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Trip Report - October 2009

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Yikes… time flies. These longer trips are way harder to write up, but I do find them useful for my own future reference (plus, I always get great recs for future trips from Manhattan CHers in response). Hopefully other people will find them helpful as well.

Exceeded expectations:
Shake Shack
Momofuku Noodle Bar’s ramen

Did not meet expectations:
Keste
Obika
Momofuku Ko
Momofuku Milk Bar’s pork bun with egg

Best bargains:
SHO’s $30, 3-course lunch
EMP’s $28, 2-course lunch

Worst use of deconstruction:
Perbacco’s “carbonara”

Biggest (pleasant) surprise:
Momofuku Noodle Bar’s ramen

Most memorable sweet:
Momofuku Milk Bar’s chocolate chip and passion curd cake
(runner-up) – Corton’s “fruit plate”

Most uneven meal: Graffiti

Not as good as I remember:
Absolute Bagels
City Bakery’s pretzel croissant

Just as good as I remember:
Yasuda

Head to head comparisons:
Pizza - Keste vs. Motorino: Motorino
Lasagna – Salumeria Rossi vs. Perbacco: tie. Both great.
Chocolate chip cookies: Levain vs. Jacques Torres: tie. Both disappointed.
High-end – SHO vs. EMP vs. Corton vs. Ko: Corton

Still haven’t made it to: Artichoke

High on my list for next visit: Sorella, Maiolino, Marea, Txikito

Itinerary Overview:

DAY 1
Salumeria Rossi
Grom

DAY 2
Locanda Verde
Keste
Sushi Yasuda

DAY 3
Momofuku Milk Bar
Obika
Aldea

DAY 4
Absolute Bagel
Azuri Café
Momofuku Noodle Bar
Chikalicious Dessert Club

DAY 5
Grandaisy
Levain Bakery
(lunch provided by conference)
Motorino

DAY 6
Bubby’s (Brooklyn)
Jacques Torres
Graffiti

DAY 7
Little Giant (Sorella closed)
Momofuku Ko

DAY 8
SHO
City Bakery
Corton

DAY 9
Wafel and Dinge
EMP
Perbacco

DAY 10
Matsugen
Shake Shack
Zabar’s
William Greenberg

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  1. DAY 1: Salumeria Rosi, Grom
    DAY 2: Locanda Verde, Keste, Sushi Yasuda

    DAY 1
    I arrived on the UES around 6, dropped off my bags, and headed straight to Salumeria Rosi. Their lasagna, a classic Bolognese version, was excellent, all velvety texture and complex meatiness. I followed it with a small plate of pork belly flavored with an interesting garam masala-like rub, paired with beans and dandelion. Beautifully cooked food that managed to be both homey and refined at the same time.

    Dessert was chocolate and hazelnut gelato from Grom. Nothing earth-shattering, but a satisfying end to the day.

    DAY 2
    Breakfast was a superb fig-almond muffin and an ok cappuccino from Locanda Verde. I then met up with a friend at Keste, where we ordered the lardo/pecorino/basil pizza, and the eponymous Keste pizza. The crusts were a bit softer and blonder than I generally prefer, but my biggest problem with Keste was the quality of their toppings – the prosciutto was really badly cut, and of mediocre quality.

    Dinner was at Sushi Yasuda, and excellent as always. I didn’t have anything particularly unusual or exotic, but the salmon, the Tasmanian trout, and the arctic char were particularly good this night.

    -----
    Grom
    2165 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

    Sushi Yasuda
    204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

    Salumeria Rosi
    283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023

    Locanda Verde
    377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

    1. DAY 3: Momofuku Milk Bar, Obika, Aldea

      I’d drooled over a picture of Momofuku Milk Bar’s pork bun with an egg months ago, and was really looking forward to what I expected to be the best Egg McMuffin ever. Incredibly, it actually debunked my previously held belief that all delicious things are made even better with a gently cooked egg. There were just too many flavors, with the egg and the hoisin clashing in particular. The chocolate chip and passion curd cake, on the other hand, was outstanding.

      Obika was definitely the worst meal of the entire trip. I’d passed by this place on my last trip to NYC and was disappointed to find out it wasn’t to open until a few days after I’d left, so I was really looking forward to going this time. I ordered a mozzarella and salumi plate, and a bread basket. The mozzarella was fine, nothing amazing, the salumi was utterly forgettable, and my $3 bread basket consisted of 8 half-slices of mediocre bread. Unforgivable.

      Fortunately, dinner at Aldea was lovely and more or less erased the memory of my disappointing lunch. Everything we had was really good, but when I look back on this meal, the dishes that really stand out in my memory were ones that I had dismissed in my mind as too conventional (and even boring), but that my dining companions wanted. And so, I can barely remember the taste of the sea urchin toast, the littleneck clams with foam, the foie gras terrine with nectarines and cocoa nibs, the matsutake mushroom broth with slow poached egg, and the baby cuttlefish with lychee and squid ink (all my own choices), but have vivid memories of the shrimp alhino (which came in one of the most memorable sauces of this trip), the arroz de pato, the cod, and the monkfish. I came to the conclusion that while the more adventurous dishes were good, they were not better than similar dishes I’ve had at other restaurants, while the Portuguese classics were far and away better than any other version I’ve ever had.

      -----
      Grom
      2165 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

      Sushi Yasuda
      204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

      Obika
      590 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022

      Salumeria Rosi
      283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023

      Keste Pizza & Vino
      271 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

      Aldea
      31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

      Locanda Verde
      377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

      Momofuku Milk Bar
      251 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

      2 Replies
      1. re: daveena

        you just made me super hungry.

        1. re: daveena

          Nice reports. Agree with you 100% on Milk Bar's pork bun with egg -- sounds good in theory but doesn't translate well in real life. The runny egg yolk occludes all of the other flavors.

        2. Huh. Having trouble managing my links. My apologies if I end up with enormous, cumulative link lists after each post. Will do my best to keep that from happening.

          DAY 4: Absolute Bagel, Azuri Café, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Chikalicious Dessert Club

          Breakfast was an everything bagel with cream cheese from Absolute. I’d been looking forward to having more Absolute Bagels all year - in the past, I’ve swooned over the near-velvety texture of Absolute’s bagels’ interiors, and the satisfying chew of its crusts. This time, the crust was crunchier, and the velvety feel was gone. It made me wonder if they’ve switched to a lower gluten flour – I’m pretty sure the textural aspects I adored before were all due to highly developed gluten. The bagels weren’t bad, but they didn’t inspire me to haul a dozen on the plane in my carry-on, the way they did last year.

          I stopped by Azuri Café for lunch - the falafel were pretty excellent, and as many people have noted, their spicy sauce is stellar.

          Dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar was completely off the charts fantastic. Every single thing we ordered was outstanding. For me, the roasted foie with charred onion puree, apples, and pickled shallot was a standout – beautifully cooked foie, paired with the most addictive foie-soaked onion puree. I adore their roasted rice cakes too – I like this version infinitely more than classic dok bukki (and I really like classic dok bukki) For one of my guests, and avowed vegetable hater, the savoy cabbage with honey crisp apples and pork broth was a revelation. The biggest shock for me, though, was the ramen.

          I’ve heard so many bad reviews of this ramen, I was reluctant to order it, but my two guests really wanted it. I’m so glad they convinced me – I thought it was excellent. I’d heard multiple reports that the noodles were no better than store bought spaghetti, but ours were the real deal – chewy and elastic, able to withstand the absorption of the broth. I loved the pure porkiness of the broth, and the quality and simplicity of the toppings (I’m not one for lots of extra stuff on my ramen – the Ippudo Akamura Modern is too busy for me). The Momofuku cookbook says that they used store-bought alkaline noodles in the early years, and only recently switched over to house-made noodles – that explains a lot.

          I capped off the night with vanilla soft-serve from Chikalicious Dessert Club, and took a caramel cupcake and green tea and caramel macarons home. I think they were all good… my note taking sort of deteriorated around this point.

          -----
          Momofuku Noodle Bar
          171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

          Azuri Cafe
          465 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019

          Absolute Bagels
          2788 Broadway, New York, NY 10025

          Dessert Club, ChikaLicious
          204 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003

          1. DAY 5: Grandaisy, Levain, Motorino

            Grandaisy makes some good breakfast sandwiches. I had one with asparagus frittata and pecorino – simple, and perfect.

            Levain Bakery – I feel like I’ve been reading about their chocolate chip cookies forever, so I had swing by and see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t take detailed notes on what it was about the cookies that disappointed, but I do remember thinking that they were mounded too high in the middle, and that the texture wasn’t to my liking (too cakey, I think).

            Dinner was at Motorino, which I found enjoyed much more than Keste. I preferred the char and texture of the crust, and really enjoyed the toppings (we had the butternut squash, the margarita, and the brussel sprout pizzas).

            -----
            Grandaisy Bakery
            176 W 72nd St, New York, NY 10023

            Levain Bakery
            167 W 74th St, New York, NY 10023

            1. DAY 6: Bubby’s (Brooklyn), Jacques Torres (Brooklyn), Graffiti

              Eating at Bubby’s in Brooklyn was more about convenience than anything – my friends have two young children, so we and everyone else in DUMBO headed here for brunch. I just had some cheese grits and sausage, which were inoffensive, and certainly less memorable the sounds of various liquids and foodstuffs being thrown/poured on the ground all around me.

              I wanted to go to Jacques Torres because this recipe had been sitting on my pile for over a year, and I wanted to taste the JT version before committing to buying a food scale:
              http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/din...

              This was, apparently, a trip for debunking long-held beliefs for me. First, I learned that not everything tastes better with a soft-cooked egg. Then I learned that I do not always prefer the more adventurous dishes on a menu. On this day, I learned that there can, in fact, be too much chocolate in a chocolate chip cookie. Having used the aging cooking dough technique on a simpler recipe, and having loved the butterscotch-toffee-caramel notes it developed, I found that there was simply not enough cookie in the original JT version! I plan to continue using my variation on Mark Bittman’s recipe (substituting in half a cup of whole wheat pastry flour, which gives it a pleasantly nutty flavor, and then refrigerating the dough 48 hours before baking).

              Dinner was at Graffiti, which surprised me by having a number of stellar savory dishes. I liked the chickpea crusted skate so much that when I went home, I immediately ground some toasted dried chickpeas with garam masala and used it to crust sole. I also really enjoyed the watermelon feta salad with mint sorbet. Other dishes were only so-so, and a few dishes suffered from too much salt (the green mango paneer, in particular). Desserts were surprisingly pedestrian (except for the warm truffle almond strawberries and pepper ice cream), considering that Mehta made his name in pastry – the hazelnut chocolate caviar cupcake, in particular was attractive but not particularly delicious.

              -----
              Jacques Torres
              350 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

              Graffiti
              224 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003

              Bubby's Restaurant Bar & Bakery
              118 Hudson St, New York, NY 10013

              2 Replies
              1. re: daveena

                Yes, I too was disappointed when I revisited JT's chocolate chip cookie. If you like butterscotch caramel notes, I think Roasting Plant's chocolate chip cookie is excellent. You must try to fit it in the next time you're visiting.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Thanks for the rec Miss Needle!

              2. DAY 7: Little Giant, Momofuku Ko

                I’d planned to go to Sorella for brunch, but they turned out to be closed. We ended up at Little Giant, where I had an ok mac and cheese. I still want to go to Sorella.

                Dinner was at the long anticipated Momofuku Ko

                I really expected to adore Ko. I’m loved probably 80% of the dishes I’ve had at M. Ssam and M. Noodle, I’ve read multiple positive reports from people with very similar tastes to mine, I pre-ordered the Momofuku cookbook and immediately read it cover to cover when I received it. I did not love Ko.

                The dishes:
                Potato soup, almond, Chinese sausage
                Black pepper biscuit, chicharron, kanpachi with shisito
                Daikon ravioli (two stuffed with onion, two with oxtail)
                Scallops with pineapple vinaigrette, dried prosciutto
                Smoked egg, onion soubise, caviar
                Matsutake mushroom ravioli, matsutake tea with French toast
                Monkfish, uni, spicy shellfish broth, orange
                Lychee, reisling gelee, shaved frozen foie gras, pinenut brittle
                Venison, huckleberry, celery root, coffee, chestnut
                Animal cracker ice cream, peaches, peach ice cream
                Blueberry, black pepper pie crust, crème fraiche-olive oil ice cream

                I went to Ko, of course, because I’d burned out a bit on the same-old, same-old (David Chang made a controversial statement about SF a few months ago, and I kind of agree – not enough people pushing the envelope. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that people aren’t actually doing anything with the food, but the Bay Area has an unfortunate tendency to sprout multiple restaurants with the same ethos – currently, it’s pizza/pasta + good cocktails.) I came out wanting more. Unfortunately, truly quirky, inventive food is less likely to be broadly appealing, and I found that the food at Ko just didn’t resonate with me. In a number of dishes (the scallops and monkfish especially), there was a fruit component that I found extraneous and distracting. I chose not to get the wine pairing, and just ordered 2 glasses of wine to go with the food – even so, my total for this meal was more than the cost of any other meal on this trip.

                -----
                Little Giant
                85 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002

                Momofuku Ko
                163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

                5 Replies
                1. re: daveena

                  When did you have dinner at Ko (they changed the venison to duck about a month ago); I have a resy for tomorrow night.

                  1. re: ellenost

                    I was there in mid-October - it looks like the menu has changed quite a bit since. Actually, the current menu looks more to my liking :)

                    1. re: daveena

                      Your Ko menu looks very similar to my Ko dinner menu when I was there at the end of October. It seems I enjoyed it a lot more than you did.

                      1. re: daveena

                        I had dinner at Ko last night, and it was another amazing meal! Mostly changed from October with a few great holdovers: biscuit (I could eat these every day); foie gras torchon; egg and onion subise with the hackleback caviar; and the daikon ravioli (I hope they never change the egg or the foie gras courses--they're brilliant!). Some wonderful new additions: yummy duck breast (replacing the venison); delicious spiced white wine sorbet (replacing the animal cracker ice cream); cottage cheese cake (replacing your final dessert); pork belly and a wonderful sweet shrimp as the new additions for the amuse (accompanying the biscuit and the chicharron); hand torn pasta with chicken/escargot sausage (replacing the matsutake mushroom ravioli); spanish mackerel; fluke with spicy buttermilk and poppyseed; and a lovely skate dish (replacing the monkfish). I really loved yesterday's dinner! I told Peter I'd probably be back sooner than usual; he smiled.

                    2. re: daveena

                      I went to Ko months ago near the summer and my menu was different from yours. I really liked my experience there. But seeing your menu, I don't know how much I would have liked your food.

                    3. DAY 8: SHO, City Bakery, Corton

                      Lunch at SHO is a spectactular deal – while they rework their a la carte menu items with less expensive ingredients in the prix-fixe (my cauliflower soup with soft cooked egg sports an additional Berkshire pork cheek on the regular menu, and my hangar steak with bordelaise had a pricier counterpart on the regular menu), the prix-fixe dishes were just as beautifully cooked as the a la carte. After an evening of jarring flavors, I really needed something classic and soothing, and I got it at SHO.

                      I also had a taste of the Thai-glazed quail, which is justifiably renowned, and the excellent short rib. The best dessert we tried was the passion fruit ice cream and milk chocolate palette. In general, I found the Asian elements to be beautifully integrated with classic French technique. I also adored the sommelier, whose genuine enthusiasm (and obvious love of Burgundy) really enhanced our whole experience (she helped us choose a glorious bottle of Savigny Les Beaunes that I thought was a steal at $125).

                      I had an afternoon snack at City Bakery afterwards – the pretzel croissant and hot chocolate, one of my favorite combinations of all time. For some reason, it just didn’t do it for me this time around. I can’t put a finger on what’s changed. Maybe it’s just that my local pretzel croissant making bakery has significantly improved their pretzel croissant over the last few years – a few years ago, City Bakery’s were far superior. Now I think Oktoberfeast (my local bakery) might have a leg up. Either way, it’s probably to my advantage to be able to drop one of my more caloric indulgences from my standing itinerary.

                      I hadn’t planned on having my four most expensive and extensive meals back to back, but that’s how the reservations fell. The next one up was dinner at Corton, and it was my favorite of the four.

                      My notes on Corton are a mess – what I remember is floating on haze of bliss, marveling at the creative flavor combinations and restrained use of molecular gastronomy techniques, and the sheer physical beauty of the dishes. I will say that while the foie terrine wrapped in cherry beet gel is extraordinarily beautiful (a perfect glossy red sphere, like a jawbreaker full of foie), it wasn’t significantly better than any other terrine I’ve had, and had I knows that one of the amuse-bouche was going to be a shot glass full of foie gras mousse, I wouldn’t have ordered it. Another minor quibble is that each course comes as a set of 3 or 4 different little dishes – no complaint from me there – but the overall visual impact of 12 little dishes on the table was roughly akin to a super-upscale dim sum meal.

                      That said, the most remarkable thing about Corton, to me, is that despite the flashy techniques evident throughout the meal, the two most memorable dishes for me were the tomato appetizer (a gazpacho, a tart, and tomato caviar) and the fruit dessert (a stunning composition of tiny, pristine fruits) – both showed a solid commitment to seasonality. I also loved the Macoun Apple dessert, a small apple tart paired with yogurt, rosemary, cumin cream, and pine ice cream that reminded me of one of my favorite desserts of all time (an Alinea composition featuring goat milk, lavender, red pepper, and pistachio).

                      -----
                      City Bakery
                      3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011

                      Corton
                      239 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013

                      SHO Shaun Hergatt
                      40 Broad St, New York, NY 10004

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: daveena

                        I just went to Corton and loved it! I went in knowing that I would like it. My favorite cuisines is fine French. But this completely surprised me in a good way. I was ecstatic in the end.

                      2. DAY 9 - Wafels and Dinge, EMP, Perbacco

                        Still stuffed from the night before, I waddled down to Madison Square Park, on my way to lunch with a friend at EMP. As luck would have it, there was some sort of food fair going on at the same time, and I was assaulted by temptation on all sides. I first passed the Taiwanese food truck, briefly contemplated a small snack of fried chicken on rice and dumplings, then found myself staring down both Wafel and Dinge and Fatty Crab’s stands. At that point, I nearly cancelled my EMP reservation, but came to my senses and opted for a Liege wafel with speculoos instead of the Fatty Crab dog. The wafel was very good, but I think topping it with a rich, graham cracker flavored spread was overkill for me at that moment – I should have gone with either a lighter waffle, or a lighter spread. Or I shouldn’t had it sandwiched between the four most decadent meals of my trip.

                        Luckily, I still had some appetite to spare, and thoroughly enjoyed my sweetbreads with chicken veloute, black truffle, and crème fraiche, followed by lobster with caramelized chestnuts. At some point in my life, I will have to try the tasting menu here, but at this moment in time (mid-day, glorious sun streaming through the high windows, catching up with an old, old friend who now lives in India, and after three consecutive multi-course extravagant meals), all I wanted was two courses. And maybe a bit of the delicious lemon tart from the dessert trolley.

                        Dinner was at Perbacco, which bizarrely features both perfect, classic Italian dishes, and awful, new-wave dishes. The worst of the bunch was the deconstructed carbonara, which featured a cold disk of fried spaghetti, cold pancetta bits, and black pepper ice cream. I think it could have worked if not every component was cold, but as designed, it just left me with a queasy feeling. I’m happy to see that it is no longer on the menu. I didn’t love the parmigiano crème brulee, either, although I think it would work better as a small taste – maybe an amuse bouche, rather than an appetizer.

                        On the other hand, the lasagna (a Ligurian one, with pesto, green beans, and potato) was absolutely perfect, as were the arancini, and the risotto. Looking at the menu now, I am again drawn in by descriptions of some of the more unusual looking dishes. I think it would be hard to swear off all of their new-wave stuff – some of it looks really great – but you have to order knowing that execution does not always seem on par with concept.

                        -----
                        Eleven Madison Park
                        11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

                        Perbacco
                        234 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10009

                        Wafels & Dinges
                        New York, New York, NY 10001

                        1. DAY 10 - Matsugen, Shake Shack

                          When I woke up on Day 10, all I really wanted was a bowl of soba. I headed down to Matsugen and had a luxuriously spare lunch of house-made yuba and mushroom soba. Effectively cleansed, I ran around the city picking up gifts for people back home (B+W cookies from William Greenberg, frozen Junior’s cheesecake and babkas from Zabar, although in retrospect I should have gotten babkas from W. Greenberg as well).

                          My last meal before heading off to JFK was at the UWS Shake Shack – my expectations were not high, given the number of times I’ve seen it compared to In ‘n Out, but I needed to see for myself. Wow. In ‘n Out is not remotely in the same league as Shake Shack. The burgers are small in diameter, but thick (at least, thick enough to cook medium-rare, an impossibility with In ‘n Out’s thin disks) – the meat is juicy and flavorful and feels coarsely ground. I would have gone back for a second, but the local schools let out right around then, and I didn’t have time to get back on the now significantly longer line. I enjoyed their fries too – crinkle cut, Sysco-looking fries, but ultra-crisp, and creamy on the inside. I never really appreciated the increased surface area potential of crinkle-cut before – too many memories of soggy crinkle cuts from elementary school – but the Shake Shack Fryolater makes the most of their potential. I topped off my meal with a salted caramel frozen custard, and reluctantly started on the long trip home, five pounds heavier and an infinite number of taste memories richer.

                          -----
                          Zabar's
                          2245 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

                          William Greenberg Jr. Desserts
                          1100 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10028

                          Matsugen
                          241 Church Street, New York, NY 10013

                          Shake Shack
                          366 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10024

                          1. Thanks for the great report-this helps me immensely with some of my picks for my outing to NYC this spring. I doubt I would have snagged a reservation to Momofuku Ko anyways, but now its officially scratched off the list. After reading your report (along with others), I'm not sure that style of cuisine is to my taste, and the asking price for such a risk is high. I think I'll stick to checking out Ssam or the Noodle Bar instead. I too read Chang's comments about SF. Nothing wrong with pushing the envelope but sometimes taking risks with all kinds of flavours falls flat too.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                              I think that's it exactly - Ko's a pretty expensive gamble. Some people seem to have palates that align exactly with the chefs', and consistently enjoy their meals there - I think there are Ko meals that I'd love, and Ko meals like the one I had, that didn't totally work for me. For that $200, I'd rather go to Corton, where I know I'll get inventive food that I'll love.

                              Have a great trip!

                            2. Great report. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.