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4 days in the City (very long post)


Restaurants & Bars 3

4 days in the City (very long post)

kevin | Dec 22, 2005 06:54 PM

4 days in the City

So finally went on my trip to Manhattan and some of the surrounding boroughs. What a great trip, except for the subway strike, which made it incredibly difficult to get around on the last two days. Anyways, where else can you can that’s flooded with restaurants along each and every block, not to mention the dirty water Sabrett’s hot dog stands, roasted peanuts stands, and the all-halal kebab and shislik stands. I was surprised to find hot dogs from about $1.25 all the way up to omakase meals at Masa for close to $400 per person. Now on to the food.

Day 1:

The first day I arrived in Manhattan from the Long Island rail road. From there worked my way down Broadway down to the Greenwich Village and off to Lombardi’s Coal Oven Pizza for my initial meal of the day. The pizza there was pretty good with blistered, burnt edges on my cheese pizza. I polished off the majority of the whole pizza. It’s a lighter pizza, so you can down more than a few slices. At the time, I thought the pizza was just good, but now a week later back in Los Angeles, I’m really starting to crave a Lombardi’s slice. When I got there before noon, it was maybe all of half full, but by the time I left there was a line of people waiting for a table. Truly good pizza in what many chowhounders have labeled as a tourist trap. Yet, Lombardi’s is good in my humble opinion. Although too bad they don’t do pizza by the slice.

After that I walked around and ended up at Shopsin’s, which I believe is in the West Village at the corner of Bedford and Carmine. I have visited the old location a few blocks away about a half dozen years ago. And what first struck me when I entered the new storefront was that the place lacked its initial charm. Whether you enjoyed or could care less about the old joint, there was still an undeniable certain specific charm to the place, though a dirty (if not filthy) charm to the place. Second thought that crossed my mind was why the place was so big. The initial old locale was tiny and comforting and claustrophobic in comparison to the new location. Lastly, it seems like the old crowd was not there anymore. Anyways, Kenny (the proprietor/head chef if you can call him that) was nowhere to be seen. Nor was his hard-working wife. But there were too very young waiters who I believed to be the son and daughter of Kenny. They continued the usual Shopsin shtick of offering up obscenities along with a plate of pancake and scrambled cheese eggs (of course all done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion). So I ordered up one of the Strawberry Julius (isn’t a Julius trademarked or something? Oh well). The Julius was all right. And I had heard in the past that there soups were something to order here, but alas the mullitawngawy and chicken cloud soup were not on offer so I ordered up the pumpkin dumpling soup. The soup, in a nutshell was gnocchi drowned in pumpkin sauce filling. Very ordinary, and nothing special. Seems like a lot of the wealthier NYU students and post-yuppie generation is taking this place over for there Saturday and Sunday brunch fix. I still prefer the Shopsin’s of ten years ago, but then again time moves on. (P.S. One can still enjoy the sign touting that “All our cooks wear condoms”, I guess that’s good to know)
Then it was off to Katz’s Deli for one of those famed hot pastrami sandwiches and you know what the place was a madhouse. I’ve never seen a restaurant so packed to the gills before, looked almost like sardines in a can. Anyways, got one of those infamous tickets, and notices the warning that if you lost your ticket, there would be a minimum 50 dollar charge. Not a good sign. And yet I soldiered on. I think it took about fifteen or 20 minutes to get to the front of the line in front of the pastrami carver what with all the madness and people cutting into different lines and all. The carver deftly cut the slab of pastrami for me into a nice, big pastrami sandwich on rye with a little bit of mustard. He also proffered a taste of the pastrami on a plate. The couple pieces of pastrami on that plate were truly delicious. Extremely good stuff. The sandwich as a whole was a little bit of a letdown, just not tender nor spicy enough nor distinctively smokey enough and at 13 bucks a pop it better be beyond good, which it wasn’t. (I have had a better pastrami sandwich, hand-sliced served on delicious rye bread at Langer’s in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, but Katz’s pastrami came the closet to Langers). The pastrami was served with a bunch of old and new pickles on the side along with some pickled tomatoes. The pickled tomatoes I have not seen before and they were truly delicious. Oh, almost forgot washed it all down with a couple of great Dr. Brown’s sodas. In some ways, the experience of going to Katz’s deli was better than the sandwich itself.

Then later on a few hours later I think, when to Columbus Circle/Time Warner Center and had dinner at Bar Masa, the casual spin off next door of the original. I hadn’t realized that this more casual sushi restaurant just has a bar, not a sushi bar, so that there is no sushi chef presiding. All the dishes here are prepared in the kitchen (or perhaps at Masa?) and then brought out to Bar Masa. But I still stayed on. Maybe I could get a little glimmer of Masa without dropping 500 bucks a person. So I ordered the sushi canapé, composed of tuna with caviar, salmon, scallop/shrimp, and kanpachi with black truffles. This was good though not exceptional for a sushi bar that’s actually worth its salt. Also, I had a single piece of toro, which is pretty good, but even tiny by the standards of even LA’s stingiest sushi bar, and also a piece of the Kobe beef sushi, which weirdly was served lukewarm. I thought afterwards chef Masa might want to keep only Masa since Bar Masa suffers in comparison. I washed this all down with a sake mixed drink. I was going to pass on dessert but asked for the selections anyways, the two being the chocolate rainbow cake and the grapefruit granite in Grand Marnier. I chose the grapefruit and what a treat it was. The grapefruit was almost a cross between the actual fruit and a sorbet truly outstanding. I think this is the usual dessert they serve after an omakase meal at Masa. Ultimately, for the price, I was let down. I should have skipped Bar Masa and spent my bucks at Jewel Bako or Sushi of Gari or even Seki possibly.

Day 2:

This day was a lighter day. I first headed out to Coney Island for a hot dog at the original Nathan’s on Surf and Stillwell that still is the only Nathan’s to serve supposedly spicy, natural-casing hot dogs. The dogs were all right, but nothing to right home about. The dirty water dogs at Sabrett’s carts around town are just as good.

Then it was off to Avenue J to DiFara’s for a few of his grand artisanal slices. I love his storefront in the highly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Midwood, but alas the pizza was not as good as trying it the first time years before. Yet, Dom is still an artist and watching him prepare a whole pizza from scratch is a sight to see. The slices I had were the wild mushroom porcini slice (sadly, way way too oily), the peppers slice, and a cheese slice. The best of the bunch being a cheese slice. I also got one of the fried zucchini blossoms to go, which was ok, but nothing special and too greasy by far.

Day 3:

I got into the city in the late afternoon this day but still made it to a couple places. The first place was the Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridien hotel. What a great, juicy cheeseburger and the fries were pretty good too. Who knew that in this fancy hotel a good-old fashioned burger joint resided. Definitely worth a return visit if I’m ever in the area again.

Then for dinner I went to Babbo. I snagged a seat at the bar, and had quite a good meal. Babbo is truly one of New York’s great fine dining Italian restaurants that’s devoid of any pretentiousness and feels as comfortable as an old shoe from the service to the atmosphere to the food. One look at the menu and I knew this was a seriously interesting Italian joint. There was a plethora of organ meats all over the place: lamb’s tongue, beef cheeks, squab liver, foie gras ravioli, sweetbreads with duck bacon, etc. All sounded great, but alas I could only order a couple dishes. So I ordered up the lambs tongue with chanterelle mushrooms and arugula and poached egg in vinaigrette. This dish was good but very rich and heavy. I could only manage a few bites of the beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab livers and black truffles afterward. This dish was not as good or maybe I was just already full at that point. I had a quartino of Barbera d’ Asti to wash it all down. I still asked for a dessert menu because after all what is dinner without dessert. And what a dessert I had. Saffron panna cotta with cooked quince pieces and pink peppercorns and some sorbet that I’ve already lost the name of. By far this was the best all time desserts I have ever had. And the cappuccino with rock candy sugar took it to the moon. Great stuff.

Oh, and a few minutes after I visited Gray’s Papaya for a recession special at $2.75, two dogs and a papaya drink, very mediocre, but the papaya drink was not bad.

Day 4:

This was the day I truly struggled around the city due to the subway strike. So once I got up to the Neue Gallerie for Café Sabarsky, I was truly disappointed. Since Sabarsky is not open on Mondays or Tuesdays. Oh, well. So I worked my way down to the Village, along the way grabbed an Empire National hot dog from a stand and you know what it was actually pretty darn good.

Ended up at 2nd Ave Deli for dinner. Over there, I had a half pastrami and mushroom barely soup. Both were good, not great. Katz’s in comparison was unbelievable. And what’s with 2nd Ave Deli, Hungarian goulash for $20 and an additional 12 bucks for an appetizer and dessert to go along with it. That comes out to about 40 dollars a person for a complete meal here with tax and tip. And this is only a simple, very casual deli. Even a 1/2 pastrami and soup and soda cost me over 20 bucks. But the service was great and the atmosphere of the little deli is great. None of the crowds associated with Katz’s was here either.

For dessert, I visited Batali/Bastianich’s other pizza parlor/pasta/salumi restaurant called Otto on Eighth street. I ordered up a triple gelato of olive oil, maple, and caramel. The maple and caramel were just ok, but the olive oil gelato was incomparable not to mention that it was one of the most delicious scoops I’ve ever had and the drizzle of olive oil and what seemed like fleur de sel salt crystals cut down the sweetness of the whole endeavor. Truly amazing.

I’ll continue the rest at a later date.

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