Posts tagged: Food

Casablanca, Morocco – Overview

By , December 22, 2010

I’ll begin my description of my stay in Casablanca by describing my lodgings, as I think they are somewhat indicative of the state of the city itself. The hotel in which I stayed, Hotel Foucould, was clearly a nice place once. The elevator, long out of commission, was a beautiful wooden contraption, ensconced in a wrought iron cage. In the hotel’s heyday it must have been a sight to behold. My room must have been nice once, too. It had a 20-foot high ceiling, and ornate touches, but today it is in awful shape. There was a puddle of water on the floor that remained there for my entire stay. The bathroom looked to have been created by crudely erecting a cement wall on one side of the room and installing plumbing. There was a shower-head, but no shower structure, so the water (only cold water was available) just sprayed into the room. There was a sink, but no toilet. The walls had massive holes punched into them, and there was graffiti on one of them, and the bed was falling apart, but there were lovely French doors that opened out onto a balcony that offered fresh air and a view of the city.

That contradiction exists all throughout Casablanca. I have a sense that 50 to 75 years ago Casablanca was quite posh. There is evidence everywhere to that fact, but it is buried beneath a seeming ton of rubble. The word that repeatedly comes to mind when observing this city is dilapidated, for that is what Casablanca is. I have the constant feeling of having walked into a city the day after a long war has ended. Everywhere you turn you see massive buildings that have collapsed in on themselves, and faded facades of what were once lovely, art deco masterpieces, standing proudly next to a two-story-high pile of brick, wood, glass, and other building material.

There is considerable garbage to navigate whilst walking the streets, as well as potholes deep enough to be used in trench warfare, so caution is necessary lest one take a nasty fall. The streets are full of mopeds– this was a never-ending source of amusement to me. Dozens would ride by at once– impromptu moped gangs made up of strangers, breaking up and recruiting new members at every street corner.

The people of Casablanca are for the most part friendly, and helpful to this American who speaks no Arabic and precious little French. One in particular, Abdallah, assisted me in finding a good cup of Coffee Moroccan style. The coffee, espresso actually, is really good here. It is subtly different from the European version, perhaps a bit more bitter and not quite as viscous, and thoroughly enjoyable to me. Abdallah told me about his days working at a restaurant on a now-defunct U.S. Air Force base between 1958 and 1962. That is why he spoke English, he explained, for most Casablancans possess a rudimentary grasp of English, at best.

Casablanca is not a town for a tourist, but for someone who travels as I do, plopping down in a neighborhood and haunting a few local cafes and eateries and chatting with the local folks, it is a pretty ideal place to be. Couple that with the amazing affordability and you have a place in which I could spend quite some time. My four days here was enough to get a sense of the place, but nowhere near enough to tire of it.

Speaking of costs, here are the prices you can expect to pay for a few things in Casablanca, translated from the local currency, dirhams, into U.S. dollars:

12 oz. glass bottle of Coke 47¢
cup of coffee (espresso) 59¢
taxi ride around downtown $1.31
1 night at Hotel Foucould $11.81
best fish ever at Snack Amine $13.08
fried bread thing at a stand 20¢

Pretty cheap, huh? You can see why I like it so much! Up next… Egypt!

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Just Add Wine

By , April 22, 2010

If you are like me, you pay pretty close attention to the myriad ingredients you purchase in order to cook a meal. I go out of my way to shop at specific markets that I know have better produce, or butchers that offer better cuts of meat. I sift through bins to find the best piece of fruit, or the freshest, crispest vegetables. I buy bread from one or two particular bakeries.

I often cook from recipes; they are usually fairly specific, and I go out of my way to locate each ingredient in the best and freshest form available to me. If a recipe calls for sugar, I use natural raw cane sugar. When it wants oregano, I have fresh, organic oregano that I’ve dried myself. I make my own maraschino cherries and grenadine for cocktails, and I even have homemade bacon in my refrigerator right now.

I put forth all this effort in an attempt to cook something fabulous each time I step into my kitchen, yet when a recipe calls for wine, and many do, I am at a loss. Everyone seems to be– even friends with a firm grasp of what wines to drink with a given dish are puzzled when asked to recommend an appropriate wine for cooking. Recipes *never* tell you what kind of wine to use! So, like most people, after spending an afternoon at farmer’s markets, bakeries, butchers, and grocery stores, almost as an afterthought I grab the cheapest wine I can find. Red or white is about the only decision I make, and often, when recipes don’t specify, I don’t even take that into consideration.

Enter my newest discovery: Académie Wines. This is one of the most clever ideas I’ve heard of in years, and frankly I’m baffled as to why no company has done this before. Académie sells four different wines specifically designed for cooking. I’ve tried all four, and they are uniformly good. The label says it all– each wine is blended for usage in cooking certain dishes. So far I’ve tried the wines with beef, chicken breast, lamb chops, salmon, and scallops, and have yet to be disappointed. The difference in the finished product is sometimes subtle, but always noticeable. Each wine brings out elements in the dish that were otherwise muted when using randomly chosen wines.

The other thing I like about these wines is that they come in bottles half the size of a traditional wine bottle. That leaves me just enough leftover wine for a glass to drink whilst cooking (it’s also tasty drinking wine). No more leftover bottles that gradually go bad.

Chef Cooks with Wine

It’s rare that I extol the virtues of a specific brand or product in this blog, and in fact this may be the first time I have ever done so, but I think this is a very useful and unique product, and most of my readers will be glad to know about it. I should add– I don’t really know if it is available outside Northern California. The Académie Wines web page can probably tell you, and answer any other questions you have. If you buy some and like it, let me know– I am actually really curious to get feedback from people about this stuff.

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Some Quality Reading

By , July 7, 2005

So Tawny says she prefers “quality reading” on Xanga, which is female code for “enough with the song lists already, buddy.” Never one to say no to a challenge, I will take a stab at writing something of quality. In case I fail, I have cooked up another song list for the less discriminating among my readership. Without further ado… some quality reading.

Whilst waiting for Batman Begins to, well, begin, I offered to procure some treats for my friend Emily and I. And me? Whatever. Anyway. What I mean to say is that I was going to head to the lobby for some snacks. A bag of the popped c, maybe some candy. I asked Emily to select a beverage– she said she wanted 7-Up.

I know of this beverage. Once, as a wee lad I took a sip of one, and did not like it. Since then I haven’t tried it again, on account of I reckon I won’t like it. But when Emily extolled the merits of said beverage, I began to wonder– do I still dislike it? I *hated* Cap’n Crunch forever. As recently as my freshman year of college I couldn’t stand the stuff, but then a couple years ago I randomly had some and liked it just fine. So maybe now I will like 7-Up. I mean, it’s possible, right? If I suddenly liked Cap’n Crunch, then maybe I will find 7-Up to be refreshing and delicious and crisp, and whatever other adjectives one uses to describe a bottle of pop; or a soft drink, whichever you prefer.

So, I intend to drink one. Soon.

The end. Just in case that was not interesting, here is another crummy song list:

Best Albums of Recent Life:

Arcade Fire – Funeral (This is so good. It is beyond good. My favorite thing I heard all of last year. It may be my favorite record ever.)

Camera Obscura – Underachievers Please Try Harder (I still listen to this all the time)

Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (I did not think this band could ever top Fever and Mirrors. They didn’t, but damn they came close.)

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I Want My Groove Back

By , May 21, 2005

I live in Berkeley, California, which is pretty much ground zero for liberal philosophy, socialist ideology, and progressive thought in general. Yet, I see so many Berkeley residents living lavish, decadent lives while putting up what seems like little more than a front of caring for the less fortunate. Perhaps they occasionally volunteer somewhere, or dash off a check to a charity now and then, but by and large they live selfishly. I remember the patrons (and managers) at Fizzy’s former workplace who saw nothing wrong with spending $100 on a thermos or $80 on a dustpan. In fact, they seemed to revel in doing so, almost as if they needed to flaunt their wealth and supposed good taste as some misguided way of publicly defining their self-worth. And all the while they espoused the politically correct, “goodwill to fellow man” rhetoric that every self-respecting Berkeley liberal knows by heart. It seemed to be no better than lip service, but no one ever called them out on it.

I don’t pretend for a moment that I am any better. Of course, I don’t have the income of the people I am chastising, but if I did, I wonder how I would behave. Knowing my frugal and bashful nature, I doubt I’d spend money on conspicuous consumption, but doesn’t mean I would rival Mother Teresa were I suddenly to strike it rich. As it stands now, I don’t do much more than the occasional good deed. I volunteered for a time at the San Francisco Food Bank, but that was years ago. Pretty much the extent of my charitable efforts and contributions is whatever money I give to beggars, which can’t amount to more than a few dollars per week on average. Even without a massive bank account, I know I could still do better. In short, I’m no better than the folks I chastise for hypocrisy.

What you ask, prompted me to consider all this stuff? Well, as it happens, the closest residential parking to my apartment is adjacent to the infamous tract of land known as People’s Park. Because of this, I have come to know quite a few of the homeless people who spend their time hanging out at the park. One in particular, Lisa, has taken quite a liking to me. I once bought her a hot dog at Top Dog, and ever since she chats with me. Usually it’s just idle chit chat, but she has asked me a few times now to bring her some fried chicken. Yesterday I was on my way home, and knew I’d be parking by the park, so I made a quick detour to Colonel Sanders’ and bought a 20-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sure enough, Lisa was at the park when I arrived.

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction. I knew they’d be happy to get it– who wouldn’t be happy? It’s fried chicken! but the outpouring of love and gratitude shocked me. Several people hugged me. I was just glad to feed them, but they seemed to see it as more than just that, which is was what set my mind to thinking on this topic.

I realized something yesterday. Happiness is not something I can find within myself. No amount of logic or rational thought is going to provide me with the key to personal satisfaction. Since youth I have been of the opinion that the key to my happiness is centered around finding my place in this universe, and understanding how I can make the lives of those around me better. It’s about interaction, not solitude. For most of my life, I’ve been able (by circumstance or effort I can’t say with certainty) to stay happy. I’ve seldom even thought about the matter– I’ve just been content with life, and felt I was on a path towards satisfaction and success. Lately, I don’t feel that way at all. Instead, I feel more than a little bit lost. I can’t seem to figure out what I’m supposed to do now, or next, and I don’t quite understand my role in life anymore. I think that is the key right there– when I again feel I have a purpose or goal for which to strive, I think I’ll fall back into my naturally happy rhythm.

I’ve been moping and soul-searching for a couple months now. Along the way I’ve improved myself. I’ve identified and corrected many personal character flaws heretofore unbeknownst to me, and I’m working on fixing others. I still have a long way to go; I’m far from “better,” but I’m doing my best to change that. This seems like the time for it– what better time to focus on self-enrichment and personal growth than while I feel sidelined by life? Hopefully before long I’ll get back into a nice groove, and be a better person than I was before. And hopefully I won’t post anymore rambling, introspective blogs like this! Apologies!

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Accidental Diet

By , April 28, 2005

Today I went in for my annual physical. I am in perfect health, but I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last six weeks. I was on the thin side to begin with (6’3 185 lbs.) so this is not exactly a good thing. This whole “missing Fizzy” thing is the first time in my life that something has really gotten to me so drastically. I need to worry less and eat more.

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Bowling for Produce

By , July 7, 2004

My local market has an unusual name: The Berkeley Bowl. It is named such because the storefront it once occupied was previously a bowling alley that sported that moniker. Presumably to save on the cost of a new sign, the market kept the name. I guess the name didn’t deter folks, because it became so popular that a few years ago they moved to a new, larger location; they kept the name.

Today I was chatting with one-time maguffin, and now Real-Life-Speed-Scrabble-Pal, Yale, and she told me that Berkeley Bowl has the largest produce section on the West Coast. That did not surprise me, as I have always thought that their produce section alone is the size of an average Safeway/ Ralph’s/ Piggly Wiggly/ Alpha Beta store. When I find myself away from home, be it in some Podunk town or a major city like New York or Los Angeles, and I am cooking, I feel limited by the lack of freshness and variety in the ingredients available to me. I always ask the people I’m visiting to direct me to the best markets, and am always sorely disappointed.

I seemed to have more of a point to this when I started typing this entry. Oh, I remember– because they have such a vast amount of produce for sale, I, unlike said produce, am spoiled. They have just about every style and variety of fruit and vegetable known to man in there. I have sometimes encountered recipes that call for some very obscure and esoteric ingredients, and when it comes to fruits or vegetables I’ve always been able to find what I need at the Berkeley Bowl. You name it , they have it. Why, during my last visit there I counted nine different kinds of eggplant. Nine!

The best is when I bring some arcane vegetable to the checkout line and the clerk has to stop and look it up in the voluminous registrar of produce codes. I feel warm and fuzzy inside whenever I stump a clerk, especially if it is one of the old-timers that should know them all by now. I am weird.

Today’s Question: Is there a store or shop in your area that you could not live without?

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Los Angeles to Atlanta – Day Four

By , June 21, 2004

At the risk of sounding like Steve Martin extolling the virtues of his favorite pizza-in-a-cup restaurant, I must say that Sonic Drive-In makes the best pancake-on-a-stick. It’s way better than anyone else’s pancake-on-a-stick, I’ll tell you that much right now.

On the topic of fast food, why doesn’t California have Waffle House?? I am by no stretch a fan of fast food, in fact I can barely eat the stuff, but I’d be down for Waffle House every now and then. I think that is probably because I really like waffles, and it’s hard to ruin one. As long as it isn’t a Belgian waffle, I’m happy. Add a cup of coffee, and maybe even a side of bacon, and that’s a meal I can eat at least twice a week. Three times if it’s a leap year. Okay, that made no sense, even by my standards. All I mean is that I like waffles, and I never knew there was a fast-food chain dedicated to them.

By the way, I am in Atlanta now. I knocked out the last 800 miles in one long stretch yesterday. I drove from Dallas through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, all the way into Georgia. That is five states in one day, and it puts me here a day ahead of schedule. It gave me time to see the sites. Here is a site:

Whataburger

Yah, a fast food joint. On account of that is all you friggin’ see around here!! At least Whataburger is an obscure one, but ugh! Okay, I’ll stop hating on Atlanta. I haven’t actually seen that much of it yet, and my fast-food-everywhere opinion is primarily limited to what I saw on the interstate coming into town.

The last batch of CDs what that I played:

Beastie Boys Check Your Head
Beastie Boys Ill Communication
Prince The Hits: Volume 1
Ash 1977
Ladytron Light and Magic
The Cure Galore
St. Germain Tourist

Okay, car is in Atlanta, time to fly home to California. I miss you Fizzy!!!!!!

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Grenadine

By , March 15, 2004

I’m still building up to the recipe for a Jack Rose, and my next cocktail blog will be a recipe for exactly that, but today I need to cover another ingredient necessary for the creation of that drink. Before one can pour a Jack Rose cocktail, one needs grenadine. It is readily available in stores, but be judicious about what brand you choose if you decide to buy some. Most popular version don’t include any pomegranate juice, which is the primary ingredient in true grenadine, nor do they contain sugar, replacing it instead with high-fructose corn syrup. Truthfully, most store-bought grenadine is nothing more than sweet syrup and red dye.

Real grenadine is simple mixture of pomegranate juice and sugar, and is an integral ingredient to certain cocktails for a couple reasons. In addition to imparting a subtle tartness, grenadine imparts a striking blush to the cocktails it graces– the latter can be accomplished by any imitation product, but only true grenadine can offer the proper taste. Grenadine shouldn’t merely sweeten a drink, it should enhance its flavor.

You can find proper grenadine in stores, but why bother? You can make some at home quite easily. Here is a simple method I’ve come up with after much trial-and-error:

Grenadine

1 cups sugar
2 cups pomegranate juice (about 4 pomegranates)

The first step is to juice the pomegranates. I’ve tried many methods, including strainers, juicers, and food mills, but none work as well as simply getting your hands dirty. I halve the pomegranate, and twist and break it up over a chinois (a strainer will work, too) and then squeeze and smash the seeds in my hands. Gradually, all the juice will escape and filter into the bowl beneath the chinois.

Pour the pomegranate juice into a pan, and stir the sugar in slowly until it has completely dissolved. Place the pan over a medium flame, and stir often for about fifteen minutes, or until the juice has thickened into a syrup. Remove from heat and let stand. Once cooled, transfer to a glass jar. Simple syrup will keep for about two to three weeks if tightly sealed and refrigerated.

You can make any quantity you wish to make; just be sure to keep the proportion of juice to sugar the same (2:1) and you’ll be fine.

In addition to being used in cocktails, grenadine is tasty when drizzled over vanilla ice cream, among other things. I imagine it would be yummy atop a pancake.

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The Enchirito is Reborn

By , March 9, 2004

Ever since I posted ten random facts about myself last month, people have been asking me “what’s up with the Enchirito?”

I’m not much for fast food, but as a tot I was most fond of Taco Bell’s Enchirito. As a matter of fact, it was my favorite item on their menu; one day it was gone! Now, this happens from time to time at fast food restaurants. Kentucky Fried Chicken, who are now referring to themselves as Kitchen Fresh Chicken (I think it must be to avoid the negative association with the state of Kentucky) used to serve up a deliciously frothy beverage known as the Moby Orange, which was similar to an Orange Julius. It went really well with their fish and chips. Then the Colonel, or rather Pepsi, who bought the chain from him, discontinued both the Moby Orange and the fish and chips. Much as I liked them, I moved on. Taco Bell used to offer a Bellbeefer, which was their taco meat and sauce and cheese on a hamburger bun. They got rid of that too, but you didn’t hear me complaining; at least not much.

Ah, but the Enchirito– when they killed that, I finally had to act. But what, thought I at the time, can one man do? I started by filling out comment cards every now and then, and sending them in. I had heard stories of large corporations making major changes based on just one comment card. The cards were sometimes bandied about by mid-level managers as examples of “how we can better serve our customers,” and I hoped maybe one of my comment cards would find its way into the hands of some over-zealous ladder-climber.

I didn’t stop there. No sir. I called 1-800-TACO BELL, or whatever their number is, and requested the return of the Enchirito. I even found an O.G. manager at a distant Taco Bell who would prepare Enchiritos specially for me. He promised to mention to his regional manager that there was a “high demand” for the return of the Enchirito, although he confessed I was the only person who’d asked for one since its demise a decade prior.

My final volley in the war for the Enchirito came when I wrote for 4080 Magazine. In its heyday, the now-defunct magazine was the pre-eminent magazine of hip hop music and culture, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Enchiritos, but one day the publisher came in and announced that they had some extra space, and he wanted a few of us to “write about anything.” I suppose he meant anything rap-related, but I wrote a 3 paragraph blurb about how wonderful the Enchirito was, and how Taco Bell should bring it back.

Lo and behold, within six months of that article’s publication, the Enchirito was quietly and unceremoniously returned the Taco Bell menu. Did I make it happen? Can one man really make a difference in today’s vast and complex world? You make the call.

Today’s Question: Do you miss any discontinued fast foods?

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Return from New York

By , October 21, 2003

My oldest brother used to live in New York, and during my high school and college years I’d visit him perhaps once a year. I’d stay with him for anywhere between one to five weeks at a time, and in doing so got a pretty solid feel for what life was like in the so-called Big Apple. He moved; until this month, except for a brief day trip last year, I’d not been back in several years. New York has changed substantially in my absence.

New York City in 2003 has become somewhat homogenized. It’s still New York, and it still has a lot of the mystique and character that has always made it special, but not as much as before. There is now a Starbucks on nearly every corner (some corners have four!), and all the suburban chains dominate the landscape. Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Olive Garden, Staples, and their ilk are omnipresent, just as in any other major city. It’s a shame. New York City always seemed so immune to that. Is it really true that all good things must come to an end?

An example? Grand Central Station– it’s now a mall. A real, honest-to-god, California-style, shopping mall with a Banana Republic and everything. Am I wrong to say that that is, well, wrong? And Times Square? Not that I necessarily miss the hookers that fondled me and and the crack dealers that solicited to me when I was 14, but maybe I’d be okay with at least a hobo or two. Am I really asking for too much from my Manhattan Experience?

Unsolicited & Biased Advice for Travelers to New York City

Be forewarned– New York City is the capitol city of hype. With more than 8 million people there, not counting visitors, there is a built-in audience for anything. Restaurants especially don’t need to be good, they just need a gimmick or a moment of fame, after which people will flock to their doors, giving them the reputation of “best fill-in-the-blank” in the city. The Magnolia Bakery is the perfect example. They sell a very average cupcake and no one cared about them; they were mentioned on Sex in the City and the line has been out the door ever since.

Even restaurants that aren’t given shout-outs by celebrities can thrive here, regardless of quality. In other cities, there are more restaurants and storefronts than there are customers to fill them, and competition is fierce. In Manhattan it is exactly the opposite: demand exceeds supply by a vast margin. Manhattan may be the only place on the world where the quality of the product is immaterial– an establishment can draw people simply by existing. Having cleared that up, allow me to tell you about some of the places we ate, shopped, and saw while on our trip.

Eating

The Corner Bistro (331 W. 4th @ Jane) Some say it’s the best burger in New York, maybe it is, maybe not. It is a pretty good burger, and if they used a better cut of meat it would be excellent. The menu is limited to hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken sandwich, and french fries, so vegetarians be forewarned.

Lombardi’s Pizza (32 Spring Street) Pretty darn yummy pizza, on par with Arinell Pizza here in Berkeley. Done in a coal oven, for what that’s worth.

Katz’s Delicatessen (205 East Houston Street) It’s been around since 1888, it’s where Meg Ryan faked her orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, and it’s an authentically Jewish New York style deli. I loved the sandwich I ate there, although the meat-to-bread ratio is a bit skewed in the favor of the meat.

Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street) Average baked goods, average cupcakes, long line. You can get as good or better fare at any bakery.

Hungarian Pastry Shop (111th and Amsterdam) Apparently famous, pretty good pastries and coffee, somewhat crowded, with a pleasant atmosphere. I went there twice, as it was a convenient spot for breakfast, being literally around the corner from where I stayed. It is reported to be in an upcoming film called “P.S.” so the crowds may grow.

Pastis (Little West 12th @ Ninth Avenue) A little tricky to find. It is in the attractively-named Meat Packing District, and it’s worth hunting down. It’s a great French bar/cafe/restaurant. I had steak tartare and it was perfect. I also had a steak sandwich…also superb. Go there!

Teany (Not Sure) I didn’t go, but I was told it was fun. Moby’s tea shoppe, or some such thing. I doubt he is there waiting on tables, but hey, it’s supposed to be neat anyway. You go and tell me.

Soup Kitchen International (259-A West 55th Street) Another place I didn’t go, but worth mentioning. This is the famous “Soup Nazi” of Seinfeld fame. Which reminds me:

Tom’s Restaurant (112th and Broadway) I ate there because it’s the closest diner to where I stayed, but as I mentioned in a prior post, it is the Seinfeld Diner, as well as the Suzanne Vega diner. The food is decent, and it’s open late, but not worth going out of your way to visit, unless you want to go because of its fame.

Shopping

Catherine Memmi (45 Greene Street) neat modern furniture

J. Lindeberg (126 Spring Street) Clothing from Stockholm that is over-priced but sleek-looking. Were I a person who shopped, I might shop here.

Jonathan Adler (465 Broome Street) Nothing too crazy, but cute stuff.

Colony Music Center (1619 Broadway) One of my regular NY haunts. This is a great music store, with a selection that includes all sorts of new music, as well as possibly the world’s best (not kidding) selection of karaoke CD-G discs. I found my friend and future band-mate Tracy a karaoke version of a song she’d been seeking forever. PLUS…they sell a huge assortment of incredible vintage stuff. Old music and TV trading cards, memorabilia, and more stuff then I can describe. It’s like going to a museum of pop culture where you can buy the exhibits. I strongly suggest visiting this store.

Tutu (55 Spring Street) One of many cute boutiques along this street, but one worth peeking into.

Prada (Prince & Broadway) The architecture and design inside is breathtaking. There is no sign outside, so you just kind of have to know it’s the Prada store. If you like stylized architecture, this store is worth hunting down, though you have to tolerate the shoppers who are actually there to buy Prada items.

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