In the second part of our three-part series of our New York City Food Report, we did make a point of visiting some NYC institutions. We just wanted to benchmark the classics against what we have in Prague. And eat some great food, too. This is where we went. (To see part I, please click here.)
So we went. Many people may have many things to say about Katz's deli, but it's an institution, and it absolutely feels like one. The lines are long and the ushers are shouty and... ahem... persuasive. And the cutters don't smile. But you sit down and bite into the pastrami sandwich, and you just don't care. The marbling, the juice, the mustard, the bread. The pickles. And people make noise and take selfies and are happy. You're in a shrine, devouring and being a part of it, just like the celebrities on the wall. That said, it's a factory and a money making machine and it's loud and abrasive and if you want a quiet, sophisticated meal, or don't like sharing your personal space, omg, you're in the wrong place.
Jan wanted to benchmark a great burger, so we went to the Minetta Tavern and ordered the Black Label burger. Here’s something for those who think that burgers at Dish in Prague are expensive: this baby costs 32 dollars with tax. It does come with fries and a pickle. But it’s so unlike the burgers at Dish in its simplicity, which would get David Chang’s nod of approval: just the bun, the patty and onion relish on top. Three components. It was delicious, and easily the meatiest burger we’ve had. The bun, made at Balthazar, was perfect: not sweet, and perfectly sized for the burger. We also got the beets and goat cheese salad. The tavern is clearly very popular and reserved for weeks ahead, but there’s about ten seats at the bar for walk-ins. Call beforehand to make sure they have space.
Di Fara pizza
So, how does the “best pizza in New York” taste like? Despite the countless debates on who actually makes the best pizza in New York, we chose Di Fara from the shortlist. Yes: it takes a long time to get there but it’s worth it: you see the “suburban” side of Brooklyn, which, coincidentally, is the Orthodox Jewish part of Brooklyn, and, in the middle of it all, is a tiny place, Di Fara. The old pizzaiolo still makes pies, although he did look tired. We bought two slices. Wait time just over 30 minutes, and the staff pushed us forward in the line. The pizza is super simple: put tomato sauce and mozzarella on the pie, stick it in the oven, take it out, sprinkle Parmiggiano and cut fresh basil on it. It’s a thin-crust pizza, but not pizza Napoletana: the oven has clearly lower temperature, and the pizza takes about ten minutes to make. No burnt blisters, and the tomato sauce and mozzarella and the Parmiggiano just blend into one. And how was it? Honestly, the best pizza we’ve ever had. Really.
We’ve got so many recommendations for ABC Kitchen, and it’s a place run by Jean-Georges, a restauranteur icon, so we had to go. We totally do understand why people would love the restaurant: it’s a place where things are happening, and people feel simply happy to be there. It’s also really well designed and a big organism run by professionals. And that was also our main problem: while the food was good, it sometimes felt like eating in a big factory that just replicated dishes perfectly designed by committee to please perfectly defined target groups. Nothing wrong with that, and the food was good. As an experience, though, we wished for a bit more.
The Hip Restaurants
Imagine a “hip place in NYC”. That’s exactly what Cosme, opened by Enrique Olvera, a world-famous Mexican chef, looks like. Some can't wrap their head around the fact that Mexican cuisine can be served with silverware on proper tablecloth, while clearly it should be served by a truck, cost 5 dollars tops and be eaten from a paper bag. The atmosphere is buzzing with elegantly dressed patrons and we loved the food, starting with the simple guacamole served with nachos. The simplest, avocado-est and the tastiest guaca we've ever had. Oh, and the meringue with corn cream was so good it made us doubt whether we'd ever brush our teeth again - definitely the best dessert we've had this year.
Mission Chinese Food
A fascinating place in China Town. We wanted to go in San Francisco already, but missed out. Not many places in Prague have fun with the decoration and the menu - the only place that comes to mind is Anonymous Coffee before all the baristas fled to Eska - but Mission Chinese just does not give a crap about what you think. Yup, they did put MSGs into the sautéed celery because you know what? It tastes delicious. Now, not everything was a winner food wise, but it’s hard to beat the atmosphere, with lots of people just having too much fun, and the cocktails were great, too.
Marlow and Sons
Just a few steps off the Williamsburg Bridge, Marlow & Sons is a happy place: we went for Saturday brunch and the place was packed full of young, hip locals waiting to get their fix. We had tea, a biscuit with soft-scrambled eggs and bacon, and pear and walnut scone with jam and cream. We were leaving happy and full. Open all day, this place is a great stop for any occasion.
NoMad bar is how we imagine a "classic bar”: dark wooden panels and leather seats, barely lit interiors and blues music in the speakers. The only thing missing was the dense layer of smoke, but hey, we’re in the US. The Nomad does serve a few dishes, namely a burger and a hot dog, but we just had two drinks. They were prepared the way we like them: strong and tasty. A great place to wind down after a busy and exhausting day exploring the city.
Sure, we follow them on Instagram, just like you do. We were surprised how relatively small Smorgasburg was, with not many stands, but that was perhaps due to the ending season. What we liked was the sheer amount of tables and seating capacity, which is something sorely missing in many Prague’s farmers’ markets (ever wanted to get a seat at Naplavka?). It’s easy to go overboard with guilty pleasures here, which is something Smorgasburg does really, really well: we had another donut from Dough (can’t get enough of those things, this time with passionfruit glaze), a buttery, delicious lobster roll from Red Hook Lobsters, and the pork belly sandwich from Carnal. And the vibe is nice: you’re eating good things with cool, affluent people from Williamsburg looking at Manhattan skyscrapers over the river. What's not to like?
Petee's Pie Co
A tiny place at Delancey St that sells, guess what, pies. We were full from the Katz deli meat bonanza, but still managed to get the cherry pie in. It was actually very good: many US pies can be very, very sweet, but this one wasn’t. Petee's Pice Co is tiny and sits about four behind the counter. This place is clearly mostly for take-aways, but for a quick stop and a pie, it’s perfect.
Ever since we had the doughnuts at Dough, we were looking forward to a repeated visit. Jan actually had a dream about the Hibiscus Donut. Was it just a brief love affair and the long-distance relationship spoiled it all? Nope. The donut is still finger-lickin' delicious. It's the thing you're eating and you know it's bad for you but you can't stop anyway because it's just so good. Would eat them everyday if we could.
A specialty coffee place just off Canal Street, Everyman Espresso serves coffee under the slogan “Damn Fine Coffee”. We liked the coffee although it was not the best we had. That said, we did spend a nice hour there, reading some news using their wifi and planning the rest of the day.
A Williamsburg specialty coffee shrine, Budin is one of the few places in NYC that serves Nordic-style coffee to the masses. They had lots of Stockholm-based Drop Coffee, which can be sometimes had in Prague's EMA Espresso Bar, too. We got a cortado and an Aeropress and liked both. A great place to get some work done with good wifi and seats with good light near the entrance.
The Shopping and the Sightseeing
Let’s be honest here: Chelsea market is so touristy it hurts. We’re also not big fans of their interior design. That said, it is worth a visit, if only for the fish market. For someone from a landlocked country, seeing a plethora of different oysters, crabs, clams and other sea critters is an experience. And you know what? Seeing Asian tourists eating fresh fish at the small bar near the entrance is a sign of quality in our book. Combine with Blue Bottle cafe across the street. The coffee served there was among the best we had in all NYC.
We always tell our Prague Food Tours guests: visit the Charles Bridge, one of the Prague’s icons, only early in the morning, or late in the evening. Never during the daytime. So what do we do? We walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of NYC’s icons, during the daytime. And feel like total tourists. It’s nice, and probably a must-do. Just do it in the morning. And don’t do what we did, and listen to our advice.
But once you get to Brooklyn, it’s a different story. The tourism is mostly gone and you get to see a vibrant neighborhood that is clearly in the middle of a huge gentrification drive, while still maintaining its Bohemian and somewhat edgy nature. Dumbo is a nice area with a great view of Manhattan. The Brooklyn Ice-Cream Factory is undeniably touristy, and the ice-creams are okay if you’re in the area but nothing you have travel across the town for. The P.S. Bookshop, just a few steps off the bridge, is a place where we could spend hours just browsing the shelves or reading through magazines on the large stairs in the back. We love bookstores with lots of natural light, and this one is it.
Moving up North, Williamsburg is clearly a very affluent neighborhood that attracts lots of young creative professionals. The industrial feel of the neighborhood also means every corner has a cool, funky retail store inside. It’s that kind of area where you could open a shop with artisanal cotton candy and your business would seem to thrive. Also, it’s your destination if you like street art. Greenpoint seems to be an extension of that, with a big Polish presence. Moving down South to Coney Island, you will get a very different feel, as we discovered when we took the train to Di Fara.
Dover Street Market
We love Dover Street Market, both in London and in NYC. We just love browsing racks of stuff no-one but a few can actually afford, or let alone wear. But oh-boy, do they have some beautiful apparel there! The seven floors are mostly connected by a single elevator only, which can be an exercise in frustration. Still, one of the hippest places in Manhattan. If you can afford it.
Dean & DeLuca
Our moms’ heads would explode just watching the sheer amount of things you can buy at the Dean & DeLuca grocery store in the SoHo area. Just like Julius Meinl at Graben in Vienna, but with a slightly different style of old-fashined and with more focus on the modern, like the sushi counter in the back. We could literally spend hours here just looking at stuff. We always end up buying something, although it’s clear we’re overspending. We don’t care. Dean and DeLuca is that cool.