Last week, I made my first trip out to New York in 10 years. I didn’t post any questions here, but did some cursory research and put together a list for our brief five nights in the city.
Our first meal was dinner at Eleven Madison Park. This was the perfect welcome to New York. I can’t say enough good things about our experience. From the opening line-up of amuse bouches (paired with a great bottle of champagne) to the skate, to the duck that has officially ruined all other duck dishes, the food was phenomenal. Actually, I will say that the tuna tartare appetizer that sounded boring -- but was recommended by our waiter even after I countered that it sounded boring -- was actually boring. But everything else was top-notch, including the service. The sommelier was at the top of his game, nailing every pairing based upon our dish and our feedback. I had one of the best French pinots in recent memory (forgotten, but written down -- actually typed up -- on a card for me at home). Our group of four had a lot of fun and I think the folks serving us did as well…which was nice for an upscale place that still feels a little bank-y. This is an important one for me. Good food is good. But good food serviced by good waitstaff is great. And EMP totally delivered. We were all blown-away. Ironically, it was almost too good of an experience in my mind to ever consider going back. Just one of those nights that gelled perfectly that I want to leave in my memory undisturbed. A special thank you goes to their Assistant GM, Sam, who at the end of our meal gave us a great introduction to the New York dining scene, understanding our interests and pointing out places to try and others to skip. He offered us his card and said we should feel free to call him at any point during our visit. Incredible. We were hugely grateful to him as well as all the other staff there (and believe me, there were A LOT of staff).
The next morning we had a fantastic brunch at August. Everything we ordered was delicious, but I wouldn’t have traded anyone my scrambled eggs with housemade gravlax on pumpernickel for anything. The back courtyard/greenhouse setting plus delicious, rustic food made this spot feel special.
After much walking and shopping in Soho and Nolita, we eventually snuck in a burrito & corn-on-the-cob from Café Habana. Nothing special, but certainly hit the spot.
Our second night’s dinner was at Allen & Delancey. Food was good, service was fine, interior was great. But unfortunately, we were totally unimpressed. We were suffering from serious food fatigue and everything just felt flat by comparison to the previous night’s blow-out at EMP. Plus, everything here was probably too similar to what we’re accustomed to in San Francisco. At dinner, as we forced down what I’m pretty sure was very good food, we lamented that we should have just gone out for burgers & beer.
The next day we did a scaled-down version of RGR’s LES tour. When I first read this on Chowhound, I was sold. My wife and I love good Jewish deli, of which San Francisco has exactly none. Well, I loved everything about this little tour. Stopped in at Katz’s, Russ & Daughters and Yonah Schimmel one day, and did Kossar’s (and Katz’s again!) another day. Not sure how you are supposed to fit in all of these stops on one stomach. I was totally satiated after a (absolutely perfect) half-pastrami sandwich at Katz’s, so by the time we walked out of Yonah Schimmels with a cannonball-sized knish, we were done. We happily bought a soft-cooler from Russ&Daughters and brought home some bagels and lox as well pastrami and rye from Katz’s.
That night, we had a reservation at Degustation, but with the previous night’s dinner at Allen & Delancey fresh in our memory, we quickly cancelled our reservations. Instead, we went to Employees Only where we had two great cocktails (me a rum Old Fashioned and my wife some oddly flavorful tequila/absinthe creation) and shared a good plate of orecchiette pasta & sausage.
After that, we strolled up the way and sat at the bar at Spotted Pig where we had a number of small dishes (heirloom tomato gazpacho was a stand-out) that culminated in a shared burger. This place was fun…once we were able to sit down.
Finally ready to delve back into more refinement, the next day we had a lavish lunch at Jean Georges. Along with our experience at EMP, this was a high point of our visit. The room and setting was beautiful. Had the perfect air we were seeking. The service was a little haughty, but was completely apt (not nearly as fun as the guys at EMP). My wife had the two-course and I opted for three (my appetite being much bigger than my stomach). The amuse bouche included a smoked sea trout that I’m still thinking about. I followed that up with a Peekytoe crab/squash blossom dish (very good) and some of the best Artic Char I’ve ever had. Fantastic. At that point, I was done, so my wife and I did our best to finish off an excellent veal and apricot dish. All dishes were much more interesting than the image that your mind forms when it reads the menu. I like that. It was our anniversary, so we also splurged on a couple glasses of nice, crisp rose champagne. After we finished the actual dessert we ordered, many more complimentary sweet bites followed (insanely delicious bites of flavored chocolates + marshmellows). We soon discovered that we wouldn’t be eating again anytime soon.
That meant a cancellation for a 5:30 seating at Babbo and our actual dinner at 10pm. We had heard good things about the restaurant in our hotel, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar+Grill, so we sat at the bar thinking we would nosh. I didn’t love the atmosphere of the bar area (or unidentifiable 70s/80s sounding rock music), but this was a great experience. Our bartender was extremely nice and knowledgeable, offering his suggestions and many complimentary tastings of both fish and sake. By the time we were done, it wasn’t inexpensive (about $250 including a couple “boxes” of sakes), but it was some of the best fish we’ve had. On par with good sushi places in LA, but like nothing in San Franicsco (so sad).
One of the things I was looking forward to in New York (besides the LES tour) was trying the new “craft” cocktail spots. San Francisco has quite a few places and I’m a big fan. During our brief visit, we went to Milk&Honey, Little Branch, Death&Co. and Employees Only (as mentioned above). The drinks at Milk & Honey and Death & Co. were flat-out amazing. The familiar drinks were exceptional, and the new ones revelatory. I think my favorite was an M&H cocktail with bourbon, sweet vermouth, campari and chocolate bitters (see: http://bittermens.com/recipes). For atmosphere, I think we liked the classic style and beauty of Death & Co. best, but Milk & Honey had a nice, effortless charm of its own.
It was a fantastic trip. The food and drinks were all great without exception (even the corner hot dogs I snuck in). Even more, most folks we encountered were hugely friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable.
I was so impressed, that I’ve actually booked a quick follow-up trip in three weeks. There’s an Open House New York event happening that weekend, and I needed the excuse. I’m going solo this time, so I’m interested in recommendations for other places I might like that are especially good for solo diners. I’m also hugely interested in architecture+interior design and really appreciate places with unique interiors and atmosphere, both new and historical. I popped my head into the Lever House restaurant to take a look and loved it; but, I would be equally pleased with an older place like Keens (from what I’ve read).
Much thanks in advance.