(This is a long post, so grab a coffee and relax!)
If you lived in New York for a year, and went out every single day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you still wouldn’t make a dent in the city’s dining scene. TripAdvisor alone lists some 9,400 restaurants. When there is that much choice, the food options can get very micro – for instance, I saw places called Meatball Obsession, The Hummas and Pita Bar, Potatopia, and Chickpea.
Overall we had some very good food across the US cities we visited, at very good prices compared to Sydney. Seafood seems to be much cheaper than Sydney, so we had plenty of lobster, crab and prawn dishes. At one Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, I had a very good lobster and crab pasta, with a heap of crab through the pasta and half a (small) lobster on the side – for all of $27 – and I immediately thought of the small crab pasta at Rosetta in Melbourne for the princely sum of $65…….
Italian food experiences were a particular highlight, and serves everywhere, unsurprisingly, were generous. I did find they didn’t pace food as well as at home, courses were bought out too quickly, so if you want a bit of pacing, let them know. Its probably because they anticipate flipping the table, as most restaurants will have two, even three, sittings in one evening.
Desserts did not measure up as I had hoped and more often than not nothing jumped out at me that I desperately had to have. The other thing I noticed was that hardly any restaurants had specials, the menu is the menu (which was fine as it was all new!). Also, in politically correct and litigious US of A, a lot of the menus had warnings and footnotes along the lines of “you may die if you eat this/you may be ill if you touch that” – quite hilarious.
I made most of my bookings online using OpenTable – very easy to use, though a few places still only take booking by phone.
Eataly, 200 5th Avenue (or enter on 23rd St)
Mario Batali is I suppose the US equivalent of Neil Perry, but with a purely Italian focus . Starting with one place, Po, in 1993, he has grown a food empire that spans cities, and encompasses fine dining and casual.
I’m not sure there are words to describe Eataly. For Sydney readers, take Salt Meats Cheese, put it on steroids, and then multiply it by oh, four. Underneath the Eataly wording it says ‘alti cibi’ which literally means ‘high food’ – it is indeed like an Italian high temple of sorts – do your full grocery shop, or sit at one of the many casual restaurants and bars, seven in total, woven among fabulous fresh produce and Italian products you can buy to take home. The possibilities here will have your food imagination running wild. Loved it, could spend all day in here. Grab some gelato or a sweet on your way out.
The restaurants are mostly no bookings, so choose where you want to eat – queues are generally long – put your name down and then go explore until you’re up. We ate at Rosso Pomodoro (now where have I heard that name before?) and had pizza and pasta – a great and cheap meal.
NEWSFLASH – apparently Eataly is scouring Sydney sites – yipeee! http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/food-news/eatalys-taste-for-sydney-20130716-2q15v.html
Balthazar, 80 Spring St
Having resided on its corner for almost three decades, this lively French Bistro is a New York institution, opening early for breakfast and going all the way through till late night supper. We were there on a Saturday, and before 9am only continental breakfast is available, after that its a full brunch menu. The bigger breakfast dishes with eggs plus extras are pricey ($20-$25) but the bakery basket for $21 was a lot bigger than appears and will comfortably serve 3 to 4. Fun but not a must do. Think the place is resting on its laurels a little.
Morimoto, 88 10th Avenue (cross street 16th Street)
This place was super cool, starting with the translucent chopsticks. I adored the fit out, the neutral clean lines, the glass divides, and the bit of bling on the wall. You do pay for the look though, and this was our most expensive meal in the US by a good way, though we probably did order a dish too much. You might recognised the name, Morimoto – he was the Japanese Chef on the original Iron Chef, and subsequently on Iron Chef America.
Mocktail of calpico and lemon was a winner. Excellent sushi and the tempura prawns with the sauces (especially the wasabi sauce) was dish of the day, with the wagyu carpaccio not far behind. The duck presented amazingly, but was unfortunately overcooked and dry and the sauces were average, though excellent crisp on the skin. Sydney comparison factor? Sokyo is better for food, but I could sit here all day.
Whole Foods Supermarket, Columbus Circle
What a supermarket! Everything gorgeously presented, and I think they take the ‘whole’ thing literally as I saw them pick up an entire swordfish to turn into fillets. The focus is on organic, unprocessed foods – you won’t find your Kelloggs cereals here or Tip Top bread. There are also various counters serving cooked meals to pick up and takeaway.
Momofuku Milk Bar, 15 W56th Street
Quick pit stop at Momofuku Milk Bar in midtown, there are a handful or so in the city and outer boroughs. This one is nestled in front of Ma Peche. The Milk Bars serve milkshakes, coffee, tea, cookies, cakes, and of course THOSE pork buns. You get two pork buns for $10 which is a steal. I had forgotten how good they are – the pork just melts in your mouth. I also had a miso butterscotch milkshake which was yum yum yum. If you don’t get a chance to do a sit down meal at one of the Momofuku restaurants, just duck in for some buns.
Buddakan, 75 9th Avenue (cross street 16th Street)
This 370 seater will impress you as soon as you walk in the door. Walk past the sleek reception and then to the top of a stair case and look down on a magnificent room with a long communal table surrounded by smaller tables. Our waiter is friendly as anything and soon as I hear his voice I am trying to place it – he sounds exactly like Mitchell on Modern Family, and it made for very entertaining service.
But its not just about the look, the food stands up on its on. Prawn and chicken spring rolls were perfectly crunchy with a flavoursome filling and will be remembered as some of the best spring rolls I’ve ever had; beautiful dumplings with the fresh peas a nice touch, and the lobster chow fun with xo was devoured. The snap peas with mushrooms were fresh and vibrant. Really enjoyable, one for the New York to do list for sure.
Pastis, 9 Ninth Avenue (cross street Little West 12th Street)
A rustic French bistro on the cobbled streets of the Meatpacking District, it serves breakfast from 8am and closes at midnight. Breakfast menu will certainly have something to please everyone, and the food was great – lovely Eggs Norweigen and the side of potatoes was particularly delicious. Pancakes were fluffy and a nice side of fresh fruit. Much better value and much better food than Balthazar in my view. The staff were so friendly and welcoming. Recommended.
Luke’s Lobster, 1 W 59th St (under the Plaza Hotel)
Where in Sydney would you get this much lobster for $15? Throw in a pickle, potato crisps and a drink for $17. It’s about a12cm roll, filled with sweet, juicy lobster, and a very light dressing.
If lobster is not your crustacean of choice, opt for crab or prawn. Ask for it without the butter as to me it interfered with the lobster. I think a little shredded lettuce instead would make this perfect. There are a handful of Lukes’ in the city, but this one is in the Plaza Food Court, which is an upmarket food haunt under the plaza, which has some great sweet treats as well.
Locanda Verde, 377 Greenwich Street
On a corner of Tribeca sits De Niro’s Italian tavern. “Locanda” means local, and I’m sure its become the local for many Tribeca workers and inhabitants. Grab an espresso and a nutella cookie on the way to the office, have a Sidecar Italiano cocktail at the end of the day, or sit down for a full meal.
After some light and delicious house foccaccia, we started with the crab crostini, a tasty little morsel, followed by some light and delicious fried artichokes. We didn’t try them, but they were doing a roaring trade in meatball sliders.
The pastas – casarecce with pesto, lumache with duck sausage, and parpadelle with ragu – are all handmade, and were all beautifully flavoured. The ragu had a good depth.
The deserts, while decent, didn’t follow the quality of the previous dishes, so I think load up on the antipasti instead. The pistachio cake had good flavour but needed some texture and the rhubarb conserva was a slightly odd pairing. The Fantasia of Tiramisu was standard and the gelato serves were very generous, but the Eataly cherry sorbet was pronounced superior.
Very good value for the quality – food came to $40 or so, though would be more if you had a meat or fish main.
Scarpetta , 355 West 14th Street (cross street 9th Avenue)
They had me at the duck and foie gras ravioli. After seeing that on the menu online, I was in. There isn’t a spare seat in the house when we arrive, and its soon apparent why. They bring out a basket of warm housemade bread, accompanied by lemon infused olive oil, tomato relish and mascarpone. The quality basket includes a scroll with prosciutto and mozzarella inside, and it is delicious. You can easily fill yourself up with the bread and extras.
Then the antipasti arrive, and in a word, they are outstanding. Generous fritto misto, loved the little vegetable strips along with the more traditional squid you’d usually find with this dish, and beautifully tender octopus with chickpeas. That polenta with mushrooms – please sir, can I have some more? Mr NRA recalled me writing to Gourmet Traveller’s Fare Exchange once to source a recipe – we both had an identical thought – wonder if they source international ones? If this dude has a cookbook with any of those recipes, I’m buying it.
The waited for duck ravioli are rich and generous, the pasta silky – its a much bigger serve than I expected. It didn’t however need the marsala glaze as well though, or less of it, given the richness, so I gently scrape it off. The lobster and farfalle pasta is mild and easy to eat, and Scott Conant’s much lauded tomato and basil spaghetti is beautiful simplicity personified, Mamma Rosa would like it.
We are very full by now. I see people’s meat and fish mains and they are big. The scallops are the bigger than golf balls. We decide to squeeze in a shared dessert. I’m not into chocolate cake, but the rest of the Napoli clan devour it.
Is Scott Conant being ironic with the name Scarpetta – little shoe? These are big boots to fill.
Tao, 42 East 58th Street (cross street Park & Madison)
The last time I went Tao, in early April 2004, I was harboring two small people who would make their debut in the world some six months later. Fast forward and we thought we’d take the actual now not-so-small people, almost nine, to check it out again.
It still looks great, and at 1pm on a Thursday its a full house, the majestic giant buddha continuing to keep watch. The menu is a menagerie of Asian food, a bit of pad thai here, some xo there, and some sushi thrown in for good measure. There’s a lunchtime three course menu option for $27.50 which has a good selection and is great value.
To begin we opt for some lobster and prawn spring rolls, some tempura prawns; they are decent enough but no superstars.
The vegetable dumplings are unfortunately bland and dry, but the sizzled fried rice with shrimp has good flavour.
The sirloin with the shiitake mushrooms is generous and well executed, but for me the star dish of the day is the grilled snapper with the kaffir lime dressing – the tangy dressing works beautifully with the delicate fish.
Overall its pleasant but not awesome Asian food, in a great environment. Certainly I preferred Buddakan.
Rosa Mexicano, Lincoln Centre, 61 Columbus Avenue (cross street 62nd Street)
I had wanted to go to La Esquina, but its so hot right now, and very hard to get in (Vogue recently even did a cover shoot there) so we headed over to Rosa Mexicano for a hit of guacamole, made fresh at the table with some light corn chips.
The crab empanadas were disappointing though, quite doughy and masking the crab too much. The salad, with a honey lime vinaigretta was very refreshing and good value for $8.50.
I really enjoyed the layered pulled duck tortilla pie, and it was very generous for a starter. The salmon with black beans was well cooked – we noticed a general tendency in the US for fish fillets to be overcooked compared to the way we would have them in Oz, and this was one of the few places that got it right and left a nice pink in the centre of the salmon.
A note on children and New York restaurants
We dragged our (compliant) eight year olds all over town to these places. Hey, we were in New York, and under my expert tutalege they have gradually become more and more adventurous with food, and we fortunately no longer need to frequent places with specific – and generally limited and repetitive – ‘kids menus’ (in fact they now take offence if given one, saying adults menus are far better, and unfortunately for me, love wagyu and duck). I wasn’t about to unleash them on Per Se or Le Bernadin but we did want to try some decent places and I was curious see the reception. While there was no gushing or welcome (nor would I have expected that), there seemed to be a reasonable tolerance and we were never the only ones with our offspring, I even surprisingly spotted a high chair at Scarpetta. I think it helped that we usually went early, around 6.30pm or so, and also everywhere was pretty noisy, so no one would notice kids if they got noisy anyway!