My last full day in New York starts with a feeling of crushing panic, in all fairness it started the night before when I realised I wasn’t even going to get to the bottom of my short holiday hit list. *HOW* was I going to squeeze in all the coffee shops, bars and restaurants I wanted to visit? It clearly wasn’t going to happen, and the longer I stay the more interesting looking establishments catch my eye. Instead I decide to stay rational, pick one coffee shop, one lunch spot and battle it out with boy on a restaurant later on. New York will always be here, I shall simply have to return.
There is a plethora of coffee shops scattered across the City meaning an caffeine injection is never more than a few blocks away enabling the frenetic New York lifestyle, the less is mentioned about the absolute infestation of Starbucks and bad coffee joints in the more built up areas the better. I can’t help thinking it would make an immense coffee crawl and one I’d love to return to partake of, ricocheting from roaster to bar to cafe in a hyper alert and super surreal shaky mission. However with just one day left of this trip to satisfy a whole City’s coffee scene I find myself left with one choice; I’ve been curious to try Stumptown coffee ever since I tasted the Mast Bros bar using their beans, to my mind, with previously dire geographical knowledge of The States, it became the quintessential New York coffee (though now I know most of the beans are actually roasted in Portland and New York only has one cafe so far) and despite my ignorance would have felt short changed had I come all this way and missed it. We walk a full twenty blocks down to 29th partly to work up an appetite and partly because I don’t want to miss anything on the way, the subway is a fantastic way to get around, but I do find you miss so much travelling underground from one point location to the next.
I hadn’t realised the cafe is located in The Ace Hotel and I have a lightbulb moment when I realise the hotel is also home to another place I had noted down for an evening meal but had written off due to lack of time, The Breslin. By a stroke of luck the boy likes the look of the menu and we quickly and miraculously harmoniously agree to pop back that evening. Result.
Stumptown, once I’ve get over the fact it’s sort of in the lobby of a hotel which somehow seems at odds with the hip affectation that surrounds much of the ‘scene’, is impressive and very, very slick. Baristas are impeccably polite, charming and faultlessly friendly, their outfits, tattoos and hats a touch too perfect, dapper, styled even. As in Bluebottle it’s the girl I notice, she’s cool in that same effortless way; sloppy top, pretty lilac bobbed hair topped with a jaunty bowler hat, and yet she’s gracious and smiles openly. It could be a film set version of a coffee shop. Of course there’s Mast Bros chocolate on the beautiful wooden counters and cases filled with baked goods presumably from well sourced, local, artisan suppliers. It may be just a corridor of a room but it’s full with queue, a mixture of trendy looking, in the know coffee addicts, a number of police men and stumblers by, and what look like students who slink off to the hotel lobby I’m assuming to linger over free WiFi (it’s full of them), there’s a full wall of bags and jars of beans to buy, and another with brewing equipment. Oh, and yes the espresso is excellent too, rich and full bodied with a dark sweetness.
We head on down to Lower Manhattan to the institution that is the Pearl River Mart, ever since I’d seen images of the place I’ve had the need to visit this three floored emporium to Chinese kitsch. I could have spent many hours pouring over the lovely and the tacky, from kitchen utensils, sweets and ingredients through bird cages and pet toys to rainbows of silk slippers, fans, pretty notebooks, I could also have spent a small fortune. Thankfully I’m restricted to a very limited budget, but still manage to leave with a silk (*cough* polyester *cough*) dressing gown and two super cute purses (promise I’m giving one away!).
From here we head for lunch at Momofuku’s noodle bar. We may have missed a trip to The Milk Bar but I need to get my hands on one of their legendary pork buns at the very least. We find the restaurant in a very unassuming neighbourhood, I’d say erring on deserted and unfriendly on this bitterly cold day, so it’s a welcome scene that greets us. I first notice steamed up windows, then the little peach logo on the door that can only mean one thing, this is a David Chang residence (I kick myself later for forgetting to buy a copy of Lucky Peach while I’m there), and it’s full to the rafters with slurping, sipping and chattering customers basking in noodle epipany.
I have just one problem, the boy has a complete and absolute aversion to anywhere he thinks may be Twitter hyped, the mere whiff of mass hysteria induced fetishisation will have him careering towards the nearest McDonalds, and seeing a queue with, I think, a very reasonable 20 minute or so wait for a table he immediately and categorically refuses to eat here. DAMN. In order not to cause an (other) argument on holiday after forcing him to eat at Shake Shack, I compromise by ordering buns to go and waving goodbye to the huge bowls of fried chicken and warming hugs of silky ramen. Ten minutes later I leave clutching a brown paper bag containing two (he refuses to even taste one) of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Even the packaging is clever, folded carefully like a piece of Issey Miyake Pleats Please, in order for steam to circulate or something to that effect, an origami’d package of absolute joy. I peel open the wrapping carefully so as not an iota of essence can escape, or indeed any of the filling I fear may have gotten disrupted in the bag. But no, it remains a little work of art; pillowy soft buns are like puffy clouds cuddling slow cooked pork, crispy skin in tact, flavour intensified with sticky hoisin sauce and cut through with the clean flavours of cucumber and scallion. The balance of those flavours backed up with perfect execution delivers the ultimate tiny lunch package.
I haven’t mentioned Chelsea Market but I should as it’s a great little food place, a whole bunch of little shops in one indoor market type building, there’s actually a few of this sort of thing dotted around New York but this happens to be one that’s easy to get to and also one I’ve had a few recommendations for. I’ll admit it’s not the favourite place I visit but there’s no doubt it’s handy for a quick artisanal food trolley dash! We spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve doing just that stocking up on some pricey nibbles for a Christmas Day carpet picnic.
Along with a couple of obligatory and really sweet looking bakeries, we buy some great loaves from Amy’s bread, there is a fantastic cook shop, wine shop that we obviously stock up in, spices, Asian specialist ingredients, soups, meats, all you’d possibly need for an expensive produce haul, I’d suggest it’s perhaps akin to Harrods or Wholefoods food hall but split into individual shops. We manage to spent far too much in Sarah’s Whey, a speciality cheese shop, mainly I have to admit down to my choice of Rogue River Blue, an incredibly sweet blue cheese that’s wrapped in vine leaves, washed in pear brandy and tastes of sweet boozy, fudgy pears. We also buy some flinty, sharp hard cow’s cheese and a soft blended cheese, though nothing too whiffy as it has to live in our hotel room. I’m characteristically keen to try the coffee shop but left faintly disappointed with both the espresso and the service at 9th Street Espresso. I miss out on the main event here though it seems as EVERYONE is drifting around with plates piled high with vividly pink gigantic crustaceans from The Lobster Place. Literally everywhere I look, lobsters are being devoured, every possible space is full of happy diners and the stench for this non seafood eater is a touch over whelming; they’re either ridiculously cheap or orgasmically delicious. I never find out which.
Our final meal out in New York is taken at The Breslin and I have high hopes as it shares chef Alice Bloomfield of acclaimed gastropub The Spotted pig, famous for un-fancy, fairly full on animal cooking. As I mentioned earlier, we find the restaurant in The Ace Hotel, an incredibly trendy, I’d offer even themed hotel that appears to take it’s inspiration from a very American college campus, taking advantage of the pretty young things that hang out in the lobby symbiotically as ’extras’ whilst they themselves partake of the facilities and drink endless Stumptown coffee. The washrooms downstairs are done out as changing rooms and there’s a lingering and unfortunate fish tank stench that I’m hoping can be accredited to The John Dory also within the hotel walls.
We take to the bustling and mercifully warm bar area filled with what I imagine to be locals and regulars due to their familiarity with the surroundings and easy animation, it may only be just before 7pm, there’s no reservations and we’re keen to secure a table, but it’s already noisy and the closest to a pub atmosphere I’ve felt so far. Whilst we wait to be called in to the dining area, the girl on the door is letting people in incredibly slowly despite it being almost completely empty, perhaps she’s on a power trip. The Boy chooses a tipple from a really quite interesting gin and tonic menu that’s made up with different variations of the two ingredients and supplemented with complimentary bitters, I go straight for the jugular with a Vespertine (gin, sherry, absinthe rinse). Both are excellent and ease us into our evening nicely, as we gaze into the dining room keen not to miss our spot. It’s not long though before we’re released like little piglets into the dark dining room that’s main source of light emanates from the back and the glowing pass. This impressive features radiates activity whilst drawing us in, it highlights the high ceiling and ornate details illuminated in it’s close vicinity, in front of this is the hallowed chefs table, available for groups of 8-12 that are given the choice of a short selection of epic sounding menus with price to match. Our table is small and central, groups would do better to nab one of the alcovey booths along one wall that are like plush, tiny individual rooms.
We decide to share two starters, mainly because I have my eye on two things and can’t decide (well at least I’m honest); sprouts are on the sides section but waiters are unfased about us having them to start so we do, beautifully caramelised and sticky, sweetness is pushed further with an apple chutney dressing, I forget now but there may have been a little pig in there too. I order our other dish out of sheer curiosity, deciding that a ‘strumpet’ can be nothing other than wonderful. It certainly lives up to it’s name; tender lamb is shredded, breaded and deep fried and served with a sweet minty sauce. The two batons are a hefty portion and remind me quite amusingly of giant lamb fingers (I remind you here of the Caravan Kings Cross chicken fingers, here though the meat is less pressed and the outcome is a success). It looks as though they get through a ball breaking quantity of scotch eggs, waiters in steady succession walk past holding aloft these giant meaty orbs, dwarfing their serving plates, I’m assuming they’re going out to mop up booze in the bar, I’m tempted to order one but their magnificent size has me fearing I may not do my main justice.
The boy isn’t that hungry so in characteristic baffling behaviour orders the terrine board. Yes, a whole plate of meat because he just fancies a snack, it’s also practically the most expensive thing on the menu comprising thick slabs of guinea hen with morels, pork pate, rabbit and prune head cheese, liverwurst, pickles, picalilly, mustard and unlimited sourdough. He doesn’t appear to be struggling that much though as I don’t get so much as a look in.
Surpirse! I can’t leave without having another burger, I may be fancying something a bit more traditional but the lamb burger still comes up trumps. The sourdough bun is possibly the wrong choice in my opinion, the flavour is good and it holds up to the filling but there’s too much crust and chew there, I’m not 100% convinced a slice of feta should ever be a burger accompaniament either. I have absolutely no beef with the meat however and it outshines all the other ingredients, intensely flavoured and rich, coursly ground and seriously juicy, this is a lamb burger that could do battle with the best of the big boys. Triple cooked chips are good and even better dipped into accompanying cumin mayo.
I’m *this* close to ordering dessert, literally on the verge of demanding the apple sorbet with doughnuts (because I clearly need more doughnuts in my life at this point…) but am reminded about the patisseries we have back at the hotel and with disappointment I hand my dessert menu back.
The Breslin made an excellent last meal, relaxed, great food and fun lively atmosphere, if a touch on the pricey side, if we’d discovered it earlier I’d definitely have been tempted to try their brunches.
And there you have it, I’ve waffled on indulgently as usual making a proper meal out of my little five night trip . Except I’m not quite finished…..with no money left for actual food I decide I may as well cram in a couple more doughnuts at the airport (I know this sounds awful but it’s all I eat that day before our evening flight) at under a dollar a pop by way of Dunkin’ Donuts. I also make the mistake of drinking the coffee; rancid, I should have known that. Actually the lurid green one’s isn’t that bad if you accept you’ll probably never know quite what you’re ingesting, it’s super duper sweet, filled with cream and coated in a thick frosting, I can handle that. For second course I want to try their cake version, they have just red velvet left. Now I thought red velvet was a chocolate flavoured cake with red food colouring added, but for the life of me I can’t figure out was this thing tasted of, it also had a really weird and off putting after tang. NOT recommended. You probably knew that though.
But they were kind of pretty, can you tell I don’t want to end on a low?!
Like the best holidays, my trip to New York has left me with a yearning to discover more, to return and explore many more aspects of the City, to scratch a little more below the surface.