Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Eat, Sleep, New York

Vacation is a time for rest, relaxation, and eating. When J told me she'd be heading to New York for some meetings earlier this year, I took a week off from work to accompany (chauffeur) her and planned my own little eating adventure. Armed with a healthy appetite and some cold hard cash, I was prepared to eat until I could eat no more, and then have some dessert.

We stayed at the Distrikt Hotel in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood which was centrally located and near the 42nd Street subway station making it a perfect location for me to eat my way around the city. It was also conveniently located a few short blocks from one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Hell's Kitchen Restaurant, a modern Mexican spot that I estimate I've eaten at close to thirty times. Anyway, as soon as we checked in the tour began. J had some meetings to attend to so I headed straight to Shake Shack. There are always long lines at Shake Shack no matter the location; there are five in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. There are also Shake Shacks in Washington, D.C., Westport, CT, Miami, FL, Kuwait City, Kuwait and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. There are also Boston locations in the works!

I'll be honest with you, my relationship with Shake Shack started off rather cool and I'm not referring to the fact that my first visit was in the middle of winter nearly two years ago, which it was. No, I'm referring to the fact that I simply did not think Shake Shack was all that great, especially after waiting in line, in the cold, windy expanse of Madison Square Park, for more than thirty minutes. Sure it was good, the fries were crispy, the burger fresh, but it was just a fast food burger after all, right? Wrong. Shake Shack is to New York as In-N-Out is to Southern California, seriously. They use 100% all-natural Angus beef that is free of hormones and antibiotics, humanely raised and source verified. All, yes 100%, of Shake Shack's electric usage is offset through wind power and renewable energy certificates. Each Shack is also constructed from recycled and sustainable materials; tabletops are sourced from reclaimed bowling alley lanes! Shake. I'm happy to wait in line now whenever I'm in New York, and am ecstatic about the opening of Boston's first Shake Shake!

On this most recent trip I paid a visit to the Theater District Location on 8th Avenue at 44th Street, and of course there was a long line out the door. From the time I stepped in line to the time I received my burger and fries, I waited thirty minutes. And yes, I do believe the wait was worth it. Tasty burger, tasty fries, stop one on my eating tour of Manhattan complete.

Shake Shack Line

Shack Burger and Fries

From Shake Shack I headed to dinner with J and and some of her business colleagues; I didn't pick the restaurant and I'll simply say it wasn't very noteworthy, I don't even remember the name of the place OR what I ate. Like I said, not very noteworthy. I almost considered heading back to Shake Shack for a late night burger, but I didn't, there would be plenty more eating the next day.

Day two of my epic 2012 New York City eating tour began with a run in Central Park and a a stop into Stumptown Coffee Roasters in the Ace Hotel for a cappuccino. Just like Shake Shack, there was a long line of people waiting to order, winding into the hotel lobby. I don't remember where I first heard about Stumptown - they are a coffee roaster and cafe chain based in Portland, OR - but this was my first of many visits. Once ordering and receiving my beautiful cappuccino, I understood why the line was so long. Perfectly creamy, homogenous foam, rich, strong espresso, an absolutely perfect start to my day and quite possibly the best cappuccino I'd ever had. I returned to Stumptown each of the next three days to be begin my feeding frenzy.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Ordering line at Stumptown

Cappuccino Art at Stumptown Coffee

Fully caffeinated, I walked across town to Pulino's Pizzeria for some breakfast pizza. I did my research ahead of time and knew that I'd be able to eat early at Pulino's. If I was going to fit in my entire agenda I would have to have breakfast at Pulino's. The restaurant was empty when I arrived, having opened only a few moments earlier. I sat down with a view of the open pizza kitchen and ordered a cup of coffee. I was having breakfast after all, and what's breakfast without coffee? Pulino's has six breakfast pizzas on the menu but just one really caught my eye. I ordered a small Pere e Miele, a honey roasted pear, ricotta and almond pizza. The crust was crispy and chewy, the pears sweet and tender, the ricotta spread generously and the almonds perfectly sliced with just the right amount of crunchy bite. This pizza would be great for dessert too, but on this day, it was the perfect breakfast pie.


Dual fuel pizza ovens in Pulino's

Pere e Miele Pizza at Pulino's

Now overly caffeinated with some food in my stomach it was time to move on. Just before 12 noon I headed over to Momofuku Noodle Bar and what a surprise, there was a line to get in. Momofuku opened at 12 noon and there was a short line of people in front of me waiting to eat. 

Line to get in to Momofuku Noodle Bar

It was a short wait for the doors to open and once inside I was promptly seated at the bar with a nice view down the line of the open kitchen. By the time I ordered a few minutes later, the place was almost completely full. Momofuku Noodle Bar is busy for a reason, the food...is...amazing.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

I had a hard time making a decision between the famous pork buns and the grilled octopus. I wish I had tried the pork buns but am so so glad I ordered the grilled octopus. The octopus was cooked absolutely perfectly, like blow your mind perfect. Served with scallion kimchee, salsify, California carrot foam, arugula, Chinese sausage and cara cara orange. Wow. This dish left me nearly speechless.

Grilled Octopus at Momofuku Noodle Bar

Formerly Grilled Octopus at Momofuku Noodle Bar

I also ordered a hot bowl of Prawn Ramen, one of the daily specials. This ramen was made with red miso and served charred arugula, napa cabbage, a soft boiled soy egg and nice, big, head-on prawns. This was as fine a bowl of ramen as I've ever head but seriously, I wish I had another plate of the grilled octopus. I also tried their soft-serve flavor of the day, beet-lime, with a vanilla twist. The soft serve came in a small dish with pistachio crumble at the bottom. The beet-lime soft serve was quite tangy, with a hint of sweetness, like beets and limes. The sweet vanilla twist, ordered upon recommendation, offered a nice foil to the tartness of the beet-lime. The pistachio crumble offered a nice textural contrast and infusion of salty goodness.

Prawn Ramen with Red Miso at Momofuku Noodle Bar

Beet-Lime Soft Serve at Momofuku Noodle Bar

Totally satisfied with my Momofuku experience, I was on a mission to keep this amazing euphoric food high going. Staying in the East Village neighborhood, I headed to Crif Dogs, a place I learned of while watching an episode of The Layover with Anthony Bourdain hanging out with David Chang (of Momofuku). They visited Crif Dogs and PDT and I immediately wanted to go. Unfortunately PDT didn't open until later in the day but I did get a change to try a Crif Dog, and wouldn't you know it, there was a line when I got there. A short line, yes, but a line nonetheless.

Crif Dogs - Eat Me

Crif Dogs

After a thorough review of the many hot dog choices, I opted for the Spicy Red Neck, a house made hot dog, bacon wrapped and smothered in chili, jalapenos and coleslaw. Had I been drunk I might have proclaimed this to be the best hot dog I've ever had, but in a totally sober state, coming down from a Momofuku high, I was underwhelmed. Not one flavor stood out in the piled high hot dog. Flat on flavor, I moved on, only slightly disappointed that a place touted by Bourdain AND David Chang left me wanting something else. The day was still young though, and I had plans to meet friends in Brooklyn for some more good eating.

Spicy Red Neck at Crif Dogs

After a much needed nap I hopped on the Q train in Times Square and headed to Brooklyn to meet my friends at the Atlantic Terminal;  they were coming in from Long Beach on the Long Island Rail Road. Before heading to dinner we stopped into Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope for a quick caffeine fix. I've been a fan of Gorilla Coffee for a few years and always pay them a visit when I'm in Brooklyn visiting J's family. They sell a great cold brew and are quite skilled with their latte art.

Latte Art at Gorilla Coffee Brooklyn

Fully caffeinated, we headed to Chavela's in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. I don't remember how I found this place but the food was great and the margaritas cold. I ordered some grilled street corn, Elotes Callejeros, served with chipotle mayonnaise and cotija cheese, and a few tacos. I ordered a few margaritas, rocks and salt, to wash it all down and that about cooked me for the day. I headed back to Manhattan to sleep off my food coma and prepare myself for another day of eating.

Grilled Street Corn at Chavela's Brooklyn

A Trio of Tacos at Chavela's Brooklyn

Day 3 began just as day 2 with a run through Central Park and, you guessed it, a cappuccino at Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

Latte Art at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Still in a mild food coma from day 2's feeding frenzy, I was hopeful that a little runner's high and some Stumptown caffeine would power me through another day of eating. With high hopes I headed to Motorino in the East Village, a wood-fired pizza joint known for what I can now attest to, absolutely amazing Neapolitan-style pizza. Oh, and there was no line and no waiting. It was also 11am.

Motorino East Village


I ordered the superb Soppressata Piccante pizza with fior di latte, chili flakes, garlic and oregano, and it came with a nice fresh mixed green salad with red onion, parsley, mint, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. As good as the breakfast pizza was at Pulino's the day before, this pizza at Motorino was that much better. Perfectly charred crust, high quality, fresh ingredients, an amazing pizza that made me forget how much I ate the day before. I ate it all. Oh yeah, I ordered some tiramisu as well which was pretty freaking awesome.

Soppressata Picante at Motorino

Herb Salad at Motorino

Tiramisu at Motorino

Thoroughly stuffed at this pointed, I walked across the city from Motorino in the East Village to the High Line over in Chelsea. The High Line is an old elevated freight line that was converted into a public park. The High Line runs along the Hudson River from Gansevoort Street to West 30th with some really stunning views of the city. I walked the length of the boardwalk hoping to burn some calories and continue my eating tour of New York. Which I did when I found myself heading to Eatalyon Fifth Avenue, six long city blocks from the High Line.

When I turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue, I saw something that until now had eluded my on my trips to New York, the Calexico Food Cart! Calexico has four carts with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn and sell gourmet Mexican street food. I love me some Mexican street food and ordered up a couple tacos before heading into to Eataly.

Calexico Food Cart

Tacos from Calexico Cart

Eataly is like a big Italian Marketplace with a bakery, a deli, a grocery, and several restaurants. I've been a few times for charcuterie, crudo and pizza but never up the rooftop beer garden, Birreria, which is where I was headed on this day. Up to the roof top I went and grabbed a seat at the bar. Since this was a weekday, in the middle of the day, it was not busy. I ordered a couple beers and got into some pretty interesting Twitter conversations. Bierreria brews a few of their own beers, unfiltered, unpasteurized and cask conditioned, and I ordered two. In one of the casks at the time was the Barista robust porter brewed with cold extracted Guatemalan coffee, it was rich, smooth and delicious. I also tried the Gina American pale ale which they brew with fresh Italian thyme. It was a unique beer, hoppy, herbal, refreshing, and currently available. I believe this is one of the beers that they regularly brew.


Barista Porter at Eataly Birreria

Gina Thyme Pale Ale at Eataly Birreria

On my way out of Eataly, the gelato bar called out to me like a Siren's song. Unlike Homer, this burnt caramel gelato did not spell trouble for me; it was, however, enough to put me back into a food coma that I knew I had to sleep off if I was going to make it to dinner with J in a couple hours.

Burnt Caramel Gelato at Eataly

After a quick snooze I headed to Hell's Kitchen Restaurant, a place I used to eat at every week when I was working in Manhattan, a place where I've eaten just about everything on the menu, a place that has outstanding modern Mexican food and the best sangria I've ever had - a secret recipe that I may or may not have. My favorite meal at Hell's Kitchen is their pan seared Chilean sea bass served with grilled chayote, sweet plantain puree and a deliciously spicy salsa verde. Nearly thirty visits to the restaurant and never a bad meal. Always consistent and of high quality, I went with a special on this night, trusting Chef Jorge Pareja. I ordered the Posole with pork, hominy, chilies and avocado. Pleased I was, satisfied with another fantastic day of eating that ended with an amazing meal at one of my favorite restaurants.

Posole at Hell's Kitchen Restaurant

Two and a half days of solid eating and one more sleep before heading home. Our plan was to leave the city around noon once J finished up with her meetings. So, while she was working I headed to Stumptown one more time for another perfect cappuccino and a triple chocolate donut, chocolate cake, chocolate chips, chocolate frosting. Chocolate love.

Cappuccino and Triple Chocolate Donut

We picked up a couple sandwiches at Bierkraft in Brooklyn before hitting the road. A favorite spot of ours in Park Slope, Bierkraft sells great craft beers to go, and also pours many on draft. They've also got a great deli with sandwiches like this one, our favorite, the Serrano with manchego, arugula, balsamic vinegar and fig jam.

Serrano and Manchego from Bierkraft

Goodbye New York. Until next time.

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