Category Archives: New York City

One last weekend in the city

It’s funny how a move forces you to finally do all those things you always meant to do someday, but never really got around to. Like spending a full weekend in New York, just because.  We finally got around to doing just that last weekend, and it was great.  (Why didn’t we do it earlier??)

The thing about day trips in NYC is that you’re so tired and grumpy by the end of the day that you really don’t get to enjoy all the stuff you try to cram in before boarding the commuter train home.  Staying in the city gave us a bit more time to just wander and enjoy the snow, check out the funny sight of New Yorkers encountering “nature” (think sledding on any hill in sight and lots and lots of Hunter Boots), and actually spend almost an entire day wandering around the Met, because we could.

We stayed at Hotel 17 (which I recommend for a cheap place to stay on the Lower East Side, if you’re looking for one), and took the opportunity for a late night tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern on Friday.  We had a reservation at 10:30 pm originally (that’s all we could get), which got moved up to 9:30 because of the 20.9″ of snow that had just fallen.

Gramercy Tavern deserves all the praise it gets.  The staff are incredibly attentive, and know exactly what they’re doing. Watch them avoid collisions in a busy dining room on a Friday night, and you’ll see what I mean.  The place isn’t snooty, and you can show up in jeans if you want.  And the food is worth waiting for, if you happen to be in the neighborhood without a reservation and try and get a seat in the Tavern.

We did the Winter Tasting menu, which is ~5+ courses stretched over about 2 hours.  I ordered a glass of Malbec with mine, and James was happy to find a lemon bitter on the drinks menu, which ended up going really nicely with the first several courses on the menu.  Each course was very fresh, very different, and made excellent use of the few vegetables available to us here in the North East in the midst of winter.

The amuse bouche was simply slivers of fresh local veg speared on a toothpick with a lemony vinaigrette — maybe not the best amuse bouche I’ve ever had, but it really was the only dish I wasn’t that impressed with, and it was really just meant to cleanse your palate.  The first course was thinly sliced, really fresh scallops with pickled swiss chard stems and aji dulce peppers, which was fresh and light and almost tasted spring-like despite the season-appropriate selection of vegetables involved.  The second course was this amazing lobster soup with brussels sprouts and pancetta. They poured this absolutely delicious broth over the soup ingredients, and I only hope to recreate it someday at home.  My guess is it involved a bit of soy sauce, maybe veal broth, and balsamic, among other things, but I may be mistaken.  The third course was some of the nicest smoked trout I’ve ever had, with three types of onions that even James ate happily.  There was a sweet onion puree under the trout, with beet red pickled onion slices on top and something like a chopped onion marmelade to make the dish just a little prettier.  It struck me as a play on bagels and lox, which was appropriate for the place.

The next dish was almost an Asian fusion dish, though I’ve never seen Asian / rural Bavarian cuisine combined in such a way before. It was a rabbit (?) dish, with cabbage, golden fried spaetzle, and fresh black trumpet mushrooms.  The sauce was salty and savory and delicious, and it sort of made the dish, even if I did feel like I needed to drink a gallon of water afterwards.

The last main dish was a rack of veal and deckle, which they served with some stewed red cabbage and heirloom white beans of some sort.  While the veal was a bit sinewy, it was nicely cooked, and quite tasty, as was the deckle, which was a fatty bite of goodness that I wished I had saved for last.

But that is not all, of course, because Gramercy Tavern is awesome and tasting menus have a few extra treats by design, at least at most places.  We thought we had one course (dessert) left.  We were given a choice between a blood orange cheese cake and some sort of chocolate mousse dish, and had ordered one of each and some coffee.  What appeared was a deconstructed apple pie with sake-caramel sauce, fresh apples, and cinnamon cream.  THEN dessert came (and the blood orange cheesecake won in my book, but I LOVE blood orange anything, so that’s not surprising).  Then petit fours, and a final surprise: a cardamom coconut breakfast cake, all neatly packaged to go, for the next day.  At that point, we were stuffed, and happy to sit in a food-coma stupor for a bit, and then stroll around the city at half past midnight, realizing that EVERYONE was out on the street, slightly tipsy and ready for snowball fights and chats with random passersby.  This was when I started realizing why people actually enjoy living in the city, and I really hope Sydney will feel similar.

The rest of the weekend was also a lot of fun.  We checked out Egypt and ancient Armor in the MET, and discovered Le Pain Quotidien, which had light, delicious tartines on some serious bread, tasted sandwiches at Porchetta (sort of not worth the hype, or the $10, but it wasn’t bad) and Belgian fries at Pomme Frites (which was good, but maybe a bit expensive at $7 a pop? Unless, of course, that’s your dinner, which very well may be the case at this place).

That, book browsing / shopping at Strand (amazing selection, but get there early if you, like me, can’t stand the pushy NY crowds), brunch at The Smith (potato waffles! Though the omelets looked better, and yes, you need a reservation), pear cider at the Union Square greenmarket, a stroll in Central Park, and a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and through the Brooklyn Bridge park were some of the other highlights of the weekend.

It was a fitting way to spend one last weekend in New York.  And as it turns out, our last weekend before embarking on a low-sodium, low-fat food experiment.  Yes, I’m going to have to get a little creative in the kitchen out of necessity.

2 Comments

Filed under New York City, restaurant review, travel

New York in January

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.

6 Comments

Filed under cheese, local farms, New York City, pizza, restaurant review, travel