as I’m being boushy.
The frog legs were surprisingly my favorite part of the meal; as the bone fell right off the bone and the very simple marinade let me appreciate the sweet, savory flavor of the meat. The lemon, again, complimented the flavor rather than subdued it.
Overjoyed, we decided to cash out and take an hour or so walk before everything hit us in the gut of all guts and all we’d wanna do is fall asleep without any bit of anything else.
We snuck around the Parker Meridien before taking the F and J back to Williamsburg territory.
Picked up ingredients for some key lime pie topped with Peanut M&M’s (Because, I mean, whatever.) and watched the pilot episode of Sex in the City. It was surprisingly better than the finale I had remembered.
That relationship I was talking about.
I fell in love with the city walking all the way through it. Granted, I was walking blindly, not to think a thing about how much I was spending, and no river to look at to remind myself that Manhattan was an island.
I had hated the city because I had no routine this summer to follow through on, and I’m pretty sure Manhattan’s the kind of city in which a routine is necessary.
I haven’t slept by myself since the school year has ended. I have either been with my guy or back at the apartment sleeping on an air mattress next to two guys who were sleeping on theirs. I worked in a garden, made meetings that have followed through for the better (hopefully) especially now with the school year steadily approaching. I’ve gone a couple days with drinking more than I’ve eaten, and I’ve gone a couple days where I’ve had only a dollar slice to eat all day, or no slice at all.
I got skinnier and I got told ‘no’ endlessly. Mostly from myself and my wallet. I suppose no greater power to tell you such a thing.
I hated it. I felt betrayed for a while because I had finally realized that going to college in New York City is not living in New York City, no matter how hard everybody tries to says it is. It’s all an umbrella and for the most part, their parents are holding it up for them. Paying for rent means having parents pay for your rent or adding it to a loan that you’ve got another year to not think about. Going out to eat means sliding that credit card or university ID to a meal that’s pampered for you.
So far, New York has taught me that shit’s real. And for the past three years, I didn’t know what would be considered just making it. Even now, I can’t help but feel that I’m still better off than a lot of other people. And I panic because it makes me want to do something, spare some time to help them figure out a way to get by, but truthfully, that time still belongs to me. And I gotta fight my ass of to make sure I’m fighting every moment I have it.
But the times where I’ve been blinded. Where shit’s either been handed down to me, or I’ve felt the urge to splurge and to not think about it… I feel the need to apologize to the city. As if I had been talking shit about it the entire time and now finally, it’s paying me a bit of respect and I owe it gratitude. Maybe it’s the other way around, and I gotta pay the city the shit out of everything I’ve got so I can feel as though I’ve earned a fraction of its respect.
Either way, that respect had worn off when I took the JMZ across the bridge this morning. I realized that the city was an island, and either I’m gonna have to make it through or make it out. either way though, I’m gonna have to fight my ass off, and there’s the possibility to lose a couple limbs.