deb’s new york
“Where should I eat when I come to New York City?”
… is most Frequently Unanswered Frequently Asked Question on this site. If you’ve emailed me or left me a comment asking the same in the last 8 years, odds are good that I didn’t respond. I never meant to be rude; I just didn’t have a response. I’m ridiculously uncomfortable telling people where and how to spend their hard-earned money; maybe I went gaga over a triple-digit steak for two (hi, North Fork Table and Inn! I love you.) that you know you make better on your grill every Friday night; maybe there’s a restaurant on 7th Avenue I went back to one a week for three years (until they changed owners, sigh) for the artichoke salad alone — it’s my weird thing, perhaps not yours. Plus, there’s nothing exhaustive or carefully considered about my choices. I’ll never be a restaurant reviewer; I’d be too much like this guy.
But! We love going out to eat. It’s not always a restaurant, sometimes it’s just a little something-something we picked up en route to the playground. Sometimes, we mapped out a walk to a playground just because it would take us by something tasty. Essentially, I’m always enamored with some food outside my apartment and so I’ve decided to take a list-type approach instead. It will be updated whenever I find something new to obsess over. I kind of hope it is today.
A short, sporadically updated list of tasty things in New York City:
- It’s true, I’m the last New Yorker to get to Breads Bakery on 16th Street, but you’d better believe I will be making up for lost time going forward. I stopped in the weekend before Purim and they had a spread of hamantaschen (chocolate-nutella, chocolate chip, apple, marzipan, apricot) that has ruined me for making my own at home, at least until they write a cookbook and tell us all of their secrets. They’re also quite famous for their chocolate babka (on this, however, I am loyal to my homemade version, but I would never turn theirs down either) and almond croissants. We also tried some less popular items, a round of bread with shakshuka baked into the center and an excellent feta/Greek-style salad for a late brunch, a great way to offset the imminent intake of buttery baked goods.
- Let foodie-types argue over who makes the best soup dumplings in New York City; I only get them one place, because they’re perfect and I will never need to look further: M. Shanghai in Williamsburg. My second favorite thing on the menu are the vegetable wontons in spicy sauce (which is a peanut sauce that’s only faintly spicy and so delicious, I’ve considered drinking it through a straw). My third favorite item is the sliced beef in “awesome” sauce (yes, really), which we always order “extra crispy” and my fourth favorite thing is the string beans. For, like, nutritional balance and stuff.
- A lifetime (okay, 10 years) ago I used to work a block from Kalustyan’s — something of a landmark store at 28th and Lexington which sells every spice, rice, dried bean, syrup, dried fruit and don’t even get me started on the umpteen varieties of fresh baklava — and we’d get lunch there at least twice a week. Lunch, what? Yes, if you go upstairs and wind your way to the back, there’s a wonderful counter (and a sweet man who hasn’t aged in 100 years or so) of Middle Eastern foods (I’m particularly fond of their mujadara) and you could go there dozens of times before you realized you never noticed they make soup. Don’t make this mistake. They make a vegetarian, nay, vegan soup (not advertised as such, but it is) with lentils and a bunch of other things, I can’t even figure it out, which is faintly spiced and ridiculously hearty and impossibly delicious. The small one will easily fill you up for the afternoon. Plus, you can stock up on your spices on the way out.
- You’d think I’d want to go on and on about Fresco Gelateria on 2nd Avenue because they make all of their seasonal gelatos (several are dairy-free, as well) in-house and the menu is always changing so you should go back often, too. However, what I probably go in there for more often than not are the croissants, which are freshly made each day and throughout the morning and were declared by no fewer than two French friends on separate occasions to be missing the magical element that they can never really taste in American croissants: butter. A lot of it. All morning, the air in the shop is perfumed with it. Oh, and they serve excellent La Colombe coffee too, if that’s your thing.
- Jacob and I discovered the adorable shoebox bakery Zucker on our way back from the park one day. Refreshingly cupcake-free, the baked goods are share Israeli, European and Moroccan influences and looks like a grandmother’s living room. Their chocolate roses (like a chocolate sticky bun) are our favorite, my close second is the za’atar crackers served with labne that has been swirled with olive oil. They have great coffee, too, as all bakeries should. Now, will you promise not to tell anyone else about it? [Update: I attempted my own babka-ish riff on these!]
- Every. Single. Thing. On the menu at Empellón Cocina — pistachio guacamole, roasted carrots with mole poblano and yogurt, asparagus with almonds and chorizo, chicken meatballs with masa polenta, tiny ribs… — manages to be more awesome than the last. I am in love. And their margarita, barely sweetened with agave nectar and flavored with smoked sea salt, was the best I’d ever had.
- Hear, hear for tiny cakes! Although I wish I had the ability to bake perfect cakes for every single birthday that passes, I still miss some and for one, I was overjoyed to find stunning 4-inch layer cakes at Blackhound. They make 4-, 6- and 9-inch versions of each of their cakes and the smallest one is perfect for two indulgent people, four cute slices, or six to eight “slivers.” The chocolate-marzipan is my family’s new favorite. [Sadly, this place has since closed, despite our better efforts to be its sole benefactor. Fortunately, they have other locations.]
- Although my husband still calls it the “hipster steak house,” he now wants to go back to St. Anselm every weekend after trying their steak for two. I think their grilled artichokes are one of the universe’s most perfect dishes and our waiter was the kind you always hope you get, one who knows enough about wine that they can steer you to a better, less expensive choice that becomes an instant favorite.
- My neighborhood has more so-called Thai restaurants than would seem possible to fit on a few dozen blocks and almost all the food tastes the same so I tend not to even bother trying new places out. I am so glad we did check out Ngam because the Pad Thai is a revelation (it apparently wow-ed Jean-Gorges when the chef worked for him) and so is everything else. Please don’t skip the Shitake Mushroom Spring Roll or the Green Papaya Salad with Apples and Pears.
- The prettiest, tastiest matzo ball soup outside your Bubbe’s kitchen is at Kutsher’s Tribeca, an outpost of the famous Borscht Belt resort. Every single dish we’ve had here is delicious and impeccably thought-out. Oh, and they have a Bug Juice Cocktail, you know, for summer camp kids who were forced to grow up. (Ahem.)
- Hot buttered radishes and grilled half artichoke at Monument Lane. I am pretty sure that the deliciousness of hot buttered radishes needn’t be further explained, but should that not convince you, the meatloaf will. Yes, I said meatloaf.
- Bacon-wrapped quail and the Mahon flatbread (which I tried awkwardly to copy over here) at Salinas, plus every other thing on the menu. Make sure you eat under the stars by sitting in the back, where there’s this architectural feat of a sliding sunroof/ceiling that I now covet for my Dream Home.
- Ramp pizza at Motorino: I suspect this won’t be in season much longer. I love this because it so effectively uses ramps, they’re not just an accent or one ingredient of many, the entire pizza is covered in their delicious greens and bulbs. There’s barely any cheese, either, and somehow we don’ t miss it. They get bonus points for high chairs, crayons and coloring pages.
- Salvatore Ricotta, handmade in Brooklyn with nothing but the freshest, richest New York State milk, lemon juice and salt. Strained long enough that it spreads thickly, we are head-over-heels addicted. Whatever you do, do not sprinkle your morning granola over it. Just don’t do it. You might never eat yogurt again.
- Every single thing at Brooklyn Larder, but most especially the prepared salads. I will fight you for the last marinated mushroom.
- Patisserie Claude makes, hands down, the best croissants there could possibly be. They’re almost always warm from the oven and the smell of butter will assault you when you walk in. Oh, and the quiche. The quiche. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Linguine with Clams at Porsena. Apparently, someone on Yelp complained that there were too many clams in the dish. Yes, really. (P.S. I attempted to recreate their green bean salad a little while back.)
- Latte with faintly spiced Mexican chocolate at Everyman Espresso. I’m pretty sure I wept the first time I tried it. Ahem, I admit nothing.
- Asparagus from Kernan Farms (Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays, Brooklyn GAP Market on Saturdays). It makes the best ribbons.
- The Back Forty house cocktail. I became so obsessed with it that I attempted my own at home. Please, also do not miss their black and red (muddled strawberries, white tequila, black pepper) when strawberries are in season. They now have a more-accessible Back Forty West location with the same cocktails and similar menu.
- Milk Thistle Milk. Spooning some of the cream on top into my toddler’s oatmeal makes me feel like a 1950s housewife, but in a good way. [Update: Sadly, they have since folded.]
- The almost bittersweet chocolate sable from Balthazar’s Bakery, that is, if the toddler lets me have a bite. [Updated: I attempted to recreate them over here.]
- Homemade cream cheese from Russ & Daughters. Plus, the nicest people on the planet work there.
* How do I decide where to eat next? I get about 50 percent of my leads these days from Tasting Table's New York Newsletter, 25 percent from my husband, who follows both Eater New York and New York Magazine's Grub Street and 25 percent from friends and/or wandering around and seeing something that looks good.
* I kind of hate having to say this at all, but just wanted to footnote that I still have a 'no free stuff' policy on Smitten Kitchen. Everything listed on this page is a reflection of something we sought out on our own, and paid for with our own pocket change. And Jacob's. We shake him down all of the time for loose change.