Taste of Prague in New York City

We’re in New York City. We promised ourselves we would come back soon after we left last November. No matter what you may think of it, the city is undeniably cool and you can’t argue with the food and the shops and the people and the sights and all. We love it. So we’re back. 

But not really. We are staying in Hoboken, New Jersey, just a PATH train ride away from Manhattan, which is super easy and takes about ten minutes. We found a place to stay via Home Exchange, our favorite way to travel: heck, we have even written a guest piece for Home Exchange’s blog. So we’re swapping a place with Laura and Steve in a very nice house in Hoboken, and we love the neighborhood: it’s not as rushed as Manhattan and it’s a great place to return to.

Getting to NYC was actually surprisingly great. According to the flight attendants, the Delta airplane was under-booked by 100 seats, so we managed to grab some of the Economy Plus seats. And we got in early. And to great weather: it is sunny, with temperatures around 72F/22C. We’ve made a mistake of taking the public transport from the Newark airport. Never again. Trust us, a Blue Shuttle or something of that kind would have been much, much better. Being stuck in a bus on a congested highway with the driver shouting “Hell no!” every ten seconds is not something we want to repeat very often. Or ever. 

We were tired the first night so we just had dinner at the Gramercy Tavern. We actually wanted to leave when we entered: the place seemed a bit too posh and targeted at an older audience, but we got seats in "the tavern", or the bar area anyway. We ended up loving it. It’s a classy place that is old-school but modern at the same time, and it was buzzing with people who were happy to be there. We had the raw and roasted vegetables with walnut miso, ricotta cavatelli with braised lamb, and monkfish with cauliflower and barley. All these had great, autumn flavors, and the execution was beautiful. This is clearly not amateur hour. One thing about that place compared to Prague: the lighting was darker and suited the place really well. It seems that Prague eateries have way too much light sometimes.

Day One. Mostly Eating.

Next morning. Day One. We needed to work and wanted to be among people, so we went to Stumptown Coffee in the lobby of the Ace Hotel. Oh boy, you know these lines at EMA Espresso Bar during the rush hour? Double that, and you get what they have in Stumptown on a regular basis. The lobby of the Ace Hotel is so cool it hurts, and the people are super cool too. And it has great wifi that is free, and people clearly know it. And if you add the Opening Ceremony shop attached to the hotel, the hipster levels reach the red. We could imagine ourselves working there every morning, as some of the patrons seem to be.

Next step: breakfast. We decided to have bagels at the Black Seed in East Village. And we were happy we did. The beet-cured lax with horseradish cream was fantastic. Sure, it was pretty small for USD 14, but the bagel was great: crispy and bit sweet and crunchy, and made by hand on the premises. We enjoyed it on the bench outside and basked in the sunlight.    

We followed on to Dominique Ansel Kitchen, a new place by Dominique Ansel, the pastry chef darling of Food and Wine magazine and New Yorkers and the man behind the cronut or the burrata ice-cream crazes. It is sad we do not have a face behind Czech pastries to create a "destination-dining” place that focuses on pastries in Prague. We got the maple muffin with lardo, and the pavlova with passion fruit and raspberries. Zuzi had a few spoons of the latter and passed it to Jan. And Jan made it disappear in about five seconds. We read somewhere that you “need this in your life”. It’s true. The crunchy, chewy merengue at the bottom. The sweet, delicate cream. The tart passion fruit and raspberries. Jan could have eaten three in a sitting. 

But it was pretty big, and we needed to digest. So we did some shopping in Tribeca. Shinola sells great bikes, leather accessories, watches and stationery, and includes the Smile Coffee coffee counter, which is a trend we love and miss in Prague: cool coffee spot and retail shop mixed together. We bought two Wildsam Field guides. We love them and although their selection of cities is eclectic, it was right for us: we bought Brooklyn and Austin, Texas. We followed on to Steven Alan, with a wonderful selection of fashion pieces by Creators of Comfort, Acne, or the NY-based Rachel Comey. We could easily blow our entire budget there in about five minutes. Luckily, we did not. 

Next stop: lunch. We took the subway to Greenpoint Fish and Lobster for their lobster roll, deemed the best in the city by some. The place is small but cosy and very welcoming. We sat at the bar and had two Noank oysters (it was happy hour and they were a dollar each). Zuzi has a thing with oysters. She does not like them but keeps trying. We were surprised how great they were: very balanced, fresh and with great texture that was not at all slimey.  So this is how they’re supposed to taste? The Maine lobster roll was fantastic and generous, with some strong, clean flavors from tarragon, lime and celery, and we saw the butter melt into the brioche bun on the grill, so we already knew it would be good. Worth the splurge. The ordered Brussel sprouts in buttermilk dressing as a side order, and loved them: salty, crunchy and with just the right amount of heat.

Williamsburg is clearly past its gentrification stage and - dare we say - upscale now. We passed the Wythe hotel, where would have stayed were it not for the home exchange thing. The Brooklyn Brewery seems like the cornerstone of all things Brooklyn. And if you can’t find a pair of jeans that would fit in the Brooklyn Denim Co, maybe jeans are not your thing. A quick stop at Bakeri, which sells a selection of their cakes in bite sizes, which we think is a great idea, along with their overall uniforms. We loved the zesty lemon curd cake the best, with the nutty peanut butter bar a close second. We followed with chocolate from Mast, formerly known as the Mast Brothers. They did revamp their logo and branding to a more adult version, but the location and the chocolates have remained the same. Which means they're good, usually on the bitter side.

We spent some time at the Bird, instantly Zuzi’s favorite clothing store in the world. (But that tends to change quite quickly.) A great selection of dresses by some of our favorite designers, incl. Nanushka, Marni, or NY-based Carol Callahan. Saturday Surf, Howlin' or ACNE and Common Projects for men. With three locations around the city, this could become a problem later. We finished our Williamsburg tour at the Sweatshop Coffee, a tiny Australian cafe with beans by CounterCulture Coffee. Virtually all the coffee in NYC tends to be a bit more roasted and chocolatey, which may come as a surprise for some European Nordic-Style-coffee lovers. 

Then, finally, dinner at Ippudo. We signed in and waited at the Third Rail Coffee just two blocks away, with probably the biggest Chemex order of our life (25g of coffee to make 400ml). And then dinner with the super lovely Jirka Duzar of the NY Czech Tourism office. The best ramen we’ve ever had. We ordered the Akamaru Modern, rich and super porky, super garlicky and full of scallions. The pork buns were also delicious: tender pork belly with more spice than Momofuku and just enough lettuce for crunch, but the mayo did turn Zuzi off a bit. The broccoli and cauliflower with cashews in umami sauce with fried garlic was something we could eat a ton: salty, al dente and with very deep, rich umami taste. While Ippudo is a factory with service that can rush you like hell and the ordering process and waiting times could be nightmarish, the food makes up for it. 

Day Two. Mostly Shopping.

We love Arcade Bakery Downtown, and especially their croissants, so we started the day there. Admittedly, it’s a pretty weird place: a fairly modern, wood-paneled arcade, with no daylight whatsoever. That said, we love their stuff: the vanilla and pear baguettes, the Tarte Tatins, or their bread. We actually bought to go and ate the croissant at Kaffee 1668, a specialty coffee place where young people with inked forearms in beanies mix with suited up finance people from the surrounding offices. The coffee is good, the place has wifi, and we are kinda fans of their interior designer’s fascination with sheep. Their narrow location further up north on Greenwich is stunning and serves good coffee, too, but sadly no wifi.

After breakfast, it was time for some serious shopping, so we headed up to SoHo. We stopped at J.Crew The Liquor Store in Tribeca, a very cool J.Crew shop for men that is seated in a former… you guessed it… liquor store. The bar and the bottles are still there. We moved on for some more male clothing at Saturday Surf NYC, which btw houses a great small coffee corner, or the 3+1 denim store and the Nike Lab nearby. Odin is another shop that sells cool male clothing with a focus on very hip brands. Of course, it can’t be all about men’s clothing, so we stopped at Rachel Comey too. The area is full of hyper-cool shops of international household names and local brands, so make sure you walk through them.  


Then it was time for brunch. We passed the super-packed vegan fast food By Chloe and headed over to Navy. The avocado and radish toast with pickled mustard seeds, and the egg bowl with a poached egg, fried rice with quinoa, red beets, chickpeas and spicy sumac yoghurt and herbs, both with just the right amount of heat, only showed that Prague’s vegetarian restaurants badly lag behind. Why is it so difficult to toast some great sourdough bread and put something nice on it? We honestly don’t know. It works here in the NYC, and we think it would totally work in Prague, too.

We continued with some more shopping: CO Bigelow is probably the wackiest drugstore on the planet, with cheap plastic accessories sold right next to super-expensive cosmetics. It looks strange when you enter but it grows on you… in about twenty seconds. The shop assistants are also very knowledgeable and friendly. And they give you samples. Yay! Next shop: The Meadow, which sells four things only: flowers, salt, chocolate and bitters. But in a large variety. We did buy some of the salts home. Then we started craving ice-cream. Which means we had to get one soon. Our choice was the Victory Garden, which serves soft-serve goat milk ice-creams. Our favorite was the salted caramel. Would we travel across the town for it? No, but it was nice nevertheless.  

Wednesday seemed like a great day for shopping, and why not? McNally Jackson Store sells absolutely wonderful stationery, incl. some Kooh-i-Noor pencils from the exotic Czech Republic. Their bookstore around the corner is also very, very popular. Still House in East Village is a tiny room that sells some beautiful items for the home, just like Nalata Nalata, a shop specializing in Japanese home accessories and pottery. Very zen. And the Pas De Deux shop is your place if you like some high-end female clothing. 

But then we got hungry again, so we tried Fuku, the new fried chicken fast food by David Chang. Interesting set of rules: no substitutions or special requests. Way to go! They also don’t accept cash or tips, only credit cards without the option to leave more than you pay. We got the spicy chicken sandwich, and it was fun: the Ssam sauce adds spice to the moist, tender chicken deep fried in spicy batter. Three pickles and fermented chickpea butter spread on the bottom. That’s it. It can’t get easier than that. We thought the amount of chicken for USD 8 was very generous. We liked it. (One note: the first photos of the sandwich were h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e, so we actually folded the meat in the middle. The sandwich looks a bit differently in real life. We just wanted to spare your eyes.) 

We finished with coffee at Box Kite in East Village. A tiny place truly dedicated to good coffee: we had a cortado from Ethiopian beans from Ritual, and coffee by Koppi on the Kallita filter. This is a great find for a European lover of coffee: while other cafes in NYC tend to serve quite dark roasts, Box Kite does offer lighter roasts, more in line with the Nordic style of coffee, too. The Koppi on the Kallita was light and delicate, while the cortado was better balanced than what we had before. A truly enjoyable stay.