Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New York Tops East Coast Eats

There are certain New York foods that I must have each time I go. I have  a little me-conversation asking  if I'm denying myself a new treasure for the sake of a beloved favorite, but then convince myself having something every 1-2 years is not overdoing anything.  This trip, my return visits were to Patisserie Claude (pain au chocolat still marvelous), Gotham Bar and Grill (chocolate cake still the best in the world and the $25 2 course lunch unbeatable), Keens Chophouse (sat again at the bar delighting in the bistro mutton chop and the steak salad, both done perfectly  and well-priced, with terrific rolls and excellent sweet butter, and dynamite cocktails), Grimaldi's Pizza (running late so got a cheese to go and ate in the subway on the way to a play-- they moved next door to a bigger place, but the pizza is still terrific, John's Pizzeria (always reliable with a cheap but good house wine and  a big salad and a location in Times Square), Joe's Pizza for a right-out-of-the-oven slice, and Carnegie Deli (we got the meat platter with pastrami, corned beef, and brisket, enough for the 2 of us and sandwiches for our plane the next day.  I went to Katz's my last trip and I vote for Carnegie's pastrami.
I went on a mini Momofuku spree with lunch at Momufuku Ssam Bar and dinner at the Noodle Bar. I had the Ssam roast duck lunch plate with an added green onion pancake.  I got there soon after it opened so it was not crowded and very pleasant to sit at the bar eating excellent duck and sipping a nice Loire red.  Dinner at the Noodle Bar was more of  a challenge. Very good food but a noise level to cause nausea. The famous pork belly bun, a superb grilled octopus saute, and the momofuku ramen with pork, pork belly, and an egg were all great to eat.  I wanted to try the soft serve for dessert, but Sheila had had enough of the bruit, so we left.  The other new discovery was Coppelia, a Cuban place on 14th, with  a large, reasonable menu, like a good NY coffee shop. Great fried yucca, decent calamari, a perfect roast pork sandwich, and green plantains made for a satisfying meal before an ever-wonderful walk along the High Line.
Many years had passed since I went to a few old favorites I returned to this trip.  Junior's in Brooklyn features really incredible cheesecake.  We shared a pastrami sandwich with it, which was so so. Service was great tho and the place has  a real classic feel and very good cole slaw, pickles, and beets. Eating in the tavern area at Gramercy Tavern offers an excellent meal at half the price of the restaurant with superb service. The prix fixe is 4 courses at $48 and featured black bass with spring onions, a soft-shell crab sandwich, bavette steak with fingerling potatoes, and a delightful strawberry shortcake. You can get a drink pairing for $20, which in this case was 3 excellent ales and an Italian white for dessert. Their wine list is enormous with some fine choices by the glass, including the always exceptional Turley Zinfandel.
It had been probably 15 years since we ate at Le Bernardin, but they recently remodeled and it still is at the top of all ratings (recent 4*s in NY Times after we made our reservation) so we decided to go for the "more reasonable" $70 lunch.  Yevgeny Kissin was there too after he too received  a glowing review in the Times. The place is beautiful and service is excellent, a little but not too much hovering. Choices are many for each of the first 2 courses and desserts all sound good.  I would have preferred to forego dessert and have 3 courses of the seafood specialties. I had a wonderful fresh thinly pounded yellowtail served over a toasted baguette slice with fois gras, chives and olive oil--simple and perfect.  Sheila had marvelous raw fluke in a jalapeno-lime brroth, sublime.  Her entree of beautiful Arctic char with truffled peas was the best dish we had; my roasted monkfish was delicious but not as otherworldly as the char. Sorbets for dessert were lovely and  a raspberry melange with cake and ice cream was very nice.  Really wonderful butter cookies were a final treat. We had a delicious Montagny, at $65 about the cheapest wine on a formidable list.
And now for bagels.  NY bagels are just the best. I love the giant pumpernickel ones at Ess-a-Bagel especially filled with chive cream cheese and Nova lox.  Staying in Brooklyn, tried several there and decided Bergen Bagels on Flatbush and Bergen is the best. I tried their other store on Myrtle, for some reason not as good. Le Bagel Delight is fine, Fulton Bagels, fairly new on the scene but nicely chewy, and Brooklyn Bagel Works on DeKalb was OK. Amazing to be in a place where there are 5 bagel places within 3 blocks. Ahh, New York, what a wonderful town.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

East Coast Rapture
Just came back from a 3 city East Coast eating/viewing/walking tour.  I'll divide the blog into 2 parts: Washington D.C. and Philadelphia and then New York City.
Washington has become  a much finer food city than I remember.  We came for a fabulous wedding that we surrounded with some great meals. The 2 favorites were Obelisk and Thai Xing, both prix fixe but opposite dining experiences beyond the spectacular food at both.  Thai Xing is a true hole-in-the-wall with only a tiny sign way out on Florida Street. It's $30 for  6 courses of distinctive, homey Thai pleasures. Starting with  a stuffed cucumber soup, ending with fresh mango with sticky rice, each dish was a pleasure. Beef, fish, chicken, prawns, and squash and  pad see ew were the stars of the dishes in between. BYOB, which you should remember to do cuz a liquor store is not easy to find in this semi-dicey area.  The other great meal was at Obelisk in Dupont Circle. Another multi-course extravanganza at $75, which is  a pretty good deal. Wines are quite high but it's a good list of atypical Italian choices. Obelisk features 3 choices for primi, secondi, and desserts, but everybody gets the same feast of antipasti along with terrific homemade breadsticks.  Ours included garlicky prawns, eggplant crostini, burrata, canneli beans and prosciutto.  really got the taste buds working. For the next courses, the 4 of us picked the top-sounding one and ordered 2 of those and then 1 of each of the others. Very nice agnoletti in brodo, ravioli, and tagliatelle. Main courses included veal chop for 2 (done perfectly), quail, and sea bass, everything done nicely.  Entrees were followed by a cheese course, which I believe makes one feel less full, but others believe it's the theory of a fool. We then shared light desserts of chocolate, gelato, and fruit.  The place is not fancy or pretentious, the focus is on great eating and service was comfortable and responsive.
Other restaurants in DC were no slouches either.  Lunches at Zaytinya and Rasika were both delicious and reasonable. Rasika is one of the best Indian places I've ever been to and their fried spinach dish (palak chaat) is the best Indian dish ever. Sit in the bar area if you can't get a reservation-- same menu and very comfortable.  Very nice wines by the glass.  Zaytinya is also very popular and pretty loud, but the food is delicious.  We were there for Saturday brunch and enjoyed the Lebanese French toast soaked in orange blossom custard with dried cherries, perfect grilled octopus over smashed potatoes with turmeric making them very yellow, and giant beans with kale. The fried calamari was OK.

Philadelphia has also improved greatly in the food arena.  For our classic Philly treat, we had a brisket sandwich from Dinic's in the Reading Terminal Market. They were out of my chosen pulled pork but the brisket was tender and delicious and generously served with BBQ sauce. So many choices in the Market, it was not an easy decision, but ended up being  a good one. We had a decent French breakfast at Parc, a lovely Parisian-style brasserie looking out on Rittenhouse Square. When we first sat down at our window table, a large delivery truck pulled up to block the view and spew exhaust, but it left soon and all was pleasant afterwards, although my hot chocolate took a long time to come. My eggs and potatoes were done just right.  A very enjoyable dinner in spite of a very obnoxious server was had at Garces Trading Company on Locust Street, one of chef Jose Garces's well-regarded restaurants.  This one is also a market with many types of olive oils and vinegars and house-made charcuterie. Our server let us know that she has worked at all of his restaurants and is a very good friend.  Who cares? There is great care in the food, from olives through cheeses, charcuterie, pastas, an excellent pizza, scallops, duck, brussel sprouts, duck fat-fried frites, and desserts, all part of the $40 chef's tasting. We got the $20 wine pairings with 4 nice pours.
A higher level of Italian cuisine was enjoyed at Il Pittore on Sansom St, a fairly new star in the STARR group of restaurants, of which Parc is also part.  Fairly expensive but very good and serving wonderfully cold water.  Not sure why that impressed me so, but it did, as did my primo of poached lobster and entree of corzetti,  pasta coins with braised goat, mint and chili oil.  All pastas are made in-house. The arugula salad was nothing special, but the suckling pig as an entree was superb.  We shared a Pinot Noir from Northern Italy, which was perfect with all courses. Gilato for dessert was a perfect ending.