Like the travelers in Chaucer’s 14th-century classic, “The Canterbury Tales,” I ventured far from home to go on pilgrimage. Their journey was to Canterbury, to the place where St. Thomas a Becket was martyred. I, on the other hand, journeyed to New York City, where I managed to sample more food in a short amount of time than I would have ever thought possible.
My hotel, the Belleclaire (a place no one except Travelocity seems to have ever heard of) on the Upper West Side, is at 77th and Broadway: two blocks south of Zabar’s and two blocks north of Fairway. No one intent on sampling New York’s food scene should overlook these longtime favorites.
Zabar’s has endless options for takeout. It also has a small, fast casual restaurant with bar-style seating. This is not a place for a leisurely meal, but the Manhattan style fish chowder I had for lunch was really good. Fairway, on the other hand, is a full service grocery store, complete with a sit-down restaurant on the second floor. I had breakfast there twice. The food was good, the coffee came with endless refills, and the price was reasonable.
Bagels were at the top of my list of “musts.” A real bagel-and both Zabar’s and Fairway sell real bagels-is boiled before it’s baked. The first step is crucial; that’s what gives a bagel its chewy texture. Skip the brief boil, and the end product is a roll shaped like a donut. It can be a very good roll, but it isn’t a bagel.
The roll on the left is a mini-bagel from Fairway; the flat roll is a “flagel,” as in flat bagel. As for the pieces missing from both, I couldn’t resist a taste. I also sampled a “Russian” bagel. No one seemed to know why it was called a “Russian,” guessing that it was because it was made with rye flour. Actually, a Russian bagel is sweeter and skinnier than a New York-style bagel. And if you don’t like “chewy,” you’ll probably like a Russian bagel.
Never having been to Russ & Daughters ( now in its fourth generation), I made a point of including it on this trip. The original was on Orchard Street; the store moved to its current location on Houston in 1920. Russ & Daughters bills itself as an “appetizing” store. Translation: it’s a place where smoked and salted fish are king and a schmear (cream cheese plus) is a work of art.
Given that it’s difficult to schlep food back to a hotel, I had lunch at the attractive, full service Russ & Daughters restaurant a few blocks away. I can vouch for the matzo ball soup and the whitefish salad; the rest will have to wait until my next trip.
Does anyone cook anymore?
New York is home to endless food shops and restaurants, and I sampled only a teeny portion. Some highlights: the dark chocolate cookies and blueberry muffins at Levain, the pizza at Lombardi’s (New York’s first pizzeria), the Thai and Vietnamese food at Ginger and Lemongrass, the super butternut squash salad at The Smith, the crab omelet served with ratatouille and potatoes at AquaGrille. So much food, so little time. I shall return…
Le Colonial (57 E. Oak Street) has added a two-course prix-fixe ($29) to its lunch menu. Curated by executive chef Quoc Luong, the lunch includes options like Pho (beef noodle soup) and Bo Bia (chilled vegetable rolls). The prix-fixe is available Mondays-Fridays from 11 am to 3:45 pm.
At Free Rein (224 N. Michigan Ave) in the St. Jane Hotel, Executive Chef Kristine Subido is menuing dishes influenced both by her Filipino roots and by knowledge gained during her extensive travels.
Consider, for example, the Seafood Kare Kare, a dish based on a traditional Filipino peanut stew. Traditionally made with oxtail, Subido uses a mix of seafood instead and then tops the stew with a rich peanut sauce and freshly blanched vegetables. Her
Braised Short Ribs are made with turnips and Japanese sweet potatoes partnered with oyster sauce in lieu of red wine. Guests can also opt for a flight of mini-desserts. Choices include Creme Brulee, Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Baklava made with thyme, orange and walnuts.
Carolina Shrimp, a lunch menu newbie, draws on the culinary traditions of India’s Kerala region. The dish combines fresh peeled tomatoes with ginger, black mustard seeds and cilantro.
Free Rein’s bar menu features Potato and Lentil Chips served with a dip of labneh, pomegranate and chili and Beets in a salad tossed with a creamy miso and honey dressing.
On Friday, November 15, Estelle’s—the Bucktown/Wicker Park mainstay—celebrates its 20th anniversary with a night filled with commemorative festivities and specials.
The 20th anniversary party kicks off with a half-price everything happy hour (excluding shots and food) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and an all-night special including 20-percent off all food and drinks. Guests can toast to 20 years while sipping on cocktails from Estelle’s new fall lineup, which includes the Two-Fisted Fashioned with Malort and Brovo Amaro Kim, demerara cane sugar, orange and grapefruit-lavender bitters, Lil’ Chilly with Union Mezcal, Caffo Red Bitter, Brovo Boomerang liqueur, chili lime bitters, and the Second City 75 with Rhine Hall Oaked Apple Brandy, Chicago Distilling Company Finn’s Gin, lemon, demerara, and an apple chip garnish.
Le Sud, a French/Mediterranean bistro in Roscoe Village, is serving Sunday brunch from 11 am-8 pm. The menu includes brunch favorites like croque madame, crepes and quiches, in addition to entrees, such as bouillabaisse, steak frites and octopus. French press coffee and bottomless mimosas are available throughout the day.
Le Sud, 2301 W. Roscoe Street 773.857.1085