Diary of a Glutton: NYC Trip Report May 2008
- daveena May 23, 2008 09:21 PM
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)
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
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
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
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.
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 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:
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:
541 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024
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
525 Broome St, New York, NY 10013
2686 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
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.
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.
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.
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).
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...
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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…
My favorite lahmacun to date. Full report: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/521218
To my disappointment, Wes wasn’t cooking the night I was there (I was told that he was preparing for an upcoming James Beard dinner) – his team did a good job, but it wasn’t quite the same. That said, the food was good enough that after dinner, my (normally taciturn) brother mused “this dinner is one of those things that makes you glad to be human. You know, how sometimes you think it might be cool to be a bird because you could fly? Today it’s good to be human”.
Quick note on the tasting menus – the 5- and 10- course tasting menus are *very* different. I assumed that the 10-course menu had the same dishes as the 5 course, plus an additional five, but there was almost no overlap. All 5 dishes from the 5-course come from the regular menu, while the 10-course was predominantly off-menu items.
Amuses: croquette, “tortilla”
Crudo – hamachi with fried garlic, artichoke, and potato chips. This was where the curse of Yasuda hit – after Yasuda, all other raw fish seems poorly cut, and not fresh enough. Had I not just eaten $200 of pristine fish at Yasuda, this dish probably would have been fine
Sunchoke soup – this was really delicious, with excellent depth of flavor
Sardines 2 ways – pickled with ginger, a fried with tartar sauce
The next course I ordered from the regular menu – the asparagus fried in panko, with slow cooked egg, chorizo essence, and smoked cheese foam. It tasted different to me this time, and I couldn’t quite figure out why – I think the breading was less crisp, and the flavor of the cheese was more prominent this time - I preferred the version I had last year. Everyone else in my party raved about it, though.
Then things started getting really, really good.
Prawn, roasted, with amaranth and blue crab reduction – this was fantastic – super sweet prawn, phenomenally intense broth that tasted like the essence of the ocean
Scrambled duck egg with duck bacon, Greek yogurt, chives, croutons, served in an eggshell – luxurious, but comforting.
Scallop with oatmeal risotto, shiso pesto – I think the oatmeal risotto was the only miss. The flavor muddied the dish.
Quail with pine nut butter, balsamic reduction – the quail was great – quail is almost always great – but the pine nut butter! I was scraping every molecule off the plate… may have to experiment with making it myself.
Red mullet, fried whole, in a Vietnamese-inspired sauce (chili, lime, fish sauce) – I appreciated the high proportion of lime in the sauce, as this dish came between two fairly rich dishes
Rabbit crepinette… came with some delicious puree but I forgot to write it down and now I can’t remember what it was…
Pre-dessert – ginger and tequila sorbet and foam
Dessert – caramelized torija (French toast), grapefruit foam
The menu sounds like it might be unfocused, with influences ranging from all over the world, but the progression never seemed discordant to me. There were definitely a lot more Asian flavors in the 10-course tasting menu than on the regular menu – I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, the mullet was great. On the other hand, there’s something really appealing about a more narrowly focused menu… maybe because I live in the land of fusion. I don’t know. In any case, its innovative dishes – and, more importantly, the excellent execution of its innovative dishes – keeps Degustation in my Top 5 favorite restaurant list.
Real tough that curse of Yasuda! One is literally forced to fly across country to satisfy that craving. I thought I had the record one night having just flown in from San Francisco. As it turns out, I was one-upped by the guy next to me who flew in from Italy. If he goes too fast, I usually ask him to repeat the name of the offering in Japanese. Like you said, it's not only a transcendent sushi experience but an education. I find that the interest makes him (and itamaes in general) slow down and give you a more interesting offering.
Do you think your Jean Georges let down was due in part to you having the lunch tasting as opposed to the dinner service? For example, at dinner, it's usually turbot with Chateau Chalon as opposed to skate.
I thought about the lunch vs. dinner thing too - although, the last time I ate at Jean-Georges was at lunch as well. And the skate was my favorite of the three dishes (although I could see how it would be even better with turbot). Since I've never had dinner there, I can't make the comparison. I think it would be hard for me to commit to a dinner there, when I've had a so-so lunch experience, and I know that for significantly less money, I'd have a guaranteed fantastic meal at M. Ssam or Degustation.
Note on the pine nut butter - Wes actually told my brother and I how it's done when we were there (my bro is a chef and they got to chatting about recipes). Anyway, it's super simple - toasted pine nuts, ground fine and forced through a sieve, splash of sherry vinegar, salt. That's it. At least, that's what Wes told us. I've no doubt he keeps a few secrets, but in general he was very forthcoming. He also told me how he makes the awesome sherry-date consomme that he was serving with foie gras the night we were there!
I remember your report - that's why I was so excited to see the quail on the menu. The pine nut butter was pretty sweet - is there really no extra sugar in it?
I was going to order the foie as well (it wasn't on the tasting menu) but everyone was too full at that point... I kind of regret not ordering one to split among the four of us, just to get a taste. Hope it's still on the menu next time I'm in town.
I thought the pine nut butter was a little sweet too but Wes didn't mention sugar - I guess the roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the nuts? Anyway, I haven't gotten around to trying to make it myself but I definitely will eventually - I was licking the plate as well! Definitely order the foie next time if it's still available - the combination of foie and dates is just unreal!
Mmm... to my mind's palate, that sounds nearly perfect. I suspect that with top-notch cured fish, the subtleties of texture and flavor are lost when cooked - I think I'd really have to eat it cold to appreciate it. Although, I think I might like the sturgeon even more with a coarse, dark bread - maybe thinly sliced, toasted and buttered pumpernickel bread.
I never really realized how much I miss living in Manhattan until I get hungry and I get hungry a lot. I am coming to the city next week for a week and plan to spend almost every moment eating,getting to someplace to eat, what to eat on the way to getting something to eat, or just thinking of what I want to eat next.I too believe that snacks don't count but if you only order one or two things at every place you go isn't that just snacking, so I figure if I do this all day and never sit down to one big meal that I should be able to pretty much eat non stop. I will be with my wife along with two friends that still live in the city and we all like to eat.So even if we order something big and split it 4 ways I consider that to be a snack. Some of the places you mentioned Greengrass,Ali baba, Momofuku are on my list as will be numerous chinatown spots for noodles and dimsum,.street carts,Charles southern in harlem , Africa Kine, Hudson falafel and a couple of spots on 37th ave. in Queens.I know there's many more but I have to stop now.To fit all of this food in I fine meditating works along with long walks in between stops, (although this can be dangerous because what's in between food stops?, yup more undiscovered food stops} a few beers and the occasional power nap work well too..Well now I'm hungry, happy eating.
daveena, i'm pretty damn sure i'll never be able to indulge in a culinary adventure such as you've described but THANK YOU for every word. very generous of you to put so much thought and effort into your reviews so that some of us can live vicariously. great detail, well written and i'm still laughing at your brother's comments. thanks. ;)
Thank you for reading my ramblings! I love writing up these trips because the remembering and writing extends the pleasure of each meal - it's an additional bonus for me when other people read and enjoy the reports. And, of course, I get all sorts of useful recs for my next trip, for which I am perpetually planning.