May I tell you about my ideal New York vacation? If I could have any type of vacation in New York, it would be a strictly food vacation. I’ve loved seeing my friends and meeting Xangans, but the absolute best New York vacation would be going from place to fantastic place, trying all the great food that is available in this city.
The highlight of the trip was our dinner at Le Bernardin, which I’ll write about in the next few days. That wasn’t our only good eat, though. Here are some other places we went:
John’s Pizza – three locations in the city, this one in Greenwich Village – has been widely hailed as the best pizza in NY. This is a matter of opinion, of course, as everyone has their favorite place for pizza pie. John’s coal-fired ovens are something of a dying breed and lightly char the thin crust. We ate here with Malcolm, Sally and Biing and really enjoyed it.
The better of the two pies was this bianco – no sauce, just mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and ricotta. The crust is a little thicker than the Italian style pies I’m familiar with, but still thing with just a little chewiness. Excellent pizza.
We actually spent a lot of time down in the Village and the surrounding neighborhoods. This little street was very cute. It reminds me of the “New York Street” on the Universal Studios backlot. Something about it doesn’t quite look real.
After the pizza, Biing took Tawn shopping. Knowing he would enjoy it better without me, I headed off with Malcolm and we hung out at a coffee shop, browsed for books at Strand Bookstore (“18 Miles of Books!”), and stopped by Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Mario Batali’s foray into family dining to try his olive oil ice cream.
Yeah, it may sound a little strange, but there is an olive oil ice cream as well as a salty caramel ice cream on the dessert menu.
I know what you’re going to ask: What did it taste like?
As much as I don’t want to answer, Like olive oil, that’s the best answer I can give. It wasn’t super sweet, but the predominate flavor was of very good quality olive oil.
It was very interesting to try and I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I’d be running out to eat more of it anytime soon.
The salty caramel was notable because, unlike “salted” caramel, which implies a little bit of salt flavor added to the caramel, this ice cream truly was “salty” caramel, something overly salty. It went beyond complementing the caramel flavor and ended up overwhelming it.
Above, olive oil and salty caramel ice creams, along with a scoop of Santa Rosa plum sorbetto. The plum was really the winner of the three, tasting just like a big bit of ripe plum. Reminds me of the creative seasonal ice creams I enjoyed in July 2008 at Ici in Berkeley. More about that here.
Thursday evening we headed to Grand Central Station (below) for a pre-show dinner at Grand Central Oyster Bar, with my college classmate Steven. The Oyster Bar dates from 1913 and is an institution that still earns its reputation. The seafood here is really fresh – they run out of many things later in the day because they only stock one day’s worth of inventory.
I haven’t seen Steven in the 15 years since I graduated university. Not only were we classmates, we actually worked together (along with Andrew) on our senior research thesis and were also disc jockeys at our school’s radio station, KSCU. He’s been in New York for many years and married just this past year. It was really nice to catch up with him and see him again.
Preparing to get a little messy, Tawn dons a bib.
The Grand Central Oyster Bar is, not surprisingly, known for their fresh oysters. There were more than a dozen types on the menu Thursday evening and we ordered two samples plates, each with two types of oysters from each coast. From the West Coast we had Carlsbad Blonde (Baja, Mexico) and Chef Creek (Washington). East Coast options (smooth edges versus rocky ones on the left coast) were the Tatamagouche (Nova Scotia) and Wellfleet (Massachusetts).
The flavors were very distinct: sweet versus briny, fruity versus metallic. All were wonderful. Sadly, I became confused about what was what and so couldn’t provide any more specific tasting notes.
Tawn and Steven had the bouillabaisse, one of their classics, with a rich tomato broth filled with lots of fresh seafood. The quality of the seafood was excellent.
I was looking for some crab crakes, but they only have those on Wednesday. For some reason, I took the waiter’s suggestion of deep fried softshell crab, which are in season.
The two crabs were very tasty and not oily at all. But the side of waffle fries was just too heavy. Something lighter – maybe a vegetable? – would have gone with the crabs much better.
We weren’t able to linger and visit over dinner as we had tickets – also part of our wedding gift from friends and family – to see Billy Elliot at the Imperial Theatre. The show was nice, with superb dancing by the young boy playing Billy (David Alvarez, one of three boys who rotate the role). The language was quite salty, especially given the number of young people in the audience.
Above, two days after the show, Tawn is still inspired.
The music (Elton John) and books and lyrics (Lee Hall) weren’t catchy. Fifteen minutes after the show, I couldn’t hum a single tune. The dramatic flow was also a bit stilted; had I not seen the movie, I wouldn’t have been able to clearly follow everything that was happening. Still, we had excellent seats and from and entertainment value perspective, we had a great time.
Friday for brunch we followed the recommendation of one of Tawn’s friends and headed back to the same corner of the Village where we’d enjoyed John’s Pizza. This time we ate at ‘ino, an Italian wine bar that serves excellent bruschetta and panini.
This restaurant, at 21 Bedford Street, is a tiny hole in the wall. We saddled up to the bar and had an excellent culinary experience. Our server was a friendly lady named Annie and another guy – maybe he was the owner – came over and spoke with us very knowledgably about Italian wines. Since Brad lived in the Milano area, he had some specific questions about varietals from that area. The man helping us really knew his stuff.
Four types of bruschetta from back left: Sweet corn and ricotta; sweet onion; artichokes and peccorino cheese; white beans, tomato and basil.
Four types of panini from back left: Pork loin with spicy mayo and fontina cheese; summer squash; prosciutto, bel paese and sweet onion; and bresaola (beef prosciutto), asparagus and pecorino peppato.
The real highlight – and I want you to understand how amazing this was – was the truffled egg toast. A thick slice of bread, hollowed out in the center, filled with fontina cheese, two eggs, and black truffle olive oil, then baked. The eggs are still soft, fresh black pepper is cracked on top, and lightly sauteed asparagus are the perfect foil to the truffle flavor. This is heavenly!
Tawn and I in the bar mirror.
We concluded the meal with an affogato – gelato with two shots of espresso poured over it. Yummy.
The truffled egg toast was so good I came back for another on Sunday morning when Tawn wanted to sleep in an extra hour. He wasn’t happy to hear I had gone without him.
I’m sitting at Newark Liberty International Airport as I write this. We’re on our way back to Bangkok. I’ve been in the US for 24 days, my longest trip back since I moved. It has been a lot of fun and I still have more to share about the trip, so I’ll be back on in a few days!