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Restaurants & Bars 16

Manhattan Report - I LOVE THIS CITY (very, very long. and wordy)

mariacarmen | Apr 26, 2015 12:36 PM

Reporting back on our trip of April 14-21, 2015. First, thanks to all of you for your suggestions, help, advice, good wishes. Very much appreciated. As I'm sure we all know, taking everyone's tips is impossible, especially when you've only got a week in such a wonderful city. This was my fourth visit in 15 years, so I'm not a complete newbie, but I have to say this was by far my favorite trip. 8 full days makes a big difference. (free condo makes an even better one!)

So, as reported in the thread where I asked for advice, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/1010557, our first dinner was at Wolfgang's Steakhouse - near our place in Tribeca, we arrived later than expected, easy to get into. Good, just not outstanding. Details in the linked post.

Next day, we split a chicken pita at one of the Halal carts in Tribeca for lunch - there was a line in front of one and not the other, so we chose that one. Good spicy stuff.

On our interminable shuttle ride in, the BF espied a bunch of Korean BBQ places, and said he wanted to try some here. Since he almost never makes specific food requests, I said yes of course, but let me research it a bit. Found Madangsui, and so we went. We both really loved it. There were a couple things new to us (the bean paste soup, the steamed egg soup), and a few banchan missing from our usual repertoire, but everything was cooked perfectly (actually, the beef could have stood a tad more cooking as we love the crunchy dark bits in our bulgogi. daeji bulgogi was excellent. we also had an app of steamed mandoo - very good. the egg soup, in particular, was wonderful - very custardy, almost like chawanmushi. very comforting. we found the service here really warm and friendly, too. I wouldn't normally have tried KBBQ in NYC, as we have our favorite here, and there's so much else I wanted to eat, but I was not sorry we went.

The next day we headed into Chinatown and first stopped at Jungmann's suggested place, Xi'an Famous Foods, and each had a pork bun. Delicious! I loved the flavor of that moist, juicy pork, but I only ate half the hot crispy bun - so filling - as we were on our way to Old Shanghai Deluxe for xiaolong bao. But I think i would be a regular there, JM, if I lived in NYC, so thanks for the tip.

At Old Shanghai, we ordered the soup dumplings and the BF decided to get the aromatic beef cold appetizer, not knowing what it was (we're really not very well-versed in Chinese cuisine except for basic Chinese-American fare, and a little Sichuan, for me). We liked but aromatic beef - good 5 spice flavor, nice and light, but hadn't expected/remembered that it would be rather jerky-like. But I loved the xiaolong bao. Of course I've not had much experience with them (just a fast food place here in San Francisco), but i found them wonderfully flavorful, especially after adding in the black vinegar and slivers of ginger, and the skins to be thin yet able to hold in all the soup (and there was plenty), with the whole pouch sagging just a bit. The pork filling was firm yet tender. I'd say buttertart picked a winner for us there. Funnily enough, after not loving the aromatic beef, we walked by New Beef King Corp. and I bought some oyster flavored and spicy beef jerky - both of which were delicious, tho I preferred the spicy beef. nice texture on both. Also had an egg custard tart from a nearby bakery but forgot to get the name. We were absolutely stuffed.

That night we went to Bar Pitti. Now, we both liked our pastas - we both ordered off the specials board, and shared some sauteed garlicky spinach. But for the life of me, I cannot remember what they were, because almost as soon as we sat down, Fran Lebowitz walked out of the restaurant to have a cigarette. I'm not usually much of a star-fucker, but come on - Fran Lebowitz! I was beside myself, and had a clear view of where she was sitting the entire night (and no, I didn't bother her, i was outside, she was inside). I wasn't the only star-struck one - a group of locals gathered outside after their dinner and stopped to gush about their sighting her as well. They told me I'd missed seeing Wes Anderson and Matt Dillon inside. I only had eyes for Fran. Got another long look at her when she left. Anyway, all my childish excitement made me forget details of the food (pics came out too dark out) and left me with only vague memories of very good pasta. I think i had a wild boar ragu... which was delicious, but i'm just not sure. i will say I thought the sausage meat sauce the BF ordered lacked some depth. Overall, Bar Pitti was quite good, good service, nice Italian waiters who let me practice my Italian. We also split a chocolate mousse for dessert that had more than enough chocolatey depth. Sorry I can't do it justice, but it was a great NYC night for me!

Wednesday, we walked over to Joe's Pizza in Chelsea and had a slice each. I loved the thin crispy crust and the juiciness of the tomato sauce. Probably in my top 5 pizzas.

That afternoon we stopped at Russ & Daughters so I could pick up my smoked fish stash for the rest of the week: 1/8 of a pound each of belly lox, sturgeon, and the queen of them all, sable fish. I also bought two bagels - a rye and an onion - two small cream cheeses - one caviar and one chives - a jar of Krinos taramasalata, and a chocolate babka. I made that spread last me for the next four breakfasts (with the BF polishing off the babka). I didn't like the taramasalata, however; it was too salty, and i'm a total salt-head. I get one from a russian deli here in San Francisco I like better. All my fish was good, but that sable! like buttah. just wonderful.

that evening we headed over to the Spotted Pig, and were given an hour-and-a-half wait, so we walked over to the Upright Brew House and split an order of fries. I had a really refreshing Wölffer 139 dry white cidar. Fries were great too, with a truffle aioli. Unfortunately, Spotted Pig ended up calling us to our table after only 35 minutes, so I was a bit full when we got there. Nevertheless, I had to try the liver toast. Up to that point, that chicken liver toast was my favorite bite so far. So sweet and creamy, I'm going to try to replicate it at home. Just lovely. The BF ordered the famous burger, which we both found a bit salty (burger plus blue cheese), and were faced with another pile of fries. These were good, though, shoestrings strewn with rosemary, although the BF preferred the ones at Upright. Since I wasn't super hungry, I had the crispy pig ear salad as my main. I've made April Blumenthal's lip-puckering lemon/caper dressing before, and loved it, but it went perfectly with this salad. I've had pig ears before, but never done so perfectly crispy and light. Overall, we liked the Spotted Pig, but I would have liked to try The Dresden to compare. The burger was good, but just not that special to me, for all the raves.

The next day, i don't think we had anything besides the Russ & Daughters and babka until dinner, which was early, as we were tired of walking (galleries in Chelsea) and it was a beautiful hot day, and we wanted to sit outside. Every place was packed, as NYers were out in force enjoying the weather, dressed to the hilt. We finally just walked into The Chester and got a seat immediately on their front patio. I am very, very, very sorry that I didn't look this place up first. We had probably the worst Caesar salad known to mankind, ok oysters, totally meh cheese plate, and a mediocre bowl of meatballs. The BF's pork belly was the only decent thing we tried, and it was actually really, really good - it came with a very lemony yogurt sauce, nicely spiced roasted carrots, and overall was just really well prepared. Too bad the rest of this very expensive lesson was so blah. But it was a good place to park ourselves and watch the parade.

Sunday we got a very late start (we had really late nights (for us - 3:30ish a.m.) at The Nancy Whiskey Lounge every night) and got brunch at Sarabeth's because it was near the condo and we were heading over to Brooklyn for a play after. Even though I'd read mixed reviews, we enjoyed our meal. The BF ordered bacon & broccoli mac-&-cheese, which I found a tad bland but which he loved, and a side of their pork/apricot sausage, which was delicious, served with an orange/apricot marmalade. I had a lobster roll - I know, I know, probably not the place to have one, but I could not resist. I wasn't disappointed: there were plenty of sweet chunks of lobster, in a light mayo, on a very buttery toasted split bun. The only egregious missteps were the addition of thin tomato slices and arugula, which I picked out. Really good homemade crispy and light potato chips too. Forgettable slaw, i left it behind. We both had their bloody marys, which were quite tangy, just a bit spicy, and had loads of great pickled slaw-type veggies inside. One of the better bloodies I've had in a while.

I researched and could not find anything I wanted to eat near the theater in Brooklyn, so afterwards we came back to the City and ate at Momofuku Ssam Bar - got right in. I am a HUGE David Chang fan. I really liked everything, but I wasn't as wowed as i expected to be, except for one item. We had: the pork bun; the apple kimchi with maple labne and bacon; the mushroom chawanmushi, and the spicy pork sausage and rice cakes. The pork bun was good but i wished I could taste the cucumber and scallions more. there was no contrast to the richness of the fatty pig. The kimchi was a very nice surprise, refreshing tho not very kimchi-like (no actual fermentation, i believe), and I would have preferred more heat. The maple labne with it was wonderful, and that bacon was probably the best I've ever had. The chawanmushi, however, became my newest favorite bite of the trip - spectacular. Studded with bits of tart pear, wood sorrel, some very woodsy hon shimeji, and other little shrooms that were slightly pickled, the creamy, creamy, wondrous, custardy egg.... it was all just perfect. That's the David i was hoping for. Our last dish, was a bit of a puzzle at first. The rice cakes turned out to be like gnocchi, and the sausage comes in the form of a ragu. there's some tofu in there, a little scallion, but no evidence at all of sichuan peppercorns. It was a very homey dish, a bit one note, and one I probably shouldn't have ordered as I was pretty full still from brunch, and it was our last dish. Also, we both felt that the description was misleading - we expected sausage, not a ragu of sausage. Our server told us it was the most-ordered item on the menu, and while I liked it, I might not order it again myself.

On Monday again I didn't really eat until dinner - had my half bagel and then a few bites of the BF's halal cart chicken pita (it's what he wanted and I wasn't hungry enough to argue that we'd already tried that).

Dinner was Locanda Verde, right in our neighborhood, and recommended to us by the BF's boss (as well as reviews I read on CH). Hands down, this place blew everything else we'd had out of the water. Fantastic food, perfectly attentive service, I was only sorry we'd discovered it on our last night. The focaccia was a clue as to what we were in store for - light and airy, super buttery, studded with olives, it was the best focaccia I'd ever had.

Our first app was the burrata, with farm greens, ‘nduja & piopini mushrooms - far and away now our favorite dish of the entire trip. Perfect pairing - the creamy burrata with the spicy nduja, the slippery mushrooms... great great great. next we had the asparagus with glazed pork belly, poached egg, and mustard vinaigrette - another stand-out, though even this was not as good as the first dish. The BF's main, recommended by our server, was the paccheri Sunday night ragu (pork belly & short ribs) with provolone picante. Really meaty, with a touch of spice, almost like an arrabiata. Perfectly homey but not at all heavy. My dish was probably the weakest - I got the casarecce with English peas, green olives & pecorino - the dish needed something, perhaps more pecorino, and the olives actually added a discordant note, but still overall a pleasant dish. We rarely get dessert, but we had to try more things - here. The BF got the Fantasia di Cassata with ricotta & marzipan gelatos,amarene, pan di spagna, candied orange, macerated cherries, and a drizzle of chocolate. You'd think this would be a mess but each flavor stood out on its own. Wonderful. I hadn't finished my pasta so I could order the cheese plate - i selected two, the Salva Cremasco and the Pecorino Brigantaccio. Both were great, and came with a fruity jelly, honey, a rustic raisin bread, and these marvelously spicy spiced nuts. Perfect finish. I also had two glasses of the server's recommendation for a hearty red: Musto Carmelitano Aglianico 2011, Basilicata. We both adored this wine, and I hope I can find it locally.

Locanda Verde was so good that we went back for lunch the following day, before our flight. We split a roasted beet salad with spiced carrots, yogurt and a pistachio pesto - very nice, and the shaved porchetta sandwich with grilled onions, red pepper relish provolone - great, very flavorful silky & tender pork - and that came with a PERFECT Caesar salad - very high on the anchovy notes, with pork rind bits as croutons. If/when we come back to NYC, we'll definitely be hitting up Locanda Verde again.

Sorry this was so long, but I am so in love with your city (i was actually born there but have lived in CA all my life) and I can't wait to go back.

Wolfgang's Steakhouse - Gotham Hotel,
Wolfgang's Steakhouse,
Bar Pitti,
Russ & Daughters,
Russ & Daughters Cafe,
The Spotted Pig,
Upright Brew House,
The Chester,
Locanda Verde,
La Locanda,
Momofuku Ssäm Bar,
Madangsui,
Yeah Shanghai Deluxe,
Xi'an Famous Foods,
Joe's Pizza,
Sarabeth's
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