manhattan trip report
A somewhat jaded food geek pastry chef from Seattle spent 5 days in Manhattan at the end of June/early July eating as much as I could, and here is my report:
taco truck at 96th and broadway: good, carnitas could have been more seasoned, but I was thankful there was someplace to get food at 1am after a six-hour delayed arrival
Bouley bakery: cannele was one of the best things I ate all week, croissant had a nicely shattering exterior but I found the interior too bready, lemon muffin was cakey and good.
WD-50: 'we seat all of our solo diners in the bar' - if I'd wanted to sit at the crappy excuse for a table between the door and the hostess stand, I wouldn't have reserved a month in advance, thanks for nothin'. Tasting menu was good overall, really loved the french onion soup, poached tongue with deep fried mayo was very hot dog-gy but maybe that was the idea. Nothing was bad, but I'd say half the courses fell into 'good, interesting' and half were 'wow! that really works'. I enjoy wacky desserts, but I ended up wishing that one of the three could have been more traditionally sweet without a savory element.
lunch at the met: tired, overpriced, wish I hadn't
tea at Payard: just lovely, perfect little scones and tartlets and such, recommended!
Aquavit: where solo diners are VIP! sashimi with duck tongue, lime, nori, uni;braised shortrib slip-in course (never would have ordered, but really enjoyed), duck two ways on black quinoa, ordered the fromage blanc/passionfruit/huckleberry dessert and also received the chocolate mousse (so I wouldn't get lonely - how sweet). Everything good, enjoyed the clean plating, especially on desserts.
Yonah schimmel knishes: Jesus! That's a lot of potatoes. Wish I'd had those around when I was a starving college student and struggling the few years after.
Chocolate egg cream: I can see how it could be a nostalgic thing for some people, but these days I have a hard time enjoying anything based on hershey's syrup. Darnk half of it.
Doughnut plant: coconut doughnut - coconut cream practically liquid, how do they do that?
Excellent donut, tried to resist eating the whole thing but did it anyway.
Gus's pickles: never had a sidewalk temperature pickle before - good pickle, unique buying experience.
l'asso pizza just above little italy: authentic neapolitan style, pretty bland, but happy hour slices were a buck, so there you go
Devi: LOVED IT! Tasting menu Indian, spicy and exotic and everything nice. Pickle-y bits, brain bruschetta, the biggest prawn I've ever seen, tandoori lamb, pistachio kulfi. Nicely priced, too.
city bakery: pretzel croissant seems like a good idea, but maybe it was too early. Really nice scone, hot chocolate just a touch too bitter, warmish instead of hot and pretty small cup.
Balthazar bakery: great fruity frangipane tart ( I think it was apricot, have forgotten) well executed
Blue Hill: probably my favorite overall. Warm feel to the room, very fresh and light food, everything well prepared, service was friendly, also ended up chatting with the table next to me, nice to have that comfort level in fine dining. Desserts were both really fresh and simple, blueberries with yogurt sorbet and cherries with strawberry sorbet, kind of redundant one fruit and sorbet course is enough.
Cru: eh, getting burned out by this point. Opted for the chef's menu, requested the duck or rabbit as my main, but received poached chicken that was admirably tender and succulent and mild if you're into that, but kind of creeped me out and disappointed. Luckily, they responded to my disappointment with pork belly then a few cheese with a splash of chateau d'yquem. Nice dessert: passionfruit brulee with strawberry, basil, coconut tapioca. I was a bit bothered by getting my food then having to wait for my wine pairing, and also the gender stereotyping 'a lot of women really like the chicken' (fascinating, but I asked for duck), and 'so then do you want chocolate for dessert?' (no I want the most creative offering)
La floridita at 126th & broadway: had to try the legendary cuban sandwich (my friend who went to columbia talks about them) good, cheap, I can see the allure.
Spotted pig: wow, way funkier than I was expecting. Simple bisto food nicely executed. Arugula salad, pork rillettes, bowl of cherries. Solid, not revelatory.
Chikalicious: the cutest place in the universe. Chika & husband were super sweet, dessert were small, but tasty and you could really feel the love. Best of luck to them.
Jacques Torres: nicely expressed flavors, and not ridiculously overpriced. I heart Jacques.
Maison du chocolate: nicely expressed flavors, ridiculously overpriced, enrobing a bit too thin to my mind
jean-georges: lunch downstairs was unfortunately not prix fixe due to 4th of July holiday (ouch) Foie gras brulee with intense cherry compote and scotish salmon with white asparagus and basil were both amazing. Desserts...I had high hopes that were not met. Rhubarb tart with strawberry ice cream and rhubarb mustard jam - tart was doughy and undercooked, ice cream was good, but rhubarb mustard jam was highly undelicious, approaching bile. A little sugar might have been nice, but unsweetened rhubarb with mustard was not worth eating and detracted from the other components. Also had an apricot, rose gellee, green flavorless granita thing that didn't wow me either. Sorry, Johnny, i don't care what Pastry rt & Design says, that was disappointing.
re: babette feasts
You actually hit a lot of the spots on my (in)famous LES eating "tour." Don't know where you sampled your egg cream. But on the tour, I include a stop for an egg cream at Ray's, a hole-in-the-wall candy shop, on Av. A. Another place for a first-rate egg cream is Gem Spa, on 2nd Av. Next time, give either -- or both -- a try.
Great reviews -- thanks for the detailed reports...
Glad you had fun in Manhattan -- next trip, since you enjoyed the bakery atr Balthazar i'd also say to check out the simple but well-executed salads at there, and maybe some Italian places...and maybe some of our top sushi joints (Yasuda, Ushi Wakamaru, etc) -- i like Shiro's in Seattle, but the other ones i've tried there haven't been so hot (although have never been to Nishino)
p.s. Though i love the incredible variety here in Manhattan, i have to admit that we don't have an American bistro as charming and consistent as Matt's/Market, nor a tapas place anywhere near the wonderful quality of Harvest Vine...enjoy...
Fabulous reporting and thanks. For egg cream hounds, there used to be an elderly guy that sold the best egg creams around the corner from the Frick Museum. And the egg creams are made with U-Bet, which I happily found recently in Tucson.
City Bakery in my book is vastly overrated. Better bagels are found uptown at H&H, and even sometimes at the 5th Avenue Epicure, up the street,on 5th, as well as far friendlier service. The breakfast buffet is always a slight disappointment -- dry eggs. The thing that always sticks in my craw at CB is the assumption that the customer is going to be trouble and so why not just start out on the crank-offensive foot. I don't know, but when I'm hung over and feeling slightly food poisoned after an evening at Babbo and need comfort food, friendly service to match the food would really help.
Thanks for the report.