I revelled in the culinary pleasures of numerous enticing restaurants during my recent trip to New York City. Here are some of my favourite lunchtime delights.
THE PEARL OYSTER BAR – The West Village
The Pearl Oyster Bar is an upmarket version of a New England fish shack, best known for its lemony-fresh lobster roll. It is an irrefutable necessity to experience this legendary lobster roll, which The Pearl Oyster Bar introduced to Manhattan in the early 1990s. Owner and head chef Rebecca Charles claims bragging rights to the roll’s newfound fame, inspired by her childhood summers spent in Maine. Seeing that Rebecca did not fiddle too much with tradition, this old-time favourite hits the mark every time just like the real McCoy.
The menu is somewhat extensive for this tiny, yet cosy restaurant. The starters include delicacies such as market oysters, little neck clams, a shrimp cocktail, a combination cocktail and half chilled Maine lobster. We opted for the combination cocktail which was a feast of lobster, shrimp, oysters and clams – all things seafood.
The mains include dishes on either small or large plates featuring New England clam chowder, smoked Atlantic salmon, pan-fried fish sandwich and the legendary Pearl Lobster roll with shoestring fries. This dish definitely deserves all the attention it is receiving – it’s full of fresh lobster meat accompanied by perfectly fried shoestring fries and the amazing sweet roll, which tastes more like a croissant and is unquestionably delicious. I would recommend sharing this meal as it is enormous!
Complementing our meal we enjoyed a bottle of Sonoma County Lioca 2011, a chardonnay from California. The fruit of this wine was hand-harvested and the berries “broken” before being pressed fermented on the lees with regular “battonage” for 10 months. For non-wine connoisseurs, “battonage” is a world winemaking technique of stirring the fine lees remaining in the barrel of unfinished wine after the initial settling– lees manipulation is a good way to get a little more out of mediocre fruit or to make better fruit even more distinctive. The direct English translation is “sticking the wine”, while French translation Faire du battonage des vins ("I am performing batonnage") sounds more sophisticated.
You may have to fight for a table here, but the thoughtfully executed seafood dishes are well worth the wait.
DELICATESSEN - Little Italy
Chef Michael Ferraro, from the heavenly eatery Delicatessen and Macbar is known for making comfort food appear chic. As a graduate of the culinary institute of America, his food is undoubtedly influenced by his Italian background and classical French training. These are two upmarket comfort spots with celebrity patrons that the Nolita location commands.
We opted for a sharing lunch, including a few of the delicious appetisers on offer. First up was the truffle spinach and artichoke dip with parmigiano reggiano and crisp tortilla with sea salt. The spinach was fresh and a little crunchy with the amazing truffle flavour haunting all of your your senses. Yes, those expensive little fungi that were relished by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were thought to be an aphrodisiac. Louis XIV and Napoleon apparently were enthusiastically fond of them. The taste of truffles is thoroughly irresistible. "Earthy" is the most common adjective but they nevertheless defy description. Their flavour is captivating, unique with an addictive, insatiable quality. If your palate is amenable to truffles, you will be thoroughly seduced. There is no other food that tastes like a truffle. You have been warned!
Other amazing dishes we revelled in were the hot and spicy crispy chicken wings with blue cheese fondue, the crispy calamari and shishito peppers (I didn’t know what they were) with smoked habanero aioli with charred lemon, and the fascinating cheeseburger spring rolls with ketchup-mustard sauce.
Shishito peppers have popped up on several restaurant menus in the past couple of years and you might have spotted them before: slender, finger-length green pods with thin skins and a sweet flavour grown in Japan. They seem pretty innocuous, but be warned, it turns out that one in about 10 of these peppers is spicy. Nothing to make you want to inhale the end of a fire extinguisher, but enough to make you take notice. No one really knows why some are spicier than others, but growing conditions that are hotter and drier are considered likely culprits. It was my first time tasting these fellows and let me tell you, they are irrefutably delightful. I shall have to go on an expedition to find them in Cape Town!
Next to Delicatessen you will find another one of Chef Michael’s eateries, the Macbar. As the name suggests it’s all about the mac ‘n cheese. Flavours range from the Margarita Mac to Mac Lobsta and Mayan Chipotle. We opted for the Mac Quack, a duck confit with white ceddar and fontina, the delectable Italian cow's milk cheese with caramel and red onion. The duck was amazing – perfectly cooked with a great blend of flavours. I take my hat off to this chef’s remarkable palate and undeniable quest to exceed the boundaries of normal comfort food.
We enjoyed not only one (it was that good), but two bottles of Pinot Gris 2012 from Kings Ridge in Oregon. Kings Ridge wines are from the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley and are characterised by the unique flavours found only in its hills and valley. This wine is a richly textured white, crafted from carefully chosen vineyards in the coolest parts of the Willamette Valley and shows off beautiful aromas of ripe pears, nectarines and melon.
With its innovative twist on comfort food, friendly vibe and modern yet inviting design, Delicatessen is a welcome addition to New York’s vibrant Soho neighbourhood – not too be missed when you are in the area!
THE LOEB BOATHOUSE – Central Park
Set just a short stroll into New York City’s memorable Central Park, you will find The LOEB Boathouse, complete with romantic rowboats creating an extraordinary oasis right in the middle of the city. This is a historical landmark. Perched right on the water, the open air restaurant is a one-of-the-kind Manhattan venue right on the lake. Undeniably a haven for both romantics and nature lovers.
The restaurant has a relatively small menu with eight appetisers and nine entrees. So we opted for the jumbo lump crab cakes with cucumber, tomato, onion salad caper remoulade sauce and the yellow fin tuna sashimi with a jalapeno wasabi vinaigrette, green apples, pickle radishes and tobiko caviar. The crab cakes were undeniably the best we had in New York. That said the dullness of the plate and poor presentation left me a tad unfulfilled. I did, however, find the yellow fin tuna sashimi with the tobiko caviar absolutely blissful.
Tobiko is commonly known as the "poor man's caviar," – the roe of the flying fish, or Tobiuo as the Japanese call it. An unbelievable fish that can sail in mid-air over water for the distance of a football field or even further. Tobiko, the roe, derives from “tobi”, which means “airborne” in Japanese. This was my first encounter with tobiko caviar and I would regard it as a true Japanese delicacy!
For mains, we opted for the Boathouse Maine lobster roll with shaved vegetable slaw, spring greens and mustard dressing, and the Twin Boathouse burgers with hand cut fries, pickles and condiments. Both of these dishes left me wondering whether the chef grasped the fact that the presentation of food is all part of the show that is called cooking. From past extravaganzas such as live birds that fly from a pie, to modern day garnishes with unexpected twists, food presentation is an art form. Proper presentation is a prerequisite, and as with everything, it must appeal to all of your senses - people eat food with their eyes first, then their nose and then their mouth. Both of the main courses were somewhat substandard and in my opinion the restaurant should focus more on the quality of their food and presentation.
We decided upon a bottle of Provenance Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from the Napa Valley. The word 'Provenance' originated from French, and means "origin," or "source." Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, the estate’s only white wine, made its debut with their 2003 vintage.
The 2012 we enjoyed had a rich bouquet offering vibrant lemon-lime, floral and papaya nectar aromas. The hints of lemongrass, gooseberry and minerals, the signature of this grape varietal, add to the complexity of it. The flavour echoes the aromas, bright tropical fruit, tangerine and nectarine notes dance across the silky palate and then culminate in a pungent finish with a lasting hint of minerality and oak spice. This wine is beautifully balanced and its fresh, lively acidity makes for an excellent pairing with appetisers, salads and seafood.
All the additional attractions The LOEB Boathouse has to offer could unfortunately not satisfy my palate or my food curiosity. All-in-all a tad disappointing, but still well worth the trip if you are in the area. Maybe just stick with an appetiser and the romantic rowboat!
So, there you have it. Three of bucket-list lunch time restaurants that must without a doubt be relished during your next trip to the Big Apple!