Saturday, May 11, 2013

New York Spring

Ah, Spring in New York, 40 degrees, no wait 80 degrees, sunny, no wait, rainy and cold.  But you can always find safe harbor in some great restaurants.  So here are my 2013 munchings:

Pizza: Always have to get a major pizza fix in NY. Best pizza had this trip was at Luzzo’s (211-13 1st Ave.).  I had never heard of it atho it uses a 100 year old coal oven so I think it's been around awhile.  2 of us shared a beautiful salad and a large margherita, Highly rated in Zagat and for good reason.  I returned to Motorino but this time at East Village site (349 E.12th). Their amazing lunch deal of a choice of 4 pizzas and a fresh salad for $12 cannot be beat.  The margherita was totally satisfying, with a nicely crisp crust  and the right proportions of sauce to cheese.  Only disappointment was their recommended pizza wine, which was lightly fruity but bland.  Another new delight was at Don Antonio (309 W. 50th) which has a mother restaurant in Neopolitan ??and known for their Montorano Starita, an individual-sized pie, lightly fried crust with sauce, smoked mozzarella cooked in  a wood-fired oven. A Pontina ?? salad with spring greens, fresh mozzarella and grape tomatoes made another perfect lunch.

Since it’s always important to try new Italian restaurants, we did our duty at Locanda Verde, very famous and hard to get in.  We went early and besides middling service, had some very good food.  The asparagus appetizer was superb with a poached duck? egg blessing the thick and luscious spears. The Locanda salad with dried cherries and speck was delightful. We went with pastas.  I had to order “My Grandmother’s ravioli” , which ended up being nothing that special besides the nostalgic naming. The daily pasta was a spinach noodle with a light pork ragu. A side of roasted carrots with olive, citrus, and yogurt was perfect.

The best dish of the trip was the crispy watercress salad with shrimp, squid, and chicken at SriPraPhai in Woodside, Queens (6413 39th Ave). I’ve never tasted anything like this spicy, flavorful, texturally magnificent dish.  I’ve been trying to find it on Thai menus in the Bay Area without success.  The other outstanding dish was fried soft shell crab topped with chili, garlic and basil. Noodle dishes and curries were fine too, but the first 2 are big winners and worth the long ride to Woodside.  Our other borough dining treat was at Walter’s in Fort Greene, Brooklyn (166 DeKalb), where we feasted on ceviche, fresh fish, excellent fried chicken, superb Brussels sprouts, and key lime pie.  A cool, neighborhood gathering spot.

A day spent at Grounds for Sculpture in southern New Jersey included a great lunch at Rat’s, which offers a 3 course lunch prix fixe for about $25 with good choices for each course.  I had a yummy onion soup and a barley risotto, a nice variation on grains. The hamburger is beautiful and they follow a farm-to-table philosophy. House made gelati were all excellent.  The sculpture park is a delight and worth the hour train trip from NYC.

More Manhattan dinner highlights were: A return trip to the bar at Keen’s (72W.36th) where we shared oysters and their unique and fantastic mutton chop. The Manhattans are nice and strong, the rolls and butter perfect, and it’s a fun scene, reasonably priced.  Modern Korean fare with especially good kimchi was enjoyed at Danji (346 W. 52), an in-spot where we got seated at the bar after a ½ hour wait among young marketing mavens. The excellent bartender with good wine and food advice made it all OK. Spicy yellowtail sashimi, cool and lovely fresh pea soup, chorizo paella were highlights, altho the well-known pork belly sliders have been eclipsed by other restaurants.  Everyone there seems to order them tho.  The best Greek meal I’ve ever had was our dinner at Pylos (128 E 7th)  where everything was prepared perfectly, service was excellent, wines were good, portions large, prices reasonable, and the pita was unbelievable.  The gigante beans  the grilled octopus, and the whole bronzino were of special note.  I wanted to try everything on the menu.

Lunches provided many memorable moments.  The 3-course lunch at Nougatine by Jean-Georges is a fantastic deal at $32.  I paid an $8 supplement for the best foie gras terrine I’ve ever had with a slightly spicy passionfruit meringue on top as my first course.  Sheila had a lovely tuna tartare. Our entrees of roasted black bass and crispy baked chicken showed off the cooking expertise with the main ingredient complemented by perfect preparation and side dishes. Each bite is a pleasure. The famous warm chocolate cake and the vanilla ice cream with rhubarb puree ended almost perfect meals.  We loved our wines by the glass featuring real treasures, especially a pinot gris from Alsace, even though at $17-18, they don’t come cheap.  And we saw Jean-Georges himself.

 A great pastrami sandwich at the classic Katz’s was the expected treat and our visit to the new location of 2nd Avenue Deli (162 E. 33rd) brought us  terrific pastrami and corned beef, as well as matza ball soup. The pickles were better than at Katz’s although I like Katz’s pastrami better. A gift of a small chocolate phosphate made this meal at one of the last full Kosher restaurants special. One of the oldest dim sum parlors in NYC is Nom Wah (13 Doyers St—a fascinating little street) was fun but Bay Area dim sum is better. This is  a no-cart  place where the shrimp dumplings shine.  I finally made it to Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem (700 W125th) but was mildly disappointed by the pulled pork and brisket lunch plate.  Less than I had hoped for. The cole slaw and beans were both very good.

I had a perfect and simple breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Co (4 Clinton) in the Lower East Side.  The buttermilk biscuit sandwich filled with light and fluffy eggs and cheddar with tomato jam accompanied by perfectly crisp hash browns left me so satisfied I gave my thanks to the chef.  Their muffins and cookies are good too. Great cookies were bought at Levain  (167 W. 74). $4 each but huge and even I think worth the price.  Sublime smoked sable and Gaspe nova lox on bagels came from the legendary Russ and Daughters,  and some great bagels from Bergen Bagels in Brooklyn.  We were disappointed in the “legendary” bagels from H&H Midtown Bagels East (1551 2nd Ave),.  Everything cannot be perfect but our 11 days in New York were all in all very fulfilling, enriching, and a little nutritious.

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