There were still piles of snow on the ground when we landed in New York a week or so ago. Then, just like that, the sun came out. After one of the coldest winters in decades, the hardy were out in their T-shirts at this first hint of spring – but we stayed rugged up in full winter woolly mode.
It’s always such a buzz being in New York. After living there for seven months in the 1980s and then going back for a month each year for the following decade, I feel like I kind of know my way around, but the dive I used to live in on Dean St in Brooklyn is now totally gentrified and, along with the Bowery and Meatpackers districts (other no-go zones of that era), has become super trendy.
We stayed down in Noho off the Bowery in the newly built Cooper Square hotel – a hop, skip and jump from the East Village and great eating spots like Lukes Lobster on East 7th and 1st Ave for the best lobster rolls in town, and just across the road on 7th Ave, Porchetta for the best pork rolls. A few blocks over is David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar. His newer uptown restaurant Ma Peche is one of my favourite hideaways in midtown with a brilliant menu. If burgers and takeout are more your thing, check out one of Shake Shack’s three city locations.
The Union Square Market is at the heart of the greening of New York city – you can even drop off your food scraps at the community compost. This market is the chief source of inspiration for Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest restaurant ABC on the south side of the ABC store at 35 East 18th St (between Broadway and Park Ave). ABC is a wonderfully inviting space and the menu celebrates the freshest organic and local ingredients, with herbs and micro-greens sourced from the restaurant's own rooftop garden. Mismatched china, antique silverware and simple white lacquered tables are part of the salvaged, reclaimed and recycled ethos, and all cleaning products are organic. This is the new hip green cooking – whole-wheat pizzas have a light crisp crust and come with interesting toppings like ricotta, dates, radicchio and rocket. It may sound odd but it was sensational! The roasted carrot salad with avocado, crunchy seeds and sour cream was also great, with the carrots tossed in a Moroccan spice mix before roasting.
Jean-Georges now presides over eight eating establishments in New York with a dazzling attention to detail. It’s worth checking out his website for special deals. His signature restaurant Jean-Georges can be found at 1 Central Park West, and just off to the side is the much more affordable Nougatine, where the food comes from the same kitchen and the service and food are still totally high end.
Nougatine offers the best lunch deal in the city – a stellar three-course lunch for just $28! For starters we went for the tuna tartare with spicy radish and ginger marinade, and the warm beet salad with rich yoghurt, field mache and lemon oil. The latter was such a simple dish and yet so perfect, with the crunch of roasted hazelnut the perfect juxtaposition to the creamy yoghurt, tender greens and sweet beets.
The highlight of the mains was the slow-cooked cod with aromatic black beans, avocado, ginger and truffle juice. It might sound overly complex but it had just the perfect balance of flavours. For dessert we chose Jean-Georges’ molten chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream, and a silky panacotta – quite possibly the ultimate “died and gone to heaven” dessert I have ever eaten, with that perfect wobble, lightly candied kumquat shells, citrus and pistachios – I couldn’t resist a tiny taste out of the side before it had its picture taken!
If you are into art, great food and a wonderful bar, check out the Gramercy Park Hotel. The Rose Bar on the ground floor is a great place to meet for drinks and do some people-watching. The terrace on the top floor is like the greenhouse at the botanic gardens – it has that same lush heavy tropical scent, and inside is original art by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. I had breakfast (fab baked eggs in tomato sauce) and dinner (octopus salad) at the Gramercy Park Hotel's new Roman trattoria style restaurant, Maialino.
If I’m looking happy here it’s because I’m having lunch at Eataly at 200 5th Ave. It may look unprepossessing from the street but once you’re inside you could happily get lost for days – the place is a whole block deep and you need signposts inside to help you find your way around. Along with retailing all things Italian in the way of food, this incredible space offers five sit-down eateries and five take-out stations including the take-out rotisserie. The food is excellent, but the only bug is that you only get the menu in that particular space, so the verdura section is just vegetables, and the pasta and pizza section is just and only that. If you want coffee or dessert you have to move somewhere else – a clever tactic that has you succumbing to a special little cake at the stand-up espresso bar.
At Eataly’s seafood restaurant Il Pesce the fish soup was a little disappointing and thin, but the fresh clams with a little crumb crust were so sweet and tasty. At the pizza and pasta section La Pizza & Pasta I had the best winter salad ever – a raw salad of finely shredded fennel, celeriac, cauliflower and nashi pear – then a great vegetarian idea combining cubes of roasted pumpkin and pumpkin mash flavoured with nutmeg in a light and moist lasagna.
And yes, you can get good coffee in New York – check out the digi-hangout Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Ace Hotel on West 29 St. They are very serious about their brewing and ALMOST as good as Altezano in Newmarket, Auckland. The Grey Dog in the Village is also good.
I could go on, as there are so many great places to eat in New York! Here are a few links if you want to know more: