I love food and I love New York, so this last trip was a happy coupling of some of my favorite things. I literally spent hours looking up restaurants I wanted to check out… it’s a bit overwhelming. When you only have a limited amount of time (and, let’s face it, you can’t afford to eat at Per Se or Babbo for every meal), you have to pick and choose. Oh, and let’s add in the delightful reservations craziness that comes with eating out in New York. I called to try to get a reservation at Babbo. They could only give me 11:30 p.m. I was luckier at Marea and managed to snag a 9:30 p.m. reservation (still late…) and I’ll get to the other reservation craziness later (Never ended up going to Marea, btw. – next time). Oh, and the worst is when places don’t take reservations, so you simply wait, and wait, and wait, and wait…
But enough about that, let’s get to the food.
Wednesday Night: The Breslin Bar at the Ace Hotel
I literally flew off the plane at JFK and raced to Midtown to meet up with my cousin and her husband at the Breslin. When her husband checked into the restaurant at 8.30 p.m., they told him it would be an hour and a half wait. I know, ridiculous. But the food is just. that. good. We sank down into oversized chairs in the Ace Hotel’s clubby lounge, packed with flannel- and tight-jean wearing hipsters. “I don’t think I’m cool enough for this place,” I whispered into my cousin’s husband’s ear. He nodded. Yeah, probably true. I wanted to emphasize that I was joking, but then realized that would only make me less cool. Sigh.
He had already started on his first beer and had ordered a pack of these addictive, crunchy, thick potato chips laced with salt-and-vinegar. Our uber-hipster waitress arrived, bangs cut straight across, lips bright red. I ordered a Brooklyn Pilsner from Brooklyn Brewery. Hey, when in hipster-land, order like the hipsters do. It was floral and deliciously hoppy.
After an hour (it was 9:30 p.m.), we got a little antsy. We walked over to the Breslin, and lo and behold, our table was ready. We headed up the stairs into a cozy, wood-paneled dining room. To drink? For me, it was the “Spotted Pig Cask beer,” which is served at room temperature. From the website, “Cask-conditioned ale is the traditional beer of Britain. It is pulled up to the bar by a hand pump, just as it is in England’s Pubs. Cask ales are best enjoyed at a gently chilled cellar temperature. The Spotted Pig Bitter is made exclusively for The Breslin and The Spotted Pig.”
Scrumpets – braised, tender pork shaped into a chicken-tender shape, breaded and fried. Served with mint vinegar, which resembled chimichurri sauce.
Small terrine board – Several different pates served with hot buttered bread: Guinea hen with morels, rabbit & prune pate, headcheese, liverwurst, pork pate. My favorite? The liverwurst was creamy, salty, fatty and bursting with umami goodness. A true winner. The headcheese, with its cubes of cartilage and lord-knows-what meat, was also quite delish.
Herbed ceasar salad with anchovy croutons – The waitress told us that this would be “the best ceasar salad we had ever eaten.” We ordered it, a bit skeptical. You’re talking to some pretty serious foodies here. Yes, it truly was. Forget the creamy, bland dressings: this was light, anchovy-packed and just so beautifully presented. Crispy, deep-fried parsley gave this salad a deliciously seasonal crunch.
Seafood sausage with beurre blanc & chives – Juicy lobster and shrimp brimming with briny, sweet flavors.
Miticrema bruschetta with grilled greens & speck – Creamy miticrema (a relative of burrata) was spread over crunchy sliced bread and served with grilled salty chard.
Chargrilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo & thrice cooked chips – Although this burger sounds somewhat prosaic, it was the winner of the evening. Juice dripped from our fingers, even though the bun stayed perfectly crisp. Perfectly seasoned and cooked to a medium-rare perfection. Served with super crispy hot fries and cumin mayo.
Gianduja Pot de Crème – A bowl of pot de creme topped with luscious layers of whipped cream and a chocolate that resembled the grainy Abuelita Mexican chocolate beloved by many. Beyond creamy. This is the pot de creme of your sweet tooth’s dreams.
After a morning workout to attempt to move the meat-fueled meal from the Breslin, I stopped by Xi’an’s Fine Foods in the East Village to have lunch with an old colleague. The “restaurant” is really a little shack with a counter that New York Magazines claims seats 12 people. Maybe if those 12 people are intimate friends who regularly rub shoulders with each other at some sort of strange hipster ritual — I think the place more comfortable holds eight. You order your food by the number and it is quickly cooked, assembled and then passed to you in a schoolhouse-like cafeteria tray:
[A1] Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles – These cold, thick chewy rice noodles were served with a spicy red chili oil, crunchy cold bean sprouts, sliced green onions, and airy, spongy tofu. The tofu soaked up the savory-spicy soy condiments and complemented the slippery noodles perfectly.
[L1] Tiger Vegetables Salad (Cold & Spicy) – A melange of diced cilantro, tons of green onions and cucumber are drizzled with chili oil, chili flakes and rice wine vinegar. Not a salad for the faint of heart.
Dumpling Man – After my noodles, there was still a little bit of space in my stomach (it’s amazingly expandable), so I wandered down the street to Dumpling Man, a narrow little storefront on St. Mark’s Place that serves a variety of handmade dumplings. I gave my order to our hipster-clad clerk (seriously, is there an epidemic of hipsters?) and sat down at the counter. Two men and a women worked tirelessly to roll dozens upon dozens of dumplings and fill them with pork, chicken, veggies and who knows what else while I was there.
Pork dumplings, steamed – Unlike mass-produced dumplings, which have a thin papery skin and an overly salty filling, these dumplings were composed of a thick, irregular, chewy dough filled with super juicy fresh-cooked pork.
The “sweetie” pie dumplings – These unbelievably good treats were filled with pumpkin pie filling and then bathed in condensed milk. What an ingenious idea. It was like a Southeast Pumpkin pie.
Thursday Pre-Dinner Drinks: Employees Only
For dinner, I met up with two friends from college for a cocktail at a speakeasy-like bar in the West Village. The best part: one of the bartenders had one of those mustaches that curl on the sides. Awesome.
The Amelía. I’ll take the description straight from the menu: Luksusowa Potato Vodka & St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur shaken with pureed blackberries & Fresh Lemon Juice.
Thursday Dinner: Aria Wine Bar
After watching one of my favorite comedians (Mike Birbiglia!!) we ended up at Aria Wine Bar, also in the West Village. This fabulous little wine bar serves all of its wine in these small water glasses, dropping down the level of pretension and amping up the faux rustic factor. Tables were mostly communal and made of white pine, all below wood-paneled ceilings and soft overhead lights. The best part about this meal? Our fabulous waiter, an Italian man (of course) kept pouring us glass after glass of (free) wine. And then gave us (free) dessert wine. LOVE!
Mac and cheese with truffles – The truffles weren’t very noticeable in this dish, although it was creamy and cheesy, as mac and cheese should be. Lacked a bit of salt.
Pork Meatballs – Juicy, tender and perfectly formed. One of our favorites!
Braised calamari with capers and tomatoes – My least favorite dish. The capers overwhelmed the dish, making it taste more like braised capers with bits of calamari.
Mushroom bruschetta – Cremini and button mushrooms, sauteed with butter and parsley, were served atop crunchy bread and melted cheese.
Tiramisu – Fabulously creamy. Just a light touch of rum (or cognac?).
Thursday Night After-Dinner Drinks: A Quick Stop at the Russian Vodka Room followed by the Ace Hotel Lobby Bar
After heading back to the hotel and dropping off my friend’s luggage, we decided to have one more drink. Yeah… we probably shouldn’t have. Oh well. Stuck in the bar/lounge desert that is midtown, we attempted to get a drink at the Russian Vodka Room (“But it’s recommended by the New York Times!” I insisted to my friend.) We walked in. Hazy smoke wafted over an old-school bar populated by heavily inebriated Eastern European men and a few young ladies. We made a beeline out of there. Instead, we headed back to a good standby (and I was determined to be cool!) and ended up at… the Ace Hotel Lobby Bar! I once again ordered by Brooklyn Pislner, and just to mess with my food-and-alcohol-packed stomach, we ordered the thrice-cooked fries. Oh man.
Thrice-cooked fries with cumin mayo – Just thinking about these fries makes my mouth water.
Friday Breakfast: Barney Greengrass
In a shocking move, my stomach/digestive system did not scream in agony when I woke up. I think that greasy food is like drugs: the more you eat it, the more your body craves it, even when it is really, really bad for you. Good times. We hopped on the subway to the Upper West Side (my old haunt back when I was an intern!) and ended up at Barney Greengrass, the home of delicious bagels. I skipped the house coffee — even a bad hangover can’t make me drink drip coffee — and perused the restaurant. The best part of the place is the giant deli filled with pickled and smoke fish, bagels and other delicacies. Yum!
House Cured Gravlax with Cream Cheese on a Sesame Bagel – if you’ve never had gravlax before, it’s a must-try, especially if you are addicted to salty cured fish like I am. Gravlax is basically lox cured with dill and spicy black peppercorns. The bagel was chewy and fresh. Ah, New York.
Friday Lunch: Eataly’s “Le Verdure”
Eataly is what heaven would look like for me. I know, it’s such a cliche now, with every food-hounding tourist and his mother and mother-in-law heading to this Mario Batali food empire, but it really is incredible. There are several places where you can sit down and have a meal, a bunch of which are themed around ingredient groups (like fish, charcuterie, pizza & pasta, etc.). We ended up at the vegetable spot, given that we had been consuming our fair share of meat. Given our food binge yesterday, we actually ended up eating “lunch” around 5 p.m., perfect since our reservations for dinner weren’t until 9.30 p.m.
Verdure alla Piastra – Roasted warm vegetables (asparagus, sugar snap peas, fiddlehead ferns, red bell peppers) were served with warm farro and tossed with a light, delicate vinaigrette.
Bruschetta with melted cheese and charred ramps – Ramps are the new pork belly in New York right now. Every place seems to be taking advantage of this fresh leek-like spring delicacy. These were charred into caramelized crispiness and then place atop melted cheese. Yummm…
Friuliano 2009 Adriatico Bastianich – After our wine-soaked dinner the night before, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to push through and drink more. But, hey, it was Friday afternoon…. this wine was crisp, light, floral. Perfect.
Friday Night: Momofuku Ko
So let’s start with the reservation madness of Momofuku Ko. Seven days before you wish you eat there, you must sign on exactly at 10 a.m. ET (exactly) to their website and try to snag a reservation. So I dragged myself out of bed at 7 a.m. PT on one Saturday morning and called my partner-in-crime C to try to get a table. My heart raced as the seconds ticked toward 10 a.m. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” we wailed. When the moment came, we clicked frantically. I got a table at 9:50. Then she got a table at 9:30. I refused to believe that we could have really gotten a reservation. It just felt too strange. But there we were.
The night of the dinner, around 9 p.m., we decided that we were running too late to take the subway and decided to take a cab. Apparently everyone in Manhattan had the same idea and we raced around crazily in our heels trying to flag one down. Sweat beaded up on our foreheads. Finally, at 9:25, we managed to get a cab. “Can you go as fast as you can?” asked C. The cab driver pressed on the accelerator. We finally got down to the Village, but the traffic had slowed to a crawl. C threw open the taxi door and said she would run and I would take the cab and whoever got there faster would hold our reservation. Amazingly, we made it.
Now, let’s talk food:
Chicharrones with togarashi – this little snack has apparently been on the menu forever, according to the Momofuku cookbook. Togarashi, for the uninitiated, is Japanese ground chili powder.
Asparagus with bone marrow – The bone marrow had been coaxed out of the bone and turned into a bechamel-like sauce draped over the asparagus. Delicious, but not that memorable.
Softshell crab soup with lemongrass and coconut – This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The texture was ethereal and the flavors were fresh and vibrant. The essence of the softshell crab appeared to float over the lemongrass and coconut milk.
Raw scallops with spicy mayo – I’d never had raw scallops before, and these were heavenly in their juicy, soft texture.
Raw branzino with horseradish-yogurt sauce with white asparagus – Another crudo dish, also gorgeously presented and delicious.
Smoked egg with caviar, potato chips and onions – Another one of my favorite dishes. The smoked egg was just barely poached so that the creamy yolk ran into the caviar. The fingerling potato chips and caramelized onions added a sweet-salty-crunchy-earthy balance to the dish.
Cold dashi broth with uni, braised pork, chard shoots with wasabi – The dashi broth was phenomenal. How could dashi broth be that good? Believe me, this dashi broth was perfectly salty and had just a hint of fish. The uni — which I adore — tasted briny and had that lovely squishy texture. The braised pork added some heartiness, while the chard shoots added just a hint of bitterness.
Halibut with fiddlehead ferns – The halibut in this dish is slightly coated with a special type of flour (so we learned from the chefs!) that dries the fish and ensures that the outside of the fillet is crispy. The fiddlehead ferns were roasted and embodied the taste of spring.
Frozen shaved fois gras with reisling jelly, lychee, pine nut brittle – This was one of the standout dishes of the night. The fois gras falls like snow over the crunchy brittle and is complemented by the sweet, fragrant lychee and riesling jelly.
Deep-fried short ribs with grilled ramps, picked onions, green onion
hash, roasted new onions – This was the hearty, meaty dish of the night. The short ribs didn’t taste deep-fried, just juicy and perfectly cooked. The combination of different members of the onion family cooked in different ways was a treat. I loved the green onion hash — the caramelized, creamy onions had none of the sting/harshness of your typical fresh onion.
Green tomato sorbet with green tomato salad – A palate cleanser of sorts, this green tomato sorbet is made using a Pacojet ice cream maker which creates an instantly creamy ice cream without cream. It was strange — but incredible.
Goat cheese ice cream with rhubarb and pistachio cubes – I loved the pistachio cubes of this dish. Not my favorite dish of the night… it didn’t have the “Wow” factor of some of the other dishes, but a lighter end to a multiple-course meal.