For any enthusiastic foodie, New York City is the Mecca for food lovers. Sure, Chicago is nice with its deep dish pizza, New Orleans has its French Quarter, and Los Angeles is always finding new ways to put avocado and quinoa in and on things, but there’s something about NYC that separates itself from the rest of the big city foodie destinations. NYC is such an eclectic mix of tastes, textures, and tax brackets not quite found in any other city. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re an immigrant making a fresh start in your newly adopted land of America and looking for a taste of the home country, or a lifelong New Yorker that knows the perfect cart to get your “dirty water dog,” or a successful business person looking to burn a hole in your expense account, NYC has it all.
NYC during Thanksgiving was always a “bucket list” trip for me and my wife. Mainly to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live and in person. So while my wife was thrilled to stand in 30-40 degree weather with a million or so of her closest friends along Central Park West, I was excited to expose my palate to a plethora of pleasing plates from all over Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. I ate it all, from hole-in-the wall cheap eats, to dry aged prime steaks from steakhouses that have been around since the 1800’s. Here’s a list of places I tried during our holiday in The City That Never Sleeps.
56 Beaver St
Financial District, NYC
We landed in NYC early afternoon on Day 1. After getting to our Airbnb and resting a bit to recover from the early morning flight, the first thing on my mind was getting steak. After doing some research on some of the historic steakhouses in NYC, we decided on Delmonico’s. Delmonico’s opened in 1827 just as New York’s Financial District was starting to take shape. It was the first restaurant in the country to offer a private dining room experience with a printed food menu and wine list. It was a luxury to eat at Delmonico’s in 1837 and it still is some 180 years later in 2017. I can only imagine the list of various dignitaries, world leaders, and celebrities that warmed our chairs before us. The restaurant is beautifully designed and exhibited some old-world style with a dimly lit dining room and dark wood wainscoting along the walls. The wait staff was extremely attentive without being annoying and equally as knowledgeable about the menu.
While Delmonico’s menu does offer other proteins, we were there for their signature USDA Prime grade steak cuts. I decided on the 45-day dry aged bone-in rib eye, while my wife ordered the restaurant’s namesake signature cut, the Delmonico, a boneless rib eye. If you ever ordered a “Delmonico” cut of steak from any other steakhouse before, they got the idea from the OG Delmonico here in NYC. I ordered my steak mid-rare, as it should be, and my wife ordered hers mid-well like some kind of crazy person. Both came with a pile of fried onion strings. Sides are ordered a la carte. We ordered mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.
As I mentioned before, the lighting in Delmonico’s is dim, so it doesn’t make it a good place for Instagram worthy photos. In this atmosphere, I already felt like a big enough tool pulling out my cell phone to try and take a picture; the last thing I wanted to do was whip out a portable light ring to try and improve it. But trust me, the steaks came out perfect. My 45-day dry age rib eye was juicy and tender. Since it dry aged a bit longer than the traditional 28 days other steakhouses may do, it had this pleasant “funkiness” to it, a bit of tang, almost like blue cheese, but not as pronounced. It was unlike any steak I’ve ever had. I’ve had 28-day dry aged rib eyes before, but going 45 days takes that already beefy essence a 28-day dry age achieves and turns it up to 11.
The Delmonico signature cut rib eye, even though it was cooked mid-well, still came out juicy. Tasting each cut side by side, I could immediately tell the difference in taste between a traditional steak and dry aging it 45 days. The Delmonico cut tasted much cleaner as opposed to the tanginess of the 45-day dry aged rib eye. My wife didn’t care for the funk of my steak and enjoyed the clean flavor of her steak much more. To each their own and Delmonico’s has enough variety to satisfy every carnivore.
Upper West Side, NYC
After blowing our food budget on Day 1 at Delmonico’s we decided to eat cheap on Day 2. I really wanted to experience a “dirty water dog” while in NYC, but there weren’t any food carts in our immediate area serving them at the time. Undeterred, I found out Gray’s Papaya was right up the street from our Airbnb.
Gray’s Papaya is an institution and has been rated as the best hot dog in NYC by The Gothamist. The restaurant is a small space on Broadway with a couple of stand up counters along the window if you want to eat in. Gray’s is known for their “Recession Special,” 2 hot dogs, topped however you want, and a medium drink for a whopping $5.95. The hot dogs are cooked on a flat top, which helps produce a beautiful crispy casing on the dog; a nice textural compliment to the soft bun and toppings. I stayed relatively classic on my toppings: one hot dog topped with chili and cheese, the other topped with ketchup, mustard, and relish. Both dogs were fantastic. The chili was a beanless, but meaty chili and had a bit of spice, but not overpowering. The cheese was a classic Velveeta-style cheese sauce and added a bit of saltiness. The other dog, even with it’s somewhat pedestrian toppings (don’t judge me, I froze up at the counter looking at everything and just blurted it out ketchup, mustard, and relish before I had a chance to think about it), was also very good. The relish was sort of that neon green kind style of pickle relish. Since the “Recession Special” comes with a drink, I decided to try their signature Papaya drink. It was delicious. Sweet, but not cloying. The texture was somewhere between a smoothie and shake. It was a perfect complement to the hot dogs. If you’re looking for cheap eats on the Upper West Side, it’s hard to go wrong with Gray’s Papaya.
10 Columbus Circle
Upper West Side, Time Warner Center, NYC
On Day 3, we had tickets to a matinee of the Broadway musical Miss Saigon. Since it was only a mile from our Airbnb, we decided to walk. I want to side bar for a moment. I’m way out of shape and tend not to walk a mile unless I have to, but for some mental reason a New York mile is much different from a regular mile. It didn’t bother me one bit to walk the mile to the historic Broadway Theater, but ask me to walk to Publix about ½ a mile from my house here in Jax and you might catch these hands.
I digress. After the show, we were walking back towards our Airbnb and decided to check out the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. What I didn’t know was Time Warner Center is home to a few celebrity chef owned restaurants, namely, Thomas Keller’s 3-Michelin starred Per Se, Mark Murphy’s Landmarc, and coming in 2018, David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar. Per Se has always been a Holy Grail restaurant trip for me, but since I have a mortgage to pay this month, we decided to go to the more moderately priced Landmarc.
Landmarc is a great restaurant for groups or families. It’s a warm friendly atmosphere serving a French inspired menu. Tables were close together, not quite family style, but close enough the couple sitting next to us felt comfortable enough to turn to us and ask, “Hey, what did you order? Is it good?” It didn’t bother us as I like to think we have friendly faces and didn’t mind a bit of small talk.
I decided to order the Pei Mussels Meuniere. The mussels were steamed in a broth of white wine, shallots, garlic, and sprinkled with chopped parsley. Mussels are a favorite of mine, so I was happy to see them on the menu. These did not disappoint. The mussels were served in a cast iron pot, which helped retain a lot of heat and made sure the last mussel was just as warm and delicious as the first mussel. The mussels were cooked perfectly tender. I only had one unopened mussel in my batch, so kudos to the kitchen to keeping those to a minimum. The broth was warm and light. It was perfect for dipping the crusty bread we got with our bread service. The mussels were served with a side of French fries. They were fine, but clearly not the star of the plate.
My wife ordered the Pan Roasted Chicken. It’s served with Anson Mills polenta and a truffle mushroom jus. It was plated nicely with the chicken placed on top of the polenta with the mushroom jus surrounding it all like an umami moat. The chicken was tender and succulent. Mixed with a forkful of polenta and dipping in the moat of mushroom jus made a perfect bite. Landmarc was a great unplanned stop on my restaurant tour of NYC.
205 E Houston St
Lower East Side, NYC
It’s Thanksgiving Day and after spending the morning jostling for a good spot for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, fighting off clowns wanting to throw confetti on me, and taking hurried, blurry photos of celebrity floats on my cell phone, we developed a bit of an appetite. Katz’s was on my must-go list and Thanksgiving was a perfect time to go. It was still busy, but not nearly as busy as a normal day. Katz’s has been around since about 1888 and is much a tourist attraction as it is a restaurant since the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed there.
Ordering at Katz’s is a lesson in patience and assertiveness. It’s a little much to type it all out here, but they were nice enough to post a video primer on how to order on their website. Before you visit Katz’s for the first time, I recommend watching it. However, there is one change from the video. It says they’re a cash only establishment, but they do take plastic now.
Alongside their regular menu, Katz’s was serving a special Thanksgiving menu featuring turkey, dressing, green beans, pie, etc. I opted for the regular menu and ordered their signature items, the Pastrami on Rye, Matzo Ball Soup, and a side of house made pickles, both sour and new. Katz’s Pastrami (as well as their corned beef) is legendary and world famous. I ordered the pastrami on rye with their house made mustard. You can also order it with cheese, but definitely don’t ask for mayo. Trust me. Just don’t. The pastrami is cut to order and a small slice is given to you as a sample to ensure that’s the meat you want. Then the cutters move at lightning speed and cut about a pound of meat for the sandwich. This sandwich was extraordinary. At first I balked at the price of $22 for a sandwich, but after eating one, worth every penny. The pastrami was tender and the mustard added the right amount of acidity to cut against the savory-ness of the pastrami, it kept you coming back and eating what is probably way too much sandwich for one sitting, but I couldn’t stop myself.
In between bites of the mammoth Pastrami on Rye, I dipped into the Matzo Ball Soup. The Matzo Ball itself is about the size of a baseball, floating in a pool of savory vegetable broth. It was soft and tender and soaked up the flavor of the soup. Eating a piece of matzo ball was like eating those fruit gushers candy, but with a delicious savory broth gushing into your mouth instead of some weird lab made semi-liquid saccharine. It tastes like the best chicken noodle soup you’ll ever have but without chicken or noodles. Matzo Ball Soup will now be on my list of comfort foods whenever I want to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.
Katz’s pickles are house made and come in 2 varieties: sour and new. The sour pickle is your traditional pickle, tart and sour and just barely makes your lips pucker. The new pickles are made the same way, but not pickled as long. They’re crunchier and taste more like a cucumber than a pickle.
I see now why Meg Ryan reacted the way she did. . .”I’ll have what she’s having” indeed.
25 Clinton St
Lower East Side, NYC
When I watched season 3, episode 4 of Netflix’s original series “Chef’s Table,” it immediately made an impression on me and I had to put Ivan Ramen on my list of NYC restaurants to visit. Chef Ivan Orkin respects the Japanese ramen traditions, while at the same time, carving his own path and essentially taking a New York attitude of “I’ll do what I want” and making some of the most umami filled ramen you’ll ever taste. Ivan Ramen is in a small, unassuming space on Clinton St. It’s a narrow restaurant and on this day, completely full. We made reservations and were seated at a table at the back of the restaurant. When I told the waiter I found about Ivan Ramen via “Chef’s Table,” he said we just missed “Chef’s Table” creator, David Gelb, about 15 minutes before we arrived. He was sitting at the table next to us. Oh, the conversations I would’ve had with him, you know, assuming he would’ve let me interrupt his family dinner and all.
For an appetizer, we ordered the Japanese Fried Chicken. It’s strips of chicken thigh meat, fried, and tossed in a sauce made with toasted garlic caramel, togarashi (a spicy Japanese chili), and served with a side of shiso ranch. The chicken was fried nice and crisp. The sauce was definitely spicy and kind of caught me off guard with the heat. The shiso ranch helped temper that down a bit on my future bites. The toasted garlic caramel was interesting. It carried a slight sweetness from the roasted garlic. The waiter said this was a best seller appetizer and I’m glad he recommended it.
For my ramen, I ordered the Triple Garlic Triple Pork Mazeman. It’s made with tonkotsu (pork bone) broth, pork belly two ways (a nice sized chunk of pork belly and bits of bacon), and whole wheat noodles, topped with bonito powder. Unlike a traditional ramen, the sauce is much thicker, almost like an Italian style sauce. With the combination of the fatty pork belly and thick sauce, every slurp coats your palate and the flavor stays with you a little longer than a flavor would normally last after each bite. The sauce is super garlicky and delicious. Chef Orkin has mastered the art of Umami and it shows in this ramen. Is it a traditional tonkotsu ramen? No, and that’s a good thing.
My wife decided on the Chicken Paitan. It’s made with chicken broth, minced chicken, a raw egg yolk, shio kombu, and rye noodles. It had a thinner broth than my Triple Garlic Triple Pork Mazemen. It was also a lighter taste and not nearly as “heavy” as mine. It was equally as delicious. The minced chicken was a nice texture and added a bit of chew when slurped up with the noodles. I learned I am a very inexperienced, sloppy slurper with broth and minced chicken flying all over the table. It was a fun outing, laughing at each other as we both tried to eat ramen in the traditional way and failing miserably. My wife finally gave up and asked for a fork and spoon while I slurped on, making a mess of things.
NYC in Thanksgiving was a great time, something I suggest everyone should do at least once in their life. I ate food that over a week later, I’m still thinking about. NYC is a unique food city. There really isn’t any one type of cuisine is known for. NYC is about every type of food from every part of the world cooked anyway you want it. You often hear America described as a “melting pot.” NYC is the perfect embodiment of that sentiment; people from all walks of life, carving out a place for themselves, celebrating their individual cultures while at the same time making new traditions. And we, the happily paying foodie nation, are the lucky ones that get to partake. And that’s what makes America great.
Quick Bites – A list of places we tried for a snack or for dessert:
Locations throughout NYC, LA, and Chicago
Magnolia Bakery is known for their sweets. I tried the individual cheesecakes. They were fluffy and decadent. They come with a variety of toppings and flavors. Their signature items are the cupcakes, but I heard the banana pudding will make you slap yo’ mama.
Doghnuttery is in a tiny corner shop in Chelsea Market. They make tiny cake doughnuts in a tiny fryer conveyor machine. Tiny is their shtick. It’s like if you took a Krispy Kreme store and put it in a shoebox. Doughnuttery specializes in gourmet sugars that are tossed with the freshly fried teeny tiny doughnuts. I tried the PB&J with peanut butter and grape flavored sugar and the Purple Pig with maple, purple potatoes, and bacon flavored sugar. They were tasty. The sugars tasted like a very light version of what they were supposed to portray. More like sugar with a hint of the listed flavor.