Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fairytale Food of New York

They say the English love queuing, but no-booking restaurants have only recently emerged in London. In New York, lines are everywhere. Even chains such as Shake Shack have allotted areas outside for their anticipated string of customers. One night we sought out the Instagram du jour - special milkshakes that are topped with, for instance, a slice of pie plus ice cream and marshmallows and chocolate sauce - at Black Tap in SoHo, where the fad started. Pointing to the file of shivering hipsters stretching around the block, security informed us the wait would be at least three hours, probably four. The Bagel Store, original purveyor of rainbow bagels, and the Dominique Ansel Bakery, seller of the famous cronut, both entailed similar endurance tests.

Our Queens-based host Tia Keenan pointed out that you could eat at a different restaurant every day for years in New York and never come across a bad meal. My advice? Ditch the trends (for the most part) and follow your own foodie interests. As a pescetarian and lover of Mexican cuisine, my seven day restaurant tour was heavy on the tacos and light on the meat burgers. Although Instagram is exceptionally useful for assembling a food diary, don't be afraid to visit places you haven't seen on the app and remember that Manhattan isn't the only borough.

Read on for my guide to eating out in New York...


This buzzing counter-style vegan restaurant on Bleecker Street is an exciting venture by chef Chloe Coscarelli that serves plant-based fare without any moralising in sight. Not convinced? Well, there are queues around the block. This place is so popular, celebrities are known to pay 'space minders' to wait in line. Don't worry, there's no need to resort to such measures - we simply arrived at 12.30pm, just before the lunchtime rush.
I went for The Guac Burger, air baked french fries and a small pot of nutty mac n' cheese. The macaroni, thickly coated in a sweet potato and cashew nut 'cheese' sauce and topped with 'bacon' (crispy shiitake mushroom), is incredibly moreish. The chipotle 'mayonnaise' was another stroke of genius. Erik the manager said, "I'm not a vegan, I just love the food here". Same. There is no doubt that this is a peek into the future of the London food scene.
Where?  185 Bleecker St, Greenwich Village, 10012
When? Mon & Tue: 11am-10pm, Wed-Fri: 11am-11pm, Sat: 10am-11pm, Sun: 10am-10pm


Roberta's may well be my favourite New York restaurant so far. This Brooklyn eatery is known for its pizzas, but we instead ordered the rest of the menu. Peeking over at our neighbours' choices - a chief benefit of shared tables - we declared, "we'll have what they're having". A bowl of stracciatella di bufala, burrata-like stringy cheese, drenched in peppery olive oil with two pieces of chargrilled sourdough arrived. So simple, so good - why mess with perfection? The cacio e pepe was small but faultless. All of these dishes were served in large white bowls and placed in the middle, family-style. Our homemade dessert was root beer ice cream - never before have I experienced fizzy ice cream - and peanut butter cookie and cayenne ice cream.
Where? 261 Moore St, Brooklyn, 11206
When? Mon-Fri: 11am-midnight, Sat & Sun: 10am-midnight
Dirt Candy

On my last day, we visited Canadian chef Amanda Cohen's famous vegetarian restaurant, Dirt Candy. The light-filled space and relaxed atmosphere is ideal for weekend brunching. To start, we chose red pepper fritters, aka mini glazed doughnuts filled with pepper jam. While quickly scoffing these sweet-and-salty flavour bombs, we were amazed to see head chef Amanda serving tables herself!
The corn French toast, covered in icing sugar and bourbon maple syrup, was the best I've ever had. The spicy and garlicky 'Greens' sandwich was enormous and came with beautifully crisp fried potatoes. A whole bowl of those would not have gone amiss. Everything was so perfect, we were compelled to keep ordering more. We finished the meal with squash biscuits (pictured). Heavenly: flaky, buttery and moist. The accompanying yellow pepper jam and pumpkin butter were equally mouth-watering.
Where? 86 Allen Street, Lower East Side, 10002
When? Tue-Sat: 5.30-11pm, Sat & Sun: 11.30am-2.30pm
Walking down Bleecker Street, we played restaurant roulette and simply chose the most vibrant eatery without a line. We came across Tacombi, which serves 'la autentica cocina yucateca'. The interiors are mostly white with punches of colour and the space is flooded with light - perfect for snapping the Instagramable food. To start, we shared guacamole with homemade topopos. Fresh and inviting, this was the perfect way to restore our energies after a long morning walk. We tried two tacos: Crispy Fish, beer battered Alaskan cod with homemade poblano mayonnaise; and Mayita Vegetariana with heirloom beans, sweet potatoes, salsa and queso. Paired with a pitch-perfect margarita containing fermented agave rather than hard liquor due to a nearby church (how American!), this meal hit the spot.
Where?  255 Bleecker St, West Village, 10014
When? Sun-Wed: 11am-midnight, Thurs-Sat: 11am-1am
Cafe Gitane

For the first three nights, we stayed at The Jane on the edge of the Meatpacking District. Its rooftop parties and hip bar make it a fantastic drinking hotspot but not such a great hotel. The rooms are so tiny, they are only good for sleeping in. And even that is questionable. Thankfully, the adjoined Cafe Gitane is a beautiful spot with high ceilings and decor reflecting its French-Morrocan fare.
The orange blossom waffle with fruit was delightful, though the show-stopper on this menu is the avocado toast, which is embellished with chilli flakes and lashings of good quality olive oil and lemon juice. Apparently the much copied 'avo toast' was a Cafe Gitane original, so it's a must-try.
Where?  113 Jane St, West Village, 10014
When?  Sun-Thurs: 7am-midnight, Fri & Sat: 7am-1am
Kajitsu is a special restaurant. Serving Shōjin-ryōri cuisine, a Buddhist culinary tradition that takes no lives, this is where to go for a truly unique experience. We opted for the $95 'Hana' menu, assuming this series of light Japanese dishes would barely touch the sides. Alas, we were wrong as the eight courses were more than enough for dinner. At the start of the meal, a waiter displays a large basket containing the raw ingredients used in the kitchen. We are later asked to choose our own exquisite cup, which hot sake is then poured into from an elegant copper jug. According to the restaurant, "dishware is an integral part of the meal. The dishes used at Kajitsu were specially selected for this space, and include pieces created by  master Japanese potters over 200 years ago." 
The 'Hana' tasting menu includes the familiar miso soup, tempura and soba noodles, but also introduces ingredients less known to Westerners such as nama-fu (raw wheat gluten and rice flour) and ginkgo nuts (from the maidenhair tree). Pictured here is 'Winter's End', merging turnip, bamboo shoots, basil, chrysanthemum, nuts and nama-fu. The combined effect is a pleasantly peculiar taste of citrus and grass with an additional earthy bitterness.
Go here for an unforgettable food memory.
Where?  125 E 39th St, 10016
When?  Tue-Sun: 5.30pm-9pm
Taqueria Coatzingo
We decided to spend a whole afternoon walking along Roosevelt Avenue, stopping in to visit several Central and South American eateries. A handpicked list of culinary delights in Jackson Heights, Queens was provided by our helpful host, food writer and cheese specialist Tia Keenan (@kasekaiserina).
Our first stop, Coatzingo, was just a few minutes from the subway station. The interiors are bright green and orange, as bright and colourful as the Mexican fare. Pacing ourselves for the feasting ahead and already starting to fill up after a complementary bowl of chips with salsa was placed in front of us as soon as we sat down, we shared a single vegetarian taco. The soft taco was filled with guacamole, salsa and frijoles (beans), topped with cheese and accompanied by a jalapeño. All for $2.50.
Where? 7605 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, Queens, 11372
When? 9am-3am
Barney Greengrass

Many of the conversations on my trip included the question, "where can I find the best bagel in New York?". Black SeedRuss & Daughters and Sadelle's were all suggested but in the end we chose Barney Greengrass. This classic establishment started in 1908, and Barney's grandson Gary now holds the fort. Newspaper clippings taped to the windows outside include photographs of Gary with past guests Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Larry David, and the 2002 obituary of Barney's son Moe in the New York Times.
Barney Greengrass "aka the Sturgeon King" specialises in smoked fish. My lox and cream cheese bagel was accordingly generous with the salmon, which was thickly sliced. The bagel itself was neither crunchy nor soft, unlike the shiny and firm bagels of Murray's. Our helpful server informed us that there is an important no toasting rule in both delis. As is to be expected in the US, our bagels came with a pickle.
Where? 541 Amsterdam Ave, Upper West Side, 10024
When? Tue-Sun: 8am-6pm
La Bonbonniere
The concierge of our hotel, The Jane, recommended La Bonbonniere for breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised to find an entirely unpretentious classic diner.
I ordered a grilled cheese, which came with a pickle and horseradish sauerkraut. At many of the tables sit regulars who come every day, including one man who announced that he was from MI5 and could read our texts. Hearing our accents, he confided in us that he's a son of the Queen. "I'm a prince. And I want my throne but I called up Prince Charles and he said don't do it. It's horrible."
Quirky locals aren't the only regulars - Philip Seymour Hoffman and Kate Winslet have also attended. Bonus: the newsagents next door sells House & Garden!
Where? 28 8th Ave, Manhattan, 10014
When? Mon-Thurs: noon-11pm, Fri: 12pm-1am, Sat: 11am-1am, Sun: 11am-10pm
Salvation Burger

Salvation Burger is the latest fast-casual restaurant of British chef April Bloomfield, perhaps best known for Michelin-starred gastropub The Spotted Pig. The burgers here are expensive (up to $25) and served adamantly rare.
A green salad drenched in buttermilk dressing and covered in poppy seeds was the perfect starter. The veggie burger (pictured) consists of a patty made with beetroot, lentils, vermicelli and garam masala, making it somewhat an acquired taste. The fish burger is better, and the peanut butter s'mores pie is deliciously American. We came for the burgers, we stayed for the toasted marshmallow milkshake - an absolute must, it's a dessert in itself.
Where? 230 E. 51st Street, Midtown East, 10022
When? Mon-Sat: 12pm-2am, Sun: closed
See the milkshake and s'more on my Instagram.
Arepa Lady
This hidden gem is the food baby of a famous street cart. The eponymous 'Arepa Lady' is Maria Piedad Cano, ex-lawyer and current queen of Colombian corn cakes in Queens.
There are just three delicacies available: arepas, which are soft, pillowy and made from cornmeal; chocolo, which are larger, chewy, sweet and made from fresh corn; and telas, which are small and similar to tortillas. We shared an arepa de queso and a chocolo, also with queso, because I can never have enough cheese. They can also be ordered with meat. Anything you order arrives with a line of sauces: pink (ketchup and mayonnaise), pineapple, garlic mayonnaise, chilli sauce and condensed milk. The latter is the best of all.
Where? 77-02 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, 11373
When? Mon-Thurs: noon-11pm, Fri: 12pm-1am, Sat: 11am-1am, Sun: 11am-10pm

Walking the High Line, an elevated park running along the west side, should be firmly on everyone's New York to-do list. Bubby's High Line is conveniently located at the Gansevoort Street end of the line in the Meatpacking District, making it the perfect place to either carb-up for the walk ahead or restore energies with a well-deserved treat. I opted for the seriously naughty Double Decker Grilled Cheese - you can't go wrong with gruyere, avocado and caramelised onions on sourdough. Their generous servings of pancakes with caramelised bananas looked tasty too.
Where? 73 Gansevoort St, 10014 / 120 Hudson Street, 10013
When? Brunch Mon-Sun: 8am-4pm. Dinner Sun-Thurs: 5pm - 10pm, Fri-Sat: 5pm-midnight

Nixtamal is where you'll find authentic Mexican food and the freshest tacos around. The tortilleria is known amongst foodies for making its own 'masa', corn dough, from scratch. 'Nixtamal' itself is a process whereby fresh corn is partially cooked, then soaked with lime (calcium hydroxide, that is) for ten hours. Owner Francisco was happy to show us where the tortillas are made and kept warm in a stripped-back room just a few minutes away from the restaurant. 
Where? 104-05 47th Ave, Corona, Queens, 11368
When? Mon-Wed: 11am-7pm, Thurs & Sun: 11am-9pm, Fri & Sat: 11am-11pm 
Best Pizza

In a former bakery near Bedford Avenue station, we found the best pizza in Brooklyn: New York-style with a very thin crust, straight out of a wood fire oven. "We like to keep it simple," said the server. "We only do two types of pie." The key? "The ratio between sauce and cheese, not too heavy with either one." The one to get is the cheese slice ($3.25), which is sweet and salty with caramelised onions, pecorino, mozzarella, ricotta and sesame seeds. Their menu also features gluten-free alternatives. 
We are told the owner helped develop the menu at the Chiltern Firehouse - one of London's hottest hangouts, often frequented by A-listers - when chef Nuno Mendes first considered serving pizza and maintains a good relationship with head chef Patrick Powell.
Where? 33 Havemeyer St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 11211
When? 12pm-Midnight, Sat: 12pm-1am

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