NEW YORK, NY — Yes, the hubby (aka Meat Boy) and I sneaked off to New York last week for one of the first real vacations we’ve had in a long time.
By that, I mean it was a trip that didn’t solely revolve around my work as a food writer. Instead, it was merely for relaxation and enjoyment — plus lots of good eats, of course. To make sure I actually did take time off, I wasn’t allowed to lug around my usual heavy camera, but only a tiny point-and-shoot. I had to ration my shots, too. After all, it’s not really a vacation if it’s viewed only through the lens of a camera and not the full spectrum of your own eyes.
Hope you enjoy the highlights:
After taking the red-eye from San Jose to New York, we caught a couple of hours of shut-eye at our hotel before venturing to this 100-year-old institution. If you’re in New York, you’ve got to have a bagel or two, right? And what better place than at Barney Greengrass, famed for its smoked sturgeon.
Grab a table where you can at this tightly packed store flanked by deli cases.
My famished husband tore into a plate of smoked sturgeon scrambled with eggs and onions ($18.50), plus a bagel on the side, while I noshed on a sesame bagel stuffed with cream cheese, capers, onion, tomato, smoked sturgeon and Nova Scotia salmon ($20.75). Hello, New York!
Chinese steamed buns filled with all manner of inventive fillings is the bill of fare at the shoebox-size BaoHaus started by the irreverent, lawyer-turned-street food-restaurateur Eddie Huang and his brother, Evan.
The “Chairman Bao” ($2.99) is a fluffy white bun caressing juicy braised pork belly, cilantro, crushed peanuts and a hit of Taiwanese red sugar.
The “Birdhaus’ bao” ($2.99) is even better because the crunchy chicken skin adds a wonderful contrast to the pillowy bun.
It’s a speakeasy for carnivores. Dimly lit, the Cannibal specializes in small plates and unusual craft beers. It’s also part-meat market, where you can pick up aged rib-eye or sausages to take home to cook.
The food is lusty, but can add up in price quickly if you order a lot of dishes, especially because many are on the skimpy size.
The lamb neck terrine with Szechuan peppercorns and cumin was outstanding, but at $11, it amounted to one thin slice. It’s so good, you can’t help but want more, too.
The signature “Cannibal Dogs” brings two hot dogs ($14), dressed with beef heart, beef chili, onion and mustard. The dogs have great snap and deep flavor.
A serving of Pecorino Foglie Di Noce raw sheep’s milk cheese from Italy is more like a sliver. And it’s $7.
Mad. Sq. Eats
May 4 through June 1, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Madison Square Park is the place to be to sample all manner of food stands in one spot.
Some of Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s best-known artisan purveyors set up shop in the park at Mad. Sq. Eats, dishing up everything from Hong Kong Street Cart dumplings to Calexico tacos to Bar Suzette crepes.
It’s such a civilized scene, too, with colorful Marimekko tablecloths and umbrellas set up for dining.
Meat Boy enjoyed — what else — a Montreal-style smoked brisket sandwich ($12) from Brooklyn’s Mile End deli stand.
Yours truly indulged in a lobster Nicoise salad ($18) from Red Hook Lobster Pound, which had quite a generous amount of lobster meat.
Brasserie Les Halles
No, we didn’t spot Anthony Bourdain at the classic French bistro, where he rose to fame while writing, “Kitchen Confidential.”
But we much enjoyed a fine lunch at Brasserie Les Halles of a classic salad Nicoise ($16) and fried fish sandwich tucked between a toasted roll smeared with caper mayonnaise ($16).
Maialino specializes in Roman-style cooking.
The pastas will leave you swooning, particularly the “Malfatti al Maialino” ($23), torn pieces of thin, tender pasta tossed with slivers of sucking pig and fresh baby arugula.
Save room for dessert. Bomboloni ($10) come six to an order, all crisp, golden and hot out of the fryer with warm cider syrup for dipping. You tell yourself you can’t possibly eat all six, even with help from your husband. But after you bite into the first one, as airy and ethereal as the interior of a cream puff, you’re done for. You are finishing the plate. No question about it.
This food emporium is smaller than I expected, but large by New York standards. Eataly is essentially a gourmet Italian market with restaurants interspersed within it.
You’ll go green with envy looking at the dried pasta and fresh meat selections, wanting to somehow tote it all home with you in your suitcase.
After a half hour wait, we snagged a table at the bustling La Pizza & Pasta. You can order pizza and/or pasta, but they are prepared in separate kitchens, so both may show up at once on your table, the server warned.
We shared a short rib ragu over house-made pasta ($18), a fantastic dish imbued with hearty, developed flavors.
The “Ventura” Neopolitan pizza ($19) came out blistered on the edges and topped with mozzarella, Parma ham, arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano. We found the crust more bread-like than expected and not quite as thin and crisp as we would have liked.
Afterward, we walked over to the Gelateria to end the night on a scoop of pistachio and another of almond-ricotta.
Russ and Daughters
In business since 1914, Russ and Daughters is a smoked fish lover’s dream.
Run by the Russ family for nearly a century, it’s a New York experience that shouldn’t be missed.
You’ll find more types of smoked fish than you ever knew existed. Order a bagel or bialy sandwich as I did, and choose from more than half a dozen cream cheeses to spread on it, including tofu cream cheese, goat cream cheese and horseradish cream cheese.
I’m still dreaming of the “Daughter’s Delight” ($15.75) that I enjoyed: a bialy sandwiching Gaspe Nova salmon, wild Alaskan salmon roe and scallion cream cheese.
Hill Country Chicken
Got a hankering for fried chicken? You’d do well to make a beeline to the fast-casual Hill Country Chicken. My husband did — twice. That’s how tasty the fried chicken is here, which you can order by the piece ($1.50 to $5.50).
Don’t forget to get a buttermilk biscuit ($1), a drop version that tastes oh-so buttery.
You know it as the setting for a particularly immortal scene between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal from “When Sally Met Harry.”
And for being the house of pastrami.
When you order your sandwich ($15.75) at the counter at Katz’s, the guy making it will slice off a sliver of pastrami to let you try it first to make sure it’s to your liking. How could it not be? Thickly cut, tender and bursting with juice, it’s a rarity today — a hand-cut pastrami sandwich made to your specifications.
It comes with a plate of big, fat pickles you won’t be able to keep your hands off of.
Alex Stupak has done just that at Empellon Cocina in the East Village — and exceedingly well.
We’re talking made-to-order guacamole with the inspired touch of pistachios. Served with house-made masa crisps, it will spoil you for any other guac ever again.
Don’t pass up the juicy rabbit with shiitake-poblano stuffing, either.
Our one big splurge meal.
For my (early) birthday celebration.
Le Bernardin’s chef’s tasting menu ($190 per person) is all that you imagine and more. Highlights included the most exquisite, tender octopus I’ve ever eaten; plus Wagyu tartare crowned with Osetra caviar; and a riff on Japanese chawanmushi with quivering yuzu custard, more seafood and a smoked bonito broth I wanted to splurp up even while dressed in a form-fitting black cocktail dress.
The hubby put the kibosh on photos, telling me to just to sit back and enjoy.
I did, too, particularly when the dashing Chef Eric Ripert came by the table to chat.
What more could a gal want for her birthday than that?
Plus: My Q&A with Eric Ripert