We arrived in New York, cold, hungry and huddling in our flapping coats as we tottered down the wind-whipped streets. It was wintry-cold and snowy on our first day there though we were fortunate and the sun came out for most of our time in the city. In truth, it was probably far less cold than I remembered Boston winters for example, to be. We were also very fortunate to have some warm and beautifully furnished places to stay, so that really helped our experience.
Right off the bat, I will admit that I envy the New Yorkers, amongst Americans, for their choice of produce, the freshness of produce and the luxury of having the world's best restaurants and chefs at your doorstep. I could eat forever and only work my way through a fraction of what the city has to offer and yes, of course Whole Foods has its issues (it is mass fish and chicken after all, you would think people know better than to expect it to be pristine in process and origin) but still, it is incomparable to the overpriced and meagre selections that the rest of the world contends with. Incomparable!
It is our own fault that we did not have a bigger breadth of eating experiences. We ate enormously and famously but I didn't for example, make pre-bookings 2 weeks ahead of time. I didn't queue online while in LA for seats at Morimoto. And very often, we were simply too lethargic or cold to track across town for an eatery that didn't take any reservations.
Still, we managed pretty well, on the morning that we arrived on the red-eye, we showered up and discovered happily that City Bakery, on West 18th between 5th and 6th Ave, was on the same street where we were staying. Z. said that if he lived there, he would go every weekend. Truth be told, City Bakery now looks like it's seen better days. It used to be a chick-magnet, a casual, two-story mezzanined eatery that offered gorgeous lemon tarts on a chocolate base, thick hot chocolate with cubes of home-made marshmellows and caramelized french toast on weekend brunch.
Now, like the faded memories of old flames, the place is a little more derelict (perhaps because they've taken on catering as a main business), a little emptier (though still crowded on weekend noons) and the food selection is much less robust- I had the best tofu skin, smoked salmon and edamame salad here before, now their best offering is raddioco, chickpeas and rocket. Still, it's a great place to catch up with a friend and the caramelized french toast and marshmellow cubes are as sinfully delicious as ever.
After City Bakery, we fought the jet lag and the cold to walk from across the avenues to Chelsea Market, which is at West 16th and 9th Ave. I had thought that this would be an outdoor, Christmassy market but when we reached there, I discovered it is an indoor market, a literal warren of stores designed by someone who must be a fan of the Ninja Turtles. There were snowflakes hanging from the pipe-ful ceiling made out of plastic forks and giant fans made even more giant by metal-rimmed cages.
Still, it is worth a trip to check out some of the stores- Eleni's for stylish iced cookies and yummy cupcakes- their red velvet is very light and good and their icing is made of a blend of marshmellow and buttercream. Also, Ronnybrook Creamery for the richest chocolate milk I've had in awhile and really, anything dairy. Fat Witch Brownies for a huge selection of brownie flavours and Amy's Bread to watch bakers plait challah and punch chocolate chip-encrusted dough through the glass-fronted workshop. While you are in the neighbourhood, go check out High Line, which is a train track converted public park, running along or rather, above 10th avenue and Chelsea.
After an overdue nap, we woke up at 2.30pm, which is when I discovered that most New York restaurants have a very definite lunch and dinner seating. We decided to hightail it to Sobaya in the East Village, which is on the same street as Ippudo ramen and many other hole-in-the-wall Japanese joints. We shared a cold soba and a hot udon set, each priced at $18 and complete with sushi bowls, soup and side dishes, a really good value meal, which explains it's popularity amongst professionals and students.
After that meal, we really didn't need any dinner but we walked around all the shops and vintage furniture joints in Chelsea and the Meatpacking area and built up an appetite. Unfortunately, not many places were open on Sunday and we were dazed and confused by the time change, so we opted for an easy, nearby option, Basta Pasta, a Japanese Italian joint which specialises in light home-made pasta with Japanese-influenced ingredients like shiso, miso and uni.
We had a uni pasta with pink sauce and a seared Chilean sea bass in clear vegetable and mushroom broth, the portion sizes were sensible, the flavours very clean, a very suitable dinner on a night when you don't feel like eating too much. After dinner, we decided to be adventurous and went to Veniero's, a venerable East Village institution for New York cheesecake.
The shop has been opened since 1894 and sports old-world decor- marble flooring, wood paneled walls with large antique mirrors and Tiffany stained glass lights. A line forms out of the door on weekends for a bite of their light but creamy cheesy cake topped with glassy strawberries, many college years ago, this was a revelation to me in how cheesecake could taste. The taste is very straight forward and simple, in this city that is full of complex foods and techniques adn it's still the best. The other Italian pastries like cannolli and Sicilian cheesecake are also very good but not the star. Scampering back home in the cold, with cheesecake melting down our throats, it had been a happy day back in New York.
3 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011-4610
75 9 Avenue
New York, NY 10011
229 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10003
37 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011-5503
Veniero's Pastry Shop
342 East 11th Street
Manhattan, New York, NY 10003