This post is edited highlights of Manhattan: Brooklyn will follow shortly.
Readers Jonathan, Blair and Ailsa all insisted I try the burgers at Shake Shack, NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer's phenomenally popular burger take-out joint in the shadow of the Flatiron Building in Madison Square Park. Since it opened in 2004, Shake Shack's burgers have become so popular that its website has a "Shack Cam" so patrons can see how long the queue currently is, and plan their visit accordingly.
As well as sampling a juicy burger, we each had a vanilla frozen custard shake (frozen custard being a Midwest specialty, soft serve mixed with premium ice cream). Ye gods, it was bad for us... but gooood.
...and just when you think you've seen everything, you come across Boba Fett playing the theme from 'Amelie' on an accordion. :)
Cafe Habana is an informal Nolita diner that serves great cheap Cuban and Central Mexican food. The Hueveos Rancheros ($6.25) that I ordered were damn tasty, but the real speciality of the house is the grilled Mexican corn ($3.95), served with chilli powder lime and cotija cheese. After our generous breakfasts we didn't have room for corn, so it went untasted by us - but just about everyone else in the place was munching on an ear and wearing a smile. Thanks to reader Whitney for recommending this place.
One night we met up with my friend, the charming José, for dinner. He took us to Gyu-Kaku, the East Village outpost of the chain of yakiniku restaurants from Japan. Loved the Hawaiian-influenced Ahi Tuna Poké (sashimi-grade yellowtail tuna cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated in shoyu, sesame oil, onions and chilies). It's not pictured, but the Filet Tataki was melt-in-the-mouth wonderful.
José relished being in charge of cooking the cuts of meat (Tojuko Kobe, Misuji, Harami and Pitoro (pork jowl) with various marinades including shio, wasabi soy, and black pepper miso) on our brazier.
I learned from Tummy Rumbles that Melbourne now has its own yakiniku restaurant, Takumi, and I went there last Friday. We enjoyed it, but I was sorry to see that they didn't offer steamed vegetables like the ones we had at Gyu-Kaku - just look at that parcel of mixed mushrooms luxuriating in their own juices.
For dessert we enjoyed the green tea and the chocolate banana Mille Crêpes from Lady M Confections, an Upper East Side institution.
A non-foodie recommendation for you all if you visit NYC soon is to check out the High Line, a completely fabulous new public park that runs along the former elevated West Side Line railroad through Chelsea and the Meat Packing District. It only opened in June and when we went past on a Sunday there were long lines of people queuing to enter, so we went back on a weekday. Loved all the wildflowers growing amongst the railroad sleepers, and loved the views.
One afternoon we met up with an old friend of b-f-K's who now lives in Chelsea, and he gave us a walking tour all around his favourite West Village haunts. We dropped in for a drink at the gastropub The Spotted Pig but alas were not hungry enough to sample anything from their dining menu. Liked the dark, low-ceilinged interior though.
In his email of NYC recommendations to me, my lovely friend Jeremy wrote:
"2. Ippudo NY. The best ramen noodles I have had. Ever. Prepare for a 20min wait in getting a table if you're there around popular dining times, but apart from that, this is a must. If this list were in chronological order it would be on the top. Just do it.
Well, with a recommendation like that, how could I resist?!
Yes there was a considerable wait for a table, but b-f-K and I didn't mind as we scored ourselves a comfy spot at the front by the bar where we drank glasses of sake that were filled to the brim and served in little wooden boxes, and sampled the appetizer hirata buns ($8, steamed and filled with mouth-watering roast pork and spicy sauce).
Upon our arrival in the restaurant proper, surrounded by beautiful people, we ordered our ramen ($13 each: b-f-K had the tori (chicken) ramen, I went with tonkotsu ramen). Photogenic they were not, but the richness of the stock and the softness of the handmade noodles (made on the premises by a guy we spotted on our way down to the restroom) made these bowls of ramen pretty damn sensational. We also couldn't resist ordering the renkon hasamiage ($8, deep fried lotus root with minced shrimp, served with tempura dipping sauce) because it sounded so interesting.
The Gehry-designed IAC/InterActiveCorp Headquarters. Architecturally speaking this was an extra-special trip, because the my favourite NY building the Guggenheim Museum was celebrating its 50 year anniversary by hosting a huge exhibition dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright. It was magnificent!
Oh and yes, I did visit Magnolia Bakery (the Upper West Side branch) to try a red velvet cupcake. Nice and soft, bu the smell of the place was so intensely sugary that after ten minutes in there b-f-K and I both had sugar headaches!
At Grand Central Terminal, we went to both the underground Oyster Bar to sample a range of East Coast oysters and to the Campbell Apartment for cocktails. The Campbell Apartment, tucked away in the south west corner of Grand Central Terminal, was once the office and salon of financier and railroad tycoon John W. Campbell. Restored in recent years and now a classy cocktail lounge, the Apartment has thick carpets, ornate window frames, clubby panelling and preppy hostesses wearing little black dresses and pearl necklaces. We decided that we quite liked it, as we knocked back a goblet each of the potent Prohibition Punch.
A huge thank you to reader Mel for steering me in the direction of Bespoke Chocolates in the East Village - and to their Pretzel-Covered Sea-Salted Caramels in particular ($2.25 each). To quote from the Bespoke website:
"One of Time Out New York's Top 100 Tastes and Winner of the 2008 Golden Scoop Award for Best Confection! A crisp chocolate shell encases silky, creamy, sea-salted caramel. We hand-roll each piece in 66% cocoa content chocolate, then cover it in a crunchy layer of delicious Martin's Pretzels, fresh from the Union Square Greenmarket."
Regular readers will already know I have something of a salted caramel fetish, but salted caramel combined with the chocolate and the pretzels was a little slice of heaven. I also had a lovely foodie chat with Rachel, the chocolatier, who was a complete doll. Highly recommended.
We went along to a wine tasting at SoHo's City Winery - the first winery in Manhattan in 40 years where New Yorkers can produce their own private label wines, dropping in whenever they like to check on their barrel to see how their wine is progressing. We also had some excellent cocktails later that night at Little Branch.
On the second weekend we were in NYC, my dear friend CJ flew in from Toronto for two nights! I hadn't seen her in nearly six months so it was great to spend time together in the Big Apple. She had a craving for dumplings, so the three of us made our way to Dumpling Man in the East Village. The dumplings were made fresh before our eyes - we tried the pork & chive, the chicken & cabbage and the tofu & shiitake, some steamed and some seared.
We were in town for the Pride March - got to see it along 5th Avenue as we were on our way to the Rockefeller Center.
Australasian eatery Public in Nolita (thanks to reader Luke) was very similar in feel to St Jude's Cellars. The three of us went for brunch one morning (with brunch cocktails!) and were very impressed with the dishes we tried: CJ had vanilla brioche French toast with star anise poached plums, amaretto mascarpone and fresh basil ($11); b-f-K had the (sensational) coconut pancakes with fresh ricotta, mango salad and ginger-lime syrup ($11); and I had (not pictured) the tea-smoked salmon, spinach and poached eggs on toasted sourdough with yuzu hollandaise ($14).
Tribeca: the benefits of botox and cafe stroller parking bays. :)
My friend DZ told me I'd need to book in advance for the brasserie at La Esquina and he wasn't wrong: a week in advance and the only booking for two that we could apparently snag was 9pm on a Monday. The hush-hush nature of the entrance was gimmicky but kinda fun: you enter the gaudy fast food taqueria at street level and approach the bouncer in a suit. Once your reservation is confirmed via walkie-talkie, you're ushered through a door marked "Employees Only", down a steep flight of stairs, through a starkly-lit, bustling kitchen and along a narrow corridor before emerging, Goodfellas-like, into the gothic Mexican restaurant.
Dishes we tried included the taquitos pollo rostizado ($10), the tostadas contramar ($12, crisp tortillas with raw tuna, smoked chilli aioli and pepino), the elotes callajeros ($4, grilled corn) and a delicious dessert special (whose details sadly elude me). A great meal!
Grabbed a genuine New York hot dog from a vendor outside the Met.
Our last meal in NYC is a tourist favourite - in business since 1888, Katz's is the deli where the infamous orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed - but also came highly recommended from just about every New Yorker we met.
We shared one of their famous rye sandwiches ($14.95), with pastrami and corned beef that was carved off for us by one of the burly guys behind the counter. Pickles came as a side dish. An intensely meaty farewell to NYC!
I'll be following up this post with three (shorter!) posts: one on highlights of Brooklyn, one dedicated to the Michelin-starred restaurant we visited and one dedicated to my personal favourite restaurant in NYC. Sorry it's been such a long post, but there was so much I wanted to write about!