1) Carrot Tartare at Eleven Madison Park
Sometimes date night is dinner and a show. And sometimes, dinner is the show. Daniel Humm’s 16 course New York inspired tasting menu is an aria to the city; a guided tour of history, districts, traditions and tastes. And it soars (more on this later, I promise).
There’s a moment exactly half way through when one of the dashing chefs will emerge from the ordered and calm kitchen and affix a meat grinder to the side of your table. Into which he’ll process a trimmed, cleaned, cooked and outrageously orange Paffenroth Farms carrot.
Whether you prefer your beef tartares to be hand chopped or minced is another matter. The resulting pillowish pile of orange is transferred to a decidedly Japanese wooden board housing eight small bowls of fixings; each one an education on the true dimensions of a fine brunoise (read, tiny).
You can season and flavour your tartare to your own heart’s content. Be like The Hungry One and tumble everything in; the smoked blue fish, the minced chive, horseradish, sea salt, pickled ginger, pickled quail egg yolk, apple, mustard flowers. Add some squirts of spicy carrot vinaigrette and mustard oil and muddle away. Or you can choose a more restrained path, dabbling with just the apple scents. Whatever you do, don’t leave out the pickled egg yolk. Beneath a thin, puckered meniscus it runs like a Kandinsky print, spilling yellow over orange; gilding it all together. It’s tartare and it’s carrot. But not like either you’ve ever had.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10010
2) Hazelnut Gelato at Eataly
‘We eat what we sell and we sell what we eat’ is the promise behind this sprawling complex in Flat Iron; the product of three leading lights of US Italian food; Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Eataly covers more than 50,000-square-feet, with seven restaurants, six of which are located on the street level marketplace, and the seventh, located on the rooftop; La Birreria. There’s a lot of merit in Verdure, the fresh produce driven spot (if you’re dining with a vegetarian for a few days in NYC, there are plenty worse spots to go- the eggplant involtini really do deserve a mention all of their own).
Watching locals wander around with baskets on one arm, completing their Christmas shopping and a glass of Montepulciano in the other made me think that there can’t be many more civilised ways to do your shopping in this city, or others. Beyond the paninis, the mozzarella, the cured meats and the preserves, what you really don’t want to miss is the gelato stand near the entrance. Sure it might be minus 2 outside with the wind chill, so scoff yours inside. This hazelnut gelato is a new benchmark. Strident with the Autumnal flavour of toasted nuts and smooth as gossamer, it’s got an especially slow melting point ( making it that much easier to share between three sets of greedy hands). What really makes it shine is the texture; not quite a chew, but a substance. This is a gelato with heart. And it stole a little bit of mine.
200 5th Avenue New York, NY 10010
3) Classic Mac and Cheese at Mac Shack
Genius or madness? That’s the question you ask yourself when confronted with stores that only serve mac and cheese (though there are plenty of variations on offer). When it comes to the quintessential American comfort food , there are plenty of potential pitfalls. Over cooked noodles, with the chewing appeal of taffy, undercooked noodles which better resemble shoelaces. Too much cream, tough cheese and a bland lack of seasoning are all warning spots.
Mac Shack gets it right. Dangerously right. The noodles are yielding but still have a little bite. The sauce is round and smooth, the act of eating it akin to escaping from the wind to a protected doorway. It may be served in eyesore of a foil tin, but they still manage to get a burnished crust on top, protecting layer after layer of cosseted half circular noodles beneath. You won’t need more than a small portion. You could probably share. You don’t need to add bacon, onion, mushrooms, ham, tomato, or 6 other types of cheese. And afterwards, you won’t need to do anything except go for a walk.
(There are locations both in Brooklyn and a good one on Prince St, just near Nolita).
4) Chicken Parm at Parm
There are so many things to love about Parm. For one, it’s on my favourite street in New York; Mulberry, right in the heart of Nolita. It’s where we rented an apartment when we came to stay two years ago. There’s a brilliant book store (McNally Jackson) just around the corner on Prince Street. At the other foot of the street there’s Rice to Riches; a very canny establishment that specialises in pots of impossibly flavoured, goosihly sweet rice pudding. There are sweet boutiques, Chinatown is within high-heel tottering distance – and it’s also home to Torrisi Italian Specialities.
I’ve raved about the mozzarella at Torrisi enough in my time here. And now, Torrisi has a baby sister. Right next door is Parm.
Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, are classically French-trained but Italian-American-devotees. If you lived in Jersey, had a Mom that answered to Gina and every Sunday night you had the family over for baked ziti, then you’ll know the kind of food I’m talking about. Or, if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Sopranos then you’ll also be fine. This is the land of red sauce, mozzarella sticks, hero sandwiches – and parms. You can’t go and sit on one of the stools at Parm and not order one of their namesakes.
The chicken parm is thoughtfully crusted and topped with a plumishly rich tomato sauce and a blanket of melted mozzarella. You can have it on a hoagie (a lightly toasted baguette style roll for the uninitiated), but the winning way is on a soft semolina roll. It’s doughy, like a Chinese pork bun and surprisingly sweet. It serves as a double napkin for the sauce and is as soft as a cloud. The only surprise is the occasional crunch of breading around the chicken. It comes cut in half, but share at your own peril. Family feuds have started over smaller issues than this.
248 Mulberry Street Manhattan, NY 10012
5) Beef Brisket at Fette Sau
There is very little that’s pretty about Fette Sau. From the name (German for fat pig), to the way the smell of smoked meats and pickles will cling to every fibre of your clothes and hair until you wash them both. Beers and whiskeys are served out of jam jars, food is portioned out onto paper lined metal trays and into styrofoam cups. While the warm ambience from the fire may be entirely fake (care of a flat screen in the corner), the flavours of the food are totally true.
It would be easy to be overcome with choice when you find yourself at the front of the cafeteria style line, trying to choose your meats (paid for by the half pound) from what’s on display in the bain marie. The pork belly is as fatty as it sounds, the pulled pig a little dry for our taste. The ribs more smoked than slow roasted, pulling at your teeth towards the bone with the reluctant give of a piece of bacon. But the brisket; oh, the brisket.
Slow cooked so it gently unfolds into fat threads, like a jumper your Nan knitted with special chubby needles, it’s that precise nexus of beef, smoke, heat and fat. You could have it with one of the vinegar based sauces on the tables for a little extra perk. But for the true hedonistic experience, pile it onto a soft roll with some pickles and wash it down with another jam jar of beer.
354 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211