Saturday, 15 December 2012

New York Tales 1 - A small (taste) test of the Upper West - Dec 2012

A recent work jaunt placed me on the Upper West Side for a week. It's never been an area I've spent much, if any time in, so I'm certainly not going to try and give a detailed summation of such a vast area after a single trip. If you're heading that way, then check out some of the New York food resources such as Zagat, Grub Street or Chowhound

Defined as the long strip up from Columbus Circle to the lower reaches of Harlem, it's a glimpse into the residential life of creative but wealthy uptown Manhattanites. Bifurcated by two lane Upper Broadway, wind whistling down Amsterdam and Columbus, on a mournful autumnal afternoon as the shadows lengthen you're stepping straight into the spiderweb of cracked Noo Yoick glamour worshipped by Woody Allen.

My fine dining food map of the affluent West Side of Central Park starts with the likes of Per Se, a brace of Bouluds, the legendary Picholine and other treats for the wealthy attendees of the squat Lincoln Centre complex before petering out as you head further north. PJ Clarkes is a fine bar and diner to be propped up against in low 60's and there seem to be decent neighbourhood places a plenty (generally Italian and Asian) and a plethora of delis (this is New York after all) but I certainly wasn't confronted with any real list of must do's.

This was no problem for the first night. On a cold snapped and mizzly Monday evening straight off a flight, all I could think about was checking in and slobbing out. Post roach motel check in (the joys of start up life) I eventually ended up in Blondies, one of the many beer based, sports focussed dive bars that line that unlovely diesel engorged artery of Amsterdam Avenue.
There's nothing more lovely for a solo traveller than finding a decent bar in a strange city. I've never had a problem finding a decent scattering to tide over on the nights when I haven't rustled up a working dinner and don't want to deal with room service. The secret is to check with the bar staff where they go in the area when not on shift that's a little more lively / laid-back / foodie / sporty (without sounding like you're propositioning them if you can!) and use the same trick in that recommendation. You'll generally end up having the night of your life.

That particular trick took me from The Blind Poet (too quiet), to Jake's Dilemma (nice enough, but a little too loud and only NFL playing) to the Dublin Castle (a freezing cold depressive miss-step) before I ended up in Blondies for those wings and the Nets v Knicks game. A couple of mugs of nutty brown Sam Adams under my belt, a plate of hot wings and the basketball on the big screen. Good evening New York.  

The Americans like their bar foods big, fried and accessible. Sticky wings, Gordian knots of deepfried poultry, doused in various grades of slippery orange hot sauce ranging from mild to 'let's screw up the Brit' are served in most places. Sliders come in fours, bigger than the burgers and sloppy meat sandwiches they replace. Ideal for sharing? Yeah right, but these babies are all mine… 

My other night of freedom in the area followed a similar pattern. After a few more pots of Sam Adams at the Gin Mill (fine, but no classic and with some pretty pappy bar snacks) I ended up in a lovely little place called Jacob's Pickles, more a restaurant with a bar, a few blocks north with one of the finest craft ale selections I've had the pleasure of sitting in front of. While some of the soul food coming out of the kitchen looked excellent, sadly my wild catfish tacos were overpowered and oversoaked by a mass of astringent 'slaw. A beer side of hot and sour pickled pickles were sheer spicy heartburn inducing pleasure.

The lack of TV in JP was more than compensated for by the friendliest barman in New York (an Irishman called James. A top fellow with an amazing recommendation for dirty BBQ food in Williamsburg - my destination for the weekend). We were also kept entertained by a hilarious online first date. I couldn't help listening… It wasn't going well from the outset. Him, "I've always worked in restaurants. Always been anti the whole banker, money thing.. What do you do?" Her, "I'm an equities trader". Damn it… Good night New York.


Jacob's Pickles on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. SO glad you found Jacob's Pickles! That place is great. Before I got to it in your post I was already thinking that's where I would have recommended you go in the UWS. I love their grits. Yummm, so good!