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Family Trip to Manhattan - A Food Report


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Recently returned from a week in the City. Two adults and two daughters taking in the usual tourist sites, but with all eating planned through research on egullet. While we certainly lack the culinary sophistication of the regular posters on this board, I thought our experiences (and mistakes) might be useful to other families that consider eating a big part of the fun.

I'm not much of a food critic, but we all enjoy eating, or at least three of us do. I'll start by posting our first day's efforts, and if the moderators find it rambling, insufficiently food-centric, or just boring, thay can tell me to stop.

Edited by maf (log)

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Wednesday

Dropped our bags off at the hotel (too early to check in) and headed to the Metro for 7 day passes (great way to get around, although there are definitely characters to be seen on the subway). First destination Eisenberg’s, not under some misapprehension that the food would be a great, but to see one of the counter service places that appear in old movies but are disappearing because, well, the food isn’t great.

Eisenberg’s is located in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, which I vainly attempted to explain was architecturally significant. Rejecting the concept of consciously learning while on vacation, the kids were nonetheless impressed with the fact that, viewed towards its point, the building looks more like a single wall than a three-dimensional structure. In the end, the whole steel skeleton thing was not as interesting as the piercings of passers by.

The restaurant was somewhat hard to find because I didn’t have the actual address (a mistake I wouldn’t make again), only general instructions that it was “around the corner” from the Metro station near the Flatiron Building. Since Broadway runs diagonally across the otherwise grid-like streets and avenues, this was one of those intersections that presented way more than four corners. With the front (and signage) obscured by scaffolding, we were soon going the wrong way, but it’s hard to know when you’ve gone too far afield. We spotted a police officer writing a cab driver a ticket (and learned that the passenger apparently must exit the cab while the ticket is written, standing restlessly on the sidewalk and probably wondering if the meter is running). The officer didn’t at first recognize the place by name, but recalled there was “an old sandwich place” a block away. Hoping this was Eisenberg’s but perhaps prepared to settle for any “old sandwich place,” we were soon passing on a table in back in lieu of the old counter, marveling at how narrow the place was.

My eggs with corned beef hash were unremarkable, and spouse’s BLT had plenty of bacon but the usual tasteless tomato. D2 enjoyed a generous plate of French toast, thick slices of white bread in a light egg wash tossed on something like a George Forman Grill. I had pretty low expectations for the food, and was therefore surprised by D1’s “Eisenburger,” a flavorful patty cooked on the griddle with a respectable crust, pleasingly light pink on the inside, served on a toasted bun. Service was cheerful and quick. The place was locked in the time warp I hoped for, with wooden and stainless steel shelving, a long, open cooking area behind the counter, framed photos of people I didn’t recognize and the usual cash register near the door.

Went here for atmosphere and got it. I couldn’t help but notice that while we were there before 11 a.m., others seemed to be eating sandwiches, not breakfast food. I would normally imitate the local populace, but I was for some reason focused on breakfast. Disappointed only at being outordered by a teenager on our first meal, I soldiered on.

Next on the agenda was wandering through the Upper West Side, to get a feel for where people live (at least those of some means) and see the location of a few scenes from You’ve Got Mail. Our loop ended at Gray’s Papaya for a couple delicious and inexpensive hot dogs. Has some difficulty passing H&H Bagels and Zabar’s without stopping in, but we had to avoid early food overload. Also wanted to cruise Fairway Grocery, but didn’t want to lug the booty around for the rest of the day.

We had been warned not to request ketchup on a dog in New York, and we were able to order at Gray’s without incident. Both the papaya and coconut drinks were a hit. Unlike previous visits to the City, there were no complaints from the kids about the unfamiliar (to a Southener) snap to the dogs. Grownups enjoyed the “relish,” a thin, red, oniony concoction. Plain (we’d call then “nekid” down South) dogs were good for the kids.

Patsy’s was supposed to be our lunch destination, but I had already miscalculated our culinary capacity. More interested in maintaining the dinner plan, I relented on the pizza, and we headed for the Bronx Zoo. I wondered if this would be the first of many skipped destinations on my painstakingly researched schedule.

The plan between the zoo and a Yankee’s game, both chronologically and geographically, was Mike’s Deli at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. I had intended to take a cab from the zoo, as the Metro does not move East-West up there. Unfortunately, cabs seemed rare in the Bronx, so we set out on foot with an address but no map (another lesson learned). Remarkably, after a fairly long walk, the instinct that “it must be this way,” and a call to the office for some help from Google maps, which I still maintain we did not need, we were there.

About the walk. At no time did we feel unsafe, but we did pass through neighborhoods that we might have avoided given the choice. On the other hand, it was worthwhile for both us and the kids to see this side of town, especially in contrast to the rather swanky areas from earlier in the day. While I’m guessing it wasn’t a particularly threatening neighborhood, it was definitely different from home. I wouldn’t have felt good about it after dark.

On this walk we encountered the first of several well-intentioned, but misinformed, locals. Apparently sensing our lack of confidence as to our route, or our inability to blend in, a woman at a bus stop asked where we were going and then gave directions that I was convinced were wrong. What does one do when confronted with unsolicited, incorrect advice (especially when the correct answer isn‘t known)? We turned the way she recommended (can you really say “thanks, but while I don’t know where I am, I think you’re wrong”), went to the next street, and worked our way back around the block to the original street. I'm guessing a New Yorker wouldn't have done this, but it was already obvious we weren't New Yorkers.

Arrived at Mike’s ready to eat. A deli counter that is one of several businesses in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (including a large produce area, various olives by the pound and two butchers with good looking and, to my surprise, reasonably priced meats), had I not read about this place I would not have guessed they serve ready to eat food. There was no posted menu, but one was available on request. While menus for many of the places we were to eat could be studied in advance on menu pages.com, Mike’s was not one of them. Their menu can be found, however, at www.arthuravenue.com/images/pdfs/Mike_Deli_ Menu.pdf.

Ordered the small antipasto for all to share and a Fireman Special. Spouse went with a meatball sub ( a favorite of hers), while the daughters opted to share a chicken teriyaki & broccoli hero (sometimes you just have to go with it).

The antipasto, nicely arranged on a wooden board, included thinly sliced prosciutto, three other salami/pepperoni type meats, four cheeses, including parmesean and fresh mozzarella, and roasted peppers, all in generous portions and all quite good. I was a little disappointed that the focaccia and olives mentioned on the menu were not to be found, especially after seeing the extensive collection of olives available by the pound, but it was nonetheless a large amount of tasty food. Were I to do it again, I would order the large antipasto, make sure there was some bread and olives included, and skip the sandwich.

That’s not to say, however, that the sandwich was a disappointment. Nice portions of meat and cheese spilled over the edges of a well-made sub roll, with the oil clinging to the roasted peppers and sundried tomatoes keeping things appropriately moist. I feared the sandwich would seem like the antipasto repeated on bread, and to some degree this was the case, especially after I made it my mission to finish the antipasto after the rest of the family quit and moved to their sandwiches. I’m a pretty good eater, but I eventually surrendered and had half my sandwich wrapped to smuggle into the Yankees’ game. I sampled the meatball sub (tasty) and chicken (unexceptional, but it was obviously an off the wall choice, as predicted when one of the counter guys declared he didn’t know they served that). I still believe Philadelphia is the sandwich capital of the world, but these were really good.

Only eats at the Yankees’ game were dippin’ dots in a Yankees helmet for the kids and frozen lemonade (great on a hot afternoon) for the adults. Dragged in tired but quite pleased with the first day’s eating accomplishments.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Nicely written report, seems like cheap eats are a must in this economy and with a family... that said, my advice is to research WHAT to order at some of these places. The decor is a throwback in Eisenberg's, but so is an egg cream and a pastrami/corned beef half'n'half.

Don't call it the Metro, people are going to think you are from Boston... it's the train or the subway or at worst, the MTA stop, but that's not a 3-letter acronym that is uttered with admiration by any NYer

I hope you're eating some good dim sum right now....

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Raji, thanks for the advice on both counts. Since the cards you buy say Metro on them, I assumed that was an accepted term. Glad to now know otherwise.

I agree with the advice that it's important to know what to order once you get there, and with help from this site I think we did an overall decent job on that, Eisenberg's being an exception.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Thursday

Our hotel stay includes a hot breakfast, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find it includes a decent omelette to go with the bacon, sausage and potatoes. While this takes care of breakfast every morning, I resolve after this first time not to eat so much that I won’t be sufficiently hungry later.

The morning’s plan is shopping for the girls while I go get in line for show tickets. In my optimistic world, this would all conclude just in time to hit Grimaldi’s for lunch, walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge, and shop some more, satisfying both the eating and shopping camps. The highlight of the day is to be dinner at The Kitchen Counter at Beacon (25 W. 56th St between 5th & 6th Avenues, 212/232-0508), so no heavy eating in the afternoon.

I have been accused by certain family members of underestimating how long it takes to do things. While denying the charge in general, in this rare instance it proved true, as the shopping spilled over into the lunch hour. While my primary entertainment concern on this trip is food, I was prepared for the possibility that the eating schedule might not reign supreme in all instances. Having read that the penalty for not arriving early at Grimaldi’s includes lines and declining oven temperatures, I pulled out the list of places we had read about on egullet and settled on a nearby alternative- the Dosa Man Cart on the South side of Washington Square.

The mobility of a cart has its advantages, unless you‘re looking for one. The park was undergoing some renovations and was partially fenced off. We looked for the cart where it was supposed to be, then in the general area on the theory that the construction may have caused it to move, but no luck.

At this point, the desire of the masses to eat was overcoming my resolve to eat somewhere on my list. I used to fight this sort of mutiny, which escalates by looks and sighs, but I am now older and perhaps slightly wiser. Some generic eating at a nondescript cart followed. Somewhat disappointed that I’d let a precious meal opportunity get away (the lists in my pocket included almost 50 possible sites, but the city is big, and close gets smaller as you get hungrier), I looked forward to dinner at The Kitchen Counter.

The reservation at TKC, and the required prepayment, had been made months ago. This was not a place that the kids would enjoy (too long a meal, plus a set menu), so they negotiated for some sushi take out and a movie in the room while mom & dad headed out for twelve courses with wine pairings.

Upon arrival at Beacon, we sat at a high table in the front while waiting a couple minutes for the other four diners to arrive. Interaction among the six guests is part of the plan, as the hostess pointed out soon after our arrival. While this had occurred to me when contemplating the dinner arrangement, her direct reminder on this topic caused me to reflect on whether the wrong “mix” of guests could detract from the experience (or perhaps our presence would be the detracting factor).

I needn’t have worried on this subject, at least as concerned the other four guests. The first I met was a law student well versed in the local dining scene, generous in sharing his knowledge. You could tell he had the passion for food you might expect from an egulleteer, and it turned out he remembered a post I had put on the Beacon thread some time ago. His companion, a recent graduate of the culinary institute, arrived a couple minutes later. The fifth and sixth soon arrived sporting equally impressive food credentials: he was FOH at a local restaurant, while she formerly cooked at Beacon. We were simultaneously the oldest and least knowledgeable members of our group.

I had read a fair amount about TKC and their Thursday-night-only meal prior to arriving, much of it authored by Fat Guy on the Beacon thread, and I was expecting a great dinner value. This is exactly what we got; in fact, I would say this was one of the most enjoyable meals I ever had. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best food we ever had, although the roasted oysters with mignonette sauce and the roasted quail were both great, each representing the capabilities of the wood oven that formed the backdrop of our meal. For me, what made the meal so good was the chance to interact with chef de cuisine Michael Smith and several others, both FOH and behind the counter, in a relaxed atmosphere in which you felt they not only took time to talk to you, but actually seemed to enjoy it. Chef Smith said they don’t make any money on these Thursday performances, and I actually believed him. The four others sharing the meal with us were as nice as could be, and the entire meal seemed more of a shared experience than I would have imagined.

Thirteen small plates (they snuck in an extra amuse), seven wines/beverages (actually eight, as they kindly opened another red after we finished the available rioja), the company of four nice people and an incredible amount of attention from the restaurant’s staff, all for $85/person (plus tax and gratuity, for a total of $109). This was a fantastic bargain that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys food.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Friday

Museum of Natural History followed hotel breakfast, keeping us occupied until our lunch reservation at Jean Georges (1 Central Park W @ 60th St ). I had billed this as our fanciest meal in New York, even though it was lunch.

The lunch service, two courses preceded by a trio of amuse-bouche and followed by dessert, is $28++. That’s a pretty good splurge for lunch, but not a bad deal if the food lived up to its billing.

I’ve put a more specific post on the Jean Georges site about the meal, but here’s my summary: solid cooking showing great technical skill and use of sauces, including some perfectly cooked fish, accompanied by attentive but somewhat pretentious service.

Note that lunch includes rather extensive if simple desserts, which our server did not mention when asking about our dessert order. There’s nothing wrong with extra dessert, but I suspect more than one diner has been surprised to find a second round of desserts arrive.

Although I had a slight issue with the service, on the whole I think this was a great experience for the kids. We promised a sample of haute cuisine, and Jean Georges delivered it.

The Jean Georges location left us an easy ride to our matinee, followed by a couple hours at MOMA. By this time, we were pretty tired, and not terribly hungry. We found a good solution in Pommes Frites (123 2nd Av between 7th St & St Mark’s Place), where everyone picked their sauce and got their fill of hot, twice-fried potatoes. The kids liked the holes cut in the table to hold the paper cones of frites, which were tasty and quick. This place scores high on the overall kid index.

On the walk to the train, we could not resist a stop in the Bamn! Automat (37 St Marks Place). It is a great regret of mine that I never ate at the old Automats, and although I imagine the new version is quite different (there was no one behind the little window to converse with), it was a funky and fun little place. The slice of pie we sampled was weak, but the place was worth a look.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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I am thoroughly enjoying your reports. Exposing your children to a wide variety of eating experiences in a city like NY is a great thing and something they will only appreciate more as they get older. I would have to think that the service "issue" that you encountered at J-G was likely nothing more than a misunderstanding, though not having been there, i can't be absolutely sure.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks, docsconz. I know I'm long-winded, but we had such a good time, I'm hoping other families will find a couple useful ideas in here.

In a conversation at Beacon, we were talking about eG and some of its most prolific posters. I opined that posts are better with pictures, but I had only recently read the procedure for posting a picture and found I was too lazy/stupid to figure it out. The query arose, "do you know who posts the best pictures?" The two of us answered simultaneously, "Docsconz."

Edited by maf (log)

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Saturday

The morning was reserved for walking around Chinatown. I thought there would be greater interest in the grey market handbags and other items, but none of the girls was particularly intrigued. The sidewalk runners seemed more ubiquitous and assertive than I remembered from previous visits. The broken English “Gucci, Fendi, handbag?” that we encountered every few feet grew somewhat tiring, but I laughed when one of these supposed English neophytes dropped her lighter and let out an “oh s**t” with perfect diction.

We looked for the Egg Cake Lady at the corner of Mosco & Mott, but had no luck. Maybe we were too late in the day, or maybe she no longer sells her 10/$1 egg cakes from this location.

Undaunted, we looped around to Mei Lah Wah (4 Baynard) looking for cha siu buns, and were greeted by a brightly colored sign declaring its closure by the health department. While my family deemed it gross but fortunate that we did not eat at this place before its closure, I found myself wondering if we could have picked up a couple buns if we had only been there a few days sooner.

My credibility slightly diminished by the near miss on the buns, I was hoping for redemption at Vanessa’s Dumpling House (118 Eldridge between Grand & Broome). This place delivered the holy grail of dining: delicious and cheap.

It's a small place where you order at the counter and grab one of about five tables, but we had only a short wait to get a seat. Pretty sure it was cash only, but I'm not certain.

Fried dumplings (resembling the gyoza we see at Japanese restaurants at home) in a couple varieties were 4/$1.Cooked to order, these were slightly crisp on the edge, appropriately chewy on the dough, and filled with moist and tasty filling. The boiled dumplings for some reason came in larger orders (of 10, I believe), but were similarly inexpensive. While I preferred the fried, opinions were varied. We also enjoyed the chive and egg pancake, pork bun, and pancake sandwich with beef and carrots. We devoured what seemed like a pile of food and went back for a second order. We stuffed ourselves for under $20. If there were a place like this at home, I would eat there several days a week. On the other days, I would cook the frozen dumplings they sell to take home. This meal brought total food happiness to all.

A little midtown shopping was followed by a stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar (1011 3rd Av @ 60th St). A bright and fun, if slightly over the top, extravaganza, this was predictably enjoyed by the kids, and I also spotted a couple nostalgic varieties from childhood.

We walked down for a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram, u-turned, and rode it back. Fun and quick activity, good view of the river and Queensborough Bridge, and the kids were impressed that the thing from the Spiderman movie was real. Even better, it’s free with a metro card.

Stopped in Serendipity on the way back to inquire about a table, either then or at some future date. Maybe we caught them at a bad time, and they did seem quite busy, so we were told we could neither get a table then (understandable) or a reservation for a later date (less understandable). We gave up and had cones from the Mr. Softee truck.

Dinner followed at Momofuku Noodle Bar (171 1st Ave between 10th & 11th St). I had a hard time choosing between Noodle and Momofuku Ssam, but there really wasn’t time for both, and it more or less came down to a coin flip.

We were not overly hungry at this point, but there were several items we wanted to try. The pickled vegetables arrived first. These were refreshing and interesting, some more than others, but all were good. We nibbled at these until the quick arrival of cured arctic char with dill tofu and rye toasts, The char was rolled in spirals and, although cured, sushi-like. The rye toasts were puffed from frying but not oily. Solid dish, appropriately light on a warm evening.

Next came the much admired pork buns. I had read such glowing reviews of these, perhaps I was set up for a letdown. While the pork was tasty, I found the overall taste somewhat bland. Perhaps prior observations of excessive hoisin were taken too much to heart, as I felt ours were barely sauced. Not bad, but not the life changing experience I hoped for.

A huge bowl of kimchee stew with accompanying steamed rice soon appeared. I’ve never seen this anywhere else and found it quite enjoyable. Slightly spicy, it was a bit pungent for D2. This was the first dish she did not particularly like (I traded my rice for her stew).

At this point, we were pretty full, and half hoping they would forget the chicken ramen were had ordered with the thought that D2 might not enjoy any of the other dishes. I had read the opinion of many that, paradoxically, the noodles are one of the weaker dishes here. I’ll defer to their expertise, but we all found them enjoyable. I would agree, however, that this was probably the least exceptional dish of the evening.

I was a little surprised that there is absolutely no red wine available. A selection of several unusual beers easily substituted.

D1 was convinced the guy who plays Dwight on The Office was sitting across the room. I never saw him, but she seemed to enjoy the story, so what the heck?

I was looking forward to the soft ice cream, as I read of intriguing flavors such as salty caramel. On this evening, they were offering strawberry and yogurt flavors, which did not sound particularly appealing. We returned to our room, where the girls dug into the earlier haul from Dylan’s.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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We looked for the Egg Cake Lady at the corner of Mosco & Mott, but had no luck. Maybe we were too late in the day, or maybe she no longer sells her 10/$1 egg cakes from this location.

Unfortunately, the Egg-Cake Lady hasn't been there for probably 2 to 3 years. There is a man on the corner of Grand and Bowery who sells egg cakes (20 for $1), and further east on Grand, I've noticed an automated egg-cake machine in front of one of the dozens of bakeries in that area. Very Rube Goldberg-esque.

BTW, in place of the egg cakes, that same booth is now occupied by 2 guys who are selling skewers of various grilled meats for $1 or so. Or, at least they were when I was there about a month ago.

I wish you had mosied on over to Economy Candy on Rivington St. after your meal at Dumpling House. A real candy store that's been in that 'hood for a long time, and so much cooler than Dylan's.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Thanks, docsconz. I know I'm long-winded, but we had such a good time, I'm hoping other families will find a couple useful ideas in here.

In a conversation at Beacon, we were talking about eG and some of its most prolific posters. I opined that posts are better with pictures, but I had only recently read the procedure for posting a picture and found I was too lazy/stupid to figure it out. The query arose, "do you know who posts the best pictures?" The two of us answered simultaneously, "Docsconz."

Thanks for the compliment! Most prolific with photos, perhaps, but best? I would have to disagree as I can think of a number off the top of my head who consistently put up better work than I do.

Dollar for dollar, Chinatown steamed or fried dumplings may very well be the best food value in the city. No. 1 Dumpling Shop has been the one for me.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sunday

Started the day at the Met. After achieving cultural saturation, it was time for lunch. Papaya King (179 E 86th St @ 3rd Av) called from nearby.

I’ve seen the opinions of those more knowledgeable and passionate than I about hot dogs (they probably don’t even call them hot dogs) concerning whether Papaya King or Gray’s Papaya is better. The was the first time I had eaten both in sufficient proximity to form a valid opinion. While they are similar, I personally found the dogs at Papaya King a little hotter and fresher. Gray’s is a little cheaper, which I appreciate, but if I’ve traveled all the way to New York for a hot dog then saving $1 probably isn’t that big a deal (of course, on that theory, I should have eaten at Jean Georges every day). I didn’t see much difference in the papaya drinks, but I haven’t had that many in my life.

We were headed to the Cloisters, so it was not much of a detour to drop by Patsy’s (2287 1st Av between 117th & 118th St) for a couple slices. There’s a small room with a separate entrance in front where you can pick up slices to go. I had read that it’s all about the crust here, and to forget about the toppings. Good thing, as cheese slices were all they were offering. Everyone enjoyed a slice, and the crust really is quite good. Some aficionados claim this is the best New York has to offer. I’m not qualified to render an opinion on this weighty topic, but it was worth the slight detour to try this.

Again, I might be reluctant to walk through this part of town with my kids at night, but during the day, it seemed perfectly safe. Sometimes a short walk can offer a new experience. I don’t know that much about the history of Harlem, but I knew enough to exceed the kids’ interest level.

After the Cloisters, we headed back to the hotel. Takeout for the kids as the adults departed from the family theme by heading to PDT (113 St Marks Place) for a couple of cocktails.

PDT is one cool place, from the “secret” entry through the unmarked phone booth to the bar lit by small oil lamps to the crif dogs announced by a bell on the other side of a small stainless steel passthrough. We enjoyed a couple well made cocktails and Chang dogs, bacon wrapped, deep fried dogs with kimchee topping.

I hoped our early arrival would allow for some conversation with the bartenders. Unfortunately for us, the bar was full (the tables were not), and between keeping up with drinks and prep for the rest of the evening, they stayed pretty busy. Not unfriendly, just busy. I hope to return some day and catch them at a slower time, if there is such a thing.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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While you missed out on Grimaldi's earlier, I'm glad that you managed to make it to at least one of NYC's special pizza institutions.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Monday

This is to begin as a day of snacking in the Lower East Side. After breakfast, we take the train to Delancey Street and head to Economy Candy (108 Rivington St between Essex & Ludlow), where the kids refill on candy (and I find some stuff I remember from long ago). This place is old school, definitely lacking the glitz of Dylan’s. It’s also considerably less expensive. Guess all that glitz isn’t free. I much prefer the nostalgia and straightforward approach of this place, but I have a feeling the kids miss the music and halogen lighting. They do, however, seem to appreciate the two foot long twizzler for 35 cents.

Walk to Houston Street (although I feel a little twinge at passing Katz’s, we’re not ready to start with one of their monster sandwiches) and our second stop, Russ & Daughters (179 E Houston between Allen & Orchard), for bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Old place, old fixtures, old neon sign, crusty guy behind the counter. Very good.

Next, a couple blocks away is Il Laboratorio del Gelato (95 Orchard between Broome & Delancey) for tart grapefruit and campari sorbet (and tastes of others’ chocolate hazelnut, peanut butter and green apple gelato). I was hoping for a chance to try olive oil gelato, but no luck. In contrast to most of the Lower East Side, this place is modern, with a stainless steel and glass look. No interior seating.

Gus’ Pickles is quite near (87 Orchard), but it’s closed. No hours posted, but I’m guessing it may be closed Monday.

Continue to Kossar’s (367 Grand between Norfolk & Essex) for bialys. Never had a bialy before, and had to ask how to say it. It’s like a softer bagel with a little chopped onion where the hole would normally be. Very Spartan place; bialy is good. Best one I ever had.

Almost next door is the Donut Plant (367 Grand), but this, too, is closed. At least they post their hours: closed Monday. I had read about basil donuts and was intrigued, but not today.

We pass by The Pickle Guys (49 Essex between Grand & Hester) and make up for missing Gus’. Numerous barrels of olives, mushrooms, peppers, and who knows what else. Since it’s not called the mushroom guys, I get a couple pickles. In hindsight, I probably should have been more adventurous, but the pickles were good.

Snacking completed, it’s time for lunch. It’s not far from the Lower East Side to Chinatown, and soon we’re standing in front of Saigon Banh Mi (138-01 Mott between Hester & Grand). Our unhappy view, however, is of the roll-down doors locked tight. The vegetable stand next door has stacked crates of bok choi in front of the doors, signaling the place will not open today (another closed Monday place?)

Luckily, the banh mi thread on eG recommended two places, so we walk to Banh Mi So 1 (369 Broome between Mott & Elizabeth). There we get two types of banh mi, one with roast pork and one with salami (I‘m almost sure that‘s what the menu said), both with pate and the usual banh mi accompaniments. Both sandwiches are excellent, with good bread and fresh cilantro, consumed later at Central Park.

Before we get to the park there’s a fortunate detour. D1 has decided a T-shirt from NYU is needed. As we leave the bookstore, it occurs to me that we are almost on top of Washington Square Park. For an out of towner, this is fairly observant, and a few minutes later we have located the formerly illusive Dosa Man Cart (right where I read it would be, on the South end of the park at Sullivan Street).

The Dosa Man Cart appears to be a neighborhood institution. As I walk up, trying to get a look at the menu, a woman volunteers (as if I might foolishly walk away) that this is some of the best food in the city. This is the kind of spontaneous communication I might expect back home, but I wouldn’t expect it New York. This guy has his followers. There’s a line of about eight people, but it moves pretty fast.

It seems everyone else in the line (or on line, as I understand it’s said up there) is a regular, as they exchange stories with the Dosa Man about their families. He inquires about customers’ spouses/children by name, pausing occasionally to fuss (not in English, so maybe it was endearing fussing) at a helper about getting drinks on ice. He obviously doesn’t know me and probably will never see me again, but as we exchange order information I can’t help but feel that if I came back tomorrow, maybe one more time, he’d know about my family, too. This guy is a listener, and a rememberer.

His food? Worth the second trip. The ponchaderry dosa is a light, fresh crepe, rolled around curried vegetables. I don’t know Indian food well, so I can’t tell you the name of the sauce in the small cup that I dipped the dosa in (maybe that’s the ponchaderry part). In fact, after the dosa was gone, the sauce looked a lot like a stew, so I ate it with a spoon. There was also a yogurt/mint sauce, tasty but not soup spoon material. On the side was a puree that I figured was chick peas; I’m sure this has a name, too. Also had a samosa, which was good, but the dosa was the star.

I wish I could put this guy on a hitch and tow him home. This is incredibly good food to turn out of a cooking area smaller than my desk. Best cart food I ever had. Better than many restaurants.

Our plan for tonight is the movie in Bryant Park. I originally intended to pick up some stuff from a grocery store and eat in the park, but the blanket space apparently gets grabbed about four hours before the movie, and I don’t think we can sit on a blanket that long.

We happen to pass near Bryant Park just before 5:00, and they’re holding the throngs of movie blanket people at bay. Intrigued but not intending to sit that long, we wait and watch them cut the crowd loose at 5:00. There’s a stampede to the center of the park, blankets fly up, gripped by the corners, and then settle down, like the parachute nonsense were did in elementary school PE, and in thirty seconds it’s over. D1 filmed it and has enjoyed showing it to her friends. We resolve to come back later and accept lesser seating. After a quick look inside the adjacent library, we’re off to the Shake Shack.

I heard the lines here can be brutal, and it looked pretty long when we arrived. It did, however, move pretty fast, and we were eating about thirty minutes later. I guess this was the longest wait we endured on the trip, but it was in pleasant surroundings and did not seem that bad. Surely it would have taken us longer to abandon the effort and go somewhere else.

Tried a shack burger, shroom burger, fries and a concrete concoction called the Shake Attack. The burger was good quality and cooked right, still moist and flavorful. I don’t know if I’d pronounce it best ever, but I also don’t know that I can direct you to a better one. This was somewhat of a spontaneous stop and I hadn’t previewed the menu, so I admit I thought the shroom burger would be a burger with mushrooms (you‘d think I had time to read the menu while in line). I was surprised to find a large breaded and deepfried Portobello that oozed cheese when bitten. I got over the surprise and ate it, but I found myself wishing it had been the burger I anticipated. Something about the cheese reminded me of the frozen aisle at the grocery store. Fries were good, and the kids devoured the Shake Attack, dense chocolate frozen custard with several chocolate mixins added. We enjoyed the park vibe, and I would certainly call this a family friendly place with much better than average food.. I’d go here again and not complain about a 30 minute wait.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Tuesday

This is the last day, so it‘s time to assess what remains. We’ve developed a routine for splitting up at the hotel breakfast, with different assignments such as omelets, drinks, fruit, or bacon/potatoes, getting us through the lines faster. We sneak in a little education at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, then catch a train to Brooklyn and Grimaldi’s (19 Old Fulton St between Front & Water).

We arrived a couple minutes before the restaurant opened. We could tell they are accustomed to lines, both by the short, straight queue that was set up and by the large jug of ice water and cups on a table by the door. When we left, however, no one was having to wait in line, so maybe this isn’t as bad a situation as I read, or maybe it’s a dinner thing.

Ordered just one pie, half cheese and half with sausage and roasted peppers. It was easily big enough to feed the four of us. Again, it’s about the crust up here, which had a little of the scorch marks with nice texture. There was nothing wrong with the toppings, but they didn’t really add anything to the overall experience. I’d skip them next time.

I’d have to rate Grimaldi’s a little better than Patsy’s, but I think the deck was stacked because we had a fresh, whole pie at the former and only slices (which Grimaldi’s does not offer) at Patsy’s. Both were very good, and I now have a better frame of reference when a place opens at home claiming NY-style pizza.

Quick stop at nearby Jacques Torres Chocolates (66 Water St.). Actually I returned a phone call while the girls went in here, but it received good reports, especially the cookies. Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and stopped to negotiate the afternoon.

D1 wanted to shop, D2 wanted to go back to the hotel. We split up, and I convinced D2 that another try at the Donut Plant (379 Grand) would be worthwhile, followed by gelato at Otto (I still wanted to try olive oil and Guinness gelato). I knew she was done, however, when she didn’t want a donut, so I picked up a blueberry, a lavender and some triple chocolate donut to take back to the hotel. They didn’t have the basil, coconut crème or raspberry varieties I had read about; in fact, the overall selection seemed small. Maybe it’s better in the morning. These were dense cake donuts, and I particularly enjoyed the herbal undertones of the lavender one. Abandoned the Otto plan after talking to D2, maybe next time.

After regrouping, we headed for dinner at Sripaphai (64-13 39th Ave in Woodside, the numbering system there logically indicating the equivalent of 13 39th Ave between 64th and 65th), pretty much on the way to the Mets game. We had pork leg with mustard greens, soy sauce noodles and the watercress salad recommended by others on eG. In addition to the regular menu there is a book with pictures showing the dishes, and D1 ordered chicken with ginger because she likes ginger and the way it looked in the picture.

The chicken dish was as attractive in person as it was in the photo. A mildly spiced breast was sliced and arranged with cold vegetables. It wasn’t anything unique, but it was enjoyable. The soy sauce noodles were wide, irregular strips, still chewy, with chicken and vegetables. They reminded us of southern dumplings (of chicken and dumpling fame), a Thai version of comfort food. The pork was a large, on bone serving with greens in a bowl, with rice on the side, the meat tender and tasty. Maybe we were already thinking of home, but with the pork and greens and the lack of any overwhelming Thai spicing this reminded me of southern food, as well.

The hit of the meal, surprisingly, was the watercress salad. This is a great example of something I would not have thought to order had it not been recommended. Scallions, basil and mint leaves were lightly battered and deep fried, combined with similar unfried greens on a bed of lettuce with cold chicken, shrimp and squid, topped with a chili lime dressing. I kept looking for watercress and couldn’t find any, unless it had been battered beyond recognition. No matter, the crispness of the batter, tartness of the dressing and coolness of the meats and mint combined to make a great salad.

The prices here were very reasonable, including the very short wine list. While the wine was served a little warm and the service seemed a little slow at times, this was a great bargain and memorable food.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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SUMMARY

Dad’s favorites: The Kitchen Counter at Beacon; Dosa Man Cart

Mom’s favorites: Vanessa’s Dumpling House; Banh Mi So 1

D1’s favorites: Momofuku Noodle; Vanessa’s Dumpling House; Patsy”s; Papaya King

D2’s favorites: Jean Georges (surprise pick); Il Laboratorio del Gelato

CORRECTION

D1 thinks she saw Jim from The Office at Momofuku Noodle, not Dwight (my mistake). This may explain its #1 status on her list. I have my doubts, but I don't want to be a hater.

THINGS WE LEARNED

Use egullet to decide where to eat and what to eat there. We didn’t do much “searching” on eG, just read the posts for a while and took notes on what sounded good.

Have specific location information. Third Avenue between 52nd and 53rd is good. Third Avenue near 52nd not so much.

Wear comfortable shoes. Nothing is close to anything else.

Have a street map and a subway map if there is any chance of a change in travel routes or destinations. The subway map doesn’t show many streets, and the street map (at least mine) doesn’t show good subway information.

Use menu pages.com to look at the menu in advance of arrival. This is particularly helpful when scouting for kid-friendly options so you’re ready for “there’s nothing here I like.”

Use hopstop.com to plan a route between places.

Bring cash. A surprising number of places don’t take plastic.

Beware Monday. Many places are closed.

Carts and stalls that don’t keep regular hours often close for the day when they run out of food. Have a backup.

Bring a small compass (small enough so no one sees it). I know it’s geeky, but I often found I didn’t know where I would pop up from the train. I would know my destination was east of the station, but unless it was a time of day when the shadows helped, I could never remember which side of the office building the moss grows on.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Monday

Continue to Kossar’s  (367 Grand between Norfolk & Essex) for bialys. Never had a bialy before, and had to ask how to say it. It’s like a softer bagel with a little chopped onion where the hole would normally be.  Very Spartan place; bialy is good. Best one I ever had.

Outstanding narrative as evidenced by the above quote. Priceless! Thanks for doing it. I really enjoyed your description of your experiences in my native city.:smile:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I don’t know Indian food well, so I can’t tell you the name of the sauce in the small cup that I dipped the dosa in (maybe that’s the ponchaderry part). In fact, after the dosa was gone, the sauce looked a lot like a stew, so I ate it with a spoon.

Nice report, maf. The soupy stuff that comes with dosai is called sambar. It also comes with other starchy south Indian veg items like idli. Different restaurants have slightly different versions.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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D1 thinks she saw Jim from The Office at Momofuku Noodle, not Dwight (my mistake). This may explain its #1 status on her list. I have my doubts, but I don't want to be a hater.

That was my favourite quote. I think this is the most enjoyable read I've had in a while. Despite growing up in the (global) neighborhood, I've never been to NYC, and I hope to someday visit it with the sort of planning and organization that you brought to your trip.

There are several Doughnut Plants in Tokyo, too, and I'm intrigued by their offerings, but I can't bring myself to pay 300 yen for a donut.

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