A culinary tour of NYC, Part I.

Last October, I was able to sneak away for a weekend in New York City. It was my first trip there in two and a half years, and I went with grand plans for great adventures. I returned excited to tell you all about it. Then a little storm system called Sandy hit. It was heartbreaking, and I just had trouble reconciling the city I know with the devastation I saw on the news. Suddenly, talking about all the fun I had just seemed wrong.

So, rather than chronicling every spare second as I am wont to do, I instead offer a much condensed version of my trip.

During my tenure as a New Yorker, I reveled in the food scene. My friends and I tried out all the top restaurants as soon as we could get a reservation — brunch at Sarabeth’s or Balthazar, dinner at Butter, Pastis, Spice Market, Eleven Madison Park, Aquavit, the Rainbow Room, Gramercy Tavern. (The “hot spots” circa 2005.) Exciting trends in food are usually born in or come to the U.S. through New York first. Within 20 minutes, I could sample a Magnolia cupcake, a Jacques Torres hot chocolate or a Serendipity3 ice cream sundae.

My worst realization, coming a couple of months into building my new life down south, was that the food scene moved on quite easily without me. As I left, Pinkberry was becoming all the rage, as was Momofuku. I tried but never had time to wait in the mile-long line for Shake Shack, and Eataly opened several years later. As time approached for this trip, I had built up quite a list of things and places to eat … my own culinary tour of the city, you could say.

Takahachi — East Village

First stop was this little sushi joint (really, it’s tiny) in the East Village. Takahachi was the first place I ever ate sushi, back in 2000. We just stumbled on it one Sunday afternoon after wandering most of lower Manhattan. That meal was spectacular, and I was hooked (har har.) I ate there again several times, and it never disappointed. Until now.

The sushi rolls were smaller than I remember, yet affordable, and the whole meal was just okay. I later read that’s the consensus on Yelp too — Takahachi used to be an incredible place, but it’s going downhill. Even so, though its quality is slipping, it hasn’t closed like many of my other old favorites. I can still relive the nostalgia of my era there.

Nathan’s — Coney Island

We were driving along in Brooklyn the next day, when I happened to mention that I’d never been to Coney Island. I don’t know why — I just never made it there, not even for the Mermaid Parade. My friend promptly swerved the car, and we were off in that direction. Now, we’d already agreed to meet a friend for brunch, but we just couldn’t resist the allure of the original Nathan’s. It’s an institution!

nathans

nathans2

hotdog

The hot dog (with sauerkraut and mustard, natch) lived up to all the hype. It has that perfect snap at first bite. And it must be enjoyed on the sandy boardwalk with a salty sea breeze, surrounded by eccentric people and in the shadow of the Wonder Wheel. The classic experience. Nathan’s is touristy and more expensive than it should be, but it serves a pretty great hot dog.

We also downed an order of chili cheese fries. They were ridiculous, in the best way.

cheese fries

Four and Twenty Blackbirds — Brooklyn

This one is a bit of a cheat, since I didn’t actually visit this pie shop and bakery. Instead, I ate a slice of the famous salted caramel apple pie during brunch at Rucola. Well, first I ate Nutella french toast, because I can’t resist anything with Nutella in the title. Let’s be honest: I’d eat Nutella on a piece of concrete. Also, we were keeping up appearances — we couldn’t confess our prior excursion to Coney Island, you know.

frenchtoast

The french toast was fabulous. But — perhaps since I’d eaten two entire meals already — I wasn’t that bowled over by the pie. It was good, but I didn’t get much of the salted caramel flavor. The crust wasn’t that special either … all in all, it just wasn’t amazing.

apple pie

I’ve seen Four and Twenty Blackbirds featured multiple times on Cooking Channel, and I was excited to stumble on one of its pies completely by accident. So I’ll not judge the entire outfit on this one basis. It’s still worth a visit to the storefront itself. Someday.

More to come…

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