Report back on Manhattan trip - the sweet and the savory
Went to Manhattan for the weekend and, after hours of research on this board, ate at many frequently recommended spots. Here's my personal take on what I had:
Donut Plant – big disappointment, perhaps because my expectations were very high given all the accolades on this board. Yes, there’s a great variety of interesting flavors, but in the end, I just don’t think the donuts tasted that good. I got a tres leche (cake) donut, a carrot cake (cake) donut, a coconut cream square (yeast) donut and the cinnamon bun. The bun was very, very dry and absolutely not worth eating. The carrot cake tasted like deep fried overly sweet carrot cake. The tres leche’s flavor did not seem to me at all like what tres leche should taste like and the interior texture was mealy. The coconut cream was the only donut I thought had a nice flavor because of the cream, but somehow the dough part of the donut, which was probably quite good when it was hot out of the fryer, was sort of tasteless and a little too chewy at room temperature.
I went over to Donut Pub (203 W. 14th Ave), having heard that they had great apple fritters. The apple fritters were, in fact, not particularly good because the exterior was not crunchy. But, I thought Donut Pub had excellent old-fashioned glazed donuts. Exactly as a donut should be – crispy outside with lots of glaze, and a fluffy, moist cake interior that had a nice sweet taste apart from the glaze. To me, these donuts were MUCH better than Donut Plant and a lot less expensive (I think they were about $1.70 each). Another delicious surprise was something I’d never seen or heard of before called a Pom Pom – a glazed marble cake donut in the shape of those pull-apart monkey breads with a dollop of jam on top. I’m not a big fan of jam so I scraped it off, but the donut itself was yummy.
The chocolate chip walnut cookies at Levain Bakery met the hype. It was delicious – warm, soft, moist melty center and nicely crunchy on the outside. Also got the oatmeal raisin cookie, which was good but slightly bland. The cookies are extra thick - about 2 inches high. Be prepared, though, it’s a $4 cookie.
We went to dinner at Café Asean (117 W. 10th). The Sotong (salt and pepper fried calamari appetizer) was delicious. Perfectly crispy, made from fresh, tender, sweet squid. The Asian dipping sauce was delicious (probably fish sauce, lime, sugar, hot pepper among the ingredients). My main dish - monkfish and scallop in a coconut sauce - was pretty good but a little bland. My friend’s Panang curry clay pot special was delicious – the sauce had bold flavors complimenting the creaminess of the coconut milk. My other friend got the slow braised ribs, the sauce on which was also delicious. My sister got the chicken sautéed with vegetables, lemongrass and chilies. The sauce was very tasty but somehow the chicken itself didn’t absorb much of it and become that flavorful.
R.U.B. – Ordered burnt ends for take out at noon. Ate some of them outside the restaurant on the sidewalk while they were hot. Very tasty – smoky, rich, fatty. I preferred them plain rather than dipped in the BBQ sauce. A day later heated up in the toaster oven, they tasted still quite good.
Murray’s cheese shop’s egg sandwich melt was delicious. Smoky, greasy goodness. My only minor complaint is that the bacon (which tasted fantastic) was a little soggy/fatty. My sister’s bacon was crispy, so it seems like luck of the draw. I would have specified in my order to make it crispy had I known. The melts are only take out, as there’s nowhere to sit.
Whitefish salad – based on the board’s recommendations, I went to Barney Greengrass for whitefish salad. I found it to be good but not great. The fish was mild, almost sweet (in a good way) but the mayonaisey stuff surrounding it was flavored in a way that reminded me of sweet relish. Again, not bad but hard to believe it’s the best NYC has to offer. Since we were close to Zabars, I tried their “chunky whitefish salad” as well. The fish in this salad was smokier than BG’s and tasty, but the mayonnaise was not good. It was really, really heavy and had a taste that didn’t appeal. Perhaps I’m being too harsh because I’m comparing it to a fantastic whitefish salad in the Boston area (Maxie’s Deli in Stoughton. If you go, they get the fish from NYC on Fridays, then make it in house, and usually run out by Monday).
Bagels – my sister’s favorite bagels in the city are Brooklyn Bagel (286 8th Ave). I can’t say I’ve tried enough in the city to compare, but I agree they are fantastic. They have that perfect leathery exterior and dense (but not too dense) chewy interior. Our favorite flavor is the multigrain, which isn’t a usual favorite of mine elsewhere, but at Brooklyn Bagel, this flavor is absolutely delicious. The bagels are insanely and unnecessarily huge, but who’s complaining since the size does not detract from the quality.
I totally agree with you that the Donut Plant is all hype and not very good. To me their donuts are about as good as the cup cakes at Magnolia, which are horrible.
Murray's i've only gone to when it was just a cheese store, so can't comment.
R.U.B. is decent BBQ, nothing amazing but certainly OK.
To me H&H has good bagels , if you get them still warm. Oh white fish salad , i like Russ and Daughters for that and all other "appetizing".as they used to call it.
I find that the cake donuts lately at the doughnut plant have been going downhill and have been dry, the yeasts ones are still pretty good but I have only been to the Chelsea location lately. Donut Pub the fritter is alright, i am a fan of their honey glazed and crullers and think they make a good black and white cookie.
Thanks for the detailed report.
One comment on Cafe Asean, which I should go to some time: "Sotong" is simply Malay for "squid." Nothing more nor less.