Just finishing up a trip to NY. Here are the results -
Sushiden - We sat at the bar and had omikase. The bar was packed and we were the only non-Japanese, which at first gave me ganjin anxiety, but I calmed down. I can't give a learned discourse or compare it to other places in NY. All I know is that when I eat good sushi I find myself slowly nodding as though I've just learned the secret of the universe, and I did this many times at Sushiden. Amazingly fresh and flavorful. Standouts were a seared miso cod, abalone, and white salmon, but really, everything was amazing. Expect to pay lots of money.
Franny's in Park Slope - We had absolutely delicious pizza here. Thin crust from a wood fired oven. Not to initiate any curmudgeonly pizza debates, but I was at Di Fara last year, and I don't remember it having anything over Franny's. (Just to show that I'm not a pushover, we had pizza at Arturo's also and thought it decidedly disappointing). Great selection of wines by the glass also. Went to the Chocolate room for dessert afterwards. That place was a zip. The desserts at Franny's looked better.
Jekyll and Hyde (!) We took the kid for his birthday and I was absolutely expecting to hate it, and you know what, it was great! We spent the extra money for a tour of all the attractions, and the kids loved it. Food was OK, no better or worse than you'd expect, and the staff worked their guts out to please us. Definitely recommend for (expensive) child's birthday.
Yakitori Toto - The food here wasn't bad, but after the rave reviews on chowhound I was expecting better. The kobe beef tongue was tough and rather unpleasant, and the fried fish cakes tasted like they came from the frozen food section. Rice cakes and tuna avocado salad were tasty. Everything else fell in the middle. Fun atmosphere, low prices.
Kyotofu - I really don't get this place. It reminded me of the terrible desserts you get at kosher restaurants. Maybe if I'd grown up cultivating an appreciation for tofu desserts, but to me it seemed like the emperor's clothes. Give me a real dessert...
Otto - Loved the scene and the atmosphere, but the food just isn't very good. Pizza tasted depressingly like ketchup (depressing for me, the kids love ketchup). My guanciale pasta was OK after I dumped a ton of parmesan cheese into it. Even the signature olive oil gelato was a flop. It tasted vaguely lemony, I would never have guessed that it was olive oil.
Stand - the hamburger was good but nothing special. The toasted marshmallow shake on the other hand is indeed a delicious and unusual confection, worth going just for that.
Excellent Dumpling House - solid, workhorse Chinatown fare. I come from L.A., and always thought the Chinese food was better there.
Cupcakes - I don't get the whole cupcake thing for New Yorkers. We tried the cupcakes from Buttercup bake shop and Michel London. I find them dry and fairly tasteless. At least a slice of layer cake has a higher frosting to cake ratio. Must be generation x'ers lonely for their childhood.
I hosted a group of eight Meetup-ers @ Excellent Dumpling House last night, on the basis of the review currently posted in the New York Times. Most of us were fairly disappointed...many of our dishes were greasy, with somewhat stale ingredients and unexceptional flavoring.
Big Wong King and NY Noodletown have been our favorites so far.
Excellent Dumpling is a place I'd never choose to go to again. I haven't been there in years and always found it boring, rather tasteless, and unimpressive. I agree that Chinese food is generally better on the West Coast, but do not judge New York or even Manhattan's Chinatown on the basis of a meal at Excellent.
I've been to Franny's only once, some time ago, and found the entire experience completely pleasurable and the pizza on a par with DiFara's, but comparing the very different styles of pizza and the different ambiance, price point, and the fact of Franny's as more of a restaurant that serves pizza than just a pizzeria is kind of like comparing apples and oranges. OK, they're both fruits, but we all know that citrus fruits are in a different class.
Sounds like you went to a lot of places. Glad to hear that you found a few good ones at least. I agree with you that a lot of places in NYC get good reviews /are quite popular but the quality of their food do not reflect their popularity.
I have always wanted to try Sushiden so it's good to hear that you like it. Your posting makes me want to give them a try. I have not been to Yakitori Toto before but from my trips to LA, I thought Shin-Sen-Gumi's Japanese bbq stuff was pretty good too :)
Nice writeup. Thanks for sharing! Mmm. I've wondered about that toasted marshmellow shake. I'm going to have to go check it out.
Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with the Chocolate Room...we go there fairly frequently and have never had a bad dessert there. What did you order?
As to cupcakes...I've never tried Michel London, but I agree with you that the ones at Buttercup aren't so great. As a side note, their layer cake is dry as well. I've found that their red velvet cupcakes were more moist, but still not the best. There are lots of good cupcake places in the city so don't write them off completely. I like Sugar Sweet Sunshine and I recently had a very good Lemon cupcake at Batch, Pichet Ong's new place in the West Village.
Thanks for your detailed report.
Sorry to hear about Yakitori Totto. I actually love the kobe beef tongue and find it pretty tender -- maybe not melt-in-your-mouth tender like kobe beef muscle, but tender enough.
I also don't get Kyotofu either. To me, it was more of a novelty.
Otto -- agree with you about the pizza. Not their strongest suit. I think their antipasti is the best. I hope you had some. And while I like the olive oil gelato, I only like it for a few bites. It gets a bit cumbersome to finish an entire serving.
Excellent Dumpling House -- Good for the area. Not quite a destination place, I agree. And Chinese food is indeed better in the SGV.
Cupcakes -- I also hate Magnolia, but LOVE Mitchel London. Mitchel London is finally a place that can get the cupcake right. I hate to admit it but I prefer Mitchel London to my homemade. The red velvet is the best, especially since it's really not very sweet. And I don't really like a high frosting to cake ratio as it becomes too sweet for me.
re: Miss Needle
re: Miss Needle
Oh, it's not in the same league as Noodletown. Guess I shouldn't have written "for the area." But for something really quick and cheap, it's fine -- much better than what you'd find outside of C-town. There are worse around -- like that terrible place in the basement of Mott that my parents made me go to when I was younger. Don't remember the name of it but couldn't understand why it was always so popular.
re: Miss Needle
Just wanted to add that I stopped by Mitchel London today for a cupcake and found out that they ran out of red velvet. The lady at the counter said it's always the first one to go. So I tried the vanilla cake with the vanilla frosting. Pretty nasty -- frosting was way too sweet and overpowered the cupcake. So unless you like things supersweet or are Magnolia fans, I would stick with the red velvet or the chocolate gananche covered ones.