123 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003-8319
I’ve discussed my never ending obsession with French Fries many times before, so i’ll endeavor to keep this short. In my experiences with Belgian Fries from Vancouver, and and Duck Fat from Maine, i’ve developed a pretty clear understanding of what im looking for in a french fry. Crisp outside, fluffy inside, flavourful, and a bit meatier than thin fries. On reputation alone, Pommes Frites in New York is often mentioned as one of the best.
I used to wander by this tiny storefront in the East Village all the time. It’s square on my walking path from Ippudo, to Katz’s Deli and Russ and Daughters. With Caracas around the corner, there wasn’t a hope that i’d ever have the room left in my stomach to try it. Then i heard it was really good, so i figured before Arepas, after Pastrami, Akamaru Modern, and some Lox, i’d share some fries with a friend.
Le Pain Quotidien
922 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY
Artisan breads, sweet pastries and pantry goods like coffee and jams are what you can expect to find in the burgeoning outlets of this chain of bakeries where one can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner items that are carefully prepared with a health conscious outlook. Organic ingredients are incorporated in many of their menu items, as well this ecological philosophy is apparent in their building design and construction as well – loved the reclaimed wood that permeated the interior, giving it a very welcoming and warm touch despite being smack dab in the middle of a concrete jungle, albeit with Central Park only a few short minutes away.
The Le Pain Quotidien empire has now spread out across the United States (mainly on the east and west coasts) as well as places in western Europe and the Middle East. The Canadian outlets seemingly only sprouting up in the Toronto area. I imagine it would be a good fit in the Vancouver area as well given the local climate and penchant for things with a healthy and organic twist.
Zibetto Espresso Bar
1385 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
Manhattan Gourmet 56
1377 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
A sunny 86F day in NYC with nothing to do in the morning. A perfect setup for a casual walk in Manhattan and to grab a simple breakfast to enjoy on the benches of Central Park. As a die-hard addict in need of a stiff cup of coffee in the morning, my first stop after bypassing those dreadful Starbucks outlets was Zibetto. Essentially a long narrow space that couldn’t be more than eight feet wide and anchored by a sleek looking, white tiled and similarly colored marble counter-top bar accented with some metallic touches, it fit with my mental image of an Italian espresso bar.
Staffed with some slick looking, white shirted gents efficiently buzzing around behind the bar, there was already a strong lineup in place, as well as some other customers enjoying their cups of hot liquid at the tiny armrest like shelves jutting out from the walls. Clearly, its a place to have your drink in a jiffy, no lounging around here sucking up free wi-fi or anything and generally disrupting the business need of turnover on the part of the proprietors.
Lattanzi Ristorante Italiano
361 West 46 Street
New York, NY
My experiences in New York City are very limited and thus the confidence and knowledge I have about where the good places are to eat is still very much a work in progress. So much so that I didn’t even realize that I’d stumbled upon “Restaurant Row”, a stretch of 46th street in the theater district, which is home to a compact area of assorted restaurants. With no set plan and aimless wandering on a photo walk just to get a feel for this part of town, we came upon this area with empty stomachs and just as the sun was setting and the scene was turning dark. It was later that I learned that there is a general consensus that this area is not considered the best of what NYC has to offer, but I did appreciate the look and feel of this strip, especially for its cozy setup and ease of access to several restaurants to eat at. For the lazy visitor to the city, its a welcome arrangement. And in the mood for Italian, Lattanzi appeared before us and we stepped inside.
Without a reservation, we were asked to have a seat at the bar just down the stairs from the street side entrance, and it was about fifteen minutes before a table opened up. Typical New York, as the other patrons enjoying a drink included a pair of talkative and flirty cougars who were pounding back martinis and clearly were inebriated, and a trio of artsy-types going over some sketches of what looked to be an interior design project. To complete the Italian experience, the bartender was a greasy, slicked back hair fellow, with a notable Italian accent. While waiting, it was interesting to see the clientele of this place dining inside – some older couples and groups, obvious casually dressed tourists, and then several really attractive models and their entourages had overtaken the second floor area.
Bobby Van’s Steakhouse
135, West 50th Street
New York, NY
New York City has a plethora of eating options but for some reason, steakhouses come top of mind for me. From old school style establishments to the hip and trendy, steakhouses in this city seemingly have something for everyone seeking out a piece of grilled meat.
Having spent the greater part of the day flying to the east coast, further extended by the weather delays into the airport, I was in a glum mood trudging along the streets of midtown Manhattan in some windy and rainy conditions. With a hockey game on the tele that I was missing, I knew I had to find a place to eat that was showing the game. As we came upon the doors of Bobby Van’s (I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of the name of this place and the Canucks misfortunes), I could make out a long white marble topped counter bar, a packed house and some overhead screens, one of which was showing the end of the Montreal-Philly game.
3945 Chestnut Street
In what many people incorrectly assume to be strictly a cheesesteak city, Philadelphia is home to a blossoming restaurant scene, with a wide range of eclectic fine dining. Nothing may better represent this scene than Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant Distrito. An homage to Mexico City culture, Distrito is a combination of ethnic flare with fine dining ingredients, and solid technique.
The Mexico City theme is prevalent throughout – complete with a VW Beetle to sit in! The decor is odd, eclectic, and not at all to my liking. But it doesnt really matter. It’s kitschy, and unapologetic. However, it feels like the designer is trying a bit too hard – 250 seats is a lot of pink, green, and neon. And the decor doesnt fit the price point in my mind.
Campbell Apartment @ Grand Central Station
15 Vanderbilt Ave
New York, NY 10017
Hidden away in a corner of Grand Central Station is one of the most fascinating bars in New York. It isn’t trendy, modern, or cutting edge, but it’s an oasis of calm at the heart of a bustling train station, and its unapologetically retro style gives you a glimpse into a piece of New York’s history. That bar is the Campbell Apartment.
Once the office for railroad tycoon John W. Campbell, Campbell Apartment was a private salon for a businessman who loved to drink. During the prohibition era, he was able to entertain clients and friends in his office, conveniently attached to Grand Central Station.
The space was renovated in 1999 to recapture the grandeur and design of the 1920’s space – dark wood, high ceilings, leaded windows, leather chairs and a very prominent bar. The detail and preservation of many of the original structures is an architecture geek’s dream.
Border Cafe 32 Church Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Just like some blog posts, sometimes, a meal has to be quick and dirty. You’re pressed for time, you have a group of hungry stragglers, you need to eat in proximity to your next destination – there isnt always time for the best find, the well researched location, or the perfect stop. Sometimes, you need places like the Border Cafe.
Stepping off the T from Logan at Harvard Square, I found myself still quite a ways from my destination, but starving. Skipping lunch on the airplane had seemed like a good idea at the time, but combined with a few delays, I definitely didn’t have the energy to haul my luggage across Boston for another hour. My companion points out a popular college spot just up the street – a small regional chain called Border Cafe. “It’s not the best, but it’s edible”. I would’ve settled for McDonalds at this point, so Border Cafe it is.
You know what Border Cafe is – almost every town has one. “Tex Mex”. It serves all the classic favorites – fajitas, burgers, beer, margaritas. It’s Chili’s, but a little more diverse, and a little less “McModified”.
The Border Cafe in Cambridge is in the heart of Harvard Square, which makes it a very popular destination for college students. The location is huge – and tables are fairly tightly packed together. If i was to estimate, i figure the capacity was at least 350 to 400 people. On two floors.
Villa Mexico Cafe 296 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
Lunch counters and gas station corners were home to some great food in the past, and are experiencing a come back. Low rent, high traffic locations, they seem like the ideal kinds of places for cheap, tasty eats. The idea of food in a gas station always reminds me of Crete Souvlaki in Calgary – one of the best tzatziki in town served out of a gas station.
Villa Mexico Cafe is located in a gas station in the swanky district of Beacon Hill in Boston. If you’ve ever walked around Beacon Hill, you’ll understand how different this is than the rest of the neighbourhood. The only indication that burrito’s are available inside, is a small sandwich board pronouncing the greatness within.
I don’t mean to carry a West Coast bias, but when it comes to burritos, I find that the East Coast just typically cannot compare. The East Coast has some great upscale Mexican eateries, but most of the time, I like my Mexican food fast and cheap. That means tacos, burritos, tamales, tortas.
Hamersley’s Bistro 553 Tremont St
Boston, MA 02116-6306
For the most part, I value good food over service. I used to say to people that “food is all that matters – service is irrelevant if the food isn’t good”, but i’ve since backed off such a polarized view. After all, i realized that great service often colors one’s view of the food (it can be hard to separate the two – since you *want* to like the food more). And really good food with lousy service, sometimes isnt worth it. Depending on the situation of course.
A pricey, well regarded South End bistro with a special Sunday Brunch menu, Hamersley’s Bistro continually draws rave reviews for their food and service. Seemed like a nice place to meet up with family for a tasty meal. Especially when meeting the new “boyfriend” for the first time.
The inside of Hamersley’s Bistro has a nice, though formal feeling to it. White linen, columns, high arching ceilings, there is a tremendous amount of light that makes the space feel comfortable, yet a bit formal for my preference.
Maria’s Pastry Shop 46 Cross Street
Boston, MA 02113-2201
I’ve always wondered if there actually exists a gender-based predisposition towards sweets, and if there is, whether it is environmental, or genetic. Most huge sweet fans I know are mostly women. Now I have guy friends who love their sweets too, but they are few and far between. All this really means to me is when a member of the fairer sex tells me there’s a great bakery I *MUST* try, because they have the best cannoli ever, I don’t question it, I just go.
Located in Boston’s North End right off of Haymarket Station, Maria’s Pastry Shop is in an area that boasts a lot of pastry shops of reputation. Both Mike’s, and Modern are in the same vicinity, making for a great selection of pastry goodness.
O Ya Restaurant 9 East St
Boston, MA 02111
There has been a lot of talk, some criticism, and a lot of discussion about the sushi philosophy of some of our writers. While many people would classify me as traditionalist, or a purist, i still believe there exists flexibility and latitude for the itamae to do creative things with sushi. Creativity in blending ingredients works as long as it is done within the context of better presenting the flavours and textures that make sushi great, not masking inferior product with a variety of overpowering flavours.
This creativity is the foundation of many fusion, modern, or new school sushi restaurants, many of which i’ve not enjoyed. Even though my first high end sushiya experience happened at Matsuhisa in the mid 90’s, and was thoroughly enjoyable, I never really bought into the idea of modern sushi. Yet, here i am at O Ya, a place many consider to be the top modern or fusion sushi in North America, hoping to better understand the potential of modern sushi.
I’ll let the photos tell the story…
O Ya is hidden on a side street in the Financial District near South Station.
Neptune Oyster 63 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113-2273
Ever walk by a place and just get a good feeling? In Boston’s North End, I was walking down a side street after having indulged in a Maria’s cannoli, and saw a small, stately window that read “Neptune Oyster”. I popped my head in, hoping to try and oyster or two, but was told the wait would be 20-30 minutes, at 6pm! I left as I had other dinner plans, but resolved to make it there someday.
I finally made it back a few days later. Really, I just came back to eat. In the interim, I had looked into more about the restaurant – and realized it was lauded as one of the best seafood restaurants in Boston by many different boards and publications. A true temple of seafood that represented the local catch quite well. I was determined to try as much of it as possible.
The space itself is tiny. A row of tables along one wall, and bar seating at the other. There are no reservations, so you have to come early, or expect to wait a long time. Bar seats are usually all that are open. Be prepared for a lot of bumping if you sit there.
The Front Room Restaurant and Bar 73 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101-3661
It never hurts to be friendly. One example of this is striking up a conversation with the people next to you at a restaurant or bar. You meet some of the most amazing people that way. I find smaller towns especially good for this. People just seem to be more open to conversation with strangers.
However, getting recommendations from people you meet in a restaurant is an interesting proposition. On the one hand, you’re both in the same establishment, enjoying the same food, which implies there are some things in common. On the other hand, you really know nothing else about them, other than maybe they are really nice, very friendly, or seem very knowledgeable. However, it will always be an adventure.
When dining at Fore Street, another Portland establishment, we were given a recommendation by a very friendly couple next to us for brunch. Well, after they inquired about our planned dining excursions, and criticized our breakfast choices 🙂 They suggested that the Front Room was the best brunch in town. Seeing as i wasn’t totally committed on my choice, we decided to give it a shot.
Russ and Daughters 179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002-1024
There’s something about longevity that I find very appealing. Maybe it’s the human desire for “empire” building – leaving a legacy, making your mark – i have a lot of respect for places with a long history. No matter what you want to call it, the idea that an establishment has existed for generations, serving the same kind of food, is awesome.
Russ and Daughters has been in its current location since 1920 – a staggering 89 years old. An “appetizing” store, this Jewish store offers a variety of kosher treats – from lox, smoked fish, caviar, cream cheese, bagels, sweets, and other treats. They are best known for their salmon – smoked, or cured.
Russ and Daughters is divided into two sides. Sweets, and beverages like egg creams on the right, deli items on the left. The coolers on the left are loaded with goodies – house made goods that they are happy to let you sample before you buy. Based on the selection and diversity of choices, this is a good idea. Not every style suits everyone.