New York - More Fine Dining Than Fries by Alex Walker

On my most recent overseas trip, I was lucky enough to score a two day stopover in New York. It would be my first time. Now I believe that short stints like this work best to a theme – shopping, museums, parks – or in my case, food. This would be a two day eat your way around New York. I think I picked the right city.

Upon my arrival, I was whisked to eating spot number one. The Harrison in Tribeca is an elegant establishment, all wood panelling and flattering lighting; wine on the walls and white tablecloths. But not overly formal – more like a fine bistro. To confirm that we had made a wise choice, Jerry Seinfeld and Kelly Ripa happened to be at the next table. Not bad company to be in. The food was fabulous. Having just arrived from London I thought I’d ease the transition with an English Cut Lamp Chop with rosemary, anchovy and fennel. My dining companions also made excellent choices with one choosing the Artic Char (fish in case you didn’t know because we didn’t) with pink grapefruit and black trumpets and the other opting for the NY Sirloin Strip with marrow butter crust.

Perhaps the tastiest part was the sides – a serve of wax beans with pesto and pine nuts. Simple but perfect. And the glutinous sounding duck fat fries. Also simple but perfect. Who can go past a good chip? All washed down with good wine, it made for a very enjoyable evening and my palate went to bed more than content.

First port of call the next morning was the Tribeca branch of Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market is grocery heaven. And not any bulk buy Cheerio, fudgesicle kind of groceries. This is the good stuff. Grapefruit the size of watermelons, watermelons the size of, well, really big watermelons. There was a sushi station, a bread station, a cheese station, a meat station and all quality, quality, quality. Aisles of bottled drinks with antioxidant this and wheatgrass that.

And oh my the salad bar! Sadly salad bars have been given a bad rap since the whole Sizzler hygiene debacle but truly, an impressive salad bar can take your breath away. And I was breathless at Whole Foods Market. There was even a wall of dispensers dedicated entirely to different salts – Himalayan sea salt, lavender salt. It’s like a health conscious Willy Wonka world. It’s like Macro on crack. Pomegranate juice and Goji Berry Spirulina bars, fair trade brownies and pumpernickel pita breads. I could happily live here. Not just in New York but in this very store, and if there wasn’t another foodie encounter to rush off to, I probably would have made my bed right there amongst the sacks of coffee beans. What a smell it would be to wake up to.

City Bakery was our lunch destination and so continued my enthrall with salad bars. Stand outs included tofu with miso and chili sauce and roasted baby carrots. Plus there was some extraordinary cauliflower. Not a common phrase one suspects. While it’s definitely easy to source greasy burgers and curly fries, America is no longer the place of only over-portioned fatty food. You certainly don’t have to live a Super-Size-Me existence here.
 I’ve also discovered that New York is a sample city. They are giving it away. They even have mini-sized everything for the purpose of samples. Little cups, little plates and little knives, spoons and forks. But you do have to ask. At City Bakery the samples of hot and cold chocolate were to die for. Literally liquid chocolate.

A little tour through the Chelsea Markets provided us with an afternoon tea of brownies from the Fat Witch Bakery which offers a range that is sure to delight every chocolate fiend – caramel, walnut, all white, cherry, cappuccino or the favourite moist but intense original. We also picked up some brie and crackers from the deli next door for some pre-dinner grazing.

Dinner was at Tortilla Flats. It was like an 8 year old’s birthday party if 8 year olds downed jugs of margaritas. Loud, bright with sparkly cellophane décor. As if announcing our arrival, Men At Work’s ‘Downunder’ was the first song screaming out of the speakers as we entered.

The food was actually pretty so-so which was disappointing as I’d heard such rave reviews of Mexican food in the US. However the place was electric. Patrons were crammed like sardines but loved every second of it as they donned sombreros, paper-scissored-rocked each other to be the chosen few selected for beer sculling comps and ate guacamole out of giant corn-chip-cups. A couple of rounds of tequila shots signalled it was time to leave before things got messy. Not noveau cuisine but super fun.

The next day was my birthday and my fabulous friends had booked us places on a food tour traversing Greenwich Village and Soho. First stop was a pretty uninspiring looking Indian eatery where we had yummy roti rolls with curried potato filling. Not for the carb conscious but very delicious. The running theme of the tour was not to judge a book by it’s a cover – that you really can find the best treats behind dull and drab facades.

Stop two was sensational gnocchi in an arrabiata sauce at Monte’s, a very cute and old-school Italian joint. The shortest serving waiter at Monte’s has been there for 15 years. That’s rare. Third sample was mediocre pistachio halva from Ali Baba’s, but then I’m not the biggest fan of halva so it could have have been fantastic. Next was a very odd tasting at the Peanut Butter & Co – a sandwich of chicken, pineapple spread and spicy peanut butter accompanied by root beer. Not a totally negative experience but probably won’t be repeated.

Sweet salami sausage and smoked mozzarella at Joe’s Dairy made stop 5 and 6 followed by great zucchini pizza crusts at stop 7, Grandaisy Bakery. Nothing better than a crunchy texture. Located at the old Sullivan St Bakery, the story  goes that it was a husband a wife team who started the bakery. They then divorced and took half of the recipes each. Whoever ended up with the zucchini crust recipe definitely came out on top. Yoghurt with fig and honey at the little Greek Yoghurt Place II was our last sample and what a sweet sweet note to finish on. Absolutely worth doing.

A leisurely afternoon was spent at the Elizabeth where their signature cocktail, the Elizabeth, tastes like gelato in Spring. Definitely not to be missed.

Dinner was a grand affair at the Chinatown Brasserie. Huge place with tall ceilings, dark wood, columns, mirrors, authentic red lanterns and heavy green drapes. Large round tables are complete with the dependable Lazy Susan spinning table – always a promising sign. Favourites on the menu included vegetarian sang choy bow with pine nuts, spinach dumplings, prawn dumplings, pork potsticklers, tender, fragrant fish, crispy skinned chicken and unbelievable giant, marinated shitake mushrooms. A taste so good you can’t believe it can come from a mushroom.  Ice cream sandwiched between cookies and chocolate fondant made for dessert. I almost rolled home.
Grey Dog Café was our Sunday brunch location. With a heavy, post-too-much-food-and-wine head, we went with the comfort option. Omelets made to your specifications. In my case - capsicum, mushroom, feta and avocado. Accompanied by hash potatoes that looked and tasted like curly golden goodness, it certainly did the trick.

The final foodie destination was the famed Magnolia Bakery. Despite feeling like we were going to burst out of our buttons with the said curly golden goodness, we indulged in the cupcakes made legendary in Sex and the City. With light chocolate sponge and icing like thick soft pink clouds, they were as pretty as pictures but far sweeter tasting.  Definitely enough sugar to keep your dentist in business but hey the detox can wait until later. Indeed as long as there are bakers, baristas and pastry makers, it can wait until much much later.

New York might be renowned for pizza slices the size of your head, and they truly do exist, but there’s so much more to discover. Your taste buds will go wild.

Whole Foods Market
270 Greenwich Street New York, NY 10007  212 349 6555
Hours seven days a week, 8:00am-10:00 pm
The Harrison
355 Greenwich St at Harrison St New York, NY 10013 212 274 9310
Hours Mon-Thu, 5:30pm-11pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sun, 5pm-10pm
City Bakery
3 W 18th St (between 5th  Ave and 6th Ave) New York, NY 10011 212 366 1414
Hours Mon-Fri 7:30am-7pm, Sat 7:30am-6pm, Sun 9am-6pm
Fat Witch Bakery
Chelsea Market 75 9th Ave New York, NY 10011 212 807 1335
Tortilla Flats
767 Washington St (corner of W 12th St) New York, NY 10014-1746 212 243 1053
Hours  Mon-Thu 11:30pm-2am, Fri-Sat 11:30-pm-4am, Sun 11:30pm- 2am
New York Food Tours
212 209 3370
The Elizabeth
265 Elizabeth St (near Houston St) New York, NY 10012 212 334 2426
Chinatown Brasserie
380 Lafayette St New York, NY 10003 212 533 7000
Grey Dog Café
33 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014 212 462 0041
Magnolia Bakery
401 Bleecker St New York, NY 212 462 2572
Hours Sun-Thurs, 9am-11:30pm, Fri-Sat, 9am-12:30am

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