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3 Week Chowfest = Nice; 2 Month Chowfest = AWESOME!

We’re BAAAAAAAaaaaaaack!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, as some of you might recall my wife and I were in NYC for 3 weeks back in April, and we were blessed with many, many opportunities to enjoy the culinary delights of this fine city … everything from street carts to Michelin 3 stars. Those exploits have all been written up and discussed in this thread (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611116), and man did we have an absolute blast!

Well, now it’s time for Take 2, and this time we are in town for almost 8 weeks!!! Of course we are going to revisit some of our favorites, but we’re also going to do our best to chow through as many new places as our stomachs will allow. For those times where we hit up past favorites that were discussed in the other thread, odds are I will only give a cursory review unless new things were tried or something has changed. For new places, I cannot promise the level of depth in the previous thread (it’s exhausting!), but I will do my best to give you my $0.02 on everything from service to food.

Hopefully we can all enjoy this thread as much as the last one, and as always, feel free to chime in … after all, this is just food, so let’s enjoy it!

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  1. Wow - 8 weeks! I'll go back and reread your other thread - which I very much enjoyed - and will see if I have any other suggestions. You might also want to post on the Outer Boroughs board, if you haven't. Are you interested in cooking in at all, if you have the facilities to do so?

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      We're actually, at this point, in week 6 or 7 (can't recall off the top of my head -- we landed the day after Labor Day). I've been keeping a "food journal" as we went along, and am just now starting to have the time to begin posting the thoughts/reviews.

      But please, by all means give me some ideas! It looks like I might be coming back and forth between LA and here a couple times a year for the next few years, and I'd imagine each time would be a minimum of 2 - 3 weeks, so I'll need all of the ideas I can get!

    2. Tuesday ...

      After our early evening flight landed and we made our way in to the city, neither one of us was much in the mood either to travel far or really delve into anything other than the most casual of dinners. Remembering how much we had enjoyed it our previous trip, we made our way over to the (in)famous Halal cart on 53rd & 6th to devour another combo plate.

      Boy did we make the right decision! Despite having a reputation as a fine-dining city, one thing I love most about NY is the abundance of great street food available, and this cart in particular is one of the best.

      We took it and sat in front of my old office a block north of the Hilton and dug in -- we were famished!

      At first bite, all the same flavor sensations and joys came back ... this is just SO good! I love the heat from the red sauce (I put two containers of it into our one container of food), and when all mixed together and doused with their white sauce, this is just a spectacular way to start off the trip. Yum!

      1. Wednesday ...

        We just knew for our first real night in the city there was one, and ONLY one place we were going to go ...

        Katz Deli

        I know some people find this place to be overrated, and that's certainly fine, but to me this is the quintessential NY institution. I love the fact they give you tickets, it's cash only, and the the countermen carve/slice by hand. And you KNOW that I am here for one reason and one reason only ...

        The Pastrami on Rye with a touch of mustard.

        Oh. My. God. The first bite was just like the one described in my earlier thread. To sum it up -- heavenly. This is just so delicious, so meaty and salty and juicy. Seriously, I know many may feel differently, but Langers in LA has nothing on this place … NOTHING!

        Deciding to walk for a bit and hit some of our favorite haunts, we swung by Pinisi and tried one of their Ghost Chili Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting.

        This was interesting, to be sure; more spicy than anything, it actually did not have much chocolate flavor, which was a disappointment. I will say the cream cheese frosting was nice & thick, and actually more like a schmear of cream cheese than frosting. It helped cut the spice nicely, but overall this just did not work for me.

        We left here and headed to another old favorite, Pommes Frites, where we got a regular and their mango chutney dipping sauce. We headed over to the church to sit down and enjoy these ...

        Wow! These were VERY disappointing … maybe it was just an off night but they tasted of oil a little bit, they were not crispy, and the Mango Chutney was far more on the savory side, not providing that nice sweet-salty counterbalance I remembered loving from before. Man was I bummed. I mean, I know I’ll try it again, they’ve earned that much, but I hope it was just an off night, and not an accurate indicator of an overall decline in quality.

        The night had started off so amazingly well at Katz, and then been in a steady decline, so I knew of only one last place that could boost our spirits and give us that final boost for the evening -- Momofuku MILK.

        I know, surely you must remember how much of a sweet-tooth I have, and how big a fan I was of this place on our first go around. And I know there are more than a few who find it overhyped and underwhelming, but I really, REALLY like (nay, LOVE) this place.

        The Horchata Soft Serve was like fall, with that nice cinnamon/nutmeg/clove fall flavoring, and the Cereal Milk SS is even better than the milk! I had a fresh out of the oven Compost cookie, which was very tasty (and which we realized my wife had almost perfectly replicated back in LA), a Double Chocolate cookie (good, though a bit too Oreo flavored for me), and the Marshmallow/Corn Flake delicious cookie which is like a cross between a rice-crispy treat and a cookie … love it! Perfect way to end the night, and a spot to which we will DEFINITELY return.

        4 Replies
        1. re: a213b

          I think that Pomme Frites is the most over-rated place in Manhattan. I just understand the love. The frites are never crisp and I always got these short stubby little fry-lettes as opposed to a nice sized fry. The sauces are interesting but if the fry is bad why bother?

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Just to let you know a New York secret about Katz'. They DO take credit cards, just not at the cashier. Pay with a card at the salami takeout counter.

            1. re: bobjbkln

              Cool! Thanks for the head's up!

          2. re: a213b

            I love Milk Bar. Love the ice cream, the shakes, and the Dulce de Leche cake. I haven't tried the cookies or most of the other cakes yet.

          3. Thurs:

            After a frenetic and harried day at work, I was a bit in a foul mood and not really looking forward to going out for our dinner at Convivio. I felt like I had read some uncomplimentary reviews about the service, so combined with being frazzled I just was not “feeling it”, for whatever reason as we were in the cab on the way over … the sprinkling rain certainly did not help either.

            You know, sometimes you have premonitions that are so far off base, and then other times you feel like you MUST have at least SOME psychic tendencies … thankfully, it turns out I was WAY off on this one. What a fantastic restaurant!

            We were seated promptly for our 8:45 reservation, ordered a couple of cocktails and settled in to peruse the menu. First off, let me say that many things looked great, but my favorite part of this place is how you can swap out items from various parts of the menu when you do the Tasting (e.g. you can trade one antipasti for two sfizi) to create your own prix fixe/tasting menu. This especially works well when there are two (or more) who like to share. We made our choices and settled in for what turned out to be a really fabulous meal.

            We ended up starting with two Sfizi (I subbed my antipasti for these two) … the Arancini and the Carciofi.

            The Arancini were just scrumptious. Perfectly fried with what I could tell was perfectly executed risotto … I loved the hint of saffron, it wasn’t overwhelming like it absolutely can be, and the tomato sauce was so freshly flavored! Yum! These were really, really good!

            The Carciofi, too, were really nice. I liked the contrast of the mint with the saltiness of the pecorino; these were some really great artichokes, fresh & clean tasting. The only thing that seemed “off” for whatever reason (and this might have just been me), is I was a little surprised that they were served cool. They were still good; don’t get me wrong, I guess I was just expecting they would be warm.

            Next came the Duck Insalata special for my wife and the Agnolotti ai Formaggi for me.

            The Agnolotti were perfectly cooked, nicely al dente pasta filled with beautiful ricotta and buratta and topped with an amazingly fresh tasting, slightly sweet yet tangy tomato sauce – with fresh micro greens (basil) to finish. Yum! These were great, and I loved the garlic slices too, they were not overwhelming, but provided the perfect complement to the tomato-basil flavors. These were not earth-shattering or amazing, but instead they were the understated, elegant, deeply delicious dish that ends up being so comforting.

            But the standout for this round of courses was my wife’s Duck Insalata, which was a special that night. Holy freaking moly!!!! This was an olive oil poached duck leg with pecorino, frisee & mixed greens, butternut squash, mustard vinaigrette, & crispy duck-skin “cracklings”, along with pickled shallots. Honestly, this was just AMAZING! So delicious, the duck was perfectly cooked, not overly gamey, and it was still warm. Balanced perfectly with the rich starchy sweetness of the butternut squash, then cut by the pickled shallots … and I LOVED the crispy duck skin. This was one of the best dishes I’ve had in recent memory. SOooooooo good! Seriously, this was PHE-NOM-ENAL!

            Next came the Maccheroni alla Carbonara … yet again, perfectly cooked pasta, nicely peppery, not overly egg-y (which I find can happen frequently in a carbonara), and I LOVED the pancetta that accompanied it. I really enjoyed this though my wife wasn’t blown away. Nevertheless I would definitely order it again.

            Finally out came our last savory course, the Cavatelli al Forno, and the Salsiccia alla Griglia.

            JACKPOT! The Cavatelli was, well, REALLY freaking delicious, like little gnocchi dumplings or something, and I feel immediately in love with the scamorza cheese on top. Holy Crap was this an amazing dish!!!! So rich and buttery and meat-y, but not in a typical way you’d think of a ragu – we were getting full and took a good bit of this to go with us, because I KNEW it would make an absolutely killer lunch the next day. Seriously, you HAVE to get this if it’s on the menu, it’s OUTSTANDING!

            The Salsiccia alla Griglia was interesting, but in a good way. The pork sausage was really tasty, especially with a little hit of the syrupy balsamic-like vin cotto; and I loved, Loved, LOVED the tomato conserva, though I should warn you that it could be really potent by itself, so I could definitely see how some might find it overly sweet. It was like a sugary/tomato-y rush in my mouth, and the lentil salad was quite nice, too. The only problem with this dish was the Pork Rib – I was not sure how to eat it. I tried a knife and fork but eventually just gave up and ate it with my hands like the proper Philistine that I am. It varied from either being fatty, buttery goodness or overly chewy/tough pork meat ... it was very porky, with that “piggy” gamey taste. This was good, but I would choose the Cavatelli over it 100/100.

            Last came our desserts. I had the Tartalleta di Caramelle, and my wife has the Budino.

            When the tart came out my wife made fun of me/it, because it certainly was dainty. It was good, but incomparable to the similarly styled tart we had at EMP earlier this year. It was good; don’t get me wrong, but a bit unspectacular. The vanilla gelato was also a bit disappointing, as I didn’t get a pronounced vanilla burst from it like I’d hoped. Again, this was good and I don’t think you’d be upset for ordering it, but it was certainly not special, and not something I would proclaim as a “must have” by any stretch.

            Now, the Budino, on the other hand … Yahtzee! Hot chocolate + candied hazelnuts + hazelnut gelato = AMAZING HEAVENLY AWESOMENESS! This was like a molten-lava cake with more lava than cake, and I’m a sucker for hot chocolate and cold gelato/ice cream. Is this inventive, creative, whimsical, etc? Nope. Will it change your life? Nope. But did it hit the spot, a great ending to a really good meal? Yup. This was super rich … I’m not sure how one person could eat it all, but it was definitely a pleaser for the two of us. I mean, in truth, we both really enjoy cooked desserts, so this was a perfect cap on a meal that had a couple of dishes that were not standouts, but was overall really, REALLY good. I would absolutely recommend this place, but when I go again I am planning on sticking to the pastas, since that seems to be their strongest suit (as well as it’s something LA just does not do that well).

            Go!

            2 Replies
            1. re: a213b

              I'm glad you had a good time at convivio, my experiences have been mixed, with some real highs and bland lows. However, I have yet to be really wowed by their desserts.

              I wish someone had videotaped you eating pasta with your hands. I'm curious how the other diners and servers reacted. That's one measure of good service, when patrons are acting out of the ordinary and they don't bat an eye.

              1. re: windycity

                LOL, that would have been a sight, wouldn't it? I was actualy eating a rib with my hands. It was on the bone, it was huge, and I could eat the fatty/buttery/tender parts with a knife and fork, but once it got to the tougher portions that was just not working for me.

                In my defense, at that point it was 10:30 and almost all of the tables around us were empty ... plus I was facing a wall, and I tried to keep it as discrete as possible.

                Had I been eating pasta, now THAT would have been hilarious yet awful!

            2. Fri:

              Unfortunately Friday night I was stuck at work very, very late, so I did not have a chance to go out and get anything. My wife and sister did, however, hit up the UWS location of Shake Shack, and were kind enough to bring my down a double cheeseburger.

              Obviously this is not, by any stretch whatsoever the optimal way to eat a burger, but I have to say it was still really good. I know many people on here don’t care for SS all that much, but I am a fan and enjoyed this taste memory. I can’t wait to hit Madison Park during a nice evening and get a fresh one with a nice concrete, though I’ll pass on the fries because they just do not do it for me.

              1. Sat:

                Unfortunately I had to work on Saturday, and since I did not have a good idea about what time I would be getting out, it was hard to set up a reservation somewhere. After much debate we grabbed a 9:30 res at Bar Boulud, thinking it’s better to have one in hand than try and risk someplace in Manhattan on a Saturday.

                At the appointed time we showed up and were seated promptly. Thankfully we had made the reservation, because I heard the host telling walk-ins the wait was an hour at least. After being seated and spending some time with the menu, we realized a traditional 3-course style meal was not what we wanted, and instead opted for a customized Cheese & Charcuterie plate … and boy were we happy!

                Tourte de Canard (Foie, Figs, Duck): Oh. My. God. What!?!?! This is freaking AWESOME! Layers of meaty, earthy duck mixed with the fatty richness of foie and then POW!, that bold fig burst smacking you in the mouth. We absolutely adored this. SOOooooo good.

                Jamon Iberico de Bellota: If you’ve never had this, it’s simply spectacular … you can get hints of the nuttiness, lovely salt and delicious pork flavor. Yum!

                Cervelas Lyonnais en Brioche (Lyonnais Sausage with Pistachios and Black Truffles in Brioche): This was quite good, though not earth-shattering. I didn’t get nearly as much truffle flavor as I would’ve liked (assuming it’s because they use summer truffles, and thankfully no truffle oil); still, warm brioche stuffed with sausage? Yes please!

                We also got a trio of cheeses to accompany as well as some of their DELICIOUS pommes frites, which were quite addictive. Yum!!!!

                All in all, this place has some of the best charcuterie I've ever had; it turned out to be a perfect meal, one of those times where it just really hits the spost. Obviously we did not have much of a chance to experience what their kitchen can do, but their house-made products are PHENOMENAL, and if the kitchen puts out anything remotely close, then this place is really a great spot to enjoy.

                2 Replies
                1. re: a213b

                  I'm loving your reports! Which places do you still plan on hitting on this trip?

                  1. re: Pan

                    Sorry it took so long to respond. Here is a list (not comprehensive) of the places we've eaten thus far and on which I will be posting my thoughts as quickly as I can:

                    Keste, Co., Motorino, Arturos, Lombardis, Soccarat Paella, The Redhead, Little Owl, Spotted Pig, Commerce, Minetta Tavern, Aldea, SHO, Scarpetta, Locanda Verde, Apizz, Alto, SD-26, EMP, Per Se, Daniel ... some street carts, food trucks, burger spots, etc.

                2. On Sunday we decided to head back to another favorite for some of their amazing Pork Buns, and this time we decided to bring my sister along to let her experience them for the first time.

                  We arrived at Ippudo around 1:30 and put our name in, and were blessed because we only had to wait 15 minutes or so before being seated. We ordered two orders of the Pork Buns, and you should have seen the way my sister’s eyes lit up when she took her first bite! I’ll just point you back to my other thread to read my first experience, but suffice to say that this time was similarly stellar. These things are just little crack sandwiches, and if I lived in NY I could easily see myself gaining tons of weight from popping in here every few days to grab some of these at the bar. Simply put, they are AMAZING!

                  We ordered two bowls of ramen to share, the Akamaru Modern and the Shoyu – the Akamaru was fantastic as before, and while the Shoyu was good, it was certainly not mind-blowing. I don’t know if it just suffered in comparison to the Akamaru, but it simply did not pack that flavor punch that I love so much from the Akamaru.

                  Afterwards we took her over to one of our old favorites, Milk, to experience a place we truly love. This time around we sampled the Watermelon and Cucumber Soft Serves (I liked them both, especially the cucumber once I got over the initial shock of tasting it in an ice cream form) and picked up a few cookies for the road.

                  We ended up walking a good bit from here … up to Columbus Circle where we stopped by Bouchon, because I just HAD to have a Nutter Butter. Along with it we grabbed a Bouchon Ding Dong and a Corn Muffin.

                  As always the Nutter Butter was phenomtastic – I’m basically a 5 – 10 year old in a 30 year old’s body, so anytime I can get a PB dessert, well … I’m all about it! I could eat one of these a day, but I am pretty sure if I did I would end up pregnant with a food baby and walking around like one of those Weeble-Wobble toys my siblings played with when they were little.

                  Thankfully (or not, depending on your POV) I need not worry about similar temptation from the Bouchon Ding Dong. If they were trying to pretty much exactly replicate the dry blandness of the real deal, then success! Otherwise, this was thrice the price and equally as bad as its original – feel free to skip it.

                  Lastly, the corn muffin was not what I expected – I was really hoping for a lightly sweet version, almost a dessert in a way, but while it was kissed with the faintest hint of a simply syrup, it was primarily savory … which isn’t a bad thing, unless you are expecting a sweet corn explosion in your mouth. It’s actually pretty good as a corn bread, so I would say to get it … just know what you are in for when you do.

                  We made our way back up to my sister’s apartment in the Columbia area (she just started law school) and after all of that walking we really were not in the mood to venture far afoot once dinnertime came around. Since the smells were always so enticing when we walked by it, we decided to try an Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant on the corner of 121st and Amsterdam called Massawa.

                  Before I dive in, let me preface this by saying that I’ve never tried this cuisine before, and while the space was fine, the service was a bit lackluster to say the least, so they were really not much help in aiding us with menu selection. So we just ordered a couple of things that sounded good and waited with curiosity to see what came out.

                  Eventually out came a BIG platter with various items on it – I won’t say that it was beautiful, but it smelled delicious and I was super pumped to see the flat bread come out with the platter.

                  We ordered the Tebsi, and the Special Kitfo … and both of these packed a wallop! They were really great; I loved the spices, the vegetables, the accompaniments, and most of all the flat bread that you could just tear off and load up with whatever combination your heart desired. I won’t lie … it did all start to look and taste a bit similar after awhile, but when “similar” = “good, hearty & soul-satisfying”, then that is perfectly fine by me.

                  I wish I knew more about the cuisine, and I know there’s a “Little Ethiopia” back in LA, so I plan on doing just that. This was seriously good, and SO satisfying after a day travelling on foot throughout the city!

                  1. Monday …

                    Today, I knew it was time. We’d been in the city almost a week, and still nary a single slice of pizza had crossed these lips. “No more,” I say to you!

                    We decided to head down, down to the depths of Greenwich/West Village (I can never keep that area straight) … to a spot that’s rumored to have one of THE best pies in the entire city – Keste.

                    We arrived around 8:45 or so, and put in our names. The man “manning” the door (get it? get it? gee I crack myself up!) was super nice (possibly one of or the owner?). He told us it was a half hour wait, but we were able to get in pretty quickly. After scanning the menu we ordered the Salsiccia and the Margherita and waited for our pies to arrive.

                    Within what seemed like mere minutes two hot, fresh, scrumptious looking pies were laid in front of us … and with a deep breath I dove in for the first bite of my Margherita.

                    Oh. My. God.

                    What! What! Are you $&*@#$(@# kidding me?!?!? Now I understand why UPN closed, because you see those candles over there? There, right there in the corner. Yeah, that big crate of them. THOSE are what UPN cannot hold when compared Keste!

                    I love, Love, LOVE the crust! It has the perfect amount of chew, a nice scattering of char spots, and the cheese and sauce … WHOA! It’s like having summer’s freshest, ripest tomatoes exploding in my mouth. This is SOOOOOOOOOO good! The Salsiccia was outstanding as well, and was actually my wife’s favorite!

                    This place is a treasure, and to me totally deserving of the hype that gets heaped upon it. The now shuttered UPN was my first real experience with Napolitano style pizza, and it simply just does NOT compare to the awesomeness of Keste.

                    Go. Just, go.

                    Afterwards we stopped by Grom Gelato, which was a fine dessert afterwards, but nothing outstanding. We got a scoop each of Cioccolato Extranoir and Limone, and maybe it’s because we ordered Sorbets instead of Gelato, I don’t know, but there was just something about the texture/mouthfeel, and the flavors while good lacked that depth and richness usually found with good, premium gelatos. I feel like I’m being overly harsh – I think it paled in comparison to the pizza we ate before it. I would certainly get it again, it tasted nice and was a yummy treat to have afterwards, but I would not head over here specifically and solely for it, if that makes sense.

                    I will definitely, however, be heading back for the awesomeness that is Keste, and I encourage you to do the same.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: a213b

                      Thanks for the detailed notes!

                      The thing I've found with most of the Neopolitan places in NYC (and probably that style of pizza in general) is that doughs and ovens can be inconsistent dependent upon many factors (humidity, temperature, etc.). So even if a place is AWESOME the first time, sometimes it can suck the second time, and then be GREAT again the third time. I think it's just a fact of life w/ that style of pie.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        That actually makes a lot of sense, given how thin the crust is and how short of a time these pies are in the oven ... given those conditions, even the tiniest of variables can really have an inordinately large "say so" in the outcome of the pie.

                        We're thinking of doing a Keste/Motorino taste test this Friday night for our final meal; it's only an idea, not a certainty, at this point, but obviously I'll post our experience(s) if/when we do it.

                        1. re: a213b

                          If you can believe it, the chef owner of Keste, Roberto, was head pizziaola at Amano in Ridgewood NJ , 5 minutes from my house. The pizza was like crack, I was always there. Then he went on his own to open Keste and I lost my pizza fix(local that is) now I must travel. Try it you will be hooked.

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                          My House
                          New York, NY, New York, NY