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Tokyo Bike Takes Manhattan

16 Oct

As a wedding present to my wife I bought her a bike. In part it was because I wanted to have a cycle partner for those days when nothing is better than exploring a city by bike, but also because I knew she coveted the Blue Gray Bisou Tokyo Bike more than any other.

We followed the signs from home that led us onto the narrow Brooklyn Bridge bike path and into the city heading towards the Hudson River where there is a picturesque path which travels up the west side of  Manhattan. From here it is a tranquil ride to anywhere from the West Village all the way up to Columbia University and beyond.

We however, had a lunch date in mind so crossed into the Village to check out the Spotted Pig. Long waits abound in the evening but we only had to wait 10 minutes for our spot looking directly into the tiny kitchen at lunch. I knew before I arrived that I had to try the much blogged about burger but Angela struggled to choose between the battered pollock and thrice cooked chips and the pumpkin salad. For some reason she picked the salad….

Lunch turned out to be delicious, the unadorned burger was juicy and flavourful (I opted to leave off the Roquefort cheese), the salad was apparently good and we enjoyed the devilled eggs and a not quite chocolate nemesis cake. (having worked at River Cafe I had hoped the chef, April Bloomfield had ‘borrowed’ the recipe). The service was the best I have experienced in a long time and reminded me how good a waiter can be. It was personable without being in your face and absent until needed, just the right balance.

We left very satisfied and with nothing pressing we entered the West Village and mooched for a good couple of hours. There are an almost unlimited number of nice stores, cafes and restaurants in this neighbourhood and should you become bored with them you are close to the Highline or The Hudson River Greenway, both are a great way to walk off lunch.

Reputations at Steak

9 Jul

New York is a steak city, yet I had never been to a real steakhouse here, so when out-of-town guests wanted to go somewhere ‘we would not normally go’ I decided that this was my best opportunity to drag along my semi veggie partner without seeming totally selfish.

The decision of which steakhouse then left me with a dilemma. If I was going to do this it had to be good, and since it was with guests it was about  more than just the food. I wanted the right kind of venue with atmosphere, friendly service and great meat. This ruled out my long-term desire to eat at Peter Luger’s which is regularly voted as NY best steak. Unfortunately the reputation for their steak is as well-known as their reputation for surly service. While this can sometimes add to the fun, the thought of shelling out hundreds of dollars in cash (they do not take credit cards) to be treated like an annoyance did not seem appropriate.

Hence some further research led me to Keen’s steakhouse in the city. Once I had the approval of Carmine, my omniscient landlord, I knew we were in for a good night. As soon as you enter you feel a million miles from the bustle of mid-town New York. The low ceilings, wood panelled walls and bow tied waiters take you back in time, and I imagine since the place opened in 1885 not much has changed.

The service was elegant and friendly, we were offered cocktails that came with a crudite plate and proper bread rolls before a food menu was even presented. All our questions were graciously answered and a request for an off menu item was greeted with an ‘of course madame’.

The food did not disappoint. I ordered a delicious piece of sirloin that must have weighed at least 16oz, but that was dwarfed by the Kings Cut Prime Rib with bone that was enough to feed 3 healthy adults. Even the non red meat-eater was satisfied with a good piece of sea bass. Sides were equally matched with proper crispy fries and creamed spinach. Starters and desserts were tasty but lets face it the steak is the important thing here and when the only garnish is a piece of red pepper you know they must be proud of their meat.

Kings Cut of Prime Rib

Keens was a great experience, and made a nice change from the usual places. Whilst I am a big supporter of the locavore movement it was nice not to be force-fed the provenance of every ingredient, and to be treated like a valued guest rather than someone who should be grateful to receive such rarified ingredients. The service, the food and the ambiance were truly old school, all the way to the lobster tank in the middle of the room. And while this is not a regular destination (for the sake of your wallet and your stomach) it is defiantly a special occasion treat that I would confidently recommend to anyone.

 

Balaboosta

12 Mar

I think I just ate the best salad in my life. The first time I walked passed Balaboosta I remember thinking to myself how ballsy it was to have a big open window into the kitchen of a restaurant with such a silly sounding name. It was only later having visited their sister establishment Taim I realised that as ridiculous as the name may sound the food was likely to be good.

Israeli chef/owner Einet Admony has expanded her repertoire to cover many different Middle Eastern and Mediterranean style dishes. Much like the workings of Yotam Ottolenghi she has melded together all of the best elements.

The lunch menu starts with a selection of small plates including favourites such as hummus, babaganoush, house made pickles, and the slightly incongruous patatas bravas. There follows a small choice of salads and sandwiches and four different mains. I really struggled deciding what to have as almost all the options were so appetizing. In the end we settled on a selection of small plates and salads to share.

The hummus was good, the homemade pita was topped with za’atar and still warm from the oven. The only complaint I could make was one pita was never enough for the accompanying hummus. Next up was the patatas bravas served with garlic aioli, they were crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle, potato perfection. A side salad of Quinoa with chickpeas preserved lemon and dried cranberry followed. Once more a treat as the salty and sweet flavours were perfectly balanced. Then came the coup de grace. We only ordered the crispy cabbage salad at our servers request since the salad we had wanted from the specials board was actually part of the previous nights dinner menu and unavailable.

As in life it is in those moments of chance that amazing things can happen. Salads are not supposed to be that good, that is why god created meat…..But on this occasion mere vegetables, nuts, herbs and some funny noodle things were the very heights of achievement. Crispy Cabbage Salad : Romaine, Savoy, Roasted Almonds, Crispy Noodles, Cumin, Fresh Mint Vinaigrette; who would imagine these simple things could elicit such pleasure?

Even before the meal was over I knew we would have to return, I am just not sure whether to head back for the lunch menu and attack the meatier sections or go for dinner and try their famed falafel coated meatballs….oh the decisions. One thing I know is that I implore anyone visiting NY to slip out of SoHo and down to Nolita to try Balaboosta.

While in the neighbourhood you could check out these other faves of mine.

Red flower, for scented candles that actually smell nice (blood orange is best)

Steven Alan, expensive but classy men and woman’s fashion.

Me and Ro, very cool jewelry with a sometimes hefty price tag

McNally Jackson booksellers, great selection of titles with a cafe too and it’s not Barnes and Noble!

The Jim 2

19 Feb

All of my early New York eating adventures were inspired by a list and that list was supplied by Jim.

He was a regular at my last place of work and everyday he would come in for his coffee and a quick chat. Sometimes football related, (somehow he and his son Adam had become Wigan fans, I am not sure how that happens to a Canadian and a New Yorker but it did), but mainly we would discuss food. It often centered around where he had eaten the night before or various spots that I should try on my travels. On one such occasion whilst still doing the long distance thing between NY and LDN he gave me a list of  places to eat at and a link to a very handy food map that Adam had created.

From this point on I was never lacking in places to go and in many ways it was that original list which inspired this blog and certainly my own Eating Maps on the home page. Last week I got an email to say he was in town so it seemed fitting that if I was going to break my 3 week burger fast it should be with him.

Jim suggested Bill’s which was not my favourite burger from last time round, and I suggested Burger and Barrel. I won. I was interested to see just how good this burger was having decided that after my all time favourite, The Little Owl, this was the best I had tried in the previous 3 months.

As a burger on its own it did not disappoint. The patty is so juicy and their sauce so tasty that it really stands up on its own without the need for condiments. The burger was cooked to medium rare perfection. The fries are ok, crisp, but I imagine as it comes with 2 onion rings that they fry them in the same oil which does nothing for the flavour of the potato.

That aside this is definitely a top burger and one I would return to again and again. They also have plenty of wine by the glass, beers on tap and Adam had a mean looking spiked Caramel and Bourbon milkshake.

So in honour of Jim and his list I dedicate this post…….

The Standard and The High Line

8 Dec

After the previous nights misstep at Schiller’s I decided it should be straight back into the firing line with another untried restaurant. We were all feeling a little delicate from the previous nights cocktails so there was some added pressure involved in getting the right venue.

The Standard is a smart new hotel in Chelsea’s Meatpacking district, an area of the city I find a little off-putting. There are lots of good places to eat, good food stores (Chelsea Market), all the designer shops one could hope for and some pretty full on night clubs and bars. The problem is it feels as if everyone is trying just a little too hard to be the coolest on the block.

As with many areas that undergo gentrification the change began with some pretty extreme activities. As the meat industry slowly departed from the area the fringe began to take over. Drug dealers, prostitutes and the mafia were the main residents of the 1980’s. An underground club scene grew (if you are really interested see the wiki link at the bottom of the post) out of the areas illicit past as a playground for anyone looking for gay s&m bars or trans-sexual prostitutes. Inevitably the fringe scene slowly expanded to include hipsters, fashion crowds and eventually entrepreneurs. Unlike the earlier gentrification of Soho the artists were nowhere to be found and instead of a slow change high-end restaurants and fashion brands leapt in to take advantage of the cheap rent and gritty scene. Hence today the meatpacking district is home to high fashion, restaurants and nightclubs and all that is associated.

Back to the Standard, we arrived around 12.30pm and were offered a seat in the bar while our table was prepared. The restaurant is split into two sections, one a light and airy cafe space on the street and the other a more plush and sedate area at the back. There did not seem to be any difference menu wise, just pot luck as to where you got sat. Luckily for us we bagged a table outback in the corner banquette all soft and comfortable with leather furnishings. I would definitely recommend specifying this much more pleasant space.

The menu was the perfect tonic to a hung over Sunday, covering all the angles. There were straight up breakfast choices, eggs, french toast waffles or heartier fare with pasta dishes, salads, and mains. My first thought was how I could have comfortably spent all day going from brunch to tea and then onto dinner without wanting to move. We all started with juice having already had the caffeine hit from Pedlar. It was not an easy decision but I chose the burger. The others opted for eggs, with one a hit and the other a miss. My sisters scrambled eggs were as I have often found in NY, overcooked, too numerous (2-4eggs worth) and accompanied by cold toast and home fries (sautéed potatoes). Angela on the other hand had some very good poached eggs served with olive oil, sourdough bread and spinach. The burger was a La Freida blend so tasty as one would expect from the master mince man. It was let down a little by the bun which could not hold up to the patties juicyness, and slightly over crisped bacon, otherwise pretty good with great fries and a delicious pickle.

We ended the meal with some delicious french toast, maple syrup and strawberry compote.

Our waiter was great and helped us avoid the “just not good waffles”, he did not seem to mind that we took our time and showed no desire to leave even when we were clearly done and answered all my annoying questions including about the hotel bar on the roof which I am told has stunning views of the city.

I can only claim a return to form. In truth the food was nothing extraordinary, and had we been sat upfront in the cafe area it would have been a very different experience, but we weren’t and it ended up being the perfect brunch and a great way to forget about the previous nights mishaps.

The High Line

The Meatpacking district is also home to the High Line which is the reason we were in this neighbourhood. Here are some pictures from July 09, as it was too cold to start snapping. It’s a great spot to see the city from a different perspective and I would recommend a visit.

Wikipedia link BDSM

Schiller’s Liquor Bar

8 Dec

Schiller’s is part of the Keith McNally phenomenon that seems to be one succesful restaurant after another. The ex-pat Brit also owns Balthazar, Pastis, Minetta Tavern, Pulino’s and others. He is an incredibly succesful restaurateur as all the venues that I have visited are endlessly busy.

Balthazar has been a ‘go to’ place for me ever since I first visited NY, serving reliable bistro fare in stylish surroundings. So much so I have often wondered why he has not returned to the country of his birth to recreate some of his magic, (although there are rumours of a Balthazaar outpost in Covent Garden).

All this led me to believe that a Saturday night visit to his Lower East Side (LES) venue could be noting other than a safe bet. As with a lot of places booking is not possible so it’s the first come first served lottery that leads to the long wait times that is common in NY. With my sister in town for the weekend I decided it would be a good idea to hedge our bets, so while we had drinks at Freeman’s and put our name down on their list I also popped down to Schiller’s and got on theirs too. It turned out we had very little chance of getting a table at Freeman’s so after a drink we wandered through the LES to Schiller’s. there is a definite energy about the area and I am sad to admit that it is the first time in 6 yrs I have ventured their on a Saturday night. (No surprise to most)

Once there we were told that our table should be ready any minute so we took in the scene. The place was heaving, with the bar about 4 people deep there were some dodgy looking tables that were engulfed by drinkers. This however did not put us off, it was 10.30pm, we were hungry and the place really did have a great buzz. Once sat we ordered a couple of excellent cocktails and soaked up the classic 80’s soundtrack.

Vodka, lemonade,lime and fresh strawberries

The Delancy, Blackcurrant vodka, lime, mint and grenadine.

The drinks were really good, very strong and tasty, and perfectly accompanied by some seriously cheesy nachos, but this is where the fun ended. The service was pretty average perhaps not a surprise when you take into account how busy the place was, but the food was simply bad. A hamburger was limp, with nothing to make it stand out above a $5 Wendy’s version, the veggie burger was beyond limp, it literally fell to pieces and my steak sandwich was the best of the lot but still far from what I would expect of a McNally venture. We even found ourselves questioning whether the ketchup was Heinz, (it wasnt, although they protested otherwise).

The problem for Schiller’s is that McNally made his name by running very busy operations serving simple but tasty food in a theatrical environment, here the food was bad, and the service sketchy so all you are left with is the atmosphere. In my mind once the other two elements disappear all you are left with is a busy, noisy room.

There really was little point in complaining as I sincerely believed that the food we got was the best they could do in the circumstances, perhaps in a less manic moment the kitchen could get the simple bistro fare right but it strikes me as unlikely. I did speak to the manager and he assured me that it was a one-off and kindly offered us free drinks, however I cannot see myself returning to find out.

Alas at last there is a chink in the McNally armour.

NB. I visited Balthazaar on Monday to remind myself, and while I felt the standards may have slipped a little, it was still a million miles better than Schiller’s.

Burgers Part 2

24 Nov

Little Owl Bacon Cheeseburger

This is my favourite burger in all NYC.  It’s difficult to say that it is the best as there are so many that I have not tried, but undoubtedly if I had to choose the last burger I was ever going to eat this would be the one. I believe with burgers you can pretty much discount the setting, whereas the experience of most meals will depend to certain extent upon the company, the location or the service, a burger stands apart, it can be enjoyed in the least salubrious circumstances and still be elevated to a thing of beauty. Hence it is hardly worth mentioning that The Little Owl is a fantastic restaurant, serving seasonal American cuisine. It has a short but appealing menu and the only criticism you can level against the place is that it is so tiny you are often sharing conversations with neighbours either intentionally or not.

Burger and Barrel Cheeseburger

The Little Owl burger is of the pile of these latest entrants, however notable mention must go to Burger and Barrel (see above) for a very good burger. I am not sure what came over me when I ate there but I did something very rare, that is, I neglected to add some of Heinz’s favourite. The burger did not suffer for it. Its natural juiceness combined with their ‘special sauce’ made it work all on its own.

5 Napkin Bacon Cheeseburger

This was a giant burger (10 oz), very juicy but lacking slightly in flavour, it was let down by very poor fries. 5 Napkin has been on my list for a very longtime, and although a good burger I felt a little underwhelmed…..

5 Guys Fries....this was a small portion!

The 5 Guys experience was another let down. Having read that this was the East coast equivalent of the famous IN n OUT BURGER from LA I had high hopes. The burger was ok, but as you can see not much to look at. The patties fell apart far too easily and never having been a fan of the double burger due to its flimsy nature this held true. As a kid I would always order 2 or sometimes even 3 hamburgers over the big mac. The 5 Guys burger was also more expensive than Shake Shack and not as good. Where they do score serious points are with their fries. definitely the best fast food fries I have ever had, and good enough to put plenty of ‘proper’ restaurants to shame.

In conclusion, thus far Little Owl comes out on top, Shake Shack is ahead in the fast food rankings and Burger and Barrel gets special mention for its ability to thrive without ketchup.

Click here for a link to some burger porn….enjoy.

And if you are not desperate for a meat fix after having read all this then there is something wrong!

AND ONE LAST THING>>>>>>>>>>>

The doughnut burger, vanilla glaze bun filmed with tres leche and blackout cake doughnut....All courtesy of the Doughnut Plant.

And in case you thought I was bad, this was just a joke, but check this out.