Tag Archives: Hell’s Kitchen

Gastronomic glory within reach

 

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, so jump on and come along for the ride.

Lobster love 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 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. 

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 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).

Pizza perfect
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 that there are hordes of Italian restaurants in Manhattan 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 rocket salad with home-made mozzarella and was mild, creamy and delicious; the Capricciosa pizza with bubbled charred patches was even better. 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!

Tentacle temptation
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 spot, 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 that brightened up a stone staircase. 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 parpadelle was like a huge embracing hug and packed full of flavour. According to our jovial waiter, this dish was their most popular dish 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 though.

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.

Shopping paradise
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  – 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 and chocolates, before heading to one of the 16 eateries to indulge every culinary whim.

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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 store but serious self-control needs to be exercised, which – believe me – is very tricky indeed.

 

 

Other must-visit gourmet stores with a wow-factor are Dean and Deluca, Wholefoods, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Citarella and Wild Edibles.

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 slickly designed food court features eight artisanal food vendors with both communal and counter seating, 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.

Market mania
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, 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.

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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 coloured raw buckwheat variety. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Most people come back from New York with suitcases full of designer clothes when visiting – 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 it 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.

  

Aiming for gastronomic glory in Gotham City

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New York City’s food scene is not all about street cart hot dogs, grab-a-slice pizza and giant chewy pretzels. Although hugely iconic there’s so much more to discover and there is amazing grub everywhere. So with a burgeoning waistline and blisters on my feet join me on my eating extravaganza and find out the best (and worst) places to eat in the most exciting city in the world.

Food poisoning was not what I had in mind when I was contemplating New York’s thriving food scene. Some dodgy calamari at a Mediterranean restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen was a nasty kick in the stomach but after two days of suffering I was back with a heightened hunger. And so in this first blog post on my feasting in Manhattan where better to start than breakfast and brunch.

Perfect porridge
Duncan and I visited Kava, an Art Deco styled cafe with sumptuous red sofas, black leather seats and wooden panelling with funky jazz setting a sophisticated tone. Their steel cut oatmeal topped with fresh berries and granola was the best I’ve ever had. I know its just porridge for god’s sake but it was the plentiful topping that made it special. The waitress instantly recognised the Brit in me when I asked for mine to be made with milk; it’s apparently not the done thing for virtuous New Yorkers. If going down the savoury route then try their breakfast sandwich filled with omelette, bacon, tomato and avocado – perfect for replenishing your energy after a night on the sauce! Their brew coffee is excellent; piping hot and nice n’ smooth.

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Caffeine fix
All New Yorkers love their coffee but most of these are crammed into the 200+ Starbucks seeking the familiarity of bucket-size lattes. Many extra blocks were walked to find a good brew and I discovered many independents whom take their craft very seriously indeed, with some roasting their own beans.

Stumptown Coffee on 8th St has the most sophisticated brew bar I’ve ever seen, where I marvelled at the utmost detail and care given for just one cup of coffee. Irving Farm Roasters in Lower East Side gets top marks for the best cappuccino: rich, velvety smooth and with hazelnut tones. It’s a shame the enjoyment was tarnished by ear-bashing music! If a nice day grab an iced latte from Third Rail and sit in Washington Square Park soaking up some jazz and watch some street performers. Pick up a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso in Chelsea Market and buy some artisan foodie treats. On my travels Culture Espresso and Kaffe were all bonus finds serving first-rate coffee.

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Worth the dough
After three failed attempts to get a seat in Amy’s Bread café in Hell’s Kitchen I decided a takeout from their Chelsea Market store was the only option. Amy is reputed to be a legend in the bread making world and all the breads are made by hand using the best ingredients in small batches and a slow fermentation process – a sure sign that it’s going to have maximum flavour. As well as an impressive range of daily breads using 20 different doughs they produce gorgeous pastries and stunning cakes, like the cheekily named Monkey cake and the very indulgent Definitely Devils chocolate cake.

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Today, bread won the internal sweet/savoury battle and I meandered back through the busy market with a coffee and clutching a couple of Amy’s speciality sticks. I ate my breakfast up on the nearby Highline with a view of The Hudson river sparkling in the glorious sunshine while chomping on a wholewheat oat pecan with raisins – which was moist and full of flavour – followed by a chocolate sourdough, which blew me away with hits of unsweetened dark chocolate and chewy tangy crumb.

Green Goddess
Over the last few years there has been an explosion in juice bars in Manhattan. I noticed it the last time I visited but they are literally everywhere. There’s big brands such as Jamba Juice and independent juice ‘labs’ selling liquefied vegetable and fruit concoctions that could set you back up to $12 a time – even the ubiquitous Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon. It provides an ultra quick way for affluent, health conscious New Yorkers to get a nutrients hit, as who wants to sit around eating vast quantities of kale and celery every day. I really enjoyed my regular ‘Hangover Killers’ and ‘Tower of Power’ but I’m certainly not affluent, so it will probably be back to Tropicana when I return home. Sigh.

juicebars juices

Sucking on my Green Goddess I felt good. The vivid green juice contained kale, fennel, cucumber, apple, pineapple, thyme and blue green algae. You watch, blue algae will be the next superfood! The Butcher’s Daughter, dubbed the ‘vegetable slaughterhouse’ is a bright and airy café in Nolita and does inventive juices and smoothies, as well as an exciting food menu. It’s healthy but you won’t be running for the nearest burger joint afterwards. Another massive draw is the wacky dressed waiter, Greg. Sporting an enormous afro and wearing leopard print trousers, a velvet jacket and winkle pickers, it was like being served by a young Jimi Hendrix, circa 1960s. Ace!

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Olivia the waitress urged me to try the spicy Caeser kale salad with avocado, crispy shallots and almonds because, “the flavours and textures are so unexpected”. She was right and it also had a nice lip tingling heat from the chipotle dressing. Follow it up with a raw cacao brownie and you’ll be very happy. Their brunch dish of poached eggs with curry hollandaise on smashed avocado with roast potato hash was excellent. The hollandaise was silky and light, apparently made from a clever combo of oils and egg yolks. Duncan was even enjoying his adzuki bean bacon in his full English breakfast. Although he admits he didn’t realise that’s what he ordered!

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Luscious lox
This all sounds terribly healthy so far but many indulgences were enjoyed too. And starting the day with a jaw-stretching bagel packed with rich cream cheese and lox is as guaranteed as hearing the word “awesome” when in New York. Derived from the Yiddish word for salmon – laks – this is the Jewish answer to the burger. Delis across the city offer their own variety but only a handful offer the real deal. Russ & Daughter’s is one of them.

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This New York institution in Lower East Side has been serving the highest quality of smoked fish since 1914 and is run by fourth generations of the Russ family. That’s pretty amazing. Jo, a 10-year-employee is soon skilfully slicing lots of beautifully thin salmon, piling it generously into a hand-rolled poppy-seed bagel smeared with a double layer of cream cheese – it’s worthy of the rave reviews. Grab a takeout from the shop or pay through the roof to dine in style at their bustling café on Orchard Street.

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Murray’s Bagels near Greenwich Village seemed also worthy of a visit but definitely don’t go at the weekend. It’s chaos! Service was so painfully slow I wanted to jump behind the counter and make it myself, but the long queues were surely testament to the incredible food so we stuck with it. Some slow-motion zombies took 40 minutes to make a smoked salmon bagel that had so much cream cheese I had to execute a scrape-off operation with a plastic knife. The quality of the bagel was bang on but I could barely taste the wild smoked salmon that was buried underneath. Ending up in a right mess and grumpy from the ridiculously long wait we left Murray’s cursing.

I can’t possibly finish my post on a negative note – it seems so wrong. Generally the food was fantastic and bad experiences were few and far between. So, here’s a quick roll call of other top foodie spots to visit:

  • Try the Roadhouse at organic burger chain Bareburger: a bison burger with pepperjack cheese, apple grilled onions, avocado, red piquanté peppers and smoked paprika mayo. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
  • Arrive hungry at the Two Little Red Hens bakery and devour a huge wedge of the best cheesecake in New York. If you’re lucky they’ll still have the autumn special of spiced pumpkin – divine.
  • It may be a bit touristy but Katz Deli still does one of the best brisket sandwiches in town. It’s tender, juicy and darn good. Be warned, it’s big – you won’t eat for the rest of the day!
  • Go to Jacob’s Pickles with a raging hangover then have the Southern BLT: buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with fried green tomato, pickle slaw and bacon.
  • Step back in time with a lunchtime dim sum feast at Nom Wah Tea Parlour in Chinatown. Fill you boots with tasty dumplings washed down with Long Jing tea, China’s national drink.

Join me on my second post where I go loopy for lobster rolls, eat ‘the best pizza in town’, buy a kilo of NY honey, venture across to Brooklyn, and work ‘tirelessly’ round the many amazing food markets and emporiums. No wonder Americans are loud because they have plenty to shout about!

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