I like to save the best for last and in this final post in the New York series, I’m going to try and convey the incredible tastes of Manhattan that took our trip from pretty incredible to completely unforgettable. It was not a healthy week, I’ll admit that up front, but it was mighty delicious. Try not to salivate while reading!
The Deli Experience
Let’s begin with some New York classics. Very close to our accommodation was a small place called Scotty’s Diner where we purchased bagels with lox to go. New York bagels are larger than we’re used to so one is truly more than enough for a meal. They were also particularly generous with the lox! (*tick*). Plain as it sounds, it was darn tootin’ delicious. We ended up stopping halfway on our walk to enjoy the bagels properly in Bryant Park because it seemed disrespectful to be walking and not paying full attention to such a delicious handful of breakfast. On another more rushed morning, we stopped at a nearby deli to purchase bagels without any filling for $1 each (one garlic, one sesame). They were remarkably tasty on their own too.
The other deli must-have? Pastrami. A ten minute walk from The Met is a matchbox-sized deli called Pastrami Queen (sounds promising doesn’t it?). We paid an absurd amount ($16 each!) for a pastrami sandwich, and a corned beef sandwich that came with two types of pickles/gherkins. The pastrami had a herby punch and soft smoky flavour that hung around long after we’d devoured it all. My corned beef sandwich was more oily making it feel a little more rich – not that the pastrami wasn’t already indulgent! By slicing the meat thinly and piling it into a thick stack, the eating experience was made relatively easy given the size of the sandwiches, and those pickles really help cut through the meaty-ness of it all. Is there a more New York experience than tucking into the most enormous pastrami sandwich of your life and nibbling on a pickle in Central Park?
Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day so it’s not surprising that one of the true standout food outlets we visited was breakfast sandwich joint BEC. BEC stands for bacon, egg, cheese – ‘nuff said. The bread buns were slightly sweet (brioche) and the bacon rashers cooked to crispy perfection. It was so good we rushed back there for a repeat breakfast on our last day.
It’s incredible that New Yorkers and people all over the US have made an Italian dish so iconically not-Italian! In Naples, we sampled some superb ‘proper’ Italian pizza which still makes me salivate at the thought of it. The pizza of New York however, is it’s own species. Just 1 minute (or less!) from our accommodation is a restaurant called Vezzo that serves thin crust pizza with toppings right to the edge and the crispy-est base. Every night the restaurant was full of large groups consuming enormous disks of deliciousness – it’s so good! We had a rich mushroom and truffle pizza that really hit the spot.
During a food tour, we went to one of several branches of Artichoke. Their pizza is thicker and similar to Chicago deep dish pizzas. You can buy by the slice for $5 each (or if you have a crowd, a “whole pie” as they say in the US). The topping is a thick creamy white sauce with melt-in-your-mouth flakes of artichoke. It was perfection.
At the famous Chelsea Market we also had some thin crust slices on our way out between tours. As an eggplant lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the soft roasted eggplant with zingy tomato sauce and a crunchy base. All this talk of pizza is really making me want some but alas, I haven’t found this level of pizza in London yet!
Mac & Cheese
Growing up I think mac and cheese was always a bit of a ‘dirty’ food; instant and usually not great but you have it every now and again to check that it’s still bad. And perhaps you reap comfort from the low quality of it all. With the growth of Southern comfort food joints and a general turn towards gourmet US tastes these days, real mac and cheese is back. We ventured to a small (and surprisingly quiet) spot call S’Mac where they serve about two dozen types of mac and cheese. This is not a place for carb-free dieters or lactose intolerant friends! It was a rich, indulgent evening that we do not regret one bit.
This is another American classic that seems to have been turned into an artform. I’ll admit that my first interaction with grilled cheese was when my sims were learning to cook in Sims 2. Saying that makes me feel so dated!
A few blocks down from the southern end of Central Park is Melt Shop, where they serve a handful of grilled cheese variants. Maple bacon? Three cheeses? Truffle melt? The world is your (cheesy) oyster. It was buttery, stringy. crispy, and naughty but sinfully nice.
Noodles & Dumplings
In my very first post of this series I said that Chinatown in New York was totally amazing and it is still the best we’ve seen. It’s legit. During our tour of the neighbourhood we stopped for dumplings where you get 5 dumplings for $1.25 (or 30 for $6!). They were the best dumplings I have ever had that weren’t made at home. Amazing. It even came with a grumpy lady serving up dumplings and charging extra to tourists despite a sign outside clearly stating the prices!
We also discovered a place that serves Xi’an food that we ended up visiting twice. Since moving to London, both Richard and I have been deprived of good Chinese food. Richard was especially pleased to be able to indulge in the flavours of his home. The added bonus is that it’s pretty affordable too!
The Food Tour
I previously mentioned the pizza from Artichoke which was part of four hour food tour that covered a lot of ground we hadn’t yet been able to do ourselves. The guide was a one-man band who started this tour business when he was made redundant a few years back. He had a straight-shooter style of speaking and a bellowing voice that made me think he might have previously been a teacher.
Down what appeared to be a regular street was a small porchetta shop hiding away. It was obviously a poorly kept secret judging by the constant flow of customers. The pork was incredibly flavourful and super tender along with snappy bits of crispy skin – it was Richard’s favourite stop on the tour. We also went to a quirky hot dog store at basement level – we never would have found it on our own! They served an assortment of crazy hot dogs, and we eventually settled on trying a breakfast one with a fried egg. Not too shabby! Other stops on the tour included more dumplings, cupcakes and cannoli; a superb round up.
Ah doughnuts, the food of US police and Homer Simpson. Any food can be turned into a craft and the team at Doughnut Plant in Chelsea have done exactly that. The cafe-style establishment is doughnut-mad with traditional hole-in-the-middle doughnut door handles to decorative doughnut cushions lining the walls. Richard and I are not huge doughnuts fans. They’re often sickeningly sweet and cloying in your throat. The yeast based round and square snacks at Doughnut Plant however, are really well made. They’re sweet without being overwhelming, and the square one we had was filled with excellent quality jam (jelly?). They were, as you’d expect by now, enormous. But we finished them with gusto – best doughnuts ever.
Booker & Dax (bar)
David Chang is one of the cool kids on the block when it comes to culinary delights in New York. His restaurant group includes Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Milk Bar and Momofuku Ko in New York alone. On a Tuesday night, Richard and I went to a completely packed Booker and Dax which is part of Momofuku Ssäm Bar. I’m incredibly grateful we made a reservation otherwise we would surely have been turned away. The team at Booker and Dax specialise in experimental cocktails and they love playing with liquid nitrogen. They serve very small bites but since we’d already eaten, we shared a cookie instead – “a cookie at a bar?!” I hear you say. It’s weird but also not weird because Momofuku Milk Bar are famous for their baked delights and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take down two birds by trying their ‘Compost Cookie’ while enjoying an Earl Grey cocktail. Oh how English I’ve become. Totally best cookie ever by the way.
The first national food of America! Fast food is really not up my alley, so instead we went to a place called Bare Burger. All the ingredients have the necessary buzz words to pull people our age in; locally sourced, free range, organic. It was rainy evening when we sought refuge in their restaurant and ordered too much (portion sizes really get you over there!). There are two main camps when it comes to burgers, one side likes to keep it pared down and will either not season the patty before grilling or only do so minimally, while the other camp seasons the life out of their patty before cooking and potentially adds flavour into the patty itself. Bare Burger tasted like it was in the former camp and I personally sit in the latter. Nevertheless, it was a solid burger place. It was simply overshadowed by the outstanding meals we had elsewhere. (Side note: we also tried Wendy’s for fun just because, and it was truly awful. I did not feel good at all – would not recommend!)
In additional to ALL of the above, we had breakfast at a diner (Andrews Coffee Shop) with really fluffy pancakes, bacon, sausages, eggs etc and awful filter coffee. It was a fun experience if not the most tasty. Another meal that was a little disappointing was at Forlini’s in Little Italy. The best part was feeling like we were in a ‘family’ establishment, it just had that vibe with its decor and also a well dressed business man eating lunch on his own looking straight out of an old time gangster movie. Unfortunately the pasta was overcooked, gloopy and lacked flavour. We had fun dreaming up crazy stories about the staff and patrons however!
The one thing I did not get in New York was a hot beverage. We found that New Yorkers (and perhaps this is common across the US) love icy cold water. Glasses full to the brim with ice and filled with cold filtered water. It’s achingly cold and seems to solidify some of the oily foods we consumed. Coffee is not the best (said like a true antipodean) and the variety of tea is non-existent. On our second to last day I finally caved and sought comfort in a shody green tea from Pret which was my first hot beverage of the week after coffee on the first morning – this for someone who usually drinks about 5 cups of tea a day!
Manhattan has a great deal to offer everyone. It’s a multicultural hub in the truest sense and everyone has brought along culinary expertise from their homes to share with local inhabitants. The food on offer is astounding in its variety and quality. In a place where there is so much to see and do, it’s always a plus to have great places to refuel. Richard and I really liked New York; the history, the design and architecture, the people, and the food. It was a week that opened our eyes to great deal about New York and the US. I’m glad to have finally shared all these details with you – deep keep an eye out for upcoming posts on Athens and Santorini!