Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New York City Cheap Eats

Okay, I'm back and have a TON of stuff to post. This is gonna take a while. My idea is to break up my trip into four parts:
1. Cheap Eats
2. WD-50
3. Street Scenes/United Nations/American Museum of Natural History
4. Jean-Georges

No more we go!

Katz's Delicatessen
This place is a NYC landmark. It's been around for over a century (I think) and purportedly serves the best pastrami in the city. While I can't confirm the title of "Best," I will say that this is some damn fine meat. Tender yet toothsome, juicy, nicely flavored, it's a hell of a sandwich. Is it worth the $17 bucks or whatever the hell it cost for a sandwich? Probably not (although consider that getting the "Best" anything for 17 bucks ain't a bad deal) but since I happened to be in the area with my buddy, I thought we'd stop in and grab a bite.
Notice the freakishly green pickles in the background...they aren't too pickle-y...just sorta salty and cucumberish. One thing...when the meat slicer is slicing your meat (not intended to sound sexual, i promise), tip him a buck or two and he'll slide over a plate of pastrami for you to munch while he assembles your sandwich. So bottom line....would I go back? Probably not but am I glad I went? Yep.

Barney Greengrass
How can you not love a joint called "The Sturgeon King?" I wasn't originally planning on eating at Barney Greengrass but needed to a lunch joint while in the Upper West Side. This is how ghetto I am...I went to a bookstore, looked up the dining options and took a picture of the entry for BG so I would have the info but wouldn't have to buy the entire guidebook.
So what'd I eat? I started with some house cured gravlax. Gravlax is just cured salmon...usually salt, sugar, dill and other assorted herbs or spices. I also got a plate of the scrambled eggs with onions and lox. The waiter tried to steer me clear of the lox...he warned me that it was incredibly salty. Heh. There was no way for him to realize that the more he said about the oppressive saltiness, the more I had to have this dish! We had bialy's and bagels on the side. Coffee and orange juice rounded out the meal. BTW, the lox wasn't all that salty. I mean, it was definitely salty but not overly so.

Fairway Market Cafe
I found myself at the Fairway Market Cafe with my friend Yvonne on a horrible Friday afternoon...really overcast and rainy. We didn't want to venture far so we stuck around in her neighborhood and lunched at the Fairway Market Cafe. So-so food. The scrambled eggs weren't bad but the fries were uniformly awful. Soggy, grease-laden pieces of potato. Ughh. Good thing I was there to catch-up with an old friend or I probably would have gone somewhere else and had a second lunch.

I spent WAAAY too much time wandering around the East Village/NYU area...I just really liked the vibe. Lots of young people wandering about, cool watering holes and interesting restaurants. When I was hungry and needed a quick snack, I walked to Otafuku. This little hole in the wall (calling it a restaurant would be overly generous)
specializes in two products: okonomiyaki and takoyaki. I didn't try the okonomiyaki but had PLENTY of takoyaki. Takoyaki is like a little ball of batter cooked so the outside is a bit crisp. Inside is a piece of octopus. They are really, REALLY addictive. Otafuku serves them, 6 to an order, drizzled with brown sauce (maybe okonomiyaki sauce??) mayonaise and a mound of fluffy bonito shavings on top. Great food if you've been drinking in one of the many local bars and need a quick pick-me-up.

Another restaurant in the general vicinity of Otafuku is Pistahan. It's kind of weird that I went to a Filipino restaurant not once but twice because I live in San Francisco which might as well be a suburb of Manila...soooo many Filipino people in the Bay Area. Anyhow, I wasn't terribly adventurous in my dining selections...the first night, I ordered the lechon and lumpia platter. Lechon is Filipino roast pork. As long as there are pieces of crunchy skin for me to munch on, it's alllll goooood. Indeed, the skin was crisp and crunchy. Can't say much about the lumpia...mild-mannered would be a euphemistic way of describing their relative lack of flavor. The second time I went there was with my friend Micah. She considers Filipino food to be comfort food which doesn't seem all that strange until I tell you that she's of German/Black descent. Strange. Anyhow, I had a breakfast platter...Filipino sweet pork sausage, garlic fried rice and two fried eggs. I would be such a fat-ass if I lived in the Philippines. Absolutely scrumptious. As I have already mentioned, I didn't order the more adventurous food (pork-blood, anyone?) but what I had really hit the spot. Would definitely return.

Random Korean Joint
I honestly do not remember the name of this place. It was some place in K-Town filled with flashy lights and young Korean diners. I figured it couldn't be too bad so I decided to give it a try. I was a little put off by the attitude of the was like I was there to serve them! With this much attitude from the servers, you could've mistaken this for a Taiwanese restaurant! Anyhow, the food REALLY hit the spot. It was cold and rainy outside so I knew I needed some sort of warm soup. Given that I knew NOTHING about this place, I took a quick look around and decided to order what other people had on their tables:
I kinda liked this strategy...after all, if you don't like one half, you've got the other to fall back on! So the left was a slightly spicy seafood stew with a nest of ramen noodles hidden below. The right side is ramen noodles with an insipidly flavored black bean sauce. However, the seafood stew REALLY hit the spot. Warmed me right up and prepared me for the walk to the subway. Bonus picture, K-Town at night...still shining bright!

I love this place...I absolutely LOVE it. It was already on my short list of cheap eats to try and my buddy Nihal seconded the recommendation so I decided it was a must visit. I was not disappointed. This place specializes in Indian roti wraps. Think griddled flatbread wrapped around grilled, spiced protein (chicken or lamb), eggs, a drizzle of Indian sauce (my lamb had the ubiquitous green chutney) and a few potatoes tossed in there. CRAZY DELICIOUS. Better than a burrito. There. I said it. Better than a burrito. Here it is pre-savor:
A few bites down:If you're ANYWHERE in the area, GOGOGOGOGOGO.

This restaurant is nearly impossible to find. Imagine the lobby of a small business building. Imagine that off to one side there's a discreet sign saying Sakagura with an arrow pointing down a rather sketchy staircase. Go down the staircase and it leads to a restaurant/sake bar. Bizarre. I met my buddy Jin here for a quick bite. Since it's close to the UN Headquarters, it's filled with lots of people speaking lots of different languages. As multi-cultural as the diners are, the food is definitely Japanese. I ordered Oyako-don and cold soba. Oyako-don is a one-pot meal of rice topped with onions, eggs and chicken. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat usually served with a dipping sauce made from soy, sugar, dashi and whatever else the chef likes. In this case, they served it with some yuzu rind. I liked the yuzu flavor in the dipping was a first for me. The dipping sauce is hidden underneath the green onion/yuzu. For dessert, ice cream! I rolled with salted chocolate sorbet and blueberry yogurt sorbet. Jin had black sesame ice cream and I can't remember what else. Good meal...good value. The platter above was 12 bucks.

Shake Shack
Shake Shack is part of the Danny Meyer empire. And when I say empire, I mean it. Jin and I went to Shake Shack on one of those unseasonably warm days that blessed the city during my visit. The thing that really struck me about Shake Shack was the totality of the experience. You stand in line with a bunch of other people who are hungry and excited about the prospect of a delicious meal. You read the menu while waiting in line and decide on a course of action. You make it up to the front of the line and place your order. Then the anticipation builds....and builds. Finally, you retrieve your order and walk to a table in beautiful Madison Square Park. You enjoy your food among other people, both young and old, enjoying their food...sunshine, birds and squirrels frolicking nearby. It's just a very, very pleasant experience. Food's also good: "Shack-Cago" Dog on the left, "Flat-Top" Dog on the right. The Chicago dog needs no introduction, the Flat-Top was a split, griddled hot dog covered in grilled onions and bathed in cheese sauce. Sounds kinda nasty but it's pretty delicious. Classic Shackburger:

VERY, VERY delicious soba noodles. I wish I had pictures. These things are amazing. Very al-dente. A real mouthful. I wish I had pictures.

Super Taste
Probably the best bowl of noodle soup that I have ever had. I ordered the #2 (hand-pull noodle w. Beef in Hot & Spicy Soup). Hand-pulled noodles had great texture. Broth was just right...intense enough to flavor the noodles as you slurped them up but not so intense that you couldn't spoon it up and drink it on its own. Slices of beef were a nice mix of lean meat, tendon and fat. I could not ask for anything more from this bowl of noodle soup. Absolutely amazing. A must visit the next time I am in the city.

Whew. That's it. Damn, that took me a long time. Enjoy. Bottom line is that cheap food doesn't necessarily mean bad food. You can eat well for not much money in NYC.


han said...

that korean food w/ black sauce is zzah zzang myun. it's a bean paste sauce. i'm surprised you didn't like it.

Mike Czyzewski said...

what can I say...maybe it was a subpar version of the dish...i'll give it a try sometime in the future...