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Shaved asparagus, fava beans, grana padano and mint salad

Shaved asparagus, favas, mint, dry jack

A year ago, I traveled to New York with my mother, who was nominated for a Louie award for one of her cards at the annual Greeting Card Association powwow. She didn't win, alas, but it was an honor nevertheless, and it afforded me the opportunity to socialize with a few of my favorite folks in the city that I love perhaps second only to my home in San Francisco. While nearly every meal I ate was in the company of others, I had one solo meal at the bar at Boqueria, where I had a charming salad of snap peas, shaved radish, chevre and mint, which I promptly ripped off. 

In that post, I implored readers to take a light hand with seasoning, so as not to overwhelm the delicate fresh spring flavor of the snap peas. I suggested they savor the peaness. A few of my cohorts on Twitter took the joke and ran with it, and the hashtag #peaness still manages to rear its, uh, head from time to time. It's a joke that never, EVER gets old. Now, I've taken it to the next logical step and fashioned some #peaness men's underwear. (They then made a cameo in an auto-populated CafePress ad, heh.) They may not be quite worthy of the runway, but surely they make a charmingly cheeky gift.  

Earlier this month I had the cause to return to New York. DPaul had to go for business, and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a free hotel room and subsidized meals. Again, I was able to schmooze with a number of my favorite peeps — but since having launched Punk Domestics last July, I've acquired a few new chums with whom I was able to break bread. I met with Sean Sullivan, who aside from penning the delightfully quirky blog Spectacularly Delicious (a regular contributor to Punk Domestics with his unusual jams and other concoctions), is also associate publisher at House Beautiful. Sean toured me through the very impressive Hearst Tower, including the impressive Good Housekeeping test labs. Truly, I was awe-struck. 

(In case you haven't heard me blather on about it enough already, Punk Domestics is a community and content aggregation site for the DIY food set — you know, those of us who like to make jams and pickles, and can them, or maybe cure meat in a year-long challenge, or brew our own beer. Are you a DIY devotee? Come check us out!)  

Since my visits to New York are infrequent and brief, I try to do some strategic eating (and drinking) while I'm in town. This does not necessarily mean I built a rigid schedule of reservations; in fact many of our best meals were spontaneous. Rather it meant having a mental checklist of places to hit, and ticking them off when and as appropriate. Some highlights: 

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Momofuku, too

Ginger scallion noodles ©DPaul Brown

Oh, the kerfuffle over a couple of high-profile New York chefs dragging out that tiresome trope: Bashing on San Francisco’s food scene. Back in October, at the New York Food & Wine Festival, media darling David Chang and media whore Anthony Bourdain had an affable banter, calling bull**** on various aspects of their industry, including themselves. One of Chang’s salvos was that, “there’s only a handful of restaurants that are manipulating food … ****ing every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate
with nothing on it.” Later, Bourdain referred to Alice Waters as “Pol Pot in a muumuu,” since she evidently killed off a couple million people in her Berkeley kitchen.

Nablo09.90x33 First of all, ha ha! Funny! No, really! And any San Francisco foodie types who got their panties in a bunch over this need to grow a sense of humor. But it’s funny like pull-my-finger kind of funny. It’s a joke we’ve heard a million times before, from that corny old uncle who still thinks it’s as fresh and high-larious as the first time he told it decades ago.

Anyway, the whole point of our cuisine of unmanipulated food is that we have access to some of the best, freshest and most flavorful ingredients available anywhere. Why manipulate perfection?

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City Bakery

When one trusted source refers you to a place when you’re visiting New York, you put it on the list. When two do it, you make it an imperative. When it happens to be two blocks from your office, you go twice. Such was the case for City Bakery.

I was made aware of City Bakery by newfound friend (by way of David, with whom I just dined at Tía Pol) Thomas Locke Hobbes. A Bay Area native but longtime New York resident (and now transplant back to his hometown), Thomas advised that City Bakery produced the best chocolate chip cookies. Ever. And then the always engaging and informative Shuna commented that I simply must go there for the pretzel croissant. As far as I know they are not in cahoots with each other, or the bakery.

So. Pretzel croissant, eh?

Pretzelcroissant

Ho yeah. Explosively flaky on the surface and fluffy soft on the inside. Big time buttery yet never greasy or dense. And just salty enough to highlight the sweetness of the dough. This is a very dangerous thing indeed.

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Tia Pol

TiapolFor the past couple days, I have been cogitating and scheming, figuring out how I was going to play out my final evening meal in New York. Make another stealth attack on Babbo? Try to nab one of the four bar seats at The Little Owl? My foodie coworker Ramona had also sent me off with a list of suggestions, mainly in the west Chelsea/Meatpacking District area. I was armed with an embarassment of choices.

But first I had arranged to meet up with my friend David for a drink. We arrived at the bar within seconds of one another, at which point he asked whether I had dinner plans. I was delighted to have the opportunity to share a meal and some quality time with him, but it threw me at first into a bit of a quandary. One person scoring a bar seat at a place like Babbo can be dodgy enough, but for two the odds are exponentially inverse. I didn’t want to be bossy or demanding (or as he says, play top daddy), so I asked whether he had any suggestions. He mentioned Tía Pol, and my heart lifted. It was at the top of Ramona’s recommendations. Corroboration inspires confidence.

It’s not to say that landing a seat at Tía Pol is any less challenging than at other popular spots. The restaurant is teeny weeny, long and narrow with roughly 10 seats at the bar in front, a handful of two-tops lining the wall opposite the kitchen and, I think, one sole four-top in the very back. They don’t take reservations. By the time we got there, right around 6 pm, the place was already full. At first we were told a 30-45 minute wait, though we could vie for a seat at the bar. And then, as if by magic, they got us onto one of the two-tops within minutes. Score.

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Otto Enoteca Pizzeria

OttoSurprise! I’m in New York for work. I flew out yesterday on a direct flight to Newark. The thing took off over an hour late, and because I had a crappy seat in the ass-end of the plane, the overheads were completely full by the time I was permitted to board, so I had to check my one wee bag that I had so lovingly and efficiently packed to prevent doing exactly that. Grumble.

I had hoped to make a stealth attack on Babbo last night and score a seat at the bar, but knew from a friend’s recent experience that after 7 pm odds dwindle dramatically. I popped my head in shortly before 8, and it didn’t take long to figure out that it just wasn’t going to happen. No sign of a host, and the bar was packed two deep. Next time.

Luckily, I had a backup plan. Scarcely two blocks away is another installment of the Batali culinary empire, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria. Where Babbo is understated, Otto is boisterous. The bar is at least as much the point as the restaurant itself. If you’re waiting
for a table, you’re given a beautifully printed slip with the name of
an Italian city on it. Behind the host station is one of those European
train schedules with the tiles that clatter as the names of cities —
and by extension tables — come up: Vicenza, Ancona, Portenza… Between the host station and the bar itself are several standing counters where you can sip your sangiovese. The upshot of that is greater access to the bar proper, where you can order up. I was perched at the bar and perusing the menu within minutes.

I had read a few user reviews of the place and was a tad surprised to see a certain degree of tepidity in them. As with all user-generated content, though, you have to do a fair bit of reading between the lines. Anyone’s dining experience is measured first and foremost against the expectations you bring to the table. Diners that were expecting the quiet sophistication of Babbo were doomed to disappointment. This is a pizzeria and wine bar. Those that rated the place well seemed to get that.

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