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A week of gluttony in and around Manhattan -- an obligatory trip report

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My wife and I just returned from a 10 day trip to NYC and Montreal, where many of the spots we hit were solely based on Chowhound recommendations (marked "CH" below). We live in Portland, Oregon, and when in the City we try to focus on the kinds of things we just can't get here... so here's the complete but hopefully terse rundown.

Tue -- Katz's: Pastrami on rye, natch. Also tried the mac salad, which I can only describe as odd. Our third visit here, and I think our best if only because it was completely free of rookie "mistakes" on our part. :)

Carmine's on 44th: Linguine with shrimp (red). I adore Carmine's garlicky pastas, but please do read down more before you judge me too harshly. :) I would probably be 50 lbs heavier if there were a Carmine's here...

Wed -- wd-50: Tasting menu, with one wine pairing. Just awesome. Based on some recent discussions on CH, I was expecting far more bizarre and/or unsettling taste combinations (the recent comparison to atonal music was an interesting analogy), but we didn't find that to be the case for our palates. Top savory course for me was the sepia, woodear, cauliflower puree salad; fried butterscotch pudding was my favorite dessert. Excellent and unexpected wine pairings. Fabulous house cocktail recipes (I actually think NYC has some catching up to Portland to do in this department, house cocktail lists in NY have generally seemed unimaginative to me). This is a place that I would return to frequently if we lived here, and I think 71 Clinton Fresh Food is going to be on the short list for our next trip.

Thu -- Joe's Shanghai (CH): pork soup dumplings, scallops w/garlic sauce, Szechuan beef casserole. I should have known better than to order a Szechuan dish here as it was the least interesting of the three. Great dumplings (no soup dumplings to be found anywhere in PDX) and good service.

Otto: meat platter, bucatini w/guanciale, vongole pizza, funghi/taleggio pizza, olive oil+pistachio gelato, milk chocolate+caramel gelato. I have to say this was the disappointment of the trip. After a stellar meal at Babbo last time, I had high hopes for Otto but the pizzas were just not very good by NY or even Portland standards. The gelato was, however, AMAZING -- simply in another league than anything else we've ever had.

Fri/Sat/Sun were in Montreal which I obviously won't go into here or risk censure by the moderators, but I will say that every self-respecting Northeastern Chowhounder must pay a visit to Au Pied de Cochon at least once in their lives...

Mon -- Crispo (CH): prosciutto/taleggio/roasted asparagus platter, spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti & meatballs. What an absolute gem this place was. Our train back from Montreal was 2 hours late so thank god for places that are open until 11:30 on a Monday night. For whatever reason, I was expecting a more upscale ambiance and being travel-weary we were glad to find that this was a more homey, casual setting. I would make a point to return here on future visits.

Tue -- DiFara's: whole pie with sausage and mushrooms. Say no more.

Regional Thai (7th Ave @ 22nd): khao soi, pad thai. Met a relative here for dinner, her choice. Nothing special.

Wed -- Hanami Japanese (6th Ave @ 14th): beef yakisoba, sushi roll. Met a friend for lunch here, his choice. Excellent yakisoba with real buckwheat soba, which is hard to find out here (in yaki form, anyway).

Le Bernardin: the Le Bernardin tasting menu, with wine pairings. We had done the tasting menu at Jean Georges in the past, and I think I preferred JG slightly. I had read through the recent CH chatter on Le B, and found none of the frequently-mentioned negatives (e.g., rushed, aloof service) to be true on our visit. The problem I have with both Le B and JG is that while the whole experience itself is quite memorable, the individual dishes are actually slightly forgettable considering the price tag. Excellent at the time you are there eating it, but for whatever reason, not life-changing.

Thu -- Pop Burger (9th Ave @ 13th): mini burgers, fries. Great slider-style burgers -- nice thick, well-seasoned patty on a good bun, minimally dressed. Fries had a crisp, lightly battered exterior which I like.

The Lobster Place (@ Chelsea Market): lobster roll. Almost 20 bucks but a helluva lot of huge chunks of tasty lobster overflowing the roll. Again, a Northeasterly thing that I don't have a wide basis for comparison, but I thought it was excellent.

Grand Sichuan St. Marks: Chengdu dumplings, dry and spicy Chong Qing chicken, red cooking pork. Szechuan is by far my preferred region of Chinese cuisine, but Portland's Chinese restaurant scene is dominated by Cantonese restaurants, so Grand Sichuan will probably always be a stop on any visit. This was the first time I ordered the red cooking pork -- mmm, belly...

Fri -- Cafeteria (CH): Maryland crab cake and eggs, croissant breakfast sandwich. Didn't blow me away, the food looked far better than it tasted. If I lived in the area, I'd give it a second chance and try some of the lunch dishes, but as an out-of-towner it wasn't good enough to draw me back.

Pop Burger: mini burger, onion rings. Stopped in here for a snack at about 3pm, killing time before heading to JFK. Hmm, not nearly as good as the day before, I think the key is to hit the place at lunch hour when the burgers are fresh off the grill -- and the onion rings are just crap manufactured from chopped onion bits.

Faicco's Pork Store (CH): Italian special hero, parma prosciutto/mozzarella hero. Picked up sandwiches here for the (sweltering) JetBlue flight home. If only every city had a Faicco's next door to a Murray's Cheese, the world would be a happier place. Faicco's was very good, but we hit Lioni's in Brooklyn for sandwiches (yes, because they were on Emeril) on our last trip, and I do think I prefer the sandwiches at Lioni's enough to make it worth the trek.

Your suggestions for our future trips to NYC are most welcome. :)

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  1. Thanks for the report, Jeff!

    Sorry that you didn't enjoy your pizza at Otto. I find that it hits the spot (particularly whatever the daily special is, or the lardo) but it's definitely not your typical NY or Naples style. Sometimes the "cracker"-y crust feels odd dependent on the topping. (At least Di Fara redeemed NYC in your eyes? Next time try the artichoke!)

    Next time you're at Grand Sichuan, try the tea-smoked duck, cucumbers in scallion sauce, the wontons in hot oil...

    And not to burst your post-trip bubble, but 71 Clinton Fresh Food has closed. You can get similar fare at Tailor, done by Sam Mason, who used to the be the pastry chef at WD-50. Tailor has both sweets and savories.

    2 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Thanks for the feedback. You may be right, that it's jsut a style thing, but my amateur analysis of the problem with the pizzas at Otto on our visit is more with execution than style. The clam pie was simply overcooked, as the cheese had gotten dry and rubbery, and both seemed to have been sitting too long before they got to the table -- not surprising given the volume of customers they seat in a night.

      I've been to Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, Patsy's in East Harlem, and John's on Bleeker in past visits. I'd rank Patsy's and DiFara's as a tie for the top of my list based on one visit each two years apart... :) Totonno's will be the goal on our next trip and I think that will cover the Top 5...?

      1. re: jeff_pdx

        Patsy's and DiFara are my favorites and I've tried most of the big names: Totonno's (very very good), Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, John's of Bleecker, Luzzo's, Una Pizza Napoletana...

    2. Nice report (and I agree about Au Pied de Cochon).