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Restaurants & Bars 4

A 5 Day Food Extravaganza

mlc66 | Sep 27, 200908:39 PM

My husband and I just returned from 5 food filled days in New York. This board helped us with our planning, so I wanted to post some information on our food quest so that it might help other readers. It’s a good thing we did a lot of walking because we certainly packed in a lot of calories over the 5 days. Just as a reference point, we’re from Chicago and my husband sells wine for a living, so this was definitely a vacation that was planned around food and wine (and we squeezed in some touristy things too.)
Sunday: Tia Pol and Lupa
Tia Pol: We went in for a mid afternoon snack at this tapas spot. The fried chickpeas are addicting and the fava bean puree on toast was fabulous. Nice Spanish wine list. I would definitely go back.

Lupa: We didn’t have reservations, but despite some of the negatives we’d seen on this board about the Mario restaurants, we’ve made a ton of recipes from his cookbooks and wanted to try one of his restaurants. We waited about 45 minutes, but managed to get a seat at the bar while we waited and enjoyed a bottle of wine. We opted for the chefs tasting menu to really get a good mix of food. Our waiter was very friendly and the food was as good as we expected. We had some meats to start along with what I call the “circle of treats” which was about 6-7 mini starters including some nice tuna with white beans and green beans with ricotta. Then into two different pastas which I could have kept eating all night. Next a different entrée for each of us along with a couple of contorni (the potatoes were great!). The cheese course was not the dainty portions that you usually see. Last was a tasty tartufo and biscotti—I don’t usually like biscotti, but these were not the teeth breakers that you sometimes get. Overall, a nice neighborhood place that was comfortable and we had a nice meal.

Monday: Fatty Crab and Aldea
Fatty Crab: Some friends had recommended that we try this place and I’m glad we did. The watermelon and fried pork salad was great—we’re going to try to recreate a version of our own here at home. We also had the pork buns to start—I liked the greens that they include to go with them. We had the fatty duck and the chili crab as our main courses. The fatty duck was cooked perfectly, but the chili crab really steals the show. Be prepared to get messy and get extra toast a little while after you start eating it (note that they do charge you $4 for the extra toast—our only quibble.) The sauce was fantastic!! There’s not much to the décor and not everyone will love the music (we did), but this is a place to go to for the food.

Aldea: We went here at the recommendation of RGR, a frequent poster on this board. Chef Mendes’ food is influenced by the Iberian Peninsula. We choose a la carte this evening because there were some specific items that sounded good. We started with Benton’s country ham and Presunto to compare two very different types of ham. Both were tasty and a fun comparison to start. I then had a dish of farm peas and bacon with poached egg. I thought it was really great—not over the top, just a well conceived dish with great flavor and one of my favorites of the trip. My husband had the cured mackeral with meyer lemon—again a nice simple dish. For the entrée, I had the Maine diver scallops with farro risotto, cucumber and orange. The scallops were cooked perfectly and I loved the risotto. My husband had a lamb dish with seckle pear and celery root, which he enjoyed. We had a cheese course to go with the wine we were still enjoying and then had his Sonhos “Little Dreams”, which are lovely little donut holes with cinnamon sugar that come with 3 dipping sauces. Overall, a very nice, interesting meal with pleasant service. It’s not a 4 star place, but the prices aren’t 4 star prices and it was a great way to spend the evening. Next time, I’d ask to sit at the chef’s counter to watch the kitchen.

Tuesday: Katz’s, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, The Pickle Guys and Guss’ Pickles, Momofuko Ssam bar and Eleven Madison Park (yes, all in one day!)
Katz’s: Corned beef and pastrami sandwiches for breakfast. No really good delis in Chicago, so this was a treat.

Il Laboratorio del Gelato: We were at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and this was on RGR’s LES food tour, so we stopped for a snack. It wasn’t as good as Sorella’s (see below), but I really liked the chocolate.

The Pickle Guys and Guss’ Pickles: We compared the sours from both and we voted for the Pickle Guys.

Momofuko Ssam Bar: We got here at about 2:30 and got right in for the $25 3-course prix fixe lunch. To maximize the flavors, we each got different selections for each course. The pork buns to start, of course. They are quite tasty, especially with a little bit of the hot sauce. Also the pickles—what a great variety of pickles! For main courses, we had the beef brisket in broth with noodles—it was good, but the broth was almost too sour. We also had the spicy rice cakes with pork. That dish was REALLY good—the pork had a great depth of flavor. For desert, ice cream pie with strawberries and thai ice cream parfait. We didn’t have any room left for extra desert from Milk Bar, so I’ll have to put that on the list for the next time. I’ve been told I have to try the crack pie.

Eleven Madison Park: Our reservations were at 10:00 pm, which was fine since we also went to a play this evening. We would normally be the 11-course meal type, but decided that might be a little much since we were starting at 10:00 (not to mention our other food stops that day!) So we opted for the Early Autumn Tasting (for those who have been there recently, it is the same as the Taste of Summer menu). Since steakrules85 posted such a detailed review of his recent visit, I will skip all of the details here. The sea urchin with peekytoe crab amuse was fabulous and the lobster was the best dish of the trip. We added a cheese course since we still had wine left and they were kind enough to switch one of our deserts to the mint chocolate chip since I love mint chip ice cream. I have to say, however, that the chocolate peanut butter palette was so wonderful, that I think I should have stuck to that despite how great the mint chip was. Service, as you would expect, was excellent and friendly. We ate at Alinea in Chicago earlier this year and my husband felt the service here was even better than there, which is hard to beat. The only negative to the evening was that we were seated in the little alcove toward the back of the restaurant and it was quite warm and you don’t get to enjoy the beautiful room. I think we were actually seated here because they think of it as a little quieter and a good spot. We have a chef friend that had called ahead and we were seated near a few other folks that were in the business (food and/or wine). It was a nice corner table and if not for the temperature due to less air circulation, it would have been fantastic. This meal and the service were spectacular and the 4 star review is much deserved.

Wednesday: Yonah Schimmel’s, random pizza place, Porchetta and Sorella
Yonah Schimmel: RGR’s LES food tour told us to try the potato knish and ask them to warm it up, so that’s what we did. We took them on the road to head down to Battery Park and they were a good fortification for some sightseeing. I’m not an expert on knish, but these had a nice “crust” on the outside and tasty perfect potato on the inside.

Porchetta: We’d heard we should try the pork sandwich here at this tiny East Village place. They make roasted pork with crispy skin that is seasoned to perfection. They put it on a crunchy ciabatta type roll. Simple and fantastic!

Sorella: We asked a chef friend of ours that used to live in New York where we should go while we were here and this was his first suggestion. It’s an Italian (Piedmontese) restaurant on the LES. They don’t take reservations, but we were lucky enough to have our chef friend make sure we could get in since we had limited time to visit NYC. They are mostly a small plates place (called qualcosina), but don’t worry, these are not the miniscule plates that you sometimes get when you order small plates. They also have a small number of specials each night that are entrée size. We had a friend join us and the three of us stuck with the small plates to make the most of it. We tried a large percentage of the qualcosinas and didn’t have anything we didn’t love. I was just looking at their website and they’ve now changed several of the preparations for fall, but I’m sure they’re all just as good. They are known for the Pate de Fegato which is a duck fat English muffin with chicken liver mousse, fried egg and bacon—rich and decadent and delicious. The pastas were all really good. One dish to look for again next summer is the watermelon and cucumber salad. It had feta and some onion and balsamic—another dish we’ll try to recreate at home. We all had desert as well—the gelato flavors were fantastic, some of the best I’ve had. And they sent us their assorted Italian cookies, which were also really flavorful—I liked these even better than the final cookies at EMP. The wine list is a treasure trove of underappreciated artisanal wines from Italy. If we lived in NYC, this would be one of our “go to” restaurants!

Thursday: Co., Pommes Frites and Veritas
Co.: We know it is not traditional NYC pizza, but another chef friend recommended this place to us. The pizza is cooked at a super high heat for a really crispy crust. The crust is really nice—still has some doughiness despite the fact that it is thin. And the toppings are very fresh: we had a sausage and fennel and a “pepperoni”, which was actually a red pepper sauce and lamb sausage. Both were quite good. If you don’t like a somewhat “burnt” edge, this won’t be for you, but the flavors are fresh and the staff was friendly. I’d go back.

Pommes Frites: We had to go try the fries and the poutine. The fries are cooked to perfection and the roasted garlic mayo sauce I chose (on the side), was really tasty. My husband had the poutine, which is fries with gravy and cheese curds. He loved it—I thought the cheese curds would be warm, so the fact that they were cold threw me off. We were thinking that a pork sandwich from Porchetta down the street and fries from here would be a great combination –you should try it.

Veritas: As I mentioned, my husband sells wine and knows a lot about it, so he spent a couple weeks before we came to NYC studying the list to decide what he wanted to drink. And, they still have 25% off all wines on the list, so you can get a great deal. (They told us that is being extended to the end of the year.) This was our last night in NYC, and the 9-course menu looked really good (plus, my husband needed enough food to go with 3 bottles of wine), so that is what we chose. The restaurant was not overly crowded, so we didn’t have anyone seated on either side of us, which was nice. I won’t describe all the dishes, but the apple verbena gelee in the first dish of lemon marinated langoustine was fantastic. Also, the oursin chitarra was extremely well executed and I definitely would have had seconds. Duck breast is not always my favorite, but this version was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable, down to earth and helpful with our final wine decisions. The only quibble we had was that she was the only sommelier working that evening. For a restaurant that is all about the wine service, it wasn’t enough. She was working very hard, but had at least one table that was really overtaking her time and we had to go through a part of one course with no wine because we were waiting. I realize that isn’t a major hardship, but should never happen in a restaurant like this. I want to stress that our sommelier was excellent, she was just stretched too thin. Even without the 25% discount, the wines are fairly priced, so the 25% discount was an added bonus. All of our wine choices were excellent. A lovely final evening.

Friday: Kossar’s Bialys and Vanessa’s Dumpling House
Kossar’s Bialys: Another stop on RGR’s LES food tour (we got through quite a few). I’m not sure I’ve ever had a bialy and we just ate ours right at the shop right from the bag. We also had a plain bagel—I’d love to get these in Chicago.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House: We were just walking by and it looked good, so we stopped in for a final snack before we had to go to the airport. We had boiled pork and chive dumplings (8), a sesame pancake pork sandwich, sour cucumber salad and two sodas for $8.50!! The food was all fabulous—wish I’d found this place sooner (except then I wouldn’t have had room for all the other great food). If I’d been prepared, I would have brought home some of the frozen dumplings. You could stuff yourself for a small amount of money.

A great trip—we’re already making the list of where to go next time we’re there!!

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