New York roundup
I never finished my musings on food during my summer trip to England, and in the meantime I spent a month last November in the U.S., partly in New York. Before it totally disappears from memory, here is a brief roundup, from a foodie perspective of course.
Before we proceed, you should know that I am an ex-New Yorker, and had a fairly specific food agenda this time around, which included the following:
- Find a new sushi home
- Indulge in real New York bagels
- Try Beard Papa cream puffs
- Explore the current state of gourmet food/equipment stores
- and last but not least, to make a Papaya King pilgrimage.
This all had to fit around an otherwise busy schedule. Somehow it was all managed - priorities, priorities. Here's how it all went.
I have mentioned before that my mother used to run Sushisay New York until a couple of years ago. Sushisay was widely regarded as the best traditional sushi restaurant in the city, and I simply loved the sushi there. (And yes, I did get to eat there quite a bit, because of my mother being there. Lucky me. I even worked there for a couple of months..that's when I decided I didn't have the stamina for the restaurant biz. But I digress.) When my mother decided to retire, and the restaurant premises lease was up too, the parent company in Tokyo decided to close up shop in New York.
Since then I've been looking for a sushi home in my New York home. This time around, the place we tried was Sushi Yasuda, which is on 43rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. We chose this mainly because it gets such rave reviews in Zagat's guide and other places.
The decor was very nice, the counter was gorgeous, and the service was fine. As for the actual sushi and sashimi...it was indeed very good, but it didn't quite fit me, simply because I found the shari (sushi rice) just a bit too salty. The neta (the stuff that goes on top of the sushi), while wonderfully fresh, is also just a tad on the small side - not that I am a big fan of the humongous oversized neta that one gets in places like Tomoe Sushi down in Greenwich Village. But still...
What is telling also is that, more than two months later now, the main thing I remember about the experience was the saltiness of the shari, the eye-poppingly expensive bill ($275 for two, with 1 cold sake each), the fact that they didn't accept coat check tips. The guy at the front desk said this was because they were doing things "Tokyo style". (In Japan, tipping is not expected.) They sure did accept the tip on the regular bill though.
I don't think I'd really go back there again, unless someone else was paying. For now, if anyone asked about where to go for reliably good and reasonably priced sushi, and things like decor and cleanliness of the premises weren't top priorities, I would stick to Tomoe Sushi. In the meantime though, my search for a new NY sushi base will continue.
Oh my bagel
I was staying at an apartment right around the corner from Fairway, on the Upper West Side. (More about Fairway later.) Because of this, for the first week or so I stuck to the bagels available from Fairway and other notable places in the environs of 74th and Broadway. But I finally broke down at some point early in the second week, and had to grab myself an Everything bagel from the Ess-A-Bagel on 51st Street and Third Avenue. It's huge, more than the size of my hand, the cream cheese is extra-creamy, and in my opinion it's the best bagel in New York.
Beard Papa cream puffs
And well...I was rather disappointed. It's the crust that breaks the deal for me. They actually have a two-layer pastry: the first layer is choux pastry, and the second, outer layer is actually a thin pastry crust. To me, this layer almost ruins the experience, because a rather fried taste (though I know it's not fried). If you weren't used to real choux pastry, you might like it, but it's a wholly different mouth feel and texture. However, I did like their 'daily special' flavored custard fillings, especially the Earl Grey tea flavored one. I'm going to try to replicate that to fill my own choux buns.
Gourmet food stores galore
New York has always had terrific gourmet mega-markets such as Balduccis, Zabars, and Dean & DeLuca. The situation has only gotten better, with stores like a gorgeous, spacious Whole Food supermarket in the basement of the newish mall-in-a-building at Columbus Circle. This same building also houses a big, gorgeous Williams & Sonoma store.
As beautiful and easy to whiz around with big shopping cart as that Whole Foods is though, it's not a patch on Fairway. (Or Balducci's for that matter, though I didn't make it down there this time.) The narrow aisles, the shopping-cart bumper-cars, the incredibly rude cashiers - paired with really good prepared foods, great produce, a to-die-for blackout cake that comes in a mini-size that can be consumed by a small group in one sitting without dying of chocolate overdose - it's so New York, it makes me want to cry. (Oh, and Citarella just next door has great meat and fish at really reasonable prices. Well, reasonable from a Swiss meat/fish price perspective.)
Gray's Papaya vs. Papaya King
Gray's Papaya and Papaya King are almost identical looking operations that serve the same thing: hotdogs, and thick fruit juice, mainly papaya juice. I used to live on the Upper East Side, so I have always been loyal to Papaya King. But, given my UWS location this time around, I went to Gray's Papaya on 71st Street and Broadway. Three times. Their hotdogs are really good, and their papaya juice is refreshing. But Papaya King still beats them by a mile.It was worth the $3 crosstown round trip bus fare to get to 86th Street and Third Avenue. For a hotdog, you might ask? Believe me, it's no ordinary hotdog. Or juice, either.