Saturday, January 19, 2008

NYC Food Adventures

Here are some of my recent Yelp reviews for a few restaurants I went to on my recent trip to New York!

Balthazar Restaurant & Bakery
80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012

(212) 965-1414

Neighborhood: Manhattan/SoHo

It was my first trip to SoHo, and my friend and I were walking very quickly, in the cold, towards the subway station to catch the 6 train uptown. We were thinking about going back to Les Halles, but instead I caught a glimpse of a familiar red awning. How could it be familiar? It was the same bright red color with simple lettering that spelled out a name I know well - Balthazar. I only knew Balthazar through the famous cookbook, and I was excited to find that we could get a table in this bustling, crowded restaurant - and it was a Wednesday night, mind you. The giant mirrors on the walls combined with a votive candle on every table filled the restaurant with a warm glow. We were seated at the tables for two - small cafe tables that are very very close together, lined up against a banquette - a common feature of NYC restaurants.

My friend and I decided to share a cheeseburger and fries and the pork belly. As we waited for our food, a waiter brought out an enormous tower of seafood on ice to the couple seated next to us. The woman commented that it was an "embarrassing" display, and her companion turned to us and offered us some. (He was dead serious.) My friend and I laughed and politely declined, but chatted with the couple while the server brought us the half bottle of wine we ordered (note: Balthazar only carries French wines), which was really delicious and medium bodied.

Our food came, the cheeseburger (cooked medium) accompanied by a giant pile of some really good fries (though Brasserie Les Halles is a bit better), the pork belly (the top part a glistening deep brown, was so succulent and moist that it really did not require a knife to eat) was set atop a bed of these incredible mustard lentils. I could have had an extra order of these lentils. We shared our fries with the couple next to us, and they shared some really fresh oysters.

The entire meal was perfect, even without dessert. The service was impeccable - servers should be like the stagehands during a play - you barely notice them, but they make everything run smoothly. Balthazar was a show for which I'd definitely request an encore presentation.

Caracas Arepa Bar
91 E. 7th Street
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-5062

Neighborhood: Manhattan/East Village

Holy Guacasaca (that would be the name of the Venezuelan style guacamole they serve here) - this place is awesome.

For those of you who have never had an arepa, you MUST try it. Little corn pouches stuffed with deliciousness...I had the Los Muchachos, perfect for those who like the SAH-PYE-CEE - grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese, jalapenos, and grilled red peppers, and the La Surena, a chicken-chorizo-avocado orgasm in your mouth topped with chimichurri sauce.

It's cheap too - $7 or less per arepa. I also had some of the Yoyos - fried balls of sweet bread with plantains and cheese inside. It reminds me of a breakfast food - perhaps like stuffed French toast?

At any rate, thank you to AJ who recommended this place to me before my visit to New York...and buen provecho, y'all!

Brasserie Les Halles

411 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016
(212) 679-4111

Category: French

J'adore Anthony Bourdain.

J'adore le steak.

J'adore les pommes frites.

J'adore le vin.

Par consequent, j'adore Brasserie Les Halles.

How fortunate that my icky hotel was located literally a block and a half away from Brasserie Les Halles, the famed eatery that celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain put on the map. I was looking forward to having dinner here ever since I found out I was going to NYC for business.

The reviews are true - the fries are absolutely delicious and crispy, probably some of the best fries I've ever had. I ordered the "Fitness Plate", a 6 oz. serving of steak served with various grilled vegetables, sauteed haricots verts, and a small serving of fries (enough to satisfy your pommes frites craving without making you feel incredibly guilty). I also had a bit of the wonderful French bread and butter that they give you with your dinner - the butter they serve with it is nice and softened, always a plus.

I would love to come back and try several other things on their menu - they have a classic cassoulet and confit de canard that sounded really good (two of my favorite French dishes). They also have a pretty extensive wine list, including champagnes and dessert wines.

Les Halles is also open at 7:30am-midnight, daily, so you can go and have breakfast (either 'petit dejeuner' - Parisian style, or New Yorker style - a heartier breakfast) or lunch or a late dinner - they have nonstop service, seven days a week. The restaurant is spacious, and at night, very dimly lit with candles at each table. I like the vintage French posters they have on the walls, and the checkered floor - great ambiance, and probably a really nice place for a date.

I think I will try to make it to Les Halles on every future trip to NYC (yes, it's THAT good).