I’ve passed by Katz’s Delicatessen dozens of times over the years while striding down Houston toward the East River for a run, but never sat down for a proper pastrami sandwich until my latest jaunt to the big city.
The Astronomer and I, along with our friend Miho, Cousin Jackie, and Jackie’s boyfriend Aaron, descended upon this New York City institution (est. 1888) for an early Saturday dinner. The crowd wasn’t too robust at this hour, which proved to be a good thing for this group of Katz’s newbies because things work a little differently ’round here…
We were each handed a paper ticket as we walked through the front door. The placards hanging from the ceiling directed us to the various ordering counters. There was a separate queue for each course—appetizers, sandwiches, desserts, and drinks. While this somewhat archaic and chaotic ordering system worked fine for us, it was nice to know that there were a few seats reserved in the dining room for full table service if need be.
As soon as I made my way to the front of the line, my sandwich was constructed right before my eyes. Best of all were the scraps of pastrami that the sandwich artist passed my way to make the wait a tastier one. No cash was exchanged at this point—just a scribble on my ticket and I was set to find a seat.
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As delighted as The Astronomer and I were with our dinner at Eleven Madison Park on a previous trip to New York, a repeat visit wasn’t in the cards this time around because much to our dismay, the restaurant had changed its winning formula.
In place of the elegant and beloved grid menu filled with whimsical and seasonal bites is a $195 tasting menu paying tribute to the history and spirit of New York City. While the idea of a “Hudson Valley carrot tartar” and a “Central Park picnic” sounded neat, the changes reeked of pandering to “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, which made me feel inexplicably sad and not the least bit hungry.
To get our fill of Chef Daniel Humm’s cooking and General Manager Will Guidara’s hospitality, we headed instead to their latest venture inside The NoMad Hotel. The NoMad Restaurant is slightly less formal than Eleven Madison Park, with dark and moody dining rooms furnished with banquettes so plush that I had to sit on a pillow to see over the table.
The a la carte menu here was “inspired by Chef Daniel’s time spent throughout Switzerland, California, and New York City,” according to the restaurant’s website.
To start was a fantastic loaf of charred onion focaccia with sweet potato, rosemary, and sage served warm from the oven. The bread’s intriguingly dark tone was accomplished using bamboo ash.
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Following our stroll through The High Line and a festive deep-fried breakfast, The Astronomer, Sonia, and I headed to Parm for a late lunch on our first full day in the city. Here at this quaint spot in Nolita, Chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone celebrate and “elevate” Italian-American cooking in all its red sauce glory.
With quite a bit of buzz surrounding the restaurant, including a 2-star review in the Times, I was more than a little excited to experience what all the hubbub was about. Plus, I hadn’t eaten any parmigiana, be it meatball, veal, or eggplant, since graduating from college, so it was high-time I got my fill.
We arrived sometime past 2 PM and waited a quick minute before being seated. Sonia’s dined here just about a dozen times, including the night before, so she led us through the restaurant’s greatest hits. I also cribbed some notes while reading Pete Wells’ write up, so we were all set on the ordering front.
We started with a slew of appetizers, including warm-from-the-oven “Pizza Knots ($5)” sprinkled with crumbly Parmesan and fresh parsley. Whereas classic pizza parlor “knots” are doughy, greasy things that have a way of hijacking one’s stomach, these were lighter specimens with a definite crust and fluffy innards.
While I could’ve gone for seconds, the portion size allotted us only a knot each. Perhaps this was for the best considering how much food was coming our way.
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The Astronomer and I devoured a platter of street meat at the corner of 53rd and 6th the moment we arrived on Manhattan soil this past December. It was well past midnight and well below forty degrees at the time, but one forkful of the chopped lamb smothered in white sauce and none of that seemed to matter. Plus, the less-than-ideal conditions made for no lines and instant gratification.
We followed up our late-night snack with a good night’s sleep and awakened the next morning ready to explore and feast some more. After meeting up with my sister-in-law Sonia and strolling along The High Line, we made our way to Chelsea Market for breakfast at the Doughnuttery.
I was alerted to the existence of the Doughnuttery by a press release that serendipitously landed in my inbox a few days before the trip. The stall, which debuted in early December, is a collaboration between pastry chef Katie Rosenhouse and her business partner Evan Feldman.
While the Doughnuttery’s batter and flavored sugars are original creations, the deep-frying setup is fairly commonplace. I encountered identical machinery at Seattle’s Street Donuts back in 2011, as well as at my office building’s holiday party last year. Still, it was pretty mesmerizing watching the tiny O’s being made.
Here, doughnuts are sold by the half-dozen or dozen and are fried-to-order in trans-fat free shortening. There are over a dozen flavor possibilities including “PBCP” (peanut butter, cayenne, and pretzel), “Paris Time” (lavender, pistachio, and vanilla sugar), and “Cacaoboy” (cacao nibs, mesquite and black sugar). “Dough Dips” include pumpkin beer caramel, toffee sauce, and raspberry balsamic.
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Before departing New York City for the temperate pastures of Los Angeles, The Astronomer, Cousin Jackie, and I grabbed a quick lunch at Eataly. The Italian food hall, which is modeled after the original Eataly in Turin, boasts 36,500 square feet of gustatory and sensory pleasure.
The folks behind this temple of Italian food are none other than restaurateurs Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali. Man, these guys sure have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to feeding the masses all things Italian.
The humongous space was crammed with people of all stripes during lunchtime, which made navigating the various restaurants and stands less pleasurable than I would have liked. While I don’t mind standing elbow to elbow with strangers on the subways and streets, I’d much rather not have to fight for my lunch.
Our initial plan was to dine at La Pizza & La Pasta, but the hour-long wait didn’t fit into our schedules. Instead, we dined picnic style on various meats, cheeses, and breads that we procured throughout the market. My favorite stop was at the cured meat stand. The man behind the counter was knowledgeable, opinionated, and offered up plenty of samples to guide our taste buds.
The cheese counter was equally robust, with over 400 varieties of regional Italian cheeses.
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