Sunday 8 January 2012

New York - December Edition - Not So Cheap

As much as I loved all the cheaper places we visited, leisurely dinners meant coughing up a bit more. My favourite of the trip goes to Schiller's Liquor Bar. Located on the Lower East Side, the room is white tiled, darkly lit and bustling. The bar area was filled with people perched on high stools sipping on beers and we were seated at one of the last tables for two left.

I loved how unpretentious it was; the wine list was simply presented as 3 options; 'cheap', 'decent' and 'good'. When our bottle arrived, CHEAP was plastered across it. I'm not a wine buff in any way, shape or form and our bottle was drinkable and tasted good.

East Coast and West Coast oysters were sweeter with more mineral flavour than ones from our own shores. Crab and articoke dip with melba toast was decadently creamy and rich, though I'd have preferred a little more crab flavour. A seared tuna Nicoise salad (what was I thinking!?) was horrendously overshadowed by The Boy's 'pork chops and roasted potatoes'. What was presented to him was a behemoth plate with two chops and a pile of roasted potatoes, just as advertised. They were cooked in the most delicious caramelised onion, ginger and garlicky sauce. I almost cried with envy.

With a couple of well made cocktails and well deserved tip for our affable and charming waiter, the bill came to around £50 / head.

Schiller's Liquor Bar on Urbanspoon

I was a fan of David Chang since I went to Momofuku Noodle Bar on my first visit. Since then I've become an even bigger fan, having bought his cookbook and the quarterly magazine he's a part of, Lucky Peach. We managed to nab two seats at the bar at Momofuku Ssam early on new year's eve.

I'd have liked to try more of the raw dishes but they were quite pricy, so we settled on one - diver scallops with yuba (tofu skin), satsuma and coriander. The smears were intensely orange flavoured and worked well with the sweet, delicate shellfish. Yuba doesn't taste of much but had a tender texture, much like the skin you get on top of gravy. It sounds rank but it was a great texture contrast to the scallop.

The pork buns, which Momofuku is famous for were pretty damn sexy. Pillowy steamed buns were stuffed with a slab of fatty warm pork belly, with a smear of hoisin sauce and sliced cucumbers. It took everything in my power to refrain from cancelling the other dishes and ordering another seven of these instead.

Fuji apple kimchi with bacon and maple mayo was incredible; rather than the apples being fermented with garlic and chilli over a length of time, the apples were crisp and fresh, having been dressed in kimchi juice instead. The bacon was really smoky and coupled with the maple mayo it was perfect.

Market greens came in the form of swiss chard, cooked in XO sauce and topped with a heap of fried shallots. Cooked until the stalks were al dente and the leaves just wilted, the intense savoury flavour of the XO sauce was thankfully sparing; any more and it would have been overwhelming.

Spicy sausage with fried rice cakes and Sichuan pepper was my least favourite dish of the meal. Although the rice cakes had a great texture, both gooey and crispy from frying, after a while it began to all get a bit samey with each bite. Too stuffed for dessert and with a party to get over to, we decided against desserts. With a couple of cocktails each, our bill again reached around £50 / head.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

After an afternoon of ice skating, we were ravenous. The temperature on our last night was around -5 C; I don't think I've been anywhere that cold. The streets of New York were windy, and as we rushed towards Locanda Verde in TriBeCa I had everything crossed that we wouldn't have to wait long.

The place is cavernous, dark - this is a recurring theme - but lively. Families dined with small children, couples were having intimate dinners and groups of friends were sharing plates. A long L-shaped bar was absolutely rammed, both with people having drinks waiting for a table as well as people eating at the bar. A mere half hour wait while nursing a Negroni was all it took before we were seated.

A tuna crostini with smoked cannellini beans and a hint of lemon was perfunctory enough to keep the hunger at bay. Proscuitto lent smokiness to the prawns they were wrapping, doused in romesco sauce and it was dotted with creamy white beans to give some heartiness to the dish.

Marinated beet salad was a textbook example. Tender beetroot was topped with slices of fennel and happily they didn't go for the obvious goats cheese, but instead smoked ricotta. Some welcome crunch was provided from the pistachio garnish, with a smear of pistachio puree hiding under the beets.

We had a lot of trouble trying to decide on mains, but we were pleased with our spiced duck choice. Huge slabs of flush pink breast arrived, garnished with pomegranate seeds, small faro grains and cavolo nero. The skin was crisp with sweetness with a hint of the exotic, and the meat as tender as butter. A side dish of roasted brussel sprouts was a hearty affair; strong mustard flavours with the slightly bitter brassica was reinforced further with chunks of pecorino and pancetta. It was the unheathiest vegetable side I've laid eyes on in recent times. Obviously I thought it was great.

Orecchiette was served with beans and fennel sausage and a hard strong cheese grated on top. These were gutsy flavours and the little ears held them well. With the beans and pasta combined, it was great comfort food. But good lord we were stuffed afterwards.

A pear, quince and cranberry crisp with vanilla bourbon ice cream sounds quite light and insubstantial, right? That's what we thought when we ordered it to share. A deep ramekin arrived with the aforementioned fruits in a crumble. Crisp, it turns out, is a crumble. Oof. We managed to polish it all off due to its own deliciousness caused by nuts being incorporated into the crumble topping, but I was rendered incapacitated after the meal and could only lie down and make small groaning noises.

Locanda Verde
reminded me a lot of Polpo both in atmosphere and food; unsurprising really, as the recommendation to go there came from Russell Norman. Locanda Verde is a touch more expensive though, we hit £60 a head with a bottle of wine.

Locanda Verde on Urbanspoon

Now I shall be nibbling on dry bread and lentils until my bank balance recovers.


Shu Han said...

You went to momofuku!!! I'm dying to try those momofuku pork buns, for a very different reason from most people- my mum makes the best kong bak pau (as they are called back home, kong bak is pork belly, pau is bun) and I've tried loads of famous ones and none can match up yet, and I'm really curious to see if chang's is really that amazing. loving that shower of crispy shallots over the swiss chard too, they are my greatest food obsession ><

Patrick said...

I love Schiller's. Open until 3am at the weekends too.

Hollow Legs said...

Shu Han - I couldn't tell you that, but these are pretty damn good. Lucky you to have a mum that can make bao!

Patrick - 3am! Well past my bedtime....

Ben said...

Had a martini in Schiller's last time I was there too. Was too rammed to consider eating though. Maybe next time.

Hollow Legs said...

Ben - Yes I can imagine Schillers being absolutely heaving perhaps at a weekend. To be honest the menu wasn't ground-breaking; good honest food though.

The Perfect Trough said...

Great review. Those buns look amazing.

Schillers introduced me to the New York Sour - genius drink. There's a great divey tiki place round there called Painkiller for afters too...

Ute @hungryinlondon said...

Dying to go back to New York! Need to go to momofuku and Schiller's sounds great too. I love this city...

Hollow Legs said...

Perfect Trough - thanks for your kind words. Painkiller sounds great!

Ute - I am deeply in love with it too...