It’s so easy to go to New York and survive on burgers, pizza and hotdogs, as I’m sure some people do when they visit the Big Apple. I’ve got to say, even after my third visit to the city, I’m yet to try a hotdog from a stand or one of those giant slices of NY pizza. Even the much talked about Shake Shack hasn’t made it to my “been there” list, despite walking past any one of the outlets countless times.
There’s so much to the food scene, with so many cuisines across many neighbourhoods in the city. You could eat your way around the world yet never have to leave the city. I may have merely scratched the surface with New Yorks multitude of cuisines, but here are a few places that dish up food that’s far from those ubiquitous burgers, pizzas and hotdogs. Not that there’s anything wrong with them!
A visit to the Diamond District was on the agenda. Not to pick up some bling or look at the dazzling stones in the shop-fronts, but to find a restaurant only the locals seemed to know about. Thanks to following this fab New York blog, I knew about it as well.
There seems to be a little more push and shove in the Diamond District. Is it because of those sidewalk dealers that want your attention? Or was it me doing the pushing and shoving because it felt like everyone was getting in my way? All I wanted was to find a door that had the number 74 above it. I had it in my phones GPS but it was proving to be a bit of a task. Look, there it is! A doorway between two merchants that led to some stairs and past small workshops with men cutting and polishing expensive stones. And there it was. Ariel Glatt Restaurant. Nothing more than a glass door opening into a small, dated room scattered with plastic-covered tables, wooden chairs and minimal decorating on its walls.
The food is that of Uzbekistan, it’s kosher, and the main clientele is male and seemingly someone in the jewellery business. Compot (2) is the go-to drink at Ariel. Made by cooking fruit in water with sugar, it’s a clear, sweet and refreshing drink. A damn fine coolant after battling it out on the steamy streets outside.
The menu may not be massive, but there’s enough on there that would make someone like myself return many times. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Soups, traditional salads and vegetables, a variety of kebabs and house specialties.
One of the specialties of Uzbek cuisine is samsa, a baked pastry that has a variety of fillings from vegetables to spiced meat. Ariel’s samsa (2.5) has a soft and flakey pastry and is filled with mutton and onions and is flavoured with cumin and a little seasoning. I’m sure this kind of stuff is sold as street snacks in many towns across Uzbekistan. They’re a decent size as well.
It may not win any awards for flavour, but the nonee tokee (2) sure does look pretty impressive. It’s the size of a wok and is nothing more than a giant bubbly cracker that you chip away at, or dip into any sauce you may have on the table. There’s plenty of sauce in the golubtsy (10), a house specialty that looks very much like sarma, a dish I grew up with. It’s basically a mixture of seasoned rice and ground beef, rolled in boiled cabbage leaves, topped with a tomato, onion and capsicum liquid and slowly boiled or baked. I couldn’t get enough of it, and that sauce was absolute perfection.
The only other thing we tried was from the “grill” menu category; a lamb shish kebab (4.5) that’s very much the norm in Central Asia. I love these things purely for their simplicity. Tender chunks of charred meat, seasoned and spiced with cumin and a little chilli. All you get with it is some sliced red onion. Love this place.
One thing I noticed in New York was the abundance of Filipino restaurants, mainly scattered from the East Village to the Lower East Side. It’s a cuisine I haven’t eaten all that often and the last time I tried it wasn’t all that memorable. 1st Avenue is a buzzing area of town that’s loaded with places to eat, drink and shop. It may not appear like much from the street, but modern Filipino Maharlika is a little tricky to get into thanks to the hoards of punters that got their before you. Arrive early. folks, is all I can say.
The set-up is modern yet cosy, an eclectic soundtrack blares from the speakers and the young and friendly servers are beyond helpful. Before any of our ordered dishes arrive we’re presented with a few Filipino essentials. A bottle of Calamansi – an all-round seasoning liquid, some fish sauce and lemon, and a bottle of Jufran banana sauce. Then there’s the house-made suka, a vinegar (of sorts) that’s infused with garlic and chilli.
I’m sure there are many go-to dishes at Maharlika, with the ones we sampled being no exceptions. How about some tocilog with tocino (12), from the silog breakfast menu? Garlic rice sits in the centre of the plate, topped with an obligatory fried egg. To one side is a “relish” of cucumber, onion and tomato, and to the other is a glorious pile of tocino. Pork tenderloin that’s cured in 7 Up. It’s caramelised, a little salty, loaded with flavour and supremely tender.
Then there’s the pampangan-style sizzling sisig (16). A seriously tasty concoction served in a small iron skillet, featuring glorious animal parts like pork belly, cheek, ears and snout. There’s egg in there as well, with onion, chilli and lime, and the deal is that you vigorously mix it all together and eat it with garlic rice.
I may not be the biggest of fans when it comes to the combination of fried chicken and waffles, but the flip’d chicken & ube waffle (17) was pretty good. I guess this is a Filipino version of the American classic. Two pieces of beautifully juicy and crisp fried chicken with a waffle made using the purple ube yam. Some macapuno (young coconut) in syrup comes with, as well as whipped bagoong-anchovy butter to salt things up a bit. Eating them together is still a bizarre concept to me, but as separate items, it’s seriously good.
Finally, we have a little Scandinavian food in the West Village. To be honest, I think the only Scandinavian food I’ve tried (aside from this soup I made) has been the one or two times I dared to eat anything at IKEA. Something was telling me that the food at Smörgås Chef was going to be a little more refined than the fast food grub at Sweden’s version of Kmart.
The mini empire of Smörgås Chef owns and operates Blenheim Hills Farm, located in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Hydroponic greenhouses grow fresh produce year-yound and animals that are pasture-raised following sustainable practices. They even have their own honey and syrups from maple and birch trees on the farm.
Following bread and butter, it was the herring quartet (12). Small mounds of herring prepared in ways I fail to remember. All four are distinctly fishy (a little too strong for some) served with Swedish potato salad and warm lefse potato wraps.
The Icelandic cod (26) is delivered pristinely white and perfectly cooked, blanketed in a vivid green herb purée, roasted fingerlings and Swiss chard. Some added chervil, dill and parsley bring even more freshness to the plate.
I couldn’t pass-up the opportunity and try the Swedish meatballs (22), and I’m pleased I did. Ladled with a delicious and lightly creamy grädd sauce, the meatballs dissolve in the mouth after little chewing. Some mashed potato adds more stodge, and for contrasting flavours there’s pickled red cabbage and sweet & sour lingonberry jam.
Desserts don’t disappoint either. A strawberry granite (8) is a pile of icy lemon cream, macerated strawberries, biscuit crumbs and shards of mint meringue. Aside from inducing a bit of brain-freeze, it was a fine dessert for the balmy weather we were experiencing. Then there’s something a little more simple. A wedge of moist almond cake (8) encrusted with raspberries, more berries on the side and sweet chantilly cream.
Man, if the food was this good at IKEA, I’d be more inclined to visit.