This is the story about the Saturday night back in mid-December when my brother shut down Mission Chinese Food to celebrate his 35th birthday.
After pre-gaming at Katz’s Deli and sneaking in some sweets at Dessert Club Chikalicious, The Astronomer and I made our way down to the Lower East Side for a feast like no other. We’re certainly no strangers to multi-course Chinese banquets, but this one was wildly different with twelve tongue-numbing Sichuan delights masterminded by Chef Danny Bowien.
Mission Chinese Food arrived in New York City last summer from the shores of San Francisco. The subterranean restaurant, which is dimly lit in a pinkish hue and seats just three dozen diners, serves “whimsical Chinese” prepared by a Korean-born chef reared in Oklahoma City.
It’s not fine dining. It’s not authentic. It’s not from one region. We’re just trying to do everything backwards. – Chef Danny Bowien
The menu was curated beforehand by my bro and his lovely wife, so all that was left to do was to sit back, sip a cocktail, and settle in for the fireworks.
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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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