I want to tell you about a sandwich. It’s a very special sandwich. You get it at a place famous for another special sandwich, but we’re not going to talk about that other special sandwich. We’re going to talk about the original sandwich I was trying to talk to you about earlier. Seriously, will you stop changing the subject?
Before I returned to New York this fall, I started a little folder in my browser called NYFood. I read my EaterNY, my Grub Street, and then bookmarked in my special folder any place I felt like I had to visit. Most prominent among my selections were Mission Chinese Food and Pok Pok NY.
Both restaurants are transplants from other cities: Mission Chinese from San Francisco, Pok Pok from Portland. Both are phenomenons. Both have enormous lines. Yet I told myself these were places I had to visit before returning back to L.A. or I’d be forced to hang my head in shame. Now I can go back to L.A. with pride because I Mission Chinesed, I Pok Poked and lived to tell the tale.
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t conceive of going to Katz’s Deli and not ordering the pastrami.
That would be like going to France and eating pizza; or going to the world’s best sushi restaurant and asking them to cook your fish. Go to Katz’s and not order pastrami? You’ve got to be kidding! Only the other night, after we saw our friend Cary’s movie “Jane Eyre” (Cary went to film school with Craig), we found ourselves at Katz’s Deli and I was very hungered. And the line for pastrami was oh so long. Reader, I got a hot dog.
New York Welcomes Karla to the Lower East Side with Dinner at Chibitini and “Cakes of Cup” at Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery
Lisa’s friend Karla moved to New York this past Thursday from Cincinnati, Ohio for the reason many people move to New York from Cincinnati, Ohio: she testified against an Ohio crime boss and now must live in hiding, forbidding even the most adoring of her new New York friends to take her picture for fear she may be brutally killed. Here she is with Lisa at Chibitini on the Lower East Side (near her new home–pay attention, mob boss!) toasting her arrival with Chibitini’s signature drink: the Chibitini.
The Chibitini is made of plum wine and vodka and features a strange condiment that was later identified as a pickled plum. I found it disturbingly salty though I enjoyed my Chibitini. How did we wind up at Chibitini? There’s only one way to find out…
If you had told me last night that within a three hour period the next day I would read the Sunday Times, rush down to the Lower East Side, visit Russ & Daughters for the first time and then grab tickets for the matinee of “Oedipus at Palm Springs” (by The Five Lesbian Brothers (who are also bloggers); it closed today and it was great, sorry you missed it) I would’ve called you a liar. A dirty bald-faced liar. (Bald faced? Did I make up that expression?)
But all these things did happen today. I woke up, made coffee, read the Times in bed (a new favorite ritual) and then, noticing in the Arts section that today was the last day for “Oedipus” I rushed out to catch the F Train down to 2nd Ave only the F train didn’t come on the F-train track. The D train came instead so I got on that, figuring the D train was acting like the F train today. But it took me pretty far down on Grand and as I rushed up towards Houston I realized I’d be really close to Russ & Daughters (also Katz’s, but that was out of the question timewise.) It was like 1:33 and the show started at 2. I could grab a bagel at Russ’s—this would be my first time, but now’s a better time than ever.
I first learned of Russ & Daughters in the very first food book I ever read (and still one of my favorites) the not-so-long-ago published “Feeding a Yen” by Calvin Trillin. Have you read Calvin Trillin yet? You really should. He’s the best. (Though, did anyone try to get tickets to his walking tour of Chinatown in this year’s New Yorker festival? I was online precisely at 12 pm, right when they went on sale, and they were immediately gone at 12:01. Who got these tickets? Can I please please please have one?)
The first chapter of “Feeding A Yen” is called “Magic Bagel” and it’s totally endearing. It’s about him trying to lure his daughter back to New York (she lives in California) with the promise of tracking down a pumpernickel bagel she loved in her childhood. Here’s what Calvin writes about Russ’s:
“After spending years listening to customers tell him that he ought to move Russ & Daughters uptown, Mark Federman–the grandson of Joel Russ, the founder–was renovating the apartments above the store and expressing gratitude that his grandfather had held on to the building.
Ben’s Dairy had closed and Moishe’s Bakery had moved to a tiny place around the corner. But Russ & Daughters has been carefully preserved to look pretty much the way it did when Joel Russ himself still had his arms deep into the herring barrel.”
It’s strange because if I hadn’t known anything about Russ & Daughters and I went in there and you told me this place was built last year, I’d have believed you. But at the same time, I can believe it looks the same way it did years and years ago. Maybe that’s because the focus there isn’t the atmosphere or the decor: it’s the fish, specifically smoked fish. Men and women behind the counter slice smoked fish with long sharp knives and everything else falls into the background.
Funny enough, when I went in I think Mark Felderman (mentioned above) was there because I observed a bearded Jewish man talking to someone else and he said, “Someone’s doing a story about this place saying the smell in here is one of the best smells in New York.” (Actually, I think I’m getting that quote wrong but it had something to do with smell and New York. But the way he said it, it sounded like he owned the store.)
Besides smoked fish, though, there’s an exciting array of cream cheese:
Check out the ones on the top and the bottom: caviar cream cheese! Horseradish cream cheese! I totally have to come back and try those.
I also noticed wasabi infused fish roe and I remembered I ate that exact same thing at Le Bernardin. This place means business.
I meant business, both in a speed sense and a hunger sense, and I asked a man behind the counter for an onion bagel with smoked salmon and tomato. This is the traditional Sunday bagel combo (maybe throw in some raw onions too, if stinky breath’s your game) and I awaited it greedily. Time passed and I kept looking at my watch but the man making my bagel wasn’t dawdling. He was sharpening his knife, then he was choosing the fish, and then he was cutting thick slices, and then he found a fresh tomato and cut slices from that, and then he slowly spread cream cheese on a soft looking onion bagel. He did everythign with great care and focus and that was great. I grabbed a fresh squeezed orange juice and the grand total was $10.25. That’s almost the same as it would be at Murray’s where I go all the time.
Here’s the bagel as it appeared on my lap as I sat on a bench outside, ready to scarf it down:
Now let me tell you something. That bagel? It was pretty good. Soft, oniony, very nice. And the cream cheese? Creamy and fresh, just right. But that fish? Oh, that fish.
I’ve never had fresher smoked fish in my life. It really seemed like a salmon had crawled out of the sea, walked through a smoker like a car might go through a car wash, and then laid itself down on Russ’s slicing board ready for my guy to slice big thick slices. If the bagel in my lap were a Broadway show, that fish was Ethel Merman. It was fantastic.
But speaking of shows, I was late. I ate that bagel faster than you can say “You’ll be swell! You’ll be great!” I ran to the New York Theater Workshop (4th Street and 2nd Ave., so not terribly far) and got there just in time. And as I watched those lesbians act out their version of Oedipus, I knew deep down inside of me a happy salmon was swimming. Another jam-packed Sunday in New York.
Maybe it’s the Jew in me (“Let me out, you putz! It’s hot in here!”) but I feel guilty about the meals I’m about to share with you. Guilt–am I the only food blogger who feels guilty about eating good food? Maybe because it’s all so decadent. But I can shift the blame to my parents–as we already know, my parents are decadent eaters. I’m just the lucky bystander who tags along and eats what is given to me. All I crave are the simple things—a ripe tomato, a slice of cheese. It’s my parents who forced this upon me. What you are about to see happened totally against my will, I was dragged along, kicking and screaming…
Ok, you’re not falling for it. So my parents spoil me when they come to visit (at my urging), even more than I spoil myself. And in the spirit of spoiling myself before they came, I took Michael (my brother, you met him in the last post) to Katz’s deli on Thursday to experience New York’s best pastrami:
Michael was dubious at first—as we got off the subway on Houston and passed 2nd avenue, he tried to divert us to the 2nd avenue deli. “I want a waitress!” he said, when I told him that Katz’s only had counter service. But I persisted and he came and sure enough Katz’s does have waitresses if you want (although our experience leads me to suggest that you just do the counter service, our waitress was pretty inept). Michael was completely converted by Katz’s pastrami. “Mmmm,” he said. He’s not someone who relents easily–he might have pretended, for example, to hate the pastrami to win the fight about 2nd Ave. Deli being better–but he did no such thing. He enjoyed his pastrami and agreed it was the best in New York.
We also shared potato latkes which, too, were excellent:
And just to get the gluttony ball rolling, I took him afterwards to Doughnut Plant (it’s not a far walk away) to experience New York’s best (and most interesting) doughnuts. He had the Vahlrona chocolate doughnut on the right, I had the orange on the left:
Naturally, they were terrific. The coffee was pretty good too.
Now then: my parents arrived. Here they are with Michael in an artistic shot at Fresco:
I didn’t document our Fresco meal for three reasons: (1) I’ve done it before; (2) the meal wasn’t very good (it was fine, not great), and (3) for the first time ever in my history of doing this site, a manager asked me not to take pictures. I think it had less to do with taking pictures of food than it did with the flash irritating their celebrity customers. They shot themselves in the foot, though, because, as we all know, this site is a powerhouse in the food world, and one bad word from me and…and…
For lunch Friday we went to a giant in the world of corporate business lunches: Lever House.
A few years ago, Lever House made a big stir when it opened. Here’s where the players came to play, where titans–Masters of the Universe–came to nosh on Cobb salads and grilled fish, signing contracts, fiddling with cell phones and pulling the Levers (get it? Levers? Lever House?) on the slot machines of capitalism. (I am a genius! What a great sentence! Ok, no.) Anyway, now I wonder if Lever House is a little past it’s prime—if only because our power lunch was only impressive in one regard: the architecture.
Isn’t that a cool doorway? That’s how you enter Lever House. The room has a honeycomb theme—people sit in little honeycomb pods surrounding the less interesting tables in the middle. We sat at a less interesting table in the middle. We kept our eyes peeled for celebrities and power brokers, but didn’t see any. (Last time my mom was here, however, she saw Michael Eisner.)
Eh. Ok, it’s perhaps my fault that I let the waiter talk me into this pheasant terrine:
I must confess that the image in my head of “terrine” was not what was brought out on the plate–but that’s ignorance on my part, not the waiter’s. With that said, though, I’ve had terrines I’ve really enjoyed (like this one at Cafe Bouloud)—and this one tasted gamey and unpleasant. I was not a fan.
Then for the entrees, I ordered halibut which was nice and fine, and dad ordered risotto “with no cheese.” Dad hates cheese. So when they brought the risotto covered with cheese, I martyred myself and switched with him. Here it is:
The glum lighting mirrors the glumness of the risotto. It had no real flavor base. The cheese was nice, there were mushrooms too–but this risotto was a loser. L-on-its-head loser. Like “I took you to a Remington party and you paid me back with puke” type loser. (Ya, Heather, I went there.)
But the dessert. Lever House almost fully redeems itself by way of this dessert:
Milk chocolate coconut cake with coconut sorbet. It was really delicious–I loved it. (Shared it with Michael who did most of the gobbling.)
Moving on, then, we go to the next day. (Friday night we saw Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays” which was really impressive in that Billy worked really hard—only, (and this could totally be a generation thing–we of the age of irony and self-awareness) I found it slightly shlocky and emotionally manipulative, though I have no doubt for him he’s being as raw and honest as he could get in live performance. I just wish he didn’t paint himself so cleanly. (With that said, though, he’s a great performer. The pantomime bits were terrific.)) (We ate in Joe Allen’s afterwards and saw (as guaranteed by my post on Joe Allen’s where I say it’s the best Broadway Star-Sighting place after theater) B.D. Wong. Yes, he’s a star, isn’t he?)
Lunch Saturday. We went to D.B. Bistro Moderne. This is a great pre-theater place (we were going to see “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which was a lot of fun): great location and great food.
Normally, I don’t take pictures of other people’s dishes (I don’t have the space for it to post all these pics) but Michael’s clam chowder was outrageously beautiful:
Couldn’t that hang in the MOMA?
The way lunch works there is you can get an appetizer and an entree or an entree and a dessert. You who know me know what I did. So for my entree I chose Atlantic cod with porcini dumplings, vegetables “paysanne” and a garlic-parsley broth:
It was marvelous (and also the best picture I took all weekend.)
For dessert, I jilted my tablemates (they all opted for appetizers and were not entitled to desserts) who love chocolate. I of the fruit-dessert persuasion had Tropical Fruit Soup with ginger-vanilla bavarois and pink guava sorbet:
Not surprisingly, I had the whole dessert to myself. If you eat with my family and want a whole dessert to yourself, order a fruit dessert—they won’t touch it.
Now then, we come to the greatest eating moment of the weekend. I began this post by pretending that I am just a happy bystander of my parents food-love, that their gourmet outings are in no way influenced by me–but that’s not entirely true. I think somehow (and this could be complete megalomania on my part) this site and my newfound food “authority” have somehow seeped into their consciousness (mostly my mom’s–she who makes the reservations) and that their former tendency to eat big family-style meals at Italian theater-district places like Carmine’s has been displaced by a respect and awe for the finest things in life, pointed out by me in my journey towards gourmet enlightenment. So whether it’s my influence or her own self-will, my mom made a reservation for the four of us at Jean-Georges Saturday night, because she loved it there the last time. I did too and anticipated it with great excitement.
We were not disappointed.
Jean-Georges is the best restaurant in New York. I will qualify that statement only to say that I haven’t been to every restaurant in New York, but I have been to many, and several of them were 4-stars (Per Se, Daniel.) Jean-Georges, however, is the best that I can imagine a restaurant to be—it’s a magical dining experience. The room is enchanted, the service outstanding, and the food exciting, surprising, and luscious. It’s just dazzling.
We started with an amuse bouche of (and this is from memory, so forgive me): pear with caviar, chicken broth with olive oil (and this chicken broth had a kick to it), and tuna(?) hamachi with something on it (sorry):
Last time we did the Jean-Georges tasting menu. This time we ordered from the left side of the page which allows you to choose an appetizer, a middle course, an entree and a dessert. This worked out perfectly.
For my appetizer, I had the sea scallops, caper-raisin emulsion and cauliflower:
These were TOO good. And the sauce—what a crazy perfect combination. Capers and raisins? It works. I’d like to recreate this dish at home sometime like the folks do at Gothamist Food. Maybe I can put them on the job.
For my next course I ordered foie gras because it’s the sort of thing I NEVER eat on a regular basis, I only eat it on very special occassions and this was one of them. It came with another thrilling combination: peanuts and a cherry sauce. All-American foie gras?
Seriously, this is why I love Jean-Georges. Who would think to combine peanuts and cherries on LIVER? And it works–I swear, these things are radical food revelations that happen in your mouth. It’s like having eyes in the roof of your mouth that have slept for 26 years that suddenly and miraculously open up. (Ok, that’s a gross image.)
For my entree, I had the duck. But first, look at this man carving a pineapple:
This was happening at the table next to us. I swear (and I kid you not) he did this for 45 minutes. He carved this intricate design into it and then sliced it and it was beautiful and theatrical and had everyone staring from around the room. Where else does this happen? Nowhere, I tell you, nowhere!
Now my duck. Oh my God.
Look at the top of my duck. What do you see? Looks strange, right?
They’re almonds but they almost taste like an almond brittle–they fuse with the skin and make this crazy, crispy, candy-like crust. I was in heaven. (I should state here, though, that my dad and brother–who were also at this table–ate their food with mild interest and very few spurts of joy. Dad, who also had the duck, found it “too sweet.”)
But my middle name is “too sweet” so this was perfect. It had a honey wine sauce that accented everything nicely. I loved this dish.
Then there was (drumroll): dessert.
Oh, dessert. Dessert at Jean-Georges. If only I’d asked for a menu I could identify everything! There were four choices: a chocolate menu (which, boringly, mom, dad AND Michael opted for), a citrus menu, an apple menu and an exotic menu. I chose (at the waiter’s suggestion) the exotic menu. I was glad I did:
I can’t remember what everything is (I’m sorry! I know! I failed you!) but my favorite was on the lower left: there was passion fruit in it and I love passion fruit. Otherwise, on the upper left is pineapple upside down cake, on the upper right some kind of sweet fruity soup, and on the lower right a banana dessert with ice cream. Do I really need to tell you how terrific it all was?
Once again, Jean-Georges won our hearts and minds (at least mom’s and mine) and I left feeling bloated, sick, and all the better for it.
Today, I ate as little as possible—eggs, toast, a burger that served as lunch and dinner, and then, just now, oatmeal. Tomorrow begins my return to the gym which I may or may not blog about. If this was the last “hurrah” it doesn’t get much better than that. Mom, dad and Michael are back in Florida so I’m safe for a while. Until their next visit… happy vicarious eating!
When Amy Poehler farts on SNL, she turns to the camera and says with a lisp: “Jealous?”
That’s how I feel about living in New York. I want to turn to the world, lift up my leg and say: “Jealous?”
I love living here. Honesty, it’s so much better than where you live. I know where you live is nice, but it’s not as nice as New York. It’s not as exciting as New York. You can’t do what I did yesterday and the day before where you live. I mean, I suppose you can but it really wouldn’t matter. JEALOUS?
Ok, ok, enough bragging. What did I do? Well, on Monday I wandered. After lunch at Pepe Rosso I wandered in the gray drizzly air. I wandered next door to “Once Upon A Tart”:
I’d seen their cookbooks in far away places and couldn’t wait to try one of their baked goods. So I bought this chocolate cranberry cookie:
It was horrible! I hated it! What a terrible cookie!
Honestly, it was hard–and not even in a good crunchy way, but in a tough to bite through way. I suppose the chocolate cranberry combination was interesting, but all in all I give it a C-.
But that’s part of the magic, people. For every bad cookie there’s a good cookie and vice-versa. Jealous?
Then it started drizzling even harder and I stumbled into this place:
Cafe Reggio. I sat in a shadowy booth near a pay phone. I pulled out my copy of Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House.” I’m on page 800–I am so close to finishing!
I read the little menu thingie that they put on the table. I learned two very exciting facts:
(1) The house across the street was home to Louisa May Alcott:
(2) Cafe Reggio has America’s first cappuccino maker. Mr. Reggio, apparently, is responsible for bringing cappuccinos to the United States. When I read this, I got very excited. I asked the waitress: “So where’s the machine?” She pointed: “It’s right over there.” And indeed it was:
I studied it for a moment then returned to my table. Naturally, I ordered a cappuccino. Unnaturally, she asked if I wanted whipped cream on it. I said “sure!”
Here it is:
America’s first cappuccino with whipped cream on it. It tasted great. Louisa May Alcott and I totally agree on that.
Met my friend Jason for lunch on the Lower East Side at a place called Rice. Since it wasn’t a spectacular meal, only an average perfectly acceptable meal, we’ll skip over that magic NYC moment. But then some more magic. More wandering. We wandered through Chinatown and saw dried shrimp and other dried fishy things:
Next, we wandered over to Doughnut Plant. This place is amazing. I’ve already been there (as you can see from the “Adam and Lisa Eat The LES” video on the left). But this was my first time going back since.
For some reason, yesterday’s photos won’t let me link to small versions so I’m going to link textually to large versions.
Here’s Jason in front of Doughnut Plant: Click me.
Look at the two little old ladies. Aren’t they cute?
As you can see, the specials are Jelly Doughnuts, Marzipan Doughnuts, and Citron Doughnuts. Here’s a closer look. Looks amazing, no?
Jason and I both went with square jelly doughnuts (2nd shelf from top, on the left). It didn’t occur to me until we discussed it how remarkable these doughnuts are. They are SQUARE and they are filled with jelly. How do they fill them? Exactly. Thank you. These doughnuts are genius. Mine was filled with apricot and Jason’s was peanut butter and strawberry jelly.
As we left, I noticed Kossar’s bialys next door. I’d never had a bialy in my entire life. Here’s Jason standing in front.
Even though we’d just had a ricey lunch and then two big doughnuts, I insisted on trying bialys. They were only $0.50 each. Here’s what they look like up close.
Perfect. What a perfect ending to a perfect post. This bialy had flavor and jazz and poppy seeds and lots and lots of history. Where else can you wander around a city and end up with a bialy chaser to your square apricot jelly doughnut? Exactly.