Sunday, January 30, 2011

3 at Bats, 3 Home Runs -In the Big Apple

I love the city. I love everything about it. From the people to the museums to the endless miles of concrete, I adore it. Interestingly enough, I’ve never lived in the heart of a major city before. I’ve always lived in the “burbs”, and while this is a much more conducive place to raise a family, there will always be a part of me that wishes I’d had a little apartment at some point right smack in the center of things. This is in sharp contrast to the views of many of my friends who enjoy the wide open spaces and huge distances between homes. First of all, if you’re going to live in the country you need to be somewhat handy. At least everyone I know that lives in a rural setting is. I can’t fix anything. I can barely hang a picture straight. I do own a toolbox. In it are the various requisites I’ve collected over the years but every time I open the lid, Lisa is immediately concerned. And while it has cost me a bit more money over the years than most, I happily pick up the phone for even some of the simpler house projects. Fueling my urban passions are the great cities I’ve visited over the years. On the streets of Hong Kong I thought to myself, “I could live here”. But I also thought that in Miami, San Francisco, London and Washington DC. While every city holds its own unique identity, there is a palpable bond that is common amongst them and I guess that’s the draw for me. Oh yeah… then there’s the food.

I recently arrived in Manhattan on business and aside from the work tasks at hand, all I could think about was where we were going to dine. New York is sensory overload for foodies. It is what Rome is to Catholics, Las Vegas is to gamblers and Amsterdam is to party goers. A simple slice of pizza for lunch is better than any pizza you’ve ever tasted. A quick stop in a coffee shop for a bagel is spiritual. Yet for New Yorkers, it’s just another day. Well I was not about to take one single morsel for granted. My first choice for dinner was born as much out of convenience as it was out of culinary adventure. Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that this has been a pretty brutal winter for New York City and this week was no different. A foot of snow arrived during my visit but that was no deterrent for me. The good news is that New York has great food on every block so I knew I didn’t need to travel far. A quick conversation with the front desk at the hotel and I knew The Bridge Café was a must.

A few steps from my front door and just beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, this is the oldest continuous drinking establishment in NYC. The doors opened in 1794 in the previously dicey Seaport district. Credited with once being a brothel as well as a saloon, the early clientele had more sinister motives; but today this landmark is charming, cozy and above all else, warm. In the bustle that is Manhattan, this small room almost seems out of place. Only about twice the size of an average living room and décor preserved from a hundred years ago, The Bridge Café is in contrast to the modern dining experience one thinks of when thinking of New York City. To me it was more reminiscent of the seaside village cafés of the New England coastline. On the lower east side, there was something quaint. My appetizer was mussels in a ridiculously delicious spicy tomato and andouille sausage broth. This just begged to be sopped up with the warm house made bread that was served. Next came a perfect medium rare hanger steak. There were no frills to this; just a well made cut that I adored. A great first-night-in-the-city meal was in the books and there was more to come.

On the second night, we hit Katz’s Deli. If you told me you had one hour in Manhattan and needed to get something to eat, I’d suggest one of the Jewish Deli’s in the city. There are at least 5 famous ones that I can think of off the top of my head and Katz’s is my personal favorite. They take making corned beef and pastrami very seriously in these places and it pays off. Although table service is available, part of the quintessential deli experience is stepping up to the counter and watching you sandwich be made. Large slabs of beef are hand carved with a knife and portioned onto rye bread with spicy mustard. There is other delectable fare to be had as well. Famous for their salami and with the smell of the sausages on the grill, there are plenty of choices but for me the pastrami is the only way to go. I must offer word of caution. If you like pastrami and try this, you may never be able to eat pastrami outside of New York again.

This gigantic mass of juicy meat between 2 slices of bread is so perfect, so delicious that it’s sinful. I could have lunch at this deli every day for the rest of my life and be amazingly content.

I reserved the last night for the classic New York experience, dinner and a Broadway show. With close to twenty thousand restaurants to choose from in the city, I went back to my tried and true website,, to narrow the options. Once again I was not let down. From their top-ten list in the “Talk of the town” section, I made reservations at the up-and-comer, Osteria Morini. There are no less than 7 restaurants that Chef Michael White has his thumbprint on in and around New York. This latest venture in SoHo is remarkable. White pays homage to the style of the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.

In a setting of imported block tables and wooden beams imported from an Italian farmhouse, White’s attention to detail is second only to his food. Cured meats and cheese appetizers are served on sturdy butcher blocks. House made pasta is silky and flawlessly cloaked in various sauces, butters and broths. Ravioli filled with truffled Mascarpone in brown butter with ribbons of Prosciutto is simple, elegant, decedent and genius. We started with 2 appetizers. First was 2 Prosciuttos. The traditional Prosciutto de Parma that is prized and coveted as one of the best meats to ever come out of Italy was served on one side of the wooden block. On the other side was Lardo, or white Prosciutto (yes just the fat). Set atop toasted rounds of bread, both were equally as delicious but the lardo in particular was like eating a surprisingly light pillow of butter with a hint of salty pork flavor. It was mesmerizing. Also we sampled grilled sardines over white beans with olive oil. I’ve had this dish before but this was on another level. These bear no resemblance to the salty pizza topping we’re familiar with. These fish are rich, briny and especially tasty. Next I chose small hand shaped tortellini of pork and beef in a duck liver cream sauce for my entrée.

Served on a small, elegantly painted farmhouse plate, the fresh pasta and smooth cream sauce were in harmony. I loved this dish for its unique, sophisticated essence. Finally desert. Zabaglione with cappuccino and a scoop of vanilla gelato again did not disappoint. This restaurant hit the mark on so many levels, it is almost indescribable. After sampling all of the aforementioned delectibles, one might be left with a feeling of over indulgence. Nothing could be further from the truth in this case. These portions are not “Americanized”. Smaller plates allow for more tasting options and always leave you wanting a bit more. That’s a much better feeling than gorging on a huge plate of pasta and needing to undo the top button of your pants to sit and enjoy the show. Noteworthy was that every pasta creation was under $20 and appetizers were less than $15. Not bad for New York.

Three delicious meals in the Big Apple down and I was ready to get back home. Wicked, the show we saw was also terrific and I have since bought tickets to take the family when it comes to Orlando in March. The best thing about New York is that my meals there are reproducible at restaurants all over the city. A bad restaurant in Gotham will not stand long. Whether you use word-of-mouth or the internet you will find food that suits you. The only error you can make is to never go there.

1 comment:

John Verville said...

Excellent writeup, Louis! Thanks for sharing.