In 2009, when I returned back to the USA, my purpose was three-fold. 1) Get the necessary paperwork to work and get married in Morocco 2) Earn some money so that I could start a life in Morocco and pay for the marriage and bureaucracy in Morocco 3) Make sure that I hadn’t completely lost my mind by giving myself a little time away from the girl I had fallen in love with.
It seemed like as soon as I’d started on my way – things began to fall apart. Ultimately, I ended up connecting with old friends, having a huge falling out with my father, strengthening the relationships with my brother and my uncle, hustling enough to get things going in Morocco, and accomplishing all three of my goals.
The best thing about NYC is its history. The fact that you can dine at restaurants where presidents and stars of the 1940s used to sit, eating what they ate and perhaps drinking their same wine, is unreal. It is a bridge to our past and really sets NYC apart.
No, actually…the best thing about NYC is how ever-changing it is. The fact that walking down the street you spot 3 new restaurants a month. The fact that if you don’t go try it now, it will be out of date in a week. The vibe keeps you on your toes and breathes life and excitement into the city.
No, actually…the combination of the two is the best thing about NYC. The fact that you can eat at old school steakhouses and new-school meat emporiums keeps thing interesting, fun, and most definitely, delicious.
Old School Steakhouse – Keens. This place has been around since the 1800s, and until Lillie Langtry objected, it was gentlemen only. The menu has barely changed since it opened, and from the relish plate brought at the beginning of the meal to the extensive scotch list brought around at the end, you may well feel like you are dinging in another era. Don’t miss the restaurant’s signature mutton chop, a prime rib-like cut of lamb that is pleasantly gamey and unlike anything else in the city.
New School Steakhouse-Takashi. Meat is the name of the game at this Korean-Japanese bbq restaurant. Grill everything by yourself at pristine countertop grills. And everything means everything – pork belly, ribeye, liver, heart, and even tongue. The meat sourced is of the highest possible quality, and if you try a bite raw, you may decide not to cook it at all.
Old School Italian-Parkside3. Italian American restaurants might be degraded by foodies who pride themselves on only eating at seasonally influenced, chef owned restaurants, but, then, they may never have had perfect chicken parmesan. Head to this restaurant in Queens for gargantuan portions of Italian-American food, chianti served with a generous hand, and the ability to hob knob with everyone who is anyone in the Italian community. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait awhile for your reservation time – it’s not first come first served, it’s mama’s friends are the first served. And it is worth it.
New School Italian-Ai Fiori. Michael White’s Franco-Italian menu proves that Italian food doesn’t have to have even a hint to tomato to be powerful and tasty. His butter poached lobster and escargot with bone marrow are just two examples of how he takes the freshest possible ingredients, treats them with classic Italian technique, and turns them into a first-class tasting experience.
Old School Deli-2nd Avenue Deli. This deli might have moved, but nothing else has changed. Order the instant heart attack for a pastrami sandwich served between not slices of bread but crusty deep fried latkes. Dig into the sour pickled tomatoes before your meal comes to the table, and don’t be offended if your waitress demands that you finish your min course before you get dessert. After all, we are all family here.
New School Deli-Kutshers. Buh-bye colorless brisket and salty stews. Hello gourmet gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. This trendy Tribeca eatery reimagines classic Ashkenazi Jewish dishes into haute fare, beautiful enough and flavorful e3nough to stand up to the finest of the city’s French cuisine. Be sure to try the duck borscht with roasted duck, Swiss chard, fingerlings and sour cream, the Friday night roast chicken with pletzel and maitake and black trumpet mushroom stuffing, and one of the craft cocktails, like the spicy gazpacho Mary.
New York isn’t just the best place to eat; it’s one of the best places to shop for food. No need to subscribe to pricey specialty food email lists to obtain the latest in hard-to–source foods.
Stop stockpiling foreign candy that gets you in trouble with customs every time you try to come back from London. And please…let’s say goodbye to big box supermarkets that sell tomatoes that look gorgeous and taste like candle wax.
Here are just a few of Manhattan’s very best food stores, sure to give you everything you need to feast at home.
Kalustyan’s – this Indian food emporium offers literally anything you will need to make a meal from the subcontinent. There is a wall full of spices so potent that your eyes may tear – but at the same time, your mouth will water. Need paneer, chickpea flour, or kaffir lime? They have it. Or maybe you want a huge bag of Brazil nuts, strained yogurt from Greece, or foreign candy bars. Don’t sweat; they have that here, too. If all else fails, you at least owe it you yourself to try some food at the tiny upstairs café. It might not be fancy, but it is the best Indian food that you can get outside of your Bengali mom’s house.
Eataly—Mario Batali strikes gold again with this humongous Italian emporium. This place isn’t just a supermarket; it is a full-on destination. Along with the piles of exotic mushrooms, Italian dried pastas, and imported fruit like Sicilian blood oranges, you can have cooking lessons or wine classes. There is a European style food hall, with many small restaurants focusing on just one thing – fish, vegetables, pizza, or pasta. Also, stand at counters and try meats, cheese, or wines. Finally, for the ultimate experience, head to Manzo, an acclaimed beef focused restaurant right in the heart of the bustling store.
Zabar’s-come on to the UWS for a little nosh. This is the place where you come for Sunday brunch – for soft, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese, and the gest assortment of smoked fish in the city. Smoked salmon, kippered salmon, smoked trout, whitefish salad, and everything else you can imagine to make a fantastic spread. Also load up on gourmet olives, luscious cheeses, homemade hummus, and artisanal crackers and breads. Don’t underestimate the stuff you can get at Zabar’s –they roast their own chickens; have an extensive prepared food section, and a coffee section that carries the aroma of the best Starbucks in the world.
Esposito’s – this old school butcher shop is what NYC used to be like, before the infusion of big chain grocery stores. Esposito’s is a tiny store in Hell’s Kitchen where anything and everything meat can be yours. Shins, marrow bones, veal breast, and whole baby goat – literally, anything that you want is either in stock or will be ordered for you. The fellas behind the counter couldn’t be more accommodating or helpful –they will tell you how to cook that chicken breast so it is tender and flavorful. Pick up some homemade mozzarella and local Italian bread while you are there and make sandwich fit for a king.
HMart—goodbye, USA, hello Korea. This store, where the windows are papered and the location is in the middle of a harried street, houses an entirely different world. A world of 50 lb. bags of rice and dried squid sold like potato chips. A world of thinly sliced sashimi and an entire freezer case filled with dumplings and potstickers. A world of peach flavored gummies, coffee flavored milk, and instant noodles that are way beyond the stuff you had in college. It’s also a world of prepared bibimbap, kimpab, and anything that you might need to take a gustatory trip to Korea.
Saying you are going to visit New York is like saying you are going shopping. Where? For what? With whom? So it’s time to stop being vague and start being specific. Let’s talk about neighborhoods – each neighborhood in NYC has its own character and purpose, and you can easily spend an afternoon eating and drinking your way through them without ever having to descend into the train stations or spend money on a cab. One of the best neighborhoods for adventurous foodies is Hell’s Kitchen.
Hell’s Kitchen, roughly 40th-60th streets on 9th and 10th avenues, got its name from the time when West Side Story was written. It used to be a rough hood, full of gang strife and hoodlums. Even through the 80s, a nice kid like me would never walk west of 8th avenue – it was just not a savory neighborhood.
However, the cleaning up of Times Square has brought good along with the evils of Applebee’s, and some of that is that Hell’s kitchen has become safe while retaining its many wonderful ethnic restaurants. Starting south all the way uptown, you can literally develop gout from the delicacies:
Sandwich Planet – (http://www.sandwichplanet.com) ignore the $27 dollar BLTs elsewhere and come right here for the best things between sliced bread. Ignore the fact that it is located on the “wrong” side of Port Authority. Come for the reasonably priced beers, the thick milkshakes, and the truly unbelievable sandwiches. Served on artisan bread and with the best ingredients possible, these babies are chock full of home roasted turkey, fresh vegetables, and served with handmade fries. Order a burger for something different – they are some of the best and juiciest in town, served on tangy sourdough bread.
99 Cent Pizza (569 9th Ave)artisanal this ain’t, but you have to love how day or night, Christmas or New Year’s Day, whenever you want, you can get a slice for just a dollar. This place won’t win any prizes for originality, but its thin crust under oregano heavy sauce and oil slicked, bubbly cheese is nostalgic and comforting at 2 am after a long night.
Esca – (http://www.esca-nyc.com)debatably the best seafood restaurant in town. This Mario Batali joint is part owned and run by its chef, Dave Pasternack, who goes out fishing to bring back the best that he can offer. The menu often changes twice daily, so customers know that they are getting the best seafood possible. The crudo are always fresh and clean, the pastas are handmade, and the affogato is a delight. As a bonus, the wine list is extensive and interesting. This isn’t cheap, but the food is so fresh and flavorful that you won’t mind dropping few bucks.
Amy’s Bread – (http://www.amysbread.com)if you want bread, this is where you come. There are better cakes and cookies to be had, but the bread here is incredible – that is why there is always a line extending out the door of this tiny shop, from dawn till dusk when it closes. Go for the potato dill, the fennel raisin, or the chocolate sourdough twists. The breads are unique, baked daily, and beg to be tasted the minute you have a loaf in your hot little hands.
Pam Real Thai – (http://www.pamrealthaifood.com) there are many Thai restaurants that line 9th avenue, but none is as spicy, as garlicky, and as mind-blowingly funky as Pam’s. Both of her locations, just 2 blocks apart, serve up home-style Thai food that is closer to what you might get in Thailand than what you might get in NYC. The pad kee mao is especially hot and flavorful, redolent of garlic, chiles, and fish sauce. Order it extra spicy for a hit of chiles that will have you wiping your brow. Cheap beers and dollar sodas finish off an awesome deal.
Azuri— (http://www.azuricafe.com) bye bye soup Nazi, hello falafel Nazi. Though Ezra Cohen may growl at you if you take too long to order, the chastisement is worth it. Juicy grilled meats, smoky babaganoush, crisp falafel, and fiery hot sauce is among the best in the city. You may feel yourself transported to Israel by way of this truly exemplary food.
Me taking a picture of the Gutenberg Bible at the New York Public Library.
I love New York. A few more photos in slideshow format of some of my time in this amazing city. I can’t wait to go back again. Obviously, the big hole in the ground is where the Twin Towers were – since then Freedom One has gone up.