Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Start Spreading the News - NYC Food Finds

New Discoveries and Old Friends (locations at bottom of page):
A Salt & Battery
Doughnut Plant
Rosa Mexicano
The Boathouse, Central Park

There are so many reasons to love New York. The theater. The shopping. The David Blaine stunts (well, maybe that's a reason not to love New York, along with the Yankees). But the food...my God. So many choices. One block has more restaurants than most towns. And they certainly run the gamut, from Chinese to Indian, upscale to pub-style, bagels and pizza. You name it. They have it. And we ate lots of it. Which is why I walked all the way from the Upper East Side to Soho one of the days I was there. It's the best way to see the city anyway. That's how you stumble upon those cool, out-of-the-way places.

Where to begin. Well I guess A Salt and Battery is a great place to start. My boyfriend is originally from New Zealand and has been on a 14-year quest to find authentic Fish & Chips here in the U.S. Well, this weekend he reached the end of his journey at a "Chipper" (pronounced "Chippah," nickname for a fish & chips joint) on the west side of Manhattan. A Salt & Battery is run by English expats who also own an English café and specialty store in New York called Tea and Sympathy. So this place is the real deal. The menu is short, sweet and all deep fried — fish & chips, giant battered "bangers" (tastes like breakfast sausage but looks like the street sausages you buy at Fenway Park), Mars bars (yes, the candy bar), pineapple, you get the idea.

We ordered fish and chips with two different kinds of fish - cod (the classic) and halibut. When we got our chips I realized why they have that name. I never really thought about it until then. You see, English "chips" are all different sizes, many of which are little crunchy chip-like pieces that you quickly find yourself hunting for amidst the chunkier sizes. We also ordered a banger. I have to say one bite was more than enough. It was good but man, it had evil written all over it. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

I couldn't wait to see what the expert thought. Would this fish and chips live up to Kemal's expectations? He had been let down so many times before. I figured if this didn't cut it, his only alternative at this point would be to hop place to England or New Zealand to satisfy his craving. Luckily, after the first bite of fish, it was clear that he was a very happy man. The batter was just the right consistency and the chips were both soft and crunchy depending on which chip you grabbed. Whew. What a relief.

I tried to get the guys who work there to cough up what makes English fish and chips so darned tasty. They sort of blew me off but I did discover that they use vegetable oil and it's probably different than the vegetable oil we use here. Also, often french fries here are fried in peanut oil so that changes the flavor too obviously. I don't know what the secret is but it was really good. I'm almost thankful that they're the only place this side of the pond that makes them that good. Could be dangerous.

Although Kemal had extolled the virtues of the deep-fried pineapple, neither one of us could go there at that point. Besides, we had another evil item on the agenda for later in the day...

Doughnut Plant

I've been hearing about the Doughnut Plant for the last few years. Owner Mark Israel started the business out of his apartment using his grandfather's donut recipe. Now he has a very successful shop in New York, supplies many upscale stores like Balducci's and Dean and Deluca and also has 7 shops in Japan! I love entrepreneurial stories like that. Based on that success, I figure the doughnuts must be pretty delicious.

The facade of Doughnut Plant is sort of industrial looking and the neighborhood is a little gritty which I kind of like. It's a nice departure from the sometimes overly-polished neighborhoods like Soho. A glass front to the shop lets you instantly see the array of freshly made doughnuts, which is enough to suck anyone in who happens to be passing by. A very friendly, gregarious gentleman originally from Sri Lanka was working the counter. We asked his advice on what to order and he said, "One of everything." Yikes. That wasn't going to happen. After further prodding, he suggested the coconut and almond doughnuts. We ordered one of each. Both doughnuts were square which I didn't quite get until I realized the point - to have more room for filling! The coconut doughnut was incredible. Coconut flakes on the outside, coconut cream on the inside. Wow. I love all things coconut anyway but this was something extraordinary. The almond doughnut was excellent as well. The ingredients they use are clearly the best quality. They also have some unusual flavors like Valrhona Chocolate, Pistachio and Ginger and change them up based on the season which is unusual. These doughnuts are definitely a step above any others I've tried. I can see why they're so popular. By the way, the tasty looking beverage in the doughnut photo above is called Agua de Jamaica. They made it especially for Cinco de Mayo. It's made with Jamaican flowers, sugar cane and spring water. Very refreshing and so pretty to look at.

Since it was Cinco de Mayo we felt the need to join in the festivities somewhere. We had just taken a gander at David Blaine bobbing around in the fish bowl and spotted Rosa Mexicano right across the street. Bingo. It was still early enough to beat the after-work crowd so we headed inside. Apparently a lot of people knocked off early for a bowl of freshly made guacamole and some margaritas because the bar was packed. We noticed that everyone was drinking this red drink so of course we had to have one. Turned out to be a Pomegrante Margarita. HIGHLY recommend trying these. While we didn't eat there that night, I have eaten there several times in the past. The food is amazing.

So we pretty much overdid it that day which I guess is an understatement. But hey, we were in New York.

The next morning we decided to do something really touristy. Have breakfast at The Boathouse Café in Central Park. The weather was so beautiful we wanted to sit outside and a lot of the outdoor cafés in New York are just too close to traffic and noise. The Boathouse is gorgeous. What a spot. Right in Central Park overlooking a pond where people can rent row boats. It's a nice escape from the city that never sleeps. The food is actually nothing to write home about and there are tons of tourists there (a large table of visiting birdwatchers were next to us) but we didn't really care. Just sitting there and looking out at the water and the blossoming spring flowers was more than enough to make us happy.

Where to go on Saturday night... I had of course done a lot of research and had some options in mind but I decided to go somewhere I had been before because I had such a fond memory of the place. Tabla. It was even better than I remembered. Tabla is a very cool place without being super trendy or obnoxious. The cuisine is classified as New Indian. They combine classic Indian spices with western flavors. The upstairs is more formal and the downstairs area is called the "Bread Bar" and offers many small plates, sort of like Indian tapas. I prefer the downstairs and you get seated quicker there anyway. Everyone from the hostess to the bartenders to the wait staff were very friendly and totally on top of their game. The second I started thinking I needed something, someone would appear and take care of us. They made you feel that they were happy you had picked their restaurant for dinner which is the way you'd think all restaurants would be but as we all know, that is just not the case.

The highlight of the meal were the Goan Braised Brisket, something we made ourselves order because it sounded different than anything else we had tried at an Indian restaurant. It was absolutely delicious. Slow cooked with whiskey and sweet spices. Also tasty was the Asparagus Caldin which was prepared with coconut milk. Very unusual. You can also choose from a variety of chutneys and sauces for dipping some of the small plate items. We liked the Tamarind Dhutney the best. We dipped our chickpea-battered fish in it. Fantastic.

The menu at Tabla's Bread Bar is also very affordable for New York. The small plates are all in about the $8.00 range. An excellent value. I highly recommend trying this place next time you visit this fine city.

Where to Find Them:
A Salt & Battery
112 Greenwich Street, between 13th & Jane (West Village)

Donut Plant
379 Grand Street (between Essex and Norfolk Street), Lower East Side

Rosa Mexicano
Three locations:
First Avenue (been there-cozier than Lincoln Center location)
1063 First Avenue at 58th Street
61 Columbus Avenue at 62nd Street (that's where we went - very cool water wall)
9 East 18th Street (bet. 5th Avenue & Broadway)

The Boathouse, Central Park
East 72nd Street at Park Drive North

11 Madison Avenue (at 25th Street)


Blogger Carol said...

oh yeah! definitely checking some of these babies out on my next trip in! those square donuts are callin' my name!

7:07 PM  
Anonymous madeira mama said...

What a lovely weekend. And at last the fish and chips have been found.

5:56 PM  
Blogger mini-me said...

you have to add these places to chompster! especially the fish and chips one. i so have to try that the next time we're in nyc! :)

1:45 PM  

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