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Trip report: my stream of consciousness on our five days in Manhattan

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Thanks to everyone for all your help in this thread planning our trip: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/874155

We had a great time on what was our first proper 'Chowhound' trip to New York. We had been to Katz, Peter Lugar's, Jewel Bako and the like before but we still ended up hitting a fair number of foodie staples this time around so apologies if there isn't much novelty for more knowledgeable hounds but hopefully we can help another visitor or two.

I have to say we had such amazing service pretty much everywhere in New York - we're well used to the friendliness of wait staff across America but in some of the high end places we went to it was simply astonishing and on a par with the best we've ever received. Starting to understand a little more why Americans don't always appreciate the "you want me to do what?" attitude of some staff in London, even in the high end places (and that's before we've talked about Paris).

Unfortunately I got hit by some food poisoning halfway through our trip which meant we had to cancel dinners at WD-50 and Blue Smoke so where stated this is a team report with my wife (she is far more discerning than me anyway).

I don't take notes so pardon the times when the 11th ingredient has been forgotten.

Minetta Tavern
An 11pm booking after our flight (so 430am on our body clocks by the time we sat down). Two Black Label Burgers which were as fantastic as billed, glasses of Chablis to start, then Beaujolais and Pinot with the burger. Lovely atmosphere and experience and absolutely perfect for what we wanted. Frankly I could have dreamed this meal for all the clarity of my memory of it but there's no doubting my recollection of probably the best burger I've tasted.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
Arrived at 11.50 so desperate were we to ensure we got a David Chang fix after years of muddling through the recipes in the Momofuku cookbook. Two Shrimp Buns and two Momofuku Ramens later and we left extremely happy customers while muttering "so THAT'S how it's done", the sauce on the shrimp buns one of the flavours that my taste buds can instantly recollect from our long weekend.

Jungsik
I was very excited about this, purely from the reports and recommendations on the board and no small amount of menu porn in the days leading up to our trip.
A really elegant room I thought and a nice cocktail to start. Also the service here was stunning, from the barman, our server and sommelier. These guys know exactly how to pitch it, I could see them being formal with other tables but we were on holiday and probably just getting over our jetlag so pretty much happy to blabber on about anything. And they were great, really interested, interesting and knowledgeable. An absolute pleasure. We get tasting menu fatigue and had WD-50 the next night so despite no Jungsik salad we went ALC, and ate:
Amuses: Tantalising beginning, best was a simple piece of fried chicken with a mayonnaise which didn't quite match up to the Momofuku mayo, but not far off.
Octopus: my dish. This was stunning. The best octopus I have ever eaten with small discs of radish, tomato and a couple of other vegetables on a deep, rich and stunning bbq-style sauce. Wonderful.
Scallop: A nice dish with good scallops. The coconut-curry broth seemed a homage to Thai cuisine and didn't really feel very new or innovative and lacked the depth of flavour of other dishes we ate.
Sea Urchin: lovely combination of quite dry textures, not my usual thing and the crispy quinoa added texture without flavour which I'm never too keen on but I did enjoy the urchin and the dish overall.
Spicy Ongshimi: Beautifully textured gnocchi in a sauce with an overwhelming preponderance of garlic. I found it diverting, my wife less so. Was described as 'spicy' and had jalepeno but neither was evident compared to the garlic, a beautiful simple dish but would have been hugely improved had those tastes come through.
Rice with truffles came as an extra dish as it was a birthday celebration. Simple, more-ish with a wonderful depth of flavour.
Crispy Snapper: A triumph of presentation as oil is poured over the fish scales to make them stand to attention like a porcupine. A tasty dish which owed a debt to Tom Yum in the soup. Beneath the crispy skin the snapper was perfectly cooked although I've had more tasty preparations of this fish.
Black Cod in a soy-pepper sauce: another lovely piece of fish perfectly cooked and well-accompanied with a rich dominant sauce. Like the snapper this didn't have us pounding the tables and punching the air but it was good.
Seoul Duck: Another hugely rich gochujang sauce with duck and accoutrements. The duck was decent but the power of the sauce really carried all before it and not in a wholly positive way.
Smoked Pork Jowl: I had to order this given the Chowhound reports. Crispier than I expected I enjoyed the meat and broth balanced well by what I recall were pickled vegetables accompanying. A much more flavoursome and more importantly balanced meat dish than the duck.
So overall impression of Jungsik: This is top class cooking and combined with the novelty of the cuisine, ingredients and preparations a truly unique meal and in the octopus dish a late bid for one of the best things I have eaten this year.
And yet and yet - we weren't on our feet, it felt like a few too many dishes had imbalances of flavour and the core ingredients while never anything other than good rarely sang.
That sounds like a criticism, it is only really in the context of threads saying it deserves three Michelin stars as in my view this really doesn't compare to the very best restaurants I've eaten in. And other ethnic places such as Nahm in Bangkok for example were more successful at balancing rich, sour, complex and spicy flavours.
For a 1*, at its price point this really is very good cooking and I would recommend it to any visitor to New York.

Blue Hill
A hastily-rearranged itinerary and an opportune 'refresh' of OpenTable at 630pm gave us a 730 table. Hindsight with its 20:20 vision told us this was the perfect restaurant to try in New York.
When you haven't eaten for more than 48 hours it's slightly odd to nibble on a beetroot and creme fraiche slider but this was a nice foretaste of things to come.
Egg Speck Potatoes: I'm sure many of you will recognise that feeling when you've had a few too many tasting menus and fine dining experiences and then someone just puts flawless ingredients on a plate in front of you and it is an absolute joy. That was this dish. I'd have punched the air but they pack the two-man tables in quite close at Blue Hill, which is otherwise a lovely dining room. In fact if I could choose one restaurant in the world to be my 'neighbourhood restaurant' it'd probably be Blue Hill.
Grey Mullet Ceviche: My wife loved this. Beautiful fish with a spicy caramalised skin and lovely accompanying flavours. The cinnamon sweet potato wasn't really to her taste but she just separated it from the rest of the dish and cooed about the mullet.
Veal, carrots and spices: As we were reading the menus we were told the chicken in this dish had been replaced by veal. Seemed odd that a dish constructed around chicken could have the dark, rich veal which came on my plate substituted without any other changes but what I ate definitely worked. The sauce was incredible, the veal cutlet perfectly, and I mean genuinely perfectly cooked and the carrots were more-ish. Bit cheeky to increase the price with the substitution but not mention it I thought but chalked it up to experience.
The venison meat was equally flawless with excellent accompaniments. We started to realise eating candied pecans that our palates obviously aren't as keen on the added sweetness with savoury dishes that is quite common in some American food. This was no slight on Blue Hill though.
Cheeses and tea were both lovely too.
It's probably evident by now that we really loved Blue Hill, I would go back weekly.

WD-50
We had to cancel our reservation but stole into the bar on a Monday night. Walked in to see Wylie Dufresne in his kitchen, on a MONDAY. If we weren't sure beforehand then at this point we definitely knew we weren't in London anymore. Great service here from the bar staff who recommended a fantastic Japanese potato beer unlike anything I've tasted before. The cocktail was ok.
We ate six dishes from the tasting menus: Pho Gras, Amaro Yolk, Squab and Root Beer Ribs from the new menu and Cod and Venison chop from the old.
I generally get pretty excited about going to restaurants, I often build them up (sometimes too much) but I am always so keen for the next place I'm going to be great, willing it to be. I'm also a huge fan of molecular gastronomy and I've wanted to try WD-50 for years but I was pretty disappointed.
The best thing I ate was the beef tendon crisp with the Pho Gras. Otherwise this seemed to just be style and beautiful presentation over substance. Everything in the Amaro Yolk dish was bland. The saucing, such as with the cod and root beer ribs was sometimes unpleasant. I love squab but it tasted under-seasoned. I liked the joke with the Pho Gras but it was a nice piece of fois with a very average broth and the link just didn't work for me. The venison was a good dish but was from the old (I thought more inventive menu) but the dish could have been served at Blue Hill. I left quite baffled, confused and above all quite sad and disappointed. Maybe it was bad ordering, or you need the context of the tasting menu but it fell such a chasm below my expectations that I don't think that can explain it away.
I really don't like writing negative reviews but WD-50 doesn't need my help and I'm sure plenty of others have dismissed it over the years. But I came as ready to be a fan as anyone could be.
Anyone who has ever eaten at The Fat Duck and seen how they combine taste, flavour, texture and spectacle would be fazed by WD-50 I think. Or El Club Allard. Even more understated chefs like Pedro Subijana and Jason Atherton know how to play brilliant culinary jokes while never losing sight of flavour. We ended the night having some $4 dumplings from across the street.

John Dory Oyster Bar
Chosen as it was attached to our hotel amid me being unwell. I watched my wife have a decent lobster roll. There was a bit too much sauce to allow the taste of the lobster to sing. The warm Parker roll bread, which I picked at, was absolutely fantastic.

Best Pizza in Williamsburg
The result of a hasty Google and Chow search for Williamsburg Pizza but we came away very happy. A great margarita. A wonderful base and depth of tomato flavour in a grandma. Interesting white base pizza with ricotta and parmesan and an incredible grandma pizza of creme fraiche and pickled vegetables which was as good as it felt innovative. We are no pizza experts and this wasn't worth a trip in its own right but was very very enjoyable.

Bleecker Street Pizza
A quick stop out of expediency. My wife's view was decent crust and reasonable toppings on a pepperoni and mushroom and a nice margarita. Middle of the road for a Hound I think but perfectly nice.

Momofuku Milk Bar
Crack pie and cornflake milkshake were both a revelation. Later that day my second crack pie was as enjoyable as it was unnecessary.

Stumptown Coffee
Great coffee, great sweet brioche. A lot of decent places seem to serve Stumptown roasted coffee and as a bit of a coffee geek I do recommend it. This branch was in our hotel at W 29th and was the best we found in New York.

Drinks

PDT
The theatre is all but the delayed gratification from 2009 when we failed to go made this very a fun tourist experience. Room and cocktails were wonderful, service was ok.

Pegu Club
A great cocktail here, again accompanied by lukewarm service (rude by NY standards). Unsure of the protocol we still tipped plenty.

Flatiron Wines
Only an addendum really but coming from Europe this is a really great wine store. The pricing really surprised me as all over New York we found European wines with hefty markups but at store price the ones here were really very good and very good value. Bought a Melville Pinot to take home to remind us of a previous trip to Santa Ynez.

And that was that, we tried our best not to be put off our stride by illness and really do appreciate the help we got from Chowhound. If any of you are coming to the UK then pop over to the UK board where I post a lot and I will make sure I reciprocate.

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    1. Thanks for the great report!

      1. People making exaggerated claims for Jungsik -- three Michelin stars!!!!!! -- do that very good restaurant a great disservice. They build up expectations that the place doesn't even try to meet.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sneakeater

          Thanks all for the comments. I didn't mean to jump down the throat of people who are big fans of Jungsik, I thought it was an excellent restaurant.

          Perhaps I was a victim of my own expectations management but there were dishes which I thought didn't quite work because one flavour was allowed to dominate, taking away crucial balance.

          The best dishes were stellar.

          As so often with Chow geeks I'm still reading NY threads and have already drawn up our list for the next trip.

        2. Thanks for a great report. I definitely would hope to get your recommendations the next time I'm in the UK.

          1. Surprised and delighted to see Best Pizza on that list (and not DiFara's). I love best, especially the grandma pie with the seafood infused special sauce. Right out the oven it is fantastic.