Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New York 2017 - Eating in Manhattan - Part 2

Rich and I were walking around New York with our friends Yim and Murray on one of our first days in the city when we came across a sign advertising "National Paella Day".  It was at the restaurant Barraca (81 Greenwich Ave) and featured "$1 Sangria" if you ordered the paella.  We checked out the menu when we got home and realized that the paella dishes were very expensive and probably not worth it just to get cheap drinks.  However the daily Happy Hour menu looked good, offering tapas for $6 per item, and the regular price for the sangria was just $6 a glass.  This sounded like a better deal and fit into our plans for the next day, so we decided to give it a try.   There were 10 different types of tapas on the Happy Hour menu and they all sounded so good that we decided we were going to try them all.  When the waiter asked which tapas we would like and Yim said "all of them", he looked at us like we were crazy, or at very least, gluttons!  Somehow, we seem to get this reaction a lot when the four of us dine together.  It didn't help that Rich had gone to the bathroom so that it looked like just three of us planned to eat all this food. 

Next we had to select our sangria and it was not just the usual choice of white or red wine with some standard fruit combination.  There were actually 7 different combinations of sangria to choose from and they were all pre-made and available "on-tap" from large dispensers sitting in the bar area.  We started with the red Rioja wine with tempranillo (black Spanish grape), blackberry, cherry, cranberry and kaffir lime.  Later on, Rich and Yim tried another sangria made with white Canarias wine from the Canary Islands with chardonnay grapes, tropical chelimoya fruit, elderflower and white pepper.  It sounded exotic but both declared that the first one was better.

Since we had ordered so many tapas, we asked the waiter if he could stagger their arrival so that we could eat them a few at a time.  We started with homemade marinated Spanish olives and toasted almonds, pickled white anchovies with piparra peppers, dates wrapped in bacon with almonds and blue cheese and some sharp cured La Mancha sheep's milk cheese served with grapes and toast.  While we were eating these dishes, we saw several other tables being served something long and pink that looked like crabs legs.  We did not see this on the tapas menu so we wondered what they had ordered and how we missed it?  Then we got our serving of this dish and it turned out to be long pieces of toasted bread with chopped tomato mixed with olive oil.  This arrived at the same time as a fluffy Spanish omelette mixed with potatoes and onions that came in a serving which resembled a slice of cake.

Our final four tapas dishes included the deep-fried potato and beef ball served with aioli and spicy sauce, chorizo sausage croquettes with a creamy mustard sauce, chilli garlic shrimp in olive oil, and potato bravas, which are crispy home fries with  tomato and aioli sauce.  All the items were really good and we were happy that we could sample all of them.  I'm not sure if I should admit this, but not only did we finish "all the tapas on the menu", but we actually ordered a second helping of the shrimp and the bacon-wrapped dates.  This restaurant was a very fortuitous find that we enjoyed very much.  We tried to compensate a bit for all this eating by walking 40 minutes to get home as opposed to taking the metro.

Another unexpected but pleasant discovery was Le French Diner (188 Orchard St), which we spotted one evening on our way home.  Decked out in the blue, white and red colours of the French flag, this little gem seemed out of place sitting in the middle of the Lower East Village just a few blocks away from our apartment.  Rich investigated online and found out that this tiny restaurant had received rave reviews so we decided to try it the next day.  When we walked into the dimly lit place just after 8pm, there were a few people sitting at the bar and the one and only(!) sit-down table was available.  We took the table but wondered whether this place was as popular as advertised?  We got our answer over the next half hour as people continued to pour in and took up the rest of the sixteen seats at the bar.  We realized how lucky we were to score this sole table in the restaurant which was by the window no less.

The food that we were served was very authentic French bistro fare and all quite delicious.  We started with the pork rillette (pate) with crusty bread, a chilled smoked mussel salad that was quite unique, and creamy deviled eggs with chives and paprika.  For dinner, I was torn between the grilled hangar steak in a peppercorn sauce served with potato dauphine (which I love!) or the duck confit in a mushroom sauce (mushroom being my favourite food).  I went for the steak and totally enjoyed it but I did eye Yim's duck with much yearning.  She graciously let me have a mushroom to slightly ease my envy.

We had one final incredible meal with Yim and Murray before they headed back to Toronto while we stayed on a few extra days.  We had tried to get into the Russ & Daughters food shop (179 E. Houston) over the weekend but had no success as the wait was 45 minutes or more.  Instead we went on a Wednesday night to the Russ & Daughter Cafe (127 Orchard St.) which opened in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the shop.  The menu of the cafe comprises of dishes made from the fresh ingredients sold from the shop including bagels, lox, smoked fish, pickled vegetables, caviar, as well as homemade sodas, egg creams and cocktails.  All the decor around the cafe oozes of nostalgia as there are vintage photographs and pencil drawings of the food shop, as well as a very sweet drawing of Grandpa and Grandma Russ.  The cafe is run by the fourth generation of the Russ family and boasts expert smoked salmon slicers who carve up slabs fresh fish to place on fish boards or platters.

We started out with a trio of appetizers that included a delicious pate of kippered (hot baked) salmon mixed with cold Scottish smoked salmon spread, served with bagel chips, amazing potato latkes with wild salmon roe and creme fraiche, and Gaspe Bay Nova Scotia white fish sticks mixed with scallion cream cheese, breaded with rye crust crumbs and served with cocktail and tartar sauces.  We also ordered a plate of assorted pickled herring, which was not really my cup of tea so I left that alone.

For our main course, we shared the largest smoked fish platter, called "The Anne".  It consisted of slices of Western Nova Scotia smoked salmon, sable fish, smoked brook trout, and the "private stock" slices of sturgeon which were our favourite.  The smoked fish portions were served with more wild Alaskan salmon roe, slices of extremely fresh tomato, red onion, carrots, olives and pickled vegetables.  Sauces included sour cream, cream cheese and tartar sauce.  This assortment of smoked fish was quite different from any seafood feast that we have previously eaten and it was a fabulous treat.

One of our lunch spots was chosen under humorous circumstances.  We had just finished visiting the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum which was way up north at 91st Street and 5th Avenue and we were hungry and looking for food.  Our next destination after lunch was Rockefeller Centre at 48th St near 6th Ave. so we started walking down 5th Avenue hoping to find a restaurant.  After blocks and blocks on end, we realized that this was the Museum district and there were no restaurants to be found on this stretch.  We moved over to Park Avenue and continued south with the same result—no food establishments but just blocks and blocks of high-end clothing stores.  Yim made the comment that we were still on the wrong street since fashion models don't eat.  So we moved further east once again to Lexington Avenue, getting further and further away from Rockefeller Centre.  By now we were famished and getting desperate, when we spotted a restaurant named "Eat Here Now".  It seemed like a commandment sent from the heavens, so we meekly obeyed and filed in.  This was by no means the best or fanciest food that we ate on this trip, but it was hearty traditional diner fare and it met our immediate needs which were to quickly get nourishment into our bodies without paying an arm and a leg for it.  I ended up with a ham and asparagus cheddar melt on toast, Yim had a Nicoise salad and the guys had cheese burgers and fries.  We were served by a friendly waitress with a very strong New York accent who lived up to all of our preconceptions of what an old-styled New York waitress would be like in an old-styled New York diner.

The four of us had tried to go to Dominque Ansel Bakery on the weekend when we first arrived in New York but were discouraged by the long line-up waiting to get in.  Rich and I happened to be in the area again later in the week and this time, we were able to walk right in.  What we were after was the "cookie shooter", a thick chocolate chip cookie moulded in the shape of a shot glass, lined inside with chocolate fudge and filled with milk.  You shoot the milk, which has turned into chocolate milk due to the fudge, and then you eat the cookie. Unfortunately Yim and Murray had gone home already and missed this really fun experience.  There were other really interesting pastries including a "Champagne mango" tart that was shaped like a beautiful rose.  We could not resist buying the "Marcel the Monkey" pastry which was a French religieuse (two stacked choux pastry shells) filled with caramelized banana jam and dulce de leche ganache covered with caramel and chocolate glaze.  Not only was it "too-cute-for-words" but it was tasty too!

Rich and I had a big day planned for our last day in New York which involved traveling to Queens to visit Moma PS1, the Ngouchi Museum and a sculpture garden during the day and then visiting the Morgan Library that evening. But when we checked the weather and realized that the forecast called for torrential rains and gale-force winds, we reconsidered.  We had already been on the go for six days and were tired, so spending a lazy day at home did not sound so bad.  I could lounge around in my jammies all day while working on my travel blogs while Rich could surf the web.  After deciding on this plan, we realized that we would need food for the day.  So the previous evening, we stopped in at the high-end market Dean and Delucca in Soho and loaded up on prepared takeout items.  One of the nice things about renting an apartment instead of staying at a hotel is the availability of a full kitchen with a fridge, microwave, oven and coffee maker.  To last us through the day, we ended up with some Italian meatballs with tomato sauce, chicken fingers, kale and cauliflower salad, bocconcini and pesto pasta salad, a dill chicken salad, grilled mushrooms, cheese breadsticks, and a fruit salad for breakfast.

 All in all, Rich and I did a much better job selecting restaurants on this trip than on our previous visits to New York, with help from our travel companions.  On our first few visits, we tried to go to the buzzy or well-known restaurants such as Nobu or Lindy's and were not that impressed.  This time we found more local gems off the beaten path and ended up with much better food, as well as more varied and enjoyable dining experiences.  In the span of five evenings, we dined at an Italian, a French, a Spanish, a Jewish and a Continental Seafood restaurant and we loved all of them.

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