How does one go about showing her children New York City in just seven days? Do you focus just on Manhattan? or Brooklyn? or Queens? Pick and choose a couple of the boroughs? There are so many famous and wonderful sights to show the kids. And for a family of adventurous eaters it’s a veritable playground of culinary pursuits.
Aaron, 15, and Elyse, 12, were looking forward to the trip of a lifetime – their first visit to New York. As young foodies they knew the number of eateries to visit would be endless. We’ve spent hours watching the New York food network chefs, Bizarre Foods and The Best Thing I Ever Ate, where New York dining establishments were constantly featured.
We knew we had to hit all the New York standards – pizza, deli, kosher, Chinese, Italian. And we knew we just plain weren’t going to make them all.
We put New York thin crust pizza, Chinese and Jewish foods and the top of our list of priorities. Then figured we’d catch the other greatness along the way. Plus, Aaron and my husband, Dan, would be celebrating birthdays while we were there. Each got to choose the meals they wanted on their special days.
For pizza we hit both Lombardi’s in Little Italy and John’s Pizzeria on Bleeker Street. Lombardi’s was the first pizzeria in the U.S., established in 1905. We were excited to see this landmark but sadly learned the restaurant moved from its original location. We ordered a meatball and mushroom pizza. The coal oven pizza was good and crispy and the meatballs were outstanding. John’s Pizzeria also came highly recommended and was equally as tasty. We liked the mushrooms more at John’s and the meatballs more at Lombardi’s. Both were great NY pizzas, but just didn’t knock our socks off; I think Mulberry Street Pizza in Los Angeles is just as good if not better.
As for Jewish food, we managed to hit some of the high spots.
Ess-a-Bagel on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan was packed. Abe, who seemed like he had worked there forever, managed the line and moved it along. The variety of shmears and bagels were outstanding – perfectly crisp on the outside and just doughy enough on the inside.
The Bagel Hole in Brooklyn was good but not as tasty as Ess-a-Bagel. On the other hand, the bialys and bagels at Kossar’s Bialys on Grand Street in Manhattan are delicious. They weren’t exactly the friendliest bunch at the counter, but the bialys were just perfect. Spreads were in the fridge in tiny containers at 50 cents each. The coffee was marginal at best.
Kossar’s was the first in our long line of Lower East Side food tastings. We also managed to hit Doughnut Plant, three doors away. For $3.50 to $4 a doughnut these doughnuts lived up to the reputation and the price. We had PB & J, a PB and banana, and a mint chocolate cake doughnuts. The peanut butter doughnuts were light and fluffy square doughnuts, spot-on. Perfect in every way. The mint was heavy and cake-y but exquisite for a delicious cake doughnut.
Then it was off to The Pickle Guys across the street on Essex. They have barrels and barrels of pickles, olives, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and a slew of fruits you never thought would taste good pickled. We partook of the pickles, olives and mangos. All were crisp, a bit salty and perfectly crunchy. They ship to LA, and even though they warned us that the shipping costs could be a bit pricey, it just might be worth the splurge once in a while.
By the time we hit Yonah Sshimmel’s Knish Bakery on Houston Street in Manhattan, they were sold out of all the dessert knish’s (cherry, blueberry, etc.) and only had sweet potato, potato, and a couple of other flavors. We ordered a sweet potato knish. It was tasty and soft, with just the right amount of sweetness. The pastry dough was thin and perfectly browned. It seemed like everyone in New York was coming in to pick up or order their Shabbat Knishes. If there was another Knish Bakery in New York, we certainly didn’t see or hear about it.
Eventually, we landed in a line about 100 deep at Katz’s Deli, also on Houston Street. The line moved but not exactly at a rapid pace. Eventually, we hit the inside of the deli only to find pure madness at the counter. Dan and the kids waited to snake their way to the front of the line while I searched endlessly for a table. Not exactly the world’s most relaxing experience. After about 35 minutes, they emerged with two trays loaded with pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, pickles, sauerkraut, and a knish only to figure out that they had to stand in another line for egg creams and kishke. The corned beef and pastrami was a big hit, although a tad cold. The rest was pretty mainstream. I’m not sure I’d hit Katz’s again anytime soon due to the craziness, but I have yet to find a corned beef sandwich anywhere that compares.
Our Chinese food experience was fabulous, although we didn’t even scratch the surface of what NY has to offer. From watching Andrew Zimmern, we knew that Queens was truly the hot bed of international food but we ran out of time and never made it there. We did make it to one of the Prosperity Dumplings, Fried Dumpling, and Xi’an. All three have multiple locations in Manhattan.
Prosperity was busy and we could see why — $1 for 6 dumplings that were boiled or pan-friend, and delicious. People from all walks of life were in that line and enjoying the magical, steaming hot dumplings. Fried Dumpling served only two kinds of dumplings and wasn’t as busy as Prosperity, but still very good.
Xi’an was definitely a unique experience, serving Chinese comfort food from the city of Xi’an. We had seen Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain speak passionately about the street food that David Shi was cooking up and we knew we had to seek out this restaurant. As seemed to be our NY routine, we found the end of the line, ordered, and then went behind the counter to seek out a table in the back of the restaurant. It was packed with yuppies taking photos of their hand-cut noodles, burgers and Spicy & Tingly Lamb Face Salad. We bought some hand-pulled noodles, noodle soup and burgers, which were more like ground meat in crispy bao. The food was piping hot, pungent, a bit spicy, and tasty. The soup was exceptionally flavorful and the noodles were outstanding. Xi’an did not disappoint. The media that the restaurant received was well-deserved.
Aaron wanted an authentic New York steakhouse for his birthday dinner. After much research we made a reservation months in advance at Peter Luger steakhouse in Brooklyn. It was founded in 1887. We had the specialty, the porterhouse. It was fabulous – perfectly marbled, hot, juicy and just the right amount of pink. The restaurant was very old school, with waiters in white aprons who spent time going from table to table to sing Happy Birthday.
We had seen Peter Luger’s bacon on an episode of the Best Thing I Ever Ate and ordered two heavenly slices. It was bacon at its best – crispy, fatty and sizzling. It came with Peter Luger steak sauce. We saw lots of the German Fried Potatoes go by to other tables, but they just didn’t look as good at the French Fries, so we opted for the fries. Since it was Aaron’s birthday, we ordered the sundae and apple strudel for dessert. Each came with a generous amount of “shlag,” their delicious homemade whipped cream.
In our seven days, we also ventured to Rice to Riches, Ferrara’s Bakery & Cafe, Red Rooster, the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, and Momofuku’s Milk Bar.
Rice to Riches, across from Lombardi’s Pizza in Little Italy, is a crazy, hip dessert joint with outrageously good rice pudding. Who would ever have thought of a store for just rice pudding? Insane. They had at least 15 different flavors of the yummy, creamy pudding, with toppings to layer. This was no ordinary rice pudding. The signage all around the store was entertaining, made for a great vibe and kept us entertained in the long line.
Ferrara’s is without a doubt the best cannoli in New York. They have been around since 1892, and is the most well known in the city. The shell was hard and crunchy, not soft and rubbery as is so often found, and the filling was perfectly creamy and tasty.
Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem was vibrant and illustrated the Harlem renaissance. The restaurant was filled with diners of all ethnicities and ages and had an incredible energy. We had the corn bread, cheddar grits, mac and greens and some salad to start. Then we ordered the Uptown Steak Frites, Helga’s Meatballs, the Yard Bird, and Jerk Chicken. Everything got rave reviews except the Jerk Chicken, which was a bit bland for our group. The staff was outstanding.
Another must see is Grand Central Station, its spectacular astronomical ceiling and of course, the gastronomical Oyster Bar Restaurant. We tried to get a real taste for the place and ordered the chowders, Oyster Rockefeller, bouillabaisse, oysters on the half shell, and sea urchin. All the food excellent; the chowders were spiced perfectly, the bouillabaisse was loaded with sea food, the oysters were fresh, and the Oyster Rockefeller was creamy and rich. But, it really was the atmosphere of this bustling restaurant and building that made the visit so memorable.
Another unique New York experience was the Momofuku Milk Bar on W. 57th Street in Manhattan. We had the “cereal milk” soft serve ice cream. Unbelievable. It tasted like what you would find at the bottom of your cereal bowl. We also had the crack pie – a gooey, buttery, caramel filled pie – and candy bar pie, which we thought was even better than the crack pie. The candy bar pie was insane – chocolate, caramel and peanut butter all in one delicious slice. As far as New York goes, it was even relatively well-priced. Dan loved the compost cookie, which had a massive variety of items in them from what seemed like potato chips to oats to butterscotch, and who knows what else. In reality it was just a slew of tasty cookie goodness. We never have come across anything quite like that in Los Angeles. I wonder how long it will take before the Momofuku chain and their massive variety of restaurants arrive in LA.
Finally we knew New York has no shortage of great Indian food. So, we eventually landed at Tamarind on East 22nd Street. Tamarind will be relocated soon since its current building is being sold. They are going to merge with their other restaurant in the TriBeCa area. We ordered three small appetizer specials of cauliflower, prawns and spinach cakes. Each was exceptional. For our main courses we ordered Lamb Saag, Rogan Josh, Majjiga Pulus (Southern Indian style green plantain, yam, radish, pumpkin, carrots and okra), Murg Lajawab (boneless chicken in a tomato onion sauce), and Keema Nan (nan with ground lamb). The food was flavorful, a tad spicy, and different than anything we’ve found in Los Angeles. Honestly, the best Indian food we ever tasted. We need a Tamarind in LA so we don’t have to shlep out to Artesia in search of something remotely similar.
To sum it up, New York just does not disappoint. Our children took a fabulous bite of the Big Apple, from seeing what life is like using public transportation to the huge ethnic melting pot of NYC, to the incredible cultural institutions and deeply moving 9/11 Memorial, it was all perfect.
If there was just a thin layer of beautiful white snow blanketing the city it would have been stunningly perfect. But we were thrilled with what we were dealt. We know we’ll be back soon to start looking at colleges and can’t wait to make our next “go to” list.
(Adine Forman is Executive Director of Hospitality Training Academy in Los Angeles, which is a training partner for UNITE HERE Local 11. She has more than 17 years of managerial experience with Los Angeles based social welfare organizations and is a commissioner on both the L.A. County and City Workforce Investment Boards.)