You know one thing I’m grateful for? Friends who plan their weddings in ~NEW YORK~ in June, that’s what. What an amazing time to be in the city, and of course I had to stay for a few extra days to charge around and stuff my face.
A few non-related-to-food things you should check out in case you’re heading to the Big Apple in coming months: do not miss the Met’s Alexander McQueen show, Savage Beauty, what a marvel. The best fashion installation I’ve ever seen. The Picasso and Marie-Thérèse show at the Gagosian Gallery was also one to see. And the other thing that blew my mind was Sleep No More, the creepy and engaging theatrical production in a building in Chelsea that was like a cross between The Shining, the Exploratorium, and Eyes Wide Shut. Some of the best $80 I’ve ever spent. Don’t miss it.
200 5th Ave. at 23rd St.
I went to check out the latest addition to the Batali-Bastianich empire, Birreria, which is perched on top of the Eataly building. Ended up being the perfect Sunday supper destination in my post-wedding, hungover state. There will soon be three cask-conditioned beers brewed on the rooftop from the brewmasters of Dogfish Head, Del Borgo, and Baladin, and in the meantime, there’s quite the lineup of beers on tap (9) and bottled (20). My friend and I tucked into a carafe of the DFH Festina Peche ($14), while working our way through some killer mushroom dishes, like fried shiitake ($15) with sage and a marsala reduction drizzled on top (we attacked this), and the roasted maitakes ($15) with a pecorino sardo cream sauce with asparagus and peas. (Whoa.)
Beer. Meat. Bring it on. The mixed salumi plate ($21) had some gems, including a coppa piccante and garlicky soppressata. The sausages (all $19) are freaking fantastic, like the rich cotechino and the biroldo, a Toscana-inspired blood sausage. I liked how the cotechino was served: sliced and seared, so you get that crispy-fatty goodness in each bite, and you get some mustard and a choice of one side, from kraut to potato salad. And one of my dining partners was ready to double down on the beer-braised pork shoulder ($19), he loved it that much. I really enjoyed the airy space, and while I’ve been told the lines to get in can be insane, we literally walked in on Sunday evening.
205 10th Ave. at 22nd St.
I have been wanting to go to Tía Pol for far too long, and it ended up being a dream spot for lunch on a warm day. It’s a long and narrow slip of a space, so I can imagine it’s just as packed in the evening as I’ve heard it is. But for a midweek lunch? We waltzed right in. The Spanish menu is full of all the things you want to eat in warm weather: boquerones ($12) and deviled eggs made with smoky pimentón de la vera ($3 for three), all alongside big glasses of rosé, of course.
We also dialed in on a few more tapas, like the wicked paquetitos de jamón ($9): little triangular bundles of artichoke and manchego wrapped in serrano ham. Dude. The lengua a la plancha ($8)—veal tongue topped with pickled red onion on toasted baguette, was another decadent hit—while the piquillo peppers ($7) with potato salad and tuna were the only clunker dish—just kind of bland compared to everything else. Dessert finished strong: leche frita ($6), Basque-style balls of fried custard accompanied by drunken cherries. Seriously, hold the telefono. All in all, it was a fun little side trip to Spain while on the streets of Chelsea, and it’s right by the High Line, so you can enjoy a buzzed paseo after your meal.
156 10th Ave. at 20th St.
My friends and I tucked into a hearty brunch here before cruising around the Chelsea galleries one afternoon. It’s a good brunch spot, with a spot-on bloody mary, and be sure to get some ricotta beignets ($11) (made with Di Palo’s ricotta) for the table while waiting for your order. My friend’s chilled beet soup ($8) was marvelous, and I ate every last bite of the radicchio and escarole salad ($10), nicely dressed in an anchovy-garlic vinaigrette with a flurry of Parmesan and breadcrumbs. My friend and I split the poached eggs with housemade pork sausage ($14) over Anson Mills grits (which were smooth but desperately needed some salt). I liked the airy space, the cheerful gingham shirts on all the servers, and the seasonal brunch menu is exactly what you want, from huevos rancheros to salads to a burger.
352 W. 39th St. at 9th Ave.
I wouldn’t necessarily go far out of my way to seek this place out, but boy was I pleased this cozy trattoria was directly across the street from where I was staying. I had a charming solo meal at the bar late in the evening, dining on rustic southern Italian dishes like garlicky rapini over a fava bean purée ($10), and trenette al pesto trapanese ($14), another garlicky dish with a rarely seen pesto made of almonds, garlic, tomatoes, and basil—delicioso. I liked how the menu had a variety of unique pastas, from Sardinian malloreddus to some Pugliese dishes (which is where I was told the owner is from). Super-friendly bar staff, and I ended up getting great tips on various Italian places to check out from a local in the neighborhood who sat next to me (I returned the favor by introducing him to Carpano Antica). Loved the bar setup—so New York.
Arthur Ave.—The Bronx
Before I flew to New York, my dad gave me a nudge, “Be a good girl. Go to Arthur Avenue and bring your father back some Crotonese from the Calabria Pork Store.” I was thinking to myself, “Now, when the hell am I going to have time to schlep all the way out to the Bronx to get some cheese?” On my first night sitting at the Mercato bar, my drinking partner Peter said the same thing: “Have you ever been to Arthur Ave.? It’s the real deal. You gotta go.” Armed with some great pointers from Peter, I decided to head out for a Monday excursion to score my dad some loot for Father’s Day. It was so worth the hour trip—that place is full of culinary gold.
I started with lunch in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, an enclosed bazaar of sorts. I was told to hit the Café al Mercato in the back for a slice of pizza—I loved the thick rustic style, and the eggplant and tomato sauce slice I picked (after much mulling, let me tell you) was so packed with flavor. I enjoyed my lunch next to firemen (hot) and old Italian guys gossiping at the (classic) red-and-white checkered plastic tablecloth tables—too legit to quit. I also scored a reproduction of the Romagna in Bocca book for $20 at a neighboring stand (the Mount Carmel Gourmet Food Shop), and was so sorry I wasn’t staying much longer, because I wanted to cook the fresh fusilli and cavatelli they had on the counter.
I swung by the Madonia Brothers Bakery to pick up my dad some black pepper and fennel taralli, and on a whim, ordered some amazing-looking amaretti cookies. Let me tell you, they proved to be the best amaretti I’ve ever had. I’m ready to call and order a huge box of them, seriously.
I walked into the Morrone Pastry Shop to grab an espresso, and picked up a couple sfogliatelle to bring home. But when I looked at the pastry case and saw they had pesche (peaches), I had to order one. It’s a pastry I only see in Calabria—it’s a cream-filled pastry with a pink exterior that is dyed with maraschino to make it look like a peach. (There’s a recipe for them in Rosetta Costantino’s My Calabria book, and here’s a blog post someone did outlining how to make them). Sadly my pesca tasted a bit old, but it was still nice to be reminded of how much I love these pastries. Gotta set aside an afternoon to make them, soon.
So, the highlight of the trip was definitely my visit to the Calabria Pork Store. Mother of God, you walk in there and the first thing you notice is the exquisite smell of meat curing. Spicy meat. The ceiling is covered—literally covered—with hanging soppressate; it would be a perfect scene for a vegetarian nightmare, right out of Seven. I had a great chat with the owner, and ended up getting $60 worth of sausages (cash only, of course) and the requested Crotonese cheese for my dad. (I also couldn’t resist getting a caciocavallo that was hanging behind the counter—so glad I got it, it was creamy and sweet.) The hot soppressata is amazing, such sweet pork fat, and I loved their version of ‘nduja, a bit firm but full of peperoncino. I also got a soppressata with fennel, another amazing sausage. These guys kick so much ass with their salumi, it tastes right out of the old country. (I didn’t get any of their pancetta calabrese since my dad makes his own.) If there is a salumi cave in heaven (and in my own personal heaven, there certainly is), well, then this is the place it was modeled on.
251 W. 55th St. at 8th Ave.
Another place long on my to-try list has been Yakitori Totto, a hidden-away restaurant in Midtown (you have to look for a small sign and climb up a narrow staircase from the street to get to it). We had a short wait (the place is tiny) and then started ordering a parade of dishes, like the delicious Totto soup ($7) with chicken meatballs and mushrooms; ikura don ($11), salmon roe over rice; and a really interesting dish: bainiku and nagaimo isobemaki ($10), little “sandwiches” of pickled sticky yam with a shiso leaf inside—you pick it up and wrap it with a slice of nori. Not for everyone, but my friend and I dug the texture and flavors.
The house specialty, true to its name, is yakitori. Sadly the kitchen ran out of the prized chicken oyster, so we had the momo ($3, thigh) instead, along with our favorite of the night, the shishito tsukune ($4): shishito peppers stuffed with ground chicken meatball. There were a few dishes that fell short, but it was overall a fun, funky, and packed little spot to catch up with a friend over Sapporos late into the evening. And props to a restaurant for finally doing what I have wished all restaurants would do: put toothpicks in the frickin’ bathroom. Which is exactly where they should be.
261 Moore St. at Bogart St., Brooklyn
I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it to this much-recommended Brooklyn outpost this trip, but Roberta’s late hours (nightly until 12am) blessedly made it possible. And I would have missed out on my favorite dish of the entire trip: fried soft shell crab ($18) with spicy mayo and fresh herbs. So simple, but so sweet and fresh: total crustacean perfection. Of course we had to have one of the pizzas from the roaring pizza oven in the open kitchen—while the banana hammock was tempting (ha ha), we did the Specken Wolf ($14) with mozzarella, speck, mushrooms, onion, and oregano. Couldn’t stop eating the damned thing, and the taste of the char from the oven on the bready crust was fantastic. There’s a spacious outdoor area with a huge garden (impressive), so we couldn’t resist ordering a salad of miner’s lettuce ($14) with maitake mushrooms, bottarga, and Taleggio cheese.
Loved the low-key vibe of the place—felt like it was the neighborhood clubhouse, with young (and kinda drunk) couples sharing a pizza and canned Budweisers, while my friend and I were a bit more bougie with our fizzy bottle of Fattoria Il Gambero Bonarda. I am so coming back for an early evening dinner (or brunch!) so I can check out the gorg garden. And a tablehopper reader tells me the off-the-menu Cortez pizza is hella tasty (spicy tomato sauce, chorizo, cilantro, radishes, and a “crazy good creamy cheese”). It’s just a quick ride on the L train, don’t let the Brooklyn address deter you from this fab spot.
Colicchio & Sons—The Lot on Tap
Entrance on 30th St. between 10th and 11th Aves.
My friend and I swung by this makeshift outdoor beer garden for a quick drink and a bite before heading over to Sleep No More, which was just a couple blocks away. I was fired up to see the Taim falafel truck was parked there (green olive falafel? yay!) along with a couple other trucks, so you can nosh on something over a pint of Sehr crisp pilsner from Sixpoint Craft Ales (there are fives beers and wines each that you can choose from). This place will assuredly blow up during the summer.
21 W. 39th St. at 5th Ave.
My New York spice-loving pal is madly in love with this outpost of all things Szechuan, and boy did this joint bring it. Went in with a friend for a late lunch of their double-cooked pork belly with chile leeks ($7.60), shreds of smoked tofu with Asian celery ($6.95), and incredible dan dan noodles ($4.95) with minced chile pork. Each dish was spectacular—balanced flavor, and just enough heat that you got a little sweaty but could still taste your food. Total mother lode of flavor here, the price is right, and super-nice staff. I need to come back with a posse of eight and turn this place out.
131 Sullivan St. at Prince St.
Nothing like filling up on a monster fried lunch before getting on a long plane ride home, right? I was thrilled to be able to check out Andrew Carmellini’s latest project in SoHo, primarily because I had my heart set on the fried oyster slider I’ve been reading so much about on Twitter. Well, that little treasure had been swapped out with a soft shell crab sandwich ($16) instead, with a yuzu-tobiko sauce, and a side salad of red watercress. Now that’s what I call a sandwich—move over fried chicken. (And move over lousy slice of tomato I had to rescue the sandwich from.) On the lighter side, the crab salad in a bloody mary sauce—bright with tarragon from the Green Goddess dressing—was also fantastic. The creamy avocado base brought it all home.
Okay, the fries, the fries! I think they’re the best fries I’ve ever had. Seriously. They almost shatter, but still have a slight tender chew to them, with a lovely golden exterior. Our server couldn’t tell me anything more about them except they’re cut in house. Uh, okay. Anyway, get them. We also loved the fried chicken ($19), juicy and even better with a few shakes of the housemade hot sauce—let me tell you, the leftovers made the best dinner I’ve ever had on a plane ride. Oh, and don’t fail to ask for their by-request-only scallion-cornbread with whipped butter.
The tavern-brasserie look is a bit Keith McNally-ish, and made for a fun lunch destination. I’ve heard it blows up at night, and I can believe it. I’m coming back for their famous pie. And more fries. And yes, that’s a threat.
Two more random bites:
Fresh mozzarella from Sergimmo Salumeria (a small little deli that makes fresh mozzarella every two hours)—their sandwiches also looked great.
Sable from Zabar’s (I can’t go to NYC without a visit to their fish counter)—and did you know you can score a free Zabar’s mug if you sign up for their mailing list? Now you do.