The Big Apple.

New York City, in my estimation, is the greatest city on the planet. Aside from the abundance of character and cultural offerings, the quality, creativity, and selection of cuisine in this city is surpassed by none. When I first sat down to plan out where I was going to ideally eat on this trip, it became clear to me that my eyes were bigger than my wallet. After a little prioritizing, I think I came up with a pretty satisfying itinerary. And now that the trip has come and gone, I have to say that it was as near to perfect as it could have been.

My culinary odyssey started off Friday morning when Shane, the hostess with the mostest, and I met up with two of the smartest woman in my life, Amelia and Sarah A. at what was described to me as a “spice restaurant”. I wasn’t totally clear on what that meant, so when I arrived at Kalustyan’s I was elated. A speciality food shop downstairs that offered every kind of spice and bitters imaginable and a delicious, and hectic Mediterranean hot-bar upstairs. I have no idea what I ate, but I know there was a lot of it and there were a variety of different beans involved. After we ate, we investigated the selection downstairs and sadly Sarah had to part ways. Amelia had plans as well, but not before we went and grabbed some Stumptown Coffee at the Ace Hotel.

After a day of arting and gossiping with Shane, I met up with the lovely Ms. Sarah Prange, and per her suggestion, we grabbed a pre-concert dinner at Recipe on the Upper West Side. Fortunately, this place takes reservations so we had a table waiting for us. Recipe pretty much embodies everything a visiting Midwesterner could ask for. It’s a small shaft-way space, only four tables, but not at all cramped. The decor was organic and quite warm. Candle light, beautiful wood, and exposed brick.

The menu is simply well done comfort food. I ordered a deliciously rich mac & cheese (I am from Wisco, after all). Melted New York cheddar with bits of bacon and herbs baked in a cast-iron crock, I mean, come on. Not adventurous in the least, but it was chilly outside and this dish was exactly what I didn’t know I had in mind. The real star of the show, however, was the dessert.  A cast-iron fired banana tarte tatin, served with vanilla gelato that was too good to be true. The bananas, despite being caramelized, maintained a firm texture on a bed of puff pastry. This dish was warm and sweet, in a very subtle way. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

The next evening after a day of roaming around Manhattan, which included a stop at the wonderful Essex Street Market as well as taking in an incredible photography exhibit, I made my way back to BK and met up with Shane. We made our way North into Greenpoint and found an hour-plus wait at Five Leaves, a gastropub-esque that I had been really stoked to try. The entire outdoor seating was open, however, which came as no surprise due to the the thermometer reading approximately 65°. Shane and I, being the native Midwesterns that we are, decided to suck it up and have a lovely dinner lit (and warmed) by candlelight.

We started with the house made ricotta served with honey comb, figs, fresh thyme, sea salt, and fruit nut bread. Perfect. Ricotta is a hard thing to fuck up, but it’s also a hard thing to present in any sort of unique way and  Five Leaves succeeded brilliantly. Shane commented on how this isn’t something he would have ordered on his own but was blown away by.

For my main course I ordered a hand-cut tagliatelle with Maitake mushroom cream, grilled leeks, and Podda Classico, and it was so delicious. SO SO SO delicious. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the cream sauce was rich with the cheese, mushrooms, and leeks adding layers of flavor. Simple, but wonderful.

We wrapped things up with a rosewater pavlova served with whipped cream, a passion fruit curd, and kiwi fruit. This thing melted in my mouth. The firm creaminess of the pavlova, the fragrant notes of the rosewater, the sweet fruitiness of the curd, cut with the whipped cream was genius. I would happily never eat another dessert again after this.

This place was wonderful! The food and drinks were thoughtful, inventive, and well executed. The price point was completely reasonable and our server was great, albeit totally neurotic (dude could not shut up about the Wisconsin Dells). I hope to get back there soon when I’ll be able to get a table inside and I’ll be able to get back to you on the ambiance. Which I must say from the outside seemed incredible.

After staying out a little later than I am used to Saturday night, I woke up late Sunday morning and Shane’s roommate Lee and I headed to my favorite place in the world, Brooklyn Flea. After cruising around the flea for a while, Lee and I grabbed a sandwich from Porchetta, a lemon-basil soda from Brooklyn Soda Works, and a variety of doughnuts from Dough (chocolate genache, lemon-poppyseed, and blood orange). Perfection!

Later that evening after a wonderful catch-up session with the first friend I ever had, like ever, Jamie Vanderloop, it was up to Bushwick with me where I was meeting the beautiful Krysta and Maureen at Roberta’s for some pizza. I have heard so many good things about Roberta’s from Undergrounders, the internets, and Heritage Radio. Last May when a group of us were in town for my bachelorette party, we stayed at the New York Loft Hostel literally around the block from Roberta’s and I relished being able to spend more time in that disgustingly beautiful neighborhood.

Bushwick is dirty, and rough, and wonderful and Roberta’s fits right in. It’s housed in a small cinder block building, covered in graffiti and rust. You walk through the doors and it is as full of character as the outside, with a little more care taken in regards to sanitation. Painted cinder block and wood paneling cover the walls and salvaged communal tables fill the dining room. To the left as you walk in is the open kitchen and take out counter. As you wait for a table to open up, you can grab a drink out in the garden/back patio which is enclosed by high fences and what appears to be the back of a moving truck.

By the time we were done with our drinks our table was ready. We started with an order of bread and butter, which was fresh and as delicious as I had anticipated. I mean, they make pizza, clearly the bread is going to be amazing. I ordered a pizza called the “Banana Hammock” which consisted of a rich bechamel, mozzarella, pork sausage, pepperocini, garlic, red onion, and cilantro. It was the best pizza I have ever had. A nice thin wood fired crust and noticeably fresh toppings. Yeah, I’m totally sold on this place and have every intention on going back when it is nicer out, to be able to spend more time out back.

Monday morning, my last morning to enjoy this glorious city for a while. I hoped on the train and headed across the river to meet  Amelia. She took me on a short walk through the lower East side on our way to the famous Katz Delicatessen. A large, bright room flanked by a huge counter on one side and nearly floor to ceiling framed photos of famous faces who’ve eaten there on the other. Hilariously enough, there is a large sign hanging in the middle of room with an arrow pointed down that says, “Where Harry met Sally”. Which I secretly (not so secretly) loved. Amelia and I ordered a pastrami on rye to share and words fail me when I try to explain how moist and flavorful this pastrami was. To accompany our sandwich we shared an order of fries and a plate of pickles. We were lucky to nab the table in the back corner, but I can see this place being incredibly overwhelming. But I assure you, it is worth it.

After relaxing in Washington Square Park and taking in a movie at the Film Forum, Monday night was finally here, the culinary finale of my trip, the Underground “Ouisconsin” dinner at Joseph Leonard in the West Village. I walked in and the place was smallish but exquisitely designed. Imagine your grandpa’s boathouse, his artfully curated and delicious smelling boathouse. I took a seat at the bar next my wonderful friend, Emily, and ordered a drink from Hastings, who was manning the bar. I patiently awaited the arrival of my dining partner, a member of one of my favorite families in the universe, Ms. Fran Hays. Emily joined us at a table near the open kitchen and in front of a wonderfully charming open window.  Side note: Joseph Leonard puts jars of delicious cornichons on each table. Great idea!

Let me just preface this by saying that some of the best food I have eaten in recent memory has been cooked by the Underground Food Collective and this meal blew my mind! The five course meal started out with a dish of pickled brook trout, wild rice crackers, cultured cream, chives, fennel & herb salad. The starter alone took it to another level. Yes, you read correctly, pickled trout! Who thinks of this shit? It was incredible, and the cream cheese and rice crackers added a fascinatingly dynamic touch. Combining many really familiar textures with incredible new tastes.

The second course was my absolute favorite. A venison carpaccio served with miner’s lettuce salad, enokitake, brussel sprouts, sunchokes, and pumpkin seeds. I had never had venison carpaccio before but it was so rich and flavorful. I would say that without a doubt this was the most delicious instance of raw animal I have ever had the pleasure eating. I had also never seen enokitake mushrooms before, but I thought their unusual look really added to the plating of the dish and of course made subtle contributions to the all around flavor.

The third course was a simple salad turned mind-blowing. They took carrot and salsify shavings and added a marmalade vinaigrette, mushrooms, arugula, and strips of maple-glazed bison jerky. I would like to take a moment to recognize the great joy that that bison jerky has brought into my life. Such dynamic flavor in such a small strip of meat.

There were options for the main course and I chose the stuffed rabbit schnitzel with spaetzle, chanterelle mushrooms, and rabbit jus. I found the breading on the rabbit to be a little dry, but the actual meat was anything but. Really moist and flavorful, you could taste that the whole animal had been used.

If the description of the preceding dishes didn’t leave you drooling, how does the sound of a maple marshmallow with puffed wild rice, hazelnuts, and rhubarb jam do it for you? This course was plated so beautifully and was so delicate I just wanted to sit back and look at it for a while. Until of course I realized that it was a maple flavored marshmallow and I needed to put that in my mouth immediately. The maple flavor wasn’t at all subtle, but didn’t have a “flavored” aspect to it either. The maple simply was. The rhubarb jam was unexpected, but added a bright flavor to the mix. Someday I’ll learn how to make marshmallows, but until then I’ll just hope that I have more opportunities to eat ones that Jonny has made.

Not only was this dinner the gastronomical highlight of my trip, but there were elements of catharsis from being able to relax with some of the most interesting people in my life, over incredible food, in a city that I can’t get enough of. The trip as a whole left me feeling incredibly fortunate to have so many truly talented, smart, and all around amazing people in my life.

Shane, Sarah Prange, Amelia, Sarah Alt, Krysta, Maureen, Jamie and Fran: Your hospitality and company were such a gift to me. Thanks friends, can’t wait until next time!

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