Not your tourist’s NYC pizza

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

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.

Steaks, Trains, and Basketball?

chandelier in Grand Central Terminal

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

Another business trip, this time to Manhattan. My in-laws really wanted to meet me for dinner, an apparently my father in law has been talking about trying Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse for over a decade. Located inside of Grand Central Terminal, this picturesque location occupies the balcony opposite of the Apple Store.

Being a steakhouse, it has a fairly simple menu. 10 steak offerings, 5 of which are bone-in, a couple of basic chicken, fish, and pasta offerings. Naturally we skipped most of these and targeted the steak. My father-in-law and I both went for the Filet Mignon. I was looking for a smaller cut as I’m overeating on these business dinners. The steak was cooked absolutely perfectly at medium rare, although I think it had cooled off some while waiting on the other dishes. The filet had a beautiful thick crust of cracked pepper and just the right amount of salt, a simple preparation that really let the natural beef flavor shine through. The portion was much smaller than I expected though. Even though filets are smaller than other cuts, this seemed to be in the 5-6 ounce territory.  The pepper was especially pungent, spicier than I can recall having on a steak, but not overpowering. On the side, we had sweet potato fries (soft and cool) with a horseradish sauce (no spice) and sautéed brocoli. I would skip the fries, but the broccoli was unusual with a slight crisp and a really nice buttery smokey flavor.

filet mignon filet mignon

As I mentioned, the food was on the cold side, and service was really slow, perhaps partially because my mother-in-law ordered the rack of lamb. If I had known what would come out of the kitchen, I probably would have gone for this instead. A 4 rib rack, roasted, cut in half and then pan-finished, the result was basically 2 double-thick bone-in lamb rib chops. This dish dwarfed the filets, and was served on a bed of asparagus. Lamb’s usual gamey flavor was downplayed, and the low-temperature roasting meant that the fats had nicely broken down, leaving extremely flavorful and tender meat.

single chop from rack of lamb

Overall, the prices were reasonable, the service extremely slow, and the food slightly sub-par for what a steakhouse like this should be delivering. The waitstaff seemed like tired typical New Yorkers, and it looked like the manager (or concierge, not sure which) took off promptly at 9pm. The saving grace for this place is the location, and if you can get a seat at the edge of the balcony, you can use your extra time people-watching over nightly commuters.