It was famously said that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. I would argue that the same could be said for New York. Obviously you have the delight that you recognise practically every street in the city from a film that you’ve seen, coupled with the sheer thrill of seeing globally recognisable landmarks such as the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, etc. etc. However, as a foodie I was clearly keen to seek out some of the city’s famed culinary scene. Food and drink in New York is simply a delight – street food, fast food, fine dining can all be found. There are craft brewers and wine makers too. Here are some of my highlights:
Once you have a New York sandwich, it is difficult to look at the humble British butty in the same way again. We visited two of the most famous delis in New York to sample their world-famous sandwiches:
Katz’s Deli (Lower East Side)
This deli was made famous in the Second World War when they launched a campaign for Americans to send their boys a salami to boost their spirits. The deli then became a global institution when it was the scene for the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally. Nowadays it is somewhat of a tourist trap and consequently is bustling with energy around lunchtime. The men that work behind the bar making the sandwiches shout and banter with each other and the customers, which creates a tremendously fun atmosphere. We got one pastrami and one corned beef sandwich and they were fantastic. The meat was freshly cooked and carved in-front of you and then piled high. When we compared the two sandwiches we preferred the pastrami over the corned beef, I think the main reason being the nice peppery crust that went with it. I had a pint of Anchor Steam Beer to wash my sandwich down. Lovely stuff.
Carnegie Deli (Mid-Town West)
Another legendary deli, with another legendary sandwich. This time we only wanted to have one sandwich as I had been told that this one was even bigger than the sandwich from Katz’s, so we plumped for the pastrami sandwich. We also decided to have this sandwich ‘to-go’ as Central Park is only a couple of blocks away and it was very nice to take this behemoth of a sandwich into the park to eat. As you will see from the photo below, eating this beast is a considerable challenge – but one that is well worth doing. I think that as a man with a not-inconsiderable appetite, I could just about finish one of these sandwiches on my own, however it would be a push. Given that we were going out for a fancy dinner that night, I’m glad that we opted to share a sandwich!!
We visited two contrasting, but both fantastic restaurants whilst we were in New York and I would heartily recommend them both:
Hell’s Kitchen (Hell’s Kitchen)
This is a dark and unassuming restaurant in the trendy and exciting Hell’s Kitchen area, which focuses on progressive Mexican cooking. We arrived and as we had to wait for a little while for our table had a couple of their wonderful frozen margaritas – which were far too delicious and far too easy to drink.
For start we shared a couple of starters: homemade Guacamole with Crispy Homemade Guajillio Corn Tortillase and some seared scallops with passion fruit and tamarind sauce. These two dishes were a very nice contrast of dishes – the tortillas were fresh and crispy and the guacamole was rich and creamy; whilst the scallop dish was a little more refined, with a great combination of flavours.
After this we had our mains, my wife has a delicious sirloin steak with a rich, deep, intense mole sauce and some fries. I had the Chilean Sea Bass with sweet plantain puree and Salsa Verde. If you’ve never had a mole sauce before, you absolutely must. These sauces are typically a combination of many different spices carefully melded together and this was the best example of this delicious sauce that I have had since I was in Oaxaca in Mexico itself. The sea-bass was also wonderful, beautifully cooked and combined with some delicious flavours. To compliment this dish I had a glass of 2010 Riesling Clean Slate from Mosel Saar Ruwer, which was deliciously acidic and fruity and complimented the Sea Bass perfectly.
We really enjoyed ourselves at this restaurant and I don’t think I would be overstating things if I said that this was the best Mexican food I’d had outside of Mexico.
Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel (Upper West Side)
Having done a bit of research on starred restaurants in New York I must say that a number had very poor websites and others were completely booked up for the time we were visiting. Fortunately I found a jewel of a restaurant in my research, Gordon Ramsay’s two-star restaurant at the London Hotel on the Upper West Side – and I’m glad that we did find it, as it was an absolutely stunning meal.
We started the meal with a glass each of NV Grüner Veltliner Sekt from Steinninger, Kamptal, Austria – which was a delicious apperetif, sharp flavours of green apples and plenty of minerality. Shortly afterwards we had an amuse-bouche of a cauliflower soup in a shot glass and then a Potato Blini with caviar as a pre-starter. This was then followed up with a sorbet to cleanse the palette before starters arrived.
For starters I had a Sautéed Diver Scallops served with bacon puree, braised leeks, glazed pearl onions and brown butter powder. The scallops were absolutely fabulously cooked, caramelised around the edges where they had been pan-fried, but they were not over-cooked so that they still tasted fresh and juicy.
My wife had the Hudson Valley Foie Gras served with white peach, cucumber, Marcona almonds and toasted brioche. You’ll be able to see from the picture that the portion of Foie Gras served was anything but small! This was deliciously creamy and fatty and was complimented nicely with the other ingredients.
With the starters we had a half-bottle of Merry Edwards’ 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley, which was a perfect match particularly for the rich and fatty Foie Gras. This was not at all like a New Zealand and was more akin to a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc – it had ripe yellow fruits on the taste and a long, minerally finish.
For the main courses, my wife had the Braised Halibut served with crispy wild rice, mushroom fricassee, parsley and a smoked chicken jus. Once more you will see from the photograph below that the portion size was exceedingly generous; notwithstanding this, the fish was cooked perfectly and the rich jus was a perfect accompaniment.
For my main course, I had the Roasted Colorado Lamb served with smoked eggplant (or aubergine to us Brits), turnip confit, deliciously smoked lamb bacon and a Pomme Maxim. This was the kind of dish that I was after from a fine dining experience – opulent, refined, packed with flavours that complimented each other perfectly. The lamb was pleasantly pink and wonderfully tender. I had a nice glass of Bordeaux to accompany this dish, but I must admit to having failed to note down what it was!
For our pudding(s) we had a delicious Guava and Crème Freche Roulade with Eucalyptus Yoghurt Sorbet to start. This was followed by an extraordinary raspberry and lavender soufflé, which was risen to perfection. To accompany this I had a glass of the 2007 Dolce Vineyards, Late Harvest from Napa Valley, which was a perfect example of delicate, sweet wine matching perfectly with the creamy and fruity pudding.
After all of this, and with great theatre, we were presented with a fondant trolley consisting of at least three levels of delicious looking fondants. We were offered a selection to have as a post-pudding reward and to our great delight a further selection was presented to us to take home as a memento.
This was a wonderful meal, set in a beautiful room and with exceptionally good staff. The sommelier and waiters were all extremely knowledgeable and made us feel very welcome. A great experience and one that I would recommend to anyone looking for a special meal in New York.
I wasn’t going to come to somewhere like New York without looking to sample some of the State and the country’s wonderful wines, so I was pleased to make my way to Brooklyn Winery on the Sunday afternoon of the New York marathon. The shop is set in the wonderful district of Williamsburg, which has a high street awash with delis and independent shops. Unfortunately we couldn’t make a tour of their winery, but we did do a wine tasting of their wines.
I did a flight featuring their New York wines which are produced from vines “up state” in the Finger Lakes area. This was a really interesting selection of wines and was a great opportunity to taste wine from an area not known (currently) for its wine production. I tasted the following wines: their 2012 Stainless Steel Chardonnay, which was a very pleasant mineralic Chardonnay, fresh and fruity. The next wine was their 2012 Barrel Fermented Riesling, which I’ll be honest I didn’t get on with. The barrel fermentation gave it a very herbal quality, more like a Gewürztraminer. I gave my feedback on this to the barman and he replaced it with their 2012 Stainless Steel aged Riesling, which I was a lot more comfortable with – bags of acidity and minerality with tropical fruit flavours; a very pleasing wine. We then moved on to their reds. First up was their 2011 Cabernet Franc, it’s relatively unusual to have a 100% Cab Franc and I thought this was a decent if uninspiring wine. We then moved onto their 2011 North Fork Blend, which was a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc; this was a nice wine with lots of black fruits on the palate. Overall, these wines showed some promise – I think their Riesling and Chardonnay showed promise, but their reds lacked a touch of complexity.
My wife, decided to try their Californian wines. They have a small parcel of land in the Russian River area of Sonoma County. From here they bring the grapes up to the winery in New York and produce small batch productions of boutique wines. Given the area that they bring these grapes from it will come as no surprise that they quality was considerably superior in these wines. They started the flight with their 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir, which was a joy, balanced, elegant, fruity (cherry), with a long and pleasant finish. This was followed by their 2011 Syrah from Mendocino, California. Unlike French or Spanish Syrah’s this wasn’t full of earthy, spicy, heavy flavours and was instead relatively light. The last wine in this flight was their 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California. This was a big, fruity and complex wine, with hints of spice and oak – a real blockbuster. As you can probably tell from the above descriptions, we were very impressed with these wines – I favoured the Pinot Noir and my wife favoured the Zinfandel, so we bought a bottle of each to take home. As these are small-batch, boutique productions it is nice to know that it is unlikely that many people will have had a chance to try these wonderful wines. My only problem is that I’d love to see these wines age, but I think I won’t have the patience to wait!
As I expected, I found there to be plenty of wonderful eating and drinking opportunities in New York. The only trouble is these represented a small percentage of what there is to experience in New York.
We’ll have to go back again, I fear.