Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Every once in a while you hear about a place that’s so hip you wonder where it attaches to the thigh bone. It’s a place for those who are in-the-know, super-cool, and in possession of other hypthenated adjectives. So when my world-traveling friend L (whom I go to school with in the UK, but also lived in NYC for 3 years), made me a list of must-dos and -eats in the city, I knew she’d be a veritable fount of insider information. She gave me not one, but two gems (the second of which will be detailed in an upcoming post).

The first restaurant is La Esquina, or the Corner. I like to think of it as a Mexican speakeasy. At first glance, this restaurant on the Lower East Side is very obvious to spot: its name is emblazoned in neon lights and a theatre marquee touts the yummies on offer. There’s a walk-up takeaway window and inside is a narrow diner-like seating area to enjoy their tacos, tortas, and other selections. However, the secret is revealed when you approach the bouncer-looking dude standing in front what could be the door to the broom closet. Ask him for a table and he’ll open the door, direct you down the stairs, through (yes, through) the kitchen, and into the dimly lit basement bar and brasserie. Surprise!

It’s a small space and booking is definitely advised. However, the night I ate there we showed up relatively early (7pm) and were lucky to score a table right away. My dining partner was E, a friend from Hong Kong whom I hadn’t seen in two years. There was a lot of catching up to do and it was imperative the food was as great as the gossip. We ordered small plates and sides to share and La Esquina did not disappoint. (On a side note, as it was so dark, I’m sorry the photos are of variable quality. I’ll have to figure out a good setting for “speakeasy”.)

Some of our favorites included the taquitos, which are not the fried version (aka flautas), but literally, little tacos (taking on their “-ito” suffixes nicely). I especially like the pulled pork (front) which were exquisitely juicy and tender. The pepper and pickled onions added a nice tangy crunch as well.

Another highlight were the fried plantains covered with salsa verde and queso fresco. The mild salsa and creamy cheese combined to become almost like guacamole and I devoured each bite thinking this dish was genius.

Last, I’d definitely recommend getting the elote callejero, or grilled corn (pictured at the top). I know everyone raves about the corn at Cafe Habana just a few blocks away, but to be honest, this one had the cotija cheese, the chili powder and the lime – and it tasted just as good! Given that I liked the other dishes here better than those at Cafe Habana, my own too-cool-for-school insider tip is this: If you’ve only got time for one Mexican meal in town, make it at La Esquina.

La Esquina (The Corner)
114 Kenmare Street (between Kenmare and Lafayette)
646-613-7100 (You can book 21 days in advance!)
Cost: ~$35/person


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A couple weeks ago my friend J and I made plans to do the in-vogue thing for New York: brunch! She made a short-list of her favorite brunch spots in the city and lo and behold, the Clinton Street Baking Company was at the top. I’d seen Clinton St. on Yelp, with its 4 stars after more than 1500 reviews and everyone raving as passionately about the pancakes as the 2-hour (!) wait for brunch on the weekends. I guess it’s because word’s gotten out: TimeOut New York named it “Best Breakfast/Brunch” in 2007, and New York Magazine declared it had the “Best Pancakes” in the city 2008. More research unearthed the fact co-owner and chef Neil Kleinberg worked under Rick Moonen, so I was expecting some pretty fantastic cooking. J and I, ever the smart cookies, opted to take advantage of our flexible schedules and brunch on a weekday.

We arrived on Thursday morning around 10:30 and even then I was told a table for 2 would require a 30-minute wait. However, as we entered I realized why: the place is small, especially for US standards! It’s basically a narrow diner with roughly five tables and a few counter seats, holding a total of 32 occupants. You’d be wise to bring just one of your (myriad) friends. Alternatively, follow an insider tip I heard: Come for dinner, where you can still enjoy their pancakes from the “Breakfast for Dinner” section of the menu. Alternatively, get them for takeaway!

J, a savory brunch fan, ordered the Spanish Scramble, a three-egg scramble with goodies like chorizo and melted monterey jack cheese mixed in, served with a side of hashbrowns and sourdough toast. I, like most people in the diner, ordered the famous pancakes with blueberries and warm maple butter.

I had a bite of the scramble and enjoyed the saltiness of the chorizo, but to be very honest, the pancakes stole the show. Each bite was so fluffy and the just right balance of buttery-creamy goodness. The blueberries added great tartness while the warm maple butter lent a lot moisture to the dish. My only complaint was I found the maple butter to have a slightly cloying, saccharine aftertaste. I’ve read mixed accounts of whether Clinton St. uses Grade A or Grade B maple syrup for their butter (does anyone out there know the truth?); my only guess is on the day I dined, the maple butter was made with Grade B. From what I know, it’s traditionally a bit darker (compared to its Grade A counterpart), with a sweeter, thicker taste and not used for the table as much as Grade A. The richness of the Grade B was a bit much for me.

In any case, it was a great plate of pancakes and I. Ate. Them. All. Dare you not to do the same!

Clinton St. Baking Company
4 Clinton St. (between Houston and Stanton)
New York, New York 10002
Cost: $20/person with tax and tip 

PS: In case you’re inspired to have your own pancake party, check out food blog The Pancake Princess and the Protein Prince! This cute blog features two authors sharing recipes for the baking fiend in you AND the side craving something more substantial. Recent posts include recipes for French-inspired tarte tartin pancakes and pumpkin pancakes – perfect as the weather starts to turn. MMMMMMM.

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Hello everyone! After a busy summer, I’ve got a month off before school starts again in London. As a result I’m spending 4 weeks in gluttony in one of the tastiest places in the world: New York City. This city is, to me, filled with bests and worsts. I’d say it’s definitely the best for food diversity – from food carts to five-star, from delis to dim sum, New York has everything your heart desires. If you know where to look, it’s mostly pretty darn authentic, too. The worst part? It’s not cheap. A sit-down dinner including taxes and tip (which, from what I learned, is usually 20%!) will set you back at least $20 a head and that’s probably if you don’t get a drink. (A note: I feel the expectation to tip 20% is ridiculous. I understand wait staff don’t get a high base pay here, but IMHO, if they want 20% from me, they need to EARN it. Some service I’ve encountered here is worse than in London, and there everyone expects something like 12% tip – if at all. Get it together, folks!)

But I digress. We are interested in food here, delicious morsels of food that stick to your memory as much as to your gut, and naturally I’ve found a few of those meals in New York. I thought I’d start my New York Eats series with one of the best meals in my life. Seriously.

It was thanks to my high school buddy, S, whom I hadn’t seen in four or five years, at least. We’d decided to catch up in his neighborhood of Queens. I asked him what he would eat if he were to move out of the area tomorrow and he immediately replied “We should go out to Flushing.” Turns out, for those of us not from NY, Flushing is like the true Chinatown/Korea Town of New York City. Stepping out onto Main and Roosevelt was like flashing back to Hong Kong for me, with storefronts covered in neon Chinese signs, boba shops, and masses and masses of Asian people. S took me to have Korean BBQ at Han Joo and oh man, was it amazing. I’ve since read that before this place did BBQ, they were specialists in naeng myun, or cold, thin Korean noodles. One day I will perhaps go back and try the naeng myun, but after my meal last week, I’d be hard-pressed to veer from the BBQ.

From what I can tell Han Joo specializes in pork, which is in spades on their menu (hurray!). There’s a minimum of two orders per table if you do the BBQ, so we ordered the thin-sliced pork and garlic pork. I wanted to try the bibimbap as well but S, who’d been there once before, looked at me and said, “We’re also getting lots of small plates and stuff; I think this is enough.” I, who’d been thinking of the puny banchans in Hong Kong, wasn’t expecting a lot, but as the newbie at the table, deferred to him.

Well. It was a wise choice. Immediately after we ordered, no less than nine plates of banchan came out, from kimchi with blue crab to seafood pancakes to pickled sliced daikon, great to eat on its own or wrapped into the BBQ.

Just as we started nibbling, they brought out the grill – a super-heated slab of crystal, which was perched at a 45-degree angle, allowing the pork grease to flow into an empty container. I thought the slab was brilliant, not least of which because it seemed to make my clothes smell less BBQ-ed at the end of the night, and no meat pieces got burnt. The slices of piggy perfection came next, which our server expertly cooked for us.

She later added more kimchi to the grill and since the slab was angled, the kimchi became progressively more flavored as more pork juices flowed down – genius!

We got the traditional dipping oil, bean paste, fresh lettuce, and kkaennip, or Korean perilla (my favorite) for wrapping, along with a fresh dish of scallion salad to add to the filling.

I made my first one with the thin pork and the first bite delivered a trifecta via taste and texture: crunch and freshness from the lettuce, salty and savory juices from the pork and sauces, and a hit of sweetness from the ssamjang.

About a quarter into the meal, we also got a stone pot with bubbling steamed egg, or gyeran jjim. It reminded me of a Chinese egg dish my mom used to make – wonder if it came first from China or Korea, or developed in tandem in these neighboring countries. It was another nice touch to our meal, but it just added to what was, by then, an embarrassment of food for just two people.

But, S and I had no shame – how could we when the food was THAT good? We tucked in and demolished nearly all of it, save some banchan and a couple spoonfuls of gyeran jjim. Another bonus arrived at the end of the meal: complimentary dessert in the shape of small Korean yogurt bottles. A creamy, delicious way to balance the spicy and savory meal – and if the yogurt is like the Yakult I know, it’s supposed to aid digestion as well. An apt end, as I had no idea how I was ever going to eat again…but seriously, the meal was so worth it.

A week later, I am still thinking about Han Joo. I want to take my boyfriend there. I want to take my friends there. I want to take everyone I’ve ever cared about in my life there (provided they eat meat). Honestly, if you love Korean BBQ, if you love meat, or if you love food in general, you have not lived until you’ve tried this BBQ.

Han Joo
46-10 149th Pl. (between 41st and Barclay)
Flushing, New York 11355
Cost: $25/person with tax and tip (no drinks)

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Hey everyone, sorry for the long hiatus. I wish you all a Happy 2011! Thanks for checking in on the good ol’ blog again. I’ve got a lot to catch up on, so let’s get started without any further ado…

P and I went to New York City shortly after the opening of 2011. Since we’d both been there two or three times before, we wanted to eschew the usual tourist stops and instead spend some time walking around different neighborhoods. However, neither of us had visited the must-eat locales in NYC, so a week before our trip, we had already done homework on what was good.

P had just one place on his hit list: Papaya King. I had no idea this oddly-named restaurant was a hot dog joint, and a famous one at that, but one glance at the website, which listed approval from both Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain, (look up “strange bedfellows” in the dictionary and perhaps this pair will be there) and I was in!

Frank with onions and papaya juice - a surprisingly good combo

It was actually just a tiny place with a couple of counters for stand-up consumption only. P and I were quickly ushered through the line, him getting the frank with kraut (or simply “with” as the guy yelled behind the counter) and me with the one with onions and curly fries. We both got their signature papaya juice.

The colorful interior of Papaya King
The “with” (notice the GIANT drum of ketchup in the background…these guys don’t mess around)

The frank was so juicy delicious that even I, the girl who doesn’t like hot dogs, contemplated getting a second one. Meaty, substantial, solid – almost like a brat, IMHO, it was so thick. Delish. The papaya drinks cut through the grease, too. Guess after 70-some years, they know what they’re doing!

Maybe it’s just because I’m an out-of-towner, but Papaya King to me embodied the no-frills, down-to-earth candor found in the heart of every New Yorker. Even the cups had a bit of that American jocular attitude I’d missed so much in HK.

Big promises from a (somewhat) small fruit

You can’t see it, but the other side of this cup proclaimed Papaya King “as vital to NYC as the subway.” I’d be inclined to agree.

Later that evening, P and I went to the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side for a show. Afterwards, everyone spilled onto the sidewalk as bars in the neighborhood sounded their last call. P and I stumbled into Katz Deli, along with – seemingly – everyone else on the LES. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera that night (the photo below was taken the following afternoon when we were in the neighborhood). If I had, I would have taken an embarrassing amount of photos, surely trying to capture the greatness of their pastrami on rye. At nearly $15 for a sandwich and some pickles, is it a bit overpriced? Sure. But it’s good. That pastrami can back it up, and paired with a side of homemade dill pickles, it’s hard to hold a grudge for too long. P was also ecstatic to find Bass Ale on tap, something he’d been searching for high and low in HK.

Katz's Deli - Enough said

When we passed Katz’s again on Sunday afternoon completely stuffed on three pieces of NY-style pizza (more on that next), we made a serious attempt to eat again. We didn’t make it, but the lesson is: it’s that good.

On Sunday, we wandered around the Chinatown/Little Italy area and stopped by Lombardi’s. We didn’t have breakfast, so we went straight for the large pizza – 18 inches of pie. The menu allowed you to pick your own toppings with a set price per topping. We picked mushrooms, pepperoni, and roasted red peppers and eagerly awaited the arrival of our pie while taking in the red-checkered tablecloths and exposed brick.

The ambience at Lombardi's (and you can see by the ladies and cameras in the background that it's quite the landmark)

The pizza took about 15 minutes and while we were properly hungry when it came out, we immediately realized our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. Nevertheless, we made a huge dent in the pizza, taking down three pieces each (!). I realized the use of fresh ingredients is key to making a pizza jump from “great” to “fantastic” and indeed, all the toppings were good, especially the mozzarella. It wasn’t greasy at all, but soft and a little bit chewy. I also loved the crust. My complaint with NY-style pizza previously was that the crust was too dry and crunchy, but Lombardi’s crust was almost naan-like in texture, with plenty of chewing satisfaction.

Eighteen inches of YUM

Let’s not even calculate how many inches we ate. Let’s just say we were almost uncomfortably full for hours (is that why gluttony is a sin?), but man…was it worth it.

Our last stop during our 36 hours in New York was Harold Dieterle’s restaurant, Perilla. Harold was the winner of the first season of Top Chef and since P and I were big fans of season six, we were excited to go to our first “Top Chef” restaurant. I loved the casual feel of the restaurant, like it’s someplace you could go for a first date, a family dinner, a gathering with friends, and pretty much everything in between.

We ordered Harold’s signature spicy duck meatballs with mint cavatelli, spinach and quail egg; the housemade orecchiette with braised lamb, tomato confit, and sheep’s milk; a hanger steak to share (at this point, we were so full from everything we’d eaten the previous day and a half) and a side of edamame falafel.

The two starters were phenomenal, with the spicy duck meatballs living up to the hype. There was a little bit of a numbing kick to it, but the mint balanced it out quite well. The orecchiette was perfectly cooked to al dente, and the goat’s cheese melted slowly into the confit, creating a great tomato cream sauce.

Sorry, we got too excited and ate some of the meatballs before I took a photo. Whoops...

Starter #2, also a bit eaten

I’d take a pass on the edamame falafel if I were to ever go back (a bit too dry, even with the lemon tahini), but the hanger steak was beautiful! Medium rare, nicely cut, paired with sliced mushrooms – wow. It was also huge, as P and I split the entree and we still got a plateful. Not that I’m complaining, though.

The tater-tot-looking Edamame Falafel

Half-sized hanger steak (!)

A great meal, and a great end to our weekend.

Papaya King
179 E. 86th Street (between Lexington and 3rd)
(212) 396 0648
Cost: ~ $10 or less a person

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 E. Houston Street (at Ludlow)
(212) 254 2246
Cost: ~$15 for pastrami on rye

Lombardi’s Pizza
32 Spring Street (between Mott and Mulberry)
(212) 941 7994
Cost: I honestly don’t remember, but I’m gonna say it was modest (under $20/person)

9 Jones Street (between W. 4th and Bleeker)
(212) 929 6868
Cost: ~ $30-$50/person

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