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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Best of NY Part III: Squid Ink Paella at Midnight

Here is the third and last installment of NY eats that were most memorable.

1) Socarrat

One of my biggest gripes about L.A. was that it didn't have serviceable Spanish food. Then The Bazaar came along, except Jose Andres decided he wasn't going to serve paella, the classic Spanish rice dish that had so eluded me both in the kitchen (could never get it to cook evenly) and restaurants (yuk). So when I heard about this "paella bar" that specializes in this dish and also got an overwhelming endorsement from a fellow NY-based foodie, I had to try it -- even if it was after two bloody burgers and a good chunk of a divine porterhouse earlier in the day.

Entering this narrow joint with one long, communal table just before closing around midnight, I wasn't hungry but this paella tinted in black squid ink and topped with shrimp, almost raw slices of scallops, pieces of fish, squid, fava beans and slivers of piquillo peppers was a revelation. It came with an aioli that I used to dip the meaty shrimp and sometimes spoonfuls of rice. Socarrat refers to the crusty layer that forms at the bottom of the pan. In short, the best part of the paella. The leftovers tasted almost as good when heated from home hours later (our server urged us not to microwave the paella -- I dutifully complied). I still dream about this paella.

259 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 462-1000

2) Russ & Daughters

This place is an institution, and conveniently located adjacent to Katz's, so I sampled its famed bagel and lox. The salmon was pretty darn perfect, but I wish I would have gotten a plain bagel as the one with everything on it was too salty for my taste. The saltiness of the salmon made it sodium overkill but besides this minor detail, what's not to like about a bagel with smoke salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes and red onions? Ok, I prefer warm bagels and this one wasn't. Not sure if that's the way I'm supposed to have it but I like them heated because otherwise the bagel felt too dense and not soft enough.

Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475-4880

3) Kefi

This shrine to nouveau Greek cuisine helmed by chef Michael Psilakis is a bit hectic and cramped but the grilled octopus salad on top of beans was by far the best dish. The octopus was smoky and soft and complemented the almost pureed beans very well. It had a slight crunch from diced onions that also gave it a refreshing bite.

505 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-0200

4) Artichoke Pizza

Here was another 2 a.m. pizza run but imagine my surprise when I see a long line outside of a tiny storefront waiting at that hour, in the rain. Obviously, this joint has some serious fanatics. Everyone has their favorites but I liked the Margarita. Fortunately, it only serves four kinds of pizzas besides Margarita: Sicilian, which is the square one, artichoke, which is like a slightly fancier version of cream of mushroom soup on pizza dough (this doesn't mean I didn't like it) and finally, the odd crab pizza. This last one I didn't get but of the other three, Margarita had the best combination of thin crust, cheese and tomato. My partner in crime who stood in line and kept me company in freezing rain liked the Sicilian. The debate goes on...

Artichoke Pizza
328 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-2004

5) Ippudo

I'm always on the hunt for fantastic ramen, so had to try this NY outpost of a Japanese chain that got raves from NYT critics and message boards alike.

It was unfortunate that I had it as my first meal of the day, which, despite its soupy goodness, was on the heavy side, even for me. I mean, I usually live for that stuff -- milky broth full of porky flavor and robustness. I got the Shiromaru Hakata Classic with the works, slices of pork that deliciously dissolve in your mouth from lengthy cooking, green onions, bamboo shoots, egg, red pickled ginger slices and wood-eared mushrooms. I also tried the Akamura Modern, which had a stronger flavor that I didn't like as much. The base of the broth was the same but the strong flavors came from garlic oil and miso mixed in.

While it was a good bowl of ramen, I like the Hakata ramen at Shinsengumi here better.

65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088

6) Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Now onto dessert: This gelato shop is so small, blink and you could miss it, but the green tea and hazelnut flavors were definitely worth stopping by.

I've always hated green tea ice-creams that look green but taste like anything but green tea -- you know, the watered down flavor. I could actually taste the green tea in this one. The hazelnut wasn't as good but equally deep in flavor.

95 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 343-9922

7) Donut Plant

I'm not one to crave anything too sweet for breakfast or in general, but one bite of the plain glazed yeast donut was one of the most comforting ways to start your day.

The donut was soft as I bit into it and the sugar on the glaze, yes, the sugar was plentiful, but nothing that a dunk in some strong coffee can't remedy.

I had the plainest kind to really see what this donut shop is made of, but it offers a huge array of wacky varieties.

Donut Plant
379 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 505-3700

And finally, there were two disappointments: Shake Shack, whose famed burger underwhelmed me, and Joe's Shanghai, which I should have known better not to go to. What was I thinking when I have Din Tai Fung right here at home?


Mary said...

Wow, the ramen and green tea (among other foods) looks sooooo good. I didn't know there was "squid ink Paella." Very interesting. My husband tried the squid ink pasta. Luckily, his teeth didn't turn black. Nice post!

ironchef442 said...

thanks, Mary. if you're anything near NYC, you MUST try this place. it's truly a revelation! or go to Spain if you can...I know, pie in the sky...

Anonymous said...

just wanted to add that the BLACK SESAME gelato at Il Laboratorio is the best! sometimes they don't offer it at the counter - i've purchased a decadent restaurant-sized amount out of desperation before. [also does not turn your teeth black or grey, btw.]

ironchef442 said...

must try black sesame next time, even at the expense of getting a life-time supply!