With 12 nights in NYC, there were plenty of opportunities to visit the celebrated restaurants of venerated chefs, doing a significant amount of damage to the credit card along the way.
I decided however, to go a different route. The East Village is jam packed with restaurants, cafes, markets and delis offering a huge range and styles of cuisine. Directly opposite our apartment alone, on a small side street there was an Indian, Ethiopian, vegetarian Vietnamese and coffee shop. On the walk to the subway we passed by pubs, Kosher bakeries, a cheese shop, a Polish grocer, Japanese Izakaya and any number of Mexican and South American venues. It seemed silly to commute all over the city just to stand outside a restauarant in a queue, in the cold for hours when there was a feast on our doorstep.
So, I eschewed Dominique Ansell’s Cronut (pricey and two years on you still need to queue), Katz’s famed Reuben (over priced and far too much meat), the Momofukus in their many guises (several of which were only a block or so away) and the ridiculously inflated tasting menu at Nobu. With the exception of Sylvia’s in Harlem, when we weren’t snacking on Papaya King or pretzels from the street carts, we ate all of our main meals in the East Village within walking distance of our apartment. Here’s a sampler…
Ugly Kitchen – stupid name, stupidly good food
Why did I have to come halfway across the world to try Filipino food? Surely there’s a big enough community in Brisbane for there to be a couple of Pinoy restaurants, yet I haven’t encountered one. We dropped into Ugly Kitchen on a Tuesday evening when the happy hour runs all night with any cocktail on the menu for $6. Perfect! We went with a couple of pork buns, grilled chicken in a spicy sauce (sadly the adobo short rib had sold out) and lechon kawali fried pork with laing or, dried taro leaves in coconut cream. God bless the Filipinos for their love of pork! The simmered taro leaves were tender, creamy and delicately spiced with ginger, reminding me of a green curry. The lechon kawali had been cooked and finished to perfection on a smoky grill with nice little chewy, garlicky edges on the melting pork.
The buns were particularly good with the spicy shredded filling and perfect with the Asian styled cocktails such as my Calamansi Martini. Everything you need after you’ve navigated your way from the airport during peak hour. There was a great vibe with the largely expat crowd enjoying the fun retro soundtrack and free pour (no measure) drinks. Service was excellent – friendly, helpful and easy-going.
1 entrée, 2 mains, 4 drinks + tax and tip for around $90 ( + 2 free shots for my Yelp! check in)
103 1st Ave
New York NY 10003
Local 92 – hummus bars are a ‘thing’ in NYC
Yes, hummus bars are a thing. Local 92 caught my eye as we walked home from the West Village Halloween Parade. A casual little diner with a focus on Israeli food, specialising in hummus. This was a chance for us to enjoy a smaller meal of a few tasting plates plus plate of hummus. Eggplant fries were golden discs of eggplant coated in panko crumbs and shallow fried. So simple but worth ordering time and again. The felafel sampler of six tiny white and green felafel balls wasn’t a fave. I found the felafel slightly bitter and was surprised that a restaurant that works with chickpeas wouldn’t have better felafel. But there you have it. I was glad we had only ordered the sampler. The creamy labne was a standout. With warmed pita sprinkled with herbs, we couldn’t stop stuffing it into our mouths. It could only have been made better by the addition of some pickled vegetables but it was all my own fault for not ordering them. Our beef hummus was a generous bowl of hummus topped with delicately spiced beef mince accompanied with more warmed pita. From the same owners of The Hummus Shop on the LES, they are serious about their hummus, even having an ideology published on their site. Hummus is made every two hours at the end of a very long process of soaking, grinding and cooking chickpeas. I’m not sure if it was the best hummus I had ever eaten but there were no complaints and I’d go back for more or try another flavour such as the fava hummus. Lookout for a hummus bar coming to a precinct near you.
3 entrees, 1 hummus plate, 2 generous glasses of wine + tax and tip for less than $60
92 2nd Ave
New York NY 10003
Root & Bone – you can tell when there’s an Aussie in the kitchen
Where to begin with Root & Bone? The cool fit out blending industrial and shabby chic? The excellent wait staff who know the menu intimately and provide the perfect blend of service and witty repartee? The fun cocktail names? ( I recommend the Kill Devil Hills – dusted with ground pepper and served in a teacup) The menu? Ok – we’ll talk about the menu. American and in particular Southern and Soul Food classics are given an update for the 21st century palate. The must order were Grandma Daisy’s Angel Biscuits with a chicken jus flavoured with thyme. They were light and buttery and though to an Australian, a scone dipped in gravy is an unusual starter, they lived up to their reputation.
The baskets of fried chicken coming out to the tables looked unbelievably good but we didn’t order any for ourselves as we were visiting Soul Food Mecca Sylvia’s, the next day. We enjoyed a little taste of chicken on a pair of sliders topped with slices of picked green tomato and okra. The grits were an absolute revelation, loaded with fresh corn and cream, topped with cornbread crumbs and gratineed. The bowl could have been double the size and we would have kept eating. I bet the grits aren’t as good in South Carolina. Fantastic value too at $8. A plate of roasted root vegetables served with pickled grapes and carrot top pesto rounded out the meal. The only dessert we ordered during our 12 days in NYC was the tangy apple pie with lattice cheese pastry. The apples were sweet and tart and perfectly aldente. The pie was delicately spiced, applied with a restrained hand. It was accompanied with a cheddar cheese ice cream which probably sounded a little more exciting that it tasted but certainly a creamy foil to the sharp apple pie perfection.
The chef de cuisine is indeed from Australia and to me at least, it was obvious. The treatment and promotion of vegetables and salads, a mix of fresh and cooked ingredients in dishes, interesting accompaniments such as pickled grapes and a general lightness in prep and presentation of the dishes. That and the fact that everything wasn’t covered or filled with cheese.
4 mid-sized dishes, 1 dessert, 2 cocktails, 2 wine + tax and tip for around $110
Root & Bone
200 E 3rd St
New York NY 10009
Come back next week for part 2 of ‘Eating The Village’.