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The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion.

This week's tablehopper: bonus round.

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Okay, so the old saw about not biting off more than you can chew rang true for someone this week. Ahem. Sorry today’s bonus issue is a day late, but weeding through all my New York notes, menus, and pictures turned into a beast of a job—and I wanted to do justice to all the great places I visited. Did I really eat and drink that much in six days? Uh, yes. Fortunately the miles of walking kept me from blimping out—which is so not hot. Anyway, here is today’s promised jetsetter piece about my recent New York trip. I also posted a Flickr album of my NYC trip, writing as many captions as I could manage to include (or remember).

We’ll see how this twice a week thing works out—next week I’ll try to choose something a little less unwieldy and make that Thursday deadline.

Buon weekend!

Marcia Gagliardi

the jetsetter

Getaways (get outta dodge)
May 21, 2010

New York, New York

Boy, was I overdue on some ~NEW YORK~ scouting. Since I spent last year writing and working on my book, it had been a while since I took a bite of the Big Apple. I hope you’re wearing some comfortable pants, or at least have an extra hole or two on your belt, because it’s time to get down to biz-ness.

Oh, and you can view my Flickr album for more photos of all these eats, drinks, and establishments.

Joseph Leonard
170 Waverly Pl. at Christopher St.
646-429-8383
josephleonard.JPG Before I left SF for New York, a friend slipped me the business card of this joint. And then another pal sent me an iPhone picture of his lunch here. And then I realized the restaurant was only a block away from where I was staying. Okay, okay, I get it! I’m coming! Jeesh. A pal and I had a marvy brunch at this stylish and affordable corner spot—imagine if one of your stylish friends opened a bar and mini restaurant in their attic, and you’ll get a sense of the vibe here. My farm-fresh eggs were cooked to perfection, served with a house-made pork and garlic sausage and crispy hashbrowns, plus arugula, and a whisper of crème fraîche, for a relatively affordable $13. Meanwhile, my pal’s omelet with wild mushrooms and thick slices of brioche, plus a side of baby lettuces, was $14. Really fresh ingredients, and the dinner menu looked sick. Would love to return—especially for the beef tongue corned beef, are you kidding? Full bar, friendly staff, groovy eclectic style, and reportedly a hit with industry folks later in the evening (they serve until 2am Tue-Sat).

Kesté
271 Bleecker St. at Morton St.
212-243-1500
keste.JPG This much-lauded APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani) pizza place in the West Village has been on my list for a while. And it’s legit: all the guys working there have accents and dialects as thick as ciabatta, the oven was made by Italian artisans, and the menu of pizzas doesn’t have any American misspellings or weird combos. Of course I went for a margherita ($12). Whoa, the pizza arrived quickly—a sign of a hot-ass oven. The crust was sublime—tender but bready, with an even char, and salty. The San Marzano tomato sauce popped with acidity and brightness. But I found the mozzarella to be a little rubbery—I wanted it to be creamier. In an endearing gesture, one helpful neighbor offered me a slice of his “regina margherita” ($15), made with mozzarella di bufala—this cheese had the freshness I was hoping for. And then my other neighbor insisted I try his “pizza del re” ($19), with prosciutto, mushrooms, and truffle cream. SO decadent and delicious. I totally dug this tiny place, would totally go back. And kudos for drawing some of the friendliest fellow diners I’ve ever met.

Co.
230 9th Ave. at 24th St.
212-243-1105
co.JPG If there was one place I wished I had more time to revisit on this trip, it was this one. Jim Lahey’s pizza is one of the best I’ve ever tasted—what a crust. So delicate, it almost disintegrates in one bite, but still has the sexiest whisper of crispness. Yeah, that wood-fired oven is cranking hard. The veal meatballs ($18) on top were so tender and savory, and the caramelized onions, olives, and aged pecorino conspired to make this pizza kick total flavor ass. The mozzarella (made locally by Lioni Latticinni) melted like a dream. Shit, I am gonna have a jones for this pizza until I get my heinie back to NYC. A lot of tables were crowned with the Popeye ($17), topped with huge, crispy pieces of spinach, and the stracciatella ($17) with crushed tomato sounded positively illegal. Call the cops.

Caffe Reggio
119 MacDougal St. at W. 3rd St.
212-475-9557
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It was too late in the day for me to order their trademark cappuccino (this caffè supposedly served the first cappuccino in New York), but my macchiato on the run (I asked if I could just stand at the back bar) was lovely. I just wish I had time to linger at the tables, surrounded with the slightly frayed old world vibe of the place. Since 1927, gotta love it.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters/The Ace Café
18 W. 29th St. at Broadway
212-679-2222
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The next time I stay in New York, I wanna book a room at The Ace. Partially because it means I can wake up with Stumptown coffee every morning. I think you have to wear a hat to work here—no joke, every single person behind the counter of this outpost of the famed Portland coffee roasters was doffing a sassy lid of some sort. Nice folks, who pull a mean espresso.

The Breslin
16 W. 29th St. at 5th Ave.
212-679-1939
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After perking up with my Stumptown coffee, I meandered in to the post-work scene at The Breslin and found a perch at the bar. Damn, Fergus Henderson was reportedly in the seat next to me not 10 minutes before I had arrived. Dag! Anyway, love all the rock ‘n’ roll drink names (Rush of Blood to the Head, London Calling)—I went for the Beggar’s Banquet: bourbon with maple syrup, lemon juice, bitters, and topped with ale. Huzzah. Backed up with the scrumpets ($7), an effed-up version of fried chicken fingers, but instead made with lamb belly. I know, whoa. (You dip them into an accompanying sauce of mint and vinegar in a vain attempt to cut the swath of fat about to enter your mouth.) I only managed to eat one before fearing I was going to keel over off my barstool. Scrumpets: merely the tip of the brisket of the meat-centric menu here (chef April Bloomfield/Spotted Pig is to blame). Reportedly the lamb burger ($17) is a big hit, and I saw plenty of the thrice-cooked chips ($7) on the bar. Cool eclectic style, a bit of a tavern-meets-antique store mash-up, with wood everywhere, and piggies, natch.

Marea
240 Central Park S. at 7th Ave.
212-582-5100
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Is this a lesson about hype? Perhaps just managing my expectations. Argh. The luxe space is quite beautiful, the menu of seafood and Italian cuisine reads like a dream, and yes, the ricci—sea urchin on crostini, with an almost-melting piece of lardo draped on top and sprinkled with sea salt—is out-of-the-park hold-the-phone delicious. So why was I left with a lingering feeling of disappointment? Every food writer I can think of was singing about the dishes here. But some of the crudos weren’t exactly what I’d call chilled (except the perfect ruby red shrimp with lemon and black lava salt), the pastas didn’t quite win me over (I really don’t understand why everyone is going stir-crazy over the octopus and bone marrow fusilli—the nuance of the bone marrow was totally lost), and the service needed to be a bit more dialed in considering the main dishes ring in from $38-$47. (Cough.) Example: I can’t even count how many times my chair was bumped by servers—I felt like I was on a plane with a squirmy kid behind me. Yes, it was all very pretty, but gorgeous plates do not a happy diner make. Le sigh.

The Odeon
145 W. Broadway at Thomas St.
212-233-0507
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I know, it’s a classic that some might not even have on their radar anymore. But when your heel suddenly breaks off one of your high heels, and you’re in Tribeca, and you’re hungry, and it’s midnight, whatcha gonna do? Slide on into a table at The Odeon, that’s what. My croque-monsieur ($14) with mornay sauce and mixed greens was on point, and my friend barely gave me a bite of his burger, he was that into it. Hot frites, cheeky server, nicely made martini, and a timeless McNally brasserie style.

Kunjip
9 W. 32nd St. at 5th Ave.
212-216-9487
kunjip.jpg

It’s late, your feet are tired from standing all day at the James Beard Awards, and you’ve got a posse of ten ready to eat. Where you gonna go? This Koreatown gem was like a beacon in the boozy night. We chowed down on kimchee and seafood-and-scallion pancakes, tucked into soon doo boo chigae (the ever-delish soft tofu stew with seafood), ate piping hot bibimbap, and of course, downed a fleet of OB beers. Open 24 hours, very gracious staff, and everything you want in a late-night bite.

Mandoo Bar
2 W. 32nd St. at 5th Ave.
212-279-3075
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Sure, I just had a Korean feast the night before, but the call of dumplings was irresistible! (It usually is.) I figured it was time to try the Korean dumplings here upon seeing the cooks making them right in the window—doubly irresistible. I wish I had someone dining with me for my lunch, but I gave the menu my best. I took the friendly server’s reco and ordered the Vegetable Mool Mandoo (boiled dumplings; $9.24 for 10), and the Goon Mandoo (fried; $9.24 for 8). I liked the chewy texture of the wrappers, and compiling the trinity of soy/sriracha/vinegar for the dipping sauce—so good. I’d totally be a regular at this perfect lunch place—it has helpful servers (they let me do half-orders), affordable pricing for such handmade food, and I liked the simple, modern design. Am so curious about their bibimbob served cold. I know, wild! Wanted to transport this place back with me to SF.

Joe’s Shanghai
Multiple locations
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Since we’re on dumplings, I went to this place just to try their xiao long bao (soup dumplings), which I was told are the best in NYC. (I wasn’t able to trek to Chinatown, so I went to their Midtown location during one of my numerous walks around the city.) Holy mother of pork, were these babies rich. I’ve never had such a rich broth filling—almost too much. They were also pretty hefty in size—they took some negotiating. The wrapper was mostly tender, but tasted a bit doughy to me. I guess I need to get my butt to Shanghai.

El Quinto Pino

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401 W. 24th St. at 9th Ave.
212-206-6900
I heard about this evil sea urchin-butter-mustard oil combo on ficelle, and I had to have it. Yeah, it was $15, but that’s what I call a panino. Whoa, welcome to flavor country. This tiny Chelsea offshoot of the popular Tía Pol is the kind of spot where you would find me often. It’s a shoebox of a space, with a horseshoe bar and a few tables along the wall and front window, with a blackboard listing an array of tapas. And that’s about it. My friend and I were grooving on our drinks (his: a frozen basil-infused gin lemonade, and mine: a celery-citrus-sherry combo that rocked my boots). In the words of Arnold, I’ll be back.

Ippudo
65 4th Ave. at 9th St.
212-388-0088
ippudo.jpg

This import from Japan is my ramen church. I don’t care how hot out it is, gimme a bowl of their porky perfection. My friends and I came in late, almost to closing (11:30pm Mon-Thu, 12:30am Fri-Sat), and it was assuredly the painless way to score a table at this always-packed spot. I dove into the Akamaru Modern ($14), a flavor-loaded tonkotsu bomb of a bowl of pork chashu, with half of a custardy soft-boiled egg, and scallions, and bean sprouts, and and and… it’s freaking heaven. My friends were equally enamored with their bowls. The noodles here are a benchmark for me. The design is totally fascinating, from the bundles of dried ramen under glass at the check-in counter, to the open kitchen that is total theater. Hearts.

Decibel
240 East 9th St. at 2nd Ave.
212-979-2733
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When you’re done with your feast at Ippudo (or perhaps waiting for a table), put away a bottle of sake in this divey subterranean hideout that’s been getting people lit on over-poured sake in boxes since 1993. The walls are covered in graffiti, the lantern lights are low, the sake list is long, and the music and vibe is energetic—it’s the kind of place that’s ripe for trouble-starting.

SHO Shaun Hergatt
40 Broad St., 2nd Fl. at Exchange Pl.
212-809-3993

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It’s like Vegas in New York—but dated enough to feel like a place Gordon Gekko would have liked. Mega technique and labored-over presentations and flavor combinations, and the mignardises cart literally had its own dry ice show (complete with four kinds of macarons). Not my preferred style of dining, but it’s a generous tour for $69 for the three-course menu. Service rode the waves with good timing, and then the tide would recede and someone’s wine glass would get empty. Too much show, not enough go for me to return.

Rouge Tomate
10 E. 60th St. at Madison Ave.
646-237-8977
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With one sip of my Green Tornado, a juice of tarragon, spinach, basil, butter lettuce, fennel, mint, and lemon juice, I started feeling the evils of my week in New York get counter balanced. This modern and spacious restaurant near the southeast corner of Central Park has a format that I hope we see more of in the future: it has an in-house nutritionist who works with the chef to create balanced and healthy (and low in sodium) dishes; there’s a juice bar which they also use for their cocktails (which range from lighter to heavier drinks); and all the ingredients are local and top quality (and many are house-made). Leading the kitchen is Jeremy Bearman, a chef whose elegant food I adored when he was at LarkCreekSteak, and now he’s rocking it (the restaurant just earned a Michelin star). The flavors and textures were delicious, and it’s exactly the kind of food you want to eat when you go out because it’s so labor intensive that you’d be in your kitchen all day if you made it at home. For example, the farrotto (farro risotto) dish was enriched with an onion purée made from the scraps of soup stock—no butter was used. In fact, there’s no butter and no cream used at all here. Nor a fryer. (It takes quite a chef to make healthy food taste this good.) I did note a lot of garlic in a number of the dishes, so the kitchen does lean on it for flavor.

The concept is a smart marriage of high-end cuisine and nutrition, and it took a Belgian restaurateur (Emmanuel Verstraeten) to bring it to the U.S. Just look at the pictures I took—the food was as beautiful as it was clean and delicious, and the serene interior was full of natural elements and light. I can only hope they open one in San Francisco—it’s a concept whose time has come. (Yeah, I liked it.)

Nobu
105 Hudson St. at Franklin St.
212-334-4445
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I know, random choice! But a friend offered to take me, and I had never been. We actually ate at Nobu Next Door, which has easy walk-in capabilities, and since we were both totally wiped out from our previous late night on the town, we were able to go on auto pilot and ordered omakase. And oh crap, how did I forget this place serves bluefin tuna? As soon as the first course of the bigeye and bluefin toro tartar came out, my heart sunk. I totally forgot. But what was I going to do, send it back? I considered it my guilt-ridden farewell to bluefin forever—a fitting place to do it, I guess. The omakase dishes were far from what I’d call a tour of pristine sushi—it was more about modern combinations and flavors, with some unique ingredients, and a lot of hot dishes. And I can’t believe the massive portion of lobster tempura they served us, I thought I was gonna die. It was a hefty omakase, that’s for certain. The décor was a bit dated and tired, but the majority of our attention was on our plates. The evening ended up not being what we expected, but we just had to go into a 1995 frame of mind, and it all came together. Besides that nagging bluefin guilt I left with. Why is that on the menu? Damn.

Grand Central Oyster Bar
89 E. 42nd St. at Vanderbilt Ave.
212-490-6653

grandcentral.jpg

Call me a sucker for nostalgia. I mean, come on, it’s an oyster bar in Grand Central Station. I parked myself at the counter and ordered a mid-afternoon snack from the surly waiter, which consisted of a few picks off their 30-plus list of fresh oysters, and I slurped down a Bloody Mary. It’s a fun scene, watching fellow tourists in the funky atmosphere with a cool arched ceiling. But was it love? Not really. I think it was one of those places where I needed to be with someone. Officially checked off my list. Next!

Serendipity 3
225 E. 60th St. at 2nd Ave.
212-838-3531
serendipity3.jpg

Another New York classic I had to check out. If it was good enough for Andy Warhol and Jackie O., then you know it was one for the tablehopper to try. It was a hot spring day, and after being thoroughly entertained with one of the most cleverly written menu covers ever (you can read it here, but it’s missing the whimsical illustrations), I plunked my straw into the massive frrrrozen hot chocolate, their trademark dessert. It was icy, chocolatey, and covered with a mass of whipped cream. Total danger. I was a little bummed with the out-of-context pop music playing on the soundsystem, but got a big kick out of seeing fellow ladies gleefully tucking into sundaes, which seems to happen often here.

Cienfuegos
95 Avenue A at 6th St.
212-614-6818
Thumbnail image for cienfuegos.JPG

Just a few doors over from Death and Co. (another favorite of mine) is this sexy rum punch bar that is a welcome break from the omnipresent speakeasy style, although you’ll still have to enter through a sandwich shop (called Carteles). The vibe is very Havana boudoir, with robin’s egg blue and white tufted walls, curving high-backed salon chairs, and a pink cove of seating in the back. On the menu: delicious rum punches by Charlotte Voisey. You can order them simple (one person—around $13), amigos (two-three—around $30), toda la familia (four or more—around $60), and the royale (six and up—around $100). We rolled as amigos, and ordered the Cayo Romano Punch with Domaine de Canton, Mount Gay Extra Old, 10 Cane, lime juice, clementine juice, Angostura bitters, orange bitters, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram. We were feeling even more like amigos at the end of that boozy bath, man. Good thing there is also food on the menu, including an array of empanadas, to keep you from crashing your ship.

Raines Law Room
48 W. 17th St. at 6th Ave.
(no phone)
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This quiet little speakeasy has a less-stuffy vibe than many, with downright friendly service (once you get past the door), and no “I have a little mustache and a vintage vest” attitude. Classic cocktails are shaken and stirred in the back room and brought to your table (be sure to sit at a table with a little pull chain that sets off a light in the back room to signal someone at your table is thirsty). I liked chatting with my gay in the comfy upholstered chairs—but we agreed it would be a sexier place for a date. Bonus point for the complimentary kettle corn they send out.

Lather, rinse, repeat: Of course some of my favorite drinks in the whole world were at Little Branch (22 7th Ave. S. at Leroy St., 212-929-4360). That bar kicks so much cocktail ass. The penicillin was exactly the medicine I needed.

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And after a night of imbibing, here’s how to fix it. I have Nicole Plue to thank for turning me on to the joy that is egg on a roll. Oh man, how did I miss having this item all my life? Go to any grungy corner deli, and they likely serve this heavenly combo of egg, American cheese (yes, that’s right, the processed stuff), and you can get ham or bacon if you’re especially hungover. It’s all stuffed into a soft and squishy Kaiser roll. Most rockin’. Here’s a pic of Nicole’s victory breakfast the day after winning her first James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef. Breakfast of champions, indeed. (Photo by Nicole Plue.)

Murray’s Cheese
254 Bleecker St. at Leroy St.
212-243-3289
And as a final scene-wrapper, do not miss an opportunity to experience Murray’s. I had to put together a wine and cheese party for a friend, and was quickly corrected by my personal shopper at Murray’s, “No no no, it’s a cheese and wine party.” Damned straight. Some of the sassiest product signs I’ve ever read, and I had some great discoveries here. Viva New York.

You can view my Flickr album for more photos of all these eats, drinks, and establishments.

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