In which we embrace the plant-base
(Oh hi, it’s been a while, we’re changing things on…
We ate a ton in NYC. We only had five days, but we packed as much food as possible into them!
I have very few photos, but I wanted to remember all the lovely things we tasted, so I’m writing about them here. :)
This was one of the most zen-like restaurants I’ve ever been in. Everything was bamboo – walls, ceiling, bar, tables. There was a beautiful ikebana sculpture on display, and no sign on the awning outside – just a stamped image of a fish. We shared sake, which was poured into tiny little bowls. We ordered the flash-fried fluke bones for an appetizer – they were so delicately crunchy but still somehow fatty – like very thin slices of chicharron. We opted for the omakase dinner, and received a platter of sashimi, one of sushi, grilled fresh water eel, and a crisp maki of fatty tuna and scallion. The fish was impeccably fresh, and the flavors so delicate – it just melted in your mouth. Afterward, we sipped tea and talked about the flakiness of the shredded crab, the creaminess of the uni, the perfection of the rice.
Our friends Nat and Erin introduced us to this place – it was insanely awesome! It’s a teeny tiny place (like so many places in NY). We started with home made silky tofu topped with scallions, ginger, and nori, plus pork croquettes. The main thing here is the soba – we all opted for warm soba with hot dipping sauce. The noodles come perfectly cooked, ready to dip into the bowl of simmering dipping broth. My chicken and burdock root sauce was like crack – sooooo delicious. Justin opted for pork kimchee broth, spicy and meaty. Once you’ve finished your noodles, you’re bound to have a bit of dipping broth left – so they give you a tiny kettle of hot water to add to the broth, which makes it into a delectable soup that you can then slurp. Someone in Austin, please make this dish!!
Tofu Vendor in Chinatown
Nat had to stop at this little shop selling hot sweet tofu. We ended up with a tub of warm, silky tofu, and a tiny bowl of sugar syrup to pour over the top. It was like a silky pudding, and it was nicely warming on a cold day.
We stopped at this spot underneath our hotel for a snack before our late dinner at Prune. We shared half a dozen oysters, plus deliciously chewy whelks dipped in parsley-garlic butter. The castelvetrano olives with spices and tomato were too salty, and the parsley and anchovy toast did nothing for us except get parsley stuck in our teeth. But it was worth it for the whelks, the glass of bubbly, and sitting next to Kate, who is a restaurateur and music expert, who is hilarious and witty, who knows Jay-Z and Robert DeNiro, who offered to get us in without a wait at Spotted Pig, who is semi-retired at the age of 35, who told us about the jewelry shop across the street that advertised their wares in one-word sentences (“Bracelet.” “Earring.” “Necklace.”), who provided a Russian voice for the crazy man outside the window who was standing in the street in an expensive trench coat (“Ver is my driver? Ver is he?”), and who was just all-around lovely.
This tiny tiki bar is one of the coziest spots we found. The entrance isn’t easy to spot, but once you’re inside, you’re surrounded by all things tiki. The drinks are serious here – both very strong and very authentic. Valentin and Natalie were behind the bar, whipping up all kinds of glorious things. I had a piña colada – which was made with fresh pineapple juice and house-made cream of coconut, blended and poured into a hollowed-out pineapple and topped with so many garnishes it was crazy. Justin had the Jet Pilot, made with lime and grapefruit juices, rum, cinnamon syrup, and other goodies. We chatted with Valentin for a bit, and he said we should come back after dinner, and he’d make sure we’d get in (the line is often out the door), and he’d buy us our first round. Of course we came back after dinner.
When we returned, the bouncer with a froggy voice asked us how our dinner was and ushered us right in – we sat at the bar and Valentin made us a Missionary’s Downfall (minty-pineapple goodness) and a Cuban Anole (rum and cinnamon and orgeat, oh my). We chatted some more, and he made us two drinks he’s been working on – for me, a mix between a piña colada and a mai tai, for Justin, a tequila-mezcal drink with cholula and sriracha. Insanely good. There was a group next to us sipping from a ginormous punch bowl with a dozen straws. Oddly enough, you can get most of the recipes for their drinks here.
After reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, I dreamed of eating at her restaurant, Prune. Needless to say, this was the first reservation I made when I knew we were headed to NYC.
Prune is tiny. It’s cute and lovely and lively and somehow feminine. The seating is so tight that the hostess had to pull out our table so that Justin could slip in. We were inches away from the tables next to us, which means we got the full argument of the couple next to us (she wants more from him, he doesn’t want to commit), but somehow it was still great.
And the food! Oh, the food. It’s as if Chef Hamilton is saying, “Here is this great ingredient. Taste it. There is no foam or aioli or topping or sauce that will make this any better than it already is. Just taste it.”
We shared the bone marrow with parsley salad and sea salt. Justin swears this was the best bone marrow he’s ever had – and I agree, it was divine. But my heart goes to the Trippa Milanese. It was tender, chewy strips of tripe, cooked with carrots and potatoes. I could have eaten a gallon of this. The flavor starts out like my mom’s chicken soup – simple but perfectly seasoned, with tender potatoes and carrots – but then ends with the chewiness and meatiness of the tripe. Oh, this dish. [sigh]
Justin had the grouper next, with a ginger-chili-cilantro broth, plus cabbage and potatoes. So perfect. I had the braised rabbit legs in vinegar sauce – the “sauce” was more of a broth, with thin slices of cornichon. The rabbit was juicy and tender and delicious.
And dessert! Oh, holy, the dessert. Candied pumpkin with sugared “hay” (which was sweetened, cardamom-scented crispy phyllo shreds), with a dollop of Greek yogurt and honey. Outstanding. This is the food I will miss the most. Simply but impeccably done.
After the eleventy-four tiki drinks of the evening, we needed some food before our subway ride back to the hotel. Since it was sometime in the wee hours of the morning, we headed to Katz’s. Ned had told me I must order the pastrami on rye with extra Russian dressing and a Dr. Brown’s cherry soda. And so I did. At the counter, the deli guy gave us a slice of pastrami to taste – I honestly believe I had not tasted true pastrami until that moment. So tender! So rich!
The sandwich was perfect, the sour pickles perky, the soda sweet and refreshing. And it was equally fun to see people freak out when it was time to pay, and they had lost their meal ticket, and the big burly bouncers at the door would insist that they present a meal ticket before they could leave, and they would finally find it in some back pocket and all would be well.
We were incredibly lucky to have Stumptown at the bottom of our hotel. The line every morning was out the door, but the coffee was worth it. People, their mochas are insane. They add a huge spoonful of ganache made especially for them by Mast Brothers Chocolate, plus a sprinkling of cinnamon to the espresso and steamed milk. It tasted like a bittersweet chocolate bar doused in coffee. I’m going to try plopping a shard of dark chocolate into my coffee tomorrow and see how it goes.
Also of note is the Stumptown barista fashion – all of them wear hip hats, awesome shoes, suspenders, mustaches, black tights. I think Stumptown only hires beautiful people.
Erin and Nat also introduced us to this corner spot in Chinatown, with its lazy-Susan tables and heaping baskets of dim sum. We came here specifically for soup dumplings, and they did not disappoint. How do they get soup inside a dumpling?! You pop the whole thing in your mouth and out bursts lovely soup. (Careful! They’re hot!) We also had pork dumplings and pea shoot dumplings and cuttlefish with salt and pepper and sweet red bean pancakes and tea… it was so cozy and warm in there, which was good, because it was about 24 degrees outside that day.
We stopped here with Erin and Nat after walking a bit of the High Line. It feels like an old steak house, with paneled wood and a saloon. Justin and I shared a dozen oysters – unfortunately, a few of them were milky and quite disgusting, but at least the bubbly was good. We were also exhausted at this point, so we didn’t order anything else.
Whew! Next up, part 2!