New York City is a foodie’s Mecca but it’s easy to get snapped up by tourist traps. Nevenka Ristic takes us on the less travelled path to true dining enlightenment.
Artisan ice cream
Unfortunately, I never made it to Big Gay Ice Cream, which features treats like the cococone (vanilla ice cream with toasted curried coconut) and choinkwich (an ice cream sandwich with chocolate ice cream, bacon marmalade and chocolate cookies). However, I did discover Steve’s ice cream pints at my local supermarket. Originally from Somerville, Massachusetts, Steve’s will be opening a store in NYC soon. My favourite flavours are salty caramel and Mexican chilli chocolate. Steve’s sources dairy that is local and sustainable. For vegans, there are many dairy-free options made from coconut cream like coconut cilantro lime, cinnamon coffee and sugar cookie dough.
When you visit NYC, skip the overrated Little Italy and instead adventure to Brooklyn where you will find Little Poland. Not only will you hear Polish spoken everywhere, but if you eat at Happy End (924 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn) you will get to enjoy homemade Polish pierogies cooked by a real-deal Polish matriarch. If Siberian pelmenis are more your thing, then head to the Russian bathhouse Wall Street Bath & Spa where, after you sauna, you can drink Russian beer, eat Russian food and sing Russian karaoke with real Russian immigrants. For authentic and wholesome Serbian food, head to Kafana in Alphabet City where they serve the best Serbian food I’ve ever tasted – dare I say even better than my Serbian father’s!
Two of the world’s best foods in one. The Sage General Store in Queens sells bacon brownies. Although I was initially sceptical, I found myself devouring a delicious, succulent chocolate brownie, infused with a slightly salty and smoky hickory flavour, and textured with crunchy bits of bacon.
Trying to find a speakeasy in Chinatown down a hidden street with an unmarked door was the adventurous start to one of my most delicious and dramatic drinking experiences in NYC. Apothéke is no ordinary bar. Here chemistry meets theatre: the mixologists wear white lab coats and concoct speciality cocktails in Austrian crystal glasses. I ordered the Deal Closer, which is a cocktail of cucumber, vodka, local Chinatown aphrodisiacs, mint, lime and vanilla essence. Needless to say, my date ended rather successfully that night.
Japanese ramen is the latest rage in New York. People wait in hour-long queues for a bowl of noodles in a meat broth. Refusing to wait in the cold at the most popular ramen place Totto Ramen, I ventured to a new ramen shop called Tabata Noodle Restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen (540 Ninth Ave). If you are looking for an authentic Japanese experience, then this is not the place as the friendly owner, Linn San Maung, is Burmese. However, their speciality dish of Tabata ramen, a creamy coconut broth with onions, chunks of spicy chicken and garnished with coriander, was simply divine.
Forget Magnolia Bakery, made famous by Sex and the City, unless you want to queue with other tourists for rather mediocre, over-priced cupcakes. For the best, head to Molly’s Cupcakes, named after Miss Molly, a third-grade teacher who baked delicious cupcakes for her pupils on their birthdays. My favourite was the bite-size mini red-velvet with cream-cheese icing, sprinkled with tiny red hearts. I also loved the cupcakes filled with raw cake batter. (The spoon is never enough anyway.)
My insatiable sweet tooth led me to indulge in a three-course dessert experience here. ChikaLicious Dessert Bar, the first of its kind in New York, offers what are essentially American desserts with French presentation and Japanese tasting portions. My amuse-bouche was a basil sorbet with crème fraîche, my main was a warm chocolate tart with pink peppercorn ice cream drizzled with a port reduction, and my dessert was a selection of coconut marshmallows, aniseed truffles and almond biscuits.
Handmade Chinese noodles and dumplings
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle (144 E Broadway) is the quintessential hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown where tourists don’t visit and staff don’t speak much English. However, the food is cheap, filling and delicious. The fresh noodles are hand-pulled in front of you and you eat to the rhythm of the ‘noodle-puller’ banging and beating the dough. I also recommend the fresh handmade dumplings that can be fried or boiled.
Happy hour oysters
On my way to the NYC Burlesque Festival, I thought it’d be appropriate to pop by Maison Premiere for their happy hour oysters. Every Monday to Friday from 4pm to 7pm, this oyster house and cocktail den, decked out with marble counter tops, wooden ceiling fans, and waiters donned in 1920s fashions, sells a selection of 30 oyster varieties from all over North America for only a $1 each. Maison Premiere also boasts the largest selection of absinthes in New York City.
Neurogastronomy is the latest haute cuisine craze in New York. ROMERA, a $5 million dollar restaurant creation, offers a 12-course prix fixe tasting menu. It is the latest gourmet project of Miguel Sanchez Romero, a Spanish Michelin Star chef and practicing neurologist. He has combined his knowledge of medicine and nutrition with his passion for art to create what the critics are calling “the most unique cuisine in the world”. Each innovative course is paired with naturally flavoured aqua gourmands: colourful waters that complement and enhance the aromatic flavours of each dish.
New Yorkers are truffle-obsessed, and I’m not talking about the chocolate kind. I am referring to those exorbitant mushrooms or ‘diamonds of the kitchen’, as described by the 18th-century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin. Truffles are staples on fine-dining menus, but thanks to truffle-infused oils and salts, their enchanting flavour is now accessible to the commoners. Imagine my surprise and delight when, while playing drag bingo at the nightclub Le Poisson Rouge, I discovered a truffle macaroni and cheese on the menu for only $9. Murray’s Cheese, an institution in NYC, sells the most delicious truffle pesto, perfect for jazzing up sandwiches and pastas. When visiting The Chelsea Market, a foodie’s paradise, make sure to pop by The Filling Station, for reasonably priced truffle salt and oil.
By Nevenka Ristic
Photographs by Nevenka Ristic, homepage image S J Pinkney