What I Ate In New York

I spent the whole of last week in New York for work, and apart from the fact that I basically worked a string of thirteen-hour days---starting at 8am East Coast time and ending at 6pm West Coast time, very clever how they tricked me into that---it was a lovely time, during which I only lost the feeling in my lower extremities once. Yes, it was cold in New York, the sort of cold I haven't felt in ages. In fact, I had to pop in to H&M one evening and buy an Emergency Scarf, and what I didn't realize until later was that this scarf, paired with my big white fluffy wool hat with the pompom on top, made me look a little like an extra from Where's Waldo.


 

Or, as it was called in the UK when I was little, Where's Wally. I would pay good money to find out why Wally was Wally in England and Waldo in America, and I expect there would be an ebay seller willing to tell me. Something to do with Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps? Did he have a penchant for red and white stripes?

Anyway, I tell you one thing: the $25 I paid to check my bag so I could fly my wellington boots across the country was some of the best money I've ever spent. Those wellington boots got the most wear in New York that they've had in the entire year I've owned them. I was jumping in slushy puddles on purpose by the end of it, just because I could.

Apart from working a lot, the other thing I did in New York was eat. Telling people that you're going to New York is always fraught with anxiety because everyone knows the best place for dim sum/mac and cheese/hot chocolate, and everyone wants to tell you about it, and before you know it, you've got four hundred brunch suggestions typed haphazardly into your iPhone, and you're plotting out strategies---NO-ONE SLEEP! WE'RE NOT SLEEPING! WE'LL TAKE SHIFTS!---to ensure that you get to all of them.

So this time, I didn't do that. I didn't solicit suggestions from anyone. When I was hungry, I left my hotel room or the office and I let Yelp be my guide. I met up with friends on two nights and I just showed up where they told me to be. With the exception of a horrible Pret a Manger baguette---why is Pret a Manger so nice in England and so Gas Station Sandwich over here?---I didn't eat a bad thing the entire time I was in New York. In fact, I ate an extraordinary amount of truly delicious things. Here's where:

Times Square Hot Bagels: Look, I know midtown is not exactly a hotbed of culinary activity. I know I could have done better on the bagel front if I'd wanted to walk more than a block from my hotel, but the truth is it was twenty-six degrees out at 7am and I didn't want to walk more than a block from my hotel for a bagel and a cup of coffee, and this place hit the mark. I went in there four days in a row and had a different bagel and cream cheese combination every single time. By the time I left on Friday, I was a regular. They knew my name when I walked in the door. Well, not my name, maybe. My coffee order, definitely.

Columbine Foods: Rather unfortunate name, rather incredible sandwich. I'm still thinking about this sandwich, actually, because it was....intriguing. I had the Malibu Veg, which was sharp cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo, and large pea sprouts on a thick, dense, chewy multigrain bread: a hippie sandwich if ever there were one, and not really something I'd normally order, but I was in the neighborhood after a meeting and needed a quick bite to eat. Yelp led me here and Yelp also told me to order a Cowboy Cookie. Yelp was not wrong. Yelp is never wrong about cookies.

The Upholstery Store: I would like to pretend I found this teeny-tiny little wine bar by myself while wandering around the West Village pretending to be glamorous, but the truth is that Deb chose it, because food bloggers always choose the best little dimly-lit wine bars at which to meet you for drinks. Food bloggers, as it turns out, also bring you fresh-baked challah bread in a little Ziploc bag because it was "just something [they] were experimenting with for the cookbook."  Tucked into a corner table at The Upholstery Store, Deb, Metalia, and I drank crisp Austrian Gruner and snacked on pickled vegetables, meaty olives, and creamy cheeses served by a waiter who, I kid you not, believed that he was Justin Timberlake. He looked like him, spoke like him, and even dressed like him. It was quite a commitment, I have to say. If you don't go for the Gruner, at least go for him.

Park Italian Gourmet: Look, if I say this was one of the best sandwiches of my life, it starts to sound like hyperbole. But you try putting fresh mozzarella, fresh prosciutto, roasted red peppers, and balsamic vinegar on crunchy-chewy italian bread, then telling me otherwise. This place was no-frills and no-nonsense and I'm pretty sure they didn't give me back the right change, but the minute I bit into that sandwich, I didn't care.

Jacques Torres: I have no excuse, your honor, it was right across the street from my office. I ordered the Wicked Hot Chocolate and a chocolate chip cookie, gooey and warm from the oven. I do not wish to speculate on how quickly I consumed these two things. I also do not wish to speculate what they did to my ass.

Shake Shack: Speaking of asses, and of ruining one's own, I would like to confirm that the hype about Shake Shack is true. Trust me, I did not want to believe that the hype about Shake Shack was true: I am an In-N-Out girl through-and-through. But I had to try it, and try it I did, and I believe I am now fully converted.  You will, at some point, ask yourself who drinks a milkshake on the frozen East coast in the middle of February, but you will answer quite calmly that this person is you.

Little Branch: I met Zan, Alice, and Sarah for drinks at Little Branch one evening, and I knew I would like it as soon as I heard I should look for the unmarked door. It's the kind of place where you could scan the menu for a drink or you could just tell the bartender that you like rye whiskey, the color periwinkle, and the smell of autumn leaves on your uncle's farm in Maine, and he'd come back with a perfectly personalized cocktail just for you. They have darkly-lit booths, the sort of jazz that isn't the douchey kind, and free bowls of nuts and hard pretzels. They also have some rules:

One If By Land: This is apparently "the most romantic restaurant in New York," which meant Sarah and I drew a few stares as we dined a deux---I think we were the only two people not being proposed to over candlelight that night---but it was so pretty and so atmospheric and the service was so lovely and gracious. Right after we'd ordered, they moved us downstairs to a better table, and we both had a small panic about whether we should bring our bread or leave it there. "What would rich people do with their bread?" I hissed to Sarah. "What would Oprah do?" We agreed that Oprah would leave the bread. We left our bread and they brought us new bread---whew!---and we spent the rest of the meal trying not to use the wrong fork.

Anyway, so that was my culinary tour of New York in five days; I'd love to hear any of your own favorite spots. In the meantime, anyone know any restaurants that only serve acai berries and dust? I think I need to detox.

1
Joanna
Feb 07, 2011

Awesome, I plan a first ever trip to NY from France very soon, and all your culinary tips are duly noted :)

2
Raven
Feb 07, 2011

I ate at some very fabulous places when I was in New York last year, unfortunately, I have no idea what any of them are called. When I go back, hopefully my travel buddy knows or I will be wandering around the city haphazardly hoping something looks familiar.

LOVE the rules of that bar. :)

3
Kristen
Feb 07, 2011

My favorite, favorite place is a Mexican restaurant called Suenos, located in Chelsea. It was so delicious, and the mirror in the bathroom was AWESOME. Which, I know doesn't exactly mean the restaurant is a keeper, but it ADDS to it, you know?

(Ask Metalia -- she went with me!)

4
Maryhope
Feb 07, 2011

Oh how I miss New York, especially for the food!

Best coffee/croissant/tartine: Balthazar (incredibly they also serve egg and soldiers--the only place I know that does in the city).

Best non-pizza pizza (can we say celery root? zuchinni? amazing!): Daisy Bakery (formerly Sullivan St Bakery)

Best small intimate, family run, always delicious restaurant: Al Di La in Park Slope or August in the West Village.

Best fancy dinner w good wine list: Gramercy Tavern

Best fast easy accessible noodles: Republic in Union Sq

Best cheap sushi: Kiku in Park Slope

Best expensive sushi: Blue Ribbon, any location

Best book store (yes, I know books aren't food, but the best bookstore is a must stop in any city in my opinion): Three Lives in the W Village.

Oh, I could go on forever! So jealous!

Ok, now you: headed to London for a honeymoon in 2 weeks. Where to eat! Where to eat!

5
jennifer
Feb 07, 2011

hi Holly, great list! I'm an old reader (have hit you up for amazing SE Asia recos before) and am so glad you had a good time in NYC. I live in W Village and LOVE little branch... it's somehow hipster chic without making you want to barf, right? I also find it hilarious that you went to one if by land b/c I've always been curious about it but everyone has always told me that you can only eat there if you're planning on getting engaged. :)

next time you come pls give a shout and we will happily ply you with way too many recommendations!

also - I'm doing a Feb detox myself (perhaps a product of living in W Village and recognizing most of the places you listed here?!)... take a look at GOOP's detox posts (I know, I know) for some possible inspiration.

6
Heather B.
Feb 07, 2011

Next time you need someone to eat with you in NY call me! Then again your dining companions for the week were certainly a lot more entertaining than I but dude, I can eat.

7
Sarah Brown
Feb 07, 2011

Even Oprah would have panicked for a minute on leaving that pretzel bread untouched.

8
Marguerite
Feb 07, 2011

I am green with envy! Particularly of the bagel consumption (of course).

9
Anna
Feb 07, 2011

I am trying to convince my husband we need to go back to Prune every time we go to NY. He is not sold, but dang that place is good.

10
Celest
Feb 07, 2011

Great tip! I fear I would have taken the bread but now I'll just remember W.W.O.D. I wonder how it would go down at IHOP?..

11
Lisa
Feb 07, 2011

Beacon is my favorite fancy restaurant in NYC, we go on birthdays/anniversaries. I'm going for Valentine's Day next week :-) Nobu is hands down the best meal I've ever eaten in my life, but I've only been once because that dinner cost more than our car payment.

12
agirlandaboy
Feb 07, 2011

My most memorable meals in New York have always been at the Sbarro in Times Square, so I'm not here to answer your question but to tell you that you have a bright career in the Fewer than 100 Words Restaurant Review genre.

13
Laney
Feb 08, 2011

It looks like you hit all the places us New Yorkers would've told you to go anyway.

Also, I sustained myself on that Malibu sandwich from Columbine for MONTHS while casting a reality show, as our offices were nearby. Whenever I see that particular reality show on TV now, I get a craving for it.

14
Drew
Feb 08, 2011

Wally? Waldo? His name is Holger as in "Find Holger". Wonder what they called him in France, Finland, Hungary?

15
Marcheline
Feb 08, 2011

If you like "soul food" - try Virgil's. There's always a wait, but there's a reason for that. We're talking fall-off-the-bone ribs, cheesy grits, hush puppies, the works! Right in Times Square.

152 West 44th Street, NYC

http://www.virgilsbbq.com/

16
Delaney
Feb 08, 2011

Damn! Jealous of the Deb cameo. She's one of my big-time internet girl crushes! Well, her browned-butter rice crispy treats at least.

17
Alex A.
Feb 08, 2011

No way! I go to Columbine for lunch basically every day. People always give me a weird look about the name (seriously what's up with that?), but usually change their mind once they try the daily soup specials. And I went through a major Malibu phase myself last summer, good choice.

I am a huge fan of your blog but this is my first comment... If I had recognized you waiting in line at my everyday lunch spot I would have been so excited! But then also concerned that I am a creepy internet stalker for recognizing you even though we've never met. So maybe it was best that didn't happen.

Do you ever get recognized by readers you don't actually know while out and about in the "real world"?

18
Martin @ nanny cameras
Feb 10, 2011

Your scarf is beautiful...it's a big opportunity to
visit New york. I feel jealous you visited popular
dine places.... nice post!

19
SuzRocks
Feb 10, 2011

I think you pull off the 'where's waldo' look better than any I've seen.

I probably would've put the bread in my purse. For later.

20
Ebee
Feb 11, 2011

I'm def heading to Little Branch next time I'm in NY.

Maryhope -

Here are a couple of my suggestions for you when you come to London:

Steak – Hawksmoor. Expensive but best steak I have ever had and lovely staff. Two locations, Covent Garden and Shoreditch (near to the Spitalfields market - good destination at the weekend). You will need to book

Mediteranean - Ottolenghi, Upper St, not cheap but inventive, fresh food and the 'in' place to be!

Dim Sum – Chuen Chuen Ku in Chinatown

Chinese – Four Seasons in Chinatown – amazing duck

Afternoon tea – Beas of Bloomsbury is my tip. £12 for afternoon tea. Near the British Museum or their other location at St Paul’s. You will need to book at the weekend.

Bagel’s- Brick Lane Beigel Bake is cheap, has been around for ages and is open 24 hours– go on a Sunday and Brick Lane is hectic but lots of fun. I love the Sunday Up Market which sells clothes etc but also has lots of food stalls – the Ethiopian food stall is my favourite there

Vegetarian – Mildred’s, Lexington Street, Soho- delicious and inexpensive vegetarian good.

Japanese – Koya – Soho – cheap, canteen ish decor delicious food

21
Andrea
Feb 11, 2011

Awesome - perfect timing, Holly! Leaving for NYC tomorrow and was looking around for recommendations, not just generic "top 10" lists. Am realizing though that the only things on my list of things to do are ... restaurants. Not a bad thing.

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