If you are a foodie visiting New York, you're probably planning on visiting Mario Batali's Eataly where
you'll wander the crowded aisles a bit dazed. Glass fronted counters
and small eating areas display the best that Italy has to offer,
including pizza, pasta, cheese, salumi, fish, local produce, prepared
food, pastries and candies.
You'll wish you'd brought a spare suitcase to cart all these great products home. That's the temptation of New York. So many great celebrity chefs and so much great, albeit expensive food, and so little time.
But wait! Don't spend all your money on high-end restaurants and eateries.
Stick to the neighborhoods. Eat the way locals do. Find the small restaurants and take out holes-in-the wall that feed New Yorkers as they speed through their insanely busy days.
Everyone has their favorite places to eat in New York. On a recent trip, I revisited my favorites and enjoyed myself all over again. Here's a quick trip through half a dozen I think you'll enjoy.
We ate some wonderful Venetian bar food at Bacaro last week. Tucked away on adorable Division Street that runs on a slant between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Bacaro unwinds down the stairway from the busy bar to the brick vaulted dining spaces below.
Dining in Venice can often be disappointing because so many of its restaurants are shamless tourist traps. It’s been that way since before the Renaissance. It’s the only town I’ve been to in Italy where there are more bad restaurants than good. But the crafty gourmand can eschew restaurants completely and eat and drink quite well in the many wine bars around town. They serve snacks on little plates — cichetti — along with a small glass of wine Venetians call un ombra, a shadow. I think the reference is to the art of taking the edge off the day.
Bacaro celebrates this particular style of Venetian eating and drinking — it’s bar food, but a bar with a very good kitchen in the back.
Sardines in saor is the classic cichetti. Bacaro’s version with its sweet and sour sauce napping the fried sardines and wine-soaked raisins makes your mouth immediately call for another glass of Verdicchio. The same with the spicy fried meatballs, which I mistook for fried olives on first taste. That shows what an educated palate I have.
“I just need to get out of the apartment.” I whined to my friend Blaine on the phone.
“It’s raining.” He replied.
I looked out the window. It was just drizzling.
“I don’t care. I need to do something different today.”
“Spend a little time on Facebook this morning?”
Ooohh. Busted. It was true though. That morning I had fallen into a k-hole of friend’s Facebook check-ins as they were out exploring, tasting, and experiencing the world. My life looked really black and white in comparison. Of course, I know that this is a common trap to fall into these days.
While Facebook might be good for keeping up with people without exerting very much effort, it is basically a way to promote your life by showcasing only the highlights. This summer I ran into an old friend at a party and I told her how jealous I was of her vim and vigor (the activity I only know about through Facebook). She replied that her life really wasn’t that exciting, it’s just that you don’t post on Facebook about sitting on your couch crying while eating a pint of ice cream.
To celebrate my vegan’s birthday, I called Kajitsu on 9th street in the East Village and made reservations. Actually, I had serious reservations. Kajitsu is Shojin cuisine, which means we’d be eating vegetables and grains as they are prepared for Buddhist monks. Now, I have nothing against monks of any stripe, but they do have a reputation for austerity and that’s never been my go-to word when scouting out dinner.
But this was Jill’s birthday, not mine, so off we went through the biting cold to see what the monks were cooking up. We were greeted graciously and austerely and led to our table in the back. I must say it was wonderful not to hear loud voices competing over pulsing music. Kajutsi offers us only the faint tinkling of a waterfall somewhere off in the distance.
You can order the four-course menu or the eight-course menu and we opted for four. I added a sake pairing with each course, of course. Jill sniffed each sample of my sake because she doesn’t imbibe. But she loved the sniff of each subtle fragrance — each one different, each one perfectly suited to the food it was paired with.
Okay: the food. It is very, very good.
OK fine. I'll admit it. I'm the person who studies the menu online before going out to eat. I devour every edible word and let the taste bud anticipation work its magic.
The moment I knew I would be meeting up with a friend at Kyotofu, a Japanese dessert bar in NYC, I quickly jumped over to their site to take a peek at their online menu of tea infused sweets. Within seconds the matcha green tea crème brûlée had my heart skipping a beat.
Although when the plate met the table, the ginger/pear sorbet seemed to steal the show. Let me just say that they were a harmonious pair. As I broke through the delicate, caramelized top layer, a vibrantly bright green mini pot of matcha creme stood before me.
The richness of the matcha creamy treat was balanced by the airy, refreshing bites of ginger, pear. Matcha crème brûlée was a down comforter on a chilly winter night, while the ginger/pear sorbet was linen on a summer afternoon.
The Big Dog and I lunched this afternoon at Ai Fiori, The Big Dog is my high-priced attorney. We were discussing some ultra-subtle legal maneuver that could only be fully investigated in a very, very good Italian restaurant. You’ll be happy to know that we solved all our problems — and everyone else’s, as well. It was a very nice lunch.
Ai Fiori is a Michael White creation. I had dined at his Marea after everybody told me this guy made the best pasta in town. I was concerned about this because I thought I made the best pasta in town. Well, okay, he gets paid for it and justifiably so.
Ai Fiori is sleek and rich. It’s on the second floor, which allows a nice light through the windows and a quiet midtown buzz. It’s in the Setai Hotel, which is a lovely new hotel on Fifth Avenue just below Thirty-Seventh Street.
The lunch menu is prix fixe – a choice of any two courses for thirty-six bucks, which given the quality of food, has to be one of the best deals in town.
It is not every day that I meet a furry friend on my travels through coffee shops. Normally, I find a heart shape design or a leaf, or a flower in the foam of my cappuccino-- a symbol of my barista's or baristo's skill, passion for his or her art, and hope to make my day that much better. But last week, after returning to Via Quadronno for one of their delicious cappuccini, my friend and I were handed what seemed to be the most delicate design I had even seen.
There he was--just staring at us with beautiful details. The cappuccino was actually for my friend Ashley, and I could see the sadness in her eyes as she knew the design would soon be gone when she went to drink the coffee. The panda's eyes almost formed a tranquil look as well--as if he knew his time was short.
For the rest of the day I continued to talk about my run-in with a panda bear at the cappuccino shop. My co-workers were nearly as amazed as we were. So I made it my mission to visit another well-known cappuccino place in Lower Manhattan, La Colombe.
That’s a loaded statement so let me describe the dish before we go any further. It’s a pot of clam chowder — with a light cream base — with succulent, dinner-sized hunks of pork, rosy-pink and tender as a clam, floating in the broth. You spear the pork onto your plate with a fork and then ladle up the soup from the bottom of the pot where the spiced and diced potatoes, clams and vegetables are lurking. Oh baby, oh baby.
This all took place at MoMA P.S.1 in Queens where we caught an early dinner at the M. Well’s Dinette, which serves as the museum’s commissary. It’s not easy to catch dinner there because the Dinette is not open for dinner, but I guess we qualified as a very late lunch.
The M. Well’s Dinette is the second incarnation of this concept from Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis, who are partners in life and business. Hugue came to New York via Montreal’s Au Pied De Cochon and first opened M. Wells, where he dazzled and shocked New Yorkers with his fun, fat and filling take on the eating experience.
How I love New York restaurants! I love my old standbys. I love the familiar friendly faces and food that I know exactly how it will taste. But, I also love going somewhere unexpected and original. This fall I fell in love with two new Italian restaurants both wonderful and both truly special.
Le Zie 2000 Trattoria
Please, promise me, you will not tell anyone about this incredible trattoria in the heart of Chelsea! It is a ‘hood fav and if we all travel from the far corners of Malibu or East 62nd Street just to have a perfect and obscenely inexpensive Venetian spread – therefore overrunning it with “flatland touristers” - my friend, Brucino, will be very, very angry with me.
Brucino – aka Bruce Levingston – is the brilliant pianist of renown, whose latest CD, “Portraits – Bruce Levingston,” has been described as “achingly beautifully played, a discrete and warm miracle.” It was through his gracious invitation to dinner (and Oh! coming from the Mississippi Delta his grace is indeed gracious!) that we discovered Le Zie and its charming owner Claudio. Claudio loves to make special dishes for Brucino, but there was so much to desire on the menu and the specials put my head spinning, my darling husband, Bill and I were more than content with what lay before us:
I had one of the top ten dishes of the year today in the middle of what could have been a dreary day. It was raining and I was limping around puddles on my way to a lunch meeting in Soho.
I had just come from the podiatrist, my throbbing foot wrapped to within an inch of its life to protect the plantar fascia, the ligament that goes along my arch to my heel.
I had injured it, as athletes will do, in some moment of extreme competitive zeal, which I cannot at this moment recall. It only hurts when I walk, Mother.
So, I was in pain, I was late, I was wet, I was peckish. Not a good potential lunch partner.
I was meeting two fine fellows who work for my book publisher, so they know their way around a lunch table. They had chosen Balaboosta on Mulberry Street and I’m glad they did.