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OCT 2011 Trip Report (long, but not as long as usual)

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I didn’t have a chance to do any real research for the few months leading up to this year's trip – luckily, I had so many leftover recs from last year I was able to go off those. In the past, I landed in NYC with a full slate of reservations - this time, I only made a few, and opted for last-minute reservations and walk-ins for the remaining meals.

Winner of the Week: Kajitsu’s Maitsutake tasting menu. Bless you, Chow Digest editor, for featuring this one in the Digest the week before my trip. I didn’t get a chance to read the whole thing, but the title stuck in my head. When I checked OpenTable for next day, Friday night reservations, Kajitsu was open, and to my surprise, the maitsutake tasting was not yet sold out. The entire meal was gorgeous, subtle and delicious. I will be returning every NYC visit from now on.

Will be happy to return: Maialino, Bar Room at the Modern, Ma Peche, Red Rooster, Mile End, Momofuku Milk Bar

Maialino – the pork products in their bombolloti all’amatriciana and spaghetti carbonara are insane. Loved these spot-on renditions of Roman classics and will definitely be returning.

Bar Room at the Modern – terrific, beautifully executed, luxurious dishes (I had the slow-cooked egg with lobster and uni foam, and the buckwheat spaetzle with foie gras), stellar service. Not cheap, but a great value (see my comparison with Casa Mono below).

Ma Peche – I’d actually stayed away from Ma Peche for the first few years because the lunch menu never really appealed to me, but a glance at the dinner menu showed some of my favorite classics from M. Ssam Bar. I don’t think there were any misses at this dinner – I especially loved the scallop, with its oddly brilliant pairing with coffee and dehydrated brown butter nuggets, and the striped bass, with its umami-bomb accompaniments of mushroom, marrow and miso, For dessert, we ate an entire wheel of Jasper Hill Farm Harbison.

Red Rooster – out of every restaurant I’ve ever been to in NYC, Red Rooster’s vibe is the closest to that of my adopted home of Oakland. I loved the ultra-diverse crowd, the excellent jazz, the potent yet balanced cocktails, and the food – the meatballs and fried yard-bird are justly lauded, but the sweet potato donuts seemed less inspired.

Mile End – good lord the poutine is good. The fries are outstanding – super-flavorful, perfectly crisp on the outside, tender on the inside – and manage to hold up under the gravy and cheese beautifully. I also loved the smoked chicken. I liked the pastrami but found it a bit stringier than ideal – ladylike bites proved an impossibility, as every attempt ended up in a giant mouthful of pastrami that would not separate as easily as I’d hoped.

Momofuku Milk Bar – I wasn’t crazy about the rye croissant with pastrami and hated the dulce de leche cake balls, but I loved the intense butterscotch of the cornflake-marshmallow cookie, and the play of textures and flavors in the candy bar pie.

Glad I went, most likely will not return: Annisa, Minetta Tavern, Clinton Street Baking Co., Roasting Plant

Annisa was good – I’m glad I finally got to try the foie gras soup dumplings – but ultimately, I couldn’t remember what I ate the next day. There were no misses, but no big standouts either, and on a trip with this many good meals, it ended up ranking in the bottom half.

Minetta Tavern – I’ve been dreaming about the Blue Label Burger since last year and opted to walk-in for brunch at the bar. I also finally got to order the Balthazar Bakery panier (been wanting to do this for years but the lines at Balthazar are always too big of a deterrent) – luckily, I had a friend with me who was game for ordering the duck hash and the shirred eggs as well. The burger texture was as I’d remembered – incredibly juicy – but the flavor was less intense than I’d hoped. The other items were fine but not amazing – I don’t think I will be returning.

Clinton Street Baking Co. – the blueberry pancakes are really good, probably some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had, but I guess I just don’t love pancakes enough to stand on line. I’m sure the freezing cold rain that day played a part in perception of time-value, though.

Roasting Plant – I went for the chocolate chip cookie but also tried out their coffee – the cookie was good, but not better than a cookie made at home with properly aged dough, and the coffee was weak.

Would go back if in the neighborhood: Café Boulud – I had scheduled an appointment nearby and decided to schedule a late lunch here afterwards – I’d been here years ago, before Kaysen, and have read such stellar reports of it here that I thought it would be a great opportunity to retry it. It was very good – loved the arancini to start and the madelines to end, was thoroughly impressed by the scallop crudo, and enjoyed the rustic flavor/refined texture and presentation of the mushroom veloute with toasted barley.

Will not return: Casa Mono, Mud Truck
I’ve been to Casa Mono several times in the past, but I think my last visit was two, maybe three years ago. Have the prices gone up significantly? I know that it was never cheap, but I was a little stunned that my two small plates and a quartino of txakolina came out to $56 pre-tip. I did think the txakolina was overpriced, and I was a little annoyed that there were no options for wines by the glass – it was lunchtime, and all I wanted was a glass. The food was very good – no complaints there. I had monkfish pinxtos and the fideos, and thought the execution on both was impeccable. Service, while not rude, was disinterested at best. I did appreciate being offered a table rather than the bar (I find their bar seats the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been on), despite their general policy not to seat solo diners at tables. It was 3 pm and there were virtually no other diners at time, hence the special exception.

In comparison, for about $15 more, my lunch the next day at the Bar Room featured generous amounts of lobster, foie gras, a much better (but admittedly smaller amount of) wine, gracious professional service, comfortable chairs with armrests, and roughly 10X the personal space of Casa Mono. While the food at CM was good, the overall value was not there compared to the Bar Room (or Café Boulud, for that matter).

Mud Truck – the line was short and I needed caffeine, so I gave it a shot – unfortunately, the espresso was super acidic and bitter without being particularly aromatic.

Staying on my To-Return list: Russ and Daughters, Tarallucci e Vino

R&D corrected the one major problem I had with them - their bagels. Apparently they switched bakeries last week - the new bagel is smaller, shinier, denser, and chewier. It is actually dense enough that a fair amount of filling of my Super Heebster tried to escape through the sides, but it was a fair tradeoff. I also picked up some smoked sable, whitefish and salmon salad, a chocolate babka, and some chocolate-orange rugelach to take home.

Tarallucci e Vino - the almond cornetti are as good as ever, but I have to say I think the cappuccinos have gotten weaker and milkier over the last few years. Nonetheless, the East Village location is an old favorite of mine - I love the cozy booths in the back. I did try to get an espresso at Abraco (definitely my favorite in NYC) but they were apparently having problems with their machine, so back to Tarallucci I went.

Overall, a very high hit rate - thanks to all the Manhattan regulars, as well as visitors posting trip reports, for making my research so easy.

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Roasting Plant
81 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002

Cafe Boulud
20 East 76th St., New York, NY 10021

Casa Mono
52 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

The Modern
9 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019

Tarallucci e Vino
163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

Annisa
13 Barrow Street, New York, NY 10014

Kajitsu
414 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

MudTruck
4th Ave and E 8th St, New York, NY 10003

Clinton Street Baking Co.
4 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

Maialino
2 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010

Ma Peche
15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

Momofuku Milk Bar
15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

Red Rooster
310 Lenox Ave, New York, NY 10027

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  1. Great report! Thanks! This gives me lots of ideas for our trip to NYC this week.

    re: the Mile End pastrami, I think this may be because they are actually going for montreal smoked brisket which is (according to aficionados) a very different preparation. It still might not excuse stringiness, but might explain the difference from what you prefer.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Fintastic

      Yup exactly, smoked meat is a different animal. Not only that, Mile End hand cures their brisket as opposed to injection. The steaming period for their brisket is very brief too. As for the poutine, it's even more impressive when you factor the mushroom gravy which is a suitable stand in for the more tradition chicken gravy. Glad you enjoyed it all the same!

      1. re: Fintastic

        Thanks - have a great trip! Which places are you considering so far?

      2. Re: Ma Peche

        Chef Tien Ho was the sous at Ssam Bar for quite a while and brought many of his dishes to Ma Peche. He has, unfortunately, left Ma Peche now, and the rumor is he'll be opening up his own spot soon.

        Next time instead of Casa Mono, try Txikito or Tertulia.

        Do you recall who the new supplier of the R&D bagels is?

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        Casa Mono
        52 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003

        Txikito
        240 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001

        Ma Peche
        15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

        Tertulia
        359 6th Ave, New York, NY 10011

        2 Replies
        1. re: kathryn

          I actually went to Txikito last year thanks to your rec and loved it - it's on my "happy to go back" list. I'm not familiar with Tertulia but the menu looks great - going to the top of my list for my next trip.

          When did Tien Ho leave Ma Peche? I am so behind.

          When I asked about the R&D bagel, the guy who fixed my sandwich said they came from "a small bakery in in Brooklyn", and I didn't press for details. Did R&D always have babka and rugelach for sale? I wondered whether those came from the same bakery (they were both good).

          -----
          Txikito
          240 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001

          Tertulia
          359 6th Ave, New York, NY 10011

          1. re: daveena

            Tertulia is pretty new, only opened in August, from the former Boqueria chef.

            Tien Ho left Ma Peche only about two weeks ago.

            I believe R&D has always had rugelach and babka for sale, but I never noticed the source.

            -----
            Ma Peche
            15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

            Tertulia
            359 6th Ave, New York, NY 10011

        2. Great report! Going to Ma Peche tonight and am now torn as to whether to order the striped bass or the steak. Also love the scallop dish.

          -----
          Ma Peche
          15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

          4 Replies
          1. re: ellenost

            Ordered the striped bass and loved it! Wonderful combination of fish that was so moist with the bone marrow, mushrooms and miso. The crisped fish skin turned into a chicharron was brilliant! I believe the bass was cooked sous vide. Also enjoyed the broccoli salad and the pickled fluke. Continue my love affair with their chocolate dessert (chocolate ganache with coconut, coffee and Thai basil). Still consider this as my all time favorite Momofuku dessert.

            1. re: ellenost

              I wanted to try the chocolate dessert but was already overstuffed - is it usually on the menu? Hope I get another chance to try it!

              1. re: daveena

                All of the Momofuku restaurants cycle desserts/soft serve flavors quite frequently (1-2 months sometimes). Some desserts never return, sadly.

                1. re: daveena

                  The chocolate dessert has been on the menu for a while which makes me think that it may be replaced soon :-(. If anyone is thinking about trying it, I highly recommend doing so before it is replaced. Personally, I would love it to remain on the menu for a long time!

            2. Hey! You didn't tell me you were doing a NYC trip this year...

              No sushi this time?

              Does this mean you no longer think Minetta Tavern > Peter Luger for steak?

              Great report as always and a great read for those of us that can't get back to NYC as often as we would like.

              -----
              Minetta Tavern
              113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

              1 Reply
              1. re: Porthos

                Opted for no sushi this time, but Kajitsu gave me the same blissed-out buzz Yasuda did. Didn't have a chance to meet up with my usual sushi buddy on this trip, but he says he found a new awesome place and won't tell me anything else about it.

                Oh, I still think Minetta > PL for steak (and for the burger, too), but with my meat consumption dropping, I don't know if it's worth it for me to go back. You should definitely go though - I think the wine list alone will make you a convert.