Here we have another epic compilation carrying on from where I left off with the previous Manhattan Munchies post. Let’s start with another restaurant by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich – Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. The restaurant sits in the sprawling ground floor of the art deco One Fifth Avenue building and is modelled on an old Italian train station. The front enoteca area is filled with marble-topped benches designed for standing, nibbling and drinking with your mates and the main dining room is simply and classically decorated with rich colours and wooden furniture.
A soft white loaf of bread comes wrapped in brown paper and as we tear into it our heirloom caprese ($16)lands before us as if on queue to the over-the-top and slightly painful Italian opera music belting through the speakers. A medley of sweet tomato varieties jumble around with chopped basil and deliciously creamy mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil. The potato, anchovy and ricotta pizza is of the very thin and crispy kind, topped with fried sage leaves that compete with the undercooked and starchy slices of potato. My winning goat cheese agnolotti ($16), made fresh in-house, is a sensation with every mouthful. The beautifully soft little pockets are filled with creamy goat cheese and sauced-up with lemon butter and fennel pollen. More, please?
To end the lunch we share the olive oil coppetta ($11), featuring the famous Otto gelato. There’s olive oil gelato, concord grape sorbetto, red wine roasted figs, orange curd and fennel brittle. The whole thing is lightly drizzled with olive oil and salt and it all works.
The schlepp to Flushing took a little longer than we’d anticipated but when I heard some of the best xiao long bao in New York could be found there, it was a given that we get the subway over. We’d previously tried Joe’s Shanghai in Manhattan’s Chinatown because they were labelled the best in town but when I initially researched “New York’s best soup dumplings” I also came up with this place – Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. The area around Flushing train station is a Chinatown in itself, bustling with locals going about their Flushing business.
Arriving early meant that we nabbed a table before the locals descended. A couple of chilled Tsingtao kick things off and in no time, after we place our order, the kitchen is madly knocking up our dumplings. If I can make comparisons, the steamed crab & pork buns (xiao long bao $6.5) only just scrape in at second place to the Joe’s Shanghai specimens. The skins were comparable, the amount of soup was as well but overall it just wasn’t as flavoursome. Other edibles that graced our table were the Shanghai shao mai, pan-fried pork buns ($2.95) and seaweed with garlic ($4.5). The ratio of rice to meat in the shao mai was higher than I would have liked and the pork buns ($5.5) were quite bready and lacked the juices I like in these things. All pretty good, even if the other half wasn’t all that keen on the thicker-than-normal seaweed laced with chilli.
There are 2 other locations – one on North Boulevard in Flushing and the other one at North Boulevard in Little Neck.
Before we even arrived at the above Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao I noticed a lady setting up a bbq food cart on the corner near the restaurant. Seeing the menu on the side of the cart got me interested so I made sure I didn’t fill up at the dumpling house. This bbq cart has no official name and I can assume it won’t be found at the same location every night. Rather than dessert after the dumplings I went back to the bbq cart and grabbed a couple of char-grilled snacks straight off the coals. A skewer of northern-style lamb ($4) burnt my lips with its dusting of chilli and cumin and the whole butterflied quail ($4) was finger food at its best. Sitting beneath a street lamp chowing on spiced quail bones was one of my simpler New York highlights.
I know one thing that I’ll be doing next time I’m in New York. Spending more time in and around Williamsburg. The more we wandered the streets the more we found. Great little places. When we got to Fette Sau on that particular day and discovered it wasn’t open Monday to Friday we turned the corner and found the beating heart of Williamsburg. Already starving we didn’t want to faff around for any length of time and settled on Rabbithole after falling for its looks and no-fuss menu. The rustic industrial set-up is all about the exposed brick, well-worn floor boards, tinted vintage mirrors and oddments scattered all over the place. There’s a front bar section and dining at the rear plus a private open-air courtyard past the panel doors out the back.
Lunch was a simple affair of toasted beetroot, avocado and goat cheese sandwich ($9) also with red onion, walnuts and a mixed leaf salad on the side. My French dip roast beef ($12) sourdough baguette came toasted with horseradish sauce, melted gruyere and dariole of jus to moisten things up a tad. Great sandwiches. A light lunch meant we had space for the sweeties. Earl Grey crème brûlée($6), nice thin toffee crust and distinct tea flavour, and an affogato ($6) using Stumptown beans.
Staying at The Standard in the Meatpacking District meant we spent a little time at Chelsea Market almost every day. Coffee at Ninth Street and a spot of snooping and shopping at its food outlets. Manhattan Fruit Exchange is like a glorified version of what I have at Marrickville Metro in Sydney, just better. Way better. If I didn’t have a baggage allowance I would have grabbed more things to bring home along with the Hawaiian black salt, chocolate balsamic syrup and truffle balsamic syrup I stocked up on. The selection of fruit and veg is impressive and the cheeses and dry goods equally so.
Also in the Chelsea Market building is Friedman’s Lunch, a place we did breakfast at a couple of times. The breakfast offerings are fairly standard and did their job in fuelling us through to lunch. Housemade granola ($8) with Greek yoghurt, berries and honey, toast with conserve ($2) and a breakfast sandwich ($7.5) with scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado and pepperjack cheese. Can’t complain.
Over in the East Vilage we tried a great little Greek place that has a slightly high-end vibe about it. Clay pots hang in multitude from the Pylos ceiling, and I’m glad we were seated in the rear room at the marble-topped wine bar where it was less crowded and a little more intimate. Htenia me fasolia kai roka ($15) is basically grilled scallops tossed with white beans and arugula and served with Greek extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. I’m a big fan of scallops and as delicious as the salad was it was let down by the grit on the scallops themselves. The pitakia katsaris ($11) are savoury phyllo pastries filled with spiced cured beef pasturma, fresh tomato and a mild kasseri cheese.
Patzarosalata ($9) is a beetroot salad we shared with our main courses, served cold and topped with beet greens. A rather mammoth hoirino kotsi lemonato ($23) lands in front of me, giving instant gratification before I even took a fork to it. The braised pork shank is simply roasted with lemon and herbs, surrounded by fingerling potatoes and leeks. This is one dish designed for gluttons like myself. I barely made it through. The lavraki me tsigarellia ($25) is a pistachio crusted fillet of wild stripe bass sat by a mound of chard and spinach cooked with celery, fennel, onion, tomato and crumbled fetta.
Desserts were a bit of a let down. My karydopita dou Pylos is a “luscious” Greek walnut cake with chocolate-coffee syrup. The muffin-like cake was far from luscious. The stacked napoleon me mousse apo vision kai yiaourti ($6 – talk about a mouthful!) is layers of crisp phyllo napoleon with Greek yoghurt and sour cherry mousse. Not bad, not great.
One of Meatpacking’s hotspots is Pastis, an ever-popular hang-out for those that want a bit of French bistro goodness. Sitting outside on a balmy evening was the way to go and after popping the cork on a very good 2010 Sancerre Michel Girard & Fils, we tore into the Balthazar Bakery bread basket. The steak tartare ($15) was one of the best I’ve had; premixed with all of its required extras plus toasted baguette and salad on the side. The light and fluffy goat cheese tart ($15) is filled with leek, potato and olives and the pastry is so fine and flaky it shatters as soon as you look at it.
The fried calamari ($14) is just that, served with harissa mayo and next to no chewiness. The linguine with cockles and garlic ($18) is another simple French bistro dish that’s as rustic as they come. For a place that prides itself on its Provençal dishes I’m a little surprised to see a burger on the menu.
Another catch-up with the expat brought us to this tapas style restaurant in the West Village. Alta is one of those places that is always heaving with folk that are out for a good nights sipping and nibbling on decent wine and some rather haute tapas. There’s nothing traditional about food here and it was a pity there weren’t more people in our tiny group as we barely made a dent in the menu that has 45 dishes to choose from.
Four golden fried goat cheese ($8) balls sit harpooned in a sweet puddle of lavender infused honey. The lavender is subtle enough to complement the mild cheese rather than make it all soapy. The potato gnocchi ($12.5) is livened up with a generous dollop of black truffle fonduta, some crispy potato and micro arugula. Great truffle flavour but not too powerful. Some delicious tuna tartare ($12) sits on top of a tangle of eggplant noodles mixed with pistachios, caperberries and yellow tomato coulis. Another impressive dish. The Asian theme carries through to the rosemary crusted lamb tataki ($11), dried muscat grapes, white peach purée and lemon verbena. Great fresh flavours with some meltingly-thin shavings of lamb.
The enormous whole shrimp ($13.5) don’t disappoint us with their size and simple flavour. The king prawns, I had to say it, are wok-seared and served up with sea salt and fresh lime. Fans of the next vegetable dish would be in raptures with the crispy Brussels sprouts ($10.5), Granny Smith apples, crème frâiche and pistachio’s. I’ve never had sprouts quite like this. Loved it. Our very light meal ended with a rather conventional chocolate molten cake ($10)doused in dark chocolate sauce, a great chai gelato and coconut nib tuile.
There were no plans for our last night in New York so we wandered through the West Village to see what stood out most. This corner French bistro looked like just the right thing so after snooping around at a few other places in the neighbourhood we back-tracked and returned to A.O.C. The acronym stands for L’Ail ou la Cuisse” (the wing or the thigh). Our mains came just as they did when we were in the south of France a couple of years ago – with a side of fries and salad or both, simply cooked and far from fancy. I start with the assiette de charcuterie ($13), a salad of soppresata, sausage, duck pâté, cornichon and leaves. Mains consist of demi poulet et frites ($18), (half a roasted chicken with fries) and confit de canard ($25 duck confit, frisée salad, cauliflower gratin and Grand Marnier sauce. I loved the gratin but found the duck a little dry.
When we saw the tarte tatin ($7) being delivered to another table we asked one of the waiters to cancel the one we ordered. It just didn’t look right. With nymag.com describing the tarte tatin as being “unctuous and so soft a baby could eat it” I would describe it as an abomination of the real thing. Sadly the waiter said it was too late to cancel. The reheated pile of mushy apple smothered the thin pasty mess that may have once been crispy pastry. It rarely happens in my world but this one was sent back to the kitchen, without a replacement.
My slightly creative hazelnut mousse cube ($10) tasted quite good with its Ferrero Rocher centre covered with white chocolate velvet cake. The menu promised brûléed banana but there was none of that.
Not the best culinary end to our two weeks in New York.