You kan haz Ukrainian

It’s our last night in New York, so let’s get something that we won’t find at home, which brings us to Veselka in the East Village. I was craving pierogies and this 24 hour diner consistently came up as some of the best in town. On a freezing evening we slip into a classic diner layout with Eastern European murals brighten the walls. Slavic beers fill the fridge case next to NY cheesecake and apple pie. After a short wait, we get a table in the middle of the packed dining room.

The menu is chock full of dishes that sound hearty and amazing on a cold night, so it’s hard to narrow it down.

An intensely fuchsia bowl of Christmas borscht hides a mushroom dumpling under its sweet, earthy, and tangy broth and a dusting of fresh dill. I’ve only had borscht a handful of times as a child and really disliked it, but this is a bright and invigorating dish. The dumpling provides an extra richness against the tangy sweetness of the broth.

In memory of my Polish grandmother-like neighbor growing up, we next have some pierogies with grilled onions, applesauce and sour cream. The cheese ones are slightly sweet with a ricotta-like filling. 

The potato one has a nice creamy blend of potatoes and cheese, but the standout is the truffle with intense mushroom flavors pinching through the rich toppings.

With the appetizers packed away, we move on to the main courses.

Bigos, a stew of pork and beef meatball, roast pork, sauerkraut and onions is hot, rich, sweet, tangy and exploding with umami flavor.

 With a side of mashed potatoes and a crispy potato pancake, this is a perfect winter dish.

The meat plate is the natural mate for classic meat and potatoes. A meat-stuffed cabbage roll is basically a meatloaf wrapped in boiled cabbage and drowned in an amazing mushroom sauce. 

Next to it is a grilled kielbasa from a local butcher – not salty, and the epitome of flavors, spices, and that crisp skin. Rounding off the plate are three more delicious pierogies: potatoe, mushroom with sauerkraut, and a meat one that has the same mouth-watering mixture as the cabbage.

I am extremely happy we stopped here, as this is the kind of family recipe kitchen that only an immigrant would usually get to enjoy.

Touring Eataly

 What happens when you mix a Williams and Sanoma with an upscale Italian restaurant? Eataly, this wierd hybrid where you can buy olive oils and pastas while waiting for your table. Actually, there are 3-4 restaurants scattered in here, so very confusing. We’re at the largest, the pizza and pasta place called Le Cucine. 3 people means 3 things to try:

Starting with the Vesuvo pasta – with a creamy sauce, fresh basil, and sausage. I like my pasta al dente, but this was way underdone and salty. Would not order again.

We also had 2 pizzas. The first Massese, looks like pepperoni. It’s technically “spicy salami”. There was a nice heat, and a generous amount of mozzarella on a fantastic cheery crust, but it was very salty, and worst of all: the tomatoes were not fully drained so there was a slick of water on top of the cheese.

The other pizza was the same, but sausage. Great sausage, but same flaws. Come for the cheese market, but don’t stay for the phenomenal views of World Trade Center.

Truckin’ up Manhattan

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

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

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.