Thursday, 14 March 2013

You want fries with that?

Okay, first things first. I have been here 5 weeks now and at no stage has anyone asked me -

"Do you want fries with that?"

Never happened, not once, sorry to disappoint. That is not to say that it won't happen but in my (albeit limited) experience, most things that come with fries, come with fries anyway. It'd be like ordering soup and someone asking - "Do you want a spoon with that?"

So that's that out of the way.

I love food. Sounds silly to say that, as food is a prerequisite for life, but then a lot of people eat shit (not literally) on a daily basis, seemingly uninterested in trying different cuisines. I am not one those folk. I like trying new things, eating what the locals eat, sampling the weird and wonderful. For people like me, New York is a cornucopia of edible delights. There are so many restaurants, diners, pubs, dives, food carts,'s enough to make you dizzy.

New York has 7,966 sit down restaurants with a further 9,056 places that deliver. That is a whole lot of choice. Naturally I haven't had a chance to even scratch the surface of what is on offer here but I thought I would share some of the high's (and lows) of my culinary quest so far.

I love a good burger, it really is one of my guilty pleasures in life. I have tried a few so far but by far and away the best I've tasted so far is from the famous '5 Napkins' in Hell's Kitchen -

One of four restaurants in the city, they are lauded for their supremely juicy burgers (which is where the name comes from - it takes 5 napkins to eat one!). I was fortunate enough to get a table the other week (the place is constantly rammed) and tried the famous 5 Napkins Burger - 10 oz of ground beef with Gruyere, caramalised onions (like a scoop of French onion soup on a burger), rosemary aioli on a soft white roll. It really is burger heaven, the freshest, juciest burger with the melty cheese and massive flavour from the onions...I inhaled it.

Other notable mentions on the list of Americana favourites are The Delta Grill - - which serves Creole-infused dishes like Fried Green Tomatoes, Duck Mac and Cheese (yes you heard that correctly and it tastes as good as it sounds) and Hot Gumbo (a Louisiana tradition)


Brother Jimmy's BBQ on Amsterdam Avenue - - where the 'Pressed Bourbon BBQ Brisket Sandwich' nearly stopped my heart - BBQ Brisket, Bourbon BBQ sauce, Gouda, Onion straws pressed on Texas Toast, which also came with Sweet potato fries - phew! Really tasty but work up an appetite first.

Another quick shout-out goes to Rue 57 - - whose 'Truffle Fries' have to be tasted to be believed.

Away from the deep fried delights of our American friends, I have found there are a plethora of fabulous Japanese restaurants here serving everything from Sushi and Miso to Yakitori and Shumai. My two favourites so far have to be -

 Ichi Umi - - which does the most fabulous 'all-you-can-eat' buffet and featured quite possibly the best Teriyaki (beef and chicken) I've ever had. The buffet is enormous, includes a Sashimi bar, Yakitori, Shumai, Miso, Ramen ...the list goes on. Service there was also first class.

Yakitori Totto - - a bijou cubby-hole that serves the tastiest Yakitori. Try the Chicken Heart skewer washed down with hot Saki. Unbelievably good and very affordable, a little gem of a place.

I could go on about all the amazing places to go and may well revisit this subject in the coming weeks as I have only described the tip of the iceberg (I could tell you about my addiction to cupcakes but that will have to wait) - but I do want to mention a couple of places that have registered on the other end of the culinary scale.

Masina Trattoria - - take a bow! An Italian restaurant in Weehawken (NJ) which is about as Italian as my Scottish pal Eddie. Winner of arguably the worst pizza anyone has ever had the gall to describe as 'pizza' - it consisted mostly of processed cheese - three inches thick of it - and some lonely looking sausage on top. So bad I had to leave the restaurant after a third of it to get some fresh air. If the Italians knew about this place...mamma mia!

Cosmic Diner - - Let me assure you there is nothing 'Cosmic' about this place. I actually think they misspelled it and stuck an extra 's' in there. About as depressing an experience as you could possibly hope for. Considering the expectations of a diner are fairly low it was quite some feat that they managed to cock up pancakes and bacon - with the pancakes clearly made out of a packet (and made badly) and the didn't taste like any bacon I've ever eaten...maybe it was cat bacon? Add in that it was hopelessly overpriced and our server stacked plates of food on top of each other - there was the indentation of the plate above in my pancakes - it isn't hard to see why this health hazard of a 'eatery' should be condemned to the 'AVOID' section of the list.

I will return with further adventures next week, no doubt telling you about the 'Quest for a New Belt' after eating all this food. Happy eating folks!


Friday, 8 March 2013

Serve chilled

I lived in Scotland a long time. I lived in Scotland so long that it now takes me a week of sunbathing to go white. I didn't even know what the sun was for a while, I thought it was a myth. That's how long I lived in Scotland for. A long old time.

Living in Scotland you accept a few inevitable truths. Things like -

- Scotland will never suffer from a drought. Ever.
- You can eat any part of an animal as long as it is deep fried in batter.
- Losing with pride is better than winning at all costs.
- Whisky is not a beverage. It is a way of life.
- Scotland is one of the coldest places on Earth.

However recently I have experienced an epiphany in regard to the last point on this list. Scotland isn't cold at all, in fact it is a balmy haven of temperateness. I realised this on my arrival to New York, which I had laboured under the false impression for most of my life, that it was warmer than Scotland. Not so.

I arrived here a mere few hours after the snowstorm 'Nemo' (why each storm gets a moniker I am not entirely sure, as if it were the same in Scotland the list of names would have long-since been exhausted and we'd be on to binary code by now). Nemo, depending on where you live, dropped anywhere between 2-5 feet of snow in a matter of 24 hours.

Now to put this into perspective, if the same had happened in the UK then a state of emergency would have been declared, schools would be demolished in order to make way for impromtu grit mountains, while the National press clamoured for international assistance for what could only be described as 'a natural disaster on a scale not seen since the Indonesian tsunami.'

But in America? No sir. As soon as the blizzard had stopped then roads were ploughed, runways cleared, shovels sharpened and life...well life carried on. Why? Because they are used to snow. And not just a sprinkling, tonnes of the stuff.

In the UK we get surprised when it snows, as if we have no way of forecasting it, or as if it has never happened before and then all of a sudden this novelty frozen water starts falling from the sky. But in New York they take it seriously, people are mobilised, forecasts are updated on the hour, people are informed. Why? Because it's bloody cold here!

On most days since my arrival it has been in minus temperatures, sometimes getting well into double figures. This is not something I am used to, and I lived in Scotland a long time (which I may have mentioned). I keep going outside thinking I'm 'wrapped up' but then I get ten yards down the street and wished I'd worn my thermal underwear and buffalo skins. Even as I write this it is snowing and Manhattan is covered in a liberal dusting a few inches thick. It is properly cold here but more often than not the sun shines and the skies are clear and blue.

And that got me thinking. It has struck me that I prefer it to be colder as long as I get blue skies accompanied by sunshine. Where I'm from it's not quite as cold but the sky is a constant grey mono-cloud that hangs around like an impenetrable pall. It's wet and dark and miserable. But not especially cold.

So my apologies Scotland - I shall no longer call you cold and miserable. Instead you shall always have a place in my heart for being wet and miserable from now on.

Much better I'm sure you'll agree.