A chance to take a bite out of the Big Apple
PUBLISHED: 13:48 12 January 2012
A gastronomic quest through New York is a fun way to explore the city
People go to New York for many reasons. On the way there, I had only one thing on my mind: Food.
As I ate my compartmentalised in-flight dinner, I fantasised about all the wonderful things I’d taste. America is a nation of immigrants and New York wears that history well, with culinary fossils all over the city.
I’d summoned the perfect team to find them, too. Two of the four of us who were to meet there were chefs – so I had my own walking, talking food guides.
The Jane Hotel, where I was to stay for the gastronomic weekend, was the ideal setting to get me in the mood for the iconic city. I stepped through the door into 1930s New York, complete with bellhops and gold luggage trolleys that (like the rest of the city I had seen on my way there) seemed straight out of a movie. The super king-sized bed in my suite seemed like a good, American start.
River Café chef
The first stop on our culinary journey was The Spotted Pig. It is a safe bet, really. In a rather circular way, New York’s most recent import is English-style food – all odd meats and fashionable combinations reminiscent of London’s favourite child: St John. April Bloomfield, a Birmingham-born, River Café-schooled chef, is taking the town by storm. I order a burger and a beer and get a nice surprise. I can only just see over the bun as I take a bite and peruse the surroundings. Dark wood, low lighting and a bar with beer pumps make me feel like I’m in London. The burger tastes fine but I can’t help resenting it. I’ve just come from the UK and want something more exotic – plus it is pretty expensive, for a pub.
The next morning brings a salty pretzel from a street vendor accompanied by a walk around Central Park and half an hour snapping pictures of the Guggenheim. Packed in between the slick houses of therapists which line the park, it stands like it knows how good it is. Entry to the gallery comes at a price and the coachloads of people piling in make it look like a pointless exercise. But the structure can be admired for free inside and out.
Dumbstruck by Frank Lloyd Wright’s creation, I am bundled into an infamous yellow cab and down to Chinatown. Frank, the only other non-chef in our party, makes the first suggestion. It’s a place called Prosperity Dumpling where you can buy those vinegary Chinese treats for just $1. My tummy rumbles. We get out of the car at the door, which is the beginning of the queue. It’s lunchtime, you see, and we are not the only ones who know about this little gem. Once we get into the tiny shopfront, I order two portions of pork and sage – spotting a huge pan that almost takes up the tiny kitchen behind the rather grumpy owner, who is working the till. ‘What is that?’ asks my chef friend. ‘Sesame Pancake,’ answers the man, unimpressed. ‘We’ll take four pieces,’ I say. Three dollars each later and we’re sat out on the sidewalk sucking air into our mouths to counter the hot, tasty, parcels. So tasty and so cheap, we repeat in a very English way, while a fresh queue forms behind us.
The rest of the afternoon is spent travelling to and hovering around Torrisi, a classic Italian deli-turned- dining room with a prix fixe menu, which also draws crowds, so that in order to get a table you have to queue before the restaurant even opens. Old school. It’s a little more expensive than Prosperity Dumpling but it’s worth it, promises Mike, one of my fellow travellers and a chef. The name, in gold lettering on the netted window of the shop front, says it all: this is Italian-American food at its shiny and sophisticated best. A few meaningless conversations later and we are met by a woman with a clipboard who escorts us inside. We sit on a small table in the low- lit room, lined with pictures and decorative pots of food, and are treated to tasty antipasti, pasta and main of Italian chicken followed by mini biscuits and espresso – simple and excellent. The queue is worth it for the Buffalo Mozzarella – silky, creamy, salty and slighty warm, it is quickly consumed. The menu costs us $60, which my friend Sam thinks is a bit steep but I would happily pay again.
The second and penultimate day calls for some sightseeing. We’re off on the ferry to Staten Island, via the Statue of Liberty. Well, we are after we’ve tackled the mammoth queue, which is the thing no-one usually mentions. We queue in the breezy Battery Park, on the tip of Manhattan, all morning. I get another pretzel, which isn’t as nice as the other one, putting things into perspective. It all seems a tad deflating, until we get to the front of the queue, get through the airport style security and onto the boat. There’s hot dogs and coffee on there and, although they are not very nice, they are filling and cheap and last me for the rest of the afternoon.
The evening brings with it the MomoFuku Ssam bar, another of Mike’s suggestions. As if inspired by the history of New York, this place – famous in the culinary world as one of a family of restaurants – does fusion food. It’s an experimental menu and we opt for apple kimchi with bacon, a tasty portion of country ham and some pork buns as well as a soup. The service has a touch of the West Coast health kick about it, with the waiters constantly topping up our water. This isn’t really up my street but the menu is certainly interesting – and it seems incredibly popular.
The last day is an opportunity to reflect. But I decide to go exploring instead. My friend Sam has found a huge vintage shop called Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn where we can go and dress up and maybe buy something, but mainly dress up. The other two are off and so we get to work, rooting around the huge store. As he tries on a top hat and silver mac, he suggests we go for pizza just before I leave. It’s the one thing I haven’t had yet. I pause and then make a decision: I’ve got two hours before I need to go to the airport and one of those is going to be spent eating.
The Jane Hotel
113 Jane Street , NY, NY, 10014
The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th Street
@ Greenwich St.
New York, NY 10014
250 Mulberry St. New York, NY
46 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002
MomoFuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd avenue, new york, ny 10003
corner of 13th street and 2nd avenue.