Eatin’ in New York 3

May 30, 2013 at 11:07 PM Leave a comment

Jeff often travels to New York for work. While his days are packed with necessary tasks, he has very few demands in the evening. New York nights are typically spent in the theatre or at a restaurant, two of his many passions. The trip this year was no different.

After a day of walking a number of home improvement areas, Jeff found himself on the Lower East side, very close to Momofuku. Since opening, this little storefront in an unexpected location has attracted hundreds and thousands of food fans from around the city and the planet. Tables are somewhat communal, the bar is long with seats tucked aside each other and the menu is reasonably small. Usually, a line forms early and dies late, but Jeff arrived at that odd point when the dinner rush had not yet started and lunch was barely over. Besides, he was alone so he easily slipped into an open bar seat. The menu features some daily specials, a few buns, a few bowls, snacks and desserts. The listings are yeoman-like, but the result is far from “typical.”

After a quick perusal of the offerings, Jeff decided this was a place that demanded beer accompaniment. They poured a nice local (Brooklyn) micro-brew that worked well with the unabashedly “salty” foods. The Soy Sauce Egg was hard-boiled, topped with shallots and chives and priced at an incredible $2. The intense flavors of the soy embed itself into the fleshy whites while the alliums provided a nice sharp counterpoint. Not bad for two bucks!

Jeff decided to have the Momofuku Ramen as his entrée. These noodle-centric meals are second nature to Jeff. Across Asia, a big bowl of noodles and broth with “extras” is a very common lunch and Jeff had plenty during his time in China. It should be noted that the Momofuku bowls have a Japanese bias. Momofuku uses pork belly and pork shoulder with the curly noodle we associate with ramen. The broth was salty and smoky and full of flavor. If you haven’t tried this type of soup before and not likely to get to New York, look at some of the local Pho restaurants for the Vietnamese version in Cleveland or try Noodlecat, an upscale place that closely mimics Momofuku’s  kamikaze approach to this Japanese “worker’s food”. Like Noodlecat, Momofuku has forced people who love food to pay attention to all kinds of food, even the lowly bowl of soup.

The Spotted Pig has been open for a few years, but Jeff has never had the pleasure of dining there. Many people report this place was the birth of the “gastropub” revolution in America. Information such as this is of little interest unless the food is good and the food here is very good. No reservations are taken, so the bar area is among the hottest in the city. Time quickly passes in the electric environment. A couple, native to Chicago heard Jeff and his niece (who lives in the city and joined him for dinner) talking about Chicago restaurants and an exchange of favorites were quickly recited. Tables are scattered around this two-story antique store of a dining establishment and we were soon taken to a surprisingly quiet corner.

For Thanksgiving, Jeff made a Smashed Pea on Toast appetizer, so he wanted to try the same offering by a professional chef (to compare and contrast!) The Pig’s version was paired with Burrata, so likely better than Jeff’s! He also sampled the special Soft Shell Crab Salad. Both were wonderful ways to start.

Entrées were both specials and both were perfect presentations. The Roasted Duck Leg and Roasted Trout were simply prepared, allowing for a full appreciation of the core flavors of quality foods. The excellent results are the reason people have come to embrace gastropub cooking. Michele and Jeff learned to appreciate “pub food” during vacations driving through the Irish and English countryside years ago. Food is simple and well made and that is easy to abuse in less skilled hands. Simple is hard. The Spotted Pig knows how to do simple well.

After a full day working on Sunday, Jeff tried endlessly to find an evening theatre performance. Shows were either sold-out or dark for the evening. Instead he decided to forgo a long trip downtown on a wet evening and stayed in midtown for nearby, The Modern, the restaurant located at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). On Sunday, only the Bar Room is open. The bar is a bit more casual than the main dining room, but based on what he sampled; Jeff found it to be an excellent option in a city filled with dining options.

Jeff started with the Wild Mushroom Soup. It was a wonderfully pungent broth made special with the addition of Chorizo ravioli. Excellent. The Saffron Tagliatelle with rabbit jumped off the menu and try as he might, he couldn’t resist ordering. The pasta was perfect, the rabbit tender and slightly tart, having been braised in cider with the greens as a nice addition. The Pistachio Dacquoise was a perfect finale to a wonderful evening outside the theatre. It may have been the rainy night, but this meal just felt so cozy.

With many trips, a clinker always appears. Jeff read some positive things about Back Forty West. He ordered the Pork Belly Sammie and it was disappointing. The accompanying slaw was nicely spiced as was the mayo, but the pork belly was poorly cooked, resulting in fat, not nicely rendered bacon-like pork fat that is the hallmark of good pork belly, but just plain fat. He was forced to cut most out of the small sandwich. The accompanying Rosemary fries were light on the rosemary and long on salt…very long. This was a crowded little place, east of central SOHO, so we have to assume it was just a bad day. This was a disappointment.

Each trip to New York and especially this trip of all new places is a fun revelation and one that makes a return trip that much more anticipated. 171 1st Avenue (between 10th & 11th) New York, NY 10003 314 West 11th Street (at Greenwich St) New York, NY 10014 212-620-0393 9 West 53rd Street New York, NY10019 212-333-1220 70 Prince Street (at Crosby) New York, NY 212-219-8570 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-589-0007

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