Foodcation: New York City, Day 1

25 Jun

Ever heard of a foodcation? What was initially just a Memorial Weekend jaunt up to New York City turned into an epic journey of gastronomy.

We ate. And ate. And ate some more. It was bliss.

Backtrack to a few weeks beforehand: my friends and I started mapping out plans for this trip, to make sure we get the most out of our short time there.  Instead of outings like “going to the top of the Empire State building,” we started writing down plans like “trying the pastrami at Katz’ Deli.” It only escalated from there; eventually about 95% of our plans were food-related (the other 5% being shopping and seeing a Broadway show). Having eaten my way around quite a few parts of NYC, I can say I’ve fallen in love with the city yet again, almost as much as I love DC. And I visited Brooklyn for the first time, despite having been to NYC almost every year since I was 20. It may be Hipster Haven, but Brooklyn definitely has a great vibe and awesome food choices.

I’ll start with our first full day in the city…

DuMont Burger, 314 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn

DuMac n' Cheese

Huge, crunchy onion rings

After hearing that DuMont has the best mac n’ cheese in the city, I insisted we swing by here (I am OBSESSED with macaroni and cheese. Not really sure why. Regression to childhood type issue?).  Of course I ordered the mac n’ cheese, while my friends had burgers and we all shared onion rings. The mac n’ cheese really was excellent – mixed with bacon lardoons and including both cheddar and gruyere, it tastes cheesy but not too strong like cheddar can sometimes taste. I enjoyed the extra flavor from the bacon and really loved how they perfected the “crusty-top, creamy-insides” combination that really makes a good macaroni and cheese. It’s a heavy dish, though. With about a fourth of it left, I had to enlist the help of my buddies to polish it off. We wouldn’t allow the dish to go back with a scrap remaining.

Joe’s Shanghai, 9 Pell St., Chinatown

Pouches of soupy deliciousness

I was so full from DuMont’s mac n’ cheese that I only managed to eat 1 soup dumpling at Joe’s. It’s pretty much one of the few good spots for soup dumplings in New York City (apparently there’s an even better one somewhere out in Queens). The long waits are the biggest complaint folks have about Joe’s, but we went at an odd hour (3ish) and despite being a group of 6, waited only about 20 minutes. We ordered seafood and pork dumplings, which came out piping hot pretty quickly. I’ll admit I’m not as fanatical about soup dumplings as others are, maybe I have yet to eat one that’s really noteworthy. But I do love the salty dipping sauce.

White Star, 21 Essex St., Lower East Side

This is the kind of spot that DC needs. Its quiet and unpretentious atmosphere cloaks the reality behind their artisan cocktails: they’re really damn good. The spot is bordering on speakeasy but it’s really not a secretive bar, just easy-to-miss. Even at 10pm on a Saturday, 5 of us easily found chairs at the bar and striked up conversation with our friendly bartender. I opted for one of their listed cocktails, the Back Up Dancer (yes, I chose it for its name). Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what was in it except for the fresh slice of grapefruit. I barely tasted the liquor, which, as a lightweight, I can appreciate. The drink was tart enough without being sour, and sweet enough without being sugary. My friends asked for the bartender’s choice – he asked each person what their preferences are in terms of liquor and tastes, seemed to look directly into their eyes for a good minute (I think he was reading their minds, seriously), and then turned to make our drinks. I can’t recall what everyone ordered but we were all very impressed with the results. These were the kinds of drinks you’d WANT to nurse, not ones that you’re nursing because you want to avoid taking in any more. They’re not big cocktails, but for $10-$12, they were worth it. One friend had raved about their grasshopper cocktail, so we ordered it. By the time the drink was finished we wanted to lick the glass. Each part, from the creme de menthe to the cream, was combined in perfect ratios. It tasted exactly like a Girl Scout Thin Mint. YUM.

Crif Dogs, 113 St. Marks Place, East Village

Mmm...pork on pork. Yes and yes.

I heard about artisan hot dogs on the Vancouver episode of Anthony Bourdain. Those Japadogs alone make me want to visit that city, so when I heard that NYC has its own, similar joints, I of course made sure that was a stop on the itinerary. Crif Dogs is small, funky space in the East Village that plays sci fi (i.e. Star Wars) on TVs and is connected to a speakeasy (folks were constantly walking into the “phone booth” and then disappearing). Their menu is full of combos I initially cringed at, but the better, more open-minded part of me took over and I plunged in(to my Tsumani). I don’t care how clogged my arteries got from that hot dog alone, it was damn good. The teriyaki provided a bit of sweetness to balance the high salt factor from all the pork, and like a Hawaiian pizza, the pineapple is a surprisingly good combo with said pork. The scallions gave the entire dog a little extra crisp and crunch. Don’t let anyone tell you pork on pork is bad. Just take them here and they’ll shut up.

Artichoke Pizza, 328 E. 14th St., East Village

Margherita pizza. A nice epilogue to the night.

You know you’re on a foodcation when you, despite being dressed in all finery (or at least the cutest strappy dress you could pull from your closet during your last-minute packing), avoid the clubs and lounges and just continue to eat the night away. Yeah. We did that. We had every intention of doing a little dancing and mingling somewhere in the Meatpacking District. But we enjoyed Crif Dogs so much we just wanted to eat more. So we hiked it over to Artichoke and stood in line for one of their infamous pizzas. I knew I couldn’t stomach an artichoke pizza so I opted for a margherita. And it was pretty darn good. I could’ve used more cheese, personally, but I loved the tangy taste of their sauce. Of course, tomato with basil is a powerful duo, and Artichoke works that well with large pieces of basil baked in the pizza to provide that extra, herby pungency.

All of this was just Saturday. Thank God my dress was loose and stretchy that night, because I looked about 7 months pregnant by the time I finished my pizza. But after a good, long sleep at our hotel (Ace Hotel, a very laid-back and funky hotel, which I would definitely recommend when traveling with friends), my gut went away and my friends and I were ready for Sunday’s culinary endeavors. That, I will tell the tales of very soon.

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