MTL-NYC and how we gained 10 pounds in a weekend
My best friend (BF) and I recently made the trek from Montreal to Manhatten and were food tourists for a while. These are our stories.
Houston’s for dinner
The first time BF and I went to Houston’s was in Boston and was a less than awesome experience. They had overcooked BF’s steak and a new one would take 45 minutes. To cover the taste of charred meat, she requested steak sauce and was told they had run out. When she complained to management she was told: O.k., we will bring you something, which turned out to be “au jus” sauce. So when she wrote a letter of complaint and received a 75 dollar gift certificate, it was well-earned but neither of us were that excited about it. We were in for a pleasant surprise!
We ordered a bottle of Walla Walla Ecole no. 41 merlot after having read about it on CH. In Montreal the same bottle retails at just over 40$, at Houston’s with markup it was $50 which was a total steal. What a great decision on our part! It was a great bottle of wine and went really well with our steaks. My filet was cooked to a perfect medium, and although I can’t say I would every order cold asparagus again, being chilled does make them extra crunchy and delicious. BF’s strip loin was aged to perfection and also cooked just right. Her loaded baked potato (the best baked potato she had ever had in a restaurant, fluffy and moist) was so massive we could share it. All in all it was what would turn out to be our best meal on the trip-and neither of us needed steak sauce!
Cost for 2 people incl. wine, tax and tip: approx. 150
Magnolia’s for Cupcakes!
This stop was part of our Sex and the City tour. We knew we were in for a treat when we saw about 30 people in line on Bleeker street waiting to get in. Part of the cost of the tour included a cupcake, so I actually got to taste one (chocolate on chocolate) while I was in line…good lord. My eyes rolled back in my head, a was doing a little dance of joy, drooling and moaning and basically making everyone around me jealous. Needless to say I bought a dozen cupcakes and proceeded to eat them all in the space of 3 days. No wonder they have a 2 dozen per customer limit!
Cost for 1 dozen cupcakes: 27$
John’s for dinner
Another foodie place with a line up to get in, also on Bleeker, this time for pizza. Rated by CH as one of the top two places in Manhatten for pizza (as far as we could tell) you knew stepping into the place that these guys are pros. With the pizza being made there in the dining room, and an excessively efficient waiter, we were in and out in like an hour. Even though the pie we wanted wasn’t on the menu (mushrooms and pepperoni) they made it for us and it was great. The thing is that you have to like NY style pizza, which neither of us do. We actually prefer Montreal pizza--but agreed that it was very good pizza.
Cost for 1 pie, 1 starter salad, and drinks: 30$
Katz’s for Lunch
Katz’s is an institution. Otherwise it would never get away with the lineups, the surly waitstaff, the sharing tables, the crazy expensive meals and the shoddy treatment. Organized to give you cardiac arrest before you even get your pastrami, this place is not for the weak of constitution. Perhaps this is where you can get the best pastrami in New York, but you better like pastrami! I opted for the 14.95 turkey sandwich instead and picked at it. BF got the pastrami but her heart (and her tastebuds) remain loyal to smoked meat in Montreal. The best thing about our meal was the pickles—they were damn good and when BF asked or more they gave her a plateful. We shared an order of french fries that we’re standard, however quite good in comparison to the rest of the meal. Worst thing had to be the cost. I would have much rather gone back to Magnolia’s and bought another dozen cupcakes.
Cost for 2 people incl soda, tax and tip: 50.00
Vice Versa for dinner
The first thing I noticed as a diner and as a foodie was that the bread had been previously frozen. As a Montrealer this is one of my biggest pet peeves. The wine list was short but had a bit of variety, and the fact that we could order half-bottles really made us happy. We ended up with a half bottle of Alsace gewürztraminer (Hugel) that was quite pleasing and went rather well with the meals we had ordered.
Our starter salads were both delicious. BF had the dried cured beef on arugula with goat cheese dressing, while I had the mixed greens and endive with beets, pears and parm (rather than gorgonzola.) The interesting thing about both salads was that flavours only worked when together, not separate.
For mains BF had opted for the roasted chicken with zucchini and prucshutto filling, which was so subtle she didn’t even notice it was there and we embarrassed ourselves by asking the waiter if it had really been stuffed. That being said, it really was a very expensive piece of rotisserie chicken that she could have done without, or rather ordered something else.
My main was baby chicken with rosemary which was good but not something I’d order again as it was sort of boring. I guess that's what happens when you order chicken in a restaurant--something neither of us ever do-but we wanted something simple.
Cost for 2 people incl. wine, tax, tip: about 140.00
Thanks for the detailed report, A. F.
Re: Katz's. I take it you are not a smoked meat/pastrami fan, However, you could have opted for corned beef or, better yet, knoblewurst. But getting back to the pastrami, we have been to Schwartz's and, while it was good, *my* tastebuds remain loyal to my hometown's quintessential deli meat.
With regard to your complaints... First about the lines, How is that any any different from the situation at Schwartz's that we put up with? We waited on a humoungus line *outside* because it's a tiny place with not many tables. And, in fact, we ended up sitting at the counter because waiting for a table would have further increased an already exceedingly long wait.
I don't know what you mean by shoddy treatment. If you did counter service, there are no waiters to contend with. If you are referring to the countermen, I've never found them to be surly, just interested in serving the customers and moving things along. And you did say that your counterman was very generous with the pickles.
Sharing table is a tradition in some, but not all, NYC delis.
With regard to the cost, this is NYC where prices tend to be high; however, considering that the exchange rate is now slightly in your favor (gone are those glorious days when we traveled annually to Quebec and enjoyed a 35% discount!), I don't think you should be too unhappy.
Overall, it sounds as though you had a great time. I hope you and your BF will come back soon. :-)
Thanks for your response, RGR. I have never had corned beef so the next time I go to NYC, other than pizza at Grimauldi's, I will have to try it out. I was recently told that Carnegie Deli is very good. What do you think?
Re: Katz's. Welllllllll here's the thing. The whole thing was a disaster and I sought to describe why. I understand that sharing tables, long lines, surly waitresses and overcharging is part of the scene--they do the same at Schwartz's here in MTL. I guess the difference is (for me) that I did not enjoy the food. I will gladly squander a stupid amount of money on something I like, and I tend to like a lot of things. But Katz's just didn't do it for me.
And you're right, I did have a great time overall. We intend to be back soon! Once you spend any amount of time in Manhattan you just itch to go back and try the things you couldn't the first time around...
re: Aspiring Foodie
No surprise you didn't enjoy the food at Katz's. A turkey sandwich? Blech! As I said, if pastrami or smoked meat is not your thing, then a better alternative would have been corned beef or knoblewurst. Corned beef is not smoked, and knoblewurst is similar to salami, but a bit spicier.
I am not a fan of Carnegie. Imo, the deli does not compare favorably with Katz's. And if you were unhappy with the general scene at Katz's, Carnegie is even worse, given that it is located in the heart of the Times Square tourist area. So, if you're going to try corned beef (or knoblewurst), Katz's is the place to do it.
Btw, the next time you come here, you might want to consider taking my (in)famous LES Food Excursion, which starts at Katz's. It will give you the opportunity to walk the streets of this historic neighborhood while sampling foods emblematic of NYC.