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May 19, 2009 01:37 PM

Five days, two kids, one food allergy and an infinite longing for good food

I am a native New Yorker banished for too long to a small Canadian city (London, ON) where there aren't more than five restaurants that cause my pulse to quicken even slightly in anticipation. In mid-Summer I'll be in NY city for five days with my wife and two kids, one of who has food allergies, making eating out a challenge.

Between visiting with relatives and friends and taking the kids to some of the sights and neighborhoods, I won't have much time to indulge many food fantasies, so I want to make the best of the time we have and would greatly appreciate the help of fellow New Yorkers since I have been away for well over a decade.

We plan to stay in Manhattan but don't know yet where, which I know makes recommendations more difficult, and we will be making some trips to Brooklyn (Fort Greene) to see a brand new niece. My goal is to take in a range of cuisines and experiences, from street food to high-end (though not overly formal) restaurants. from lip-numbing Szechaun to simple but well executed dishes that show off fresh ingredients.

I also hope to do some food and food-related shopping and would be interested in places that weren't around 10-15 years ago.

I could spend five years eating my way across Manhattan and not be sated so I don't expect to do so in five days. But I do hope to have some culinary adventure and hope you can suggest some highlights I may want to work into the itinerary.

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  1. re: the food allergies. wheat? eggs? nuts? dairy? soy? fish? shellfish? please be more specific about this & your budget/price range so we can help.

    re: food & food-related shopping...though not new, Kalustyan's & Zabar's in Manhattan & Sahadi in Brooklyn never disappoint!

    1 Reply
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      Food allergies for my daughter: eggs, tree nuts, peanuts. We can still eat that stuff but have to be careful with what my daughter eats.

      Budget: Up to $400 for any one meal but would prefer a range of high and and low end price-wise.

      Zabar's and Sahadi are favorites.

    2. For food shopping, you might want to check out the Union Square Farmers Market which is always fun and great for a nice afternoon out.

      For Szechuan, try Szechuan Gourmet in midtown.

      Before I give any other recs, it would be helpful to know the price range as goodhealth says above.

      13 Replies
      1. re: stephaniec25

        Price range: Up to $150/person though we'd prefer a range of places: high, moderate and low price.

        What do you recommend (and don't recommend) at SG?

        I've had my eye on the farmer's market - we may stay at a place with a kitchen.

          1. re: RGR

            I have a nine-year-old daughter who is an adventurous eater but has food allergies and a six-year-old son with no allergies but not much sense of exploration (yet) when it comes to food.

            1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

              you might want to consider Max Brenner as a treat for the kids...


              Max Brenner
              841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003

              Max Brenner
              141 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                While I think Max Brenner may be fun for the kids, I'd suggest calling first to make sure that your daughter can safely eat there. I'm not sure what they use in the way of nuts and eggs, but I'm on a gluten-free diet and I know that eating there can be a little challenging for me, since they're not the best about answering questions when you're ready to order. I'm sure if you call first you'll be fine though.

                1. re: whitneybee

                  whitney, thanks for that info. i'm GF as well, and i was thinking about taking my nieces there one of these i'll be sure to have a snack before we go, and let them do most of the eating!

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I've had the hot chocolate without any issues, and I've tried their ice cream (I liked it) and the marshmallows from the chocolate fondue before my friends contaminated it with the banana bread (they'll bring you marshmallows that haven't touched anything if you ask, the fruit is usually brought out separately from what I remember) but aside from that, I spend a lot of time watching my friends eat, as it's not the most GF-friendly place out there. You could have a milkshake or hot chocolate or something though - it's not entirely off limits.

                    1. re: whitneybee

                      thanks, i'll keep that in mind. it'd really be more for the kids anyway. if you were familiar with my posts you'd know that it's not really my kind of place...i'd much rather have a couple of squares of high quality super-dark chocolate than some over-the-top sugar bomb.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Oh it's not mine either, but my friends love it, so I tend to wind up there more often than I like. Besides, the hot chocolate from their EV location got me through some very long weeks in the darkroom when I was prepping a couple of shows last year, so I'm grateful to them for that.

          2. re: CookatHomeinLondon

            Look through this thread:

            "Szechuan Gourmet - latest trip" (102 replies, but not all mention specific dishes)


            1. re: Pan

              Thanks for the link -- I had started to compile a list which I will add too. This would be a great place to go with a crowd so there are a lot of things to sample.

              1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

                SG is great for Szechuan specialties, but not so great for the typical Americanized Chinese food (i.e. General Tso's, Chicken & Broccoli, etc.).

                1. re: stephaniec25

                  Thanks Stephanie. That's what I'm looking for: More regional approaches to Chinese cooking that has been overtaken completely by Western tastes,

        1. Here are a couple of my lowkey, good food favorites:

          East Village Area:

          1. Momofuku- Ssam Bar and Ko are good, also interesting to stop by the Milk Bar for a snack.

          2. Supper- Northern Italian. You can also sit outside with the kids if it's nice out.

          3. Chikalicious- Dessert Bar. There are two right across the street from eachother. One is more formal, and has a gourmet dessert tasting menu where you watch the Chef/owner prepare for you. The other is take out/cafe style with more traditional options, crem brulee, cupcakes, bread pudding.

          4. Also for dessert- be on the lookout for The Dessert Truck (usually parked at St. Marks Place at night) and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Truck driving around.

          West Village Area:

          1. Little Owl

          2. Mas- Great for your expensive dinner out- great tasting menu

          Hope this helps!

          2 Replies
          1. re: christmascookie

            Thanks for a great range of suggestions. I was especially intrigued with the approach taken at Mas - my wife is from southern Italy and I have earned from my experiences there the importance of getting great ingredients and respecting them in their preparation, an approach also evident in Southern France. I also love the Village so there's a good chance we will spend some time there; there's a jazz club called Smalls that I really want to go back to.

            1. re: christmascookie

              Ko is incredibly difficult to get into, BTW. They only take reservations online, and the site has become a game of who can click fastest. Is the recommendation just for OP and wife? I'm not sure I'd recommend it as kid-friendly, even more so for a child who has allergies since the menu is so fixed (everybody gets the same tasting menu).

              Little Owl is also pretty tough to get into -- it's tiny, pretty cramped, and very popular. They take walk-ins but the wait can get pretty long, even if you go before 6pm.

            2. Here are some of my recommendations:

              In the Lower East Side, hit up the Doughnut Plant first - - donut flavors are season and delicious!

              Try checking out Shopsin's in the Essex Street Market - Open Tuesdays to Saturdays (better off going on a weekday) and the menu, which is enormous. Think the kids will get a kick out of the menu names and all of the vast, encyclopedic options. A local legend.

              If you're still up for sticking around the LES, head over to Katz's Deli for some pastrami.

              Frankly, I think Max Brenner is a tourist trap and prefer to avoid. Chickalicious is a better bet. Or for something more casual, maybe find a Dessert Truck.

              For something that may be fun and interesting, how about Korean barbecue in Koreatown ("K-Town" - 32nd between Broadway and 5th avenue)? Your kids may find the idea of grilling their own meats to be fun. I usually head over to Kang Suh or Kum Gang San in Koreatown. I don't get over there much, so maybe chowhounders will have other suggestions for Korean barbecue.

              Near Koreatown, what used to be Bon Chon Chicken (now "Mad For Chicken") makes some phenomenal Korean Fried Chicken. Note, the "spicy" chicken is VERY spicy. It's on 5th Avenue, just south of 32nd street. It's on the 2nd floor of an office building - the restaurant is on a floor above a pizza place.

              If you're feeling as though you've had too much adventure, perhaps check out Mario Batali's Otto, north of Washington Square. Great selection of cured, meats and cheeses, plus pastas or pizzas and of course, an extensive wine list for the adults. Otto accepts reservations for half of its tables - if you can't get a table, walk in on the early side - 5 to 6pm and you shouldn't have too bad of a wait. You can be adventurous with some of the small plates.

              Szechwan Gourmet is a great choice for sichuan cooking in Manhattan. In Chinatown, check out Cantoon Garden for cantonese style cooking. The house chicken (crispy, garlicky and flavored with soy sauce is delicious). The snow pea shoots ("dou miao") with crabmeat sauce or simply sauteed with garlic is excellent, although if your daughter is allergic to peanuts or legumes, she may be allergic to pea shoots as well.

              Also, dim sum may be fun for kids as well. Try Oriental Garden - they have some carts and they will push food around in it. Dim Sum Go Go is also very tasty, but you order a la carte and there's no steaming food carts from which you can pick your dim sum. After dim sum, head over to a bubble tea shop on Mott, in the block or two south of Canal Street. Your kids will probably be very intrigued by the black tapioca pearls which they will suck up through the giant straws.

              Momofuku Ssam is excellent, although a lot of the dishes are spicy, which your kids may or may be able to tolerate. If you don't think they can handle the spice, check out Momofuku Milk Bar, which has the famed pork buns and some really original soft serve ice cream flavors and baked goods.

              Clinton Street Baking Company in the Lower East Side does fantastic breakfasts. Better to go in the morning on a weekday - it's a very popular place. The best pancakes I have ever tasted in the city. The food stuff is not too challenge, but food tastes homemade and is of a very good quality.

              For a cheap lunch - try the trendiest sandwich in NY - the humble, delicious Vietnamese banh mi. Baogette (branches in Murray Hill and East Village) offers a respectable banh mi for $5. Or, quite a few chowhounders swear by Saigon Banh Mi on Mott Street - it's sort of hidden behind a jeweler's, so it's an odd location. Think it's half a block south of Grand Street. Cheap and delicious. Pork, pickled carrots and daikon, mayo, cilantro - yum yum.

              I also think tapas is great - try La Nacional. Or introduce the kids to paella at Socarrat, a paella only restaurant. Mario Batali's Casa Mono is also spanish-inspired tapas, and it's great, but it's not authentic Spanish tapas, although still very tasty, all the same.

              Also, for a great meal out, check out Dan Barber's Blue Hill - I think Dan Barber just won a James Beard award for outstanding chef of the year. Food at Blue Hill is seasonal and local - I believe ingredients are sourced locally, and much of it is grown at the Blue Hill farm upstate. Simple, excellent treatment of top notch fresh fresh fresh ingredients. Excellent New American cooking.

              3 Replies
              1. re: susiederkins

                What a helpful post! A few comments:

                I really like Madangsui on 35 St. between 5th and 6th for Korean barbecue, and they serve a really good banchan (complimentary side dishes). One caveat is that you really have to like beef to get the most out of their barbecue. Anything marinated (e.g., galbi, bulgogi) is likely to be tastiest.

                I think Banh Mi Saigon is a lot better than Baoguette St Marks, and you can get the food to go and eat it in the park on Spring and Mulberry, which also is a playground where the kids may want to play. Plus, the crystals are fun to look at. I get the soy milk, which I find goes well with the spicy sandwich (they'll also make it non-spicy, if you prefer).

                Katz's is definitely a good idea. It helps to like pastrami, but if one or both of the kids don't want pastrami, brisket, or corned beef, their turkey can be fine; I'd probably ask for it juicy and see if they can accommodate that. The kids will love all the photos on the wall.

                1. re: Pan

                  At Katz's the kids can always get Hot Dogs and be adventerous with a knish (or go to Yona Shimels down the block for that)

                2. re: susiederkins

                  I love Shopsin's but if your child has a life-threatening allergy, I wouldn't take them there. The menu even says "severe allergies cannot be accommodated."

                3. Welcome back for your short visit!! A great cheap place worth mentioning is Hagi - 152 West 49th Street, lower level a Japanese pub with some tasty treats - really anything they serve on a stick - great finger foods for the kids and basic, well seasoned food. Try the garlic on sticks, chicken skins, yellow tail collar and of course the array of beer. It is hidden - they are in the basement -blink and you'll miss it. I've been a few times and the wait is quite long - so I recommend getting there between 5:30 and 6 - because I think you'll get a table at this time. If you don't you can write down your contact info and they will call you!