Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fun Playing With NYC Food!

I was born in the NYC borough of The Bronx, spent my first few years in the borough of Queens, and was raised about 65 miles from Manhattan in a Long Island town called East Northport. By the time I left home to go to college - Manhattan was the only place I wanted to live. So I spent a total of six years living in Greenwich Village, while attending NYU. After I graduated, I lived for 6 years in Montclair NJ, an easy bus or train ride from Manhattan. Then, I moved to Cleveland. Though one can fly to La Guardia Airport from Cleveland in about the same time it takes to get to Penn Station from East Northport on the Long Island Rail Road - economics and time make it an infrequent trip for me.

Since we were already going to NY for my nephew's Bar Mitzvah last weekend, we decided to expand the trip by a couple of days so that we could spend a day in NYC and a day going to NJ for great eats. Since Monday 3/17 (St. Patrick's Day) would be insane in NY, we decided to hit The City first on Thursday, and then meet our friend Jo-Mel for Sichuan food on Monday in Cedar Grove NJ.

Lucky for me - I can get almost any kind of food I want in Cleveland. We are blessed with wonderful restaurants and food lovers, so there are only a few things I crave from my old stomping grounds. But I do crave them! Especially New York Pizza! I actually have the occasional dream about walking miles in NYC to have a slice at the Famous Ray's on 6th Avenue at 11th Street. This was our "go to" place for pizza when I lived in the Village - though there are many other great pizzerias around.

So - after taking the train into Penn Station, the A train to 14th Street & 8th Avenue, and the L train to 14th Street & 6th Avenue, we made tracks for the Famous Rays. There's the signpost, up ahead:

It is a small, downright dinky space, though the walls were curiously empty. Back in the day (15 years ago), the walls were covered with newspaper clippings about the place, and the big story of how they shipped partially baked pizzas to England, for some homesick college students. Usually crowded, we were fortunate to arrive a few minutes before 11am, before the lunchers would descend.

The Plain Pie. A Beautiful Thing.

I am a purist when it comes to pizza. As much as I like Meatball for a topping - when returning for this old favorite, I had to have it plain. It was soooo good!

Note the way the crust twists and folds without breaking. The bottom has a perfect char, and the texture is just right. The cheese oozes overboard like no other pizza slice's cheese does.

They were just prepping a Pepperoni & Sausage pizza for the oven as we arrived - Bob was willing to wait the few minutes for it to cook to enjoy this slice:

I had to photograph another pie on the way out; it took every ounce of self control I possessed to keep me from getting another slice.

For our next stop, I wanted to try something I'd heard and read about, and seen on one of Anthony Bourdain's TV programs: the Gray's Papaya King hotdog. The location at 8th Street and 6th Avenue had opened while I was still an NYU student - but I was a Hebrew National kinda gal in those days, so I never tried it.

Grilling is the only proper way to cook a hotdog, in my opinion.

The dog had juice (not enough, said Bob), snap and taste. The mustard was dark and spicy. Yum. Of course, we had to try the Papaya drink too:

A very refreshing stop.

We proceeded to walk down Christopher Street, all the way to the water. It had been too many years since I wandered the West Village, and Bob didn't remember our ever going there together! Our itinerary was selected using recent posts on the Cleveland Food & Wine Forum that someone was kind enough to compile into one post just before we left, since it has been so long since I spent a lot of time here.

We began at The Spotted Pig. Bob had their own Cask Beer (Pale Ale) and I ordered a Bloody Mary. Now - I don't even especially like Bloody Marys - but this description entranced me:

The rim of the glass was coated with celery salt - I don't even like that spice - but it complemented the cocktail perfectly.

We ordered one appetizer and one lunch feature to share.

Chicken Liver Toast

One bite and I knew why Michael Symon loves this place - seriously livery! In fact, a bit too rich for me, though I loved the taste, I had to scrape some off. My friend Linda would love this!!

Sheep's Ricotta Gnudi with Brown Butter & Sage

These were amazing! Freshly made pasta, silky cheese, and browned butter. Funny, I had just read about browned butter on Michael Ruhlman's blog - and here it was, a perfect example!

This snack left us too full to want more food. So, we didn't eat much at our next stop, Barbuto. This place was also on Michael Symon's "go to" list, and it is a very cool space, fashioned out of a former warehouse.

In nice weather, the doors go up on two sides to make a truly open air cafe. The ambiance is hip, and the kitchen is open (and has an in-kitchen Chef's Table). I discovered a delightful 15 year old Rum to sip:

After a while, since our appetites were not cooperating, we ordered a Salumi plate. Since they were still on lunch menu, the plate had two meats (not local) and house made foccacia.

Spicy Soppressata


Sorry - but I've been spoiled by Dominic Cerino's version of this delicacy - it just lacked profundity. We really liked the Soppressata, though.

Seen on Christopher Street - I don't drink coffee, but I thought this was a cool way to play with it:

Our next stop, also from Michael Symon's list, was the Fatty Crab:

But try as we might, we could not get any appetite going. So, though I really wanted the Chili Crab – Dungeoness crab, chili sauce, white toast - we settled for two appetizers instead:

Green Mango with Chili-Sugar-Salt

The tart mango slices are dipped in the sweet-savory-hot accompaniment - a great palate cleanser!

Fatty Tea Sandwiches - pork belly, sambal aioli

This was interesting - the sambal was fiery fantastic, but the pork was all fat. I love pork belly fat as much as anyone, but I would have liked a little meat, too.

Rice Cake Dessert

Presented gratis. Made in house and very tasty.

It was now time to abandon our tour (and we still had about 4 other places we'd hoped to visit) and head uptown to El Rio Grande. Several of our friends are especially partial to the frozen margaritas served there, and they are wise to make this our meeting point. After consuming the prescribed two margaritas, we were happy and ready for our next destination: Kampuchea Restaurant, NYC's first Cambodian restaurant.

Bob and I have enjoyed Cambodian food in San Fransisco (at the late Ankor Wat) and in Chicago; Cleveland has three such restaurants (two of which are outstanding). Still, our friends had never enjoyed this cuisine, and we always love to try a new place. So, we walked the two miles from 38th Street to the Lower East Side (passing the venerable Katz's Deli), to resume our noshing at 78 Rivington Street.

We shared several "small plates", Num Pang (sandwiches) and Crepes, then shared two large noodle bowls.

Tamarind Baby Back Ribs (Duroc pig), Cilantro & Lime Dip

These were sweet and tender.

Grilled Fresh Water Prawns Ginger & Scallion Rubbed

This was the only outrightly disappointing dish. The prawns tasted stale and off. Our companions ate them anyway, but Bob and I waited for something else. The something else we next received (which I don't seem to have a photo of) was a crepe stuffed with fried cod, ground peppercorn, honey-soy, and sesame seed - it was very good.

For our Num Pang sandwich trio, we shared House Cured Bacon (with Charred whole pickled Thai chilies & red onions), Grilled Eggplant (Thai eggplant, Chinese eggplant, ginger, garlic) and, Hoisin Pork Meat Balls (Berkshire pork, rice, light tomato sauce). These were also delicious.

Our friends ordered a "big bowl" of Duroc Pork Katiev Flat Noodle (pork broth, braised pork belly, salted pork shoulder, sautéed pickled mustard greens, sprouts & herbs) to share and Bob and I selected the Chilled Rice Vermicelli (Grilled Duroc pork, Chinese sausage, over easy egg, sprouts & fresh herbs, sautéed shallots, crushed peanuts), which was actually served warm.

Duroc Pork Katiev Flat Noodle

Chilled Rice Vermicelli

We finally piled into Steve's waiting car, and raced through traffic and construction to make the 10:44 out of Penn Station; we just barely made it (sorry Mom, no NYC pretzel for you this time).

We played with a staggering array of fabulously fun food this day, and hope to hit the other places on our list on another visit soon!


  1. Wow, Nancy, all that food looks AMAZING. Especially the gnudi at The Spotted Pig. BTW, your picture taking skills are really getting good ... I want to reach out and touch the screen.

    I just can't imagine eating all of that in one day though. :)

  2. The Spotted Pig gnudi are hands-down one of my favorite dishes in life. Want some now.

  3. Life - it was your recommendation on the FWF that helped us to decide on what to order at Spotted Pig!