It’s 3 weeks until the thesis is due, and let’s face it, if you’re in the US, you’re more interested in superbowl recaps or hangover potions after a long night in front of the telly. So I’ll get to the point: we just spent two days in New York (overnight! for cheap!) and, oh, if you’ve never been, you need to go. Just for the food, of course.
No, this isn’t quite breaking news. But New York, more than anywhere else, inspires gluttonous food tours filled with Balthazar rye bread, Sullivan Street semi di sesamo, Murray’s cheese (and salami, now, too!), and of course, restaurants. We were there for Restaurant week, which is actually two weeks and happens twice a year, but try not to think about that too much. We tend to try to get to the city during Restaurant Week because it is the only chance for poor grad students to sample some of those places we’ve been reading about for ages, and haven’t quite managed to visit. This time, we went to db Bistro moderne.
It’s the first of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants I’ve visited, and is one of his most casual. Casual does not mean the food is sloppy. Not at all. Like the vibrant red decor, which has clearly been impeccably styled, every dish we tried seemed like a perfectionist chef’s attempt at making contact with the masses. Not that this was a bad thing.
The Alsatian tarte flambee was a square of almost cracker-like, crisp bread, topped with a mix of fromage blanc, bacon, and white and green onions that balanced the smokiness of the bacon and the subtle sweetness of the onions just so. The pot au feu was a basic beef broth decorated with tiny, uniform squares of beef and root vegetables, and as a whole, reminded us both of some of the best roast dinners we’ve managed in our own home. But the mains were the most memorable. The winter squash risotto was a vibrant green, decorated with arugula, perfect little cubes (once again!) of butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, and perhaps a bit of pumpkin seed oil. It was sweet and spring-like: winter vegetables transformed into a hint of the spring to come. And the matelotte de poisson? It was the sea, which is perhaps the highest compliment I could pay a seafood dish. The spaetzle accompanying the various little pieces of seafood was lightly coated in a sauce that tasted of some of the better rieslings I’ve had in my lifetime, and the brussels sprouts and carrots were actually as enjoyable as the fish. Dessert, the final act, was a work of art, and yes, I will make that coconut custard someday. (Or maybe I’ll just go back for another serving?)
Atmosphere-wise, the place was buzzing, the service was as calculated as the food, and it was abundantly clear that Boulud’s specialty is fine dining. This is, essentially, a fancy restaurant that you can wear jeans to, which is exactly what James and I look for when we head into the city. Having our napkins straightened like naughty children whenever one of us looks the other way just makes us nervous. I think the only odd thing about the place is that the reception desk is halfway through the dining room, requiring some awkward coat-check moves and causing a bit of confusion when you enter the first place for the first time, but it is New York, after all, and space is at a premium.
The rest of the trip was no less delicious, though lunch at db Bistro was probably the highlight. We made it to the farmer’s market for a bunch of different varieties of potatoes, some delicious pear cider (so warm in my freezing fingers), and an apple pie for my friend K. We also made it out to Artichoke Basille’s for slices, because what’s a trip to NY without a slice or two? The picture on NYmag’s site makes the place look roomy, which is certainly not the case, but it’s cozy and friendly and they had good taste in music, so make friends with your pie-eating neighbors. Their spinach and artichoke slice is worth walking all the way across Manhattan for (and you probably need to, just to work all that bechamel off). The crust is thick, bready, and flavorful, but not so much so that thin crust devotees would be turned off by it. If you don’t eat your crust, you really haven’t had good pizza, so go have a try. The sicilian slice wasn’t bad, either, but eh, I’ve had better.
After all that, K took us to a vegetarian place called Red Bamboo in Brooklyn, which had the most convincing fake meat I’ve ever had. Even James was smitten. I had a montego sandwich, which had a sweet vidalia onion spread that I could see myself getting addicted to if I ever lived in the neighborhood.
Finally, we took a quick trip to East Village Cheese for some Balthazar rye bread (sour and hearty, and oh, how it reminds me of Poilaine!) and to Murray’s for some heavenly stinky cheese from Cato Corner Farm (which is in CT, but unfortunately doesn’t sell cheese anywhere near me … Unless you go to the farm and buy a whole wheel, which we may just do for the wedding!). By that point, we were cold and exhausted, and looked forward to the long ride home.