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NYC Trip Report - Oct 2010 (long)

Had a week and a half to madly try and catch up with the NYC food scene. I was able to hit most of the must-eats on my list of places I’ve never been to, but I had to leave off some of my old faves (Lupa, M. Ssam) in the interest of time and BMI maintenance.

Joining Lupa, Momofuku Ssam Bar, and Sushi Yasuda on my list of NYC must-returns: Minetta Tavern, The Spot Dessert Bar, Locanda Verde brunch, Russ and Daughters

Head to head comparisons:

Cupcakes: Sugar Sweet Sunshine vs. The Spot

SSS had perfectly executed classic cupcakes (I had a lemon and a red velvet with chocolate almond buttercream), but The Spot Dessert Bar’s creative, slightly salty creations vaulted to the top of my bicoastal cupcake rankings. Specifically, the Vanilla Yuzu Lemon, with its heart of citrus, joined Kee’s elusive cupcakes in my mental collection of cupcakes that would not actually be better as layer cake.

Pork Buns: Ippudo vs. Baohaus

Both were enjoyable, but Ippudo’s had too much mayo for me. I really liked Baohaus’ rendition of the classic Taiwanese gua bao and will go back to try some of the other versions on future trips.

Burger: Minetta Tavern vs. Peter Luger

Minetta Tavern’s Blue Label burger wins, by a long shot. You could argue that it’s not a fair contest, with the Blue Label at $26 and the Peter Luger burger at $12, but honestly, I would take two little Shake Shack burgers over the Peter Luger burger any day.

Uni Pasta: Marea vs. Lincoln

Marea won for the overall meal, but Lincoln took the prize for best uni pasta. While Marea’s was dominated by the flavor of crab, and had no discernible uni (either pieces or flavor), Lincoln’s tasted more of lobster, and was shot through with tiny, whole tongues of uni.

Chocolate: Kee’s vs. Bespoke

Enjoyed the meticulously crafted chocolates from both places, but I do prefer Kee’s more creative and assertive flavors.

I'm going to break up the overall trip into separate posts... while I've admired some of the recent, elegantly pithy trip reports I've seen, I can't seem to do that style, so logorrhea it is.

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Lupa
170 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

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

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

Sugar Sweet Sunshine
126 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002

Ippudo
65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003

Marea
240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

Spot Dessert Bar
13 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Day 1: Bhojan, Ippudo, Minetta Tavern

    Bhojan – I’d assumed there was a choice of thali at lunch, but there was only one, with both Gujarati and Punjabi dishes. I was hoping I’d be able to get a better grasp of the basic flavors that differentiate Gujarati from other Indian regional styles, and I can’t say I can articulate them at all. The dishes tasted a bit tired (it was after 2 when I ate), though I have to say that they do great things with dairy. Their thin, almost fizzy yogurt, the paneer, and the carrot halwah were the highlights of the meal, and the sweets from the showcase in front were excellent.

    Ippudo – the pork bun had excellent meat, but too much mayo for my taste. Enjoyed the spicy miso ramen – I’m usually a ramen minimalist, but I did find this version quite delicious, if distractingly buttery. I’d forgotten that their default ramen doneness is a bit softer than I generally like and will have to remember to order the noodles firm next time.

    Minetta Tavern - we had a 10:30 Friday night reservation at Minetta and were packed like sardines in the front bar for 45 minutes waiting for our table. The FOH were very nice and apologetic, at least – I’d expected more attitude. When we were finally showed to our table, I sank into the comfy seat and swore never to come back. We ordered an oxtail and foie gras terrine and pate grand mere (both very good), a Black Label Burger (medium, per my brother’s request), a Cote de Boeuf (medium-rare), and a side of pommes aligot. One bite of the Black Label, and I swore to return every trip from now on. I may have teared up a little, it was that good – I nibbled my share slowly, willing it to last forever. I didn’t put anything else on it, so all I tasted was the intensely flavored beef. I enjoyed the cote, and the giant marrow bones that came with it, but it was the burger that really got me. The pommes aligot were fantastic, a satiny, garlicky potato puree I wish I saw on more menus. We finished with their excellent Grand Marnier soufflé.

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    Minetta Tavern
    113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

    Ippudo
    65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003

    Bhojan
    102 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

    2 Replies
    1. re: daveena

      The hostesses at Minetta have always been nice to me as well; I think it's the reservationists who aren't. :)

      1. re: kathryn

        once you walk inside, ive had nothing but excellent service from everyone at minetta...foh, bartenders, servers...

        i was pretty surprised myself.

    2. Day 2: Russ & Daughters, Marea

      A big thank-you to the posters who have recommended the Super Heebster and Meshuga – the sandwich options aren’t posted up on the wall anywhere, there’s just a laminated list floating around that I had to ask for specifically (I couldn’t remember what the Meshuga was called) and would never have found had I not had the heads-up. They weren’t cheap (I think the Meshuga was $19, the SH somewhat less), but if you want to try a bunch of different smoked fishes and don’t want to invest in a ¼ pound of each, the Meshuga is a great alternative. I loved the smoked sablefish and will probably just buy that next time. I’d read that the Super Heebster with horseradish cream cheese was overkill, so I had it with plain cream cheese on a plain bagel and thoroughly enjoyed it (would have liked a better bagel though)

      Marea’s ricci – crostini with uni, draped with lardo – absolutely lived up to the hype, as did the astice and burrata appetizer. Crudos were excellent as well (we had fluke and bass). We also enjoyed the squid ink rigati, the agnolotti, and the bone marrow + octopus fusilli (the squid ink rigati may have been my favorite of the four pastas). The olive focaccia was the lightest, most delicate focaccia I’ve ever had. Desserts were good but not memorable (my notes say “caramello” and “ciocolate”, and I can’t remember any other details).

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      Russ & Daughters
      179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

      Marea
      240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

      1. Days 3,4,5: Lincoln, Xi’an Famous Foods, El Quinto Pino, Txikito

        I was in town for a conference where breakfast and lunch were provided, so only dinners were open.

        Lincoln - aside from the uni pasta, the eggplant parm, and the bread service, I found Lincoln to not live up to expectations. I think it’s still trying to find the line between rustic, authentic flavors and refined presentation, and the dichotomy makes for a noncohesive experience. The amuses bouches (fried sausage stuffed olives and mini farinata) were tasty, but too rustic and hearty in flavor to be effective amuses. The eggplant parm is definitely the best I’ve ever had - the super thin slices off eggplant were extraordinarily meaty and concentrated, with crisp caramelized edges.

        A burrata and tomato app was very disappointing, with flavorless tomatoes and so-so burrata (significantly inferior to the burrata at Marea). For the caliber of restaurant they’re aiming to be, they should not have served tomatoes that were less than dead ripe.
        The lasagna was good, but the texture of the meat sauce was quite a bit coarser than I expected, the flavor less complex, and a bit too salty. I had much better lasagna at Salumeria Rosi.

        The tartufo was quite good, with its core of refreshing cherry sorbet, while a rustic looking huckleberry crostata was ok. Its accompanying licorice gelato was left on the plate.

        I’ve seen a number of positive reviews of Lincoln since my meal, so I hope it’s a matter of me not ordering well, or the kitchen still finding its rhythm. I’d hoped to find a strong, distinctive voice from Benno, and didn’t find it.

        Xi’an Famous Foods was a perfect choice for rainy day takeout, and especially restorative for my sister-in-law, who was battling a vicious cold that night. I’ve been to the original in Flushing but only had the lamb burger and was really happy to have an easily accessible opportunity to try more dishes this time. We had the lamb face salad, Mt Qi noodle soup, liang pi, spicy beef and spicy lamb pulled noodles – everything was a touch saltier than ideal for me, but I really loved the Mt Qi noodles and the liang pi. The lamb face salad was a little heavy on the bean sprouts, and a light on the face, but I still enjoyed it. Loved the spicy, nutty liang pi sauce, and all of the chewy knife cut noodles – even after the leftover noodles and soup sat in the fridge for a few days, they still had a little chew, and were almost gnocchi-like in texture.

        After the third day of the conference, I treated myself to an evening of tapas – enjoyed a glass of cava and the uni panino at El Quinto Pino (though I have to say the trademark mustard oil butter tastes quite a bit like Trader Joe’s wasabi mayo), then popped over to Txikito for the quail egg/chorizo on toast, the fries with cod egg mayo, and the squid ribbons. I would have been ok without the fries (the mayo wasn’t nearly fish eggy enough for me), but everything else was great. I particularly loved the remarkably tender squid, nearly spaghetti like, and savory with onions and pine nuts

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        El Quinto Pino
        401 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011

        Txikito
        240 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001

        Salumeria Rosi
        283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023

        Marea
        240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

        1 Reply
        1. re: daveena

          I'm really enjoying your report!

          A comment on Xian Famous Foods: When I go for dinner, I talk to the counterman, who's the only one who works there who speaks English well (he obviously has native-speaker fluency and is bilingual). I ask him to have them make my food light on the salt, and that's produced good results.

        2. Day 6: Madison Square Market snacking, Alto

          I’d had enough of conference food by the fourth day – plus the sun finally came out – so I hustled over to Madison Square during lunch hour. I’d remembered it from last year, when I was in town at about the same time and had lunch reservations at EMP – not wanting to ruin my appetite, I’d only had a wafel with spekuloos before lunch and hoped that I’d have another shot at trying some of the other booths.

          This time, I had a spicy, savory Fatty dog (liked it), a bacon and scallion pretzel (it was ok, wish I’d heated it in an oven first), and a pistachio cannolo (also ok). Apparently the chicken biscuit from Pies ‘n Thighs was spectacular – it will have to wait until next year.

          Dinner at Alto was very good – I had a sweetbread appetizer that was stellar, and the agnolotti dal plin, which was good, but not the best version I’ve had. The torrone lived up to the hype. Had this meal not come late in the trip, when I was starting to hit rich/fatty fatigue, I think I would have chosen a half-portion of pasta, followed by a fish or meat dish – secondi at Italian restaurants usually don’t appeal to me, but Alto’s are modern and creative enough that I regret not having had a little more appetite that night.

          1 Reply
          1. re: daveena

            You can also get the chicken biscuit at the regular Pies 'n' Thighs location in Williamsburg. It's a great post-cocktail destination after a few rounds at Dram down the street... get a chicken box and a chicken biscuit, and split it among two people. I have friends who think the chicken biscuit is BETTER than their regular fried chicken!

            As for Sigmund, their regularly sized pretzels are better and I believe the kiosk at Madison Square Market just wasn't equipped well. The regular shop definitely reheats things adequately. The kiosk at the Mad Sq Market? Not so much.

          2. Day 7: Baohaus, ‘inoteca, Sushi Yasuda, The Spot Dessert Bar, Angel’s Share

            Had a nearly all-Asian day! I kicked it off at at Uniqlo (J+ fall line debuted that day) and revived myself with a Chairman Bao afterwards (battling hundreds of Uniqlo/Jil Sander fanatics is hard work!). ‘inoteca was actually on impulse – walked by it and decided it was time for me to try that truffled egg toast already. It was good, and I’m glad I finally had a chance to try it, but I think the combination of egg/cheese/carbs/truffle is so ubiquitous now it didn’t make the same impression on me that it would have 10 years ago.

            The Yasuda/Spot/Angel’s Share triumvirate made for a perfect evening. Every time I go to Sushi Yasuda, something different blows me away. This time, it was mackerel – two types, both stunningly sweet and buttery, and rust-colored shrimp eggs, tasting remarkably like the toasted nori that cradled them. I followed this blissful meal with the white miso semifreddo with olive oil cake and the yuzu Eskimo at The Spot, and capped off the night with a few beautifully crafted, Asian-inflected cocktails at Angel’s Share.

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

            Spot Dessert Bar
            13 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003