Good evening all,
Just back from the City and many thanks to all for your excellent suggestions on where to sample lox and bagels in Mid-Town East. Following is my report for anyone interested- tried the two recommended places plus one random, and then last went to my favorite previous haunt in Tribeca to see how all compared. Added potato salad to the mix as that is another favorite dish of mine. Included locations visted since I know at least one of these places has more than one.
Dinner 5-16-09 - Hot Jumbo Bagels at 56th and 2nd
Very good overall, if not quite excelling on any particular points compared to the others. On the larger side, evenly chewy throughout, good flavor if not quite the persistence of Tal or Zucker's. They were out of capers, so I opted for lox plus scallion cream cheese. Generous and solidly good portion of fish and the scallion cream cheese was more creamy and subtle than expected. As for the potato salad- even though the preparation (and presumably the intended end product) differed from the other establishments I visited, I was still disappointed. The potatoes were overdone and overall the salad was a bit bland. To be fair, many other salads in the case looked quite appealing, but this mission was about bagels and potato salad- so I stuck with the program.
Breakfast 5-17-12 - Ess A Bagel at 51st and 3rd
A frustrating experience only because so much was so right- with one key thing very wrong, at least on this day. Huge bagels, good crust- the best part about it. But in the center inconsistent- downright tough in the bottom half and pushing the limits of what I consider "chewy" in a good way in the top half. Also, there was not the scent and persistent flavor on the mid-palate I expect from a good bagel- rather it was more like regular bread. As for the rest- a snafu with the order, but in retrospect I can see how it happened- and I liked what I saw. A request for lox, cream cheese and capers ended up being salmon cream cheese and capers. I do not care for salmon cream cheese as a rule, but this was lovely- with nice chunks of salmon here and there and good flavoring overall. Capers played their proper role. On the potato salad- simple and very satisfying. Good mix of what I call "cream" on the front and "sour" on the end. Not as adventurous a clash between those elements as the better examples this trip, but very nice and properly cooked potatoes. Final note- this was the morning I brought bagels for the entire office and they were very well received. I tried pieces of two other bagels and found same issues with cooking and flavor, but the scallion cream cheese I sampled was terrific- nice large chunks of fresh scallions.
Breakfast 5-18-12 - Tal Bagels at 54th and 1st
The epiphany I was hoping for. Smaller in size, but with a terrific crunchy crust, fantastic chewiness throughout and an absolutely perfect and persistent flavor on the mid-palate. Thin and subtly flavored lox, with cream cheese and capers that contributed to an unexpectedly harmonious and light feel to go along with a hearty satisfaction of the appetite. The potato salad was also tops and my favorite to date- simple, with perfectly cooked potatoes and a wonderful war of cream versus sour on the middle and back end of the palate, respectively, with the sour leaving a wonderful aftertaste. I loved this experience in every respect. Based on a chowhounder's comments when I sought suggestions last week, nova with scallion cream cheese is first on my breakfast list for my next trip in a few weeks.
Breakfast 5-19-12 - Zucker's Bagels on Chambers near Church
In 2009 and 2010 when I was traveling regularly to Tribeca for work at my previous firm, this is where I ate breakfast (lox and bagel) almost every single day- and I saved it for last so I could compare it to my Mid-Town adventures above. Overall, this visit was most similar to my journey to Tal- and I still love the place. Larger bagels, and not quite the crust of Tal this time- but on flavor it is all there. The lox were a bit more pungent- but to be fair I am sure that is a whole other area I need to explore and I did not take care this trip to specify/verify belly, gravlox etc. So not sure if this small variance really matters. Capers here are huge and have quite a large impact- good for caper fans like me, but I have to give the slightest edge to Tal today for a more harmonious presentation overall. Potato salad also tops like Tal, but here I found a bit more creaminess on the front and not quite so much sour on the back to make it memorable. On that last minor point, Tal really has it right I think.
Anyhow- there it is! Thanks much to all for the suggestions I asked for in advance of my trip.