This week's tablehopper: taxing times.
The Paris-Brest tempting guests upon arrival at Woodward’s Garden.
Guess who is on day four of a kink in her neck and is rather fussy over it? You’re reading her column right now. And now the sudden appearance of a swollen tonsil has me really annoyed—totally had to scrap my awesome plans last night. But, it gave me more time to write up a jetsetter recap of my recent trip to New York for you. I was going to wait another week, but some of you folks are heading out there soon it seems, and anxious for some tips. So have at it. Oh, and here’s my NYC Flickr album with more images (you’ll definitely want to peek at the Chinatown dumpling tour pics!).
One definite highlight this week was an Omnivore Books dinner at Woodward’s Garden in honor of M.F.K. Fisher (click for pics), and celebrating the recent release of Anne Zimmerman’s M.F.K. biography, An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher. It was a meal from another time—featuring recipes from M.F.K. Fisher—with dishes like French creamed oysters. The finale was a Paris-Brest (created in honor of a bicycle race in 1891 from Paris to Brest, and so the choux shell is in the shape of a bicycle wheel!) with fruit macerated in seven liqueurs. Extravagant, indeed.
Best of luck to everyone finishing their taxes this weekend—as a reward, you can swing by EPIC Roasthouse on Monday April 18th, mention EPIC’s Tax Day Relief to your server, and receive half off bottles of wine. Cheers to that. Yours truly is going to head up to wine country tomorrow—lame tonsil and kinked-up neck be damned.
New York, New York
It’s not every day your favorite band EVER is giving up the ghost, hanging up their hat, and calling it a night. So when LCD Soundsystem announced they were playing their last show ever at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd, my sister and I decided to make a long NEW YORK weekend of it. Hey, you only live once. Let’s do this.
You can view a complete photo album on Flickr here.
Millesime 92 Madison Ave. at 29th St. 212-889-7100
When chef Laurent Manrique saw that I was coming to New York, he kindly invited me to check out his latest project, Millesime (with executive chef Alan Ashkinaze), a seafood brasserie in the Carlton Hotel. It made for a truly perfect late-night meal since it was merely blocks away from where I was staying in the Flatiron. I dumped my suitcase, and we headed on over for a meal of fresh oysters; an elegant hamachi tartare crowned in wasabi tobiko and a chiffonade of shiso ($15); a big pot of plump mussels with garlic bread ($15, five to choose from); and a fantastically creamy clam chowder ($11). A standout for the table was the quenelles Jean-Louis ($14), two plump and tender quenelles of pike, in the most decadent, buttery lobster sauce that demanded to be mopped up with bread (when you’re not busy slathering your bread with the red wine and onion butter). The carbonara made of calamari ($14) was clever (and shockingly tender), rich with the flavor of smoked bacon, but it was sadly over-seasoned.
The stocked raw bar, cherry red banquettes, red and white napkins and plates, sparkly chandeliers, tiled floors, and shining brass railings all give it a snappy brasserie feeling, along with an exuberant staff, and there was an eclectic crowd dining late. If I was having an affair, it would be the perfect venue: the room is located upstairs from the street, there are lots of little tucked-in corner booths, and it’s in a hotel. Score.
Kin Shop 469 6th Ave. at 11th St. 212-675-4295
I have been curious to try chef-owner Harold Dieterle’s Kin Shop for some time (his first restaurant is the nearby Perilla), and it made for a spot-on lunch on a rainy day. Since I was technically on vacation, I started with the ALN, a martini of Farmer’s organic gin and housemade spicy Thai pickle brine. Um, yes. (I heart a boozy lunch.) We continued on the spicy train with the popular spicy duck laab salad ($13), a stellar rendition that was not shy on chile—and any menu item that has ** next to it and a footnote of “These are the spiciest dishes on our menu. They’re hot and we mean it.” is speaking to me. The fried pork and crispy oyster salad ($13) sounded like another must-try, but in the end, the duck was the one with the most personality by far. Until we tasted the massaman braised goat curry ($22). What a dish. The spices tasted so fresh, with such tender pieces of goat, along with purple yams, mustard greens, and a topping of fried shallots and toasted coconut. Pure heaven with a side of the crispy roti ($5), one of the better executions I’ve tasted in some time.
The place is casual, with a peaceful décor of soothing tones of verdigris, and there is a chef’s counter for those who want to watch the kitchen do their thing. I’d totally head back for dinner—the vibe and concept kind of reminds me of a Thai version of the original Slanted Door.
Momofuku Ko 163 1st Ave. at 10th St. 212-500-0831
Oh lord, the drama to get a reservation at this place. It basically entailed getting up at 7am on a Saturday (sorry, I don’t have freaking kids, and I like to sleep in, thankyouverymuch) one week prior to when we wanted to dine there, and fighting with a bunch of users at the same time over a few paltry reservations on a checkerboard screen. I felt like I was playing a really demented culinary video game. Then, if you are so lucky as to score a 9:30pm reservation like I did, you have 120 seconds to get your name and credit card info typed in. And then due to a weird bug, the damned thing wouldn’t accept my credit card expiration date. The countdown mercilessly continued. I tried another card, but it had the same expiration year that seemed to be causing the problem. Fie! And then I lost my reservation. Total #FAIL. And the Momofuku people had zero answers or recourse for me. Momofuku Ko quickly became MOMOFUCKYOU. But I was determined. I stalked that bloody website for a cancellation like a crazy person. Total SWF style. And guess who shockingly got a reso? After all that, let me tell you, dinner needed to freaking DELIVER. And it did.
Hilariously, no images are allowed at the restaurant, so all you get here is a picture I took of a poster in the bathroom. Total David Chang humor, what can I say?
You sit at a counter at an exhibition kitchen (there are 12 seats), and you are served directly by the chef (or in our case, a rather reticent sous). The place really is bare bones—they’re doing the minimum service-wise (I didn’t even get my coat put on at the end of the meal—the “gentleman” just handed it to me), but are giving you their best on your plate. Many of the dishes were fantastic, like a peppery daikon-potato soup with tiny bites of super-flavorful (and fatty) lamb rib with artichoke hearts and browned Brussels sprouts; smoked soft-boiled egg with hackleback caviar (I love some egg on egg), fingerling potato chips, onion soubise, fines herbes, and the groovy acidic hit of sweet potato vinegar; and the famed Microplaned frozen foie gras (it has a wondrous texture in your mouth) with lychee, riesling gelée, and pine nut brittle. Dessert also rocked, like a donut with parsnip glaze and another with hazelnut crumb, plus parsnip and caramel ice cream. Go parsnip. Great textures and balance in (almost) all the dishes.
I dug the quick pace of dinner: 10 courses, 2 hours. Boom boom boom. Impressive. Mercilessly wasn’t a three- or four-hour drawn-out affair. Will set you back $125. (You can also go for lunch, which is 16 courses for $175.) I wasn’t overly full afterward, but was definitely done eating. Music was a quirky mix of REM, Beck, Phish, In Living Color, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton. Crowd was mostly couples, including one who could have been straight out of central casting (she looked like Maggie Gyllenhaal in a bad wig and glasses). There was one solo diner—not sure if he had to pay for two, but I imagine so. So, was it worth it? Yes. And I was actually pleased to not take pictures or write down notes for a change (I know my sister appreciated it as well).
I am really lucky to be friends with Jeff Allen, a total dumpling obsessive who took us on a lunchtime tour of some of his fave Chinatown spots (homeboy goes to Chinatown with a backpack, jus’ sayin’). It was a blast to be able to walk from place to place and eat our faces off with dough and pork items.
Here’s where we hit:
Prosperity Dumpling 46 Eldridge St. at Hester St. 212-343-0683
Go nuts: you can get the chive and pork dumplings (fried or boiled), and it looked like the fried sesame pancake disappeared in a heartbeat (I will be back to try it—we were on a dumpling tour). The dumplings came out piping hot, super juicy, with a rich and savory filling, and the dough was sublime. Cheap as hell. There is literally room for six people—it couldn’t get tinier—so be prepared to have someone’s elbow or ass in your face if you try to eat in there.
Mei Li Wah 64 Bayard St. at Elizabeth St. 212-966-7866 This place is all about their char siu baos/baked barbecue pork buns. Fully loaded, and some of the better ones I’ve ever tasted. $0.80 a pop. Get some extras for later. (Hence the backpack.)
Tang Tou Wang’s 15 Eldridge St. at Canal St. 212-343-0548
This literal hole in the wall specializes in a few Fujian dishes (from the city of Fuzhou, specifically) on a very straightforward menu on the wall—it’s okay, go downstairs and try to nab a spot at the narrow counters. Proceed to hork down a plate of their boiled dumplings, and the egg noodles with peanut butter sauce (although I heart me some ESL: “sause”).
Xi’an Famous Foods Note: the location in this story is now closed. Check here for other locations. 347-294-0022
The grand finale of our tour was something that has been on my list FOREVER: the spicy cumin lamb burger ($3). This location literally has a counter with room for about five people tops, unlike their other locations—you’ll either have to get your treasure to go, or you can try to weasel in at the counter. So, that lamb burger. Oh yeah baby, it’s an explosion of cumin and chile and lambiness, with some grilled onion, peppers, scallion, and pickled jalapeño, all sandwiched in a slightly crisp and warm bun that is like a thick English muffin. Fortunately the “burger” is served in a plastic sandwich bag, so the hot chile oil and juice that starts dripping after your first few bites doesn’t end up on your shoes. I am craving it so much right now I almost don’t want to write about it. PANGS.
The other star of the menu we tried are the Liang Pi cold skin noodles ($4) that are also messy as hell. The noodles are thick and wheaty, with chunks of gluten that are all tangled up in the dish and soak up some of the spicy and oily sauce, with hits of sesame. You almost need a bib, no joke. And while you’re waiting for your order, you get to watch them hand pull their noodles right in front of you. Slap slap slap. Just like the chile oil in your face! Can’t wait to return.
Prune 54 E. 1st St. at 1st Ave. 415-677-6221
Since I was in the middle of reading chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, it only felt fitting to swing by her restaurant for a quick dinner. Prune is as cozy and charming as I remember, but also as packed as always, with people practically sharing your table—if you need to have a big talk about your STDs with your partner, this is not the place to have that talk.
We decided to make a meal of the appetizers, often my favorite way to dine. Sis and I ordered the Parmesan omelette ($8), which ended up being a good accompaniment to the shad roe appetizer special that night. We also had the octopus ($15), nicely tender, and livened up with celery and the heat of chile flake. Of course we shared the famed sweetbreads ($14) that come fried with a satisfying crusty exterior, accompanied by capers and a slice of bacon. So good. And with that, we were done; it was a rich repast (we also had a hefty brunch that day). Although the grappa torte did pique my interest… Oh yes, and about the brunch here: although this place is famous for theirs (and their Bloody Marys), time is always too short for me in New York to be able to suffer that line. Maybe someday, when I live there…
Taim 222 Waverly Pl. at W. 11th St. 212-691-6101
Another long-standing item on my wish list was the falafel at Taim in Greenwich Village. Mother of God, what amazing falafel. This place is best in class—the savory falafel are fried to order, sporting the most sublime interplay between a crisp exterior and tender interior, and are stuffed into the fluffy style of pita I love (and proves so hard to find). You can choose the traditional green falafel (with parsley, mint, and cilantro), harissa (with mild heat), or red (made with roasted red peppers)—we were harissa all the way, baby. The sandwich comes slathered with a creamy hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and marinated cabbage. Total home run. $5.25 for the keys to lunch heaven. I’m ruined forever.
We also tried the sabich sandwich ($6.25), with eggplant slices fried to order, a ton of sliced hard-boiled egg, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, marinated cabbage, and amba, a tangy, pickled mango-fenugreek chutney. Again, pure, unadulterated sandwich love.
There’s a small counter, and one bench outside, but that’s it. Oh, you can now track down their Taim Mobile truck on Twitter as well. Some of the nicest service, as refreshing as their ginger-mint lemonade.
L’Artusi 228 W. 10th St. at Bleecker St. 212-255-5757
A dear friend who lives in New York treated me and some pals to dinner here one night. He said it’s one of his favorite places for a first date, and I can see why—it’s lively, with a menu that is easy to share dishes off of—but it was also perfect for our group of four. The Italian-inspired menu reminded me a bit of some local Cal-Ital menus; and while it didn’t read as particularly groundbreaking, dishes were well executed, with five kinds of crudo dishes and nine kinds of pasta (all made in-house), along with some larger plates. My hands-down favorite was the cavatelli ($18) with spicy lamb ragu and mustard greens. Incredible texture and ka-pow flavor. My friend’s orecchiette ($18) were also well executed, with the non-traditional addition of some radicchio. Points for having some Statti Gaglioppo on the all-Italian wine list, which our table polished off with verve.
I Sodi 105 Christopher St. at Bleecker St. 212-414-5774
I had heard about the selection of Negronis at I Sodi (four in all), and it proved to be a great spot in the West Village to meet up with a friend for a drink (and a plate of fried artichoke leaves) before my dinner at L’Artusi around the corner. We were served by a really savvy bartender, who was happy to tell us about all kinds of unique spirits he had behind the bar. Dude makes a mean cocktail. All I can say is I am so returning to this cool place for dinner—the artichoke lasagna that was served to a neighboring diner looked (and smelled) amazing.
Death & Co. 433 E. 6th St. at 1st Ave. 212-388-0882 This bar is always top of my “while in New York” list. Was happy to hang out with sis and a friend over three drinks here (funny how three drinks can suddenly happen), and we were lucky to score a table after waiting just 15 minutes. But for some reason, the three drinks I ordered (Morfeo, Hot Lips, Petticoat) all bordered on a bit too sweet. And since when do you play along with bartender’s choice and give a few specific pointers, and you end up with something that is already on the drinks menu? Yawn.
Little Branch 22 7th Ave. S. at Leroy St. 212-929-4360 Always takes me to my happy place. Gorgeous ice, spiritous cocktails, underground musty vibe, live jazz, moody lighting, little booth tables, and cheeky servers. Was (and will always be) the perfect place for my final-final.