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Monday, September 24, 2012

ROAD TRIP: Me vs. NYC...Part 1

Road trips for college football games usually don't involve the Big Apple. So when my alma mater dear, USC, contracted to play the Syracuse Orange not at the Carrierdome in Syracuse, NY, but at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, well, that was an offer I couldn't refuse.  The weekend of September 7th was food, football and Fashion Week (not that I know anything about fashion nor did we even have any idea about the events, but I love alliteration).

Our last trip to New York included an addition to our private pantheon of epic meals, Eleven Madison Park, and, well, it was such a revelation I forget most of the rest of our meals (Momofuku Ko was one of them, but EMP was so outstanding that MK faded into the woodwork).  This time around there was no knockout on par with EMP, but there were plenty of places that were memorable and worth a recommendation:

Sashimi at Sushi Yasuda

SUSHI YASUDA: After checking into our hotel we made a beeline uptown straight to Sushi Yasuda for a steal of a lunch.  $25 gets you a soup/salad and pristine fish served as nigiri, sashimi and roll(s).  We augmented our meal with a toro cut roll leaving us full but not stuffed - a perfect feeling for the meal that lay ahead.  

The only decor you'll see at Blanca

BLANCA: Getting into Carlo Mirarchi's weekly tasting at the Bushwick neighborhood's Roberta's was, for a while, the hipster holy grail.  Only 8 people a week got to enjoy the small plates coming out of what is arguably Brooklyn's best pizza joint.  The Blanca space was the answer to alleviate the pent up demand (and months-long wait list).  Entering through the Roberta's space, which was eerily empty due to a wrapped-up film shoot for the HBO series Girls, you're mood is initially set to casual.  Roberta's is extremely casual, exposed brick and wood beam casual.  From there you're led through the container garden and into the Blanca space, which looks like it's from another planet in comparison.  Blanca is a sleek, white space with counter seating for 12 overlooking a good-sized kitchen.  Having arrived early we were treated to Chef Mirarchi and staff prepping the epic 20+ courses we'd later receive much like an orchestra prepping for its performance.  It felt a little aseptic, the chef/cooks prepping the meal with no acknowledgement of the diners having arrived (the fourth wall would stay up for most of the meal until Mirarchi joined in serving and explaining dishes).  Instead of going into a course by course description, a general overview should give you a good idea of what to expect (also photos, messaging, tweeting etc. are discouraged and all diners, including myself complied). The majority of early dishes are extremely small, one to two bites, with heftier courses coming out as the night progressed. As you'd imagine, courses start out light (like caviar with goat cheese and the soon-to-be-famous grass shrimp with celery) and move on to heartier (sweetbread with aioli) with some refreshers in between.  It was an epic 2 1/2 hours made more so by the constant alcohol being served (we opted for the pairing which included whites, reds, sakes and beers).  While pictures were discouraged during the meal, I did snap a pic of the big mounted fish head, the only decoration of any type on the main wall.   

Pit stop at Momofuku Milk Bar

BOOKER AND DAX:  There's a lounge behind Momofuku Ssam that I didn't know existed.  Apparently a lot of other tourists didn't know it existed before either because we all seemed to find ourselves here.  A brief cocktail menu and limited food menu makes it a good place to end the night.

Ramen at Ippudo
IPPUDO:  A place I've always wanted to visit but never got around to because of the well known epic waits.  It was lunchtime and we were prepping for the other big meal of the trip at The NoMad so we figured ramen would be ideal.  Ippudo's ramen was ideal with a broth that was rich but not overpowering, pork that was lean but not dry and a soft boiled egg so creamy you'd have thought it was churned.
Tourists or people who don't
work at the Standard Biergarten

STANDARD BIERGARTEN:  Another place I didn't know existed and in which we found likeminded tourists, the biergarten at the Standard hotel in the Meatpacking district is a fairly good sized space on the south side of the hotel property.  What makes it unique besides being outdoors is its location under the High Line.  There's three beers on tap and a full bar along with German bar food (including pretzels the size of a New York studio apartment).  Nice place to catch your breath and it was right down the street from the new Meatpacking Market

LURE FISHBAR:  I'd heard many times about the happy hour at Lure.  It sucked, the drinks were lame and the place looked like it was stuck in the '90's.  Stick it and go to...

JOHN DORY: I love seafood and this is one of my favorite restaurants in New York.  Besides the happy hour special of 6 oysters and a pint of stout or glass of cava for $15, the menu's snack items make it a perfect happy hour spot.  Always ordered are the parsley anchovy toast - a chunky spread of pulsed parsley, anchovy, garlic and other goodies on toasted country bread, and the carta di musica which, in its simplicity, is one of my favorite dishes of all time.  The snack is simply two pieces of ultra-thin Sardinian flatbread (called carta di musica) slathered with butter and topped with shaved bottarga and some red chili slices.  It is crunchy, chewy, savory, buttery and umami-y at the same time.  Alas happy hour ended which left us time for a nap before heading to a late dinner at...
A cross-section of The Chicken at The NoMad. Meat,
truffled foie gras brioche, crispy skin

THE NOMAD: Downtrodden about EMP's closure during our stay, the next best thing was to try The NoMad.  Located in a boutique hotel of the same name and with the same chef/owners of EMP, the restaurant screamed "You have to visit here or your trip will be for naught".  Enough so that I really considered not going until the recommendations to go rang loudly.  I'm glad we heeded them.  The menu follows EMP's style where each dish is named by its main ingredient (i.e. Egg) but unlike EMP there is a description of each dish which is deceiving because even the description does not cover the ingredients and complexity of the dish.  My Egg appetizer stated egg, ham and corn.  What it was was a perfectly poached egg sitting under a thick foam (think your dad's Gillette shaving cream) made from cured ham.  It was like cutting into a savory flan with an egg yolk center.  For the entrees there is one dish that stands out from the others, and you wouldn't think it at first glance.  With options such as Lobster, Scallops or Suckling Pig, you'd probably skim over the Chicken dish.  Don't.  This is THE dish.  This is the one that people will travel from far and wide to try.  That is why I was hesitant to order it because the expectation was so high.  That is why I was shocked when the dish easily met my expectations as the best chicken I've ever had.  I won't go into detail on how the chicken was prepared, the NY Times has done that for me, but suffice to say it is worth every one of the 7,800 pennies it cost.  Add to the chicken excellent service and right-sized, rich desserts and The NoMad becomes not EMP-light, it stands on its own as The NoMad.  

Quite a few places for our first two days.  Part 2 will come up soon with visits to Mission Chinese and the world's biggest, gayest ice cream shop.

Sushi Yasuda, 204 E. 34th Street, New York 
Blanca, 261 Moore Street, New York
Momofuku Milk Bar, 251 E. 13th Street, New York
Booker and Dax, 207 2nd Avenue, New York
Ippudo, 65 4th Avenue, New York
Standard Biergarten, 848 Washington Street, New York
Lure Fishbar, 142 Mercer Street, New York
The John Dory, 1196 Broadway, New York
The NoMad, 1170 Broadway, New York

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