[view from my sister's apartment]
Last week, Mark and I flew to New York for 5 days of fun in the city. (Well, for me. Mark had to work for 2 of those days.) We got to see my sister and her boyfriend and several friends, including our friend Jyoti who took the bus up from Boston to spend the weekend with us, our friends Robin and Ilan and my friend Frieda from Paris.
Activities included lots of walking, park and museum visiting, lollygagging, gallivanting, aimless wandering, a little shopping (Lynh and I I tried on jeans at Madewell and Uniqlo) and a little celebrity sighting (Elisabeth Moss, Mo Rocca and, least excitingly, one of the Real Housewives of NY).
And one of my favorite parts of our trip was Friday night, when we were lucky enough to be invited to Shabbat dinner at the home of our friends Robin and Ilan. They cooked us a most delicious dinner and we drank wine and Scotch and basically laughed nonstop for 5 hours. It was so, so fun.
Totto Ramen (366 West 52nd Street)
I was on my own Thursday, so I made my way to this teeny ramen shop for a solo lunch. If I'm eating alone, I like to eat at the bar so I can watch the cooks (in this case, I watched them stir enormous pots of broth and use a blow torch to singe slices of pork). I had the chicken paitan ramen and it was excellent: springy noodles, minced onion, fatty char siu pork, a little nori and lots of green onion.
I am picky when it comes to broth but their chicken-based broth won me over, as it was verrry rich but had the sweetness that a good chicken broth should have. A little bird (aka the reporter waiting next to me) told me the Times is about to write it up. I was the first to be seated at lunch and, by the time I left 30 minutes later, there were at least 25 people waiting outside for a spot. Update: The NYT article is up! (Excuse the bad phone picture.)
Massawa (1239 Amsterdam Ave)
My friend Frieda is in film school in NY and she suggested we meet at this Ethiopian restaurant near Columbia, where we shared a vegetarian dinner (extra lentils), lots of injera and some spiced tea. I wished the food was a little spicier (and I maybe wished we had ordered some meat) but the restaurant was full and fun and the flavors were complex.
Lynh took me to Sheng Wang (27 Eldridge Street), a tiny dumpling and noodle shop in Chinatown, where we ate intricately folded pork and scallion dumplings and hand pulled noodles in broth. The noodles and dumplings were fantastic, but the broth left something to be desired. After dumplings, we checked out a few shops and bakeries, settling on a fluffy chiffon cake. We came back later and, from a street cart on Grand Street (no name), I bought steamed rice noodles with fish balls, sesame sauce, oyster sauce and sriracha for the princely sum of $2.50. Awesome.
papabubble (380 Broome St)
Lynh and I did our best to sample every flavor of hard candy they make in this artisanal candy shop. The sweets are pricey, but they had many fun flavors (watermelon chili!) and sleek packaging. I couldn't help picking up a small package for my friend Jyoti's birthday.
Xi'an Famous Foods (81 St. Mark's Place)
We took a walk through East Village where we picked up Western Chinese food: cold liang pi noodles, a lamb and cumin "burger" and a couple of soups with hand pulled noodles. We took our food to Tompkins Square Park and feasted at one of the chess tables. This food was so very, very good. My liang pi noodles had starchy noodles and sponge-y gluten, and the whole mess of noodles, cucumbers and bean sprouts was slicked with salty chile oil. The flavors of the lamb burger made us think of a fusion between Chinese and Middle Eastern flavors, and the texture of the hand pulled noodles reminded Lynh a little bit of those you sometimes find in Eastern Europe. Memorable and utterly delicious.
Momofuku Milk Bar (207 2nd Ave)
My friend Jyoti and I were set on stopping at Milk Bar to try out the soft serve, the cookies and possibly the pork buns. After our Xi'an lunch, we nixed the pork buns and went for sweets. I sampled the black sesame soft serve and the cereal milk soft serve -- and, well, I may be going against the crowd here but I hated them both. I love sesame stuffed dim sum but I actually wanted to rinse out my mouth after sampling the black sesame soft serve. Of the cookies I tried, I thought the salty chocolate chip cookie was fairly tasty (maybe because it reminded me a bit of Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies!) -- but I didn't love the compost cookie (chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pretzels, potato chips). It was greasy, super rich and not so enjoyable to eat.
Grand Sichuan (229 9th Ave)
Mark and I have been craving Sichuan ever since we left Houston, and Grand Sichuan was a decent find. Their cucumber sesame salad is refreshing and the Chongqing chicken and stir fried pea shoots are especially tasty. I also ordered the fresh killed Gui Zhou chicken, which the table liked, but it was maybe sweeter than it should have been.
Otto (1 Fifth Ave)
Otto is one of Lynh's favorite restaurants in the city and I was excited to go. The good: The food, the price, the conversation. The bad: though the restaurant wasn't busy, the service was distracted. We made the most of it, though (and maybe I should have expected as much since this is a pretty casual place). We ordered an assortment of verdure (lentil salad, roasted beets and spicy broccoli rabe) and a fennel, apple and walnut salad to share:
All were excellent, but the salad was my favorite. On to the pastas:
Bucatini alla Gricia:
Penne alla Norma:
Rigatoni, fennel sausage, escarole:
I am very partial to fennel sausage so of course the rigatoni was my favorite. Everything was delicious, though.
For dessert, we ordered 3 to share: the seasonal fig dessert (figs, fig gelato, concord grape gelato, caramel crema), the black and white dessert (milk chocolate chip gelato, hazelnut croccante, crème fraiche gelato, chocolate sauce, caramel crema) and an assortment including vanilla, dark chocolate and hazelnut stracciatella.
For me, the most special flavors were the Concord grape (it reminded me of grape bubblicious bubble gum in the best possible way) and the hazelnut stracciatella.
Murray's Cheese Shop (254 Bleecker Street)
My sister's boyfriend likes to say that Lynh spends half of her salary on cheese. She took us to her favorite cheese shop, Murray's, to show us why and how. I totally understand! We sampled olive oil, cheeses and charcuterie and made out like bandits -- I left with two kinds of raw sheep's milk cheese, a soft Tomme Crayeuse and a salami tartufo.
Bouchon Bakery (Ten Columbus Circle, third floor)
We made a quick pre-flight stop here to pick up a demi baguette and salted butter to accompany my bounty from Murray's. I always try to pack tasty travel food so I don't have to rely on the miserable choices in the airport terminals and I can't imagine better fare for a picnic at 30,000 feet, can you?
Cafe Mingala (1393 2nd Ave)
Our last dinner was a low key affair at Cafe Mingala on the Upper East Side. I'd never had Burmese food, so I was excited to try dishes like tea leaf salad. The service was nice and the food was not bad, but not great either. I've been planning to check out the Burmese options in SF, so this was a good intro to Burmese cuisine at least.
We ended the evening with a quick stop at the Hudson Hotel and then back to Lynh and Steve's, where Lynh mixed us cocktails with gin and celery bitters and we watched the season finale of Mad Men. Perfect. I always get sad to leave my sister (who, along with her bf Steve, is always an amazing host). Until next time, New York.