Sunday, 4 September 2016

Manhattan In a Weekend

My trips to New York are becoming more and more audacious; everyone I told that I was going just for a weekend responded with incredulity. It's a touch longer than a weekend; we went over the bank holiday, leaving work at 1pm on the Friday, to arrive back in London on Monday evening. Obviously it isn't enough time in My Spiritual Home, but it would have to do.

Our last odyssey had us there at the beginning of January 2015, a frigid time filled with freezing winds, snow and a lot of woollens. This time, it couldn't have been more opposite, the balmy weather hitting the early 30s Celcius. Due to our shortened timescales, we decided to stay at Hotel Chandler, a lovely little hotel right in the middle of K-Town, to allow us good access to Newark Airport - definitely, definitely fly to Newark over JFK. It is dreamy, in comparison.

We dumped our bags and headed straight to Gramercy Tavern, which has been on my list for years. We slung a bucketful of martini down our necks, and were taken aback by the deliciousness of the cornbread with lamb sausage and green tomato. It's not the Deep South cornbread I thought it was going to be; the crisp flatbread was embedded with corn, topped with minced lamb patties, and the green tomatoes were apple-like in crisp sweetness. For days afterwards we still debated if this was the best thing we ate.

A tomato salad with stone fruits and basil was light and summery, refreshing and served to us in individual bowls, divided so we didn't have to fight, as they knew we were sharing. That is service. I don't think I really knew good (casual) service until going to New York.

Grilled corn, shrimp and dumplings in miso was richly flavoured, bursting with sweetness and seafood. We both zoned in on this one the minute we opened our menus, being the Asian-lovers we are, and it was everything I wanted out of a bowl.

Roasted tomatoes, macaroni and cheddar cheese was comforting goodness, without being too rich and sleep-inducing. We had just come off a nearly 8 hour flight and we were wary of cutting our evening short with a carb-hit to end all evenings, but we needn't have worried. Just the right portion size for two, the extra crunch of the breadcrumbs on top ensured each mouthful kept our attention till the end. We forewent dessert, and I regret not trying the wild blueberry pie, but cocktail bars required our attention. Of all the meals of the weekend, it wasn't the cheapest, at $170 total but it was worth each one of our hard-earned Brexit-fucked pennies. I can't talk about the exchange rate right now, it hurts too much.

The next day we bounded out of bed to meet a dear friend at Jack's Wife Freda, a restaurant that has branches in SoHo and the West Village. The latter is larger, so we only had a short wait for a table as my hangover kicked in with ferocity and I was only able to muster the orange blossom and honey pancakes. The green shakshuka and the Madame Freda, made with duck prosciutto were well received by my friends, though a little more care on the egg cooking may have been necessary to be rid of that dreaded egg white flob.

Root & Bone was the venue for lunch, where we met up with Rej of Gastro Geek fame, and reminisce about the good old days of food blogging in London. Well, I imagine we would have done more of that if we weren't so bewitched by her utterly gorgeous two little boys who ran us ragged with their cheekiness and boundless energy. Parenting is hard. Anyway, we bimbled around for a while until our table was ready and dang (to use a localism?) that place was packed, but you can book.

The waitresses were harried, but efficient and soon enough, a half bucket of the crispest fried chicken arrived, along with a watermelon salad dressed with jalapeno buttermilk. Around us, people were having fried chicken with waffles and eggs benedict, brunching hard and enjoying the shaded outdoor seating.

We stopped for a drink at The Frying Pan, a big boat off Chelsea, along with a lot of New York's younger revellers (top picture). I'll freely admit I felt a little old there, but the sun was shining and it's nice being on water. We plotted our course through the afternoon and decided to stop off at Momofuku Nishi in time for Happy Hour (5:30pm). When The Impossible Burger was on the menu, we had to try it.

Made entirely from plants and plant-based products, it's meant to mimic the flavour of a hamburger. It does, and I think it's largely down to the condiments. The burger comes with a McDonald's-esque burger sauce, strong in pickle flavour, and the lettuce, tomato and slappy cheese go along to help that. The bun is squishy and sweet, and there is a hint of a meaty char. It's a decent attempt and I think if I were a vegetarian I might enjoy it more, but it definitely doesn't have the same mouthfeel or satisfaction of a normal cheeseburger.

I had to convince my friend to order the 'butter noodles - chickpea hozon, black pepper' - "but Lizzie, we were only coming for a snack!". Well, if it isn't the best bloody noodle dish I've had in a while. It's like cacio e pepe, except somehow richer in flavour, and lighter in feeling. It had intense savouriness from the hozon - a term invented by chef / owner Chang for making miso out of non-traditional ingredients (soybeans being the most common). The noodles were cooked to almost too al dente, but only almost. I know I'm a David Chang fan anyway, but seriously. (Also, for $19, I'd hope so too.)

We ate in Korea Town more often than we'd intended to, but that's no bad thing. After going to my friend's incredibly beautiful and fun wedding, we found ourselves hammered and hungry at 4am. K-Town was still up an at it, and we wobbled through the doorway of BCD Tofu House down to the basement for some late-night booze-soaker-upper-supper. It. Was. Rammed. At 4am, packed to the rafters. We were agog; truly, it is the city that never sleeps. They brought us banchan (Korean pickles) of kimchi, marinated beansprouts, pak choi, a strange mayonnaise-y potato salad, a freshly fried salted fish and various other bits before we'd even ordered. I think I had a soondoobu jjigae (spicy seafood and tofu stew) and I'm pretty sure my friend had the pork bulgogi but what I do know is we left stuffed and happy, $30 all told (though we were all boozed out by then, so that's just food). I love you, New York.

On our last night too, we went to Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong (say that after a few) for Korean barbecue; the place is open till 6am EVERY NIGHT. Two floors, and packed at 10pm on a Sunday night. Mental. We feasted on their beef combo of bulgogi, prime rib and other cuts, while omelette poofed and cooked on the right and corn cooked down with gooey cheese on the left. A vast array of pickles and lettuce and sauces accompanied the meal and they also brought us a fiery kimchi stew. A teeth-achingly sweet carafe of yuzu sochu cocktail made us giddy. I was in heaven.

I wanted to try some ramen in New York, so we headed to Ivan Ramen's Slurp Shop in Hell's Kitchen which is housed in a pretty helpful food court. It's a bit Westfield in feeling but as it has tacos, tapas and decent coffee, it would suit the most diverse of cravings amongst a group. The breakfast ramen, with cheesy dashi, ham and omelette (top) was pretty mega; too much for me to handle, but my friend went in with gusto. I opted for the Shio ramen with extra toppings of enoki mushrooms (weirdly plonked on raw), a soft egg and toasted nori. It was a decent bowl of noodles, but we do it better in London. Spicy miso-buttered corn on a stick was a nice touch, though the cabbage salad was uninspiring. It is not the crisp, crunchy sweetness of our very own Bone Daddies.

We walked 17 kilometres around New York on both days, enjoying the sunshine and avoiding the subway - as well as working up our appetites for more food. Harry & Ida's Meat Supply Co. was an oasis of calm, shaded and bedecked in wood, reminiscent of a film set though I'm not sure which. We'd squeezed in some cheeky dumplings from Tasty Dumpling (I wouldn't bother again; they were roughly hewn, and overly doughy) as well as crammed in some tofu and noodles from Xi'an Famous Foods, a must if ever I'm in the city - so this sandwich wasn't one I was hugely enthused about. I was positively lethargic. "Can we get Ida's?" I bleated. Ida's is the 'light' version of the pastrami sandwich. (Something something female stereotypes huff huff something). 

It is wonderful. The bread is light - no roof of the mouth scrapings here - and spongy, and the inside is smeared with wholegrain mustard that has a strong hint of the American about it (you know the type, French's). The meat is warm and fatty - and actually the American 'pastrami' is our salt beef - and full of fatty, juicy flavour. The cucumber pickles are crisp and sweet, though we plucked out some of the over-generous fronds of dill. If I lived in New York I'd buy that pastrami by the pound, which they sell there in bulk, along with smoked eel, bluefish salad, smoked chicken etc. 

We waddled off to get an ice cream at The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, and went for the Salty Pimp; soft serve vanilla with salted caramel, dipped in chocolate. Holygod. 

Diet time. 


Hello said...

I'm going over there next year, will have to try some of these delights x

Rejina said...

It was great to see you! Especially as even the slightest attempt to eat out with them still makes me feel like a total advert for contraception. Seriously though, they adored you both and haven't stopped pestering me about seeing you. And you made it to Kang Ho Dong the place I still can't pronounce! Come back soon please