Restaurant: NYC Visit (2016)

I went to NYC for a bit, partly for work, partly for pleasure, and mostly to have a reason to not blog for a few days. I spent some time eating food with friends, so I figgered why not capture it here for no one to read? Here are the highlights…

Momofuku Nishi. I had originally thought I’d hit all Momofuku stops in NYC, but only found a few takers among my dinner partners. I asked one of my friends if they wanted to hit Momofuku Ko, but they begged off and suggested Nishi instead. I think they might be vegan, or were scared off by the high price tag of Ko, or both? I knew Nishi had the famous “Impossible Burger” (fake meat that supposedly looks/tastes/mouthfeels like the real thing), so will assume it was their vegetarian leanings. Unfortunately, that burger sells out by lunchtime, so… shoulda gone to Ko, bruh! I had just finished climbing out of an airplane and taxi, so was feeling a bit rushed and unthoughtful — I regret my ordering here. My friend got the similarly celebrated Cacio e Pepe (a dish that swaps in chickpea paste for the Cacio), and I didn’t want to double up on it. In retrospect, I should have gotten another vegetarian dish to share so I could have had more of the CeP. It was pretty good, prolly the best thing on the table. Instead I got an unmemorable noodle dish, and a bone marrow dish that I was embarrassed to eat in front of my friend — just a cow leg sawed in half for the diner to scoop the (admittedly tasty) marrow from. Not a bad start to the trip, but a bit of a letdown.

Katz’s Delicatessen. My wife’s a pescetarian, and a lot of my previous visits have been with vegetarian friends in tow. So I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take myself out to this legendary deli to grab some meat. I’m late to the pastrami game, but have managed to have a bunch of great ones across the country over the past five years. The bizarro ordering system (you wait in line at a cutter, order and get meat cut for a sandwich, etc) threw me off a little — I normally woulda got some coleslaw slopped into my sandwich, and maybe would have given some meat preferences to the cutter, but got nervous. So…part of my experience was hampered by me, I’ll admit it. Still, not the best pastrami sandwich I’ve eaten — I needed it to be more juicy/fatty, and I found it hard to find any pepper/smoke/seasoning. It kinda felt like I just got a corned beef sandwich. Langer’s in L.A. and Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, you guys still got my vote for best pastrami sandwiches in the world!

Lupa Osteria Romana. Things took off here. A friend gave me a couple of choices to pick from, and I picked this Batali restaurant without much hesitation. It might have been the best place I ate during the trip! I split a bunch of plates with my friend, including a spinach salad with warm (toasted) pancetta, a couple different pastas, some cotorni and a steak. The pastas were the highlight — we ate a Cacio e Pepe that put the fake one from Nishi to shame, super peppery and perfect pasta, as well as an outta sight orecchiette special. The latter was to die for, the homemade little ears in a tomato ragu were a perfect counterpoint to the peppery CeP and salty spinach salad we’d had. We had debated getting the pasta tasting menu, and if I go again, I’ll zero in on that.

Eataly. I had some work stuff to do the next day, and ended up eating at another Batali joint for lunch. I was tempted to grab pasta again, but didn’t want a heavy tummy of pasta to slow me down from work and walking. I wish I had more personal time here, and would love to take my Italian ma here — so many great counters and packaged goods to take in, I could sample for hours. I went with a simple sausage pizza here, and it was okay. I sampled someone else’s piadini and it was actually pretty great. I’ll be back to one of these to do some real damage.

Momofuku Ssam Bar. I’m skipping ahead here, I ate at some pretty unremarkable places during work hours — a fake Chipotle, a hotel restaurant, prolly something else I forgot. I was excited to hit Ssam Bar in part because I wanted to try their spicy pork sausage and rice cakes while the memory of their replication at In Situ was fresh in my memory. A lot of splitting here with friends, so we took in a bunch of things. We started with some heirloom tomatoes and plums in a dashi sauce that was pretty solid. Heavy on the plums, but I wanted to tip the bowl up to my soup strainer and chug the remaining dashi broth when we were done. Followed that up with a platter of thinly sliced ham (okay), a jar of housemade kimchi (fire, both in taste and quality, I ate most of this jar), a superb pork belly bun (maybe the best pork bun I’ve ever had?) and then a feast of the sausage and rice cakes. And? I gotta give the dish to In Situ! The Ssam Bar rendition felt like the impostor — overly spicy, missing some of the subtle fermented flavors, not enough veggies, and just what felt like a heavy-handed take on their own dish. I dream about the In Situ dish, but this one just had me shrugging my shoulders a bit.

Momofuku Milk Bar. Only counting this since my original intention was to go big at Momofuku this trip, and this got pushed in as a result. I was a bit too full from dinner at Ssam Bar to really do this right, and the line and cramped quarters kept me honest as well. I took a slice of Crack Pie back to my hotel room to eat later, and skipped some of the other sweets. There was something a little decadent about lying in bed and eating that slice of Crack Pie with my hands — so much butter and cream and sugar and yummy made even better by pajamas and the faint glow of the TV. It also felt a little pathetic and fat.

Joe’s Shanghai. I ate here alone, but probably should have found a friend to join me. Single dining basically limited me to the soup dumplings here (I didn’t want to waste food, and 8 soup dumplings is a lot of food already), and while they were good, it was also a bit too gross to just fill my belly with all that pork fat. This place is known for their xiao long bao, but they’re not that clearly marked on the menu — I saw a couple people literally holding up photos of the dumplings from Yelp reviews up to the menu to try and find them. I also saw a douchey guy dadsplaining to his family about how great the soup dumplings were, and then when they arrived at his table I enjoyed watching him not know how to eat them — he scooped one up and took a big chomp, splashing hot greasy broth all over his stupid face! These dumplings were the biggest soup dumplings I’ve ever had, which sounds good on paper but in practice means a couple negatives. The dumpling wrapper was a little too thick for me, it has to be to hold the weight of the heavy contents. People lifted these out of the baskets with tongs, which was the first sign of how thick the wrapper would be. And the “soup” in a dumpling is mostly just like pork fat and gelatin, right? Eating an entire basket of that just felt a little gross to me, I really felt like a greasy fat guy afterward. Still, pretty good, they would have been great if I had been able to cut them with some vegetables or another dish.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. This was one of the oldest food recommendations I can remember someone making to me about NYC, and I was only able to get to it 20+ years and 10+ visits later. It was right around the corner from Joe’s, so I waddled my porky stink over there afterward. I sampled some Durian ice cream (not bad!), and really was torn between some of my favorite asian dessert flavors. Egg custard tart? Black sesame? Pandan? Almond cookie? Red bean? Ginger? I probably could’ve been the Ugly American for a bit and sampled them all…but I played it safe and grabbed some black sesame instead. Solid pick, great sesame flavor throughout with a ton of crunchy seeds as well. I ate about 1/3 of the scoop before throwing it out, I was just too filled with soup broth at that point.

I also had a bunch of great cocktails all over the city, but, I think we’re done here. Good trip! Good eats!