After almost three years of constant travelling to New York the city almost had become my second home. Last week I went there one last time – for my company as I’m sure we will be back pretty soon. Here is a very brief summary of my favourite places. You’re not surprised that it’s mostly about wine and food are you?
Most of my time I stayed in a hotel in SoHo, not fancy but fine. And it’s not the worst area to live in. It’s actually a really nice area with tons of cafés, shops and restaurants. So, so many. One of the thing that amaze me about Manhattan is that there just doesn’t seem to be an end. The density and intensity is stunning and although I probably wouldn’t have wanted to live in the middle of it I enjoyed it a lot (the shopping areas between the really big skyscrapers: not so much).
Just to pick a few favourites in SoHo: Most of the breakfasts I had at SoHo Made Soups in Varick Street. It’s not pretty but it’s really affordable and the blueberry muffin with a coffee and a fresh orange juice was always a good start. Lunch and dinner, really hard. Most of the times a visit to Walker’s was a must. It’s a little south from SoHo in Tribeca next to the headquarters of the Ghostbusters. I used to go there with my colleague Ken who regularly requested a cardiologist after lunch. Big burgers, cheese and extra bacon, … but they are excellent and the service gives you the appropriate American burger experience too. I also liked going to the Vin et Fleurs, a French restaurant with a very cliché French owner. You probably won’t see him for lunch but at night I think he gets hammered every day in front of his restaurant getting his guests seated and flirting with the ladies. He and every waitress & waiter I met there were truly passionate about the food and it’s worth asking for recommendations. The mini baguettes are delicious and the fries are a must have side (hand cut and soaked in water two days before they are actually fried and served). I could go on like this for paragraphs with the Lucky Strike, American Flatbread, Mae Mae or The Cleveland (ok, that’s a little more west) but I would like to mention two Italian places I specifically liked. First the Aurora which not only has a decent (but conventional) wine but also wonderful pasta and fish. I’ve spent a lot of time here and was never disappointed by the quality of the food which is not fancy but excellent in its ingredients and making. And there is the Locanda Verde which has also very good Italian style food but one competitive advantage: the wine list has a number of natural wines on it featuring Arianna Occhipinti.
An excellent wine shop worth mentioning in this area is called Frankly Wines where Christy Frank and her colleagues have a good selection of organic & natural wines featuring quite a few from New York. I would absolutely recommend it for getting a bottle – if your out for a BIYB (bring your own booze – for those who live outside the US) restaurant or get it as a gift (for yourself). Last spot to mention in Tribeca is the Terroir where I spent a few evenings just by myself challenging the waiters to serve me the most interesting food-wine pairings. All recommendations I got there were between decent and fantastic. And there are quite a few wines you can get by the glass.
Going east I remember a wonderful dinner with Alice Feiring at the Five Points – I am still thankful for her time and advice I got this evening. If you’re into wine you will know her if not: Alice is a journalist specialised in natural wines (and a spiritual leader of the whole movement) who wrote a few books which deeply impressed me and I can recommend. She brought a bottle of a red wine called Le Canon with her and I was fascinated just to watch her tasting it, cooling it a bit and tasting it again while scribbling her notes on the label. The potato pizza I had with the wine was delicious as well, so this restaurant has a place carved in my memories.
Besides SoHo and Tribeca I spent most of my time in Manhattan in the Lower Eastside. With one clear favourite as a restaurant, the Freemans. It was the first breathtaking dinner in New York I had with my friend Nils kickstarting our adventures in food. And although it never reached the first lamb again (which I can still taste) I was able to bring Melanie along in the summer of 2011 when we did a US vacation. The restaurant is a bit hidden, people won’t come in by accident. It’s a hipster rustic style and generally a hipster temple. The staff can be fun when not too busy knowing their menu very well and the food is modern (they say: early) American kitchen. It’s a strong recommendation and worth combining it with a beer at Loreley – I always had a happy moment getting an Augustiner far from home.
Another place I loved for the quality of its food was the Momofuku which you’ll find on several places in the city – one being in the Lower Eastside. It’s an American interpretation of Asian (specifically Korean) cuisine and probably the best crossover Asian food I ever had. It’s very affordable and I could die for the Kimchi (although it’s probably more likely to die for my companion as it contains ridiculous amounts of garlic).
An excellent natural wine place close to Williamsburg Bridge is The Ten Bells. I discovered it too late so only went there once (last week). The French waitress from the Jura area was extremely knowledgable about her wines so this was another evening of pairing little bites with glasses of white and red deliciousness.
I often walked over the bridge the last years to walk around in Williamsburg just watching hipsters taking photos of other hipsters. But also admiring the long bearded guys and flowery girls pickling every vegetable artistically, selling artisan ice-cream, sandwiches and jam (who isn’t in the artisan food movement very likely a) produces jewellery selling it on etsy or b) teaches producing jewellery). I loved it. Always a must visit for me were the Mast Brothers with their chocolate production facility. You can taste the chocolate in their sampling room before buying some and watch the chocolate makers work in the background.
An extremely cool place to have lunch, brunch, whatever, is the Five Leaves where I once had a Wasabi Bloody Mary with Oysters watching the heavily tattooed (no beards!) barkeepers dancing behind the counter while the turntable was pushing FreeStyle beats through the room and out of the door in the sunny city.
There are so many fantastic places to have breakfast and lunch, the only other one to pick out her might be the Rabbithole as I remember the late breakfast I had there once being specifically delicious and also I think it was outside of the tourist zone. An the Roebling Tea Room a little more east which has some outstanding sandwiches and a really nice hipster atmosphere.
And maybe a last recommendation for Brooklyn to finish it up: the Vinegar Hill House in the Dumbo area. It’s similar to the Freemans but way more hidden. So the first time I went there finding it in this dark and silent area of Brooklyn was exciting by itself. It’s edgy but very cosy, my mother would probably suspect the cooks and waiters to rather work in a prison kitchen (tattoos! beards! hair cuts!). You get a decent bottle of natural wine at this place (sadly not a lot by the glass) and the food is top. One time the waitress was a bit of a disaster but shit happens. It’s a nice little hipster temple and I think Melanie liked it too when we went there in spring.
It doesn’t really fit anywhere but I have to mention the Bourgeois Pig which is quite a bit more north and specialised in Fondues. So a cheese fondue for the main and a chocolate fondue for dessert? You got the right place. And last but not least I have to mention the Hearth Restaurant. Eileen organised a farewell dinner for me – it was a great evening. The waitress’ excitement and friendliness was suspiciously overwhelming and we enjoyed it delighted and amused. The food was delicious, not overly fancy but celebrating the ingredients – in my case crunchy vegetables full of ripe freshness and juicy, wonderfully textured fish. Also we got a few cookies on a plate saying “Bon Voyage” – thanks to the excited waitress 🙂 And although the staff was not very knowledgable about natural wine (what I find surprising as they’re connected to the Terroir) the pairings were good, the wines generally were very good and I would certainly go there again for a special occasion.
My plane went back on Friday and we spent our weekend packing a few parcels sticking in there everything that doesn’t fit in our suitcases (more than we thought – of course). And I enjoyed having a bottle of Fabien Jouves funky red wine called “You Fuck My Wine”. Deeply red, fruity (I got the the “macerated cherries” taste!) and actually not too crazy. More background for the catchy name on Tipple Tipple. So the last week in London lies ahead of us: let’s go!