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A SF Chowhound visits NY: a (very long) report

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A SF Chowhound visits NY: a (very long) report

Leaseachef | Aug 22, 2005 01:17 PM

This was a first trip ever to NY for my partner and me. I spent quite a bit of time lurking on this board trying to put together our trip foodwise. Here are the results:

Thursday night: Bread Bar at Tabla. We ordered a selection of small and large plates and ate family style. The eggplant dish (can’t remember the name, sorry) was different and delicious. It was made with green eggplants, cilantro, yogurt and I’m guessing tomatillos. Light and tangy, very refreshing. Onion rings battered in chick pea flour were good and stayed crispy even after they cooled down. The “ketchup” with which they were served was uninspired, but inoffensive. Lamb was perfectly cooked, medium, well-seasoned, and served with a boring cucumber/onion salad. Good, but again uninspired. The chicken eaters at the table loved the tandoori chicken. I thought it was dry, but then that’s why I don’t eat white chicken meat. The preserved lemon chutney that it came with was pungent, ferociously lemon-flavored and wonderful. The naan was good—hot out of the oven, and yummy. But the garlic and rosemary in the respectively flavored naans was undetectable, and for $4 we expected something more than 1 salad plate-sized piece of bread. My gin/cucumber/mint/chile pepper cocktail was the highlight of the meal. The flavors were perfectly balanced and nothing could have tasted better on a warm, steamy Manhattan night.

Friday: Bought a yummy white bean and sautéed greens turnover from a guy at the Union Square Greenmarket. Scrumptious, and good fuel to power me on a morning of walking through Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Had fun gawking at the lychees, longhans, dragon fruit and other funky looking fruits, though I didn’t find any mangosteens which had been my quest. Bought “dough balls” from a sidewalk vendor, 20 pieces for $1. They tasted like the taiyaki I get in Japan town in SF, but without the bean paste in the middle. A fun treat while they were hot. Lunch: back in the Union Square area, I searched up and down for ‘wichcraft, finally gave up, bought an okay eggsalad sandwich with anchovies at Le Pain Quotidien, walked out and saw ‘wichcraft across the street. ‘Doh! Dinner at Lavagna in the East Village. Not a Chowhound rec, but here’s the report anyway. We split four dishes: a nice salad dressed with reduced balsamic, pizza with mushrooms, fontina and truffle oil; sautéed spinach; and white beans with rosemary. The pizza came out alarmingly quickly, and tasted like it. It needed a solid extra 5 minutes in a really hot oven. The crust was partly underdone, and the cheese congealed almost immediately. It had a good mushroom flavor thanks mostly to the truffle oil and almost not at all to the mushrooms which were plain old criminis. The spinach and beans were truly gigantic servings for $5 each, and both perfectly executed and delicious.

Saturday: Breakfast at Ess-a-bagel. We were not disappointed that we decided to make this our NY bagel stop. Our everything bagels (stop scoffing, we like them) were hot out of the oven and still slightly crunchy when we bit into them, before getting that wonderful leatheryness in our mouths. And we got a kick out of seeing the big vat of boiling water steaming away behind the counter. Lunch. Okay NY chowhounds, we need to have a talk. See, the plan was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Grimaldi’s, which according to a report on this board has terrific pizza. The report suggested walking the bridge then going to lunch there, as it is “just across the Brooklyn Bridge.” Geographically, that is correct. However, the pedestrian access off the Brooklyn end of the bridge takes you about a half mile from the water, which you then have to retrace to get to Grimaldi’s. What with the heat and humidity, by the time we got to Grimaldi’s we were spent. We took one look at the line (and this was at 2:00, mind you) and just about started crying. We drown our sorrows in Sangria at Toro next door. The sangria hit the spot, but the food was atrocious. Scallop “ceviche” was made with cooked scallops, canned pineapple and chopped tomatoes. No sign of the promised cilantro, mint and lime juice. A hearts of palm salad was made with jicama, which I actually prefer but made me wonder if the folks in the kitchen are just plain ignorant. We drown those sorrows in ice cream at the little store there, and that helped quite a bit. We took the water taxi back, vowing to return via water taxi the next time, since it drops you literally at Grimaldi’s doorstep.

Dinner: Hearth. Everything it was promised to be. We had the tasting menu. The diver scallop carpaccio was so perfect I could have stopped right there. The thin slices of scallop were sweet, followed by just a hint of brine. They were topped with thin slices of small yellow beets (making them look like small eggs), tiny pickled chanterelles, grated black truffles, a bit of fresh tarragon, and sprinkle of fleur de sel that crunched in your mouth every few bites. Next was lobster, corn and potatoes. The flavors were the New England lobster boil brought to its absolute ideal. Unfortunately the itty bitty potatoes weren’t cooked enough, so much so that one of mine actually crunched when I bit into it and I spit it out! I told the waiter, who apologized, but didn’t offer any sort of accommodation. A minor glitch in an otherwise stellar meal. Next was tiny slices of kobe beef skirt steak on sauteed greens that I couldn't identify. Even though this is usually a toughish cut of meat, it was tender and was incredibly flavorful. I’m not normally a big beef fan, but this was so succulent I ate every bite. The greens were tender and just a little pungeant, a great foil for the rich meat. Dessert was in two parts: an amuse of corn panna cotta with berries that was so light and scrumptious I’d have been happy to stop right there. It was followed by a nectarine and plum crisp topped with vanilla ice cream. This was good, really it was. The fruit was perfectly cooked, the topping was crunchy and full of butter and brown sugar flavors. But it was sort of a weird end to the meal because it was so rustic and the rest of the food had been very delicate, both in presentation and flavor. We took the waiter up on wine pairings for the meal. All the choices were good, though I can’t tell you what we drank because it was hard to see the labels in the darkish restaurant, and even harder to hear the waiter who spoke softly and took himself a trifle too seriously for my tastes.

Sunday: Not much to report here. We had only Sunday til midday when we had to leave for the airport. Breakfast at Zabar’s was mostly horrible. My cheese blintz was edible, but my partner’s deep fried, held under a heat lamp then microwaved latkas were not. My iced chai (I know, I know, but it was hot and I’m not a big coffee drinker) tasted like half cream and half high-fructose corn syrup with a little brown food coloring. I took a sip and threw the whole thing out. We spend the morning in the Natural History Museum and didn’t have the energy to walk far in the heat so had lunch at Northwest across the street. The food was completely mediocre and quite expensive. Crab cake and French fries were quite greasy, Ham and pepper sandwich was served on a ciabatta roll that was at least a day old and hadn’t even been toasted.

Needless to say, we missed a huge number of places that were on the list: Lupa, Kee’s chocolates, Fleur de Sel, Craft and/or ‘wichcraft to name a few. Shoot, I guess we’ll just have to come back!

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