Friday, June 17, 2011

Return to New York and some great eating

It had been too long, almost 2 years, since my last trip to New York. As soon as I finished my interim director gig in Palo Alto, Sheila and I did the redeye, arriving in NYC at 7 AM. First stop on way to our friends' apartment in Brooklyn was La Bagel Delight, a mini-chain, with good plump, nicely chewy bagels, albeit an awful name. We had arrived! Trying to discover the best Brooklyn bagels became a quest. Our favorite bagels and the ones we brought home were from Bergen Bagels, on Bergen at Flatbush, just a few degrees better than La Bagel Delight. Great scallion cream cheese too. A smaller, crispier crust bagel can be found at Bagel Hole, which many think is the best, but they don't last as well. I also had a decent pumpernickel bagel from a new place on De Kalb, Brooklyn Bagel Works. I missed all my favorite Manhattan bagels, except for a stop at Kossar's Bialy, where I was horrified by a stale and bready plain bagel (no pumpernickels available of which I have fond memories), and a lousy bialy, both ending up in a trash can. Quel horreur and shame on them.
I did have an admirable pastrami sandwich from the great Katz's after disposing of the Kossar's travesties, which put me in a better Lower East Side frame of mind. But I was disappointed in the pickles, either too well-done or not done enough.
My other ever-vigilant NYC search besides bagels is pizza and we had some great ones. A dependable slice from Joe's in Greenwich Village paled compared to the Regina Margherita from Keste's Pizza and Vino on Bleecker Street. A truly incredible Neopolitan masterpiece crust with buffalo mozzarella, simple tomato sauce, peeled tomatoes, and basil. Heavenly. A pizza insalata, a pizza dough roll filled with arugula with proscuitto and artichoke heart slices, was an excellent companion. They have an interesting wine list and are open for lunch.
A very, very fine pizza lunch was also had at Motorino in Williamsburg. A $12 prix fixe lunch inlcudes a lovely mixed salad and a pizza of your choice. We had the Margherita (regular but excellent mozzarella), and the soppressata, both good-sized, crispy, but chewy crust, and defintley worth a visit. There's a branch in the East Village. We also had a great slice of pizza bianco from Grandaisy Bakery on Sullivan Street, a simple focaccia with salt and rosemary. The bakery makes incredible lemon-ginger cookies. We had to visit Eataly, the new Italian food emporium, where we had the excellent daily pizza special, 2 slices of speck and mozz. calzone, 2 slices of buffalo mozz, and 2 of arugula, and a beautiful mixed salad.
A favorite NYC avocation is eating at fine restaurants at lunch, when prices are much lower. We always eat at Gotham Bar and Grill and are always satisfied. 3 courses are $31 includng their sublime and wonderful chocolate cake. Their salads are always freshly beautiful, on this day a mesclun for me and beet for Sheila. I had the hangar steak with fingerling potatoes and Sheila had the Finnian haddock with a citrus foam. What a delighful hunk of meat mine was! Besides the cake, we had a very nice yuzu meringue tart. Both desserts had a piece of basil which added a nice flavor to both. For $29, we had amazing 3 course lunches at Del Posto. I paid a $10 supplement for Lydia's lobster salad as a first course and there was like a whole tail of lobster meat with tomato and celery in a light oil that emphasized the lobster. Sheila had tuna and raw veal "cubito", a tartare, with a caper mustard sauce. For entrees, I had beautiful orcchiette with lamb sausage, minted soybeans, and crispy morels, a really fine dish. Sheila had a nice skate with squashes in a broth. She was the adventurous one for dessert, ordering a sfera with celery and figs and celery sorbetto. I had the chocolate tortino with olive oil gelato and pistachios. The meal started with 3 amuse bouches, continued with 3 kinds of bread with butter or wonder of wonders, whipped lardo (like a sublime schmaltz), and ended with mini cookies and chocolates. The restaurant is very beautiful with tables far enough away from each other so it's pretty quiet, a nice jazz pianist, stools for ladies' purses, excellent service, and truffles when you leave. I'd go back.
The soft shell crabs at Oriental Garden in Chinatown came highly recommended so we had to try them. We always end up being disappointed in NY Chinese restaurants and it happened once again. The crabs were good, not great, in a "country" sauce that our neighboring table was raving about with their lobster. We then each had a giant oyster that was very good and the tofu with shrimp, good but not up to some we get here in the Bay Area at dim sum places. I also felt they were fried in not the freshest of oil.
I also usually avoid Mexican places here, but friends highly recommended Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center and we were not disappointed. Their guacamole is freshly made tableside and is delicious with fresh, crispy chips. At $14 it better be good. We had a daily special appetizer of smoked cauliflower with goat cheese and 3 types of mini corn tortillas and the tuna and shrimp ceviche. Their roasted poblano salsa is terrific. A very nice lunch.
I have always wanted to eat at an Alain Ducasse restaurant, but being so cheap, I was not sure I would, until I found Benoit, which has a $38 prix fixe dinner. This midtown restaurant was not very crowded and the reviews weren't overly positive, but we had a very good meal. I started with a twice-baked Comte souffle with a parmesan sauce. Yummers. And then followed with the skate in a caper sauce, which was excellent, and finished with a nice raspberry tart. Sheila opted away from the 3 courses and had a delicious lardon salad followed by a classic French onion soup. Everything was classically good in a beautful brasserie setting.
Another place I had always wanted to eat at was Keen's Steakhouse on W. 36th. St. and try the mutton chop. By myself, I ate in the bar and had a classic Manhattan while waiting for my bistro chop served with braised escarole and fresh rolls with perfect sweet butter. The chop was magnificent, toothy lamb with great texture and cooked perfectly. For dessert, I stopped at a Junior's and had their classic cheesecake to round a out a cholesterol-filled but tasty meal.
Lastly, a real Brooklyn treat was had at Abistro, a Senegalese restaurant in Fort Greene. It's BYOB so the check was an amazing $44 for a great meal for 2. We had the fried chicken, a breast beautifully cooked served over a sweet potato cake and collard greens with a deep, spicy, balanced sauce and the spicy salad with trout, a great balance to the chicken. Both were preceded by cod fritters with black-eyed peas served with salad. Nice to have new and wonderful food. Back at the apartment, we shared a piece of red velvet cake I bought at Cake Man Raven's on Fulton Street, a good balance of moist cake and fluffy frosting.
My love affair with New York remains strong.