17 April 2008
i (heart) eating in nyc
In our quest to hit the high notes of Big City America before departing for Korea, Stefano and I set our weekend sights on New York City, a destination with neither equals nor rivals. As for oft-made comparisons to the likes of London and Paris... I shall politely disagree.
New York is the messiest most beautiful piece of art that our dear little planet has on offer. It is wild and alive and too cool for school. Expensive and cheap and wholly available. And the people fortunate enough to make their lives here must find that other cities, and their denizens, move along in agonizingly slow motion.
What did we do with our short but sweet time in NYC? What we always do on weekend visits: eat. Churches and museums, statues and sites, each is a fine way to fill a day. But two years in Italy taught us that the absolute best way to get your bearings, and a good sugar high, is to eat your way around a place. Our method hasn't failed us yet and always yields a handful of fascinating conversations and unexpected discoveries. Sounds like a nice way to spend a couple of days, no?
From the airport Friday night we went to the hotel. And from the hotel we went straight to Momofuku to slurp ramen noodles at the bar. The wait was bearable, the crowd was hipster through and through (see example of a "hipster" in the photo above -- skinny jeans on a guy usually gives him away), and the music was straight off of Stefano's ipod. No fewer than 10 times during our dinner Stefano stopped eating, pointed his chopsticks at the stereo speakers above our heads, and made it known that the song currently playing was on his ipod. It got so bad that at one point he said in all seriousness that if his ipod was missing from our hotel room, we were coming back here to get it. That, my friends, is how cool the music was; the noodles were pretty good too.
Momofuku, 171 First Ave., 212-777-7773
For an incredible cappuccino bring yourself and - as my mother would say - your bushel baskets to La Colombe. At $3.50 a pop their cappuccinos are hardly cheap but they do taste remarkably similar to the ones we'd enjoy every Saturday in Italy. We suspect it has something to do not only with the barista's aptitude for barista-ing but also with the copious use of whole milk. You can also ask for directions here; the first set will send you in the wrong direction but within minutes the barista should run up behind you and right the earlier wrong by sending you in the opposite - and correct - direction after all.
La Colombe, 319 Church St., between Lispenard & Walker, (212) 343-1515
The direction in which we needed to proceed was towards The Doughnut Plant, a small and very warm little bakery that puts together a mighty fine and slightly square doughnut. Big and fluffy and filled with homemade jelly, these doughnuts were worth the walk. We tried the peanut butter and jelly, the chocolate glazed, and the coconut cream and are happy to report that this will hardly be the last we see of these fine doughnut specimens. Our conversation with the owner, to whom we were imparting all of our best recommendations for dining in Rome, revealed the happy accident that our future home (Seoul) is one of the three places around the globe (including NYC) with The Doughnut Plant. How do we say "lucky" in Korean? Or better yet, "I'd like a dozen."
The Doughnut Plant, 379 Grand St., 212-505-3700
Eating lunch in this city warrants a commitment. You must choose your lunchtime locale from a city full of food options and then eat in that place without daydreaming of the million other places where you chose not to dine. The pressure to make the right decision is strong. Luckily it's hard to go wrong when you decide on a place that only makes mac and cheese. S'mac boasts something like 10 varieties of this classic combination but at the heart of it each dish is what it should be: melty and warm, rich and cheesy. It is no less than the perfect place to sit at the window and watch New York go by.
Sarita's Macaroni & Cheese (aka S'mac), 345 East 12th St., 212-358-7912
Seating seven in a well-reviewed Brooklyn restaurant that doesn't accept reservations isn't easy. In fact, it takes two and a half hours of dedicated waiting. However if you leave that craziness behind - along with the crowd of old Italian men standing on the corner speaking a sort of Italian you can't understand - and if your friends, who live in Brooklyn, walk you up a couple of blocks in another direction and into a different Italian restaurant, it's entirely possible that you will be seated in under five minutes. And we were. The pizzas were authentic, the wine was incredible, and the conversation with old friends was just what we needed. Here's to going with the flow, especially when it's Nebbiolo.
Savoia, 277 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY, 718-797-2727
The lines in front of Manhattan's cutest cafes on Sunday morning leave no doubt that Sunday brunch is mandatory for all residents of this fine city. Walking block to block, every brunch spot has its own line of hungry New Yorkers and you start to wonder whether this whole brunch thing might be just a tad too much to bother with. But don't give up! Wait in the line at Sarabeth's and when you finally sit down, immediately order the salmon and cream cheese scrambled eggs. Maybe it's officially called the lox and cream cheese, or the smoked salmon and cream cheese... I don't remember. Just order it. You will never dare defame the concept of brunch again.
Sarabeth's (West), 423 Amsterdam Ave. (80th St.), 212-496-6280
I've talked about black and white cookies on this blog before but any praise for these soft and frosted treats is worth repeating. These cookies are what all cookies should be, like a cupcake top that's gone off on its own to see what it would be like without all of that extra bottom cake weighing it down. I recommend going to Zabar's, wandering the aisles listening to the New Yorkers talk about whatever strikes them on a Sunday morning, and leaving with a clear plastic container full of black and white cookies. That way you'll have a few to eat in Central Park, a couple to eat at LaGuardia, and then a couple more when you're back in Washington, DC wondering where the weekend went.
Zabar's, 2245 Broadway at 80th St., 212-787-2000