20 April 2011

NYC adventures part 2 of 2: Eating my way around Manhattan

It goes without saying that New York City is a place unlike any other. The buildings, the lights, the people, the shopping...nothing can compare! The same applies to the food, as New York City is the greatest place in the world to eat, at least in my book. From sidewalk food carts to corner delis and diners to fusion hotspots and celebrity chef outposts to renowned institutions, NY has it all! On my recent trip there, the Gastronomic Nomad (GN) and I, along with other friends, had some amazing meals! Here's a recap (with less than stellar photos, as the dim lighting in most NY eateries doesn't facilitate great photography)...

Candle 79
154 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075
Tel: 1-212-537-7179

Known as NY's "premiere vegan oasis," Candle 79 and its casual sister Candle Cafe are located on the Upper East Side. Both celebrate the farm-to-table concept in all its glory and eschew all animal products while embracing organic, seasonal, local ingredients. Celebrities have raved about Candle 79, as have vegetarian and natural living magazines. The concept of a gourmet vegan restaurant doesn't exist in France, so I was more than excited to try this place!

GN and I started with an appetizer of vegetable-quinoa nori rolls, which were served with pickled ginger, avocado wasabi, chipotle aioli and a tamari-ginger dipping sauce. They were decent but not amazing, even if they looked pretty spiffy.

Our main courses, however, were a different story. We both opted for seitan, which is made from wheat gluten and often used as a meat substitute by vegetarians and vegans. I always get confused between seitan and tempeh, one of which I love and the other which I'm not wild about. Luckily, as I discovered, it's seitan that I love! The chili grilled seitan dish that I had was served atop a quinoa pilaf, sautéed chard, a tomatillo-black bean sauce and avocado-pumpkin seed salad. I thought I had died and gone to heaven the moment I put a forkful of this dish into my mouth. It was simply spectacular. The best thing I ate during my entire time in NY. It was that good (too bad the picture below - very blurry - doesn't do it justice!).

GN also opted for a seitan dish, one of the specials of the day. Hers was breaded and served atop a Jerusalem artichoke puree and grilled ramps and fiddleheads (I'd never heard of the latter). It was delicious too. So now, dear friends, I'm totally on a seitan kick and want to start cooking with it from time to time. If you have any good seitan recipes, please do send them my way!

For dessert, we shared a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie with crumb topping, French vanilla ice cream and a berry coulis. It was also delicious, even if I'm not sure how they managed to make it vegan...I wasn't overly concerned though!

Adding to the marvelous food and the warm atmosphere was perfect service. Our server was helpful, genuine and friendly without being interfering in any way. So if you're in NY, run, don't walk to Candle 79. Particularly if you're not vegetarian or vegan, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that you can have a true gastronomic experience without any animal products. Trust me!

Calle Ocho
446 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10024
Tel: 1-212-873-5025

Living in France, one of the things that I miss the most are those long, leisurely, boozy Sunday brunches that were such a big part of my life in the States. The kinds with huevos rancheros, home fries, French toast and other goodies as well as unlimited mimosas or bellinis. Even though le brunch has become very trendy in Paris and other big French cities over the last ten years or so, the French version certainly doesn't come close.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't get the concept of paying 20 euros for some scrambled eggs, breakfast pastries, orange juice and coffee. There's not even any alcohol to be had in a French brunch (can you imagine the national scandal that would ensue if Parisian establishments started mixing champagne with OJ???). So needless to say, a good NY brunch was definitely on the agenda during my visit. We decided to go to Calle Ocho, a "pan-Latino" spot on the Upper West Side, which had been recommended by many friends because of the bottomless sangria bar. Sangria... bottomless??? I had to see it to believe it!

Since they were fully booked for brunch when we tried to call ahead to make a reservation (New Yorkers are a smart bunch!), we decided to go early (11:30am). After a lovely walk across Central Park on a gorgeous, sunny day, we immediately found a table in the bar/lounge area. At 12:00pm sharp, the sangria bar opened...and we got our first glasses of course!

Before you knew it, the place started filling up...

And pretty soon it was packed!

As for the sangria, it really is bottomless! With eight different varieties (our favorites were the tropical with light rum, lemongrass, lemons and passion fruit nectar and the fresas with raspberry rum, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries), you can bet that there is something for everyone! And it's definitely all you can drink!

As for food, GN went for the vaca frita (Cuban-style fried steak) with fried eggs, tomato escabeche and avocado as well as a side of Calle Ocho's delicious home fries, which I sampled.

I opted for the vegetariano, which consisted of a wild mushroom "paella" topped with a Guatemalan green bean salad and sweet pea vinaigrette. The "paella" tasted more like a mushroom fried rice to me, but I wasn't complaining...it was delicious! All of this was accompanied by a great bread basket, which included Brazilian pão de queijo (cheese bread), a unique offering.

Stuffed and sangria'd up, we stumbled out of Calle Ocho for an afternoon of shopping and wandering around Union Square. If you're in NY and looking for an excellent brunch spot, check it out! I wish we could transplant it to Paris!!!


La Esquina
114 Kenmare Street
(between Kenmare and Lafayette Streets)
New York, NY 10012
Tel: 1-646-613-7100

Since I'm already lamenting about all of the things that I miss from the States back here in Paris, let me add a common one to the list...one that you already know if you've been reading this blog for a while...Mexican food! Although we've had some interesting taco joints open up here recently (thank heavens!), there is nothing to compare to the good Mexican and Tex-Mex food that was such a regular part of my life growing up in Texas or that I have enjoyed pretty much everywhere in the States, including NY surprisingly. La Esquina is one such place. Combining three different spots/atmospheres in one (a brasserie, a cafe and a casual take-away taqueria - we opted for the cafe), La Esquina occupies a funky space near the Spring Street Subway stop on line 6. The cafe features candlelight, exposed brick walls and some interesting portraits on the walls.

We began with some delicious passion fruit margaritas and a fabulous salad of roasted beets and mache served on a creamy, spicy cotija cheese. I had never tasted anything like this before and loved the sweetness of the beets contrasted with the piquant cotija.

Our friend Fatime went for the pollo asado, a grilled chicken breast served with white rice, black beans, grilled onions and a roasted tomato salsa. True to American form, it was huge and Fatime only managed to finish half! GN opted for lengua tacos, with veal tongue a la plancha, avocado, crema and black beans.

As for me, I selected the vegetarian tacos which were topped with sauteed organic swiss chard, white beans, pico de gallo and salsa verde. They were far from being the best tacos in the world, but they were certainly tasty and satisfying.

I'd be curious to check out the brasserie and/or taqueria at La Esquina next time. When it comes to Mexican food, I certainly don't need an excuse to come back for more!

Rice to Riches
37 Spring Street
(between Mott St & Mulberry St)
New York, NY 10012
Tel: 1-212-274-0008

Just when I thought I couldn't eat one more morsel of food, GN insisted that we had to stop by Rice to Riches, which is a take-away place entirely devoted to rice pudding! I couldn't believe my eyes, but there it was in Nolita, just like an ice cream shop with a ton of different rice pudding varieties as well as topping options. Only in NY do you find such things! And as if that wasn't enough, there was also lots of funny little signs like "no skinny bitches" and "there is no heaven without pudding".

How many types of rice pudding could there possibly be, you might be wondering. I certainly wasn't aware of anything except Indian kheer (Indian rice pudding flavored with saffron, cardamom, raisins and nuts) and the generic Kozy Shack kind. Luis has introduced me to the Portuguese-style rice pudding called arroz doce which is much thicker and flavored with lots of cinnamom and lemon zest. But at Rice to Riches, there seemed to be about 20 different kinds....cheesecake, rum raisin, tiramisu, wild berry, "coconut coma", you name it! Some of the flavors sounded and looked a little bizarre, as did the toppings, but the small tub of "man-made mascarpone" rice pudding that we picked up and shared later at home was delectable. Smooth, creamy, not too sweet, with sour cherries...it was bliss! At $6.75 for a single serving, the bliss isn't cheap... but the portion was generous and so rich that it was certainly perfect for sharing.

The funny thing is that Luis and I have a long-running argument about which rice pudding is better...creamy Indian kheer or the Portuguese arroz doce. We've gone so far as to decide that we will someday organize a blind-taste contest with some of our most neutral friends as judges. I'm pretty confident that I will win (hehe!), though I'm happy that I won't be competing against Rice to Riches!

So there you have it...the highlights of all the wonderful and delicious dining experiences that I had in the most amazing city in the world.  Now that I'm back in Paris, I'm back to exercising and eating healthy to work off all this goodness, needless to say! But not surprisingly, I'm already looking forward to my next trip!


  1. I'll be there next week! Hopefully I can try some of these places!

  2. I miss Mexican/Latin brunch so much! I saw Rice to Riches on my one very brief visit to NYC a few years ago. I have to admit, I find the concept inordinately stupid. That said, I do love rice pudding, so maybe they're on to something.

  3. So MANY places I didn't get a chance to take you on this trip. :( Though we did hit a lot within two days! We'll have to make NYC your last trip vs early, so that you won't be suffering jet lag.

    There is supposed to be an excellent taqueria around the corner from my apartment called Cascabel Taqueria that I will have to report back on.

  4. I am planning to make a trip to NYC sometime this summer. Will keep your post in mind for sure :)

  5. Would LOVE to check out the food scene in NY sometime! Passion fruit margaritas? Yum! Bottomless sangria?? The food all looks and sounds excellent, as well.

  6. Ramya-What an adventure you had in NYC...such great restaurants in Manhattan, have to bookmark this page and have my son look at it because son and wife have to go to NY often for their jobs.
    Love the restaurant review, and drooling over the Wild Mushroom Paella...yumm!
    Also loved the presentation of the apple crumble pie with the scoop of ice cream on the top...OK, enough observation from me now!
    Enjoy your stay in NY!