I’m not one of those “where must I eat when I go back to New York?” kind of people, though I did Tweet a week before our trip something along those lines. The responses were fascinating to me–apparently Acme, which I knew as a fairly mediocre sandwich and sweet potato French fry spot near NYU, has been transformed into a restaurant-of-the-moment. Also: Isa has all the food bloggers buzzing. But, I don’t know, I wasn’t in the mood to be fanatical about new restaurants. I decided that, when it came to food on this trip, we’d wing it.
Much of our winging it involved returning to our favorite haunts–and I’ll blog about those tomorrow. As for new places (or new-to-me places), the first one that we tried was near where we were staying on the Upper East Side–it’s Danny Meyer’s Untitled in the Whitney Museum.
Gina Depalma actually recommended it to me over Twitter when I asked for a breakfast/lunch recommendation in that ‘hood. The second she said it I was like: “Oh ya, right, I forgot that was there!”
There are many things to love about Untitled. First of all, its location—right there at the bottom of the Whitney, it’s just arty enough to feel unique (note the painting on the wall in the picture above). Second of all, the prices! I’m pretty sure these are regular New York City diner prices: $4 for a cup of soup, $11 for French Toast with apple butter, $12 for a large kale salad. Maybe they’re a tiny drop pricier but the difference is totally worth it when you taste the food.
For example, that cup of soup that I ordered–a butternut squash soup that happened to be the soup of the day–was so wonderful, it may be the best I’ve ever had:
I know those are strong words but what shocked me about this soup was how flavorful it was without the help of cream or, presumably, butter. From what I could tell, it was just a really good butternut squash, possibly roasted to intensify the flavor, and then simmered in incredibly potent chicken stock (again, this is just a hypothesis). Just soup and stock and maybe a little cider vinegar at the end? (Again, just a theory!) Whatever it was, I loved it.
I wasn’t as crazy about the kale salad that I ordered to round out the meal:
It was kind of boring. I know what you’re thinking: “Why would you order a kale salad at a gourmet diner?” but we’d already eaten big fatty meals at The 2nd Avenue Deli and Grand Sichuan so I was trying to be healthy. My mistake. (But this is why I don’t weigh 500 pounds.)
Meanwhile, Craig had that French Toast with apple butter and raved over it:
The bread was brioche; but it was the custard it was dunked into before getting fried from whence a mystery derives. Was there Grand Marnier in there? Orange zest? Orange juice? There was certainly orange flavor, and it was wonderful, but we want to know just how it made its way into the French toast.
So yes, we loved Untitled and then, on Saturday, it was my birthday and I decided I’d like to have a nice lunch to celebrate. We’d talked about trying out the much-loved Tertulia, but I steered my birthday boat towards the John Dory which–since I first went there (to the one on 9th Avenue which closed a few months later; but my comic book post about it still survives!)–I’ve been meaning to try in its new location at the Ace Hotel.
The space is way improved: instead of a tightly cramped fish-tank festooned saloon, this John Dory breathes. The theme is still nautical:
Craig, an octopus fan, loved the one hanging on the wall:
Going for lunch on a Saturday was such a brilliant idea. The place was almost empty, it was so not crowded; I’m sure, on a typical night, it’s totally slammed.
I started the meal with the aforementioned glass of Cava. Then we had our first dish: black sea bass crudo with lime, shallot and crispy fish skin.
Remember that scene in “Best In Show” where Parker Posey is yelling at Ed Begley, Jr. about the parrot toy that goes missing and he says, “Why don’t you try the pet store downstairs?” and she flips out and screams: “What are you!? Some kind of wizard or something?!”
Well, anyway, I felt like yelling that at April Bloomfield (the chef) about this dish—”What are you some kind of wizard or something? Making fish taste this good? This is ridiculously delicious! I’m so mad at how good this is!”
Then we had an escarole salad that was a slap in the face to all escarole salads that’ve come before:
In fact, this escarole salad was so mind-bendingly glorious I conducted my own personal inquisition of the woman who came to pick it up when we were finished: “What’s in this? Why does it taste so good?” The answers: salt-packed anchovies instead of the oil-packed you and I usually use; escarole in three forms–raw (as you’d expect), pickled (whoah!) and grilled (ah). So there you have it.
Now before we go any further, I need to prepare you for what you’re about to see. Ask your children to leave the room, if they’re lingering. These, my friends, are The John Dory’s Parker House rolls and I’m pretty sure that they are the best thing I’ve eaten in 2012:
You will never experience a roll that tastes better than this, I promise you that. They’re warm, fluffy, buttery, crusty on the outside (with hits of salt) and almost creamy on the inside. I wanted to die after eating this by itself; but I wanted to die even more after dipping it into this bowl of creamy lobster chowder:
(Those are purple potatoes floating in there, in case you’re wondering.)
How does April Bloomfield pack so much flavor into her food? I know she’s writing a cookbook and I feel like getting in line right now to secure myself a copy (who knows when it’s coming out!) But the woman is a genius; I’d sign a paper saying as much.
I mean, even her lobster roll–which is normally a pretty basic affair (lobster, mayo)–is ramped up here with lots of dill, chopped cucumber, and a roll made with the same stuff that goes into the Parker House rolls. So you’re eating lobster on the best roll of your life:
This place is a dream come true.
Craig had no room for dessert but it was my birthday, dammit, so I had to have the sticky toffee pudding:
Words fail. Just look at that picture and cry.
So even though it may be slightly older news, The John Dory at The Ace Hotel still deserves this headline: BEST MEAL I’VE HAD IN A VERY LONG TIME. GO FOR LUNCH. GO FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY. GO FOR SOMEONE ELSE’S BIRTHDAY.
Finally, I decided to pop into my friends’ Doug and Bryan’s new brick-and-mortar Big Gay Ice Cream Shop on Friday night:
I’d seen it while it was a work-in-progress and now that it’s open-for-business, it’s amazing how popular the place is even on a cold February night. I’m so happy for these guys.
Here’s what it looks like behind the counter:
Here’s another unicorn, on the wall:
And here’s Patty and Lauren with their Salty Pimp (that’s vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate dip):
And here’s my American Globs which came with vanilla ice cream, pretzels, and chocolate dip (only the guy making mine accidentally added caramel which, as far as accidents go, is a pretty happy one):
I love that they served it in a container, so I didn’t make a mess. I also loved the salty crunch of the pretzels up against the creamy sweetness of the chocolate and the ice cream. Even in February, this totally hit the spot.
And so it was that we visited three new places on our trip to New York and these three places were very excellent. We’ll be sure to return to them on our next trip back.
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