A few weeks back, my wife and I traveled to your fair city for our ASNYET, "Annual Support New York's Economy Trip." Thanks to the dining recommendations this board provided, we truly had an enjoyable, whirlwind trip. Following is an account of the highlights:
Due to leave ORD (Chicago) at 6 p.m. and arrive at LGA around 10 p.m., I secured an 11 p.m. reservation at Lupa. When you only have three nights in the city, you need to take advantage of every waking/dining hour.
Unfortunately, thanks to United, my plans didn't come through as expected. As it happens, United mechanics worked on the plane past our departure time. There's nothing more comforting than sitting in the terminal and hearing in an announcement: "the mechanics are working on one of the engines that has failed." We took off a few hours later -- on a different plane. At 1 a.m. we arrived downtown and hit the bed shortly thereafter.
SATURDAY -- LUNCH
We stepped into a cab and uttered a few of my favorite words: Houston and Ludlow. Off to Katz's we went for my wife's first-ever visit. We arrived at 12:30 and the place was hopping as usual. Upon entering this delicatessen temple, my wife the novice was immediately startled by the red ticket being thrown at her from the right. I had warned her in advance but apparently that tip was dismissed.
Straight to the counter where I ordered the pastrami and she the corned beef. The counterman also provided a heaping plate of the pickles/tomatoes as well as our Dr. Brown's cream sodas. Upon his marking our ticket and pocketing his tip, we went down the counter to order potato pancakes (3), and their customary sides of sour cream and apple sauce.
I would travel to New York just for Katz's pastrami. Simply said, the meat was divine and the sandwich overall perfect. I can't say the same about my wife's corned beef, which we failed to order 'lean' and was a bit on the stringy side. Of course, that's not to say that we didn't eat it -- or at least half-of it. The potato pancakes were a great recommendation, too: crispy, hot, and still sizzling from the fryer.
All in all, it has to be the best meal for $35.00. It would have been even better if a) I didn't forget to order cole slaw (too excited about the pastrami?) and b) didn't hear a fellow tourist at a neighboring table order corned beef on a sourdough roll. Yikes.
We walked through SoHo with our umbrella in hand. Not a delightful day weather-wise, but I wouldn't want to be elsewhere. After a few hours of shopping, we went up around Park/20s area and walked around Grammercy. Of course, despite having a reservation in hand that evening, I had to stop into Grammercy Tavern to see if they, "by chance," had any cancellations. They checked. No, but they did have an opening at 11 p.m. Thanks anyway, and off we went.
SATURDAY -- DINNER
We arrived at Fiamma Osteria for our 9:30 p.m. reservation and were immediately seated downstairs, per the recommendation of a post.
Why don't they have restaurants like this in Chicago?, my wife asked after settling into our banquet. As cited on its web site, Fiamma delivers on its promise of being "sleek, sexy and sophisticated." Though sometimes to a fault.
Upon exploring the wine list, I was amazed by the sparse offerings below $100. (If memory serves, this has already been a topic of discussion.) I asked our waiter for a recommendation among Barberas, and he immediately pointed me towards a California Pinot Noir. Strange, I thought, but perhaps the waiter was more familiar with this area of the list -- or simply knew little about the Italian offerings in an Italian/American restaurant. After scanning the selection, we decided on a Pinot. He came back a few minutes later to notify us, low and behold, that it was out of stock.
Given the delay for the wine, we had already identified dishes off the menu for our starters and entrees. Instead of being thrust into the Pinots again, we decided to simply order glasses of wine that would compliment our dishes. Our server was helpful in identifying appropriate glasses, but we could clearly sense his disappointment in our not ordering a bottle.
The starters were quite strong. My wife devoured her golf-ball sized scallops that were accompanied by artichokes and porcini mushrooms. I went with the waiter's recommendation of the de-boned quail that was prepared to my liking.
For entrees, my wife enjoyed the garganelli, with its prosciutto, spring peas and truffle butter. While I'm not a fan of truffle butter itself, I did think that the truffle butter flavor was too strong and overpowered the dish. Then again, it wasn't my dish, as my wife reminded me.
Continuing the beef theme from lunch, I went with the Manzo, a gigantic serving of prime dry aged strip with mushrooms and sauteed spinach. The steak was quite flavorful and well prepared -- for the first four bites. As I cut deeper into the piece I noticed that what I had ordered as "medium" was actually "rare" towards the center of the cut. While I recognize that I typically undercook meat at home, there's no excuse for such a drastic failure at a respected restaurant. Our server, perhaps still reeling over our wine order, was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, another waiter noticed my glances and ushered my dish back to the oven. A few minutes later another server emerged with my dish, which had been replated with new sides. Much better indeed. To my amazement, our server never mentioned the Manzo mishap.
On to deserts. Again, with my Chowhound cheat sheet in hand my wife ordered the torta and I went with the crocchette. Upon arriving at the restaurant I nearly salivated over spying some of the piping hot beignets land on a table. Very, very nice indeed.
SUNDAY -- BRUNCH
We met some friends at their UWS condo and decided to talk through Central Park to the Boat House for brunch. I think half the city was there as well. A nice day, we were immediately quoted a 90 minute wait for a table. Since it was nearing 1 p.m. already, we decided to walk south through the park to One cps, the bistro in the Plaza Hotel. Simply said, food was good, service was not. Their loaf-sized French toast was very good as was the pedestrian eggs benedict.
Continued focus on supporting New York's economy despite the efforts of the Thomas Pink sales staff to stop us. I've never seen a more incompetent retail staff.
SUNDAY -- DINNER
Finally. The trip's culminating dinner that I was truly looking so forward to. If you scan the board around mid-April, you'll find a flurry of Blue Hill-related posts, many specifically discussing their tasting menu. Cabrales, a huge proponent and frequent customer of Blue Hill, recommended that I heed her recommendation and ask the server if Dan or Mike could cook for us.
I did just that. The server responded by asking for my name (wasn't it on the reservation?) and went back into the kitchen. (For the record, Dan was in the kitchen that evening.) She emerged for this dialogue:
Server: "How did you hear about it?"
Me: "The chef's tasting menu? I read about it on a food-related web site." (I didn't think it was appropriate to say: "I love Chowhound.com. A poster who goes by the handle 'Cabrales' recommended ....")
Server: "Are you in the restaurant industry?"
Me: "No, I'm not. If this isn't possible this evening, I understand."
Server: "I'll be back. Thanks."
Apparently my truthful responses didn't pass muster. I'll learn for the next time. What we ended up with was the regular tasting menu from the menu itself. The only difference, though appreciated, was an extra course thrown in (the scallop) for our efforts.
All, in all, despite the initial disappointment detailed above, it was a lovely meal with good service and nice wine pairings. Without editorial comment, following is my best effort at the overall menu (two days later I asked if they would fax it to me but it never came). Needless to say, I'd definitely recommend to others -- be it ala carte or the regular tasting menu:
Amuse: artichoke puree with rice paper cup and quail eggs
** WINE -- Prosecco (Umbria)
1. Romaine lettuce shot with meyer lemon foam
2. Scallop on a bed of crabmeat with green sauce
** WINE -- Permand Bergeles (sp?), White Burgandy (Bordeaux)
3. Broiled brook trout with pistachios, cabbage and meyer lemon sauce
** WINE -- Vacqueryas, Syrah (Rhone)
4. Pork tenderloin with morels and broccoli raab
5. Tropical fruit petit fours
** WINE -- Chenin blanc
6. Carpaccio of pear with caramel mousse, caramel ice cream and caramel popcorn
In my mind, when it comes to dining in the States, there's nothing finer than what New York has to offer. I simply wish that we could visit more often to take advantage of all of the city's pleasures. Thanks again for all your assistance and recommendations in making this trip a great one.
Incidentally, my wife left this morning for NY as she'll be in the city for business tomorrow. Tonight they'll be dining at Town, and, thanks to this boards recommendations, my wife already knows what she'll be ordering (scallop or escargot, duck steak, chocolate beignets.)