My New York "Roadfood" diary
Day 1--The train was late, it was cold and raining so after checking into my hotel around 2 PM, I just wanted a quick bite of lunch--which I obtained across the street at the Chelsea Papaya : 2 Sabrett hot dogs slathered with mustard and onion relish with a diet soda. Then I headed uptown on the 6th Ave. subway to Macy’s to check out the after Christmas sale but didn’t see anything and by then it was dinner time.
I walked over to Park Ave and took the subway back down to Astor place and a crosstown bus to 6th and first Ave where I ate at Banjara, an Indian place which Zagat’s rates among the best in New York. This area (actually in the East Village) is apparently known to locals as “curry hill”, a pun on the nearby “Murray Hill” area because there are many Indian restaurants. Banjara, however, was excellent--I had a fiery chicken vindaloo which differed from what I’m used to in having no obvious tamarind in the sauce. Anyway, it was excellent (as were the accompaniments I ordered, especially the raita which was probably the best I’ve ever had) and, at $28 including 2 Kingfisher beers, the price seemed consistent with what I’d expect to pay in San Francisco. Sadly, though, I feel I should report that the vindaloo was at least as fiery on the way out as on the way in--be warned.
Day 2--Slept a bit late and decided to skip breakfast in favor of “brunch” at Katz’s. Subway’d down and walked around a bit, then went in and had a corned beef sandwich on rye with a “half done” pickle. The corned beef was superb, in part because it had plenty of fat. It was also cooked to the point of extreme tenderness. I have to quibble with the pickle, however. I definitely asked for “half done”--what I got had spent, I think, maybe seconds in the pickling brine and was hard to distinguish from an unpickled cucumber. Yeah, at $14 or so it was not a cheap sandwich, but I think it was a classic of its kind and so was worth it.
After eating at Katz’s, I went on down and ogled the World Trade Center site, walked around Wall St. and then back tracked for a mid-afternoon snack at a place I couldn’t leave town without trying: The Dumpling House on Eldridge St. in Chinatown. Here you crowd into a narrow storefront with the locals, elbow your way to a counter and assertively order. What you order is excellent fried dumplings (known in SF as pot stickers), 5 for $1 which has to be the bargain of the decade. When you get them you can do as I did, buy a soda for another $1, then elbow your way to a small counter at the back (seats maybe 4 people), douse the dumplings in Sriracha hot sauce and eat them. At $3 for 10 dumplings and a soda, this is, I think, the best lunch bargain in America (the dumplings alone can cost about $0.60 apiece in SF). I also saw other customers, mostly Chinese-speaking, order luscious looking soups (I saw corn, hot/sour, dumpling in broth and noodle soups).
In fact, the soup looked so good that it gave me an idea for dinner: The weather being rather raw, a warm steaming bowl of ramen sounded good (it’s my staple in SF when the fog blows in) so I headed to Menchanko-Tei on 55th St. between 5th and 6th Aves. Slurped up with a large Kirin, it cost $18 including tip, once again about what you’d pay in SF.
Finally, after taking in a movie in Times Square, I grabbed another Sabrett dog on the way to bed.
Day 3-- 2-block walk over to 5th Ave. took me to Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop for a cup of coffee and a passable bagel with excellent lox and cream cheese.
But I had to have more dumplings; I am seriously addicted to them. Only a block away from the Dumpling House is another dumpling spot, Fried Dumpling at 99 Allen St., so I headed there and got a double order (10 for $2). Frankly, the dumplings seemed better at the Dumpling House but Fried Dumpling is a whisker more eat-in friendly, offering a couple of small tables in front. To be fair, though, I hit Dumpling House at a busy time and got my order from a fresh batch whereas I intentionally hit Fried Dumpling before any lunchtime crowd and my order had been sitting a while.
Anyway, after I had my dumpling fix I headed uptown to the Metropolitan Museum but on the short walk from the Lexington Ave. subway over to 5th Ave. I grabbed some fresh honey-roasted nuts from a street vendor--darned good.
After a few hours in the Met and a walk across Central Park to the West Side, I subwayed down to 50th St. where, upon emerging from the station I decided to try a slice of pizza from Famiglia which bills itself as the “official pizza of the New York Yankees”. This is mass market pizza, no coal-fired ovens or any of that stuff here, but it was quite acceptable and I’d love having anything as good in Arizona.
For dinner, I got a craving for Thai which I haven’t had since leaving San Francisco for the winter. There seems to be some kind of consensus that THE Thai restaurant in New York is Sripraphai on 39th Ave. in Woodside, Queens. To be honest, I simply wasn’t able to get a map that shows the kind of detail about the outer boroughs that would allow me to be sure the 7 train to Woodside would get me anywhere near the restaurant, so I decided second best would have to do. That meant one of several places on or near 9th Ave. in the upper 40’s and 50’s (Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton). I picked Pam Real Thai on 49th just off 9th Ave (between 9th and 10th). I had my usual beef salad and chicken mussamun curry. Here, the beef salad dressing seemed to make little use of nam pla (fish sauce) as it always does in San Francisco and seemed to put more emphasis on lime but it tasted very good. The curry also was a bit different--thinner than I am used to but very tasty and containing lots of peanuts (mussamun is not a hot curry). I washed all this down with 2 excellent Thai iced teas.
And then I went to the movies--King Kong at the AMC 25 on 42nd St. just off Times Square--and following the flick, I just had to see if the theater where Kong was supposedly exhibited in the movie really exists, so I hiked the 5 blocks to 7th Ave at 46th (the street signs and unique neon display are very recognizable in the movie) to see if there was an “Alhambra Theater” there. In fact, it’s the Palace Theater and the musical “Lestat” is currently playing there. Then is was on up Broadway to the 50th St. station to catch the 7th Ave. local back to my hotel but, feeling a few new hunger pains I grabbed what turned out to be a pretty good tuna salad sandwich to go at the Majestic Deli (50th at 8th Ave.)
Day 4--Started the day with a chocolate croissant and coffee (good, but I’ve had better in SF) at a little place near my hotel--frankly, I can’t recall the name but it’s on the corner of 23rd and 8th Ave. Since I’d had no Italian food since coming to town (other than mass market pizza), for lunch I decided to try a little place on Prince St. in SoHo named Il Corallo Trattoria which Zagat rated highly (23 on food) and described as “friendly” and “cheap for SoHo.” My $20 lunch consisted of a good (not great) soup of white beans and spinach in broth and a heaping bowl of farfalle Amatriciana which was heavily sauced and very good.
Then I headed uptown to check out the skating at Rockefeller Center and for another crack at the after-Christmas sale merchandise on 5th Ave. By dinner time I was pretty worn down and needed a spicy pick me up--some Sichuan food seemed the ticket and an excellent source was nearby: Wu Liang Ye (a 3-location New York semi-chain but highly rated by all the guides I checked). I had an appetizer of Dan Dan noodles, a dish I’ve e had often in SF and love, but I have to say that here it was revelatory: plenty of heat but vinegary and with a wonderful hint of star anise. This I followed with a main course of “smokey beef with capsicum” which showed an unusual 2 chile symbol on the menu, but compared to the noodles, was somewhat disappointing (where was the fire?) though tasty. The tab, at $28 and change was the highest of my trip but quite reasonable I thought.
Day 5--Left New York in late afternoon, but first I breakfasted at Murray’s Bagels (which looks chainish but busy) on 8th Ave. The onion bagel was really excellent, the massive glob of mildly lox-infused cream cheese was mediocre (had I known they didn’t offer actual lox--slices of fish--I probably would have eaten elsewhere).
For lunch, I had to have more of those Dumpling House dumplings. The truth is, these are not the best Chinese fried dumplings I’ve ever had (that honor probably belongs to a newly opened place on Larkin St. 2 blocks from my San Francisco apartment), but they are by far the cheapest really good ones and I just plain love dumplings.
After another brief subway ride and a stroll through the West Village it was time to head for the station. Adios, NYC! With luck, the train will be on time to Chicago in the morning and I’ll be able to grab lunch at the Berghoff.
Day 6--Or not. Berghoff is closed Sundays. So I hopped an “El” to Lincoln Park and grabbed lunch at a little taqueria called Los 3 Panchos. To a west coaster, my "super burrito seemed an interesting fusion of Mexican and Lebanese, the wrapper resembling lavash as much as a flour tortilla and the “crema” inside being closely related to mid-eastern yogurt sauces. Still, it was tasty and the green sauce offered on the side was yummy in liberal amounts.
And so, as I wait for the next train out of Chicago, here I sit in Starbucks using their web access to send this off.
As an aside, I’m sure most of you know by now )there having been major articles in the New York Times and elsewhere) that the Second Ave. Deli is closed, probably for good, as the management claims they cannot afford their landlord’s new rent demand.