After being struck down with food poisoning, soaring on caffeine highs, devouring the best cheesecake ever and losing the plot whilst queuing for a salty lox bagel – it was an eventful first post. My food journey in New York continues with apace so jump on and come along for the ride.
I had always thought lobster was a bit overrated but eventually it called my name so loudly I just couldn’t ignore it. I was at The Smith’s – a cavernous and lively American brasserie in midtown east – and after the unfortunate food poisoning episode I deserved a treat. After overwhelming anticipation a brioche bun containing overly minced lobster drowned in a thin mayonnaise arrived. With a voracious appetite and a hefty price tag I left full but utterly dissatisfied.
If it wasn’t for Duncan who needed a ‘snack’ I may have lost faith in lobster forever. Luckily, we stopped at Luke’s – a small chain specialising in lobster sustainably harvested in Maine. Their lobster roll was crammed with generous pieces of steamed lobster with just a smidge of mayo and lemon butter – it was succulent, sweet and nothing short of sensational. Ed, who served me, said: “that’s why it’s so popular, people just love the fact the meat is chunky and we keep it simple”. Containing the meat from five lobster claws and knuckles and half the price of Smiths it was oceans better. Try their Taste of Maine which includes three half rolls of lobster, crab and shrimp accompanied by pickles and chips (crisps to us Brits).
A third of all Italian immigrants who passed the Ellis Island test stopped in New York and made it their home. So it’s no surprise there are hordes of Italian restaurants from regional rustic to upmarket dining, but where better to start than with one of Italy’s most iconic culinary emblems: the pizza.
There are many restaurants all purporting to serve “the best pizza in New York”. Surely an Italian who studied the craft of pizza-making with the masters of the trade in Naples could live up to this bold statement? Kesté Pizzeria is an unassuming restaurant in trendy Greenwich Village with framed certificates of Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza credentials hanging proudly on the walls.
The home-made mozzarella with a rocket salad was mild and creamy and the Capricciosa pizza with bubbled charred patches was perfect. After I folded the last piece into my mouth and sat back with a satisfied sigh I stared in disbelief at the plate on our neighbour’s table – the entire crust had been left. Utter madness!
We had dined at Emporio, a buzzy modern Italian restaurant in Nolita, on a previous visit to NY and thought the food was outstanding. The charred octopus with fingerling potato salad was definitely the origin of my octopus fixation. The salad thankfully still hit the jackpot, as well as Duncan’s oozing burrata with cured Parma ham. It was downhill from there though, as the chicken stuffed with mushrooms and truffle failed to impress with its unpleasant texture and runny consistency; the sausage Bolognese was just so-so. Being Saturday night it was crazily busy and the food definitely suffered. Shame.
Palma in Greenwich had raving reviews AND they had octopus on the menu! We dined in a low-lit conservatory surrounded by climbing plants and ornate ceramic pots brightened up a stone staircase. It would have been romantic were it not for closely set tables and the din from a packed house of exuberant diners. The starter of charred octopus was tender and smoky, offset by freshness from the shaved fennel and orange salad. Duncan’s burrata was served simply with proscuitto, rocket leaves and wedges of sourdough. We declared: “You can never have too much octopus or burrata!”
For mains, the squid ink pasta with jumbo shrimps sounded incredible on paper but the sauce was watery and insipid. My halibut in a wild porcini sauce was utterly delicious and the strong earthiness from the mushrooms complemented the robust fish beautifully. For dessert the tiramisu was all cream and no substance and it desperately needed a good kick of booze and chocolate.
Feeling the heat
Tavola in Hell’s Kitchen was styled like a traditional Italian deli with beautiful engraved ceiling tiles and colourful vintage floor tiles. I was drawn to the inferno at the far end of the restaurant to admire their two wood-fired ovens which were built in Napoli and made from volcanic clay. The pizza chef joked he had no hairs left on his arms as he removed a bubbling pizza from the 900 degrees hot oven. He told me each pizza only took only 90 seconds to cook in the blistering heat!
My porcini and veal ragu with parpadelle was like a huge embracing hug and was packed full of flavour. According to our jovial waiter this dish was their most popular item on the menu and I could definitely see why. Disappointingly our pizza was a bit soggy and undercooked; it certainly had less than the aforementioned 90 seconds!
Saved by the sushi
With a lot of rich Italian food consumed the light and clean flavours of Japanese cuisine provided a welcome relief. Sabi Sushi located in the subterranean Plaza Hotel Food Hall near Central Park has a good selection of salads, sashimi and rolls. I ordered The Plaza Roll which unusually had fish and avocado on the outside, and with a filling of asparagus, cucumber and a spicy sauce it was fresh, zingy and a delight to eat.
Sushi of Gari on Broadway in Downtown is also worth visiting for good value sushi, sashimi and bento boxes. My sashimi selection was beautifully presented but it was a shame I was forced to knock down the towering floral decoration on the plate in order to access my food. Melt-in-the-mouth ultra fresh fish made for a light but very enjoyable lunch.
After the craziness and crowds of the Halloween parade we headed to EN Brasserie in the West Village – an upmarket Japanese restaurant with an expansive setting of luxurious dark wood, bamboo climbing the walls and a striking flower centre-piece. We sat facing the bustling open kitchen where an army of Japanese chefs were chopping and frying furiously amongst plumes of upwardly shooting steam.
The blue crab miso soup was delicate and utterly delicious. The black miso cod had a wonderful sweet and savoury balance with perfectly flaky flesh. The surprise dish for me was the crispy home-made tofu with mushrooms in a dashi broth. I’m not a huge fan of tofu but it’s their signature dish and comes highly recommended – we devoured the lot!
The steamed vegetables with a hatcho miso dipping sauce was a bit odd as they had a dry texture and the sauce was overly concentrated. However, finishing on a high note the soft shelled crab and tempura sushi rolls were fantastic. Overall it was a great meal in a sophisticated, but unstuffy setting, with an exciting menu, the freshest of ingredients and top class service.
What Manhattan does extremely well is food emporiums and cavernous delis packed from floor to ceiling with stunning produce and tempting treats. One of my favourites is Eataly located near The Flatiron – a vast three-storey store devoted (you’ve guessed it) to all things Italian. Stock up on top quality pasta, anti-pasti, cheese, olive oil, bread, coffee, chocolates… before heading to one of the 16 eateries to indulge every culinary whim.
At the fish restaurant we ate sweet and juicy king scallops with smashed peas and balsamic dressing. For mains the flounder arrived so huge it was hanging off the plate and was accompanied with a caper, lemon and herb sauce. It tasted as good as it looked. I left just enough space to squeeze in a fresh mint and chocolate chip gelato. It’s an incredible ‘shop’ but serious self-control needs to be exercised, which – believe me – is very tricky indeed.
Hell is the place to be
New York boasts some brilliant indoor and outdoor food markets where some seriously good food and drink can be found. If you haven’t found a reason to visit Hell’s Kitchen then Gotham West Market surely is it. This trendy food court features eight artisanal food vendors with both communal and counter seating, is slickly designed and is always buzzing with people and music.
One of my favourite vendors is Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop. The smoked whitefish Donburi rice bowl was a riot of contrasting flavours and textures and the side dish of a garden salad in a shiso vinaigrette with crispy onions was a winner in its own right. On my next visit the spicy red chilli ramen with minced pork and smashed egg was lip tingingly delicious. In a nutshell: it’s good value food at its best.
El Colmado seduced Duncan and I with their high quality Spanish tapas. Perched at the bar we watched the chefs prepare us mouth watering dishes such as octopus with potatoes and spicy olive tapenade, chargrilled pimientos with sea salt, marinated anchovy with goats cheese on griddled bread, Iberico ham, smoked eel croquettes, amongst others. We also discovered a wonderful wine called Corolilla Crianza and were as happy as clams, so it’s no wonder we returned here several times.
After a walk on The Highline you will undoubtedly pop into historic Chelsea Market for a browse around the shops and to satiate a hunger pang, or two. Try Lobster Place and Cull & Pistol for an astounding selection of fish and seafood; Beyond Sushi for innovative and colourful sushi rolls; and Fat Witch Bakery for an indulgent rich brownie; not to mention Amy’s Bread (again!) where you’ll always find a baked treat to satisfy.
Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has it all: stunning views across the East River to Manhattan and 30 diverse food and drink vendors to greedily bounce around. Why not break convention and chomp on an Asia-inspired hotdog at Asiadog; if you’re hankering for ‘proper’ chips then it’s worth getting greasy fingers for the hand-cut fries at Homefrite; try the prime beef patty with shoyu glaze sandwiched between buns made from noodles at Ramen Burger; share a still-bubbling Neaopolitan style pizza from Pizzamoto‘s mobile oven; and brace the long queue for the meltingly tender brisket roll at Mighty Quinn – it’s well worth the wait.
On the sweet side there’s the insanely scrumptious Gooey Buttery Cake, the divine hazelnut whisky sandwich cookie from Whimsy & Spice or the gorgeous and unusual flavoured macarons at The Baking Bean. On a sunny day with a beer in one hand and a brisket sandwich in the other – Smorgasburg is impossible to beat.
On my final day in this amazing city I stumbled upon a thriving market at Union Square and went mad for Andrew’s Honey. This splendid range of amber nectar was born from hives kept on the top of skycrapers in Manhattan. I got carried away and bought several jars of the caramel-like set honey and the rich mahogany raw buckwheat variety. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Most people come back with suitcases full of designer clothes when visiting New York – not me!
After all this excessive eating I’ve booked myself into a fat club to work all the indulgences off. But my goodness it has been the most unforgettable experience and has only whetted my appetite to discover more. It is worth travelling thousands of miles to eat an octopus and fingerling potato salad? It undoubtedly is.