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Jul 26, 2011 06:06 PM

Manhattan report - long

Thank you to all who provided tips to guide us on our trip. This is my report. First, I want to preface by saying how lucky we were (not!) to be in Wash DC and NYC for the hottest weather on record. We were very torn between going sightseeing and just cooling in the hotel, but ultimately we managed a combination that we could live with. However, the heat certainly dampened our appetites, and made us less interested in food and eating as a baseline. Nevertheless, there were highlights and lowlights.

Here is the NYC portion of our trip.

I’ll start with my favorite foodie part of the entire city – the Union Sq greenmarket. I was so happy to walk through it that we did it 3 or 4 times! I was green with envy at you lucky locals and swore if I lived in the city, I would do all my produce shopping there exclusively. And this from someone who used to shop weekly at the Santa Monica farmer’s market. But I settled for just having breakfast there and tamped down the jealous beast within. My husband and I had some peaches, plums, apricots, snap peas (yes for breakfast!), cherry tomatoes, yogurt, and panettone style bread. I’m sure that the heat had something to do with how good all this fresh stuff tasted.

Another highlight was walking through Chelsea Market. What fun! I love poking into all the little shops, the crazy cupcakes shaped like cheeseburgers and spaghetti, the cookies shaped like NY taxis, the nut box, the salt and olive oil place, the fruit exchange. The bakeries made the entire place smell deliciously of yeast and hot flour. We picked up some corn nuts, edamame “nuts” and toffee peanuts at nut box. The peanuts were devoured on the plane back. We got popsicles at People’s pops. I don’t know if it was because it was 100 degrees out, but these were the best pops ever. The sour cherry and plum were less like the frozen caprisun you’d get from a grocery, and more like a chunky frozen fruit compote made from freshly picked fruit that morning. Fantastic! We also got a chocolate bar from Jacque Torres (had to do it) and decided that his reputation rests more on manipulating chocolate than making it. I’ve had better varietal bars from Trader Joes. We also had some lunch at Lobster place (lobster salad wrap) and while the lobster salad was delicious, it was pretty skimpy. The wrap looked full, but only the middle ½ was – the ends were all lettuce. I should’ve gone with my initial thought and ordered $17 worth of straight lobster salad in a plastic container.

Moving right along, we hadn’t meant to, but had a dinner at Po (Batali’s place) after seeing it on the way to Amy’s on Bleeker (our 1st meal in the city). I’ve decided I have a weakness for pasta cooked in exceptional Italian restaurants by people who know what they’re doing (realized this at SPQR in SF). The texture and taste of my spaghetti (with guanciale, onions, bread crumbs) was heavenly. The portion was very generous as well. I might’ve been able to tackle it, but I ordered a salad as well. Husband partook of the $35 3 course and we liked his veal sauced pasta as well. He was nice enough to share his chocolate and caramel dessert.

Back to Amy’s – I really didn’t like it all that well. The breads and pastries looked good, but the premade sandwiches (we were there for lunch) left me cold. I was hoping for freshly made. Sandwiches just rarely get better sitting around (unless you are a pan bagnat sort of person). And the Caprese style I ordered on an olive ficelle was 70% bread (chewy not crusty), 30% filling. The air conditioning was nice though.

Katz’s deli was unfortunately another disappointment. It’s reputation is so big and so glorious that it is hard to believe one can have a negative experience here, but we did. I ordered the pastrami and husband had the corned beef. My pastrami was just fine – very tasty – although the bread sucked. It had little texture, no crust to speak of, and was only very mildly rye in flavor. But his corn beef was very gristly (even though they gave a sample which tasted fine) and after doing battle and surgery with the first ½ of his sandwich, he gave up and shared mine. There was such mayhem in the place we really didn’t want to go back to the counter and complain or ask for a replacement. The pickles were delicious. I wasn’t crazy about the conveyor belt feel of the place either. It seemed like all the staff were yelling at the patrons all the time about all the things we were doing wrong. Come on guys. You’re not that special. If you’ve been to Langer’s in LA, I think it’s a better pastrami sandwich. The meats are on par with each other, and Langer’s double baked corn-rye bread kicks Katz’s tuchas.

We poked our nose into Russ & Daughters and Yonah Shimmel on our way out, and I thought about either taking some out for dinner or coming back for dinner, but my husband complained about sore bellies from too much processed junk food (prior meals contained much salt and grease and few things that grew on plants), so we passed. Russ looked appealing though, and Yonah didn’t. The knishes looked more like potpies than the knishes of my childhood on Brighton Beach boardwalk. This could’ve been marred though, by my ordering a dozen cheese knishes from Yonah a decade ago on a pregnancy urge, and being thoroughly disappointed that the cheese was baked in to a random pretzel shaped dough thing that tasted like they forgot the pinch of salt. Not good. Surprising that both of these little holes in the walls have such snazzy websites. I was expecting much bigger and more glamorous joints than they turned out to be.

I wish we had made it to Kossar’s bialys or one of the bagel places, but we did snag a couple of H&H bagels from a little diner somewhere near Central Park in the 70s streets. Can’t recall the name of the place, but didn’t think the bagels were anything to write home about.

Finally, we hit up a Halal cart after a trip to MOMA. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that there would be 3 of these at one intersection – I was going for “the best one” according to consensus on the boards – the one that imitators try to imitate and that only comes out at night. But after ordering from what I thought was the correct one, we sat and I noticed a much longer line at one across the street. So I’m thinking we went to the wrong one. The food was still good. We ordered one chicken/rice and one lamb rice. I ended up eating most of my husband’s lamb one because I overspiced the chicken one. Tasty but a grease bomb for sure. If you eat this stuff, make sure it’s rarely and plan to detox at the greenmarket afterwards!

Anyway, all in all a fun trip. My only regret is that we didn’t really do NY pizza. I didn’t write down a single rec for pizza, remembering from my childhood visits to Brooklyn that there seemed to be a slice place on every corner. But alas, Manhattan is no Brooklyn. Thanks for the recommendations everyone!

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

Katz's Delicatessen
205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

Yonah Schimmel's Knishes
137 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

Union Square Greenmarket
Broadway and E 17th St, New York, NY 10003

31 Cornelia St, New York, NY 10014

Amy's Bread
250 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

The Lobster Place
75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

People's Pops
75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

The Nut Box
75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

Jacques Torres
75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

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  1. I'm with you on Jacques Torres. The bon bons and filled chocolates are good. Actually I've always loved the chocolate covered items like the malt balls, cornflakes, orange peels, etc. the most at JT.

    > Back to Amy’s – I really didn’t like it all that well. The breads and pastries looked good, but the premade sandwiches (we were there for lunch) left me cold. I was hoping for freshly made.

    Oh no! You were on Bleecker St and while I like Amy's for pastries and cake, for sandwiches, I would have gone to Murray's (they do grilled cheeses to order) or Faicco's. :( Just a few storefronts away!

    > Finally, we hit up a Halal cart after a trip to MOMA. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that there would be 3 of these at one intersection – I was going for “the best one” according to consensus on the boards – the one that imitators try to imitate and that only comes out at night.

    The "correct" one is on the SW corner at night but also has a cart on the SE corner during the day. The line is usually long at the SW corner during day, too, but that's a different cart.

    You'll know if you have the right one if they have a big circular logo that says The Halal Guys -- We Are Different.

    Murray's Cheese
    254 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

    260 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

    Halal Chicken and Gyro
    106 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

    10 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      I didn't know Murray's did grilled cheese, but it wouldn't have mattered. My husband doesn't eat grilled cheese - he is weird that way.

      I honestly don't know now which Halal we went to. It definately said the Halal Guys. Don't remember if it had the different slogan or not. All I can tell you is that it was across the street from MOMA, but slightly closer to the corner. I wish I hadn't fouled up my chicken plate with too much hot sauce. Ironically, my husband also grabbed a red bottle and also used it prodigiously, but his turned out to be some type of bbq sauce. The white sauce tasted mayonaise-y to me, and I'm not sure why people are paying as much homage to it as they are. But the whole package was pretty tasty.

      1. re: sasha1

        Murray's has non-cheese sandwiches, too. IIRC their turkey BLT is pretty good.

        If you went to the halal cart across from MoMA during the day then you did go to the right one. That hot sauce is super hot!

        1. re: kathryn

          Not during the day. At about 830 pm.

          1. re: sasha1

            Yes and no. They have multiple carts. The day time one hangs out on the south EAST corner, just cross the street from MoMA and head to the corner.

            - Noon until Late night on the South EAST corner of 53rd St. & 6th Ave.
            - 8pm to 4am on the South WEST corner of 53rd & 6th Ave.


        2. re: sasha1

          I think there is semi-consensus that the "secret ingredient" in the white sauce is, in fact, mayonnaise (no matter what any of the guys at any of the carts say).

          When you come back for pizza, id say you'd be best off finding a sit down whole-pie place. Though im not quite sure how youre impression of manhattan came to include a dearth of slice places (though many of them are corporate chains like the one the donald took sarah palin to, or otherwise not worth your time and calories) I think my favorite pizzas are all sold by the pie and not slice.

          1. re: tex.s.toast

            i disagree with you about the pizza. there is no dearth of slice places in manhattan, and the good ones are what i prefer, and what i think real NYC pizza is, over any of the whole pie places

            1. re: thew

              we dont disagree at all. we both agree there are plenty of slice joints in manhattan (i was surprised that the OP seemed to indicate that s/he hadnt come across many). i merely stated that many of the slice joints are corporate or not great, and that my favorite pizza comes from whole pie places. i agree with you that you prefer what you think is real NYC pizza, which as you said comes from slice joints.

              i get unending laughs at the use of the phrase NYC pizza - its just because sometimes people mean what they (you in this case) think is "traditional nyc pizza" whereas im less hung up on traditions and take the meaning a bit more literally, to mean pizza made in nyc.

              1. re: thew

                Re the slice places, my memory (from 25 years ago though) is that in Brooklyn, there was really a slice place on every corner (and a couple of bagel places in the middle of each block). The street I traversed frequently for metro stop purposes was Kings Hwy. I recall those places being only pizza, somewhat let down looking, and delicious.

                My experience in the parts of Manhattan that we walked were that the pizza places were every 3 blocks or so, many of them large and offering pasta, salads, etc. and we passed those by because they didn't seem like the real deal that I remembered from childhood. We eventually stopped at one on our last hour in the city, because we couldn't leave w/o having NY pizza. It was a bit of a let down. Rosy colored glasses, right?

                1. re: sasha1

                  living n manhattan, there is still a slice joint every 3 or 4 blocks, and at least so or 3 good ones in every microneighborhood

                  1. re: thew

                    Next time I visit, I'll make a point of doing pizza research. I relied too heavily on the memory and nostalgia factor.

        3. I think it's entirely possible you hit the right cart if you went during the day.

          I often see the line longer at the "wrong" cart because it's in the space that the famous one occupies at night.

          Oh man, just typing about it is making me think I'm gonna have to make a trip there for lunch today...

          1. nice report...glad you loved the greenmarket: i live a block away and the kind of the breakfast you had sounds perfect...

            Yonah Schimmel is an awful place (unless one thinks knishes should taste like sand), so i think you were wise to skip it...but i'd definitely say you should go to Russ&Daughters on your next trip: some bagels/bialys, a few kinds of smoked salmon, whitefish salad, and even some of their fine dried fruits, nuts, and halva all make for a good picnic...

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

            Yonah Schimmel's Knishes
            137 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

            3 Replies
            1. re: Simon

              Honestly, I hated the Yonah Schimmel knishes when I mail ordered them to CA. It was god awful expensive - $75 for a dozen (those pregnancy cravings are strong!) and then to open it up and find these ridiculous pretzel things when what I wanted was a nice pocket of greasy dough around some sweetened farmers cheese was more than I could bear. I ate maybe 2 and donated the rest to less discriminating family members.

              1. re: sasha1

                I include Yonah Schimmel on my famous self-guided noshing tour of the LES, but I have to admit that the knishes are decidedly hit and miss -- unfortunately, more miss than hit. Back in the day, they really were excellent, so I keep it now for nostalgia's sake.

                Imo, 2nd Ave. Deli has THE best round potato knish. No cheese version since the place is kosher.

                2nd Ave. Deli photos, including potato knish:


                Yonah Schimmel's Knishes
                137 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

                Second Avenue Deli
                162 E 33rd St, New York, NY 10016

                1. re: RGR

                  honestly - over the 40 some years i've known of yonah shimmel, i never thought the knishes were very good

            2. The original comment has been removed