Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a few days off from my daily grind and jet off to New York City. During this short four-day trip, I recharged and reenergized myself; what better place to do that than in New York City. The more time I spend there, the more I fall in love with the city and its frenetic pace and energy. I love wandering around the different neighborhoods, each with its own charm and personality, and, of course, discovering the city’s culinary treasures. I am always armed with a long list of restaurants to try, knowing that I would be lucky to eat at just a handful of them, unless I eat six times a day. On this trip I visited some old standbys and also uncovered some new gems. I left New York City completely inspired by my new food discoveries, and I am ready to duplicate these treats in my kitchen, with my own twists, of course.
Thursday – Day 1:
I flew in to JFK, took the Air Train/ F train, and arrived at my hotel in the Flatiron District around 5:00 in the afternoon. Due to the fact that American Airlines no longer serves any complimentary meals or snacks and the thought of spending $10 for a sandwich was not appealing to me, I was famished. I quickly headed down to SoHo to grab an early dinner at The Dutch. There were still plenty of tables at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, but the bar area was in full swing.
I opted for a couple of appetizers – an Oyster Sandwich and the Barrio Tripe. At $5 each, I thought the oyster sandwich was a bit pricey, but the lightly breaded and perfectly fried oyster was sweet and packed with flavor. I am a huge fan of tripe and have fond memories of eating it as a child and I almost always order it when I see on the menu. Chef Andrew Carmellini prepares this dish with a Mexican flair, simmering the tripe in beer until soft and tender, and garnishing it with avocados, lime, and a smathering of Fritos. The complimentary loaf of Cornbread with Chipotle and Scallions was moist and had just the right amount of spice for me.
After dinner, I walked around Washington Square Park and enjoyed the relatively “warm” evening.
Friday – Day 2:
Grey skies and light rain were not going to deter me from what New York Magazine called 2011’s best sticky buns in the city, so I walked a short distance from the Flatiron District to Maialino, located off the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel.
The bar serves coffee in the mornings at this casual “Roman-style trattoria” where the atmosphere is casually elegant with rustic wooden tables, a beautifully tiled floor and huge bay windows overlooking a gated, residents-only park outside. The warm and muted colors of the restaurant’s interior makes an inviting space for leisurely drinking a well-made cappuccino (made from Four Barrels coffee of San Francisco) and enjoying the buttery, toffee-glazed sticky bun, or Brioche Caramellato as it is listed on the menu. This sticky bun was melt-in-my-mouth light with just the right amount of sweetness from the glaze. I don’t know if it’s the best in the city, but it certainly was delicious!
After breakfast I perused the lobby area of the Gramercy Park Hotel and then headed to the West Village to check out the neighborhood around Carmine Street. I stopped by Victory Garden, a small and charming store specializing in frozen treats made with fresh goat’s milk. I sampled the Salted Caramel soft serve, their most popular flavor, which was sweet and creamy. These goat’s milk treats are made from locally-sourced, all-natural ingredients, are lactose-free and are made without butter or added fat.
Then, as the rain started to really pour, I ducked in to Molly’s Cupcakes to warm up with a cup of Intelligentsia coffee and a cupcake. I chose the Peach Cobbler, which was a vanilla cupcake stuffed with a cinnamon-peach pureé, brown sugar streusel, and topped with whipped cream. The friendly staff was quick to inform me that the Peach Cobbler was a winner of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.
The beauty of traveling solo is that I set my own agenda, and since I had a craving for French macarons, I headed uptown to the only American outpost of Maison Ladurée, on the Upper East Side. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Ladurée’s in Paris, London, and Tokyo. Now I’m thrilled to be only a five-hour flight away from one of my favorite little cookies EVER.
After a short nap back at the hotel, I checked out and switched to a hotel in the middle of Times Square. I hate to admit this, but I really like Times Square. I love the huge billboards, bright neon signs, and all the wide-eyed tourists that flock to the area. I really get energized by the crowds and all that light.
That evening I headed to Manzo, the most formal of the restaurants in the Italian food emporium, Eataly, to meet Auntie R and her family. We were told that it was Chef Michael Toscano’s last week there as he is leaving to open his own restaurant. The restaurant was fully booked, but we were able to secure a coveted 7 pm reservation due to some behind-the-scenes strings being pulled on our behalf. Thanks, A! I thought Manzo delivered some good solid dishes, albeit a little lackluster for the price and the star power behind the place.
The standout dish was the Foie Gras Terrine with Chestnuts, Cranberry Mostarda & Panettone. My Raven and Boar Whey Fed Pig – a generously-sized pork chop with a few pieces of pork belly on the side – was moist and juicy and very enjoyable. Other dishes around our table included the Veal Shin with Celery Root, Bone Marrow, and Osso Buco Sauce, Glazed Duck with Shiitakes, Charred Scallions, Pancetta & Persimmon, and the Whole Roasted Ribeye with Yukon Gold Crocche (potato fritter) and Cavalo Nero (Italian kale), which was the only dish that was met with disappointment.
Saturday – Day 3:
It was back to Maialino, this time for a proper brunch with Auntie R. As I was getting ready to leave Maialino the day before, I noticed that they had a tripe dish on their brunch menu, so I knew I had to go back. The Trippa is served with arugula and topped with a fried egg. I loved everything about this dish. The tripe, served in a light tomato sauce, was very soft and tender. The perfectly cooked egg was runny and the yolks gave the tripe a wonderful richness. Auntie R enjoyed the Amatriciana, which is baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce with guanciale, a smoked Italian bacon.
We skipped dessert at Maialino and headed to the East Village to try Spot Dessert Bar, located in a small, cozy basement on St. Mark’s Place, a bustling street filled with all kinds of restaurants, shops, and tattoo parlors. Although he left a few months ago, Pichet Ong, a celebrated pastry chef and dessert cookbook author had a huge hand in the making of the creative and inventive western desserts with an Asian flair found here. While Spot also serves more traditional items like cupcakes and macarons, we were swayed by their plated desserts.
Just take a look at the restaurant’s most popular dessert, the Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake with a green tea/white chocolate ganache and green tea ice cream. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, with the striking green color of the tea, but it is also amazingly delicious. The green tea, or matcha, stands up very well to the warm, bittersweet, dark chocolate molten cake. When I cut into the cake, the ganache came flowing out along with some chocolate like some kind of neon green lava. This was my favorite dish of the entire trip. Aside from the scoop of green tea ice cream, there was also a green tea cream and a dusting of green tea powder to fully immerse you in this unique color and flavor.
We also ordered the Kabocha Brulee Cake, which is a much lighter dessert than the chocolate one. Kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash. The cake was served with some “walnut soil”, orange zest, and a scoop of Condensed Milk Ice Cream, which was, surprisingly, not too sweet.
For dinner, I went back to the Flatiron District to try the fried chicken at Hill Country Chicken. This cafeteria-style diner is reminiscent of a cozy country kitchen, complete with floral wallpaper and formica tables for a retro feel. I opted for two pieces of classic fried chicken thighs, a buttermilk biscuit, and Boylan’s Sugar Cane Soda on tap. The buttermilk-brined chicken was moist and the skin was golden brown and crispy.
After dinner, I walked down a couple of blocks to Eataly to unwind after a long day of sightseeing and eating by getting some Pistachio Gelato for dessert. The line at the Gelateria was about 20-deep, but moved along fairly fast. I absolutely love this creamy gelato for its intense nutty pistachio flavor. It was a perfect way to end the day.
Sunday – Day 4:
It is always hard to leave New York City, but at least I had one more meal. Once again, I headed down to the Flatiron/Union Square area for Hot Chocolate and a Pretzel Croissant at The City Bakery. The pretzel croissant has such a cult following that it even has its own website. Only in New York City can you find the perfect blend of two great pastries – a buttery flaky croissant with a salty, sesame-seed crusted exterior like a pretzel. I have been scouring the internet for a recipe, but no luck yet. To go with the pretzel croissant, I ordered the original hot chocolate, which is so rich and sweet and topped with a ginormous piece of marshmallow. The salty croissant was just right with the hot chocolate. Be warned: You’re going to need a big glass of water to go with it, so ask for it when you’re ordering.
After one last walk around Union Square, I headed for JFK. While on the subway, I started to plan my return trip to this amazing city. So long, New York City!
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