Thursday, 6 May 2010

New York eating - part 1 "casual snackin round Manhattan"

Where: Across the city, 24 hours a day, you can guarantee that someone is eating something..
How much?: You can eat like a prince in Manhattan for a few dollars (or even for free if you hit the right happy hours) and unlike London, much of the best eating can be done on, or just off, the street.
After much deliberation, we, scratch that... I, decided on the important evening meals for the four nights stay (two of these deserve their own reviews) and a number of other must eats.

I won't cover it all, just a few of the highlights. We started most mornings with coffee at Hectors. Jammed under the newly opened Highline like a toad under a stone, it's stubbornly avoided any attempt at the gentrification and pretentiousness that has infested the rest of the Meatpacking district to keep serving the (few) meatpackers still operating.

I wasn't too impressed with the Standard to be honest. Locals queued round the block to experience the 'exotic' joys of an $9 per beer or a currywurst in the Biergarten and the ultralounge, at the top of the Standard, is so cool it doesn't need a proper name or any sort of website. The views were exceptional, but at $20 or more for a competent cocktail, unless you're on someone else's money, I'd advise you to smuggle a beer up the Empire State.

While Northern Mum and Auntie Pat were in town (long story, not as mad as it sounds) we wanted to hit up a decent steakhouse. I've heard bad things happen to people who order well done meat at Peter Lugersthough I've certainly never tried it, so we went to Keens instead. While it ain't no Rules, it has been around (and up and down) since 1885. 

It's a New York steak house in the old style. Dark wood panelling and a loud, macho steaky atmosphere. It used to (back in the wild crazy smoke filled days pre 2003) host the Pipe Club, and the ceiling is hung with examples from some of the reprobates who hung their pipes up here over the years in deference to a wonderful 17th Century tradition I won't explore here, but direct you to their website (when you've read the rest of the post of course...).
I started with a short, punchy Sazerac, a great pre-steak aperitif mixing rye, bitters and absinthe. The Vole had a suitable welcome to New York drinking with a large Tiger Lily almost entirely consisting of gin!

I umm'ed and ahh'ed about their famous mutton chop before agreeing to share a medium rare filet steak. Soft as butter, great charring on the outside, possibly nearer medium than med rare but still a stunning piece of meat cooked perfectly. Sides of hash brown (effectively a fried mash pattie), buttered spinach,garlicky thin fries and green beans. An excellent Key Lime pie finished off the meal and we rolled off for more cocktails and a few showtunes at the divey but excellent Don't Tell Mama on Restaurant Row.

New York wouldn't be New York without the burger and we had a few samples. No holy grail, but some top performers and it really begs the question of how a country can get it so right on one hand, and invent Macdonalds with the other? 
On recommendation from an NYU student, I went for a covert Bacon Swiss at Soup n' Burger on Lower Broadway at 8th Ave and it was good, great for a Brit, but nothing out of the New York ordinary. The juice from the pattie soaked the lightly toasted sesame bun which held up well but didn't add much to the experience. Not much seasoning other than salt from the bacon but it certainly filled a hole. It's worth checking out if you're in this part of town and have failed to get anything from the now universally known Shake Shack on Madison Square Park. We arrived there at 11am and the queue was already to the edge of the park. It can't be that good, and I don't want to know if you've eaten there, and it is. We didn't stop to find out.
Also high on the word of mouth hysteria list (watching the crowds at the lacklustre Beer Garden under the Standard reminded me that this seems to be a NYC habit) is the Magnolia Bakery. Proof of how word of mouth PR and judicious online seeding (oh, and a few appearances in Sex And The City) can work... A two block queue on a hot Friday afternoon. Not interested.

We also tried the burger at the Viand Coffee Shop, a classic little diner that hasn't changed in the 8 years since I first went. A steady stream of locals moved in and out of the tiny space relatively tourist-free despite the Madison Ave location. A perfectly cooked burger (served medium rare without asking) and good coffee too. Pancakes also looked very good.
I'd also recommend stopping off at Taim, a lovely little Arabic themed veggie cafe in the Village. I had  a restorative strawberry, raspberry and Thai basil smoothie combined with a snack of smoky baba ganoush on a slightly charred and obviously fresh pita.
I could go on. And if you ask me, I'll be quite happy to bore you at length. We didn't look for answers to the standard 'best pizza / burger / pasta' question, an impossible task in a city so food obsessed but instead looked to take back a few memories, and leave a few places unexplored for the next visit. 

Taïm on Urbanspoon
Viand on UrbanspoonCozy Soup 'n Burger on Urbanspoon

Keens Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

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