Men Who Like to Cook - David Latt

Friday, September 30, 2011

New York City Through a Foodie's Eyes

If you are a foodie visiting New York, you're probably planning on visiting Mario Batali's Eatlay where you'll wander the crowded aisles a bit dazed. Glass fronted counters and small eating areas display the best that Italy has to offer, including pizza, pasta, cheese, salumi, fish, local produce, prepared food, pastries and candies.

You'll wish you'd brought a spare suitcase to cart all these great products home. That's the temptation of New York. So many great celebrity chefs and so much great, albeit expensive food, and so little time.
But wait! Don't spend all your money on high-end restaurants and eateries.

Stick to the neighborhoods. Eat the way locals do. Find the small restaurants and take out holes-in-the wall that feed New Yorkers as they speed through their insanely busy days.

Everyone has their favorite places to eat in New York. On a recent trip, I revisited my favorites and enjoyed myself all over again. Here's a quick trip through half a dozen I think you'll enjoy.

Fast Food New York Style
People watching is a big attraction in any big city. Stand at the yellow Formica counter along the window at Grey's Papaya across from the 72nd Street Subway station at the corner of Broadway and, as you chow down on your Recession Special--$4.95 for an ice cold drink and two hot dogs with sauerkraut and a red sauce that isn't exactly but something better than catsup--you'll have an eyeful of New Yorkers rushing to get where they need to go.
The hot dogs are juicy, salty and sweet. I always get the pina colada for my drink but you can also order frothy cold cups of orange, pineapple, banana daiquiri and papaya (of course!).

If you are a fan of the Daily Show, you know Jon Stewart thinks it is a crime against nature to visit New York and not have a slice of pizza. His rant against Donald Trump was not only because the Donald took Sarah Palin to a run-of-the-mill pizzeria but because he dared to eat his slice with a knife and fork. OMG!

Eating a slice of cheese pizza at Joe's Pizza (on Jon Stewart's list) in the West Village, Dr. Dave Ores, a native New Yorker, demonstrates the proper pizza-eating technique, using a paper plate as a grease catcher.
If you're passing through the West Village on the way downtown to pay your respects to the Freedom Tower as it rises ever higher in the skyline, stop at Better Being Underground in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The line to pick up made-to-order sandwiches, soups, salads and seasonal specials begins on the street and snakes down one and half flights into the very small lunchroom.
The customers are on a first name basis with the servers who fill orders with efficiency and a smile. The menu changes daily but there are favorites that appear most days. The menus are online so you can see what you like before you arrive.
Chinatown
When I'm in town I like to take a long lunch one day and stretch the meal out over several restaurants. On the last trip, a friend joined me in Chinatown for an Asian restaurant-crawl.

First stop, the very old-school Nom Wah Tea Parlor on block-long, hard-to-find Doyers Street. The booths are wooden, the tables covered in checkerboard plastic tablecloths. A counter with stools runs along one wall with wooden booths along the other two.
Diners fill out a dim sum menu that includes soups, dumplings, noodles, spareribs, seafood and poultry dishes. Everything tastes freshly made. The soups are clear, light and delicious. If you enjoy shrimp fried in their shells, you are in luck. These are crispy and juicy. Tear off the spiny heads and suck out all the sweetness inside. Heavenly.
Nha Trang One, a Vietnamese restaurant I have been visiting for a dozen years or more, was two blocks away, just south of Canal. Like Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the large portions are affordably priced and freshly made. Take your time when you come for lunch so you can leisurely sip your iced Vietnamese coffee with milk (actually, sweetened condensed milk), the better to enjoy the thick coffee flavor coating your tongue and floating down to your stomach.

The large menu has all the dishes loved by aficionados of Vietnamese food: pho (beef and chicken), vermicelli with pork chops, lemon grass chicken and rice, spring rolls and hot pots with vegetables, beef, seafood and poultry.

Because we were on the second stop of our crawl, we limited ourselves to Vietnamese coffees and a plate of salt and pepper shrimp. The large, sweet shrimp come served on a bed of shredded lettuce, topped with sautéed sweet onions.

Our final stop was around the corner at 456 Shanghai Cuisine. Sitting in the window after the lunch-time rush, we enjoyed cups of hot tea as we shared plates of stir fired fat noodles and buns stuffed with pork.
What a great way to spend the afternoon with a friend, getting up close with one of New York's most famous neighborhoods.

Eating Well Off-the-Beaten Path
In New York you don't have to spend a lot of money to eat well. Case in point, my last two stops while I was in the city.

Nathan Foote runs Northern Spy Food Co., an intimate, casual restaurant in the East Village. Classically trained, chef Foote marries French and Italian techniques with local ingredients to create a great version of home-cooked food.
Everything he serves tastes like comfort food: house-made pates, eggs, burgers, soups, sandwiches, salads, roast meats and poultry, fresh seafood, gnocchi, polenta and desserts, including the sweet-tart Italian plum cake with almond creme anglaise.

His kale salad with cheddar, squash and almonds is a favorite of many locals. The balance of raw kale leaves with the creamy texture of the cheddar cheese and the squash gets an added lift from the crunchy almonds. If chef Foote has just broken down a whole pig he sources locally, he will have pork-a-plenty on the menu, including his tasty pork rillettes and succulent meatballs in tomato sauce.

Across town in the West Village, Snack Taverna serves up well-made Greek food in a cozy setting. A small bar and a dozen tables make the restaurant a favorite of locals stopping in for a cup of coffee, an omelette or a muffin in the morning, a quick lunch of American and Greek influenced sandwiches, soups and salads, in the evening with friends to hang out with drinks from the full bar, sharing the large portions or for a romantic dinner when the menu sticks close to home with classic Greek dishes.
For my next trip, I have a short list of a dozen restaurants I want to try out. None of them expensive. Not one kitchen is headed by a celebrity chef. I can hardly wait!