New York, New York-Part Two

Man, my New York jetsetter pieces just keep coming. I was way too aggressive with my tablehopping while I was there, oops. This one is going to cover some of my fave Lower East Side discoveries, and some of the underground spots I made my way into as well. Aw heck, I have all kinds of stuff in here, let's just do this.

A cult favorite amongst most chefs, and a must-do in New York is Momofuku (it means "lucky peach," which makes me love it even more), along with the latest David Chang outpost, ~MOMOFUKU SSÄM BAR~ (a ssäm is like a Korean burrito, with pork, onion, shiitakes, edamame, and red kimchee puree all wrapped up in a flour pancake--I need to come back for lunch to try one). Momofuku Ssäm Bar is a meat lovin' HQ (hello, the menu has an "Offal" section and unabashedly states "we do not serve vegetarian friendly items"), and is packed with hipsters and savvy diners scarfing down flavor and texture wonders like Hokkaido sea urchin with tapioca and whipped tofu ($16), the famed steam pork belly buns ($9), and steamed Manila clams with bok choy, Chinese sausage, and a gutsy bacon dashi ($19). I was fortunate to have a pack of NYC friends invite me along to a bo ssäm dinner ($180), which entailed attempting to devour a whole monstrous pork butt, served with a dozen oysters, plates of crispy Bibb lettuce leaves, rice, a couple sauces, and Napa cabbage kimchee, all for wrapping up the pork. It was a crazy pig fest, replete with unctuous pork and nooks of stringy carnitas-esque bites of pork and some rather intense bones too--we were all thoroughly suffering a pork hangover the next day. Didn't know pork hangovers existed, but there you have it. Service was a little, uh, casual, but the pig was just so good we didn't even care.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second Ave.
at 13th St.

Since there is usually a long wait (unless you have a big party and pre-reserved a bo ssäm dinner), here's a cute place nearby to hang out at for a drink until your table is ready.

Resto Leon
351 East 12th St.

Also liked having a proper cocktail after dinner at the ~BLUE OWL~. I ordered a Negroni Sbagliato (which means mistaken in Italian)--it was made with Aperol, sweet vermouth and a prosecco float. That's amore!

Blue Owl

196 Second Ave.
at 12th St.

Back on hangovers: the ~CITY BAKERY~ in Union Square saved my tookus one morning with an iced coffee and one of their famed pretzel croissants. I know, what the hell? Mmmm, pretzel croissant. Their hot chocolate is also famous, but it was too hot for chocolate. Great people watching, and all kinds of tasty goodies to eat.

The City Bakery
3 West 18th St.
at Fifth Ave.

Another savior was ~VESELKA~, a Ukrainian diner in the East Village that gallantly stood in for Momofuku, which was on my dining itinerary that day but was closed, dag. I was testy. There were also testy old school line cooks who provided serious entertainment as I perched at the counter watching them turn it OUT. Unfortunately the stools were so tall I slid off at one point and totally scraped my wrist as I slipped. So retarded of me. I still have the scar. Man, hangovers are brutal. Let the healing begin! I went for the meat combination plate ($10.95), which meant I wolfed down some satisfyingly oily chicken soup, a fresh salad with dill dressing, some meat and potato pierogis (there are also specials of the week, like goat cheese with arugula), and a stuffed cabbage roll with mushroom gravy. No wonder I fell off the stool. Humpty Dumpty here.

144 Second Ave.
at Ninth St.

Yo, I need some coffee. One fuzzy afternoon after the gut-busting brunch at Veselka I was brought back to life (CLEAR!) with a perfectly pulled macchiato at ~MUD~. I guess this place got its start as a coffee truck, and now they have a brick-and-mortar location as well. Fun funky vibe with a garden in the back and cool folks just kicking it over some good kaw-fee. Complimenti.

307 East 9th St.
at 2nd Ave.

One of my favorite dinners in New York was at ~FATTY CRAB~, hands down. In of all places, the super cheesy Meatpacking District. No matter. The flavors of the small plates of Malaysian food here went snap, sour, crackle, fatty, hot, pop! What's not to love about fatty tea sandwiches ($7) made with pork belly and sambal aioli, a precious balance between delicate and rowdy? I am still pining for the watermelon salad ($12) with scallion, pickled watermelon rind, Thai basil, and crispy chunks of Berkshire pork belly, along with lemongrass, and a soy marinade of sesame, chili, cilantro, mint, and palm sugar. A total flavor tour de force. Then we were fully sunk by the fatty duck ($16), with rich and deeply spicy and sugary tamaki (sticky) rice that had a nutty flavor and popped in your mouth. The riot of flavors put me over the edge, with pickled mustard greens, cilantro, Thai chiles, and the haunting taste of gula jawa, a syrup of unrefined palm sugar. Bring it! Can't wait to eat here again. The intimate space was candlelit but casual, service was spot-on and sociable, the tunes were kicking (from Bowie to Bananarama) and I am therefore ready to move in and put a cot in the back. Or at least book a trip to Malaysia, stat. Zak Pelaccio is the man!

Since this place is so freaking popular, I was told a good idea is to visit for lunch, or for dinner early in the week before 7pm; late at night Wed-Thu is also supposed to be a good time to dine.

Fatty Crab
643 Hudson St.
at Horatio St.

Dinner is divine, but I have always been a big fan of lunch. I love me some lunch. I had at least two tablehopper folks rave to me about ~LITTLE GIANT~, and I decided to check it out for lunch (offered Mon-Fri). Can you say super cute? This hip corner spot in the LES is from Julie Taras and Tasha Garcia-Gibson, and has friendly servers, heartfelt and seasonal food that felt almost San Franciscan to me, a fab prefab modern interior with hand-crafted and well-chosen vintage touches, breathy French pop playing, and it was priced nice! The panzanella salad ($14) I tried was chock full of meow, with bright cherry tomatoes and huge pieces of basil, avocado, salty cubes of ricotta, pickled red onion, and warm sesame croutons. The duck club ($14) was ridiculous: pulled duck confit with applewood smoked bacon, avocado, tomato and herb mayo. More meow. I am way over mac and cheese, yawn zzzzz, but the devil made me order a side of the Grafton cheddar mac and cheese ($7), made with cavatelli pasta, a browned breadcrumb top, and the option of more applewood smoked bacon ($2 extra). Pretty killer. (My heart concurred.) I wanted to return for dinner, and the famed pickle plate and deviled eggs, but alas, it will have to be another time. The dinner menu looked super appetizing, with mains in the low $20s. Giant love!

Little Giant
85 Orchard St.
at Broome St.

Just down the street I tried a scoop of Thai chili chocolate gelato from ~IL LABORATORIO DEL GELATO~. The texture didn't quite transport me to Italy (and like you'd ever find that flavor in Italy to begin with), but the whole point is really the array of playful flavors (Mexican cinnamon, grapefruit Campari, rosemary…). My kind of lab.

Laboratorio del Gelato

95 Orchard St.
at Broome St.

Another sweet spot in the neighborhood is ~BABYCAKES~, featuring vegan, gluten-free, wheat-free, and refined sugar-free desserts, like cupcakes, crumb cakes, scones, cookies, brownies, even cinnamon buns. Don't get me wrong, I love me some classic cupcakes with sugary frosting, but I have to hand it to these bakers, they have really done a bang-up job. This place would blow the hell up in San Francisco.

248 Broome St.
at Orchard St.

So there is all kinds of drama behind the ~GUSS' PICKLES~ sidewalk stand and the "other" pickle stand, The Pickle Guys. There is no way I am going to try to explain it here. Complicated. But what I just couldn't get over was the simplicity (and novelty) of ordering a perfect half-sour pickle direct from a big barrel with gallons of other pickles, like spicy, or quarter-sour. For something like 50 cents. Done. Chomp! The pickle was a crucial component of one of my weirdest days of meals: I had a hot dog for an emergency breakfast at 1:15pm, then a vegan cupcake at 2:30pm, followed by a pickle at 3pm. You'd think I was pregnant or something! What the hell?

Guss' Pickles
85 Orchard St.
at Broome St.

I could have spent all day chillaxing at ~'INOTECA~. Ideal open corner space, with all kinds of sidewalk seating under cheerful green awnings, both small tables and communal seating inside, dark wood floors, a long bar chock full of magazines and newspapers, and a clientele that was fun to drink wine with (yay, afternoon imbibers!). 'inoteca had a leisurely vibe I easily slid into, like a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, or if I'd taken a couple Vicodin with a chaser of Jack. The servers were also so darned nice. Really hospitable.

The menu was like my dream snack attack, with salads and antipasti like grilled octopus, sliced meats (yay, bresaola and speck!), at least eight different tramezzini (delectable little sandwich fillings that are stuffed inside triangles of soft white bread--I ate them daily while living in Italy), a wicked selection of panini and bruschetta, plus some fried dishes and larger plates (they do a suckling pig each week). And of course, a ton of Italian wines by the glass, carafe, or bottle; I went for the Ciro Rosato, built for the hot sticky weather. I munched a tramezzino of pollo alla diavola ($6) made with decadent dark meat, and tried a panino of culatello ($9) with a cheesy noci spread and mozzarella. A pal told me I was supposed to try the truffled egg toast with bottarga ($10) but I messed that up; perhaps some late night when I'm back in the neighborhood, tipsy, and in need of egg.

98 Rivington St.
at Ludlow

Time for some drinks! It's 5 o'clock somewhere. One spot that totally took my breath away was ~SMITH & MILLS~ in Tribeca, which looked like something out of a Jeunet and Caro movie set (they were the visionaries behind the film "The City of Lost Children"). The entire space was a steam punk playground, with all kinds of industrial touches and elements, plus low ceilings and lighting, tufted banquettes, a big wooden swinging door (was this a garage before?), no sign out front, and a bathroom made from an old French elevator. Brilliant design and space. Our posse just threw back some good classic cocktails, but there is also a dining/bar menu that looked intriguing. Since I was drinking my dinner that particular evening I can't vouch for the eats, but I'd happily have a reason to hang out in this space again, and for as long as possible.

Smith & Mills
71 N. Moore St.
at Greenwich St.

~LA ESQUINA~ is brilliant fun: you enter a dining car doubling as a busy late-night taco stand, but if you get cleared by the doorman, you descend the stairs and pass through a restaurant kitchen (it felt very "Goodfellas"--you're like, wait, really? I'm supposed to go through the kitchen? Cool!). You end up landing in a happening little warren of a cantina, replete with a Rottweiler velvet painting, exposed pipes, lots of wrought iron, moody lighting, and a bouncy hip-hop soundtrack. Whoa! Total fiesta in effect. We didn't stay for dinner, but did have a couple spiffy margaritas off the extensive list of tequilas, and checked out the ethnically mixed crowd (refreshing) of mostly music industry folks.

La Esquina
106 Kenmare St.
at Cleveland Pl.

So I was all fired up for drinks at ~PDT~ (Please Don't Tell), a speakeasy bar accessed through an old-school phone booth located in a hot dog place called Crif Dogs. You got that? I know, what a concept. You go into the phone booth while people in the hot dog place curiously look at you, wait for someone in the bar to pick up the phone, and then a panel on the other side of the phone booth opens and you're suddenly let into a bar that's going full-tilt. Sadly the night we were there the bar was packed with yahoos and the hostess was lacking certain charms, so we skedaddled. Bummer, because James Meehan of Gramercy Tavern did the drinks list. But we did try a deep fried hot dog on the way out and some waffle fries. Verdict: meh. But they probably would taste pretty good after a couple drinks, especially Jim's.

PDT/Crif Dogs
113 St. Marks Pl.
at Avenue A

The tablehopper's trip to New York wouldn't be complete without a visit to ~MILK & HONEY~, the famed reservations-only speakeasy bar that kick-started the whole trend stateside. My friends couldn't believe the door we were supposed to knock on was really the door to the bar, but once we opened it and witnessed the intimate little shotgun space, we were all believers. Our polka dot-attired and accented hostess escorted us to our cozy booth, where we took in the deco vibe, low light, and jazzy music. The barman was like a pharmacist, preparing our drinks with sublime precision. I had a concoction of cucumber, mint, and bourbon, and our table was intrigued with the trademark big ice cubes they make here. Great medicine. We had such swell drinks, perfect in fact, even though you end up waiting 20 minutes for them and your wallet gets lightened by $15 apiece (the smiley face on the bill was slightly disconcerting). Sorry, I can't give you the reservations number or address or I'd never get to enjoy a drink here again. Ask your New York pals to refer you!