Review of RGR’s Self-Guided LES Gustatory Tour
Before we left foggy San Francisco, I searched the Chow boards for some interesting fare for our family trip to NY. I came across a response from the great “Kathryn” to “Top Food Recs in the West Village.”
Kathryn wrote, “I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/493333.“
So I checked it out and thought it was the perfect thing for the family. I knew it would keep my adventurous palate happy, my husband’s pocketbook overjoyed, and a great food experience for my 12-year-old daughter. We started about 10 am or so and finished up at about 1pm. We followed all the recommendations, except for we took the nicer streets (less cars) and we added Sugar Sweet Sunshine based on a213b writeup, “3 Week Chowfest; Help!!!” http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611116. If you have the time you really should read his WHOLE 3 week review. I had just a few days and a husband and daughter to keep happy, so I couldn’t indulge in many of his picks, but am so happy we added Sugar Sweet Sunshine to the list.
In addition to our tour, we went to 5 Napkin Burger (messy and quite delicious) and Bar Boulud. I am still seething from our snobby service at Boulud. The food was phenomenal but the service was appalling. I was tweeting the whole time and @rickGresh (a chef in Chicago) tweeted back, “every time I've been to boulud its the same, palm beach was the worst!” and “yep, worst service of my life, and both palm beach and bar b was the same manager! So sad, daniel deserves better!”
Check out our slideshow http://picasaweb.google.com/wineunlea... of the tour. Foodies eat with their eyes!! The last 2 slides are not from the NY tour, but I had to include them: The fantastic cupcakes at Crumbs Bakeshop in Huntington.
I just wanted to write and thank you for the wonderful LES tour. My husband and I printed out a copy and had great fun seeing how far we could go. It took us just over 2 hours and we oly got as far as Ray's egg creams. It was a wonderful way for us to experience the best of "real" New York.
Firstly, a little bit of context. We are Australians on an 18 month sojourn in US. We've only been here for 2 months, so I don't know much about American food thus I don't have the "local's" perspective or bias. In trying to learn about American food, everytime I try something new, I find myself asking, do I like/dislike this because of the original food? Or because of this particular interpretation? For example it took a long weekend eating crabcakes at any place I could find up and down Maine before I decided that maybe I'm not so keen on crabcakes. So a guide to what is truly the best and most authentic is truly invaluable.
We were planning to spend a weekend in New York on the 27th of March. We started the LES tour at about 2pm after visiting some sights in the morning. I had been raving on about Katz and pastrami sandwiches to my husband. We'd sampled the thinkly sliced versions in Boston and liked them well enough. But my Aussie husband professed to be starving, and teasingly groaned he didn't see what the fuss was about a mere sandwich. When we arrived at Katz at 2pm, there was a line stretching 12 feet out the door. He groand somemore and said, "This bloody sandwich had better be worth it!" The room was a confusing wash of people lining up helter skelter and luckily I had your instructions to follow or I may well still be trying to find the line to the cutter now. It would be good if you could add a tip to try and find the shortest of the 6 lines to the sandwich counter, as I initially followed the crowd to stand at the line nearest to the door. I enjoyed myself immensely listening to the "real New Yorkers" banter and place their orders. One man who looked just like George Kastanza's father gave extremely specific instructions to the patient cutter about how much Russian dressing to put on his sandwich, where to put the pickle, and how to wrap his takeaway sandwiches up in aluminium tents. Another New Yorker abruptly pushed his way to the front of our line (he had been in the adjacent one, we both knew I was next in line and the cutter had just caught my eye) and loudly cajoled the cutter to "gimme a taste man, I'm from around here. Why don't you gimme a taste man." He got his sandwiches. I finally got to order my "pastrami on rye, with mustard, that's all thank you". It seemed to me the cutter cut me an extra large piece of pastrami to sample. He also silently made sure I waited till I got my side of pickles, I hadn't realised they were included and was about to take my tray away when he held his hand up for me to wait. We wandered around for 5 minutes before we got a table. And then we ate.
It was a revelation. Count me one among those who would now happily make a pilgrimage to Katz from distant shores. It was a salty sweet melt-in-your-mouth meaty meaty MEATY musical of a sandwich. My husband (who is unfailingly honest and highly critical) said it was worth the wait. We both agreed we'd never eaten anything like this in our lives. The pickles were also really special. We didn't like the yellow-green sour pickles that much (although I found mine delicious when I took little bites between bites of pastrami on rye. But we both loved the fresh light-green salty pickle (is that the half sour?). Although I admit now I've done the counter thing, I may just get table service next time around.
After our pastrami sandwich, we were filled with expectations as we made our way to Russ & Daughters. It did not look like a sandwich shop. The deli was filled with people ordering large tubs of gefilte fish and salted herring in cream sauce. The lady at the pastry counter patietly explained we needed to get a ticket. I was stunned to see at least 8 varieties of smoked salmon and an equal number of cream-cheese varieties. Not wanting to attract the wrath or impatience of a New York deli counter-man, I had been repeatedly murmuring "bagel and lox please, bagel and lox please." What kind of bagel? What kind of lox? Do you want cream cheese? What kind? You want onion? Tomato? The questions came quick and hard, and I had no idea! I chose a sesame bagel because I heard the lady in front of me ask for one, I said any kind of lox would do (got a good-natured eye-rolling at that one), and cream-cheese plain please. Yes to both tomato and onion. We took our sandwich to some benches we found on the median strip on the nearest main street and had our second food "OMG" moment of the day. The bagel was (to us) unusually hard yet had heaps of bready sweetness. The salty lox just melted leaving a slick smoked salmon taste in our mouths. Surprisingly it was the paper-thin slices of sweet onion that really made the sandwich it for us.
after this, we went to Schimmel. The lovely lady set us up with a potato knish, although I was very disappointed they had run out of the blueberry cream-cheese knish. This is another instance where I am convinced I've reliably tried a fantastic version of something, and decided I'm personally not a fan. My deepest apologies to all knish fans. To me it tasted like a panfried mashed potato cake. It really needed a good squirt of mustard to even begin to be interesting. I did however really like the cherry lime ricky and was much amused by a neighbouring table who had an extended conversation with the lovely lady over the relative merits of soda or the ice-cream first in an ice-cream soda. As we were doing our customary cheesey tourist photos outside the store, a man going past yelled out, "Why you taking photos, go inside and have a knish!" "We've already had one!" I replied. "Ah, you're New Yorkers already then!" Well, we sure felt like it right then!
our next stop at Ray's was good fun. A tough-looking tatooed man in singlet, pyjama pants and a grey-hound was at the head of the line. As he stepped out, he put his face in my husband's and said, "You a red-sox fan man?" My nervous husband who was wearing a Red-Sox beanie he bought cheaply at a sports store mumbled something about just being from Boston (we don't quite know how to gauge the depth of feeling in this Red Sox versus Yankees business yet). "Oh right!" he stalked out, then yelled behind him, "I'm a fan! A biiig fan," and walked away. The lady in front of us asked for an egg cream, "less sweet". When she got hers, she huffed it was still too sweet. I don't know what the counter-lady did to make it less sweet. Because when I got mine, I coudln't see how this drink could possibly be anything BUT sweet! I've never had one, so I was expeccting a thick, custardy drink. I liked the mlik-soda concoction I got, but I'm still bemused over the completely inappropriate name! We think our egg cream across the street to the Sandra Turner Graden, which we were puzzled to see was stocked with fake mechanical squirrels perched in the trees. We watched them for ages. They stayed rooted to their spots in the trees and did the same repetitive movement over and over again. Weird.
By this time even though we had shared everything, we were very full and tired. So we trekked back to our hotel to prepare for the off-off-Broadway show we were going to see that night. On the way, I was very excited to see a cafe called Mud on E 37th st, which had a real live espresso machine (hailing from Melbourne, I'm a coffee snob) and had the first really decent latte I've had in a month. Sooo good.
This tour just reinforced for me how difficult it is to seperate food from culture, how I get to know a place first through my stomach, then my brain and heart. I had a lovely time eating all that fantastic food and coming into contact with New Yorkers in all their glory.
It was a *great* day.
Next time I'm in the neighbourhood, I'm so getting takeaway pastrami from Katz!
I'm so pleased you enjoyed my tour. Nothing like starting the day with a delicious pastrami sandwich! lol Excellent photos. I have been meaning to add Sugar Sweet Sunshine (and one or two other spots) to the tour but haven't gotten around to doing a revision.
Re: Bar Boulud. We've been there twice and had excellent service. One important point. It sounds as though when you were twittering with the Chicage, you didn't make it clear exactly which Daniel Boulud restaurant you were at. Thus, the chef was confused because the restaurant in Palm Beach is not Bar Boulud, it's *Cafe Boulud*, which is much more upscale than Bar Boulud. Cafe Boulud NY is one of our favorites, and service is always cordial and polished. We've never been to Cafe Boulud Palm Beach, so I can't comment on the service there.
RGR, it was great fun and a great memory for my daughter. She had never tasted several of the foods—that is saying something for she is well traveled and eats anything. Many thanks for posting the tour. I'll leave the pics up so if you ever want to steer someone to your tour... you now have the pics. I wish I had taken more!!
So glad you enjoyed (most of) your visit. I have yet to do RGR's tour, though I've hit some places on it. What a drag about Bar Boulud - I've had indifferent service there, but not snobby service, which is certainly worse. I've enjoyed every meal I've had there, including a mid afternoon birthday lunch w/ another hound, charcuterie and a bottle of champagne - but there are definitely very mixed reviews on CH - both about the food and the service.