Monday, June 3, 2013

Where to eat in New York City

When Anthony Bourdain talks, people listen. When he writes, his fans turn his books into bestsellers. I am one of those fans. I've read Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, savouring the behind-the-scenes glimpses into the world of the talented former chef. During that aforementioned trip to New York with my parents, I dragged them to dinner at his acclaimed Fifth Avenue restaurant, Les Halles.

So it goes without saying that when he covered New York City in an episode of The Layover, I got out my notepad and started making a list.

Here are the Bourdain-approved spots we made it to....

1. Bemelmans Bar

Situated in the fancy-pants Carlyle Hotel, Bemelmans Bar is a dark, cosy spot to settle in for a nightcap. Just don't settle in for too long unless you have a generous expense account. A waiter took our order - pinot grigio for me and scotch for Josh - after we ordered, we realized we hadn't even looked at a menu.

"You may have just ordered an $80 scotch," I said to Josh.

Our table had small bowls of chips, pretzels and some undecipherable snack. We snacked away; in the back of my mind I was justifying my potentially pricey wine by eating every snack in sight. I also told myself the atmosphere and experience would be worth the price. The bar is gorgeous - murals by Ludwig Bemelmans adorn the walls. As the creator of the Madeline books, the illustrations will be familiar to those who grew up with the series. Instead of being paid for his work, Bemelmans exchanged his efforts for a year and a half accommodations at the Carlyle for himself and his family.

When the bill came, we were pleasantly surprised. Sure, at three times the price of what we'd pay at home, it was expensive, but when you've convinced yourself you'll be getting a $200 bill, you feel much better when it's only $40. My wine was $18 and Josh's scotch was $22.

2. Crif Dogs

At the other end of the spectrum (price-wise) was Crif Dogs. Bourdain extolled the virtues of bacon-wrapped hot dogs and Josh lapped it up. "We're going to New York and we're eating lots of hot dogs," he said...or something along those lines. So on our third night, I put on my new dress, and we checked out this famous East Village hole in the wall. I may have been over dressed.

Note the video game/table hybrids. 

My "chihuahua" dog is on the left: wrapped in bacon with avocado and sour cream. 
Josh's "garden state" dog on the right: wrapped in ham with pepperoncini, "American" cheese and mustard.

And who can refuse a side of tater tots?

Josh went back for more, ordering a "jon-jon deragon": "a schmear of cream cheese, scallions and everything bagel seeds."
Two fun facts about Crif Dogs:
  • It's owned by two guys named Brian and Chris. They came up with the name when Brian tried to say Chris' name with a hot dog in his mouth.
  • There is a bar attached to Crif Dogs that is only accessible through a vintage phone booth. It's not advertised and it's called PDT (short for "please don't tell"). You have to pick up the phone to request entry. It was at capacity when we visited, so they weren't letting more people in. 
Although this spot isn't featured in The Layover, Bourdain hangs out with David Chang in the episode. (It's Chang who brings Bourdain to Crif Dogs). Chang's restaurant, (or rather, one of his many restaurants) Momofuku Ko, was beyond our budget at $175 per person for lunch and $125 per person for dinner; so instead, we schlepped to his bakery just a few blocks from Crif Dogs, where we chowed down on some delightful cereal-milk ice cream. Yes, it is what you're thinking. This is soft serve that tastes just like the milk left in your bowl after eating your Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs. Amazing.
I also grabbed a compost cookie to go - a recipe my friend Sylvia has mastered (I was the happy recipient of a lot of her fabulous baking during my time in Ottawa). She has her own twist on the compost cookie which you can find here.

4. Eataly

This Mario Batali owned food hall/Italian market hybrid was a highlight of our trip. Located near the Flatiron building, this spot was packed with plenty of people, pasta and Parmesan. There are food counters to order up a sandwich (Josh ordered a meatball sub), sit down restaurants, and standing-room-only spots to order up a board of charcuterie (my pick).

I was in heaven. Their charcuterie boards would make a vegetarian reconsider. The cheese was melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. I devoured some of the salami before realizing I should take a photo, so I covered up the hole with my bread...I just couldn't wait.

Josh very satisfied post meatball sandwich.


I would LOVE to have access to a market like this here in Saskatoon.

As you can see, it's a busy spot. We went in at noon, but decided to wait it out by going shopping for an hour and going back at 1 p.m. It didn't make a difference. At Marimekko next door, the sales person said that it's always busy no matter what time of day. So just grin and bear it - the prosciutto is worth it!

Here are a few other great restaurants we liked that didn't come with Bourdain's seal of approval:

44 & X

This was located on the corner of 44th Street and Tenth Avenue - hence the name. They had a big outdoor patio, great atmosphere and a lot of fresh seafood.


Kashkaval is a cosy little wine and cheese market with a small Mediterranean restaurant at the back. We shared a plate of tapas before heading over to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre to see The Book of Mormon. Both Kashkaval and 44 & X are located in Hell's Kitchen - making them convenient locations for pre-Broadway-show dinner.

The Standard Grill

I've blogged about this place before as it's famous for its penny-tiled floor. With 250 pennies per square foot, there are 480,000 pennies in total (it's a big restaurant). At $2.50 per square foot, it is actually cheaper to tile your floor with money than to tile with glass, ceramics and other non-monetary objects commonly used to cover floors.

We went here for breakfast with four friends and everyone was happy with their meals. The eggs benny and brioche French toast were worth getting out of bed early for. Located in the Standard Hotel within steps of the south entrance of The High Line, it's a great place to fuel up before checking out the raised, mile-long park.

Bistro Chat Noir

Before our trip, I was madly Googling travel apps. The New York Times recommended one called Mosey which bills itself as "a library of custom curated experiences." Basically, people who know a city well (usually residents or former residents) create a short list of must-sees they'd recommend if you only had a few days to spend in that particular city - kind of like the app version of The Layover, but it's not just for food, it's also for experiences. One contributor recommended both The High Line and The Standard Grill. I already knew about both, and had planned to check out The High Line, so I figured I already had a bit in common with this person. So when they recommended Bistro Chat Noir in the Upper East Side, I figured it was worth a shot.

The food was great and the place was packed with well-dressed New Yorkers. Surrounded by people in dresses, suits and pearls, I felt a little under dressed, but still welcome. After dinner, we took a stroll along Madison Avenue - a great spot for window shopping. 

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