Just got back from a gut-busting trip to New York, where I managed to pack in a ton of great meals into my nine-day stay. I ate amazing food with friends and family for (mostly) very little money -- that's my definition of the perfect trip. Let's jump in and get started, in chronological order:
East Village foodie haven located near the nexus of the universe, aka 1st & 1st ("How can the same street intersect with itself?!"). We went for brunch, and though it took a while to get seated, the extensive Bloody Mary menu soothed my soul. I had a Bloody Maria with tequila and spicy peppers; my Dad opted for the mind-boggling Chicago Matchbox: pickled brussels sprouts, baby white turnips, caperberries, green beans, and radishes, plus lemon-infused vodka. Brunch food was generous, straight-ahead and just right. ($30/head)
Charles' Southern Style Kitchen
Fried chicken n' waffles in Harlem. Need I say more? ($7)
My favorite Times Square spot: a hole-in-the-wall lunch counter serving up Cuban and Dominican food buffet style. Don't miss the roast pork or chicharron de pollo, served with beans, rice and platanos maduros. Belly-busting goodness for about $7.
I almost cried tears of joy when my waitress confirmed the presence of burnt ends -- the fatty ends of beef brisket cooked up twice for your artery-clogging pleasure -- and then nearly wept when she cruelly reneged on her offer. A half pound combo of brisket and pulled pork with hushpuppies on the side eased my pain. After I had stuffed myself silly, she brought me some burnt ends after all! Oh waitress, why must thou mock me so? (I ate them cold for breakfast the next day.) ($20/person)
It seems bizarre to travel from London, home of the gastropub, only to seek out New York's homage to same, but this one was a winner: Gnudi, dumplings filled with ricotta cheese, in a butter, parmesan and sage sauce. Broccoli rabe on the side. This place is stupidly crowded at nights and on the weekend, but at 2 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon it was the perfect spot to read and nurse my way through my third glass of vino. ($35)
When someone sits down at his sushi bar, is moved by his fish and announces, "I've never tasted anything like it," Yasuda will matter-of-factly say: "as usual... only one-quarter inch above average."
The best. I'm not dissing Itsu, but it may have forever ruined takeout sushi for me. We sat at the bar and met our own personal sushi master who led us through many, many courses of very fresh fish in delicious combinations. Favorites were the shrimp, drizzled with lemon and crunchy sea salt, and of course the o-toro nigiri.
Only after the fact did I remember the great How to Eat Sushi FAQ I'd read a few months before, and now I wince to think of all of my gaffes. You're supposed to turn the sushi upside down (so the fish hits your tongue first), eat it in two bites, not one, and DO NOT dunk it in soy + wasabi, as a really good sushi chef will have already adjusted the seasonings. Oh well, there's always next time. My friends and I left with that unimitable sushi glow, for only about $50 a person.
Lovely Tribeca bistro, recently opened by former Lutece chef David Féau as a way to (I quote his website) "bring 4-star cooking to the streets." We all had perfect west coast oysters to start, and I followed with a blood rare steak frites. Lots of additional dishes sent out by the kitchen (my dining companions were regulars there). ($? -- thanks for dinner, Peter and Siobhan!)
The most massive dim sum palace I have ever seen. We're talking mega-banquet room huge. Within five minutes we were plucking scrumptious dumplings from the carts. A gelatinous item made out of turnip and pork (??) was the surprise winner, with pork buns and veggie dumplings also making the honor roll. ($10/person)
Kick-ass noodle and soup joint. This place has mega-buzz as an after-hours chef hangout, and I'd say the masses have gotten the message. It opened at 5:30 on a Saturday night, and when I walked in at 5:35 I got the last seat at the bar! Pork ramen had massive amounts of shredded and smoked pig, piles of veggies and a poached egg. I'm sure you could get the same for cheaper in Flushing or Sunset Park, but I was not about to complain! All for the price of a Wagamama's in London but much, much better. Didn't try the dumplings, pickles or pork buns but they looked damn good. ($20 with a beer)
I know it's a cliche, but Queens is foodie heaven. Didn't get a chance to try the Thai or home-made Korean tofu near my friends' house in Sunnyside, but they did take me to this great Mexican spot where I had beef brisket with a BYO Negro Modelo. ($8/person)