A Culinary Adventure in New York — Day 1

6 Jul


When my four-day anniversary trip to New York became a personal culinary challenge, my dedication to the world of food and restaurants was put to the test like never before. All financial, behavioural, and physical norms were forgotten at the bus station, as I set out to explore a city I thought I already knew pretty well.

However, dear friends, we accomplished more than simply stuff ourselves full of pancakes, potatoes, grilled cheese, and cookies. To prove that, this series of blog posts will detail our itinerary, including museum visits, shopping escapades, puppet plays, and lazy strolls.

And so, we rolled into New York on a Friday morning, and within an hour of our arrival, we were sitting at Balthazar, a busy, fast-paced, French-inspired bistro.

We ordered bowls of hot chocolate and café au lait, and as we scrutinised the menu, my eyes immediately landed on the sour cream and hazelnut waffles. Served with warm berries and maple syrup, these were a very happy welcome to the city of my gluttonous dreams.

Kris opted for something a little more traditional: an English breakfast of fried bread and eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes, along with bacon and sausage. It was a hearty dish, though it was certainly made better with some liberal dollops of stolen maple (but then again, isn’t everything?).

After breakfast, we walked around SoHo for a few hours, discovering new boutiques and revisiting old favourites. Most notably, at Anthropologie, my guiltiest of all guilty pleasures, I spent a considerable amount of time agonising over some of my favourite things this world has to offer: dresses, candles and coasters. I had no luck revamping my wardrobe here, but I did leave with a quirky and irresistible octopus plate; a uniquely-designed citrus press; two perfectly-shaped bowls; four colourful, shimmering, and overall dazzling coasters; an exhilarating mint and avocado candle; and a shameless grin on my face.

We also ventured inside Vosges, feasting our eyes on all kinds of luxurious, innovative and mouth-watering chocolates, from the organic, vegan, sugar- and gluten-free varieties, to the champagne-, flower-, chilli-, and bacon-flavoured persuasion. The possibilities seem endless in this shop, the different gift ideas are absolutely adorable (mini candy bar library? I’m sold!), and the store itself — with its many purple accents, vases and vintage frames — is gorgeous.

And just like that, it was already time for our second meal of the day: lunch at Aquavit. The sober exterior and ultra-corporate interior was somewhat off-putting at first, but the warmth and charisma of our waiter, and the menu itself, quickly won us over. And if we weren’t already charmed, three different kinds of freshly baked breads were quickly brought over to us, along with an attractive slab of butter. I’m aware that I’m romanticising ordinary butter here, but really, it was beautiful.

We shared an appetizer of marinated baby beets, goat cheese, crispy potatoes, hazelnuts and truffle ice cream, which we agreed was fresh, delicate and unusual, yet surprisingly not memorable. I continued with a plate of Swedish meatballs, served in a cream sauce alongside lingonberries and a potato purée. The gravy was noticeably thick, the potatoes satisfyingly rich, and the berries sweeter than expected, and yet the dish in its entirety felt neither heavy nor overwhelming; without a shade of doubt, these were the best Swedish meatballs we’ve tasted.

As for Kris, he chose an Amish chicken salad composed of beluga lentils, fresh tomatoes and English peas, a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg, sprinkles of crispy bacon, homemade croutons, and a warm vinaigrette atop a bed of greens. It was light, nutritious and highly flavourful.

We finished things off with a dessert of strawberry mousse, lemon meringue and blueberry sorbet.

With some time to kill, we decided to walk our meal off and took to Central Park. Our healthy intentions were easily disrupted when we spotted a Wafels & Dinges truck. I was eager to sample their famous speculoos spread, with which they vanquished none other than Bobby Flay during a waffle-off on the Food Network, and thus we tucked into two mini wafels — speculoos and strawberry, and chocolate and banana. You’ll remember that I’d already eaten my fair share of waffles just a few hours prior, making this day a true test of my dedication to the art of eating. But was it worth it? Yes, yes it was.

We jumped on a bus and headed towards the International Photography Center, perhaps my favourite museum in New York and surely one of the most underrated. While Weegee: Murder Is My Business was explicitly entertaining, and President in Petticoat! Civil War Propaganda in Photographs defiantly confusing, the most inspiring, touching and striking collection by far was Christer Strömholm: Les Amies de Place Blanche.

We knew in advance that we’d have two hours between the museum’s closing time and our evening reservation, and… this is where we scheduled our visit to Eataly, Mario Batali‘s shrine to Italian food. How foolish we were, thinking we could spend two long hours admiring rows after rows of freshly-prepared, exclusively-imported Italian produce and resist touching and smelling and tasting everything we could get our paws on.

Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Batali.

Inevitably, we took a table at one of the twelve mini restaurants and ordered a platter of salumi & formaggi, marinated figs and apricots, and, low and behold, Amaretto-flavoured honey. Wait, did I put enough emphasis on that last part? Please read it again: Amaretto-flavoured honey. Seriously, as if the fresh mozzarella (made in-house daily) wasn’t enough.

And so, alarmingly full of cheese and charcuterie, we headed to Dirt Candy, Amanda Cohen‘s entirely vegetarian East Village restaurant.

Upon entering the tiny orange-hued space, we were feeling a little defeated and not very peckish, and therefore had no choice but to ignore the appetizer menu, as enticing as everyone else’s jalapeno hush puppies and maple butter snacks looked. I opted for a plate of chard gnocchi, grilled chard, garlic granola and drunken fig jam (I swear, figs follow me around), and Kris chose a concoction of grits, corn cream, pickled shiitakes, and a tempura poached egg.

We marvelled at the ingenious ways these simple vegetables were turned into original, exciting dishes, with a surprising number of distinct flavours and textures. Meat shmeat, these plates were satisfying and filling. And though we considered the eggplant tiramisù and the sweet pea and mint nanaimo bar for dessert, we finally swayed towards the chocolate beet lava cake, served with a pear sorbet and beet and pear leather, which was truly magical.

At the end of the night, when all the other patrons had left, we struck a conversation with our friendly waitress, who seemed thoroughly impressed by our itinerary, and with whom we gladly swapped some insider knowledge on Montreal’s and New York’s food scenes. And as sleepy as we now were, the conversation fuelled our anticipation for the next day.

DAY 2: We spend the day in Brooklyn, eat the afternoon away at an open-air food market, are humbled and amazed by world-renowned art at the Brooklyn Museum, and pay a visit to one of New York’s trendiest late-night restaurants.

Click here for DAY 2 and here for DAY 3.

References

Balthazar
80 Spring Street
(212) 965-1414

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Vosges
132 Spring Street
(212) 625-2929
Manhattan
(multiple locations)

Anthropologie
375 West Broadway
(212) 343-7070
Manhattan
(multiple locations)

Aquavit
65 East 55th Street
(212) 307-7311
Manhattan
reservations recommended
(ours were made approximately one month in advance)

Aquavit on Urbanspoon

Wafels & Dinges
(866) 429-7329
(multiple locations)

Wafels & Dinges (MOBILE CART) on Urbanspoon

International Photography Center
1133 Avenue of the Americas
(212) 857-0000
Manhattan

Eataly
200 5th Avenue
(212) 229-2560
Manhattan

Eataly on Urbanspoon

Dirt Candy
430 East 9th Street
(212) 228-7732
Manhattan
reservations recommended
(ours were made approximately one month in advance)

Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon