New York Report - May 1998
Our most recent visit to New York City was in the middle of a two week
rainy stretch, but this did not keep us indoors. Despite rain and Giuliani
anti-pedestrian barriers, we managed to get around.
Like most armies,we travel on our stomachs,
and this trip was no exception, so here are some of our opinions on places
to eat and places to buy food along with a few places to buy other stuff
and some neat things to see and do.
Places to Eat
- Rosa Mexicano (58th St &
- This is our favorite Mexican restaurant in the city and may have the
best guacamole in the world. They make it up at your table in a big black
lava mortar, using avocadoes from their own avocado cellar. We always order
the cuitlacoche (sometimes called huitlacoche) which is a black, murky
tasting Mexican corn fungus, the mixiote de cordero, which is a lamb shank
cooked in chili powder and beer, and many margaritas. Their corn tortillas,
served with the guacamole and with other dishes are to die for. We used
to always order their tablas, beef short ribs, until they took them off
the menu and we have tried other dishes, which are excellent, but with
Rosa Mexicano, we are creatures of habit.
- O Padeiro (1?th St & 6th Ave aka Avenue of the Americas)
- This is a marvelous little Portuguese bistro with grilled vegetables,
meats, sausages, sandwiches, and their own breads and pastries. Our favorite
was the grilled broccoli rabe with roasted garlic and linguica. Eric Asimov
of the New York Times hated it, but, as they, de omnibus
non est disputandum. We tried a few of the many dishes and all of them
had that slow cooked, high intensity flavor one associates with good ethnic
food. We also had some of their very hot, very strong coffee, and so fortified
were able to face the rain.
- Mad 29 (not sure)
- We didn't try this place, we just looked at the menu in the window
and were amused to see yet another non-standard menu category - carpaccios,
that is dishes based on some thinly sliced meat such as lobster, tuna or
the more traditional beef. More and more restaurants are getting away from
the old Appetizer, Meat, Fish, Vegetables sort of paradigm and grouping
foods by category. My favorite category, at a JCHillarys, was On A Stick,
which says something about JCHillarys. Mad 29 looked a whole lot better.
- Quilty's (Prince St, near Sullivan)
- Restaurants in this part of town tend to have table problems. At Aquagrill,
the table was too small to fit two plates so we lost part of our delicious
fish when one of us bumped the plate rim. At Quilty's we didn't get this
far. The tables were low and the chairs so high that we couldn't get our
legs under the table. Our waitress, who lacked a grasp of basic physics
and anatomy, complained about our inability to bend space and time to our
will so we left and ate at Follonico.
(24th St, off 5th Ave)
- This is our favorite Italian Restaurant in the city. They have no particular
area of greatness, everything is great. We love their fried seafood, fritti
misti or calamare. We love the pasta dishes, included a superb penne with
rabbit and tomato sauce. The sea bass cooked with fennel, for two, is wonderful
and you can't go wrong with the soft shell crabs. Or try the bagna caulde,
or the salmon filets cooked on a hot stone, or the roast pork with real
cracklings. We could go on, but you should get the idea by now. We love
- Payard (Lexington Ave, twixt 73rd & 74th St)
- This is a bustling, bubbling establishment out of the Belle Epoque.
We haven't tried the bistro in the back, but we have tried the pastry place
up front and were quite impressed. We had a meringue, a cream puff, an
eclair and a raspberry cake, which was the weakest entry in the lot. The
pastry portions of each confection were excellent, with a good, dry texture
and buttery flavor, but the coffee and chocolate fillings were much better
and more intense than the raspberry, which was understated. Despite this
minor flaw, we washed everything down with a glass or two of champagne
and came away with a better understanding of how women kept their hourglass
figures in the latter part of the last century.
- Across the
Street (91st St & York Ave)
- Across the Street is across the street from The Vinegar Factory, the new
Zabar outpost on the upper east side. It is an airy, casual place that
serves pure, authentic California cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal
flavors and fresh ingredients from across the street at The Vinegar Factory.
The menu is small, but always features an excellent lamb dish, a shank
or leg cooked to perfection. In fact, all the meats here are excellent,
especially the aged shell steak served with horseradish slaw. The polenta
gratin with fava beans welcomed the spring as the baby eggplants heralded
the fall. The desserts are down home American, like the gingerbread pudding
that reminds one of what chocoholics are missing.
- Wu Liang Ye (55th St, twixt 5th & 6th Aves)
- This is one of a chain of restaurants and we think it is the best of
them. It is an elegant place with high ceilings and chandeliers and people
at half the tables will be speaking Chinese, despite its midtown location.
If you like spicy Chinese food, you will love the beef tendon cut into
prosciutto grade slices in hot sauce and the equally spicy tripe and tongue
combination. If you need a break from the burn, try the tea smoked camphor
duck, the stir fried baby bok choy, and some jasmine tea, then get back
to the spicy bean curd or the wonderful twice cooked bacon and other great
stuff on their menu.
- La Caravelle (55th St, twixt 5th & 6th Aves)
- La Caravelle is one of the city's classics, and is still one of the
city's great restaurants. We dropped by for lunch and tried out the fois
gras appetizers, one with a raisin-green tomato sauce and the other cooked
as a confit with a layer of dates in the middle. These reminded us of the
Hotel d'France in Auch. The main courses were not quite as good as the
appetizers. The hangar steak was excellent with baby vegetables, but this
is usually a bistro sort of dish and served as haute cuisine was overly
finessed. The monkfish with artichokes, olives and tomatoes was perfection.
Since we were dining in a classic restaurant, we finished our meals with
good old fashioned souffles and left, quite satisfied.
Places to Buy Food
- Citarella (3rd Ave & 6?th St)
- Like most New Yorkers, we are used to Citarella on the west side, but
were pleased to see that they are on the east side as well. Since we have
no kitchen in New York, not an uncommon problem, we can only say that the
fish looked and smelled wonderful, as did the produce, meats and everything
else. It all looked so good that we almost broke down and loaded up on
- Grace's Marketplace (1237 3rd Ave)
- We also checked out Grace's marketplace, which is affiliated with Grace
Trattoria (71st St and 3rd Ave), and were most impressed with the collection
of meats and vegetables. They even had the best price we found on fresh
morels, $19 a pound. As part of a growing trend towards restaurants linked
to food stores (see Across the Street),
we have to say "go for it".
- Gourmet Garage (64th St, off ?? Ave)
- This is yet another grocer we checked out on the east side. It is bigger
than the others and some of the prices were better, but the morels cost
more than at Grace's. It also lacked a certain sense of variety and abundance
of merchandise, having more the ambience of a warehouse store. We suppose
this was the point, but one still needs that 10% of inspiration to go with
the 90% ingredients.
- Eleni's Cookies (Chelsea Market)
- This is a great cookie store, especially for children. It is the sort
of place one might have found down in the Village back in the 60s with
its brightly iced cookies in the shapes of elephants, bears, airplanes,
buildings and other neat stuff. They even had new Volkswagen cookies in
their bin with the taxicab ones. It is probably more fun with children,
but we grownups love this kind of whimsy too.
- Fat Witch (Chelsea Market)
- This place was full of amazingly good brownies. The smell of chocolate
alone was enough to drive one wild. Brownies may be a classic, but they
also had a great product for the 90s, brownie cigars. These taste and smell
better than tobacco based ones and there is no problem with second hand
- Sarabeth's (Chelsea Market)
- This was the best smelling pastry place in Chelsea Market and it was
only diminished capacity that kept us from doing more than smelling the
rum soaked vanilla beans.
- Greenmarket (Union Square)
- The Greenmarket is a country market with a great selection of farm
stands selling vegetables, fruits, meats, breads, cheeses and other goodies.
Here you can get cat grass for your cat and admire the cat pix, choose
from dozens of types of potatoes and not have to worry about where your
next meal is coming from. We broke down and planned a ramp and baby turnip
dinner. Now for that kitchen.
- Walden Foods (Front Royal, VA)
- This outfit is not located in New York. They sell the best smoked trout
you can buy in a store. You can buy it at Grace's Marketplace
or call 800 64 TROUT.
- Maison du Chocolate (7?th St, off Madison Ave, moving to 78th
St & Madison Ave)
- Yes, this is the same outfit as the one in Paris and the chocolate
is just as good. The pastries have a great bitter chocolate flavor that
makes challenging the marabunta worthwhile.
They are moving uptown, one hopes to bigger digs, so they may be able to
serve hot cocoa like their Parisian counterpart. When they do, or if you
get to Paris, check out their Guayaquil, even if you hate chocolate.
- Aphrodisia (Bleeker St, near Carmine St)
- This is a little store with every kind of spice, herb, medicinal, essential
oil, tea, dried vegetable and folk pharmaceutical. We come here for the
choice of chile powders, the herbal teas, the curries, the oils and the
exotic herbs. We usually stay until our noses burn out and refuse to register
anything other than amazing.
- Balducci's (6th Ave & 9th St)
- Everybody knows Balducci's with its green awning and crowded aisles.
We come for the fresh ricotta, the truffles (black and white), the smoked
fish and the ambience which is totally New York. Even if they don't have
it in stock (try robiola or fresh pig skin), they have at least heard of
it and will give it a try. Despite the competition, Balducci's is still
the store to catch up with.
- The Vinegar Factory (91st St, twixt 1st
& York Aves)
- This is Zabar's east side entry and is affiliated with the restaurant
Across the Street which is across the street. We
were here one Thanksgiving Eve shortly before closing and were seriously
considering cancelling our Thanksgiving Day reservations and just getting
take out. Only the diminuitive size of our hotel mini-bar fridge dissuaded
us. Use your imagination. Even we can only gush so much about food.
Places to Buy Other Stuff
- Just Bulbs (2?th St & Broadway)
- As the name says, this place just sells bulbs, more or less. They have
a great collection of bulbs for a broad variety of lamps and their salespeople
know their merchandise. They also sell neat light sets for Christmas and
other events. For example, they have Christmas lights shaped like holly
(red bulbs and green leaves), hot dogs and hamburgers, pink flamingos and
other such. Just the place for getting in the spirit of things.
- Cambridge Chemists (7?th Ave, off Madison Ave)
- This is an old fashioned pharmacy with dark wood paneling and glass
cabinets. They sell the usual druggist things and have good prices on skin
care products like Cellex-C. They also sell oddball things like a New York
City nerve tonic and homeopathic jet lag cures.
- Pasteur Pharmacy (Lexington Ave, near 6?th St)
- This is one of a chain of jam packed little pharmacies with special
emphasis on beauty and hair care products. Check out the Frizz-Ease, regular
or super. Look over the candy colored lipsticks before they show up at
Saks. Just be careful walking the narrow aisles. Some of the products just
leap off the shelves.
- Barnes & Noble (6th Ave & 18th St)
- A lot of nasty things have been said about this chain, but they do
have good stock and good prices. We particularly liked their record finder.
They even had the CD we were looking forClosed on Account of Rabies.
They also have coffee and bathrooms.
- Store of Knowledge (1091 3rd Ave)
- There are a lot of "stuff of science" stores selling science
oriented and science suggested toys like chemistry sets, building kits,
nature books, rubber snakes, puzzles, magic kits, and expanding sponge
brains. This one is huge and has a great collection, but think twice before
getting that inflatable triceratops if you have a small apartment.
- Paragon Sports (16th St & Broadway)
- This is one of those stores that started out with a single storefront
and then metastatized to take over much of the interior of every nearby
building. It is full of outdoor and sporting gear - Goretex, skis, parkas,
kayaks, rackets, weights, GPS units, binoculars, sweats, and shoes. Back
in the 60s they used to have a sign out front advertising Trojan and Ramses
condoms, which used to be considered sporting goods. The sexual revolution
is over, now, you have to go to a drug store, but Paragon is bigger and
better than ever.
Stuff to See and Do
- Central Park Zoo (SE corner Central
- This is a veritable gem of a zoo and conveniently located in midtown
Manhattan. We are zoo fanatics. When we are in Sydney, we get to the Taronga
Zoo to pet the echidnas and swim with the platypuses every day, at least
when we are not visiting the aquarium, or, of course, eating. This zoo
has a charming penguin house, some terrifying polar bears, river otters,
ducks and a wonderful rain forest aviary complete with gibbons, snakes,
bats and other neat critters. And birds. There is an admission fee, but
it was a quiet refuge, perfect for a rainy day.
- Pierpont Morgan Museum (36th St & Madison Ave)
- We have passed this place numerous times, but this time we went in
to see their exhibit of ancient cylinder seals. The artistic ups and downs
over 1,500 years were fascinating, as was the repeated theme of various
gods, goddesses and animals fighting over various carcasses. We spent most
of our time poring over the seals, but we also looked over the main library
and it looked just like one might expect, like a richly appointed library.
We call this the "bucket of gin" effect, from the book Spy's
Honor, which noted that though a man may never have seen a bucket of
gin, when he gets it, it will look just the way he expected. Still, it
is worth checking out the listings to see what's in the gallery.
- Chelsea Market (14th St & 9th Ave)
- Even if you aren't hungry it is worth dropping in to check out the
space. We especially liked the fountain, suggested title, Leaky Water
Main, and the salute of torches at the western entry ramp. Old brick,
stone and exposed beams get old fast, but these touches take the space
a bit beyond.