Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Katz’s Delicatessen, New York




Stepping into Katz’s Deli is like going into a timewarp. You can sit at formica tables, soak up all the retro fixtures and fittings that look as though they haven’t changed since at least the 1950’s, gawp at all the photos of celebrities on the walls, and eat a salt beef bagel that is bigger than your head. Then, when paying for your food, fast forward right back to present-day New York and get stung for more dosh than it costs to buy one of the souvenir t-shirts at the exit!

But no matter. Despite this probably being one of the biggest tourist traps in New York, everyone visiting this city should pay at least one visit here. This place has been trading since 1888, and they cure all their own meat. The food is plain, big and hearty – and delicious. If you’re not in the mood for 6 inches of pastrami (beef cured in a special way) between your slices of rye, you can have just about any other kind of traditional American comfort food imaginable. We came here for the bagels – and of course the decor!




There are hundreds of salamis hanging up – the Katz famous phrase is ‘Senda Salami to your boy in the army!’




Hundreds of celebs have been photographed eating here – from Bill Clinton and Ben Stiller to Gorbachev and Barbra Streisand. I also spotted a non-labelled photo of Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox on the wall. I wonder if anyone in New York (apart from the Brit ex-pats) has the foggiest idea who she is?






Nothing looks as though it has been updated for decades:




Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels – an eye watering $15 apiece, but totally delicious. You get about 10 slices of salmon and half a tub of cream cheese in each bagel:




Roast turkey and Swiss cheese on an onion bagel: a bit dry but tasty nonetheless:



The big daddy: pastrami bagel with mustard and pickles, totally delicious, but my God, this cost $20!




Serious meat – not for the fainthearted:



And I nearly forgot to mention: this is the deli where the infamous scene with Meg Ryan in ‘Where Harry Met Sally’ was filmed, where she fakes an orgasm at the table. You can sit at the very same table and do your own version, just like in that terrible TV ad:



Once you have recovered from the extortionate prices, you will feel melancholy knowing that the experience of eating a bagel in the UK has been totally ruined. Nothing will ever be the same again…


Katz’s Delicatessen
205 East Houston Street
New York NY 10002

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Saltie, New York

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is quite similar in many ways to London’s Hackney where the hipsters hang out. It’s urban, scruffy and full of media types working on ad campaigns and edgy photo shoots. Whereas in Hackney, lots of young women dress as ‘land girls’ (all smocks and 1940s makeup, or their grandmothers’ clothes) and the men dress like Victorian urchins or impecunious chimney sweeps with comedy glasses, it’s a little bit the same thing here – plenty of handlebar moustaches and beards on the blokes, wide framed NHS-style glasses and ramshackle fashions for the ladies. It can be hard work watching and laughing at the hipsters, so when your stomach starts to growl, and you want something that isn’t a bagel or a burger, Saltie is a snack-stop that offers the hungry diner a different sort of sandwich.

This tiny little shop is nothing more than a counter with a small prep area behind it. The menu is short and to the point, with nautical names for the sandwiches such as ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ and ‘Scuttlebutt’. There is nothing much else to buy apart from sandwiches, except for a few cakes, coffee and sometimes ice cream. It’s not a comfortable place – the point is that you get your sandwich and then you go somewhere else to eat it. And don’t ask for your sandwich to be divided in two for sharing – one of the stern counter ladies looked right at me with her laserbeam eyes and said ‘We don’t cut our sandwiches here – they are designed to be eaten as once piece.’ That showed me…


The counter area – beware, stern ladies dwell behind here:




Ahoy - the menu:




Don’t get me wrong when I say that, at first glance, the sandwich fillings sound a tad offputting. I mean, who would be drawn straight away to fillings such as pickled egg, sardine and beetroot? Urgh! My friend S actually went pale when he read the list of ingredients and said ‘I don’t think I can eat here, I don’t think I can do this’. But the clever thing here is that all the fillings are very well judged in terms of ingredient combinations and really work well together. Just like the name ‘Saltie’ suggests, the sandwich fillings are full of ‘umami’ combinations: fish, eggs and capers adorned with punchy garlicky aioli, or pickles and ham, or Spanish omelette and garlic mayo. Super yum.  The bread is a lovely chewy, crusty foccaccia which tastes homemade, and all the ingredients squidge nicely into the bread to create a very satisfying mouthful. These are messy sandwiches – the aioli will run down your chin and you might want to eat it on your own in the privacy of your home. But my God, these are good – and pretty much worth the $10 price tag.


S gets counselling from C in order to get to grips with the menu:




The Captain’s Daughter: sardines, pickled egg, salsa verde, leaves:




Scuttlebutt: egg, cauliflower, pickles, beets, pickles, feta, black olives, capers, aioli: so good that my friend D bought two, so that he had one to scoff in private when he got home.




Other sandwich fillings include ‘Ship’s Biscuit’ – soft scrambled egg and ricotta – and ‘Little Chef’: mortadella, pecorino, green olives and parsley. Certainly not your usual run-of-the-mill tuna mayo or cheese and pickle.

We finished off with some Grown Up Chocolate Chip Cookies that were buttery and delicious, with chunks of bitter chocolate. We ate them too fast for me to take a photograph of them.

378 Metropolitan
Williamsburg, Brooklyn NYC

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Clinton Street Baking Company, New York


Want a brunch of epic proportions that will stretch your stomach three-ways? Feeling organised? Get ready to queue here – at least one hour before you want to eat. Obviously if you’re going to come on a weekend, allow perhaps an hour and a half. But it’s worth it – the ambiance is great, and the food is pretty decent. Plus this place ends up rocking the top of many ‘best places to eat brunch’ lists in New York. Make sure you wear very forgiving jeans – or some kind of stretchy lycra – if you plan to eat here. Even the coffees are the size of a pillar box, and cookies the size of a lumberjack’s fist.

It’s not the most challenging or exciting food (as much as many people would have you believe on all the websites raving about this place) but it’s decent, hearty and well put together. It just lacks a bit of seasoning, a few herbs and a bit of punch. But really not to be sniffed at as a once-in-a-while experience. And they make bloody good Bloody Mary’s…

A lake of mocha coffee hanging out next to an ocean of Bloody Mary:



Spanish scramble with chorizo, hash browns and sourdough bread:



Buttermilk biscuit (that’s a savoury scone to us Brits) with roast tomato sauce, scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns. The cheddar melted onto the eggs tasted of nothing, which was a shame:



Country plate: ham, biscuit, scrambled eggs and hash browns:



If you can actually polish off the whole plate of food here, you have something in common with Elvis. All four of us were totally defeated, and we are greedy mo-fos. It’s definitely worth coming here once, as it has such a buzz, but the food isn’t THAT amazing.

I really do wonder about the logic behind the portion sizes in the US and how much food waste they have in this country. I know there is a strong culture of taking leftovers home, but I haven’t seen many people taking cold scrambled eggs with them to eat later…

Clinton Street Baking Company
4 Clinton Street (btw. East Houston & Stanton)
New York, NY 10002

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York


Well I never - I managed to find a truly wonderful restaurant in New York that serves magical and exceptional food and is…(are you sitting down)…cheap!  The food here is literally amazing. If, after several days of scoffing burgers and heavy American fare, your palate is in need of a recharge, this is the place to come. David Chang’s menu is a mixture of Korean and fusion, and boasts combinations of ingredients that that I have never put in my mouth before.

Chang is one of New York’s most super-hyped chefs – he has several restaurants all serving complex and original  Asian food, and it’s about as far away from the bland Wagamama concept as you could imagine. One of his restaurants is called the Momofuku Milk Bar which serves only puddings – sadly we didn’t have time to make it here, but people do rave about it with a far-away look in their eyes.

If you had only one night to eat out in New York, I would say to come to his Noodle Bar without hesitation, even if it meant crawling across broken glass on your bleeding stumps. You can’t reserve, but it’s worth the wait. Or take a tip from my book – turn up at 10pm on a Sunday night and you’ll be seated within a mere 10 minutes…


The menu changes daily and uses seasonal ingredients:




Striped raw sea bass in a cucumber broth – literally the freshest tasting thing, zingy and light. The cucumber broth tastes of the colour green!




Chargrilled octopus – aromatic five spice flavours on the outside, tender on the inside. Comes with tangy pieces of grapefruit, spring onions and  a yoghurt sauce. My favourite dish of the lot, absolutely outstanding:




Smoky chicken wings: sticky, smoky, salty, sweet:




The famous pork buns (this is what EVERYBODY talks about when they mention this restaurant) filled with pork belly infused with star anise. I got a bit freaked out by the inch of gungy fat clinging to the meat, so I removed it. A bit hardcore for me, but delicious once removed. My companions had no such qualms and gulped the whole lot down:




Roast potatoes with ‘ramps’ (seasonal wild spring onions) sprinkled with bonito flakes that moved and shimmered around from the heat of the food. A delicious mayo-style sauce underneath tasted smoky. Yum:




Momofuku ramen: delicious smoky broth with silky egg noodles, a barely poached egg (isn’t it a perfectly beautiful oval?), shredded pork, pork belly and scallions. Really comforting:




Chilled spicy Schezuan noodles: crisp nuggets of red-hot and mouth-tingling sausage sat atop noodles and baby leaf spinach, sprinkled generously with honey and chilli-roasted cashew nuts. Amazing – and made our lips tingle then go numb with heat:




Passion fruit soft serve, which was tangy, zingy and the perfectly refreshing end to the meal:




Oooh look: naughty chocolate crumbs hiding underneath:




Now these were seriously delicious: coconut and tangerine truffle cake balls. Soft cake on the inside, chewy coconut on the outer shell:




In terms of cost, the bill for four greedy people came to $150. We didn’t skimp on ordering, and this works out at roughly £25 per head including beers – an absolute bargain. We had eaten a dire meal out the previous night that cost us almost triple that amount per head, and with less food on table!




Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue NYC 10003
Tel: 00 1 212 777 7773

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New York, New York





It has long been said that New York is one of the best places on earth to dine out. And even though I’m sure that thousands of people have proof of this, I can’t say I’m 100% convinced. If you’re a hapless tourist such as I, and don’t have much time to do a lot of research beforehand (beyond the skimming of a Time Out guide on the plane and swotting up on Chowhound) the process of getting fed well can actually be quite a nightmare. And I’m not even a first-time visitor. There are so many rules – which I think would probably apply to anyone with only days to spare in a large city, but for some reason, it seems to be super-hard to get a decent good value meal in NYC.

For starters, don’t even BOTHER thinking you can get a table anywhere decent on a Saturday night unless you have booked at least a week ahead. Which makes it rather daunting if you only arrive in town the day before, jetlagged to the eyeballs and just getting to grips with everything. As a result, last Saturday night we headed to an esteemed gastropub called The Spotted Pig because, not only did it sound wonderful, but it was one of the few restaurants with a ‘no reservations’ policy. How naive we were – we were told there would be a three hour wait minimum. We had to abandon ship, but luckily my friend B had a organised a sneaky back-up reservation somewhere else, but unfortunately the meal turned out to be dreadful with dire service (that’s another story).

If restaurants don’t take reservations, such as the uber-popular brunch spot called the Clinton Street Baking Company on the Lower East Side, you should basically turn up and get your name on the list at least one hour before  you want to eat anything. Even if that means going for a ‘pre-breakfast’ somewhere else. You will spend much of your time queuing in this way in New York – be it at an ice cream parlour or a breakfast joint – and nothing is ever going to change this. It makes it hard to be spontaneous, but you’ll just have to suspend that urge while you’re here. Alternatively, just prepare to eat dinner every night at 10:30pm when everyone else if finishing. It has just occurred to me that the entire process of eating out here is like a competitive sport – once  you know the rules, be prepared to play hard to reach the finish line.

Another thing that I had forgotten since my first visit to NYC was just how jawdroppingly expensive everything is. I mean, really expensive. We are talking bagels that cost $15, ice cream sundaes costing $20 and steaks that will put you back on average $50 per head, just for the meat without sides. Wowzers. Ironically, the bagels that we enjoyed in Katz’s Deli (yes, yes, I know, probably considered the ultimate tourist trap) were MORE expensive than the souvenir T shirts for sale at the exit!

A great way to circumnavigate all of this is to know a couple of locals who can give you tips. My friends B and D have proven invaluable with advice and recommendations. B says that you have to reserve EVERYTHING weeks ahead, and be warned that restaurants will double book you unscrupulously, as it’s no guarantee whatsoever to be told that you’re on the list. D says that he sticks to a few close favourites and prefers the small, local places. And failing that? If you have no friends based in NYC, take a tip from me. I just badgered a complete stranger on the street for pancake recommendations (when the queue for yet another brunch place snaked ominously around the block) and even though he looked slightly afraid of me, he gave me a great recommendation for a diner a few blocks away. Which did sterling pancakes…and had one free table! Phew…

It’s not all doom and gloom however – I have managed to have some really great meals here, and individual reviews for places I have enjoyed will follow soon…

I’m on my way to San Francisco next – anyone got any good recommendations? I thank you!