Okay. I know I say I love a lotta places. But this time it’s for reals. New York has swept into my world like a once in a lifetime love, the kind of love you introduce to your parents, a love you wear a ring for, a wild and crazy love that changes you forever. New York, I want to let you sleep in and make waffles for you. I’d break my rules for you. I’d put up with your bad habits and endure your mood swings. I’d even let you use my toothbrush.
The most exhilarating part about New York (also like a new love) is that it’s got the potential to hurt the heck out of you. It’s enormous and intimidating, filthy and glamorous all at the same time, and it begs you and eggs you on to be exactly who you really are. Which for all intensive purposes pertaining to all kinds of life’s roller coasters, it turned out was just what I needed.
My trip to New York was planned around New York Comic Con, a whirlwind weekend of pop expo fun with about 108,000 of my closest friends. And Jason Momoa, who likes to pick me up and swing me around whenever possible, which is just fine with me, darling. But of course, I couldn’t go to New York without having a few days of foodie gluttony, especially when one of my best pals CB Cebulski was threatening to plan me one helluvan eat your face off tour while I was there. And as far as tours go, this was like the mother-effin’ Tour de France. To break it down:
Once safely out of the convention hub and checked in to my favorite hotel in Central Park South, the always lovely and hospitable Helmsley Park Lane (not just my favorite because they call me Mrs. Hemingway), I trekked over to meet CB and his fabulous wife Mutsumi and pals at Barbuto. I know I’ve gone off on plenty a celebrity chef on this forum of what’s-this-crazy-bitch-on-about-now, but I’m going to do it again, because he deserves it. Barbuto’s head honcho Jonathan Waxman is known as the genius that brought California cuisine to New York City. He’s been at the helm of both Chez Panisse and Michael’s in California, two of the best and most reliable restaurants ever opened in the state, and he’s mentored the likes of Bobby Flay (who holds the #2 slot on my celebrity chef crush list, PS.) and garnered nothing but the highest praise from some of the best reviewers in the country. Besides that, he’s personable, hilarious, and the kind of guy to mosey on over to your table with a glass of wine in hand, ready to swap rather inappropriate stories. He’s like a big tipsy teddy bear. But the best part about Jonathan, and the best part about Barbuto, is the food is the epitome of Italian comfort grub, like a great big hug from a Nonna who grows her own herbs in her own garden, will smack you upside the head for not finishing your pasta, and kills her own chickens with love. I want a Nonna! Our epic chef’s tasting:
I mean, come on. Come. ON. Go to there and worship at the altar of Jonathan Waxman. NOW.
After a glorious day spent digesting while getting massaged/manicured/beautified, Mrs. Hemingway hopped a cab to meet CB and Mutsumi for a little Sicilian food. Or, Sicilian-Asian-inspired food. Which makes about as much sense as my dad after a 6-pack of Wildcats. Momofuku’s Ssam Bar was throwing a special “Off-Roading: Sicilian-Style” dinner to celebrate its chef Ryan Miller and wine director Theresa Paopao’s recent trip to Sicily. If you aren’t familiar with Ssam Bar, it isn’t exactly known for its Italian cuisine, specializing in things like whole roasted duck lunches and other Asian-style comfort foods done glam. So we weren’t sure what to expect. We started off with a raw corvina (a whitefish similar in texture to a snapper) done ceviche-style with citrus and lemon oil. It was pretty to look at but pretty forgettable too, like one of those chicks from The Hills. Our wine pairing was a crisp and dry grillo from local Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti, who’s a self-taught “badass” (Theresa’s words) Italian beauty in her twenties who’s just too pretty to be a winemaker with her very own vineyard. Go to hell, Arianna.
Next up was an eggplant caponata, a rather sour dish of stewed eggplant topped with chewy eggplant chips and pickled shallots swimming in a sauce so pungent it burned your nostrils. Our wine pairing was yet another crisp and dry Insolia/Grecanico, even though this dish screamed for something sweeter to cut all that tang. What in the Momofuku was going on?
Our third offering was a crazy-bizarre multicolour squid pasta in a thick tomato “broth” that was more like a gummy gravy. We were given Arianna’s Muscat/Albanello to pair with this one, which was the best white we had, but my socks still hadn’t been knocked off. And you know how I feel about getting my socks knocked.
The fourth course was at last something worth finishing, a lovely plate of Sicilian sardines on a bed of lentils and guanciale (that’s pig cheek, bitches!). I know sardines aren’t for everyone, but I happen to love them, especially when they’re this beautifully fresh and salty and scrumptious. Even better, they were paired (strangely) with a red, Arianna’s Nero d’Avola/Frappato which made me a-swoon! (That’s Italian for swoon. I am an idiot.)
For dessert, we were given a very odd scoop of grainy honey ice cream with a flakey wafer encasing a dollop of even grainier pistachio cream, ricotta, and orange zest. I cannot and will not understand a dessert that isn’t meant to leave you wanting more, and this one was a total bust. Luckily the gorgeous pairing of a glass of boozy Lemonsardo (similar to limoncello) made us buzzed enough to not really care about the hefty tab at the end of it all.
Since the night before was such a let-down, CB decided rightly so that today was going to be one showstopper of a foodie day. And whenever he says that, I get real scared and supremely stoked all at the same time. I roped my oldest childhood friend Frances into coming with, and off we set to The John Dory Oyster Bar for a little lunch. Holy God do I love this place! Bursting with colour and crazy-ass chachkas from the bottom of the sea, it’s where Ariel from the Little Mermaid would go to get hammered. Its menu’s inventive and fabulous, with bar snacks like parsley and anchovy toasts, mortadella stuffed mussels, and peanuts roasted with garlic and rosemary. And the cocktails? Hoo-boy will those eff a mermaid up! We sipped on “Stark and Dormy”s (black seal rum with lemon and ginger) and “Spring Forward”s (gin, bianco vermouth, and spring onion– in a cocktail!) and laughed evil laughs at our watches which read somewhere around the neighborhood of noon. Our amazing lunch:
The carte de musica with bottargo and chili, a wafer-thin little cracker spread with butter and topped with bottargo fish roe. GENUIS.
Arctic Char and pate sliders on brioche and skinny fries. WHAT!
Tuna salad on toast topped with a fried egg and hollandaise, also known as the tuna sandwich of my dirtiest dreams.
Once that was down the gullet, and since it was raining, we figured we better stay indoors. And what sweeter place to do that but Eataly, Mario Batali and the Bastianich empire’s Italian market on steroids. This place is like the Bloomingdale’s for foodies, showcasing only the freshest and most authentic product for you to buy and cook at home, or, better yet, have them cook for you. For a nerd like me, this was pure heaven to wander around in while dreaming up all the dinner parties I could throw if I lived in NYC (yeah, I picked outfits I’d be wearing, too. I’m me.). And after all the wandering and picture taking and dreaming was out of my system, we settled in to the Piazza and ordered a bottle of prosecco and their daily salami and cheese plate, and people-watched the afternoon away. Now, I know some New Yorkers have their noses in the air about Eataly, deeming it a tourist destination/abomination, over-priced and a total eye sore. But I (as well as my local companions) don’t get the guff. It isn’t any pricier than a Whole Foods, and the product selection is definitely superior. It’s well-organized, has everything you need under one roof to cook a stellar meal, and even a bar to settle into for a quick glass of vino when you need a shopping break. I just wish they’d get on it already and open more of these all across the country. So I can wear those outfits.
Our appetites perked and ready to get serious, we headed over to Mario Batali’s Babbo. Babbo is a restaurant that has long held a place on my top ten joints to eat at before I take the count list, and any New Yorker worth their spit has eaten at Babbo at least once. It’s a bit of an institution. It’s dark, dreamy, moody, and romantic, like my boyfriend Johnny Depp. And the food? Well, that’s kinda moody, too. A recap:
Course one was a warm lamb’s tongue with mushrooms and a 3-minute egg. The tongue itself was tender and beautifully done, but there was so much vinaigrette on this dish it kind of killed the creaminess of that egg yolk. Was it vinegar season in NYC or something?
Course two was the grilled octopus in a spicy limoncello vinaigrette. Once again, the octopus was stellar, just charred enough to give it a nice grilled flavour, but there was just too much vinegar on the plate.
Course three was linguine with clams, pancetta, and chili, simple and satisfying and rather divine. And no vinegar, yo!
Course four was, in my opinion, one of the best things I tasted in all of New York City. A goose liver ravioli in balsamic vinegar and brown butter sauce, I was worried I’d be hit once again with a vinegar overload, but the sauce had been reduced into a gooey sweet syrupy yumminess that took this ravioli into the realm of the divine. I could. Not. Get. Enough.
Course five was roasted duck with fresh figs, luscious and crispy and tender. Good God, I love the hell out of duck.
Our final course (I was about to barf like a real lady at this point) was one of the specials of the day, a pepper encrusted bison fillet. Unfortunately, the pepper was the star of this dish, and it took away from the beauty of that fillet a little bit. But no matter, because I’d hid a ravioli in my purse.
It’s worth mentioning that after Babbo we hit not one but two secret little hipster bars for yet more cocktails: Angels Share, tucked into the back of a Japanese restaurant and littered with gorgeous models looking to blow their calorie counts, and my favorite, Please Don’t Tell. PDT is the type of place you call to get a reservation, no matter what, and the best part about it is how you get in. Head through the hot dog shop and slip into the phone booth, pick up the phone, wave to the camera, and wait for the secret wall to open up to let you in. You don’t have to be super fancy, and the overall vibe reminds me more of Silverlake in LA than Midtown, but that’s what I love about it. Bonus? There’s a gourmet hot dog menu with dogs named after famous New York chefs. If I wasn’t ready to explode Italy all over the table, I’d have eaten one. So I guess I’ll just have to go back. A million times.
After fasting for most of the day (aside from breakfast in bed, which The Helmsley insists on delivering to my room free of charge every morning, heaven bless ’em), Frances and I decided to have a girls day of shopping in the Meatpacking district and roaming the East Village, the future neighbourhood of yours truly, if I can help it. After a couple glasses of wine at a teeny tiny little wine bar I sniffed out on a side street (I swear, I’m like one of those drug dogs at the airport) Frances determined that one more night of mega food was in order and marched me to her place of employment, Buddakan. Buddakan is crazy hip, huge, and teeming with all things pretty. It’s a place you go to get those new Louboutins noticed, or a place you take a first date who you met in a bar and you’re not sure is all that great at making conversation. Meaning it’s loud. Judging by the lychee martini promptly placed in our hands, it was obvious Frances was rather well-loved and we were about to be taken care of like two birds on a girls night should. Our meal:
Crispy Cantonese spring rolls with shrimp and chicken.
Buddakan’s famous edamame dumplings in a shallot and sauterne broth. Divine little pillows of lust!
Hoisin glazed pork belly and cabbage served with steamed buns to roll it all up in. A. Ma. Zing.
Mongolian lamb chops with a crystallized ginger crust and a little bok choy on the side. Hello, gorgeous.
And finally, a ridiculous amount of dessert that just kept coming out of the kitchen: jasmine tea scented malted chocolate ganache with caramel, chocolate sesame fondant with black currant meringue and peanut butter, spice cake with stewed banana, and a light mango soupy thing we both ignored to devour more of the good stuff.
Then we ended up stumbling into some bizarro singles night at a bar where they tried to get us to wear our names on sticky notes stuck to our chests and all the waitresses were dressed like Christina Aguilera from the Moulin Rouge video and I may or may not have blah blah blah, you don’t want to hear about that…..
Let’s just put it this way: I feel like I only tasted the icing on the big beautiful cake that is New York City. How on earth can you see it all unless you live there, I wonder? Is it ever possible to truly know New York, or is it just always going to be perfectly happy being a gorgeous, dangerous, mystery to me? Guess there’s only one way to find out:
New York, let’s move in together.