Saturday, February 20, 2010

New York Updates-- Eating in the City

Last month, I made a New York wishlist-- places I wanted to go to on our next trip. We spent Valentine's Day Weekend in the city and tried several places on the list.

Porchetta in the East Village is quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever had in my whole life. HOLY COW. Apparently, porchetta is street food in Tuscany. I am not going to Tuscany any time soon, but I will go back to the city for this. If you can go, then by all means do it. There are simply not enough adjectives to describe this experience that is porchetta. We ordered cooking greens (marvelous), crispy potatoes which were dotted with bits of crispy pork, and of course, the sandwich itself which is beyond delicious. This place is tiny-- seats 6 at a small counter. Most people ordered to go. The smell that wafts through the air in this place is intoxicating porky goodness. Sara Jenkins, chef and co-owner, is simply a goddess with pork.

And then there was the wonders of Chelsea Market (not the antiques one, the food one). I guess the Food Network has their HQ there. Good for them. They are on my last nerve lately spending more time celebrating personalities than actual chefs like it was in the old days. I am underwhelmed. However, the Chelsea Market, while a bit touristy (not too bad) and a bit crowded, is totally worth a stop.

Here you will find the chocolates of Jacques Torres which Giada talked about on the Best thing I ever ate (yes, I still watch the Food Network). His website, aptly named,, shows the other locations and I believe you can order directly. We shared a wicked hot chocolate which was thick, creamy, chocolately with just a tiny bite of spice to it. Delicious!!!! I guess he has an ice cream shop in DUMBO (Brooklyn neighborhood) that we will surely make our way to on our next visit.

There is a fantastic kitchen/restaurant supply store that I finally purchased my cracker cutter from and I could have dropped mad cheddar in, but alas, this just gives me a reason to go back to the Bowery Kitchen Supply. I have a laundry list of cooking tools and gadgets that I want. You know how it is. I like the gadgety party of most hobbies that I do.

We had a Valentine lunch of at the Clever Co's Green Table. This food was fantastic. Rosie had a kimchee burger (which I initially scoffed at) that was out of this world. I had a not too shabby mac and cheese that was scrumptious. All and all this is a great place to eat. If you get a table inside, it is a quiet experience that is away from the loudness of the Chelsea Market.

One of the places we went to Apiary, was sort of a let down. I am not sure if Valentine's Day is the best night to judge a restaurant by, but that being said, here are my thoughts. We arrived for our 9:45 pm reservation as we waited till the last second to find a place to eat. We sat at the bar and had some delicious cocktails. One, I believe was called the pollinator, was strega and herbs and it was divine. The bartender was delightfully charming and soon we went to our table. We were initially seated by two people on their first date. Did I mention it was Valentine's Day? She was straight out of college and exuded a certain youthful hubris which was accented by her loud talking. I didn't enjoy her. Her date, no less than 10 years her senior, was clearly not having a good time. He actually went to the bathroom at one point and said when he came back "I thought you would have left, I can't believe you are still here." It wasn't in a Woody Allen pity party kind of way, but more like, we have zero in common. This is going no where.

Onward, the couple left (as they had long finished their meal and I was astounded at their cavalier attitude about taking a table for about an hour after they finished eating). I ordered the hanger steak which seems to be on all the menus at shi-shi restaurants these days. It was a good steak. I finally looked up what exactly a hanger steak is (the diaphragm) and while briefly horrified, I think it is good to not lose sight of what exactly it is you are eating. I used to be a staunch supporter of meat disassociation theory (meat grows on trees). However, it seems irresponsible to not be mindful that you are eating an animal. That's another story.

The sauce on the plate, red wine jus, was so complex and elegant. I could have licked it off the plate. In no uncertain terms, it was delicious. The potato puree was also just top notch.
Rosie ordered the duck, which was good but not great. We've had better. We had an apple tarte tatin which was fine, but honestly, it was really messy to eat and not particularly enjoyable. Apiary is expensive, and I don't think I would have any interest in going back, which is a shame.

I rarely have that experience when eating at higher end restaurants (or even lower end) in New York. I also think I had really high expectations given than Bourdain talks about Scott Bryan as a genius. I don't think most executive chefs work on Sundays, so perhaps that was the problem. However, I have been to other restaurants when the chef was out and the food was still beyond reproach. A New York Magazine reviewer gave it 2 stars in November (out of a nearly impossible to reach 5) and up from a single star before Scott Bryan's arrival. Honestly I just don't know if it was because Valentine's day meals are akin to restaurant week in the City. No one gives a shit what they are making because the people who are eating it are less likely to know better.

About the service overall, I have mixed feelings again. We liked the bartender. I also liked the one dude who carried around a tray of bread and refilled your bread at all times. I love bread guys. The wait staff in charge of our table was peculiar. She seemed fully engaged at another table of foodies where they waxed on about how she worked for Tom Colicchio for twelve years and he's over-expanded his culinary empire resulting in poor management and bad food (I can attest to that as our experience at Craft Bar a few years ago was simply wretched). It seemed inappropriate. It also seemed that like the manager, she cared more about particular tables than others. Clearly we were one of the others. She was just possibly an odd person rather than actively trying to ignore us. The manager was clearly schmoozing to one couple who appeared to be his friends. He never even looked up to see if any one else in the restaurant was having a nice time. I thought it was arrogant and pretentious. I would not recommend Apiary, and again, I think that is a shame. Honestly the experience of cramming into the tiny space of Porchetta was by far a superior experience and about a third of the price. All and all, it was a fun trip. Next time, the other pig restaurant- The Spotted Pig will be on our list!

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