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Diary of a Glutton: NYC Trip Report May 2008

On my last trip to NYC, I ate so much I found myself hyperventilating in an attempt to end-drive my metabolic processes (at Momofuku Ssam Bar, during my fifth of six meals that day) so that I could eat even more (it made sense at the time). I then learned the hard way that metabolisms really do slow down after thirty. Five tenacious, brutally difficult to lose pounds later, I returned.

No more, I swore. This year, I set some ground rules:
1) No more than four meals a day (snacks don’t count)
2) Of these, no more than two could be multi-course
3) No eating past the point of pain (up until and including are ok)

The Summary:
As good as I remembered: Ali Baba’s lahmacun, Katz’s pastrami, Grandaisy/Sullivan Street Bakery potato pizza
Not as good as I remembered: Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges, Patisserie-Claude
Keeping their spots in my “Top 5” list: Degustation, Momofuku Ssam Bar
Disappointing: Madeleine’s macarons, Grandaisy’s cauliflower pizza and artichoke foccacia
Totally not overhyped: Tailor
Best midnight snack: head cheese and French red wine flight at Bar Boulud
Meal that brought my brother out of an existential crisis I didn’t know he was having: Degustation
Totally exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations: Cupcake Café, Peking Duck House

The Itinerary:
Day 1: Sook
Day 2: Barney Greengrass, Madeleine, Casa Mono, Tarallucci e Vino, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Tailor
Day 3: Jean-Georges, Patisserie-Claude, Sushi Yasuda
Day 4: Katz’s, Cupcake Café, Peking Duck House
Day 5: Grandaisy (UWS), Le Bernardin, Bar Boulud
Day 6: Ali Baba, Degustation

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  1. DAY 1: SOOK
    Chose this for its proximity to my friend’s apartment, and my curiosity about Yaowarat Thai cuisine. In brief, it has mostly standard Thai items (that sound like they’re not executed well, from other reports) as well as some Yaowarat (Thai-Chinese fusion) items, one of which I enjoyed (the Yaowarat beef soup), and one that wasn’t bad, but tasted like something I could make myself (the spicy Yaowarat noodles). Wish I’d gotten the Mussel Turnip Cakes.
    Full review: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/520837

    DAY 2:
    BARNEY GREENGRASS – had the smoked sturgeon, egg and onion scramble. It was ok, but I think I should have gotten the sturgeon on the side instead of as a scramble – smoked fish loses some of its silkiness when it’s cooked. Liked the flavor. Was a little shocked at how bad the accompanying bagel was.

    MADELEINE
    I was somewhat alarmed by the Day-Glo colors of many the madeleines, and went with my usual test flavors (caramel and chocolate). The caramel had a strong artificial flavor that hit immediately. Chocolate tasted better, but both had a heavier, denser, wetter texture than I like in my macarons.

    CASA MONO
    Casa Mono wins for the most uncomfortable stools I’ve ever sat on in a restaurant - for the long-waisted, short-legged amongst us, the height of the stools and the spacing of the runs are extremely awkward. I had to choose between having my legs practically doubled up and frogged out, vs. dangling ignominiously, like those of a 3-year old sitting in a big person’s chair.

    Had the razor clams (simply sauced with garlic, wine and parsley - tasty, but a bit gritty) and the duck egg with mojama, truffle, and fingerling potatoes, which I loved. There were a lot of interesting offal dishes… actually there were a lot of interesting dishes, period. The portions are sized for sharing – two small plates were plenty for me. I definitely want to go back with more people. And sit at a table next time.

    TARALLUCCI E VINO (East Village
    )Still my favorite café of all time. Love their espresso drinks, love the biscotti (I had the eponymous taralluci, a light, anise flavored cookie, and a chocolate and wine biscotto). TeV is the only place I trust with those Italian cookies. They look plain and dry, but they have the lightest texture and dunk beautifully. I also love their almond croissants (or cornetti, I guess), but they were out by the time I got there.

    MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR
    M. Ssam was outstanding. Everything we ordered was delicious – full report here:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/51872...

    TAILOR
    I’d heard so many mixed reports on Tailor, I almost dropped it from my itinerary, but then decided I had to go and try it myself. Really glad I did… my full report:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/51166...

    -----
    Barney Greengrass
    541 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024

    Casa Mono
    52 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003

    Momofuku Ssam Bar
    207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

    La Maison du Macaron
    132 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

    Tarallucci e Vino
    163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

    Tailor
    525 Broome St, New York, NY 10013

    Sookk
    2686 Broadway, New York, NY 10025

    21 Replies
    1. re: daveena

      You should have had the nova eggs and onion soft scrambled with a plain untoasted bagel. That is where you erred at Barney Greengrass.

      1. re: tpigeon

        I think I would have enjoyed the flavor of nova in the scramble more than the sturgeon... but wouldn't it also firm up and change in texture from the heat? Also, the bagel that I had definitely was not good enough to eat untoasted.

        1. re: daveena

          Barney greengrass' bagles are a little sweet when untoasted and make an excellent contrast with the more salty nova. It is not the same when you go toasted.

          BTW you break off a piece of bagel and put some eggs on it. No butter. This particular method yields my all time favorite breakfast.

          Toasted bagels, bialys, etc don't cut it. It has to be plain and untoasted.

          1. re: tpigeon

            Hmm... my bagel was already too sweet toasted. This was probably more of a problem with the sturgeon, as sturgeon is so sweet to begin with. Maybe I'll just buy some nova next time, and get a bagel elsewhere.

            Wish I'd thought of your bagel and scramble eating technique, LOL. I attempted to pile the scramble on the bagel and disregarded the high probability of chunks falling off... it got a little messy.

        2. re: tpigeon

          Not necessarily. I got the nova soft scramble before, found it overly salty, and wished I had ordered the smoked sturgeon scramble. I think the smoked fish on the side is the way to go.

          Agreed that the bagels at BG, though touted as H&H bagels, definitely aren't as good as the H&H bagels you get on the upper east side.

          1. re: Porthos

            I can imagine someone bringing their own bagel from the upper east side location. Gives a whole new meaning to BYOB:Bring your own bagel.

            1. re: Porthos

              Are the bagels really from H&H? While they were never my favorite bagels, I don't remember them being quite that bad (almost cottony in texture in the middle).

              1. re: daveena

                Just FYI, according to the H&H on the UWS, the "H&H" on the UES is NOT RELATED. In fact, the west side (2) locations are quite adamant that the UES so-called H&H are something entirely different.

          2. re: daveena

            Nice report! Wow -- you're limiting yourself to 4 meals a day. I'm a little bit scared to know what your previous trips were like. ; )

            Word about Le Madeline -- you HAVE to wait until the macarons have come to room temperature to eat them. If you eat them before they have come to room temperature, they are indeed heavy and dense and totally unremarkable. They taste much better after an hour or so. Still not in the same league as some of the Parisian macarons, but I've found them to be the best in NYC so far (haven't tried Almondine in Brooklyn yet, though).

            1. re: Miss Needle

              It got bad, Miss Needle. In one day, I hit DiFara, Lupa, Degustation, Momofuku Ssam, and Room4Dessert (ok, that was only 5 meals, not 6), and we're not talking about little dainty tastes at each place...
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/393597

              What are the other macaron flavors at Madeleine like? The thing that bothered me about the caramel was the lack of subtlety in the flavoring - it tasted more less like caramel than like caramel flavoring. I can see how the texture would improve at warming up to room temperature (and even with drying out a bit overnight, as kathryn suggests).

              1. re: daveena

                I've got to say you've got me beat. I don't think I could attempt what you do. When I travel, I just have two regular meals and forego breakfast because I'm usually too full the next day after having our travel meals, especially since I can't take home leftovers.

                Le Madeleine has chocolate, coffee, vanilla, pistachio -- you know, the standards. But they don't have them there all the time. I've been at Madeline where they didn't even have chocolate, which I consider to be a very basic flavor. And the last time I was there, which was about two weeks ago, they didn't even have caramel or salted caramel. It's pretty much a crapshoot. They also have a lot of fruity flavors as well. And they're more experimental about flavors than La Maison, which I think only has like five or six. If you thought Le Madeline's flavor was too strong, you'd probably prefer La Maison, as Kathryn said, are not as sweet. They are more subtle. My ultimate macaron is Pierre Herme's in Paris. I love them because they've got the perfect texture -- oh, so delicate that even a baby with no teeth would be able chomp into one. And then you get a flavor explosion like you're being punched in the face. So perhaps my macaron preferences are different than yours as I prefer my flavors to be more intense. Your tastes in macarons are probably more in line with Kathryn's, and I think you should really try La Maison's the next time you're here. You should also save room for those yummy chocolates as well. La Maison is my favorite chocolate shop in town because I love dark chocolate and they've got a great selection.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Ok, one more - this goes to all the macaron aficionados - how do Kee's chocolates and macarons compare to La Maison's? I meant to go to Kee's this time but never made it.

                  1. re: daveena

                    I prefer Kee's chocolates, haven't tried her macarons. Her chocolates are pretty much the only ones I eat any more. So fresh, made every day, wonderful flavors, not too sweet.

              2. re: Miss Needle

                best macarons in New York are at Maison du Chocolat. no waiting for room temp.

                1. re: ChefJune

                  Yeah, I just couldn't get into those as much. While Le Madeleine's kind of ponderous compared to La Maison, I preferred Madeleine's for the intensity of flavors.

                  And to Daveena, I've had macarons from Macaron Cafe. It's really inconsistent there. I've been there twice, and had a couple of macarons that were better than Le Madeleine and La Maison (IMO), but the other ones were pretty stale.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Hi Miss Needle,

                    I am hijacking this post here. Do you know if any pastry shops carry rose macarons? I have only had that at Bouley Bakery and want to see if this is available elsewhere.

                    1. re: kobetobiko

                      Kobe,

                      I believe I've had the rose at Le Madeleine. I'm pretty sure it was Le Madeleine as I know I've had the rose in the NYC. Not too many places carry flavors like that but Madeleline tends to be a bit "riskier" with their flavors. As I said elsewhere in this thread, they're really inconsistent about what macarons they have. So you have to keep on going in there until they have it.

                      I'm looking for a chai macaron. I know Bouchon Bakery has it but I found their macarons so awful, which is surprising considering that most of their other stuff is pretty tasty.

              3. re: daveena

                Thanks for the excellent report!

                I want to like the macarons at Madeline but (as I think I've posted before) they keep them too cold. They dry out over night and are much better at room temperature.

                La Maison's are the best in the city, I think. Salted caramel! Of course, they are flown in from Paris every other day, in specially designed maracon-containers!

                Oh, and next time you're in town, try Bis.co.latte.

                http://www.nycnosh.com/?p=303

                1. re: kathryn

                  I tried La Maison from your rec, kathryn. I thought they were OK. One thing about Maison is that their flavors are extremely limited. But thank goodness they've got salted caramel -- not all macaron places will carry that flavor. I'm looking for somebody to invent a salted caramel cake now.

                  Oh, and La Maison's macarons definitely look a lot more refined than Madeline whose macarons are a bit on the clumsy side.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    They may also differ in the sugar content, too -- I haven't done a side by side but I remember Madeline's being significantly more sweet.

                  2. re: kathryn

                    I just saw the NYTimes blurb on Le Macaron - have you tried their macarons? How do they compare?

                    Thanks for the Bis.co.latte rec! I'm also adding Abraco to my list, from one of your recs on another thread.

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. DAY 3
                    JEAN-GEORGES
                    I’d been once, years ago, and remembered that I thought the food was great, but the room and service a bit chilly. This time, I found both the room and the service warmer, but the food didn’t quite resonate with me. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write up this trip report is that I’ve been struggling to articulate what it was that didn’t work. In part, I think it’s that my meal at Jean-Georges years ago was one of my first really great, fancy meals, and that I’ve since had many more with which to compare it. The second is that the food seemed to lack soul – it was all technically quite good, but there was something missing. I can’t quite put a finger on it – Alinea in Chicago and Cyrus in Healdsburg had soul, French Laundry didn’t. I think it’s partly the waitstaff (the staff at Alinea and Cyrus seemed to really enjoy talking about the food they were serving) and partly the presence of the executive chef in the kitchen. Third – while I appreciate that the menu at J-G has evolved over time, I don’t think all of the novel flavor combinations and molecular touches really work.

                    Amuses-bouches were a champagne mango cube olive dust, parmesan foam, and basil cream; a tiny spicy shrimp dumpling with a tinier spear of fennel; and a dill and elderberry soup with elderberry foam. Honestly, none of these worked for me. The mango/parm/basil/olive combo was bizarre, the shrimp dumpling tasted rewarmed, and the soup was dominated by dill.

                    Foie gras brulee on brioche with Meyer lemon/pineapple jam and rose powder – the foie gras brulee was tasty enough, but the pairing with Meyer lemon/ pineapple and rose failed.

                    Skate with Chateau Chalon sauce – this sauce was great – thanks to the various CH’ers who recommended this dish.

                    Smoked squab – oddly, this tasted like a super high end hot dog – it must have been the spicing as well as the smoke. There was a sprinkling of delicious dehydrated Portobello mushrooms on the side that tasted remarkably like cocoa. My waiter stated quite emphatically that there was no cocoa, but I’m not convinced.

                    The one thing that will never fail to impress me at J-G is the assortment of mignardises at the end, even at lunch – I think there were four truffles, three mini macarons, and three house-made marshmallows. Coffee plus mignardises made for a perfect dessert.

                    Patisserie-Claude
                    Stopped by for an afternoon snack… there weren’t any caramel petit-choux, so I settled for a chocolate éclair. The pastry had softened a bit, and while it wasn’t bad, I still have yet to taste a pastry at P-C as good as the first caramel petit-choux I had there years ago.

                    Sushi Yasuda
                    Restaurants where it’s great to have a champion eater friend with you (the better to try more dishes): Momofuku Ssam, Bar Boulud, Casa Mono
                    Restaurant where it’s a really bad idea to have a champion eater friend with you: Sushi Yasuda

                    I have never in my life been so thankful for a time cutoff (1.5 hours at Yasuda). It was still enough time for two of us to eat $400 sashimi and sushi (for two, not each), though. And while it was great, and I again got to taste things I’ve never tasted before… I think I would have been pretty sated at around $125 pp or so.

                    We had:
                    Sashimi: rock crab, squid (body + legs), scallop reproductive sac (one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had… tasted like uni, but sweeter and eggier), scallop himo
                    Sushi: Toro (3 kinds), white salmon, squid, clam (2 or 3 kinds), Tasmanian trout, yellowtail (hamachi, shimaaji, hiramasa), eel (4 kinds), sea urchin (Maine + Alaska), jack mackerel, gensaba, peace passage oyster, shrimp, sea urchin hand roll, tazmanian trout hand roll.

                    I think I’m missing a few, too. And we had seconds on a few things.

                    Yasuda was working at warp-speed and the pieces were coming out a little randomly (sometimes with nearly inaudible identification), so I missed out on what can sometimes be a great educational experience as well as a great dining experience… the last time I ate there, he paired pieces together to allow for comparison. This time, they came out one at a time. Still, excellent dinner. Next time I’ll request he pair them - it's definitely easier to appreciate subtle differences when you have pieces serially.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: daveena

                      Hi daveena,

                      I can't believe you had so many sushi at Sushi Yasuda! My normal consumption would be half of waht you had as I have a small stomach. Man, I envy you! I too LOVE the scallop roe. I just couldn't understand why this is not available more broadly in NYC. MMRuth and I were searching for this in another thread back then. I want a whole plate of the scallop roes, not just one! :P
                      My pet peeve about Yasuda was always that I didn't feel relaxed enough to eat at his place. That said, I couldn't expect him to be serving like Masa when the price was so much more reasaonable.

                      1. re: kobetobiko

                        Well... I was definitely pushing myself a bit beyond the point of fullness (but not past the point of pain, per my new rules). The friend I was with once ate 75 pieces of nigiri sushi in once sitting, then got banned from the AYCE sushi place he was at... so he kept ordering after I was full, and although we'd intended it to be only one order of the extra pieces, we each got one, and they were so delicious, and I never eat sushi except at Yasuda once a year, so I just went with it. Your wallet should be grateful for your small stomach, for sure :) Although, do you really have a small stomach? You seem to have eaten everything!

                        1. re: kobetobiko

                          I bought about a lb of scallops with roe about two weeks ago at Citarella and cooked them - delicious! I need to download my recent cooking photos!

                          1. re: kobetobiko

                            Kobe, agreed with the scallop roe (I think I like the sound of reproductive sac better!). I would be very happy eating an entire plate of it. The last time I had it, Yasuda explained to me that there was a season (April-May I believe) where the roe is at its peak in flavor and fullness. I did some research and as it turns out, spawning season is around June-August so eating the roe before spawning season beings makes perfect sense. Also, this probably explains why scallop gonad isn't as common.

                            Unfortunately, I have yet to see scallop roe sushi available on the west coast period so you'll get no sympathy from me about only being able to find scallop roe at Yasuda!

                            Finally, Yasuda-san is harmless. He's quiet and stoic at the beginning but if you bring a lady friend, he becomes very talkative and has some good one-liners.

                          2. re: daveena

                            Is he down to 1.5 hours now? Last time he threw me out after two hours. But he let me have ice cream first :).

                            1. re: tpigeon

                              Yup, and boy was I ever grateful. I'll be even more grateful when my credit card statement comes... I shudder to think what kind of damage we would have done with unlimited time.

                          3. DAY 4
                            KATZ’S
                            Earlier this year, I tried the pastrami at the much touted Langer’s in LA (I can’t even count the number of time LA ‘hounds declare it to be “better than Katz’s”), and while many of their Jewish deli standards were excellent (maybe even better than the versions I’ve tried in NYC), the pastrami didn’t even come close. Actually, it tastes so different from what I know as pastrami that I don’t think you can really compare the two. I find the flavor of Katz’s pastrami much more balanced – the pastrami in my Langer’s sandwich tasted so much like corned beef to me that I had to try a piece from our pastrami platter to make sure they had the order right. Katz’s stuns you with its deliciousness – you can easily eat an entire sandwich without ever fully regaining consciousness. I had to force myself to think analytically while eating, to figure out “what makes it so eff-ing good?” In my memory of Katz’s pastrami, I thought there was a more prominent pepper and smoke presence, but they were actually pretty subtle. Garlic was more prominent than I’d remembered. Texture was even more luxurious than I’d remembered. Then I gave up the thinking and scarfed down the rest of my sandwich. So eff-ing good.

                            CUPCAKE CAFÉ
                            After my brother’s graduation ceremony, my family wandered in the general direction of Bloomingdale’s and stopped at Cupcake Café for a snack. I’d had a disappointing cupcake here years ago (although truth be told, I’m not really one for cupcakes… give me a slice of real cake any day) and hadn’t been back since. But it was there, and it was convenient. I ordered a mini-key lime pie to split with the family… and it was really good! The filling was actually perfectly tart and flavorful, and the crust, while thicker than ideal and very difficult to cut, had a delicious spicy ginger flavor (actually, it tasted suspiciously like Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Cookies. Which I love). One employee gave us samples of the banana pudding, which was quite delicious (this means a lot coming from me, as I abhor bananas in dessert).

                            PEKING DUCK HOUSE
                            How good can a white tablecloth Chinese restaurant on the UES be? How about if you’re the only patrons of Chinese heritage? Pretty good, it turns out. My full report:
                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/521229

                            1. DAY 5
                              GRANDAISY BAKERY (UWS)
                              The potato pizza was entirely satisfying – maybe the potato slices didn’t get quite as browned at the edges as I’d remembered, but the crust was gloriously crisp and greasy, and the potatoes were perfectly seasoned. The cauliflower pizza was underseasoned, and both the cauliflower pizza and artichoke foccacia would have benefited from a good dousing of olive oil.

                              LE BERNARDIN
                              Sigh. Le B, how you disappointed me. I remember my one other meal at Le Bernardin as one of the best in my life, but this time around…
                              I did really enjoy my appetizer – the tuna (pounded thin) and foie gras (thinly spread on crostini), dressed with top notch olive oil and a little lemon. Gorgeous, flavorful, refined. But my main – a red snapper in a Thai-influenced broth – was dull, with the snapper overcooked. Had I been dining alone, I would have sent it back, but my dad’s an impatient guy, so I didn’t. Dessert was fine – I had the chocolate and sweet potato dessert, with a really delicious sweet potato ice cream paired with a slab of good chocolate ganache and weird flavorless balls of what looked like tapioca. No amuses-bouches (although there is a dish of salmon rillettes to start), a few mini-madeleines to end the meal.

                              BAR BOULUD
                              I stopped in on the way back to my friend’s apartment after seeing The Lion King with my family… I considered the charcuterie tasting, but opted for an order of head cheese alone when I found out it wasn’t included in the tasting (I really wish they gave you the option of customizing your own tasting). The head cheese was delicious – higher percentage of meat than in other head cheeses I’ve had, so I think it would be a good starter head cheese for people squeamish about offal. With the gratis gougeres and a flight of French reds, this was a fantastic midnight snack. I will come back with more people next time…