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Mar 2, 2008 04:05 AM

Looking for Unique food experiences- can be upscale or a street cart! HELP!

So, we are heading to NY next week for a week of glutonous and amazing cuisine from street fare to per se. My question is what are some of the most unique food experiences in NY. Doesn't have to be fancy, but can be... only stipulation is that it must be unique and GOOD!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Hey, Aggiegirl1998,

    Glad to hear you'll be paying us a visit. However, in order for us to make appropriate suggestions, you need to be more specific by providing us with *your* definition of "unique."

    2 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      Yes, we are so excited! We are actually a group of chefs... that being said, I am not a food snob. We have our reservations at Per Se, so we are stoked about that... but, we are also looking for some different experiences. Doesn't have to be high end, but it can be. For different or unique experiences, I would say restaurants with unique ingredients, unique shops for hard to find ingredients, restaurants with something so amazing that you just have to tell us about it, places that are unique with their order processes, foods, etc.

      THank you so much in advance, we are looking forward to it coming from Austin, Texas!

      1. re: Aggiegirl1998

        Hey, Aggiegirl,

        Thanks for that explanation.

        Although you are going to Per Se, I recommend you also include Eleven Madison Park for high end dining. Regulars on this board know that it is our favorite NYC restaurant, and for good reasons.

        You say you're looking for amazing cuisine? Well, Chef Daniel Humm's French-inspired cuisine is definitely that. We've been there countless times, and just when we think he's outdone himself, he somehow manages to wow us again! His cuisine is truly sensationa!

        In addition, the wine list is first-rate, service is both very cordial and polished, and the space is gorgeous!

        When you reserve, do let them know that you are visiting chefs from Austin because I'm sure Chef Humm will want to come out and chat with you.

        In the category of shops, I suggest you visit Kalustyan's, on Lex, b/t 28th & 29th Sts. (the area known as "Curry Hill"). Every nook and cranny of this store is filled to bursting with an unimaginable variety of items, especially those related to Indian and Asian cooking. You can see the list of what they offer on their website. On the second level, they sell prepared foods. I recommend you try the mujaddarah, a pita stuffed with very tasty ingredients.

        Finally, you might want to consider taking my Lower East Side food "tour." It will give you and your fellow chefs the opportunity to walk around this interesting, historic neighborhood while sampling foods that while, perhaps, not unique in themselves, are certainly emblematic of NYC. Here's the tour"

        LES Food Excursion

        For the quintessential NYC deli experiences, no place beats Katz's, on the corner of Houston (pronounced "how-stun") & Ludlow Sts. You're there specifically for the pastrami sandwich. When you enter, you will be given a ticket. Instead of opting for table service, do what the "natives" do and get on line for counter service. When you reach the counter, put a $1 for each sandwich in the counterman's tip cup – though not mandatory, it is a tradition -- and order pastrami on rye. He'll give you a piece to taste. If you like it (the best pastrami is juicy and has some fat on it), tell him o.k., and he'll make your sandwich, give you some sour pickles, and punch your ticket. Then, continue along the counter for sides – the cole slaw is good -- and drinks. Find seats at a table in the center of the room. (Tables along the wall have menus on them and are reserved for waiter service.) When you’re done, take your ticket to the cashier in front, where it’s cash only. To pay by credit card, go to the counter at the rear where the salamis are sold. Note: For the purposes of this tour, unless you have a gargantuan appetite, it would be best to share one sandwich in order to leave room for more tastings along the way.

        When you exit Katz’s, turn left and continue along the same side of Houston St. You will come to Russ & Daughters, famous for all sorts of smoked fish and many other goodies. It's not a restaurant, but they make sandwiches to go.

        After leaving the Russes, continue west a couple of blocks until you reach Yonah Schimmel's. Get a tasty potato knish, and make sure to ask them to heat it up.

        Now it’s time for the quintessential NY drink – the egg cream. So, reverse yourself and head east on Houston until you come to Avenue A. (Note: Avenue A becomes Essex St. on the south side of Houston.) Turn left on A and head north until you get to the block between 7th St. and St. Mark’s Place. Look for a hole-in-the-wall candy shop, closer to 7th, with an overhead sign jutting into the street that says, “Belgian Fries.” (The place’s official name is Ray’s, but there is no signage to that effect.) One of the women behind the counter will make you a delicious chocolate egg cream.

        When you’re finished licking your lips, go back to Houston St. and make a left (east) one block to Norfolk St. Turn right and walk down Norfolk until it ends at Grand St. Two places to look for at the corner of Grand and Norfolk: Kossar's, for freshly baked bialys (another very NY food) and the Donut Plant (self-explanatory).

        Next, walking west along Grand St., you will come to Orchard St. Turn right. At 87 Orchard, snack on a pickle from Gus's World Famous Pickles.

        Then, continue to 97 Orchard, b/t Broome & Delancey, where you will find the Tenement Museum. The tour will show you what life was like for immigrants to NYC at the beginning of the 20th century. (
        Once you have finished the tour, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, right next door at 95 Orchard, is a must for some of the best gelato anywhere.

        If your sweet tooth is still not completely satisfied, the final stop on this tour should do it. Continue ahead (north) on Orchard, crossing Delancey, then one more block to Rivington St. Make a right and you will find Economy Candy at 145 Rivington.

        Note: It’s best not to take this tour on a Saturday since some of the spots are closed because of religious observance. Also, Donut Plant is closed on Mondays.

        Enjoy your visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

    2. I am assuming you do not have a lot of great or authentic Chinese food in Austin, so I would suggest Joe's Shanghai on Pell St. in Chinatown for soup dumplings (get the ones with crab) and some unusual dishes like pork belly (called "fresh bacon" on the menu) with preserved vegetables, braised pork shoulder, yellowfish fingers, and jellyfish.

      1. Adding to RGR's recommendations, I will suggest Momofuku Ssam Bar for dinner (not lunch) as you won't be able to find anything like this in another other cities in the US! It has a lot of offal dishes prepared in innovative ways and they are extremely declicious. If your group is big you can reserve the Bo Ssam (whole pork butt) in advance. Do a search on Momofuku Ssam Bar and you will find plenty of recommendations on what to order

        Then if you have a chance, I will strongly suggest going to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Although it is not in the city, I think it will be extremely valuable for your group as chefs to look into how Blue Hill supplies all their food (meat, vegetables) on their own and create seasonal, local dishes from their own farm. I think your group may gain some interesting insights (assuming your restaurants aren't doing the same) from the tour of the Blue Hill farm, and it should be a great culinary knowledge sharing with the Blue Hill chefs and people. Of course, their food is purely delicious so it is worth the trip even for the food alone.

        I am not sure what the culinary landscape is like in Texas for Japanese and Chinese food, but if you are interested, I will recommend having omakase at Sushi Yasuda who will bring you to a seafood adventure of the freshest ingredients prepared in Japanese style.

        For Chinese, Amazing 66 offers some delicious Cantonese food that incorporates unique ingredients that may be rare in other cuisines. A walking tour at the Chinatown will be a fun thing to do.

        DiPalo (Italian) and Despana (Spanish) on Grand Street which is part of / close to Chinatown is worth a visit for fresh made cheese, spanish gourmets, and artisian food and ingredients.

        If you do a search on "first time NYC" or similar, you will find a lot of recommendations from high-end to street food, and it may be helpful to narrow down your list.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kobetobiko

          This is great! Please keep in coming, I have heard about this LES tour, too! I am noting all of what you guys are saying and THANK YOU SO MUCH! I can't wait to eat as much as I can in your city! ;)

          Please let me know if there is anything else, I don't leave until Friday.
          Thank you, again!

          1. re: Aggiegirl1998

            I second the LES tour - it really is unique, and quintessentially New York. If you have time to take the Tenement Museum tour, please do. It's a real eye-opener.

            I might add, going West on Houston Street (take a cab, its a hike) you can find one of my favorite pizza joints in Manhattan, Arturo's, on the northeast corner of Houston and Thompson St. I like it better than the more famous John's of Bleecker St., but you could compare the two. Just across Houston Street from Arturo's a few steps down Sullivan Street, is Joe's Dairy store, which has marvelous fresh mozzarella - you can get it on your pizza at Arturo's if you wish.

            Continue west a couple blocks on Houston to sixth Avenue, and go north to where Bleecker Street intersects with Sixth. Wander northwest on Bleecker and enjoy the sights of the Village. It's become far too touristy, but there are some culinary gems, including Murray's Cheese Store, which is probably unlike anything in Austin (the only comparisons I know are Neal's Yard in London and the Beverly Hills Cheese Store in LA). There is a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint on Bedford Street just north of Houston and Sixth (all the streets cross on the diagonal here!) called 'ino that makes the most incredible assortment of panini, crostini, and little grilled sandwiches.

        2. As the title of your post suggests, there are two kinds of food experiences in NY. One is Haute Cuisine. The other uses food and a meal ticket as a passport to enter a hidden world to which you would otherwise have no access. Here are links to posts about this second kind of experience. I'm offering them not as specific recommendations of places to go but as illustrations of the kind of unique experiences you can have. Enjoy NY!!

          4 Replies
          1. re: Brian S

            To all, thanks for the continued ideas. Looks like we will need to stay longer! Keep them coming! ;)


            These are great links and look like great finds. What would be your most favorite (nothing Mexican, please...we have pretty good Mexican here in Texas). But, anything else... what would be your favorite?

            1. re: Aggiegirl1998

              If you happen to be in the East Village, here are my pics:

              Pommes Frites - amazing french fries with yummy dipping sauces - great late night spot
              Angelicas Kitchen - renowned organic/vegan cafe - very hip & seriously good.
              Chick Pea in Astor Place- super delish falafel & shwarma.
              Bar Veloce - Wine bar with light eats, good paninis & snacks. V. cool ambiance

              Everytime I come back to NYC (I have since moved) I visit Chick Pea & Angelicas. They are a must visit in my book! We also love Katz's, another must do. Enjoy for me!

              1. re: lavendula

                I respectfully disagree with Chickpea and Angelica's. Chickpea has changed to baked falafel. They are supposed to change back to fried as I think they had a lot of complaints, but I don't think they have yet. And Angelica's is OK, but not a destination place IMO.

                I do think Pomme Frites is a great spot anytime, and Bar Veloce is a nice place for drinks. I'm more of a fan of Inoteca on the LES.

                Totally second kobetobiko's rec for Momofoku Ssam -- there's nothing like this elsewhere. Definitely a unique experience. As you're in NY, you may also want to do pizza here. Tons of debate. Personally, I feel the best one for a tourist is Grimaldi's over the Brooklyn Bridge. You can walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, go to Grimaldi's, and then go to Jacques-Torres chocolate shop or Brooklyn ice cream factory and enjoy your treats while overlooking the Manhattan skyline.

                And Prune is always a favorite with a lot of foodies.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Wow, I didn't know that Chickpea changed that much, although I haven't had one in about a year. I always liked it as it was such a happening spot, great for people watching, but if it's not as good as it use to be then skip it.

                  Angelicas, however, is a landmark vegan restaurant and that is unique in my opinion. I've traveled all over the country and it's one of those places that I haven't seen anything like & dream about returning to. Maybe it's just b/c I am veggie (although my non-vegetarian friends & BF are also amazed by it), but it's pretty much an institution in the East Village.

                  I used to frequent Ino & Inoteca in the LES all the time and also agree that they are great, but just wanted to represent the village a bit since she already got a slew of reccs for the LES.

          2. For more formal, but not top-tier you may want to try Dovetail and/or Bar Blanc. You asked for unique, and these are not unique, but the food is by no means ordinary. Dovetail was recently rated 3 stars in the Times, and BB 2 stars. Both have dishes that you definitely will not have had in Austin. The most notable are (at Dovetail) fried lamb's tongue, duck breast with pistachio and truffles, monkfish with lobster and foie gras, roast sirloin with beef cheek lasagna, and (at BB) sweetbread and rabbit salad, lamb shoulder lasagna, black cod with saffron and mussel sauce, porcelet. Both restaurants will cost up to $100 per person, and I feel it is very good value for the quality of food and service. Dovetail tends to attract an older neighborhood clientele, and is more subdued, while BB is more glitzy and younger.

            Be aware that you will have to reserve these right away and may have to accept an odd time as they book up weeks in advance.