My favorite New York restaurant

When folks hear that I write a food blog, their first reaction is always one of shock and surprise. (Notice how I said “shock and surprise” and not “shock and awe?” That’s because there’s nothing that awesome about writing a food blog. It’s just something I happen to do.) After that, the most popular request that gets volleyed my way is to “name my favorite restaurant”. Then for some bizarre reason I become as tongue-tied as a toddler.

(You know that moment when you have just bitten through a slice of toasted baguette, but the generous slither of prosciutto refuses to be halved by your incisors, your canines, your molars or even your wisdom teeth? And so it stretches out of your mouth like a celebrity red carpet between the piece of toast on your tongue, and the piece you were hoping to return to your plate. Then, despite the fact that you are in public, you override good manners and decide to shove the entire thing into your pie hole anyway – not realizing that if the prosciutto wasn’t easy to chew when your beak was empty, it’s going to be darn near impossible now that it’s full.  And so, with cheeks puffed and lips stretched beyond their endurance with a corner of toast already crowning, someone asks you a question.)

That’s exactly how it feels when people ask me…that question.

So, as an attempt at answering it once and for all, I’ve decided to lay out a menu of all of my favorite dishes and where they are served around the city, as though this were to be my very last meal on earth. (Clearly in my case there would have to be a temporary stay of execution just to get through them all – but hey, what a way to go!)

SNACKS

I’d probably start with a greedy handful of House roasted red peanuts with chilies from Pok Pok NY, and then help myself to at least 3 light, fluffy and utterly devourable amuse bouche Cheese Puffs from Benoit before anyone notices they’re missing.

Then I’d tear off a couple of chunks of Nur’s Jerusalem Sesame Bagel before dipping each into that heavenly Lima Bean and Za’atar mouse. Next, I’d use a piece of crispy Italian country bread to scoop up the puddle of olive oil in the middle of Locanda Verde’s smooth and creamy house-made Sheep’s milk Ricotta, while saving some room for a bite or two of the splendiferously yummy Grilled Nueske’s Bacon with peanut butter and Jalapeño jelly from Quality Eats West Village.

APPETIZERS

While I have a lengthy list of establishments that hand chop a great Beef Tartare, (Estela covers theirs under a forest of yummy crispy sunchoke chips, and Cote serves theirs with equally crispy chimichurri-like puffs), only the incomparable Gabriel Kreuther serves a staggeringly delicious and audacious Lobster tartare. I’ll use any excuse to go to Le Bernadin for Eric Ripert’s perfectly circular Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio, dotted and dashed with all sorts of interesting nic-nacs like pickles, Iberico ham chutney and olive oil. And speaking of which, you can’t deny me at least a few bites of Il Buco’s magnificent olive oil Fried Artichokes.

I’m always up for a few slithers of sea urchin speckled Crab Nachos with a rich aioli “queso” from Empellón, or I could grab a handful of Indian Accent’s butter, pepper and garlic baptized Crab Claws to accompany a floret or two of the most delectable of all Indo-Asian fried cauliflowers called General Tso’s by Babu Ji.

Something noodley? It would be hard for me to pass up a nice coil of Han Dynasty’s Dan-Dan Noodles served with ground pork and chili oil, or (because I have such a proclivity for the theatrical) I’d wait and stare while someone heaves and twists the vintage duck press at The Grill to flavor their immaculate Pasta a la Presse with duck, pheasant, squab, bacon and vegetables.

If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering why there are no chicken wings on this list yet. Well, wonder no more: Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok NY always do it for me. And one size up from chickens, at least one of those finger-licking-salty-lemony Crispy Duck Wings from Justin Smillie’s Upland shall forever have my name on it.

For fresh risotto, nothing can touch the light and creamy Barley Risotto with Baby Clams from Narcissa, and when risotto makes its second-time-around appearance, I’m all about Nick Anderer’s adorable pesto flavored Arancini from Marta.

David Chang does two app’s that I could eat at just about any time of day: his Spicy Pork Sausage and Rice cakes from Momofuku Ssäm, and the absolutely ocean-stopping Sea Urchin with fermented Bean paste from Momofuku Ko.

The mere thought of a few strips of Sesame Beef Jerky with a healthy dunk into the fermented Laotian chili paste from Khe-Yo makes me about as weak at the knees as the pure, simple and garlicy red shrimp Carabineros with preserved lemon at La Vara.

And to round it out with a super spicy, lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorn dish, it would either be one bite of Danny Bowien’s Thrice Cooked Bacon and Rice Cakes at Mission Chinese Food, or one of the scaldingly hot Thai Papaya Salads from Somtum Der.

MAINS

My main course favorites come in two basic categories: Roast chicken, and everything else. While some might think there’s nothing more ho-hum than a piece of rotisserie foul, very few can do it as crispily, tenderly and succulently as Le Coq Rico, Dirty French, Le Turtle or chef Jonathan Waxman who honed his poultry skills for years at Michael’s before turning me into a broken record about his astounding Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde at Barbuto. And you can’t blame me for having a very soft spot for Pinch Chinese’s garlic-blasted Wind Sand Chicken. But the king of them all has to be The Nomad’s Roast Chicken stuffed with brioche and foie gras served two ways after being paraded around lavishly like a trophy hen. The other piece of poultry that gets – and rightfully deserves – its own parade is the magnificent and mysteriously shoe-leather-brown Honey Lacquered Duck from Legacy Records.

Moving from roasted to fried, I would have to have one final bite each of the shatter-crisp Fried Chickens from Perry Street, The Dutch and Blue Ribbon – in that order. And it’s a toss-up for who makes my favorite Chicken Kiev between Mari Vanna (who serves it Russian-style with buckwheat) or The Clocktower (who serves it inside an adorable miniature credenza).

I definitely skew French when it comes to seafood and believe that no-one can die before they’ve tried Eric Ripert’s much lauded Paupiette of Sea Bass, which is wrapped inside the thinnest skin of crispy potato scales at Le Bernadin, and Le Coucou does a wondrously faithful and nostalgic Sole Veronique. But if you’re looking for a cavalcade of shellfish flavor, Alain Ducasse whips up twin Quenelles de Brochet at Benoit that are as light and fluffy as pike meringues.

This city is drowning in amazing pasta palaces, but I’ll have anything fresh from Osteria Morini or Café Altro Paradiso’s Garganelli with chicken Ragu, not to mention the stunning Saffron Linguine from Boulud Sud, or Locanda Verde’s dreamy Paccheri with Sunday night Ragu. And while some can’t live without Yesterday’s 100 layer Lasagne from Del posto (don’t get me wrong, I can’t either), I couldn’t imagine a world without Rita Sodi’s sensational Lasagna a Sugo at the nearly-impossible-to-get-into I Sodi.

If I were to choose one last hamburger before leaving the planet, it would probably be the delectable beef patty smothered with Comte cheese inside John Fraser’s Piedmontese Burger at The Loyal, with thanks in large part to the “22-step tomato” that covers, smothers, decorates and elevates it beyond all others in its class, unless I happened to be in the mood for April Broomfield’s Chargrilled Lamb Burger with feta at The Breslin.

I’m still busy wading my way through the morass of Ramen joints across the city, but the one that felt the closest to a real Tokyo train station broth bowl with pork and veggies was the ridiculously creamy and insanely flavorful Tonkotsu Ramen from Mu Ramen in Long Island City.

Before progressing to beef, I’d have to include both of my favorite breaded veals: Wallse’s outstanding Wienerschnitzel, and the most memorable (and expensive) Veal Parm in town at Carbone.

The last two entries will have to be a cut of The Grill’s Prime-aged Ribeye smothered in a green Peppercorn and cognac sauce, and the insanely delectable Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry in the darkest, richest, garlicky, soy and oyster sauce, smothered in fries and accented with chilies, avocado and crema, and served in a chive crepe at Llama Inn.

DESSERTS

Just like the mains, I have 2 categories for desserts: those that have something to do with meringue, and those that don’t. I don’t know what it is, but when egg-whites and sugar get beaten into a foamy froth, it makes me abort every attempt at a diet without conscience. And it doesn’t matter what state it’s in either. Dominic Ansel Bakery uses meringue to cover his sublime Frozen Smores on a stick, while Enrique Olvera smashes 2 of them in his transcendent Husk Meringue at Cosme. The Musket Room somehow manages to shape it into a hollow tube that gets filled with cream and a tangy curd in their Passion Fruit Pavlova masterpiece, and vegetarian hotspot Nix spikes meringue with toasted almonds as a topping over their (off-menu) Grilled Pineapple Wedge.

I’m not much of a pie person, but my arm can be twisted without resistance by the meringue snake that gets torched on top of Llama Inn’s unsharably wondrous Graham Cracker Lime Pie. And I can’t decide between my two favorite alcohol flambéed Baked Alaska’s, (so I have to have both) – the classic one from The Grill, or the one called Omelette Norvégienne with pistachio ice-cream from Le Coucou. Neighborhood bistro Olmsted’s Lavender honey Frozen Yoghurt isn’t technically a meringue, but when they manage to whip it into a shaving-foam delight, it makes my list as something familiar, yet unique and spectacular. But the be-all and end-all of meringue desserts has to be L’Ile Flottante from Le Coq Rico, which is a pink pistachio and burnt sugar crusted island of fluff that is set adrift on a pond of vanilla custard crème.

As for the rest, I’d have to grab one more mouthful of those irresistibly hand-made Honey Butter Chips from Oiji – with or without ice-cream, and it’s a toss-up between Alex Stupak’s Avocado which is a sublime air-brushed recreation out of lime-flavored pudding, or his equally Instagrammably delicious Corn Taco Ice-cream – both from Empellón.

So next time someone asks me what my favorite New York restaurant is, they’ll just have to contend with: “It depends!”

https://pokpokny.com/

https://www.benoitny.com/

http://nurnyc.com/

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com/

https://www.qualityeats.com/west-village/

https://www.estelanyc.com/

https://www.cotenyc.com/

https://www.gknyc.com/

https://www.le-bernardin.com/

http://www.ilbuco.com/

https://www.empellon.com/empellon/

http://www.indianaccent.com/newyork/index.php

http://www.babujinyc.com/

http://handynasty.net/

http://thegrillnewyork.com/

https://www.uplandnyc.com/

http://www.standardhotels.com/new-york/features/narcissa

https://www.martamanhattan.com/

https://ssambar.momofuku.com/

https://ko.momofuku.com/

https://www.kheyo.com/

http://www.lavarany.com/

https://www.missionchinesefood.com/

http://somtumder.com/home_ny.html

http://www.lecoqriconyc.com/

https://www.dirtyfrench.com/

http://leturtle.fr/

http://www.barbutonyc.com/index.php

https://www.pinchchinese.com/

https://www.thenomadhotel.com/new-york/dining

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/

http://www.perrystrestaurant.com/#!/about-perry-street/restaurant/

http://www.thedutchnyc.com/

https://blueribbonfriedchicken.com/

http://www.marivanna.ru/ny/

http://theclocktowernyc.com/

https://www.lecoucou.com/

http://osteriamorini.com/

https://www.altroparadiso.com/

https://www.bouludsud.com/

http://delposto.com/

http://www.isodinyc.com/

http://www.loyalrestaurant.com/

https://www.thebreslin.com/

http://ramennyc.wixsite.com/popup

https://www.kurtgutenbrunner.com/restaurants/wallse/

http://carbonenewyork.com/

http://www.llamainnnyc.com/

https://dominiqueansel.com/

http://www.cosmenyc.com/

https://www.musketroom.com/

http://www.nixny.com/

http://www.olmstednyc.com/

http://www.oijinyc.com/

 

 

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Catching two elusive Dragons

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Mission Chinese Food, New York

It is with the utmost relief to finally indulge in two of New York’s hoopla hotspots that have been stuck on my “to-try” list for an annoying eternity. Pok Pok NY, the (at one time) Michelin-starred northern Thai import from Oregon (of all places), and San Francisco native Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food.

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Pok Pok NY

Pok Pok NY is marooned in one of the most maddeningly inaccessible neighborhoods of Brooklyn requiring a car, a driver, nerves of steel and quite possibly two forms of government ID. When Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok Wings in Manhattan a few years back, I idiotically refused to trek all the way down to the Financial District to sample his über-celebrated chicken wings, only to have to settle for a 2+ hour waiting line instead. And just when I finally overcame my chronic impatience, he went and shut the place down. Karma.

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Thrice Cooked Bacon, Mission Chinese Food

And ever since Mission Chinese Food reopened to a tsunami of public gratitude in its current location (after an unmentionably embarrassing incident involving tenants of the rodent variety), tables have been as scarce as subtlety in Las Vegas. But to make matters worse, Mr. Bowien insisted on listing his Asian-fusion moneymaker on Reserve, the most infuriatingly eye-roll-worthy app of all time (who notoriously forget to remind you of your forgotten passwords!) And furthermore, 411 and Google still offer diners a “mystery” phone number that has yet to be plugged into an actual phone. So, if you have a few millennia to kill, I dare you to call (646) 707-0281 just so you can hear a ring tone that easily lasts longer than Cher’s multi-platinum career.

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Spicy Peanut Noodles, Mission Chinese Food

Despite the fact that Mission Chinese sits on the border of Chinatown’s glut of Asian dried fish stands and hole-in-the-wall noodle shops with inverted red ducks swinging in the windows amid incessant signs offering “Take-Out” (which smell as if they should have been “taken out” ages ago), it feels more like a Quentin Tarantino movie set. Not that a gunfight massacre wouldn’t be appropriate, but more so because of the funky red velvety booths under alien-star lamps with an unstoppable hip-hop soundtrack. You might find a dragon or two punctuating the raw brick walls, but you won’t find any standard fare on the atypically short un-Chinese menu. Most of the items carry one or more “fire” symbols that are by no means decorative. Take heed. These dishes might all be genuinely delicious, but they are certainly not for the faint of palate. We inhaled the Spicy Peanut Noodles with abandon, enjoying the many wonderful layers and flavors beyond the lemon-grass and garlic. Things elevated a notch with the Thrice cooked Bacon, which entirely deserves its own Instagram account. Smoky sections of soft, barbecue-y bacon strips clinging to sticky slivers of tender rice cake medallions, darkened by the most wondrous Szechuan pepper glaze.

 

 

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Mapo Tofu, Mission Chinese Food

I could go on and on, but by the time we drenched the bracingly spectacular Mapo Tofu over a puddle of rice, it was time to summon those brave gentlemen from the 15th fire truck precinct a few doors down. There was a moment when I began to worry about my teeth melting under the searing heat from my tongue, when I realized that “hot in” usually also means “hot out”, giving me something else to look forward to in a few hours time. Turns out that one of the reliable properties of Szechuan peppercorns is their numbing effect which thankfully – I’m delighted to report – lives up to its reputation for the duration of its lifecycle.

 

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Pok Pok NY

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge has always been a daunting challenge for New Yorkers ever since its inauguration in 1883. One leaves the calm orderliness of Manhattan’s grid structure behind, only to be faced by backyards, drivers, hipsters and families with children. Quite literally a war zone. Regardless, once you’re through the worst of it and you finally pull up at Pok Pok NY, it somehow seems a bit more “cafeteria” than you expected. I know looks can be deceiving, but the quirky paper-doyly festooned aluminum bar, and the sensibly laminated Hawaiian-print table cloths with unbreakable prison-ware dishes redefines casual – even for me. But when our disarmingly engaging waitress brought a far-too-small bowl of House-roasted Red Peanuts with chilies and lime leaves, my table manners deserted me. Was I breaking a hunger strike or something? Were these the first peanuts I’d ever eaten? Was I always this ambidextrous? It was all a bit of a scrumptious blur that ended far too quickly.

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House-roasted Red peanuts with chilies and lime leaves, Pok Pok NY

Then things shifted down to a lower gear when the rather unmemorable minced duck and mint salad (Laap Pet Isaan) showed up with a plate of freshly plucked Thai herbs. And my entire dining party unanimous classified the tender chunks of Burmese pork belly curry, (Kaeng Hang Leh) in a nondescript broth as “nothing special”.

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Laap Pet Isaan, Mission Chinese Food

The Kai Yaang Tuua, turned out to be a spectacularly ordinary roast chicken (with both feet attached, and stuffed with an irritatingly thorny lemongrass and garlic stuffing) which were it not for the two dipping sauces, might have been even less popular.

 

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Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, Pok Pok NY

But as expected, Ike’s Vietnamese Wings are still the smash hit that once turned a kitchen into a goldmine. This legendary chorus line of 6 auburn fish-sauce-marinated chicken shoulders, tossed in the most mouthwateringly sugary, smoky, sticky, garlicky, peanutty, peppery caramelized glaze with a subtle heat, came just inches from touching my soul. I’m talking about a finger-licking, mood-altering delight that makes the thought of another risk-to-life-and-limb journey to the far side of the East River entirely repeatable.

https://www.missionchinesefood.com/nyc/

https://pokpokny.com/