Thursday, October 16, 2014

Noo Yawk

I was sick as a dog with a rotten cold for the better part of two weeks when we got back from New York City at the end of September, and haven't had the energy or enthusiasm to write about all the delicious things we ate there until now. We spent seven glorious days there along with my sister and brother-in-law; every day held something wonderful. It's an incredible city, and I think I could spend a month there and never see everything I wanted to. But we tried hard.

Some of the highlights of our sightseeing were Liberty and Ellis Islands, the Empire State Building, a stroll in Central Park, a visit to the Transit Museum and a wander down the High Line. All of that walking (and climbing stairs out of the subway) worked up a good appetite, which is a good thing, since New York is also wall-to-wall restaurants. We did a bit of advance research but also tried out some new places on whims, and I have to say, the only truly disappointing thing I ate was a stale pretzel on the ferry to Ellis Island. (And honestly, I should have known better.)

We began our visit with burgers at Five Napkin, across 3rd Avenue from our rented apartment. They were as advertised: big, messy, and very, very tasty. I had their house-made veggie burger, which featured beets in the patty (among other things) and was topped with house-made bread-and-butter pickles (swoon!) and also house-made thousand-island dressing (double swoon!). The fries were also stellar, thin and crisp and dark golden brown. Our waiter was genial and friendly, the locally brewed ginger beer was yummy, and we all left happy as clams.

On Monday we ate dim sum at a sketchy-looking but clean joint on Mott St. in Chinatown. NYC is MSG-free by law, so I was thrilled.  Excellent har gow, shu mai, taro cake and other delicacies alongside some expertly stir-fried chinese broccoli sated my years-long craving, although I couldn't partake of the pork buns, as the meat was dyed the traditional red. (Migraine city, for me.) My sis and BIL ordered some terrific Sichuan noodles which they kindly shared with us.

Dinner that night was a return to John's Pizza on Bleecker St. in the West Village, where Chris and I had such a killer mushroom pie last year. We were not disappointed with our second visit - I swear they put something special in the cheese. It's so flavourful and the very opposite of bland. Two pizzas disappeared with little coaxing, and the thin crust left us room for dessert.

Not far from John's resides the bright, cheery oasis known as the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. It's not actually all that big, but its front window is adorned with a unicorn and a rainbow, and there are menu items named for members of the Golden Girls. It's all in good fun and the soft-serve really cannot be beaten. It's richer and smoother than any I've had elsewhere, and they make fun, tasty things with it, like the Mermaid sundae that both my sister and I selected: layers of ice cream, key lime curd, and graham cracker pie crust crumble, topped with whipped cream. The tartness of the curd against the sweetness of the ice cream was utterly divine.

Outside the shop my sister obligingly took a photo of a family whose son was completely hopped up on sugar, but mostly in a funny way. The mom reminded me of Jennifer Coolidge in Legally Blonde, and her tween daughter was awkward and hilarious. The dad just seemed to be taking the fact that it was nearly 10 p.m. and they had not yet had dinner (but HAD eaten dessert) in stride, as his son bounced off the walls. Turned out they were from Thunder Bay. I hope they had an amazing evening, wherever they ended up.

Tuesday my sister and BIL took us to one of their favourite places for lunch: Gray's Papaya, on Amsterdam - they serve hot dogs and fruit juices, and that's all. I don't eat hot dogs because they freak me out, but Gray's makes their own, and they are DELICIOUS. All meat, no filler, slight snap, perfect seasoning. Relish costs extra (we paid it, oh yes) and papaya juice is traditional, but I don't care for it so I ponied up for pineapple, and would do it again. Ice-cold, pure juice, perfect on a warm sunny fall day sitting on a bench eating hot dogs. I see why it's a New York institution.

After a long wander and a spell of people-watching in Central Park, we made our way further uptown to Sarabeth's on the Upper East Side, to join my friend D for dinner. She lives in Maryland but was in town for work, so we jumped at the chance to spend some time catching up over a meal. The venue was her suggestion, as it was attached to her hotel and she had eaten there before and loved it.

And what a lovely meal it was! Sarabeth's is known principally as a bakery, but it also serves brunch and dinner, and does a damn fine job of it. They seem to feature a lot of seafood, which suited me very well of course. She and I shared some guacamole topped with crabmeat as a starter - very well executed, with huge homemade potato chips replacing the traditional corn chips. We both ordered the seared scallop special as well - five generous diver scallops, perfectly cooked, in a lemon, caper, white wine butter sauce with broccolini, wilted spinach and a few roasted fingerlings. My plate was clean when I was done with it - just a stellar dish.

Chris had the seafood Cobb salad, which I also would have loved, and which he devoured - tons of lobster and crab as well as the traditional avocado, bacon, blue cheese, egg and tomato over greens. My sister had short rib pasta, which she enjoyed, and her man dove into a lobster (nicely cracked and split when it arrived) which is just never a bad idea. Yum.

My individual peach crumble pie was tasty, though not the greatest thing ever - I realized later we should have gone with the cookie plate, as cookies are their claim to fame. (We remedied this error later in the week when we stumbled across the Sarabeth's in Chelsea Market and snagged some of their cookies. Holy shit.) Still, it was a wonderful meal and the company unbeatable.

Wednesday we bought tickets for a matinee of Jersey Boys (which was amaaaaaazing) and needed to get some lunch beforehand. This was our first lucky stumble - we took a walk around the neighbourhood where the theatre was located and found the Cosmic Diner on 8th Ave. I remembered my friend K telling me all the good diners in New York are owned by Greeks, and a look at the daily specials confirmed that this was one. We all ordered breakfast plates and everything was yummy and reasonably priced. Service was fun and sassy - the waiter asked my sister if she "wanted some eggs with her ketchup" when he saw her copious application. So great. I love a chill place with a great omelet and killer breakfast potatoes.

A very long time later, after the show and a walk and a view of the sunset from atop the Empire State, we ended up at Dos Caminos on Park Ave for some truly authentic Mexican food and killer margaritas. The carnitas tacos were good, the guac even better, but the Mexican corn on the cob was much, much spicier than any I've had before. I ended up having to scrape off some of the chili powder (and with it, alas, some cheese) to finish it, but it was so good I couldn't stop. Chris had a kickass shrimp quesadilla which I sampled.

Thursday was shopping day for the girls - we had a very healthy and tasty sandwich-and-soup lunch at Au Bon Pain in Macy's; nothing fancy but nice. We split up for dinner that evening; Chris and I met some local friends in Koreatown for bibimbap at New Wonjo (yum) and a lot of very enjoyable conversation. So much so that we got politely asked to leave once we had paid and continued gabbing for another 30 minutes. So we relocated to a Korean bakery three doors down for cake and coffee, while watching all the Asian college kids order these massive shaved-ice sundaes. It was a great night with awesome people.

Meanwhile my sister and BIL went to the snazzy 21 Club to celebrate their wedding anniversary a little early. I heard it was a famous place or something. ;)

On Friday morning we hit the Comfort Diner (a place my sister and BIL had been on their last trip to NYC) for more yummy breakfast foods. I had lox, eggs and onions, and it was awesome. Friday night everyone was feeling tired and Chris was getting a cold, so we fulfilled my BIL's long-standing dream and got Chinese takeout in the little white boxes. He was thrilled. I have no recollection of the name of the place, but it was Sichuan and the cashew chicken was delish, as was the spicy Chinese broccoli (I have an addiction to it, yes). There were many leftovers for breakfast.

Saturday, our last night, we needed something low-key and not Asian. My sister suggested Jewish food, and that's when I remembered Veselka. Featured in the film Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, beloved by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and just five blocks away from our apartment, Veselka is a 24-hour Ukrainian comfort food place, and it blew all of our minds. I would fly down there for the borscht alone, a symphony of beets, cabbage, pork and onions that takes two days to make. The perogies are also incredible. They make eight kinds, and you can get them boiled or fried, in big or small quantities, served with sour cream, applesauce, and deeply, properly caramelized onions. I have already had dreams about these perogies. My BIL had the bigos, a stew of sausage and sauerkraut, which he pronounced perfection.

We all raved over our food and the vibe and and I jokingly suggested, over my slice of plain, completely perfect New York style cheesecake unsullied by fruit coulis or other nonsense, that we come back the next day for lunch before heading to the airport. Everyone at the table immediately said "YES." So we did. And it was just as good. We got the last table for four in the place before the massive brunch line started up outside. It was clearly meant to be.

So that is an exhaustive chronicle of What I Ate in New York. I'm already planning my next visit. As long as I can go back to Veselka and Gray's Papaya, I'll be a happy camper.

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