London hound heading for NYC - itinerary!
We've been lurking on the board for months now and have found the threads and discussion so useful in putting together our May itinerary. We'd love some feedback on our choices below, if anyone has any thoughts.
MONDAY - Dinner: RedFarm - (have read mixed things recently though, so open to ideas. Something Asian or Asian/Fusion would be great. Staying close to Chinatown so anything walkable or short taxi ride from there is great.)
Lunch: Levain Bakery for something to take to Central Park.
Dinner: Locanda Verde + drinks at the Brandy Library.
Lunch: Shake Shack (OH wants a burger, so it's here or 5 Napkin - thoughts?)
Lunch: Momofuku Ssam Bar + dessert at Milk Bar
Dinner: The Meatball Shop - (not sure about this one, like the idea but have read mixed reviews. Anything better in the EV that we should consider?)
Brunch: Clinton Street Baking Co
Dinner: ........ ? (open to ideas - ideally lower Manhattan but can travel. Love Thai so have got Zabb Elee on the shortlist as well as Ngam. Aware they are very different!)
Visiting Brooklyn so.... Fette Sau (or Pies n Thighs if queue is crazy). Drinks at Dram or Rye.
SUNDAY - Brunch at The Spotted Pig / The Breslin / Minetta Tavern. (Depends where we can get in but any thoughts on one being better than the other?)
Dinner - ....... ? - (something light I guess!)
BARS - On the shortlist: Raines Law Room, D&C, Whiskey Ward, PDT, Little Branch, Ward III.
Other bits from the shortlist - Red Egg, Totto, Empellon, Parm, Lotus Blue, Osteria Morini.
We eat pretty much everything and there are no real budget constraints. However, for various reasons, we don't plan on doing much in the way of gastropub cooking, sushi, Spanish or fine dining (like EMP) on this trip. Also don't need Indian recs as we are spoiled for that in London.
Any tips appreciated!
> MONDAY - Dinner: RedFarm - (have read mixed things recently though, so open to ideas.
> Something Asian or Asian/Fusion would be great. Staying close to Chinatown so anything walkable
> or short taxi ride from there is great.)
For other Asian/Fusion in the West Village, try Takashi or Fatty Cue. For something much more casual, perhaps Xian Famous Foods in the East Village.
Takashi is high end Japanese BBQ, with innovative electric grills & sustainable beef, and a very creative chef. Good if you enjoy offal, especially (but still good if you don't). Dishes like calf's brain served in a tube with fresh blinis and caviar, a super-delicious Asian-inflected beef tartare, testicles served escargot style with garlic shiso butter, and more. Super-long thread here:
Fatty Cue has excellent cocktails, particularly if you like spicy cocktails (try the Chupacabra or Smokin' Bone). Small plates, creative flavors, will run about $90 for two before tax, tip, drinks. They suggest 4 plates for 2 people. Try the ham/jam/butter/bread, bacon and clams (in a spicy and sour Thai-esque broth), buttermilk pappardelle with smoked goat ragu, or deep fried coriander bacon w/ salsa verde.
> Lunch: Levain Bakery for something to take to Central Park.
> Dinner: Locanda Verde + drinks at the Brandy Library.
If you want proper cocktails, avoid Brandy Library. They free pour. :(
Brandy Library is better if you want to do tasting flights of different spirits. Great atmosphere, great service, wonderful brown spirits collection, but mediocre cocktails.
I would suggest Ward 3, Silver Lining, or Weather Up instead. Locanda Verde also has good cocktails.
> Lunch: Shake Shack (OH wants a burger, so it's here or 5 Napkin - thoughts?
)> Dinner: Motorino
Two of my favorites. Shake Shack in Madison Square Park on a nice day is great. I would make sure to order the Shack burger. It comes with a mayo-based special sauce, on a buttered and toasted potato bun, with cheese, lettuce and tomato. They cook to order. The fries are only OK, they are crinkle cut, and frozen. If you must have fries, I'd recommend splitting an order.
Avoid if you dislike thin patties (theirs is only 4 oz), burgers with sauce, and patties that are a bit heavy on the seasoning (some think it is too salty). I find much of the criticism of Shake Shack comes down to those who don't think it's worth waiting in line, and those whose personal burger preferences differ (thick patties, must have it cooked to rare, prefer bacon/onions/etc.)
For Motorino, I love whatever the daily special is (right now it is a ramp pizza but that may be gone by the time you get here), soppressata piccante, crimini mushroom and sausage, or brussels sprouts with pancetta. The clam pie is pretty good, too.
> Lunch: Momofuku Ssam Bar + dessert at Milk Bar
> Dinner: The Meatball Shop - (not sure about this one, like the idea but have read mixed reviews. Anything better in the EV that we should consider?)
This would be a great time to substitute in Empellon Cocina for Meatball Shop. Excellent, creative Mexican cooking, and good cocktails as well, if you enjoy tequila and mezcal.
> Visiting Brooklyn so.... Fette Sau (or Pies n Thighs if queue is crazy). Drinks at Dram or Rye.
You'll need to post to the Outer Boroughs board for this.
> SUNDAY - Brunch at The Spotted Pig / The Breslin / Minetta Tavern. (Depends where we can get > in but any thoughts on one being better than the other?)
Minetta Tavern takes reservations. Spotted Pig and the Breslin do not. The Breslin is larger than the Spotted Pig, and I think the Breslin's brunch menu is more interesting than Spotted Pig. And as much as I like the burger at SP, the Breslin's lamb burger seems to win out to me due to the thrice-cooked fries. The burger at Spotted Pig is cooked with very thin shoestring fries (not my personal preference).
>> MONDAY - Dinner: RedFarm - (have read mixed things recently though, so open to ideas. Something Asian or Asian/Fusion would be great. Staying close to Chinatown so anything walkable or short taxi ride from there is great.)
Also consider Wong. I sent a Asian-fusion-loving friend there recently and she LOVED it (raved all about her dinner and how delicious the food was).
Excellent. Looks like all the research has been worth it! Thanks for all your tips - if I can ever return the favour for London, just shout. Some quick replies:
- Brandy Library - Thanks for the tip about the cocktails. I had chosen it based on the tasting flights so may still give it a try, but have already got Ward III on the G Map as a backup. Their drinks menu looks great.
- Brunch at The Breslin sounds like the best call, if we can get in! Thanks for your thoughts on this - all the menus looked good so nice to have some perspective from a local.
- Will definitely look into Takashi and Fatty Cue - top tips, thanks. As for Empellon, I have to say the Taqueria menu appeals more than the Cocina, but I've read the latter is generally a better experience. Will consider.
"As for Empellon, I have to say the Taqueria menu appeals more than the Cocina, but I've read the latter is generally a better experience."
FWIW, I didn't care for Cocina though I've only been there once. The food wasn't that great and the room was incredibly loud. For me Taqueria has better food and atmosphere.
Wednesday lunch- I think you would prefer Shake Shack to 5 Napkin, but hey that's just me. I'm crazy about Shake Shack when it comes to lunch, I happend to work near one of their locations.
Thursday dinner- Mama's Food Shop is in the East Village. I went there with a huge group of friends and had awesome pasta.
Friday: Clinton Street- this is one of my favorite places to eat! Absolutely do not take this off your list, make sure you go :-)
WD-50 is downtown, right near Clinton Street Baking Co. actually. It's very unique and each time I've gone I've loved their tasting menus.
Saturday in Brooklyn: Egg for brunch if you get there early enough, Blue Bottle Coffee nearby, St. Anselm for the best damn steak I've had in NYC (make sure you go right when they open, you can sit right away!), and Dressler for a nice night scene. These are all in Williamsburg. For Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, etc, try Lunetta for really good crostinis, Frankie's 457, or Prime Meats (these two are by the same owner I think). Also, Buttermilk Channel is good.
Sunday: I like Maialino for brunch on Sundays. If you want a formal table, book ahead. If you want the bar or the seats close to the bar, you can just show up and eat.
A bar you can smoke in: Hudson Bar and Books. I love cigars, so I like to be able to come to this place (the location on Hudson is my fave) and just smoke and drink.
Also add Employees Only to your bar list. It's in the West Village. Lovely drinks and the staff never rush you...
I hope this helps! Have a great trip.
I like EO but it can get very loud and crowded, even in the seats in back. They allow standing in the bar, unlike some other places. I find the drinks to be not as good as a PDT or Death & Co. In my experience, the staff are very sweet and helpful, but it's impossible for them to rush you, because they are swamped and it can be hard to flag someone down.
Great tips, thanks so much for your reply. Clinton St has been on the list since Day 1 - can't wait!
I know Brooklyn recs should be on the OB board but I appreciate these any way! We've only got time to do Williamsburg (planning on doing Smorgasburg) so it's nice to have options there.
Will definitely take a look at Maialino for brunch, though I worry we may end up doing too much Italian with Locanda Verde, Motorino and maybe a quick bite at Parm. (Hard life eh?)
I haven't explored the menu that thoroughly at RedFarm but I think te general criticisms are that the dumplings are great but the rest of the menu is hit or miss, as it is reinterpretations of Chinese-American food. I guess it may depend upon how much you like dumplings and your feelings on Chinese-American (not strictly Chinese) cuisine.
Zabb Elee gets my vote, but be forewarned: they bring the heat. I find "level three" (out of five) is plenty spicy, usually, but if you're wary you might want to go a little lighter, amybe do most of your dishes at level one or two and get one at three - I certainly wouldn't go above three, and I have a VERY high tolerance for heat.
Personal favorite dishes: we always get the Som Tum Muazuar (papaya salad with shrimp, BBQ pork, and pork rinds) or the Som Tum Kortmuar (with eggplant, sausage, and crispy fish) and one of the Larbs (duck, usually, though the mock duck is surprisingly good as well) plus one other item we'll rotate. Three dishes (plus a couple orders of sticky rice) is usually enough for two of us, though occasionally we might stretch it to four, add a sauteed green or something.
If you like offal, there's a blood soup (called "dark soup" on the menu) that's pretty great but crazy spicy, and fun little offal skewers (liver, heart, gizzard) with tamarind dip. Also in our regular rotation: the Pla Dook Pad Ped (catfish with eggplant) and Kra Pao Moo Korb (crispy pork with oyster sauce) are solid, and have darker, richer sauces that balance nicely against the bright, citrusy dressings on the Larb and Som Tum.
Not that Ngam isn't also good - they're just different. Ngam is more of a "fusion" place (not that there's anything wrong with that, I don't consider it a dirty culinary word like some do) whereas ZE is more of a "pure" expression of a particular Thai regional cuisine. I just find that for whatever reason, the food at Zabb speaks to me, and is a bit more exciting, whereas Ngam was solid, nice, but somewhat unmemorable. I should probably give them another go, though.
I just tried Zabb Elee yesterday and was pretty disappointed. I can't speak for any of the other dishes but I had the tom yum soup and it was almost sweet - completely missing the hot and sour flavours. Also there were no fresh chillies used which really surprised me, and even though I asked for it to be made as spicy as humanly possible it was mild at best. I've honestly had much better thai in London.
Just generally speaking I've been pretty disappointed with Asian food here - especially Vietnamese - so I'd change tact and go with something completely different.
As it happens, I had lunch at Zabb Elee today, the Gang Om with catfish. I don't think Tom Yum is one of their strengths - it's on what looks to me like the menu's "afterthought" page: Bangkok rice & noodles, i.e. not the focus of the restaurant. That doesn't excuse your sub-par experience, but maybe sticking to Zabb Elee's featured dishes might be a better way to go.
I liked my soup overall. It was chock full of Thai eggplant and cabbage and greens and something that was sweet-potato-esque but was not sweet potato. I asked for a 3 level of heat, which I got (I'd actually prefer a 3.5, but I don't think that's an option). The catfish was crazy bony, though, and impossible to eat without a lot of hands-on dissecting. Not a fan of that, as it makes me self-conscious about grossing out my fellow diners.
The last time I had dinner at Zabb Elee a few weeks ago, I asked for spiciness level 3 as usual, and it was nowhere near as spicy as I wanted. My impression from that visit was that their spiciness levels have gone down, and that I would ask for a 4 next time, but I guess it might have been a fluke.
I find their cooking somewhat inconsistent in other ways, too. I've had burnt chicken once in the Gai Yang, essentially raw (and sent back!) another time, but usually cooked a bit more than I like but OK, though the sauce is too sweet for me to consider the dish worthwhile there, in the end. The Nuer Yang was totally dried out and not worth getting at all. However, the larb and yum are excellent - provided that you tell them to make it spicy and sour, not sweet. If you don't tell them that, there's a substantial risk you can end up with a sauce that tastes like very sugary limeade. And the soups are also good for what they are. Sausage is always excellent there, too.
Zabb Elee is a restaurant that, with all its faults, I'm glad is in my neighborhood, and it may be, overall, the best Thai restaurant in Manhattan. But I think that says more about the generally mediocre quality of Thai food in this borough than it does about the comparatively high quality of the restaurant.
I believe sweetness is often used to balance the spiciness. If your food tastes too sweet, it is probably just not hot enough.
As Pan suggests, if you'd like to tone down the spice, it only makes sense to cut down sweetness as well. The problem is, this affects the balance further, which can be an uncharted territory for some Thai-trained cooks.
One night we went we found that our usual level 3 seemed less spicy than usual - I thought the same, that maybe they'd ratcheted the heat down - but then next time we went it was back up again. I think - and this is common when using fresh chilies - that there can be a lot of variation. A tablespoon of chopped chilies from one batch might have a bit more heat than a tablespoon from another batch. You see this most extremely with jalapenos - I've had some I could practically eat out of hand from the local market - but I'm sure there's variation among Thai Birds and every other chili as well.
I also don't find the dishes too unbalanced toward sweet. I find them quite nicely balanced, actually - sweet, sour, umami from the fish sauce all dancing nicely together. And I don't have the remotest sweet tooth - I'm actually fairly sensitive to sugar, rarely order dessert unless it's included as part of a prix fixe or there's a particularly creative pastry chef at a place, don't drink soda or put sugar in my coffee. But I find Zabb's sweetness level just fine.
Hope it's ok to relaunch this thread, as I'd love some more ideas for our itinerary. We got some great advice already but if anyone else wants to chime in, please do.
Here's how the itinerary looks now. Is there anything that jumps out as 'missing' from the list? We are sorted for bars and dessert spots. Happy to consider upscale or casual (though not fine dining). As before, no sushi, Spanish or Indian required.
M - RedFarm
T - picnic lunch from Levain Bakery. Dinner at Locanda Verde (booked).
W - Mad Sq Eats / Shake Shack. Dinner at Motorino.
T - Lunch at Momofuku Ssam Bar. Dinner at The Meatball Shop
F - Clinton Street Baking Company. Need dinner this day.
S - Fette Sau
S - brunch / lunch at The Spotted Pig / The Breslin / Minetta Tavern - (any alternatives to these?)
M - pre-flight lunch at Parm or Rubirosa
Tuesday -- also consider visiting Jacques Torres, Salumeria Rosi, and Epicure Boulud for picnic supplies (and have a rain plan)
Friday -- Maybe Pearl Oyster Bar? Luke's Lobster? The Redhead? Pies n Thighs?
What happened to Zabb Elee, Kin Shop, Fatty Cue, Empellon?
Sunday -- Shopsin's, Prune?
sgordon - Thanks! Will definitely add Public to the list so we have plenty of brunch spots to choose from.
kathryn - Please don't think we weren't grateful for the advice first time round. The menus at Fatty Cue and Empellon didn't appeal and the inconsistencies at Zabb Elee are a bit worrying. (I don't want to 'waste' a meal on a too sweet or too hot Thai meal when we have good Thai in London).
Will take a look at Shopsin's and Prune for brunch, thank you. Have read mixed review of The Redhead but we have Pies n Thighs on the list, just not sure we will make it over to Brooklyn twice.
A quick trip report, if anyone cares. Happy to give more detail to fellow visitors.
Shake Shack - Touristy, yes, but we enjoyed it on a sunny day in Madison Sq Park. Had the monthly special, the Smoke Shack, which had great crispy bacon and slightly spicy pepper relish. Fries, as we were warned, are unexceptional so share a portion. Shake was good, not too thick. Had fun fending off the fat squirrels that were jumping from table to table. Would recommend to those that like a thinner patty and anyone needing a quick, cheap-ish feed.
Levain Bakery - great fresh cookies. Soft, huge and very sweet. Three lasted us all week - I don't know how anyone could eat a whole one in one sitting.
Locanda Verde - sadly too jetlagged to really enjoy it but loved the buzz and the cosy corner banquette table we were given. Had some excellent charcuterie with delicious pickled vegetables and duck meatballs in a wonderful cherry sauce. Pasta and duck dish were both great but arrived separately without warning - this is fine if you want to share each dish but not so much if you're with a fussy eater / someone you don't know well enough to share a plate with. Pricey but we'd go back.
Clinton St Baking Company - long wait on a Friday morning so be prepared to take a walk. Enjoyed the Spanish scramble and the pancakes, though the latter are very heavy and a huge portion so be aware when ordering. Again, touristy but worth the trip.
Five Napkin Burger - Ended up here by chance. Decent burger and 'chicken tenders'. Liked the thick shakes and Tuscan fries. Huge portions again. Great service at the E 14th St location.
Parm - A great late-night meal at the counter. Needed comfort food after the long flight and so the garlic bread deluxe and the chicken parm and meatball rolls hit the spot. Loved the sgroppino (vodka, prosecco, lemon, ice - like a boozy slush puppie).
Rubirosa - Stayed near here so grabbed a table one night for a couple of pastas. Nice antipasto to start and two very good pasta dishes. The pappardelle with sausage ragu was particularly good. Portions too big for our taste - no wonder everyone around us asked for doggy bags. Wish we had returned for pizza as they looked excellent.
Motorino - Sadly underwhelmed, though think we may have hit an off night. Both pizzas (the meatball special and the cremini and sausage) were very 'wet' / sloppy and fairly bland. Mine, the cremini pie, was over-salty from the olives used and otherwise pretty uninspiring. A shame, as it had come highly recommended. As I say, we may have been unlucky.
John's of Bleecker - Eh, huge pizza, decent but nothing amazing. Perhaps we are spoiled with Italian pizza. Fine if you are in the area with kids and just need .. pizza.
RedFarm - Waited an age for a table and it was worth it. Sat up at the bar (the place was packed). Stand out dishes were the starters - the infamous Pac Man dumplings, crispy beef and pork belly. Great flavours, well presented, all delicious. Mains (duck noodles, garlic chicken) also good but less wow factor. If we went back we would stick to sharing starters.
Employees Only - Almost across the road from RedFarm. Fantastic cocktails, nice unpretententious speakeasy vibe, good crowd. Pricey but would definitely return. Friendly, smart guys behind the bar.
Tried to make it to Momofuku Ssam but it seemed to be closed when we walked by. Ended up at Ngam around the corner and had a great lunch of pad Thai, larb gai, and their Thai burger with sweet potato tempura fries. All made fresh in front of us by a lovely Thai lady. Good value. Loved the tom-yum Martini.
Thanks to everyone who gave us recommendations. 7 days was simply not long enough to do them all. We would urge everyone planning their trips to be realistic about how much you really want to eat in one day, especially considering American portions. Looking forward to coming back!
I'm pretty sure each one had a different filling. Our waiter did run through them but so quickly I only caught lobster and shrimp. I can't remember the other two (I blame the excellent cocktails at EO beforehand..) but they were very good dumplings - delicate skins, subtle flavours and sweet juicy shrimp in one or maybe two of them. The sweet potato Pac Man was delicious btw, as was the guac he was sitting on.