Gastronomic nirvana on the cheap.
I was visting New York City from Boston on Saturday afternoon. Unable to decide upon a restaurant (or three) to dine at for lunch, we went with a plan that has never failed us: bring a feast of assorted goodies to a favorite beer bar and while away the afternoon. In the past, we have always chosen dba or Blind Tiger.
So, after stocking up on goodies from Murray's Cheese Shop, Russ & Daughter's, and Sullivan Street bakery, I met my friends at Blind Tiger, where we washed down the goodies with numerous pints of Sierra Nevada Celebration.
I like this shop nearly as much as Formaggio Kitchen, my frequent stop in Cambridge, MA. Remarkable selection of cheeses, which are (usually) in fairly good shape. Also, although the staff can be hit or miss, they are often knowledgeable and always friendly. Of the five we had, the Berkswell may have been the winner. A hard, ewe's milk cheese, with a sharp flavor of nuts and grass which lingered endlessly. Also good, the Tomme Du Berger, a washed-rind sheep's milk from Corsica, was full-flavored with a barn-yardy odor. The creamy Gorgonzola was pleasant, but a little timid. The other two were not noteworthy.
Russ & Daughter's
This was my first visit, and I was extremely impressed. I announced that I had never been there before and wanted a selection of some of the best things they had to offer. The server who helped me was sufficiently patient, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic for my request. We had two types of smoked salmon, though I don't remember the names. One was Atlantic, and described as very oily and fatty. The other was described as being much smokier. We also had sable, which was far more subtle and delicately flavored than the versions to which I am accustomed. The two big winners: (1) whitefish salad on a plain bagel with wasabi flying fish roe was jaw-droppingly good; and (2) the cubes of herring were unreal -- one of the best things I've tasted in a long time. I wish I knew the name of it. It had the texture of some of the best sashimi I've ever had, and the taste wasn't far off mackerel sashimi, when it's really fresh. The server decribed it as being similar to sashimi. It was NOT one of the pickled versions. He chopped up some raw onions to throw on top, but they were superfluous. The herring did fine on its own. Really amazing.
Sullivan Street Bakery
Again, an enthusiastic server was eager to fulfill my request to sample their best items. He said: "Why not start off with a slice of each one of our pizza's?" Why not, indeed. The celery root was the most popular among our tasters. But, the zucchini was a close second. The mushroom also scored raves. The plain tomato may have been the only diasppointment. We also adored the pane pugliese, which went very well with our cheeses.
Finally, you won't find a better spot to spread out with a feast than Blind Tiger. The Celebrations weren't ideal with some of the fish items, but went brilliantly with everything else. Also, the free Murray's bagels and cream cheese (part of Blind Tiger's free brunch every Saturday and Sunday) came in handy for the Russ & Daughter's items.
We so enjoyed our afternoon that I'm going to have a hard time actually dining at a restaurant during furture NYC visits.