Tuesday, March 13, 2012
The flight into New York's LaGuardia airport on a clear night is one of the prettiest airborne sights imaginable, After the initial approach, the plane banks northwest and scurries past the East side of Manhattan Island. Immediately a diorama of buildings comes into focus, all aglow with shimmering lights. This view of Manhattan is an intoxicating aperitif.
After tossing our bags into the hotel room, we hailed a cab to make the trip from Midtown to what has become an institution: David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar. At about 10:30 at night, Ssam was just hitting its second gear with a growing ambiance fueled by loud music, pork, and beer. The dark paneled room and low lights create the sensation of eating in a humidor. Two seats at the bar opened quickly and the feast commenced.
The famed steamed buns of course - pillow soft and filled with succulent slabs of pork belly. A quick glaze with a fiery red sauce helped finish the last of the first round of beers. While those steamed were delicious, they paled in comparison to the kimchi rubbed apples with face bacon. Let's break this dish down John Madden style shall we? First you have the apple, which has just a touch of sweetness and a heavy dose of tart while adding a base layer of crunchy to the dish. Then this guy takes those apple slices and smears kimchi all over them to give it something spicy. Then over here, you got the face bacon lead blocking and bringing that salty, crispiness that makes bacon America's favorite food group.
Perhaps even more impressive was the way Chang and Co. turned chewy tripe into a sublime Asian noodle dish. Tender, shreds of tripe were tossed into a ginger scallion sauce and served at room temperature. Out chop sticks engaged as sword play as we fought for the last morsels. Finally, a clunky dish of rice cakes and Chinese pork sausage. While advertised as spicy, the dish needed acid to round everything out, and on the whole the dish was dry. But then again anything would have paled in comparison to the tripe and apples.
Dessert at the Momofuku Milk Bar. A Crack Pie, peanut butter cookie, and soft serve ceral milk ice cream rounded out the meal. That soft serve ice cream quickly became Lindsay's white whale. Wherever we were in New York for the next few days, she would say, "Look on your Twitter thing and find out if there is a Milk Bar nearby."
If there is a Mohammad of Dining in the 21st Century, his name would have to be Danny Meyer. The list of dining "things" he helped pioneer are too long to list, but include such things as quality hamburgers and unpretentious, intelligent service. The room at Gramercy Tavern is warm decorated with arrangements to evoke the season. In late winter, think large birch branches and jars of preserves. Everyone has a friend whose home they love to visit - it is comfortable but not stuffy, there are fantastic things to drink but nothing fussy, and the food is delicious without being obsessive. That is eating at Gramercy Tavern in a nutshell.
Meatballs, more like meatpucks, have a crisp crust gilded in melted Fontina cheese. Both the cheese and crust struggle to contain the soft textured interior of the meatball. Red wine demi glace and potatoes as smooth as glass round out a well-composed plate. But then you look across at the chicken soup, which is loaded with juicy chicken, vibrant kale, and tender dumplings and wish just for once you had not been such a fat kid when ordering.
Dessert was a symphony of composure. Chocolate pudding, salted caramel, and brioche croutons worked harmoniously to produce the greatest pudding possible. The rhythmic clacking of spoons looking for pudding but finding only ceramic became the crescendo of this movement.
There was of course a stop at Eataly with its miles of Italian food products. It is overwhelming and enrapturing. Aisles of pasta, counters full of meats and seafood, barrels of olive oils and vinegars, jugs of wines and beers, a vegetable butcher, marble carving classes,prosciutto carved fresh, mozzarella pulled while you wait, and Vespa rentals (only made up two of those). We sat in the pizza and pasta kitchen and devoured a plate of pork and chicken liver agnolotti and a Neapolitan pizza laced with anchovies.
We got out of there in a hurry before the bank called and closed our account.