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I lost a bet and now I need to cook the winner a brilliant meal: best sources?

Dear NY hounds:

I lost a weight-loss contest with a friend, and the loser's prize is to cook one meal for the winner, spending $250-$300 on ingredients and wine.

It's an amount of money that can feel like a lot (I'm a grad student) and then turn out to be not that much, especially at NY prices. But I'm planning to buy a few standout ingredients and a bottle or two of excellent wine, and then hope my cooking lives up to the investment.

I have one day (this coming Saturday) to shop in the city (I live in Philly now). Can folks help me get to the best providers for my shopping list? I moved away in 2005 and my old favorites may not be best bets any more. I need:

A butcher (Lobels? Ottomanelli?) for an outstanding piece of dry-aged beef.

A wine shop where the staff are knowledgeable and helpful and will be interested in pointing me to the best of the $30-$70 bottles.

A fish market where I have the best chance of being pointed to the freshest options for a crudo I'd like to make (does Blue Moon still sell at the Grand Army Plaza market on Saturdays? Is there a comparable provider at Union Square?)

A market where I might have a chance at fresh porcinis, truffles or other harder-to-get fungi at an optimal quality-to-price balance.

Help?

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  1. Ottomanelli's (W. Village) is great...a friend just cooked a 28-day aged prime strip and it was delicious.

    Union Square has Blue Moon and/or Pur Vida on Friday and/or Saturday. Only place I'll buy fish...try the black sea bass for your crudo.

    I stopped in at SOS on Avenue B yesterday; truffle prices are quite fair at $125/oz. Haven't seen many fresh porcini around - you could call eataly and see what they have.

    Morrell's or Sherry Lehmann are, of course, great for wine, but I'm partial to Astor just for their selection.

    1. You do realize, don't you, that the beef alone at Lobel's would probably cost at least $125? I think you may need to scale back both your menu and your expectations if you expect to stick to your budget.

      http://www.lobels.com/store/item/usda...

      5 Replies
      1. re: JoanN

        Joan I do realize that I could spend $125 on meat alone at Lobel's (I'm not planning on buying a 4 lb. roast like the one you linked to, but still). That's part of why I'm polling the boards. There has always been a debate about whether Lobel's meat is "better enough" to justify the price vs. other good butchers in the city. My go-to in the past - for dry-agd meat that was comparable to Lobel's at a somewhat more reasonable price - was Ottomanelli. But that was awhile ago.

        So you've hit the crux of my question, which is about where people go these days for the best-possible quality without too much of a hype-based markup.

        For some things there's no way to get one without the other - it may be that all the best butchers in the city are charging $40/pound and up these days. But that's why I'm asking.

        1. re: JoanN

          Well, with Lobel's you're also paying for Madison Avenue, no?
          That's why I suggest Ottomanelli's in the W. Village - reasonable and, if cooked right, just as good.

          1. re: mitchleeny

            Thanks mitch, that's helpful. Good to know that they still match that description. Thanks also for the other pointers. I'm so glad to know Blue Moon is still going strong (their website is out of date so I was a little worried).

            I don't know Sherry Lehmann or Morell's (heard of both, haven't been). Is one of those more service-oriented than another? I am of the "don't know wine but I know what I like" variety, so I think I'll need a little more help than Astor provides. I'm also interested in any smaller corner places that people especially like, on the wine front. Here in Philadelphia we are still stuck with the Eastern Bloc-style state stores, so it's been awhile since I talked to a nice, obsessive wineseller.

            1. re: GDSwamp

              When I need more help than Astor, I love Chambers Street Wine, though, if it were me, to prevent you running around the city and being left with no time to cook, I would pick out the main shopping destinations then poll for nearby wine stores.

              1. re: GDSwamp

                Sherry lehmann is excellent- i have been there often and the staff is very helpful without any attitude. If you give them a budget and what the menu is they'll take it from there

          2. I'd do the bulk of my shopping at Union Square Market, then just go to Whole Foods for any smaller items you might need. Then Union Sq wines around the corner.

            Or go to Market, then head west to Chelsea Market for cheeses and breads and condiments etc you don't see at market.

            4 Replies
            1. re: thegforceny

              that's exactly what i'd do...

              At the Un Sq Greenmarket:
              -- the mushroom selection is awesome: there are 3 or 4 vendors that have stellar porcini, oyster, and crimini...
              -- while i don't buy beef, there are one or two places that sell fresh organic bone-in lamb steaks that really unavailable in any restaurant i know and which trump any regular steak,imo...
              -- Keith's Herb Farm and a couple other places are still selling fine fresh sage and rosemary, plus fine garlic and carrots...
              -- at the seafood place, scallops are always excellent...and lately i've been buying tuna steak and searing it as an appetizer w/ some drizzled olive oil and lemon and rocksalt...

              Whole Foods should fill in the gaps...and the (expensive but nice) Bedford Cheese branch on Irving Pl btw 18th/19th will work for cheese...

              Let us know how it turns out :)

              1. re: Simon

                Good advice but why not get cheese at farmers Market as well

                1. re: Simon

                  Which vendors have the porcinis?

              2. I have been very pleased with the dry aged beef and the fish and seafood at Eataly. In fact, you probably can get everything you need there, and will be very pleased with their products and their quality-to-price balance.

                1. The manhattan fruit and veg exchange in chelsea market has an amazing selection of fresh mushrooms at good prices (cash only), and also in chelsea market the lobster place has quality seafood. The chelsea wine vault in chelsea market is hit or miss on how helpful staff is that day

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                    The Manhattan fruit and veg exchange in chelsea market is not cash only.

                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      They take credit cards now but there's a minimum ($10). They will also charge you for a bag unless you bring your own, IIRC.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Oh- glad they finally take credit cards! I don't remember being charged for bags though... Maybe that's new.

                      2. re: Ttrockwood

                        I find CWV staggeringly overpriced, personally.

                      3. $30 - $70 is quite a range. I mean, if your budget is $300, you could either spend 1/5th of that or 1/2 of it.

                        There are plenty of good wines in the thirty dollar range, I'd stick to that and use the rest on ingredients.

                        I'll second Ottomanelli's (the Bleecker St. one, not to be confused with the other one which has different owners) for meats - and their prices are good. Skip Lobel's, they're an overpriced tourist trap.

                        Buon Italia in Chelsea market has pretty good prices for some upscale things - like, they sell frozen / bruised end pieces of foie gras that you wouldn't use for a main component of a dish but are perfect for making a luxurious sauce with. They also have good quality frozen porcinis and such at reasonable prices.

                        For truffles, anywhere you go they're going to be expensive. Sadly, I don't know of any place that sells half-truffles or will break one down for you, if you want fresh you have to buy whole and that would probably be more than you'd need. And also unfortunately, it's only the most expensive Alba truffles right now - the Perigords won't be around for another month or so. There are also fresh Burgundy truffles right now, but they're not worth the price of admission IMHO.

                        I remember once buying a truffle at Dean & Deluca (I know, I know... I was in a rush and they were the closest place...) and the little bugger, the smallest one they had, fell right between two scale points - the counter guy and I stood there as the scale wigged out and kept flipping from $60 to $80, for that miniscule a difference in weight. (He was cool, though, and hit the button a few times until he finally caught it on the $60...)

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: sgordon

                          Actually, it's the lowest price in years for Alba white truffles, since it's the best year in years for Alba whites.

                          Eataly's are $7 or something a gram, but SOS is more like $4.50/gm. Eataly also recently had a sale where they were selling them at cost...they'll do the sale again right before Christmas.

                          1. re: mitchleeny

                            Unless there's some place that sells half or quarter truffles, a small one can weigh around an ounce - which is, what, 20+ grams? Even at the lowest price in years OP could easily spend $100 of their budget on a single ingredient. If they were cooking for, like, six people I could see that splurge, but that'd be way more truffle than needed for dinner for two.

                            1. re: sgordon

                              Or one could do a pasta/risotto with white truffles, a $50 veal chop for 2 with truffles and make truffle butter with the remainder and gift it to the winner.

                          2. re: sgordon

                            sgordon, I'll say the same thing I said to sugartoof (below) - if you're willing to name any of those $30 bottles you're liking right now, please do. I need all the wine help I can get - not just for this particular dinner, but in general.

                            1. re: GDSwamp

                              Coudoulet de Beaucastel is available at Beacon for $30. if you're looking for something truly unique to New York, City Winery has their "City Cab" priced under $30, sometimes 3 for $50. it's a cab blend from Washington, I believe. the grapes are brought in and crushed in-house. it's the only "winery" in New York City and the labels are generally pretty cool.

                              also, Sherry Lehmann has Baron de Brane Margaux for $37. it's a fantastic wine for the price. i can't profess to know a lot about wine, but i do enjoy this one particularly.

                          3. Some new notable additions for you to consider are Eataly, which is a one stop shop you could outfit a complete meal in, and Dickson's farm in Chelsea Market, which when paired with other shops there, and the Union Square farmers market, has you covered.

                            Breads, and bakery options have improved since 2005.

                            For Wine, I would stop into Moore Brothers and find a couple good values in the $25-30 range. $70 is a sweet spot where you can get what you pay for and notice a huge bump in quality, but you're also much more likely to squander the money walking into a wine shop and letting them guide you. The $25 range is full of very drinkable gems. You can also find great bargains in Rieslings this time of year, that pair well with Fall meals.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: sugartoof

                              sugartoof, if you feel inclined to mention any of the $25 gems, please do. Here in Philadelphia we are still stuck with state-run wine stores that feel like old-time Eastern Bloc food dispensaries. I am not a wine expert and neither is anyone working at any of those stores, so good advice is always in short supply...

                              1. re: GDSwamp

                                Sorry, I haven't bought wine in that price range in a while, so none of my suggestions would be current.

                                I mentioned Moore Brothers because it's pretty well curated, and the limited selection allows them to pretty much recommend anything in the store. Bottle Rocket is nearby in the Flatiron as well, with a wider selection.

                                A lot of these NY wine shops do almost daily tastings, so the workers have tasted a lot of the bottles stocked, but they will tend to recommend whatever was up for tasting recently.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Thanks toof. My wish for you is that when you say, "I haven't bought wine in that price range in a while," you mean that you've graduated to exclusively higher-end drinking.

                            2. Thanks so much, all, for your good advice and your recommendations. Just in case anyone's curious here's a brief run-down of where I went and what I got:

                              beef: I stayed in Williamsburg the night before my shopping day so decided to try to knock out the meat buying there, so as to cut down on the perambulating-with-shopping-bags in Manhattan. Stopped first at The Meat Hook - a cool shop with undoubtedly good meat (aged at least three weeks in-house) but the butcher wasn't so nice (to me). First he told me that he had filets (I decided to make a very traditional filet au poivre) but could only sell them as whole tenderloins, because he had begun reserving whole loins for holiday orders. I left but then found a friend who was willing to go in with me on the whole loin, so I came back. But now, suddenly, he decided he wouldn't sell it to me anyway. "I told you - those are for holiday orders." "You mean they're not ready? They're not aged yet?" "They're for. The. Holidays." I was annoyed at this point so I said. "Okay, I'd like one whole loin for Christmas - and hey, I'm going to pick it up early. Today!" He wasn't amused. I bought some of the house bacon anyway. It was delicious.

                              The butchers at Marlow and Daughters, by contrast, were total sweethearts. They age their meat forever and I watched the young butcher break down the swathe of steer containing my loin on a steel table at the back of the shop. We talked about how filet is not either of our favorite cut, but he wasn't snotty about my choice to get it anyway, and he had good basic suggestions for prepping and cooking the meat. Everyone else in the shop was totally lovely as well. Bought a couple cheeses and some Ben's cream cheese.

                              Total for the entire Chateaubriand portion of the loin (about three steaks-worth): $45. I also needed one short rib which was about $9.

                              Next stop was SOS Chefs on 2nd and B. Never been before and now I know this is the most dangerous store in the world, in terms of my future retirement savings. The proprietress treated me like I was Thomas Keller, dragged me around the store giving me tastes of their various vinegars and honeys, crushing italian oregano under my nose, tearing open vacuum packed bags of Iranian pistachios and foie gras in order to get me the tiny amounts I needed to cook for two people. I was amazed at her generosity to a plain-old home cook. Bought ten different things (chanterelle and black trumpet mushrooms, pistachios, thyme honey, birch vinegar, bottarga di muggine, fresh sansho peppercorns, a few other things) and left with a couple other items she gave me just because she thought I should have them.

                              Total was about $100, which was cheap for what I got, and not all of it went toward my limit - some of the things I bought were just for me.

                              Union Square Greenmarket: again, this shop was marked by the kindness of the people I bought from. The lady at PE & DD Seafood put a fat scallop in my hand and told me to eat it so I'd believe her that they didn't need any washing to be grit-free. At Flying Pigs (best pork in the world) Mike's adorable son and daughter helped me find the sausages I wanted. The Windfall Farms stall looks a little precious, with its ordered tubs of pristine microgreens, but the people working there were handing out generous tastes of everything, and the farmer wasn't kidding when he said that his frost-sweetened carrots and radishes were like candy (better than candy). I got my salad elements there for about $8.

                              Bought a bunch of other stuff around the Market - some for the dinner (ratte and Orzette fingerling potatoes, sunchokes, treviso radicchio, chiles, brussels sprouts - at various booths, about $15 total) and some for myself. Even with the insane crown, a totally brilliant two hours.

                              Last: wine. Ended up at Discovery Wine Shop on the lower east side (wanted to stay in the neighborhood so I wouldn't have to re-park) and ended up telling the women working that evening about my bet and my agenda for the wine. They got very into my project and spent a lot of time with me, debating bottles and bang-for-buck ideas in the $40-$60 range. Again, it was just striking how nice they were and how thoughtful. Ended up with a '98 Morgon and an '04 Barbaresco, plus a couple other things I couldn't not buy. Both were delicious. Delicious. About $90 for the wine.

                              So that was that for NY. I picked up my last items back here in Philadelphia at DiBruno Brothers (our Dean and Deluca, more or less), where I have to say I got more good treatment and good advice. Go Philly.

                              The meal turned out beautifully and I have to say that although I lost the bet, and consequently had to foot the bill, I'm glad that was how it turned out.

                              For anyone still reading and still curious, the menu was:

                              Antipasti:
                              charred shisito peppers with dashi salt
                              Jasper Hill Farm Harbison
                              La Quercia Tamworth prosciutto
                              New Zealand thyme honey
                              persimmon
                              dried california Blenheim apricots

                              bay scallop crudo with meyer lemon-chive vinaigrette and blood orange

                              braised short-rib ravioli with brown butter, sage and Grana Padano

                              Warm mushroom salad (oyster, black trumpet, chanterelle, beech) with braised pistachios, pickled sunchokes, watermelon radish, microgreens, sweet lime vinaigrette.

                              Filets, sansho-peppercorn au poivre
                              Robuchon potato puree
                              roasted brussels sprouts with fish-sauce viniagrette and bacon.

                              Cocktails (something with blood orange and gin and a few of those fresh peppercorns) by my indulgent wife, dessert (milk-stout cake, mocha buttercream) by a nice friend.

                              That was that.

                              15 Replies
                              1. re: GDSwamp

                                Great shopping!

                                The owner at SOS is a doll, and you can't beat Flying Pigs Farm.

                                And your scallop experience is why I only cook scallops from the greenmarket.

                                Good job.

                                1. re: GDSwamp

                                  What a great post, and a great job paying your debts.

                                  Glad you found your way to two of the best butchers in NY.

                                  Both Meat Hook and Marlowe & Daughters are obviously erratic in terms of what cuts they might have on any given day but that story is absurd. I guess the Meat Hook is selling insane New York experiences instead of meat when they run low.

                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    I've gone back and forth on this. I'm 100% certain that the Meat Hook butcher thought that I was the one being a pain, and that what I took to be his bad attitude was, from his perspective, justified frustration.

                                    That said, every other person I dealt with that day was so remarkably kind, he really stood out in contrast. And the fact is he didn't take the time to figure out why I was persisting about the filets - which was that I'd been led to believe I only needed to buy a whole one and I'd be okay - and instead jumped right to the assumption that I was "some idiot."

                                    So, meh. Probably won't go there first, on the rare occasion when I'm meat-shopping in the 'burg.

                                    1. re: GDSwamp

                                      Hmm, well it still sounds like they should have simply said "We're only carrying them special order". It's their job to sort through a communication problem if they want business. The beauty of the place is it's not like a typical butcher where you can look in the case, and know what's in stock. It's kind of like the cool record store approach to selling meat.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        That's a perfect analogy, and the head butcher is the cranky clerk who thinks you're a Philistine (but does know some great music).

                                        The story is more detailed than anyone wants to read about here - for instance, the kid who I was initially talking to about my meat purchase was very sweet, and did his best while shuttling back and forth between me and the butcher to keep everyone happy. (And consequently he was visibly uncomfortable when the butcher and I started talking to each other over his head).

                                        Anyway. C'est la vie. I'm going to a vegan restaurant tonight.

                                  2. re: GDSwamp

                                    thanks for such a great report...glad you enjoyed the Greenmarket and the other shops :)

                                    1. re: GDSwamp

                                      Great report. Hope to read more about your future food escapades!

                                      1. re: GDSwamp

                                        Thanks for updating us! It sounds like i need to get to SOS chefs..... Your menu sounds divine! I love sunchokes and will have to pickle some- hadn't thought of it before.
                                        PS
                                        These threads on the wine board have really helped me with great reasonable bottles for future reference:
                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/408474
                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/835495

                                        1. re: Ttrockwood

                                          Thanks Tt, this is good information. I wish PA stores had the kind of selection where you could go in looking for a particular bottle and stand a snowball's chance of finding it. But good to have ideas in mind, just the same.

                                          1. re: GDSwamp

                                            do you use www.wine-searcher.com? it's a great resource to locate specific bottles, but it's worth calling a shop before trekking out to make sure they really have what you're looking for.

                                            1. re: coasts

                                              That'd be a great idea, coasts, except wine-searcher points you to online stores, many of which won't ship to PA, because it's technically illegal to do so.

                                              And by "technically illegal" I mean "it's illegal, which is so absurd that I feel obliged to add the word 'technically' as a qualifier."

                                              1. re: GDSwamp

                                                Hmm, in New York it directs you to actual brick and mortar shops.

                                                1. re: coasts

                                                  Oh! okay I'll take a closer look.

                                                  1. re: coasts

                                                    Ugh. PA is insane. Every search directs only to "Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board" - the central gov't agency in Harrisburg.