Monday, January 13, 2014

America - New York - Momofuku Ssam + Craft New York

It's amazing that, even though Brad and I spent a week in New York, I still felt short of time to do everything I wanted, and still had to omit so much stuff out of my ideal itinerary. Like I keep telling everyone, by the end of each day we would be so tired, rather than go out and experience much of the nightlife…we went to sleep.

There were two nights that we went to pubs. Other than that we didn't even make it to a single bar the whole trip…can you imagine?!

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On day 5, we woke up and wandered on down through the Flatiron District, making our way to Union Square.

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We passed by Madison Square Park, where we had our first Shake Shack, and where I fell in love with a milkshake. I wrote about my infatuation in an earlier post.

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We made our way down to Union Square to check out the farmers market, open Monday, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays, from 8am to 6pm. 

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I love the feel of a farmer market in the middle of a concrete playground. The life, the buzz and the energy. From flowers, to maple syrup, to all kinds of fresh produce, it was not hard to be enthused by everything. 

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Also squirrels. Squirrels rolling around in the cool earth right behind the bench we were sitting on. So cute.

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I discovered this coconut water at Whole Foods Market, which is the only alternative I've found to drinking the coconut water straight out of the coconut. I've been seduced by so many pretty looking coconut water packagings, only to be let down by a coconut water with a slightly artificial flavour, that I never thought it could be done. But lo and behold, it has been done! Sure, it's a bit expensive, but damn. It is good. 

From there, we strolled on into East Village, which is probably one of my favourite districts in Manhattan. It's just cool there. And also there's a Buffalo Exchange which I went wild in. Again. At least I managed to convince Brad to pick up a few things too...!

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And Momofuku Ssam Bar is there, so I dragged Brad in, out of the random downpour that came out of nowhere, for a little afternoon snack of the ever famous steamed pork buns, with pork belly, hoisin and cucumbers. Goodness. They really are just perfect. And make a great size for a wee snack.

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I also couldn't resist the duck heart dish, which came on top of a yoghurt, with a spot of rhubarb, and I can't remember what else. It was a bit strange, but I totally loved it at the same time. Who ever thought duck heart could have a light and refreshing flavour? 

The rain had let up by the time we finished our little snack, and so we made our way to the Highline…which I also missed on my last trip to New York. Go figure.

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And man, I can't believe I did miss it! Although we didn't walk from beginning to end, we still wandered down a good chunk of it and it's really a beautiful reprieve from the hustle and bustle below. There's a lovely mix of greenery, clean modern lines and fun pops of graffiti or sculpture. 

This history behind the space, an abandoned railway line, is really cool too, which is shared through a few information boards and it's just amazing to think of the work that's gone into it to give it back as a public space. New York, you so cool, it really almost hurts.

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Towards the south end of the Highline, there's a great water feature area to kick back, and cool off your toes in, a real blessing in summer. 

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Also a blessing in summer, People's Pops at the end of the Highline with a bunch of other food and drink stalls. I think I may have had blackberry with something. So refreshing after all that walking!

That night we dolled up a bit and made our way back to the Flatiron District for dinner (getting caught up in a massive downpour on the way) at a restaurant I had been hanging out all trip to visit, Craft.

As I mentioned in my 2013 roundup, I'm a huge fan of Top Chef, as I feel although more product placement has been sneaking in, the judges and mentors are very honest, constructive and fair in their feedback and thoughts. There's never any pretentiousness, which I find tends to find it's way into Australia's reality tv a bit more. 

Tom Colicchio has been the head judge on the show, every season, since season one and so, having come to respect him through my computer screen, had been dying to see if his restaurant would be at the same standards as he holds on the show. 

Although I don't normally give my overall conclusion front up, I have to say, I was totally blown away, probably my favourite meal in America. 

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When Brad and I first stepped in from the small entrance into the stunning dining room, filled with warm wood and leather tones, elegantly dangled bulbs and a sense of hush, I was at first a little bit intimidated. We were probably the youngest couple there and I was worried at first we might get snubbed, or that our experience at Craft might feel a bit uptight and uncomfortable, as some 'fine-dining' places tend to. 

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But once we were taken to our seats, I had nothing to fear, as service through the night proved to be the perfect balance of friendly and professional, inviting us to relax but feel indulged at the same time.

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The menu at Craft is quite minimalist, if I may say, with limited description of the dishes, highlighting just the method of cooking, such as 'Roasted' and listing the proteins underneath. Like many restaurants, there's a focus on beautiful local ingredients, and it's great at Craft that their producers are listed on the menu as well. 

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I regretfully didn't take any notes on our meal, focussed instead of enjoying my meal (which we were treating as my belated birthday dinner), but I will try to recap what I can!

We started our meal with a bottle of wine, a 2010 Riesling from Brooklyn Oenology in Seneca Lake, aptly named Friend. On top of having a totally adorable label with hand drawn animals on it (according to the website, a portion of sales from every 'Friend' Riesling will be donated to Pet Food Safety projects), it's an insatiably delicious wine. Fresh, zesty and sweet. Just what one needs in summer.

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We also had an amuse bouche, although I've completely forgotten what it was…oops!

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Our entrees were a rather balanced affair, with a light and refreshing artichoke salad, and a very sumptuous crispy bacon and yoghurt. 

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I wasn't quite sure what I was expecting when I saw 'crispy bacon and yoghurt' on the menu, but probably not something as pretty as this!  Three thick cut pieces of pork, which were crispy, as promised, in a smooth, gentle river of yoghurt, looking more like an art piece than what I might lop into my breakfast bowl in the morning! Garnished with a bit of rock melon, I was surprised that the combination worked so well, the yoghurt cutting through the richness of the pork, with a touch of tartness and the sweet rock melon wrapping it all up, almost providing a honey flavour to the pork. 


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For the main affair, Brad opted for the Amish Chicken (a little googling tells me that the chickens are raised by Amish families, so are essentially organic. The chickens themselves aren't religious…I think). It was everything you could have asked for, aromatic, with rosemary filling the air, tender and so succulent. It was also an incredibly generous serving which took Brad a little while to get through. 

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I chose the Dayboat Sea Scallops, which upon arrival, were pretty impressive, with each scallop two thirds the size of my palm and easily an inch thick. However, the three pieces, with a gentle drizzle of sauce, a bay leaf and a bit of garnish looked quite small compared to Brad's chicken.

But my goodness, who knew that scallops could be so filling?!

Slowly cutting my way through these perfectly cooked mollusks, with a sumptuous and smooth texture, I got to really savour each bite and enjoy the beauty of great produce and really enjoyed the simple and honest way it was served.

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A side of roasted Trompette Royal mushrooms (I think, there was a choice of 5 different mushrooms) proved to be one of the richest dishes of the night! 

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Our night at Craft wrapped up with a silken chocolate pannacotta, with cherries and a complimentary profiterole treat with our bill. Perfect.

I honestly wish I had better words, or a better grasp of words (and perhaps some notes) to really give you a better idea of how wonderful my meal at Craft was. I don't think I've ever felt so well looked after and had such delicious food at the same time. 

To top off the whole experience, as we walked out of the restaurant, we were given a blueberry muffin each, for breakfast the next morning. What an awesome idea. 

To also give perspective on the level of customer service that Craft strives to provide, after leaving my review of the restaurant on Open Table, the US version version of Dimmi, I received an email from the manager at Craft, thanking me for the review. I responded asking for the name of the wine we had, and she was only happy to fulfil my request. So lovely!

Although our meal was finished, our night wasn't. Brad had been doing a little research on comedy in New York, and we discovered that the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea was not only near by, but also did free 'School Night' comedy on Wednesday nights at 11pm, where you'd get a mix of new and experimental material, from improv, to sketch, to stand-up. Um. Sign us up!

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We arrived a bit early though, but we were happily directed to the Trailer Park Lounge a few blocks away, where I think Brad and I were a little overdressed in. I think this is what you would call a 'dive bar'? (Obviously I'm not very cool)

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With a cheeky and cheery nod to trailer park culture all around America, Trailer Park Lounge had no inch of wall spared of Americana memorabilia. It was kind of like an episode of American Pickers. Awesome. 

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A couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons each, to blend in with the environment a bit more, and we found ourselves back at the Upright Citizens Brigade, for a couple of hearty laughs, which went well into the night, that when we left, the Empire State Building had lit itself up appropriately to celebrate July 4th, which the clock had just ticked over into. 

207 2nd Avenue
New York

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

48 E. 19th Street
New York

Craft on Urbanspoon

307 W. 26th Street
New York

271 W. 23rd Street
New York

Trailer Park Lounge & Grill on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. They do have a water feature you can put your feet in in Melbourne, though I don't think you're meant to :P It's near Starbucks on City Square. Collins x Swanston. One night I wander into it and discovered there was water! Though it was under glass, not so. XD