When you go to New York for a week you kind of expect to come back carrying a few extra pounds (especially if you have a rapidly growing baby in your tummy), and last week we certainly embraced the New York food scene as best we could. While out there for work and visiting family, we were happily led by my sister and her New Yorker husband round all their favourite spots. The excitement on their faces as we watched them put together a meal-led itinerary for the week was quite something. And they totally nailed it. Everything we ate felt an experience. Most places we ate at weren’t just considered restaurants but institutions, many of which had been operating from the same spot for 100 years.
So I wanted to share some of the love; in no particular order -
Russ and Daughters Café - Smoked fish, cream cheese and bagels as they should be.
For over 100 years, Russ and Daughters have been selling some of the finest smoked fish, caviar and baked goods in the City from the same shop on East Houston Street. 4 years ago, they opened a perfectly Instagram-able café, where white marble tables lay the canvas for platters of their lovely Jewish food, served with breakfast martinis (unless you’re a sober, grumpy pregnant lady like me) - breakfast through to dinner. I can easily say it was one of the finest salmon and cream cheese bagels I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing my belly with.
Do – get some knishes to start, you’ve probably been waiting a while for a table (there will most likely be a que) and these little warm potato dumplings dipped in mustard sauce are pure heaven
Don’t – feel bad about ordering a desert at breakfast, the Chocolate Babka French toast is not to be scoffed at
Eileen’s Special Cheesecake - Proper NY cheesecake
The first time I went to New York a couple pf years ago, all I really wanted was to find somewhere serving the best New York cheesecake, like, as good as the one from Friends – you know the episode - 'The One with All the Cheesecake’s’ - where in the closing scene Rachel, Chandler and Joey get down on thier hands and knees and eat it the dropped cheesecake straight off the floor. My quest was fruitless and I came away dissatisfied.
Not this time though, oh no. Enter Eileen, and her tiny little cheesecake shop. Light and fluffy, it was everything I wanted my cheesecake experience to be. If I’d have dropped it then I too would have eaten it off the floor. Except maybe if I’d dropped it on the subway. The subway is gross.
Do - order more than you think you’ll need, you’ll still be disappointed when it’s all over
Don’t - save this place till the end of your trip; you will want to go back
Vesleka - Ukranian food
I didn’t expect Ukranian food to be part of the itinerary while we were in New York but it turns out this relaxed place in the East Village is a bit of a New York institution for locals. Famous for their borscht and Pierogis (little stuffed dumplings, fried or boiled), it's comfort food at it's best. The Matzah Ball soup was infact one fo the most comfoorting dishes I ate during the whole week. They also have a cookbook if you want to replicate any of these lovely home-cooked style dishes for yourself.
Do - try the borscht, even if you think you don’t like beetroot. You won’t regret it.
Don’t – worry about the time, this place is open 24 hours making it perfect for post theatre or basketball game scran
Lupe’s East L.A Kitchen - Mexican food
If Wes Anderson decorated a Mexican café… One of my sister’s favourite places in NY and I understand why, this tiny, family-run spot serves up the sort of comforting Mexican food we can only dream of in the UK (correct me if I’m wrong). The re-fried beans may not look super appetizing slopped on the side of your plate - even in that perfect shade of millennial pink - but they are tasty and addictive, just like the homemade guacamole and tortilla chips. With a basket of various hot sauces on every table, Lupe’s has ‘hangover food’ written all over it.
Do – take this opportunity to have a vegetarian meal if you’re feeling a bit meat-ed out (tends to happen in America). I can vouch highly for the super spinach quesadilla or the spinach and cheese enchiladas
Don’t – mention Trump…
Katz’s Deli - Pastrami on Rye
For an eye-wateringly over-stuffed pastrami sandwich on the tastiest rye bread with their own mustard recipe, head to this popular corner spot in Lower East Side. Promising to serve you the finest ingredients, their meat is cured the right way – no chemicals, additives or water added; some seriously sweet and juicy slow cured meat awaits. Pickes and coleslaw are welcome accompaniments and the latkes are apparently worth saving some space for. The walls are full of an eclectic mix of vintage neon signs and endless photographs of stars visiting the deli, noticeably Meg Ryan who’s famous fake orgasm was filmed on these very tables back in 1989.
Do – order the pastrami sandwich from one of the various pastrami cutters along the counter, it’s their thang. And don’t be afraid of the mustard.
Don’t – lose your ticket – everyone gets given one as you walk through the door and it’s their billing system. Even if you don’t get it stamped because someone else is picking up the cheque, you will still need to hand it over before you leave. Otherwise you may not be able to leave and could be stuck in New York’s favourite deli for the rest of your life
Peter Luger's - Steakhouse
Hailed by many New Yorkers as the best Steakhouse in the city (there is even a wall crammed full of over 30 years of certificates to back up this claim), Peter Lugers has a small menu consisting of a concise offering… Steak, for 1,2,3 or 4 people. There are a couple of other things on there but I’m guessing nobody really comes for the salmon. After appetisers (the bacon, caeser salad and tomato with Lugers sauce are a winning combo), you will be bought an extremely hot plate to the centre of the table with one of their prize tomahawk steaks to share, swimming in butter. Good luck. And if you can, try to leave space for dessert, if only for the dreamy bowl of schlag (sweetened whipped cream and a recipe closely guarded by Peter Luger’s) that comes with it.
Do – Arrive starving
Don’t - fill up on bread – as tempting as it is, especially when you taste how delicious it is with that lovely butter - there’s plenty more butter on the way with the steak
After watching the Ivan Ramen Chef’s Table episode on Netfilx’s, Matt phoned the restaurant and booked a table instantly. Ivan exceeded all expectations when he (a Westerner), opened his first Ramen shop in Japan and to much surprise, it became one of the most successful Ramen shops in Tokyo; something quite unheard of in a country so steeped in tradition. Now with two restaurants in New York, and being the Japanese food enthusiast that I am, there was no way a trip to the Big Apple was not going to include a pilgrimage to Ivan Ramen.
Do – get a selection of appetizers to share, it’s a busy restaurant and service is pretty speedy to turn around tables, this will stretch out your experience plus they are super tasty
Don’t – steer too far from the traditional Ramen offerings, if it’s your only time going then these really are the dishes that earnt Ivan his success in Japan
Also don’t miss a trip to…
The Shoreditch of New York, full of trendy shops, cool bars and coffee shops serving coffee that will power through your jet lag for you.
Brooklyn Brewery – http://brooklynbrewery.com One for the beer geeks (which under normal circumstances would definitely include me), American Ales are becoming increasingly popular in the UK – including the selection from Brooklyn Brewery. Visit its birthplace and sample their more obscure brews as well as taking a tour of where the magic happens.
Brooklyn Bowl - https://www.brooklynbowl.com – fried chicken, a great live music venue and a cool bar and bowling alley. Book a lane before you go otherwise be prepared to wait.
For some of the best views in the city between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, head to the trendy Dumbo area for a few hours, where the famous River Cafè also resides. The shopping here is good too, amongst some recognisable NY favourites are some lovely little boutiques and great vintage spots, including fabulous Japanese antiques.
Luke’s Lobster – There are several of these around the city, this one sat by the river right underneath the Brooklyn Bridge is pretty good one to head for though. Serving amazing toasted brioche finger rolls filled with just the right amount succulent fresh lobster or crab. Unusually for the US, portions in here are actually quite reserved making it the perfect place for a quick re-fuel.
Brooklyn ice-cream factory – If you’re anything like me you’ll find the white and minty green exterior of this place impossible to resist. Freezers full of huge tubs of their homemade small-batch ice-cream surround the counter as you order. The hot fudge sauce is delicious and the waffle cups are made to order.
Walking the Highline as part of your itinerary? Pop down the steps to Chelsea Market for some refreshments and retail therapy. A boutique shopping market selling American made clothes and accessroies sits next to an arcade of delicious food, including Italian Gelato, amazing coffee and an impressive row of lunch spots.
Also, if you're in that area and gagging for a good burger at a decent American bar, Corner Bistro is not too far away and happens to be a wonderful little spot for just that.
So, there you have it. Astonishingly, that’s not everything we ate during our 6 days in New York but it’s certainly a good list of highlights. My favourite? Eileen’s special cheesecake absolutely hands down.