New York. Trying to describe a few days in this city to anyone but your girlfriend, your mother or your friend who’s never been is like telling a group of teenagers that cigarettes are bad for them; everyone’s got their own way of doing it and, in the end, it will fall on, at best, ornery, overly-callous ears that will tell you you’ve got it all wrong.
Regardless, my experience in New York City was a great one. I’d like to go as far as to think, if not for a moment, that I “get” it. The style, the attitude, the similar-to-LA assumption that, even if you’re from a little farm in Iowa, here, you can be anyone you want to be. The moment I walked into Times Square I instantly found myself thinking things like, “Jesus, that’s a lot of overweight tourists” and “don’t these people know that some of the best chefs in the world are here, right now, running kitchens that I would give a body part to work in for a night?” And, I like to think, this is a good mindset to operating under while there.
New York is a city, mind you it’s a huge fucking place with more skyscrapers than any other city I’ve ever seen, but, still, it’s a metropolitan collection of different people, places and experiences unique unto itself just like any other urban hub on the planet. And, because of this, New York, hell the island of Manhattan alone, has more to offer than you can wish to see in a week. To hell with the three TGI Friday’s or the new Bubba Gump Shrimp they just built along 7th. If this is your, or someone you know, idea of New York then you, or said acquaintance, need help, and fast.
Before leaving I made a list of a few places I knew I wanted to see and, luckily for myself, I got to leave a check mark next to each of the items on the list (seriously, I’m a nerd, I checked each one off). Mind you I barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do in Manhattan, let alone Brooklyn or Queens, but these are the places I checked out:
Gray’s Papaya Hot Dogs
As a Chicagoan I guess you could say I hold the hot dog to a certain degree of culinary scrutiny in other cities. The concept of a tube steak adorned with tomatoes, peppers, relish, onions, mustard, a pickle and celery salt is enough to make my salivary glands flow forth with anticipation. However, as a kid who grew up in Cleveland I, also, have an appreciation for the simpler kind of dog, some mustard, sauerkraut and yes, God forbid, some ketchup, too. In this regard, Gray’s Papaya makes the best hot dog I’ve eaten since the first time I tried Ballpark Mustard at Municipal Stadium with my dad as a wide-eyed youth. Luckily, there were two right around the corner from my hotel.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my Canon while dining at Bar Boulud, but I did have my appetite. I had been waiting to try any of Chef Daniel Boulud’s creations, or a dish created by a chef who worked for him, for more than two years now. Finally, I was given the chance. It was perfect. The boudin blanc I ate there, coupled with the 2006 Coudoulet de Beaucastel I ordered with my appetizer of Oysters, was absolutely ridiculous. The only problem being, with this dish, that it made me hungry for a dish from Daniel. I fear it was only the beginning of a love affair with Boulud’s food.
I am actually, and surprisingly, a big fan of Bobby Flay. I’ve been a fan, in fact, since I saw his show Boy Meets Grill on the Food Network back in college. The ginger chef with a hot wife and an affinity for chipotles and cilantro was one of the few things worth watching back then, let alone now, on the channel and, hell, he even cooked some kick ass food, on a Manhattan roof top no less. The lamb shanks I ordered were good. They weren’t the best pieces of red meat I’ve ever imbibed, but they were definitely better than any calorie and cholesterol explosion from Outback Steakhouse or similar. The beer selection was pretty cool, a good selection without a lot of the pretention you can get (I understand you have Rogue Dead Guy Ale, guess what, so does every other shit-hole bar on the planet). There was one surprisingly good offering that I went for, myself being on a budget, and it was the french fries. Sweet jesus they were good. I know, its hard to fuck up a fry and most, if not all, fine dining establishments make some really good french fries, but these were amazing.
I had really high hopes for this place. Located in the middle of the Village, right down the street from where Friends the TV show was set, it has the perfect location. To set the mood even more, picture a colder, rainy evening in the Village, a Thursday, with Autumn right around the corner. Feeling a little sick to my stomach from what I really hope wasn’t Bobby’s lamb shanks (but it might have been, that’s another story) I stepped into this place at what seemed to be fairy tale-caliber perfect timing as they were just about to begin seating customers. The ambience was relaxing, the perfect place for that first, second or third date, when you know you’re ready to sleep with the person you’ve started seeing. I ordered some house-made olives and roasted almonds to start out. Olives are one of my favorite foods and these were right up there with some of the best imports from Spain and Italy I’ve had.
I, also, ordered the skirt steak with horseradish and beets. It was melt in your mouth good and, for anyone who has tried to cook skirt steak at home, this is not easily accomplished, especially such a small cut of it. What made it even more fun was the fact that chef April Bloomfield was in the house, which was cool.
Sake Bar Hagi
I heard of this place from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I like sake and love tempura so this seemed like a good choice for a late night snack and some alcohol. It was a cool place, underground and hidden from plain sight. The weird thing being, though, that it was right in the middle of everything. An almost literal stone’s throw from Time’s Square, I would have assumed it would be filled with tourists and crying babies however, fortunately for myself, it wasn’t. As a matter of fact I would say that the clientele were young, under 35, and a nice mixture of young Japanese business men, travelers, locals and hipsters. The sake selection was alright, the food was great and inexpensive and the atmosphere… well, I think that’s probably this places’ greatest asset. And there is nothing wrong with that.
And some random pictures:
This pretty much sums up Times Square.