Tuesday, 19 February 2013

EAT NY strip

It's time to get glam. There are a couple of quintessential New York dining experiences that must be had - a diner joint, a rooftop bar, a hot street-side pretzel, and of course casually sipping a Manhattan somewhere that screams celebrity and glamour. There are hundreds of places to do this in New York but for me, the scene to be seen is Beauty and Essex on the Lower East Side (146 Essex St, Manhattan).

New York loves a dramatic entrance to a restaurant, and Beauty and Essex will have you walking through a fluorescent-lit pawn shop of used guitars and gaudy vintage jewellery to be welcomed by a dark, elegant dining space, framed by a stretching circular staircase, crystal chandeliers, beautiful hostesses and the musical vibrations of the cocktail shaker.

Choose a cocktail (it's hard for me to resist the Book Burner, scotch bonnet-cherry infused rum, grapefruit and sour cherry jam) and have it in hand while you peruse the sprawling fusion menu. From the glistening raw bar go for the tuna poke wontons with wasabi kewpie - delicate sea-fresh yellow fin tuna decorated with a piquant wasabi mayonnaise. The New York pretzel from the jewels on toast will have you savouring every mouthful - the ubiquitous New York strip steak is cooked rare and tenderly shaved into slender melt-in-your-mouth strips, brought alive by a sheen of mustard aioli. It's then generously folded onto a golden buttery pretzel and scattered with fried shallots. Grilled cheese and smoked bacon dumplings are bathed in a tomato soup, while Maine lobster in a crispy beer batter and stuffed into a soft taco shell filled with poblano cream and red cabbage is satisfying textures of creaminess and crunch. You could graze for hours on these small plates but the pastas, like a garganelli of spicy veal bolognese dressed in snowy splashes of whipped Little Italy ricotta, shouldn't be missed.

Importantly, Beauty and Essex should also be the first stop on any ladies night out on the Lower East Side. Only in New York would you go to a restaurant where free champagne is being served in the seductive surroundings of the rest room. It's an establishment with serious confidence, a place that proves why this city is so exhilarating and such an exciting place to visit and eat. It's glamorous and sceney and the food is outstanding and to me, the perfect way to experience the intoxicating rhythm of New York City.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

EAT noodles

The sting on my lips, the burn in my belly - there's something about a straight up hit of spice that makes me feel like I'm doing good things for my body. It's so comforting and sensory, and especially in the freezing New York Winter months.

From the outer, Mission Chinese (154 Orchard St, Manhattan) doesn't have the same chic appeal that characterises many faddish Manhattan restaurants.  A bit shabby, a bit fluro, a bit dingy. Still, I've learnt from many past experiences that this can be the best kind of place, and Mission Chinese is no exception. Hailing from San Francisco's notorious restaurant of the same name, Danny Bowien is the inspired mastermind behind the firey Szechwanese menu.

A tingling appetiser of peanuts drenched in a deep purple Beijing vinegar and decorated with flecks of smoked garlic, anise and rock sugar is an eye-watering tease. What follows is almost unspeakably good. They say that the one thing that will always turn a vegetarian carnivorous is bacon. Being a reformed vego myself (yes, yes I was) this rings true for a dish of thrice-cooked bacon,  thick pieces of heavily smoked bacon in a glistening jacket of chilli oil and tossed with soft Shanghainese rice cakes - a fat rice noodle with all the allure of a plump little dumpling. Rich, clear broths of braised beef tendon or pork hock are palate-relieving and warming, swimming with fresh ramen noodles and greens.

Mission Chinese ticks all the boxes for a midweek take-out, a Saturday date night or a boozy foodie session with mates. It's cheap, trendy and will leave you seriously cheerful.

For more New York food posts follow me on twitter www.twitter.com/phoeberosewood
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Friday, 25 January 2013

EAT bread

A food obsession confession. When I was deciding to head to New York from Sydney, one thing that crossed my mind was that there would be no Bourke St Bakery in New York. Gone would be my thrice (at least) weekly visits to buy a salty loaf of potato and rosemary sourdough, or a feathery muffin of sweet pear and rhubarb.

So, after a few weeks of being here, when the romanticism of the bagel had worn off, the itch for good bread was becoming really bad. And then, out of nowhere, SCRATCHbread (1069 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn) appeared into my life. I power-walked past this hole in the wall (literally) one day and noticed a long line trailing out onto the snow-filled street. So, the next day I returned, belly ready. A blackboard menu rattles off the daily items but my eyes bulged at a wall awash with caramel-coloured housemade bread. I went in for The Mutt, a dark loaf that hits the mark of rye, wholewheat and foccacia all in one and is stuffed full of roasted, fragrant caraway seeds and charged with black pepper. The flavours are robust and genuine, and the bread dense with a bit of chew, shrouded by a perfect thin crust. The BourbonWheat, a grainy sprouted spelt loaf packed with bourbon soaked currants, raisins and nuts was the first time in a long time I've felt good about having something with bourbon in it.

The bread is not the only selling point for this little Bed-Stuy gem. The stuffed hollow, a delicious puffy charred wholemeal pita, overflowing with baba ganoush, avocado, roast potato, crisp fresh kale, nutty barley and a stinging blast of jalapeno salsa, had my eyes wild, searching for acknowledgement amongst the other patrons that this was one of the best things they'd ever eaten. If you're feeling indulgent, opt for the hot cheese, the same pita stuffed full of bubbling, melted wood roasted cheese curd, pickles and kale pesto. On the weekends, the Ben, a flaky golden jalapeno muffin topped with a quivering white plume of poached egg and draped in the pungent stinky cheese sauce is naughty but so nice.  Thick hunks of dangerously addictive pizza bread have daily changing toppings like silky hand-pulled mozzarella with sweet red tomatoes and basil.

There are no bells and whistles here - there's nowhere to sit, you take your food and loiter on the street, awkwardly managing coffee in one hand, food in the other, and definitely some kind of sauce dribbling down your arm. I've got no problem with that anywhere, but especially when it's this good. The coffee is from the excellent Stumptown and there's a host of alluring sweet options that I haven't even gotten to yet. At the end of the day, it's just serious quality food, made with skill, served with a smile and eaten with greedy joy. So when your bread itch gets really bad, just scratch it in Bed-Stuy.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

EAT doughnuts

To be perfectly honest, I thought it was downright strange when a fifth-generation New Yorker (and food director to boot) told me that Dough and Doughnut Plant were "must-visits" in New York. I'm pretty sure I gave her one of my famed looks of distaste (yeah, you all know what I'm talking about). I mean, we Aussies don't really get the whole doughnut thing, am I right? 

WRONG. OK, I get it now! I really do. There are two types of really excellent doughnuts being produced here in New York City. Firstly, Dough in Brooklyn (305 Franklin Ave, Bed-Stuy). This tiny place is heaving every day of the week with locals lining up to purchase one of their huge handmade rounds of sweet serendipity and a shimmering cup of strong French-press coffee. The problem with Dough is, once you get to the front of the line, panic will induce. Will I go with a glossy dulce de leche with an enticing smattering of crunchy almonds, or do I feel like the tang of a zesty lemon and poppy seed? A lustrous chocolate with bitter cocoa nibs or a shocking explosion of pink hibiscus? This kind of situation is where I'm at my worst. My friend Mary, I believe, has come up with the best option. Just buy six. This may seem greedy, but it's not, just wise (they're only $2 each). The doughnuts here are the real deal, not the kind the NYPD are gorging themselves on in the movies. The secret? The dough of course. A golden-fried yeast dough that is spongy and light with a bit of chew, finished with a glaze that is full of punch and nectar-like sweetness, without being too overpowering. Dough also supply their products to various cafes around Brooklyn and you'll be queuing for at least 15 minutes to take a bite from their stall at the amazing Smorgasburg food market (which is closed for Winter) and the Brooklyn Flea on the weekends (176 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn)

Some may prefer a cakey, dessert-style doughnut, and then it's time to head into the big smoke. It's not without reason Doughnut Plant (379 Grand St  between Essex and Norfolk) is a veritable institution for New Yorkers. Whether you're in the mood for a buttery bite of the tres leche doughnut, a thick cakey doughnut filled with the coma-inducing South American milk blend of condensed milk, whole milk and evaporated milk or the blackout, a chocolate cake doughnut chock-full with chocolate pudding and smothered in chocolate glaze and cake crumbs. But I'm telling you that you must not leave this place without trying the crème brûlée doughseed, a petite pocket of perfect fluffy dough stuffed with a thick dollop of crème brûlée custard and tossed in an ethereal coating of white sugar. Since they're also serving up a really good cup of espresso, this is a great place to hit up mid-morning for a break from shopping mania in Soho or for a lazy Sunday morning to read the paper. 

It's going to be one giant sugar rush, there are no two ways about it. But if you're going to eat a doughnut, I say do it right.

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Thursday, 10 January 2013

EAT burgers

Correct me if I'm wrong, America has to be the burger capital of the world. And damn they do it well. New York is littered with quality burger joints serving up juicy, brioche-enclosed slabs of meat, pickles, cheese and sauce. No doubt, this will not be my last post on burgers as I'm yet to try a few famed institutions in NYC where the burger is hailed as the pièce de résistance.

My burger pick, so far, is from the cosy, dimly-lit DuMont in Williamsburg (432 Union Ave, Williamsburg), a diner-style joint serving up classic American fare with calorie-laden finesse. The burger has a serious rep around town, and it's not for nothing DuMont is awash with burger-loving hipsters every day and night. A fat round of perfectly seasoned beef mince is nestled between a humble gathering of lettuce, tomato, onion and house-made pickles. There are a swathe of additional toppings on offer (caramelised onion, cheeses etc), but personally, I don't think you need it. This burger will literally have your table sitting in silence for a good 15 minutes, hands dripping in satisfaction with the burgers smug pan juices. 15 minutes of silence will be followed up with a solid 5 minutes of McCain ad-worthy crunching through the golden mound of perfectly crisp fries that spill generously over the plate.

This post would not be complete without mentioning one other must-try item on the menu. DuMac & Cheese - a huge piping hot combo of al dente pasta lavishly smothered in a moreish and silky béchamel of cheddar, Gruyere, Parmesan and thick batons of smokey bacon. I may have had this for breakfast once. With a side of the aforementioned fries.

If you don't have time to hit up the restaurant and you're doing a day trip to Williamsburg, DuMont burger (314 Bedford Ave, Williamsburg) is the sister restaurant churning out the same excellent burger (plus a mini version for an afternoon snack attack) and sandwiches and salads in a hole-in-the-wall cavern.

Yes, it's a $14 burger, which by New York standards is pretty pricey. Yes, you'll definitely roll out of here. Yes, you'll have had your recommended daily calorie intake in one meal. But you're going to leave here seriously satisfied and you'll probably think and dream about that burger. A lot. Until you come back and have it again.

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Thursday, 3 January 2013

EAT oysters

" 'Twas a brave man, who first ate an oyster " - Jonathan Swift
Oysters. You either love them or hate them. Personally, I'm happy to be a lover.

When I came to New York City from seaside Sydney, oysters were the last thing I would have expected to be a popular bar snack here. Turns out, New York can bring it when it comes to these salty sea treats. Oozing with old world charm, Parisian-style Maison Premiere (298 Bedford Ave, Williamsburg) is the perfect place to try them.  This dark and romantic den is right in the thick of hipsterville, and is the ultimate introduction to the inexorable food scene of New York City.

The daily changing oyster menu spans over 30 varieties depending on market availability from all around the U.S. and Canada. Get there for happy hour from 4-7pm each day where the oysters are only $1 each. The Fanny Bay oysters (Baynes Sounds, BC) are unfailingly good - sweet pillows of cream and butter. The Malpeques (Malpeque Bay, PEI) are smaller and slightly more acidic,  or try the Marionports (Buzzards Bay, MA) for a touch more earthiness and minerality. It seems sacrilegious to taint these oceanic beauties with anything other than the sweet freshness of the sea, but a squeeze of fragrant lemon and a spoonful of red wine vinaigrette and you'll be swooning.

Of course, you don't just go to Maison Premiere for the oysters. This bar is turning out some of the sexiest and cleanest cocktails in the city. If you're game and going to hit the ground running in NYC, ask one of the bartenders for a recommendation from the impressive absinthe list. Otherwise, the Prytania, a pretty rose-hued cocktail of Greenhook gin, framboise eau de vie, dolin rouge, lemon bitters and rose water, is executed to perfection every time.

If you're a first time visitor to New York and a lover of all things food and booze, Maison Premiere is an essential New York dining experience. You'll leave feeling on top of the world (especially if you took up the offer of the green fairy). 

For more New York food posts follow me on twitter @PhoebeRoseWood