NYC trip report – bit(e)s and pieces
- beetlebug Jun 1, 2008 07:08 AM
I’m in New York for the week and am very excited. I’ve only spent pieces of weekends here and never for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to scan the boards for suggestions, but managed to cobble recommendations from friends and from a brief look at the Manhattan board. In all honesty, the Manhattan board is overwhelming to me. So many posts and I just don’t have a good grasp of the neighborhoods and geography.
So, here is a partial report and I’ll add on to this thread when I get a chance.
Breakfast – bagels from Grand Central – Hot and Crusty is the name I think. I got the salt bagel and it was fine. It was huge and a bit bready. A lot of cream cheese which I ended up scraping off. But, it served its purpose and it was close to us. Plus, we grabbed it on our way to the subway to Queens. Attached thread:
Grand Central Oyster Bar – this was close to my hotel and it was way past my lunchtime. I had a hard time finding it in the station and I was tempted by numerous things in the food court. But, I wanted a lighter lunch because I knew dinner was not that far away. I ordered 2 different kinds of oysters (one from LI and one from Washington State), 2 littlenecks and 2 cherrystones. The littlenecks were the big winners. Briny and refreshing. The oyster quality was very good but the shucker inartfully shucked. All the shellfish had minimal juice within the shell.
I also ordered the caviar sandwich – black caviar, chopped hard boiled egg sandwiched between toasted white bread. Sour cream on the side. I really liked this sandwich although it could have used a bit more egg. I smeared little bits of sour cream on to each bit and overall, the sandwich held together well.
Avra – I’ve eaten this at this greek restaurant several times over the years. The last time was in 2003 and I wanted to re-visit it. Part of me was torn about this, because so much food, so little time, but I have really fond memories so I went. Overall, it was a hit with some minor misses. If I go back in the future, I’m going to focus on the appetizers.
The bread, olives and dip were an excellent way to start the meal. The olives were big and meaty and complemented the bread and dip well.
C and I decided to split everything. I didn’t want to start off my visit being a complete glutton. So we split the stuffed squid (stuffed with 4 cheeses and herbs) and the greek salad. We had a hard time narrowing down the choices because all the apps looked great. The squid was absolutely delicious. A combo of mild and sharp cheeses and herbs that blended really well together. The whole body and tentacles were then lightly grilled. I could have eaten all three squids by myself and been totally happy. The greek salad was also great. It was mostly red and yellow tomatoes with green peppers, olives and 2 wedges of feta. The tomatoes were amazing. I couldn’t believe the quality of these tomatoes at this time of year. They were like August tomatoes – brightly colored with the right amount of firmness, juice and sweetness. The feta wedge was also the right texture and flavor.
Main course – we split the royal dorado fish (I asked for a fish about a pound). Served whole and deboned at the table. The waiter did give me a look when I asked for the head (love those cheeks) but he handed it over. Nice flavor with just a hint of fishiness. This would have been great if it hadn’t been overcooked. This is a thin fish and the chef left it on for at least a minute too long (probably closer to two minutes).
Dessert – these were surprisingly strong. I had an assortment of homemade ice creams (they also had sorbets) and there were a lot of flavors of both. I went with the fig, pistachio and chocolate. The chocolate was the weakest of the bunch and I use that lightly. Rich intense chocolately flavor. The fig and pistachio were amazing. Big chunks of sweet fig against the cream of the ice cream itself. The pistachio was just a great nutty flavor. The only downside was that there were small icey particles in some of the bites.
C got the apple tartin and the surprising thing was that it was served in phyllo dough. What a great idea. I’m not usually tartin kind of person but I really liked his dessert. The right ratio of apples to dough and the flakiness of the dough was just delicious.
We had the perfect amount of food for the two of us and it was an auspicious way to start our vacation.
Joe’s Shanghai –Chinatown
This was very good but I was a bit disappointed in the soup dumplings. The place was packed when we got there but we only waited for a few minutes before we were seated at a communal table. As soon as we sat down, I immediately ordered an order of pork soup dumplings (I’m allergic to crab). I didn’t want to order that much because I had hopes of squeezing in a second lunch. I had a hard time choosing but we ordered the pickled cabbage and the shanghai fried noodles.
The pickled cabbage had a great crunch but too much sugar and not enough vinegar. The balance of flavors were slightly off but it was still a tasty way to start the meal. The pickled cabbage at Xiao La Jiao in Flushing was far superior.
The shanghai noodles were great. The texture of the noodles were just perfect and the sauce soaked in and sat on top. The pork bits were also extremely flavorful. This dish was the overall winner of the meal.
The XLB were very good but I think they suffered from the business of the restaurant. The top of the dumpling was slightly dried out and the soup wasn’t burn your tongue hot. The flavor of the soup and pork were amazing though but the skin itself didn’t do it justice. I wonder if the restaurant wasn’t as busy if the skin would be better. It seemed that the dumplings were steamed and then sat for a bit causing the top (first bite) to dry out. The servers tend to grab the empty containers quickly – before I knew it, the steamer was gone, with the pieces of napa with it. Oh well. This may be worth a repeat visit at lunch, especially for another serving of those noodles.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory – so many flavors, so hard to choose from. The lychee ice cream was so pleasant – not overly sweet but huge chunks of lychee throughout. The ginger was a bit bland though, not enough ginger in it. But, the ice cream itself had a great smoothness and richness to it without it overpowering the senses. I’m definitely going back, especially to try the green tea and almond cookie.
Bar Pitti – overall, this was pretty good and definitely an interesting experience. The host/manager guy was amazing to watch. He had some kind of mental system of seating waiting customers as well as assessing the indoor/outdoor table situation. It really was incredible watch during our relatively short wait (less than 30 minutes).
Both service and food were erratic. We were seated along with another table – placed our orders at the same time and their apps and entrees came out before our app did. I’ve never heard such vapid conversation as I did from the table next to us but it was fascinating in its own right.
Appetizer was the antipasto toscano. The salami and pecorino cheese were the strong points of the plate. The proscuitto was also quite good and the weird bologna slice was, well, just weird. The odd thing is they only gave two very small pieces of bread and we had already consumed our bread plate earlier (great olive oil, btw). The two small pieces of bread were lightly grill and made the bread even tastier. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite flag down a server for more bread.
Entrees – both pastas and both off the special menu. C got the rigatoni with sausage and rabe. The sausage was lightly crumbled and the rabe was finely chopped. He enjoyed it but I thought it was a bit bland. I got the duck rage over papperdelle which was great. The home made papperdelle noodles were delicious although the pasta cook didn’t do a great job watching the water. There were a bunch of noodles stuck together and were a bit gummy. The duck sauce was rich and flavorful and had been braised a long time. Odd thing is that the duck was slightly too salty while the rigatoni dish could have used a bit more. We also ordered a side of the spinach which was quite tasty. We later overheard the waiter tell another table that there were both homemade noodles (string noodles) and dried noodles (shapes). We wished that were were told the same because C probably would have chosen a different pasta dish.
Dessert – we shared a tartufo which was a nice way to end the meal. Dark cocoa flecked with hazelnuts covering a chocolate/vanilla ice cream ball. It must have sat for a few minutes because it was slightly melty but it was easy to eat.
All in all a good eating day, but I was disappointed that I wasn’t to squeeze in a more substantial snack between lunch and dinner.
Wow, am I full. Yesterday was a full day of eating. I started with a bagel and cream cheese from Mendy’s at the Grand Central Food Court. It was fine but I kept thinking of the Seinfeld episode with Banyan and Seinfeld go to Mendey’s for dinner (yes, I know it’s some other restaurant but I was amusing myself.).
After running errands, I took the subway to the LES/Chinatown area to get hand pulled noodles at Nan Zhou Handmade Noodles (144 East Broadway near Pike). I saw this place on the board but it’s listed there as Lan Zhou. In the restaurant itself, on a taped paper on the wall, they had Nan Zhou. Regardless, these were the best hand pulled noodles I’ve had in a long time. I ordered the pork chop noodle soup and it came with dried shitake mushrooms, shanghai bok choi and chunks of pork chops. The broth was extremely flavorful and needed no extra condiments to it. But, those noodles. Wow. Incredibly evenly pulled and the right amount of give and chew. The flavor from the broth had infused the noodles themselves. I saw them wrap their dumplings and the raw filling looked great – leeks, mushroom with a bit of meat holding them together. The funny thing is that they use the same brand dumpling wrappers that I’ve used at home (the kind that is made in Brooklyn).
Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to check out Babycakes, for vegan cupcakes. I’m not a vegan and don’t have allergies but I do have a fondness for cupcakes. These were quite tasty. I started with the chocolate spelt cupcake and it had a really good chocolately flavor. It was more crumbly than I’m used to but it didn’t seem like it was a sugar free, flour free cupcake. The frosting was also tasty and had just enough to cover the cake itself – my personal preference on frosting to cake ratio. I bought a lemon spelt cupcake and a vanilla gluten free one to go. Unfortunately, I discovered that the gluten free one was carrot cake (ugh) and the cake was very heavy as well. But the lemon spelt one was quite nice – great lemony flavor.
Next stop – Pommes Frites. The French fry guy was so nice. He saw me dithering over sauce flavor and gave me samples to taste. Since I was being a glutton today, I went for three sauces and didn’t come close to finishing them. I did finish most of the French fries though and only stopped when I thought popping would be imminent. I went with the sambal olek sauce, curry ketchup especial and the pomegranate teriyaki mayo. The pomegranate one is the one that I never would have naturally gravitated towards, but the French fry guy steered me towards it. It’s the one I kept dipping my fries in, something about the contrast between the tart and salt and creaminess made it positively addicting. The curry ketchup sauce had a nice flavor but I didn’t get into the onion part. Too chunky when the sauce itself tasted really nice. As much as I love sambal olek, it’s the one I ate the least probably because I use it to cook with at home.
Dinner at Yakitori Totto. I loved, loved, loved this place. Everything from service to atmosphere to food. Loved it. So, when I mention any weak points, it’s all relative because it wasn’t a perfect meal but it was great. We scored two seats at the yakitori bar and watched the chefs arrange and cook the yakitoris. They took such care in each skewer.
We started with deep-fried tiny sardines w/ green tea powder & sea salt. These were amazing. A big plate of expertly fried mini fish that you dipped in the salty powder. So addicting.
For skewers we ordered chicken thighs with scallions, chicken thighs, chicken breast with wasabi salt, chicken hearts, pork with lemon and mustard, pork with ponzu sauce, eggplant with miso paste, tofu with yuzu and miso paste, chicken meat ball stuffed into a hot pepper, enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, kobe beef tongue. We also ordered the fresh wasabi and soy sauce to use as a condiment, which is worth the extra $3.50.
All the skewers were delicious. The weakest (and I use the word lightly) was the beef tongue. Too much thick meat and a little tough. But, the wasabi/soy sauce and the leftover dipping powder from the little fish made up for it. The best and the only one we repeated, was the pork with ponzu sauce. Actually, both pork skewers were amazing and our favorites. The porky flavor was so intense. I wish I saw the chicken livers last night but I was so excited to see the chicken hearts.
We ended our meal with the homemade tofu cooked in the clay pot and the rice and chicken cooked in the clay pot. The waitress brought out the pots and left them on the counter above us. When the candle went out, it meant that the dishes were complete. Both dishes were amazing. The tofu was soft and silken and practically melted in your mouth. It’s plan with just a bit of salt sprinkled on it so you can really appreciate the flavor. But the chicken and rice dish was just amazing. It took 35 minutes to cook in the pot, which gave us time to eat our fried fish and skewers. The flavors were so balanced and the rice was slightly mushy. This is comfort food at its finest. And, to top it off, we added little bits of that wasabi soy sauce to the rice to give it a kick. We only did so because we had so much of it left because the rice didn’t need additional flavor, but it also didn’t hurt.
All in all, a wonderful meal with food choices for everyone.
After the excess from the previous day and the anticipated excess later today, I decided that yesterday would be the day of moderation and restraint. Part of it that I woke up full and I was only started to get hungry around noon – perfect time for lunch.
I went down to the LES for some exploration. I stopped at Inoteca for lunch and had a lovely meal. The service was charming and I snagged a corner table inside the windows. I started with the baby arugula salad with pickled red onions and pecorino cheese. Refreshing flavor and crunch although the salad was a tad overdressed. I had a proscuitto panini which was satisfying and had this amazing red tomato in it. I could have used a bit m ore proscuitto and didn’t really taste the pepporcini in it. But, I sat there people watching, had a lovely glass of red wine and enjoyed the breeze.
I stopped and took a quick peek at Katz’s to see the fuss. It smelled great but there was no way I could have eaten another sandwich on top of the one I just had. I quickly left so I wouldn’t be tempted. I did want to snatch the pickles off the other diners’ plates. Those looked great.
Had a snack at Il laboratorio del Gelato. Got the tarragon with pink peppercorn and the strawberry flavors. These were fine, but not shout out from the rooftops. I’m glad I tried it, would get it again if I was in the neighborhood but won’t stop out of my way for it.
Met friends for dinner at the Mermaid Inn (UWS). This was an ok dinner, nothing to shout from the rooftops but not horrible either. But, the cocktails were terrible. That bartender had no mixology skills to speak of at all. One Georgia peach and one negroni were not made well and the ingredients were not in balance.
Appetizers included fried clams (well fried but not that many bellies, more strips), grilled squid salad (tasty but also light on the squid), oysters (Bluepoints which were expertly shucked and quite tasty).
Mains included the lobster roll (I didn’t taste but my friend seemed to enjoy it), whole fish (very tasty and nicely deboned), spaghetti with clams, mussels and salad on top (mostly arugula, I thought the sauce was a little thick and heavy for this dish), and the skate with the spring succotash (properly prepared skate and the fresh peas were delicious. Although, I don’t know how the corn could be considered spring).
The end of the meal brought out those plastic fish (nice gimmick) and strange chocolate pudding in cups. Too thick to be pudding but not light enough to be mousse. No real discernable chocolatey taste either.
The service was sweet and competent, the food fine, but the company was great.
Another successful day of eating. Lunch at Momofuku Ssam and dinner at Sushi Yasuda. I loved them both for different reasons.
Momofuku Ssam – I had a really hard time deciding what to get here. I knew that I had a really early reservation at Sushi Yasuda and I didn’t want to be full at the start of the dinner. OTOH, so much of the menu was appealing. The two bartenders/servers were charming and funny and they helped break the menu down for me. When I ran choices by them, they let me know whether or not it would be too much food. I really appreciated that touch. Those hams and the lemongrass pork sausages sounded so good, but as a solo diner, I had serious doubts about finishing the dishes along with what I ended up getting. Ultimately, I ordered the cured hamachi and the steamed pork buns lunch box (sides of pickled vegetables and the jab chae).
The cured hamachi was delicious. Melt in your mouth yellowtail with that wasabi cream. And, I was really impressed with the steamed pork buns. Now, I’ve had a lot of pork buns in my day but I loved this version of it. The bun was on the thin side but light and fluffy but not too much so. But, that pork. Wow, talk about the meat and fat just disintegrating in your mouth. Hoison sauce, slice cukes and scallions were the perfect accompaniments. There was srichacha on the table but I think it would have detracted from the overall flavor. Thanks to the NY hound who gently encouraged me to make time for Momofuku Ssam. I had read the article in the New Yorker, was intrigued but hadn’t made any concrete plans until speaking with her.
Sushi Yasuda – W-O-W. This could have been the best sushi of my life. I did omakase in front of Junior (the host said that Yasuda is usually in the corner spot, but since Yasuda was out of town, Junior took his place). Friendly and only a little rushed. The rush part was because I was the only one there for about the first five pieces but when the bar started filling up, the pace evened out some. All total, I had 22 pieces of sushi and one hand roll. I probably could have eaten more but didn’t think it was wise. After all, I do have goldfish tendencies but really wanted to taste and savor each piece.
I got tuna, fatty tuna, hiramasa, engawa, 5 different kinds of mackerel, peace passage oyster, king salmon (NZ), king salmon (Copper river), white king salmon, tazmanian trout, shrimp, rock crab, squid, two different unis, 2 different eels, scallions and a toro handroll. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the cooked shrimp, although this was superior to other versions of this ebi.
I was seriously impressed with the rice quantity, quality and portion size. I could taste each individual rice grain and each piece of nigiri was perfect bite size (other than the shrimp which was a bit too big). I loved how each piece was either brushed with the soy sauce, squeezed with a bit of lemon and/or sprinkled with a little bit of salt.
I’m afraid that this sushi experience may have ruined me for all other sushi. It was just that good.
Came back from a Chinatown Chow crawl with two local hounds and boy, did we eat well. Started this am with a tamale from this woman outside the Mexican consulate.
Met the two hounds at Di Palo’s (200 Grand Street) to sample cheeses and to buy some bottarga.
Wandered (with a purpose) over to Chinatown to sample a whole lot of stuff.
Banh Mi Saigon Bakery (138-01 Mott Street) – split 2 pork banh mi sandwiches. Wow, were these good. The meat was more bacony and it had a lot of it mixed in with the radishes, cilantro and hot pepper. Tough choice as to what to get since the spring rolls and papaya shrimp salad also looked tempting but we showed restraint since this is only the first stop.
Shanghai Café (100 Mott Street) – we ordered soup dumplings and snow cabbage and pork rice cakes. The soup dumplings were very good. I can’t say they were better then Joe’s for overall flavor, but the top of the dumpling was soft and the soup was hot. I think Joe’s filling might have been tastier and a fresh batch at Joe’s may trump this one. It’s a tough call though, without doing a side by side. The rice cakes were great although not as expertly fried. The flavor of the pork and snow cabbage infused the rice cakes but the rice cakes were slightly clumpy in places instead of being individual places. The snow cabbage was beautiful with a nice mixture of leaves and stalks. It definitely gave a nice textural contrast from the pork and rice cakes.
Prosperity Dumpling (46 Eldridge Street) – one order of fried dumplings. I’m usually a boiled or steamed dumpling person but these are an excellent rendition. Crisp bottom and juicy interiors all served piping hot. The production in the back was very impressive. And, if you’re from the area, there frozen dumplings are amazingly cheap - $15 for 100.
Super Taste (26 Eldridge Street) – these were GREAT hand pulled noodles and broth. We ordered the spicy beef soup and the shredded pork and pickled mustard tuber soup. The spicy beef soup was the winner with a complex broth infused noodles. The pork one was a little disappointing since it didn’t have as much flavor as the spicy beef one. It probably would have been great on it’s own but as a side by side, it didn’t fare well. I think the broth here is better than the one at Lan Zhou noodle shop (scroll up for a description).
Sun Sai Kai (220 Canal Street) – we ordered the baked pork bun and it was not good. Not enough fat in the pork so it was dry and not a good ratio of pork to bread (way too much bread). There has to be a better version around. We tried to get buns at another place (blanking on the name but it’s around the corner from Chinatown Ice Cream factory) but they were already sold out.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard Street) – we ended up with a myriad of flavors – black sesame, almond cookie, pistachio, tangerine sorbet and lychee sorbet. I really liked my black sesame and almond cookie combo since they were both subtly flavored. I also really liked the pistachio ice cream. I'm a die hard ice cream eater (I've tried pretend ice cream and it just doesn't do it for me), but I was seriously impressed with the tangerine and lychee sorbets. Talk about bursting with summer fruit flavors in a non icey way. The tangerine color was a bit off putting but the flavor more than made up for the bright orange hue. Seriously, if you haven’t ventured off the ice cream path, it’s time test the sorbet.
Last dinner in NYC – Korean BBQ at MaDangSui. I angsted about this. I had vague ideas of returning to either Yasuda or Momofuku Ssam but decided to try something different (actually Yasuda had no openings). MaDangSui didn’t disappoint and had the benefit of being walking distance from the hotel.
I’ve been to other Korean BBQs in NYC in the past. Specifically, I had memories of this place where I walked up the stairs (sushi bar downstairs) and being seated at a table. The best thing about that place was that they had servers walking around with live coals for the bbq itself. But, the meat was always mediocre (I guess they thought coal grilling would make up for it) and it just wasn’t a good value.
MaDangSui used electric grills but the meat quality was superior. We had a hard time deciding. We were tempted by the micro thin brisket (they came out looking like meat going into hot pot) but ultimately went with marinated kalbi, marinated pork belly with merlot) and an assortment of fancy mushrooms. Neither of us were starving (I had just come off the Ctown crawl and C ate the last half of the banh mi in the early evening) but we figured mushrooms and veggies don’t really count as an entrée.
The amount of panchan was impressive. I especially liked the two hot dishes – the egg custard and the spicy tofu soup. I also ordered a rice and while it tasted the same, it had a pretty purpley color to it. I especially liked the salt/pepper/sesame seed dipping oil and the korean hot sauce was an excellent rendition. I know the tables can seat 4-6 but the two of us managed to have the entire table covered with BBQ and panchan.
The meats were all delicious. What was nice here about the pork belly is they laid it right on the grill. At other places, they put it on a piece of foil which doesn’t give it the same flavor. The quality of beef for the kalbi was outstanding, beefy and meaty, tender with just the right amount of fat. Unfortunately, they took the bones away without grilling them. Lastly, the mushrooms were just delicious. A collection of shiitake, crimini and a couple of other fancy mushrooms. Some had been marinated and some had not been.
Service was a bit erratic. It seemed like they were short staffed. But, I like cooking the meat myself anyway so it wasn’t a big deal. This was an excellent way to end our trip to NYC. All that’s left is to pick up some snacks for the train (probably tamales from the lady in front of the consulate) and then back to the real world.
Last report here (odds and ends) - I promise.
During the c-town crawl, we stopped at the intersection of Broadway and Forsythe Street (underneath the Manhattan bridge). I wanted to re-visit the Calvin Trillan mustard green sandwiches. The last time I had these was in 2003 and I wanted to buy a couple for the train ride home.
Well, ate tamales on the train and didn't get to the sandwiches until 2 days after purchase. And, they were still tasty. The bread was a bit stale and mushy from the juices but the mustard greens themselves. How could I have forgotten these and neglected to eat one fresh? Peppery and spicy and crunchy. These are so addicting. The bread is just the vehicle to hold the greens and one I ran out, I tossed the leftover bread.
Lastly, I seriously think that Yasuda has ruined me for sushi. I keep thinking about how the individual rice grains broke apart in my mouth and how delicious the fish and other flavors were. And, the sheer artistry of the sushi chef Junior as he made all the nigiri. It really was quite amazing to watch the technique. I really wished they had an opening on my last night in NYC (although, I did really enjoy the korean BBQ).
I also keep thinking about the various dishes at Yakitori Totto. The yakitori guys were masters at assemblying the skewers and contrast in flavors from the chicken hearts to the pork. Plus, that amazing fresh wasabi sauce, and the hot dishes.
I do wish I had more time. My biggest "regret" is that I didn't buy a pickle from this store in the Lower East Side. I was on the opposite side of the street and didn't feel like crossing. Thought I would hit it on the way back but ended up walking a different direction. I also wish I had tried the dumplings and more soup noodles at Super Taste and the boiled dumplings from Prosperity. I just can't stop thinking about these places.