Jun
01
2010

Wandering Traveler

NEW YORK CITY

My beloved New York. The city that awakened me, at the sensitive age of 14, to cities… and the world. I put my hand over my heart upon first glimpse of the radiance of Manhattan at night from Jersey’s banks, where I lived during high school (and my family lived for years beyond).

Tabla's striking mosaic

When I travel to NY, there’s always dear friends, family, and such an ease and familiarity with city, it’s like second nature roaming the neighborhoods via the metro, spending a lot of time in “the villages”, Flatiron and Lower East Side, endlessly hunting for a proper coffee (thankfully, this is the trip where I finally found some – see this issue’s Imbiber). I always feel at home (my second home, it is), with an ever-growing lifetime of memories all over Manhattan and the other four boroughs.

I’m barely scratching the surface here, so I will write a multi-part series on the one and only Big Apple, as my trip last week for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic was also an eight day extravaganza of food and drink from Tribeca to Flushing. Here are my past NY entries.

BAGELS

Classic NY exemplified in Russ & Daughters

RUSS & DAUGHTERS, LES - The bagel hunt in SF is a struggle, but in bagel mecca, it’s one fattening pleasure after another. Of course, in Manhattan, a bagel & lox will run you $10-12. But, no matter, when it’s perfection, like Russ & Daughters (fourth generation, family-owned for over a century), a Lower East Side Jewish deli that isĀ  quintessential New York. The place is bright, crisply clean, the staff is amicably crusty, and the salmon is cut fresh and succulent before you. Put it on an “everything” bagel with horseradish cream cheese and you have happiness. There’s an array of joys here, such as pickled herring, caviar, and a lovely whitefish salad. While you’re wandering Houston Street, it doesn’t hurt to pick up an Egg Cream Soda ($3.50 – milk, chocolate soda, seltzer) to-go at Katz for a full, classic NY experience.

Ess-A-Bagel

ESS-A-BAGEL, Gramercy- Where Russ & Daughters’ bagel & lox is fresh and crisp, Ess-A-Bagel is hefty and delicious. I like the 70′s wood-paneling with chandeliers and sweet, no-nonsense staff at the out-of-the-way Gramercy location. There I ordered an “everything” bagel with lox again (piled high and generous, by the way), but as most of their cream cheeses were of the sweeter, cinnamon kind, I chose vegetable cream cheese. I pretty much fell in love with this bagel. Seriously. I’ll have another.

BURGERS

Messy Burger Joint goodness

I’ve always found decent burgers in NY… certainly Shake Shack is an easy, cheap favorite, though the lines can kill it. I walked by the original Madison Square Park location a couple times last week and lines were worse than they were years ago when I still waited over 20 minutes for a small burger. There are now five locations so may be less of a wait elsewhere, though who can beat sipping your shake under the idyllic, leafy green of Madison Square?

Comfortably graffiti-ed wall at Burger Joint

BURGER JOINT, West 50′s - On the theme of popular NY burgers with long lines, I’m partial to Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridian. Though I hate the long waits, I’d rather spend my time there, inching behind the mysterious curtain with neon burger sign in the Meridian hotel lobby, finally reaching the dingy, convivial space where killer burgers fly off the grill all day long. It’s simple: burger, cheeseburger, fries. And you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Zeitzaff's bar

ZAITZEFF, East Village – I was disappointed in my Zaitzeff mishap, as I fell in love with the new East Village storefront (original location in Financial District) of this family-run, gourmet burger restaurant. Billie Holiday sang on a lazy weekday lunch hour in a space reminiscent of a Parisian neighborhood cafe (but serving Kobe burgers). With a dramatic 28 rating for food from Zagat posted on their door, I figured we couldn’t lose. But when asking for my 1/4 lb. Kobe Burger ($10.75) topped with Blue Cheese ($2.75) to come medium rare, I, instead got it well. Cooked to death, the blue cheese was strong and funky, shrouding the meat’s quality. I sent the burger back since there was such a gross difference between what was requested. It came out better, but still overwhelmed by the blue and not remotely worth $15. Go to Burger Joint instead!

INDIAN

Long Island Fluke Tartare

Tabla, Flatiron – Granted, over the years, I have not eaten a lot of Indian in NY, though it is a favored cuisine of mine. I hardly think anyone would call Tabla authentic Indian, but it is creative, “fusion” Indian, which we don’t see enough of in SF. I’ve tried to visit in years past but it always got pushed down my list.

In a cavernous but glowing, modern space right off Madison Square Park, Tabla has $54 per person tasting menus for family style eating. I went a la carte, trying dishes from each section of the menu. Stand-outs include their fluffy, warm Tandoori Breads ($4 or $10-12 stuffed). The naan-like bread comes in a hefty slab; the Rosemary version was particularly aromatic and satisfying.

Crab Cake on Goan Guacamole in Papadum

Unexciting as a Crab Cake sounds, Tabla’s ($16) benefits from Indian spicing, tamarind chutney and tasty Goan guacamole. Long Island Fluke Tartare ($12) was bright with fluke, pineapple, pasilla chilies and toasted shrimp flakes. More interesting is Crispy Artichoke Bhel Puri ($14). Different than other Bhel Puri dishes I’ve had, with their puffed rice crispness, this version is mixed with artichoke, green mango, peanuts, tamarind and mint chutneys. Say “yes” to the crunch and sweet meat of Tapioca-crusted Soft Shell Crabs ($30), served with spring onions and green mango, spiced up by roasted chili curry. Dessert was a delightful Mango Ice Cream Sundae ($9) with brown butter crumble and spiced caramel sauce. Delectable.

BREAKFAST

THE BRESLIN, Flatiron – In the Ace Hotel, I’d recommend going for Stumptown Coffee off the funky, cool lobby of the Ace and peeking into the awesome British-pub-meets-Victorian-era-parlor in this hot spot from Spotted Pig chef, April Bloomfield, a place I’ve liked in years past but find over-hyped (see my 2007 review).

The Breslin's Fried PB & Banana Sandwich

Breakfast was greasy and after a few bites of both dishes, I’d had enough of buttery fried sandwiches with no accompaniments… especially at such high prices.

A Fried Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich ($11) has occasional hints of vanilla and bourbon, on a crusty (bordering on hard), bagel-sized roll stuffed with melting, warm PB & banana. Their popular Oven-Baked Three Cheese Sandwich ($16) with house-smoked ham (and another $2 with egg) is tasty but doesn’t compare to a Tartine Bakery sandwich at a few dollars less. Better in my estimation to skip this one, though I sure adore that dining room.

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