October 25, 2016

October 25, 2016
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A classic start to a New York evening: a martini at the Russian Tea Room bar. All photos: © tablehopper.com.

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Eggz at Le Coq Rico.

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The famed radishes and butter at The NoMad.

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The “China-quiles” at Fung Tu.

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Escarole with favas, mint, lemon, and pecorino at Via Carota.

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The Via Carota Svizzerina.

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The epic lasagna at I Sodi.

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Table favorite: gao choi gao at Joy Luck Palace.

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Little piggy custard buns at Joy Luck Palace.

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Summertime fabulousness at El Rey: tomatoes, boquerones, nopales, and coriander vinaigrette.

Here’s the second installment of my favorite places where I ate in New York this year—Manhattan, to be exact. (Take a look at Part One of my Manhattan spots, in case you missed it.) I’ll be doing a separate list of Brooklyn restaurants since I have been doing a lot of exploration while staying out here this fall. I also have a pizza list and burger list AND sandwich list under heavy construction, stand by!

Manhattan

Le Coq Rico
If you really count yourself as a lover of chicken, you’ll want to grab a few friends so you can order a whole chicken (they run $100, bwok, but they are very special poulets) at this Parisian import—or you can sit solo at the long kitchen counter and get a quarter Brune Landaise chicken and perfect green salad for $24. What else to get? The charmingly named Eggz section had a soft-boiled egg with salmon roe, and I was happy to see the rare offering of en meurette. Desserts are also fantastique! The ile flottante is worth going in for on its own, seriously, and there’s a mille-feuille for two. Expect charming French waiters who will upsell you in two winks.

The NoMad
It’s funny, a place like this couldn’t exist in SF—it’s so very New York. The theatrical space, the heavy and butter-laden French (borderline Continental) cuisine, the breathtaking price tag. But there are some of chef Daniel Humm’s dishes you definitely need to try, including the next-level radish and butter course: the radishes are dipped in warm butter and then get a liquid nitrogen blast for perfect butter adhesion. Now that’s some tasty science. Plus the famed roast chicken ($89 for two) really is all that (a tour de force of foie and black truffle and brioche that’s presented with total tableside theater). Even if you can’t afford dinner, it’s worth coming in for brunch or a cocktail to take in the modern opulence.

Fung Tu
I totally dug the personality and creativity at chef Jonathan Wu’s Lower East Side Chinese spot, a place where shrimp chips get matched with ‘nduja with Sichuan oil. The “China-quiles” was just like chawan mushi with Sichuan pork sauce; also loved the expertly prepared steamed fish, and rice noodles with chorizo and shishitos. Lots of housemade touches, like bok choy with housemade shrimp paste. Feels like a kindred cousin to what Brandon Jew is doing at Mister Jiu’s in SF.

Via Carota
I have such a soft spot for all-day places, which always seem to be there for you, because, well, they are. Jody Williams (Buvette) and Rita Sodi (I Sodi) want to feed you, and their love of vegetables and seasonality makes this California girl feel right at home. This is where you go when you want a beautiful escarole salad, or classics like vitello tonnato (chilled veal in a tuna-caper sauce, one of my favorite summertime dishes). The Svizzerina, a bunless burger with hand-chopped grass-fed steak, is a burger for tartare lovers—it’s presented simply with salt, pepper, rosemary, and cloves of roasted garlic, and seared. Boom. Come by for antipasti and a glass of Vietti arneis, or lunch with your vegetarian friend, or a late-night bowl of pappardelle with wild boar ragù at the bar. The rustic window-lined space is equally beautiful in the summer or winter.

I Sodi
I can’t mention Via Carota without mentioning I Sodi again, one of my favorite New York standbys for a Negroni off their amaro-lovin’ list, their fried artichokes (or artichoke salad, also good), and the famed lasagna, with impossibly thin layers of pasta, more than you can count. Pasta lovers need to make a pilgrimage, whether it’s for the cacio e pepe or housemade tagliatelle. It’s a cozy West Village spot, ideal for a solo dinner at the bar, or a date at one of the tight tables. Wait, is that Matt Dillon at the corner table?

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
If you’re into Korean BBQ, you need to posse up and pop by K-town and get in line for this super-quality spot (there’s also a popular location in LA), with carefully chosen meats (make sure to do a combo to try a couple), a fun banchan setup (wait until you see the trench of egg and corn), belly-warming kimchi stew, and the least-smoky setup I have ever encountered. Bring on the meat sweats (it’s especially perfect in the winter). Late hours, K-pop, big groups, beer, shochu, you do the math.

Joy Luck Palace
98 Mott St. at Canal, 212-431-8383
This ended up being one of my favorite dim sum experiences—this Chinatown place is packed, a full-tilt banquet room with feasting parties sharing round tables together. Standouts included the har gow (with plump shrimp and silky wrappers), incredible char siu bao (the delicate buns are so sticky, with a rich filling), the juicy shumai were notable, and be sure to get the gao choi gao (shrimp and chive dumpling), our table’s favorite. Also: the egg custard bao decorated with pig faces, I mean, come ON.

Skip the xiao long bao in this Cantonese joint—the gingery filling was good, but there was no broth to speak of—and head to many of the neighborhood’s Shanghaiese places for that particular treat (or go to The Bao in the East Village at 13 St. Marks Pl. for really, truly excellent XLB!). Our party feasted for $15 each at Joy Luck, so don’t hold back and order up. Pro tip: BYOB some bubbles.

Saravana Bhavan
This chain of Indian vegetarian restaurants has a couple of locations in New York, which will fulfill all your South Indian dosa and uttapam fantasies, plus there are thalis and mini tiffin meals. At my preferred Lexington Avenue location, I loved their ghee masala dosa and the kaima idly—mini idly fried and tossed in a saucy spice mix. Wallet-friendly and great for lunch.

El Rey
It was my last night in New York before wrapping up my first six-month stint, and I was so lucky to find a perch at the tiny window counter here overlooking the Lower East Side parade happening on the sidewalk, the balmy evening air making me drink my rosé even faster with my lady friends. And then the chef (Mason Lindahl) recognized me from his time in San Francisco, and it all felt like home.

El Rey is a coffee shop (the Mexican iced coffee!) and luncheonette from Nicholas Morgenstern, which serves a next-level healthy lunch (kale salad, poached eggs, grains, you know the drill, but it’s so much more) and transforms into the cutest little candlelit restaurant in the evening. The market-driven menu is like a dream of Cali-inspired small plates, full of vegetables and creativity and bright layers of flavor combinations, like squid with sesame and masa-fried kumquats, or burnt sunflower butter with chorizo. Kindest staff. Hearts!

For Part One of my Manhattan list, click here.

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