Culinary Road Trip to New York City

Published in Gourmet Live 09.28.11
As part of our monthly collaboration with BlogHer, we’re hitting the streets of New York City in style with the insider’s guide to the chicest eats and hippest hangouts

With so many different ethnic cuisines to choose from, what’s one restaurant offering eclectic fare that won’t break the bank?

Asia Dog has an adorable little shop on Kenmare Street. Their menu features hot dogs and Asian ingredients, a surprisingly tasty combination. You can opt for Vietnamese banh mi-style (with pickled carrots and daikon), Korean BBQ-style (with Asian slaw or kimchi), Japanese curry (with homemade kimchi apples), or any myriad of toppings.

What’s the city’s best-kept secret when it comes to baked goods?

City Cakes on 18th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues has hands down the best cakes; especially noteworthy are the pumpkin spice and the Key lime, with flavorful icing that is substantial and not too sweet. The second best option is Café Grumpy and their Turkish-inspired baked goods—especially their intensely moist scones!

What’s the best restaurant for a date or anniversary?

My husband and I first visited the Bridge Cafe when we were dating in the 1980s. The small restaurant, by the Manhattan foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, turns out to be one of the oldest food-serving establishments in the city. Back then I liked it for its coziness, with exposed-brick walls and a warm American menu—the kind of place you’d want to step into on a rainy evening, as we did. Now, we go back on rare occasions, such as for a quiet anniversary dinner. The restaurant has held up well and it’s close enough to the renovated South Street Seaport that you can take a stroll on the busy pier after dinner. Just a few cobblestone blocks separate the restaurant from the main seaport, which suffice to keep the restaurant slightly out of the way and romantic, still, after all these years.

What food trends are sweeping the city right now?

The current trend is gourmet food sold solely out of food trucks, which generally have a regular route each week. For the best Belgian waffles anywhere, try Wafels & Dinges, and the ice cream from the Van Leeuwen truck cannot be beat.

Where can you find the best thin-crust pizza, and what toppings are a must?

Kesté Pizza & Vino sells indie pizzas, and the best is the Pizza del Re, with fresh mozzarella, mushroom, prosciutto di Parma, truffle spread, and extra-virgin olive oil.

To eat from a street-cart vendor or to not eat from a street-cart vendor? Are the soft pretzels really that good?

The pretzels are pretty reliably terrible! But don’t count out street-cart vendors—a lot of fast-casual restaurants are sending out their own food carts, and there are “boutique” carts, as well. If you know where to find the carts on any given day (Midtown Lunch is a good resource), you can find anything from Schnitzel to gourmet cupcakes.

What’s the most popular place right now for cocktails?

Employees Only, in the West Village, recently won the coveted 2011 Best Cocktail Bar in the World honor at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. It can get pretty crowded, so perhaps try early or on a weeknight!

What are the trendiest restaurants and bars to see and be seen?

The Dutch has a stylish, but not pretentious, crowd, and every visit has left me with a smile. At my last visit I had the Asian White Boy Ribs, which were a great starter, even if they have a stupid name. I also shared the eggplant dip with savory crackers with the rest of my party, and it was simple, yet tasty. The local fluke with spicy watermelon felt a little daring, but it turned out to be lovely, and the orecchiette with broccoli rabe is another dish that seems simple but was quite tasty. They always have a great selection of featured cocktails, which are fun to try.

What is the best hole-in-the-wall restaurant south of Houston Street?

Shopsins in the Essex Street Market (Essex Street between Rivington and Delancey) is run by chef-owner Kenny Shopsin, who is famous for both his lovable-curmudgeon attitude and the exhaustive menu of so-wacky-they-work dishes at his little diner (including red velvet and poppy seed pancakes and the “Hogman” sandwich—a Reuben made with panko-fried barbecue pork on rye toast).

Where can you find a healthy brunch spot that won’t blow the budget?

Go to Risotteria and order the risotto with mushrooms and truffle oil, or try the Garden Lite macaroni and cheese (made with light Cheddar, Parmesan, roasted cauliflower, portabella mushrooms, roasted garlic, broccoli, and scallions) at S’MAC (Sarita’s Macaroni & Cheese) in the East Village. And don’t miss the vegan French toast with maple syrup and tempeh bacon at Blossom, or the Farmer’s Feast (assembled from the day’s harvest) at Blue Hill!

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