I went on a very quick trip to New York three weekends ago. It was freezing cold and beautiful on the first few days, with icy blue skies and blinding sunshine. I've now been in Berlin for almost as long as I lived in New York, which feels very odd indeed, especially because this time I stayed on the Upper West Side, the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to the city. It has changed so much and yet I still recognized the oddest little things, like the cornices on a particular building, the way Zabar's smells, that one lamp store on 79th Street... But now the old neighborhood also has fancy new condo buildings, a Barneys, for crying out loud, and Citarella sells yogurt for 6 dollars a jar. And I still miss H&H.
Anyway! I thought I'd do one of those very old-school blog roundups of the best places I went to while I was in town, just in case one of you is planning a trip soon and is wondering where to go. It has gotten difficult to have even one bad meal in New York, which is both thrilling and a little intimidating when planning a trip. My friends and I didn't plan a single meal in advance, so we were a little restricted to the places where we could get reservations at relatively normal dining hours. I didn't end up getting to try as many new places as I'd hoped. (Paowalla, abcv, and Le Coucou come to mind...) Still, it was a pretty delicious weekend. The places that really stood out were:
- Irving Farm Coffee Roasters is a city-wide chain in the meantime, but there was one around the corner from where we stayed and it was a very nice place to get a cup of coffee or tea in the early morning, plus they have both cooked breakfasts and good pastries (like croissants from Bien Cuit), and a nice selection of simple but hearty lunch options. Whoever is "curating" their array of baked goods knows her/his stuff. And despite the fact that it has locations all over the city, it felt very local and cozy.
- I'm lucky enough to have an agent who takes me to lunch at abc Kitchen every time I'm in town, but if I didn't, I would still make time to have some kind of meal here - it's just such a nice place and the food is great - organic, local, etc, but especially just very well made. It's ground zero for things like roasted butternut squash on toast, roasted beets with yogurt, and carrot and avocado salad. Funnily enough, though the menu is pretty big, I only ever end up ordering some variation on the same five things. This time around, we ordered one crab toast appetizer to share...and then ordered another one about 15 minutes later because it was just so good. Their house-made non-alcoholic drinks are noteworthy and also their general attention to detail. To wit: The host (I think?) must have overheard my agent wishing me a belated birthday when we saw each other, because after our lunch was over, they brought out a mini cupcake for me with a candle in it. Such a little thing, but SO NICE. (The restaurant is located inside the insane and cavernous abc home store, which makes for fun aspirational browsing either before or after lunch.)
- Prune. Prune! Need I say anything at all about this place? (Fun trivia fact - it's the subject of my third post on this creaky old thing!) I'm actually kind of surprised that we ended up here, but one of my girlfriends had a hankering for it and we were lucky enough to get a reservation at a normal hour, so that's where we went. It was, unsurprisingly, excellent in every way. There was gorgeous sparkling Cabernet, radishes with delicious cultured butter and crunchy salt, meltingly rich lamb sweetbreads, mussel stew in which every. single. mussel was sweet and perfect. For my vegetarian friend, they made a special off-menu selection of their vegetable sides and some items from the appetizers. And for dessert, though I wasn't even hungry any more!, there was a crème brûlée that should be taught in cooking school. Aces from start to finish.
- A craving for dim sum led us to Dim Sum VIP on Mott Street, which was tiny and crowded, but a fantastic find (we were lucky enough to snag a table at peak lunch hour without a wait). It's too small for dim sum carts and they do everything to order, so you just look at the menu, then fill out an order sheet that's on your table. The food comes out fresh and piping hot, in rapid-fire succession - turnip cakes, red oil wontons, bean curd skin rolls (two orders!), shrimp rice rolls and an enormous plate of sautéed gai lan. Still thinking about those gorgeous greens.
- Hipster ramen has become almost a cliché (almost?), and if you have never been to Momofuku before, that's where you should have some, but Ippudo is pretty great, too, and much bigger and warmer and more comfortable. We had the nicest server, the cucumber appetizer is icy-cold and crunchy and savory and wonderful, and the spicy karaka ramen sustained us nearly the whole day.
- My favorite find of the trip was the Thai restaurant Fish Cheeks on Bond Street. I had read about it in the New Yorker and filed it away in my mind, then we stumbled upon while out walking one day and ending up going in and reserving a table for the next evening. It's a fun, boisterous, colorful place and the food is wonderful. Unlike many Thai restaurants that have enormous menus, this place has a pretty small selection, but it's very well-considered and offers a great balance of family-style dishes. The best appetizers we tried were the fiery zabb wings and the cooling, wonderful yum sum-o salad. We liked the crab curry and the seafood pad cha, but the main dish that ended up truly shining was...the crab fried rice, believe it or not. It looked sort of pale and quiet next to the bombastic other mains, but it was excellent, really beautifully flavored and lovely.