Thursday 16 July 2009

New York Gastronome: Manhattan highlights

Excuse my absence, dear readers, but I'm now back in Melbourne after a wonderful wonderful trip to New York and San Francisco. Many sincere thanks to all of you who left comments or sent emails to me giving recommendations on NYC dining venues - I transcribed them all into my little red notebook and visited many of them. When best-friend-K and I would inevitably get chatting to New Yorkers about places to eat and drink I'd show them the notebook, and after adding their own suggestions they'd all comment on the quality of the recommendations I'd been given. :)

This post is edited highlights of Manhattan: Brooklyn will follow shortly.

Manhattan, Top of the Rock

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.

Shake ShackShake Shack burger and frozen custard shake

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. :)

Flatiron BuildingBoba Fett playing the theme from Amelie

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.

Cafe HabanaHuevos Rancheros

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.

Ahi tuna poke at Gyu-kakuJose at Gyu-kaku

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.

Gyu-kakuGyu-kaku mushrooms

For dessert we enjoyed the green tea and the chocolate banana Mille Crêpes from Lady M Confections, an Upper East Side institution.

Gyu-kakuLady M's green tea Mille Crepes

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.

High Line parkHigh Line park

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.

Spotted PigSpotted Pig

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.
P.s. Ippudo."

Well, with a recommendation like that, how could I resist?!

Hirata Buns at IppudoIppudo

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.

Renkon Hasamiage at IppudoSake at Ippudo

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!

IAC/InterActiveCorp HQ by GehryRed velvet cupcake at Magnolia Bakery

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.

Grand Central Oyster BarCampbell Apartment

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.

Pretzel covered sea salted caramelCity Winery

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.

Dumpling ManDumpling Man

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.

Pride March NYC

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).

Vanilla brioche French toast with star anise poached plums, amaretto mascarpone and fresh basilCoconut pancakes with fresh ricotta, mango salad and ginger-lime syrup

Tribeca: the benefits of botox and cafe stroller parking bays. :)

Botox?Stroller parking

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.

La EsquinaLa Esquina
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!

Taquitos pollo rostizadoTostadas contramar
Elotes CallajerosDessert

Grabbed a genuine New York hot dog from a vendor outside the Met.

New York hot dog standNew York hot dog

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.

Life is BeautifulKatz's

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!

Times SquareThe Chrysler


Anonymous said...

what a great post!

*tummy rumbles*

Katya said...

Oh wow, you make eating in New York look absolutely amazing. Now I want to go more than ever.

Ed Charles said...

Wow, you packed a lot in. The one thing we could do with here is stroller parking. I get fed up being run over by them in cafes.

Looks like a great trip.

Christine said...

Your first instalment of your time away was AMAZING. I'm hoping to get back to New York next year (i was there about 10 years ago when I was 16), and will certainly be bookmarking this post! What a fantastic post, can't wait to read the rest :)

Jess said...

glad to have you back, was missing your posts! so far sounds like you had a pretty amazing time.

i have to thank you for an (indirect) recommendation - i've just booked a table at gingerboy for a special weekend coming up in melbourne, i'm really looking forward to it...

Desci said...

This post was so good! I just read it then immediately printed it out, for furture reference (I may be going there in a few months, hehe). Only thing it was missing was a comparative scale of how expensive the places were (1/5 = cheap as chips, 3/5 = Australian Cafe/pub, 5/5 = Vue de Monde, hee).

But great post and fantastic pics. Thanks for sharing a little bit of NY with us!

claire said...

Glad you liked it, anonymous! It took me bloody ages. :)

Thanks, Katya! You must must go to New York, it's an incredible foodie city.

Hi Ed. It was a great trip - but glad I had five days of R 'n R in San Francisco to decompress after the hubbub of NY!

Aw, thanks Christine! Try to be there for as many days as possible - I guarantee you won't fun out of things to see or do. We spent two days in the Met and still barely scraped the surface - if I lived in NYC I reckon I'd hibernate in there every winter.

Thanks Jess, nice of you to say. Hope you enjoy Gingerboy - it can be a bit noisy and you have to like strong spicy flavours in your food, but I love it. Let me know how it goes!

Hi Desci, thanks! Hope it printed okay, the formatting always seems to stuff up when I try to print anything from the blog to show my Nonno (who is very unfamiliar with computers).
As for the comparative price scaling I'm afraid I never know how to judge these things because there can be such a range of prices on a single menu, so my rule of thumb is to just list the prices of the things we ordered. I'll have another look through my photos and notes, and add the prices of anything I left out (was writing this up very late last night!) - if there are any places in particular you're curious about, just ask me. Generally speaking, the prices were more reasonable than I thought they'd be, though we did have a pretty favourable exchange rate - but remember you have to add NY taxes and 15-20% tip on everything! :)

Unknown said...

Oh you lucky thing - sounds like you had a brilliant tip. You ate at totally different places than I did when I was in NYC a year ago but thats the great thing about that city - there are SO many options.

Johanna GGG said...

glad you enjoyed your trip - of course now I wish to visit new york and eat eat eat all that wonderful food

claire said...

Hi there Gourmet Chick, so where did you go when you were in New York? Did you write it up? Would love to read your take on it!

Hey Johanna - food in New York comes highly recommended... :)

jacqueline said...

oh! i am SO glad you are home. (not that i actually know you so i hope it isn't creepy of me to say that...)

claire said...

Oh! Um, thanks jacqueline. What, were you worried I'd succumbed to The Swine, or something? :-)

Emily said...

Love, Love, Love! i'm so jealous of your globe trotting gastronomic adventures right now. My bf is heading to NYC soon - i'll definately be passing your reviews and recommendations along to her also (and will probably end up making me doubly envious)

Great post :D

Brett H said...


I have no words.....
...other than... I feel a bit green

Rebelfish said...

Thanks posting about the accordion. You can find videos and recordings on the Youtube and Facebook page for Renegade Accordion. _[|--}

olivia said...

DROOOL....... Must. plan. trip. to. new york. soon. . . . . :D

Thanks for sharing, Claire!

claire said...

Ooh, thanks for the ovation Brett H!

Wow, Renegade, you're the accordion guy?! Thanks for your music! You might like to know I didn't just snap the photo and run, we stood and listened for a while then gave some money. Loved your rendition of La Valse d'Amelie.

You're welcome, Olivia! As you can probably tell, I can't recommend New York highly enough. :)

Anonymous said...

So glad you had a great time! I'm happily reminiscing over my time in NY whilst reading your post, being reminded of the deliciousness and how much love I have for that city. I have also partaken in Ippudo, and OH MY GOD. I've eaten ramen in Japan, and let me tell you, it's hard to make a comparison.

Also glad you loved Bespoke :-)

But also glad you're home!


claire said...

Thanks, Mel. And thanks once again for the Bespoke Chocolates tip! :)

Anonymous said...

1.Katz’s Deli in New York, absolutely the worst restaurant experience in the western hemisphere. Food quality: poor and that the best part, Friendly service: makes Seinfeld’s soup Nazi look like Cheers, Prices: it’s a mugging without the trust, Atmosphere: great if you like hell. A masochist’s dream, but why would any normal person go there?
— Mike N

claire said...

Ha! I like your opposing view on Katz's, Mike... call me a masochist, I guess :)

Rebelfish said...

I agree on Katz. Ridiculously expensive for decent, but far from extraordinary food, and rude staff. Go to your corner deli and you'll save 70% plus not be yelled at by the guy making your sandwich.

Ad said...

Thanks for recommending Cafe Habana ... the grilled corn was fantastic! Tried to go to Public too, but was travelling with a mate that wasn't really interested in food!

Poached Latte said...

Long time reader first time poster. Thanks for all the efforts into your site.

18 months later and the recommendations hold up very well. Had an amazing holiday in the US and your Manhattan highlights definitely made the dining a great part of the trip. The best part of going in the midst of one of New York's coldest winters was that there was no trouble getting into place like La Esquina. Thanks for the impressive list of New York recommendations. As well as loving your recommendations, would also suggest trying Wd-50 tasting menu and bagels from bagelhole in Brooklyn. Also, I'm not sure if you went through the Chelsea Markets when you went to the high line, but there was some great produce there as well as great coffee at Ninth St Espresso. One regret - choosing Daniel based on it's San Pellegrino rating rather than Le Bernadin.