Truckin’ up Manhattan

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

A recent fad in New York dining is an import from LA, the food truck. And of course New Yorkers like to claim they do everything better, but the lack of parking in Manhattan, and the lack of parking lots for trucks to gather in means the pickings are pretty slim here, even if they are an upgrade over the classic roach coach.

But on a bone-chilling afternoon, you take what’s closest to the office. Enter, “Taste of Greece” a Greek food truck which was spending the afternoon on Hudson street in Tribecca. The have social icons emblazoned on the truck, but I can’t find a webpage or Facebook profile to actually link to.

I ordered the lamb gyro platter, and the woman working the window pronounced it “jeyeroe”, not a good sign in a city with a large Greek population. Not more than three minutes later, my order was ready for me to grab and run back to the warmth and shelter of the office. By the time I got upstairs, I was expecting the food to be getting cold, so imagine my surprise to find the lamb meat almost scalding hot. Great crunchy crusty bits are ample on this tender and moist meat, sitting on top of a bed of just barely-overcooked buttered rice. Two nice salads complete the plate: one romaine and arugula with tahini sauce, and the other tomatoes and onions dressed with balsamic vinegar. Both were perfectly dressed and a nice balance to the fatty meat and rice.

Though I’m pretty sure I was supposed to get pita with this as well, it’s still a good deal at $9 (tax included) for such an expensive city and neighborhood.

Local is best

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I love eating in New York because there is so much diversity of good food all so conveniently located. Even if you are on a budget, there is no reason to eat badly in this culinary metropolis. I love LA dining for the same reason, and I have a difficult time finding food in NY that I cannot find the equivalent of back home in the City of Angels. Bagels are the one thing I’ve found without match. In recent years, there have been NY-style bagel shops that have opened claiming water filtration systems, ovens, and all manner of gimmicks to match the classic NY bagel, but none have done it. And the most embarrassing part is that in NY the bagel shop is a neighborhood institution – everybody has a good one just around the corner.

All this means that every time I visit the in-laws in Queens, I must stop by the local bagel shop, Bagelette, for the best bagels I’ve ever had. You walk into this modest storefront off of Queens Blvd and you’re greeted with the smell of fresh coffee while a line of hungry locals are chatting it up with the proprietor and his staff, often in Yiddish. The deli case boasts overflowing tureens of house-mixed smears, and their Kosher certification is proudly showcased at the center of the counter. In one corner is a small pastry case that goes mostly ignored, and behind the counter are baskets of the glorious gluten bombs.

I have a regular order here, a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with cinnamon raisin smear. The bagel is a beautiful sworl of tanned bread and dark cinnamon streaks that would make a cinnamon bun jealous. The exterior is a perfect crisp, something I’ve never found in LA – just enough that you can hear it as you bite, but not enough to be dry or leave shards in your mouth. What’s also impressive is that the texture transitions seamlessly into the chewy interior. This isn’t a bread-like crust layer that could be peeled off. It’s a perfect integral part of the bagel. That leaves us with the smear – a veritable mountain is sandwiched into the bagel, ensuring there isn’t a single bite that isn’t oozing with creamy cinnamon goodness. Raisins and large chunks of walnut provide bursts of texture and flavor in every morsel.

The best part? There’s just enough of a walk between Baglette and the subway so that I can scarf one down every time I head off to the R train to catch a jazz concert in Times Square.

Ssäm more please

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

Momofuku is a New York powerhouse for modern gastronomy, so of course it’s on our list to try while here. Of the many restaurants in Manhattan by this group, we opted for Ssaäm, a pork-heavy gastropub on 2nd.

First course out was “apple kim chi” a crazy take on the Korean staple. Spicy cured apples with yogurt and bacon capture the essence of kimchi while being something totally different. The bacon was unnecessary here.

Alongside this were two steamed buns filled with giant chunks of pork belly, cucumbers, and a squeeze bottle of a spicy house-made hoisin. 


We followed this with prime rib. Delicious, perfectly cooked prime beef, but still just regular prime rib with a side of buttered roasted turnips.

The next dish stood out – spicy, gooey, creamy,  Chinese pork sausage with crunchy chewey fried mochi-like rice cakes and a mountain of scallions, fresh and fried. This was by far the most amazing stand-out dish. It paired fantastically with a cutting Grenache. This is making our next pork-themed dinner party as the chef has posted the recipe online.

Following this are the most exquisitely tender duck dumplings. A perfect medium-rare duck filling is puréed to amazing tender, smooth, patte consistency and topped with a turnip slice. This is the best dumpling I’ve ever had. Eat it before the spicy sausage rice cakes though, as this is a subtle dish and those overwhelm the palette.

With that behind us, we moved onto desert. A soft creamy brown butter ice cream with a sugar-carmalized rum cake that adds just a hint of crispyness. Pair it with a lovely muscat and it’s a fantastic finish to a great meal.

Not your tourist’s NYC pizza

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

New York is famous for bagels, pizza, pastrami, and cheesecake. Having had 3 of the 4, I decided it was time to hunt down some phenomenonal pizza. We were in midtown for a movie, the center of tourist trap pizza joints. After some research Don Antonio by Starita topped the list. At 3pm on a rainy December Monday the line was out the door, a good omen.

Of course everyone thinks NY pizza is huge greasy thin slice, but a surge in craft restaurants are fill no the city with stone ovens, local ingredients, and everything else that marks modern fine dining. Don Antonio is a standout in this promising trend. For 3 people we opted for 2 pizzas.

The first is their specialty, a basic Margherita but with a twist. The dough is lightly fried before going in the oven, making it fluffy and crispy. Everyone making a bruschetta crust is actually trying to replicate this masterpiece. Great texture with sharp tomato sauce to cut the oil, but much saltier than I’d expect. In fact, everyone agreed it was saltier than the next pizza which was covered in cured meats.

I give you “The Butcher” with sausage, prosciutto, salami, ham, and more. The savory umami flavors just stack and stack on these large foldable slices. This is the first “meat lover’s” pizza that lives up to the name.

Are these great pizzas? Absolutely. Are they the best pizza I’ve had? No. which makes me seriously doubt New York’s claim for the best pizza in the world.

Shake it baby

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Admittedly, I have a bit of an axe to grind.  After years of drooling, the famous New York-based Shake Shack finally opened an LA location where the lines are insane. Naturally they waited until after literally selling out with an IPO. While they were small and still private, they had a Dubai location, but snubbed LA. So when there are two locations inside malls walking distance from each other near my inlaws on Queens Boulevard, I feel like the LA wait was maliciously intentional. But, they don’t have In ‘N Out, so not sure if that balances out.

Speaking of In ‘N Out, I’m a huge fan of their secret menu. So upon seeing Cheese Fries on the menu at Shake Shack, I had to get some.

I was not expecting the high school cafeteria cut and the cheese looks like nacho sauce, not the slice of grilled American I figured they’d be copying. Nonetheless, the fries were addictively crispy, and the sauce had a satisfyingly cheesy flavor. The wooden fork is necessary not for keeping your hands clean, but rather to force the fries down into the pool of sauce forming at the bottom of the basket.

I selected a double SmokeShack burger, two beef patties, bacon, and a mountain of cheese squeezed onto a far too small bun. The patties are a bit on the salty side, so when combined with the bacon, this was over salted for my west coast tastes. The sauce didn’t seem to add any flavor, just moisture. I had a hard time finding the cherry peppers, but they did add a pleasant spice and pickled flavor to every bite that cuts through and balances the cheese. Overall a pretty good burger.

So what about their namesake? Even December, I feel it’s my duty to have a shake.

Figuring it’s best to go with what’s not common, I grabbed the coffee shake that proudly brags to be fare-trade. On first sip I was shocked. Though the color belies it, this shake had more coffee flavor than any I’ve previously had. Coffee is tricky in a shake because the ratio is already up unbalanced compared to a latte. Add too little coffee and you get no flavor at all, too much and it gets icy instead of creamy, use powders and it will turn grainy. This suffered none of those flaws. It was smooth, creamy, rich, and was a perfect latte in milkshake form.

Overall, Shake Shack seems to be a great choice if you are nearby, and if there’s no wait. But at a price tag of over $20 for the above meal, I’d rather go elsewhere to In ‘N Out or any of the hundreds of gastropubs in LA that feature better burgers and better prices. We’re just spoiled that way.