Since my return from New York a fortnight ago friends, family members and colleagues have all asked me what fun-filled activities I participated in while I was there. While I’ve been trying desperately to appear cultured by telling them how I wandered around the Guggenheim, MoMA and most of Manhattan, the fact is that the main activity I indulged in during my time in New York was eating. I ate everything I could get my hands on. Indeed, I gobbled down snacks like a mega-breasted Pac-Man – only stopping for the occasional pint or to plan where Mr. McMc and I going for dinner. There’s a part of me which feels as though I should be slightly ashamed of my gluttonous impulses, but I was in one of the world’s culinary capitals, it was my birthday, and hey – it would have been rude not to.
The day after my rather epic birthday meal at Momofuku Noodle Bar, we decided to pay a visit to Momofuku Milk Bar in Midtown for a slice of lunchtime Crack Pie. We were served our food by possibly the cutest Barista I’ve ever seen in my life, and we giggled about the sheer awfulness of having to wake up for work at 7am on cold Winter’s days as she served me my food. It was love at first sight, so much so that I didn’t even mind when she forgot to hand me half of my order.
As for the Crack Pie? Well, believe the hype. It might not look like much, but this stuff is fully deserving of its reputation of being culinary crack. Tasting of toast, butterscotch and everything that’s right with the world, it’s a perfect symphony of sugar and butter wrapped up in a sweet pastry case. Its creator, Christina Tosi (one of my baking heroes) says that this is the kind of dessert that should be eaten “with your favourite someone” which is exactly what I did. Mr. McMc and I shared a slice in Central Park while watching schoolchildren chase squirrels and washed it down with some of Momofuku Milk Bar’s signature Cereal Milk (which tastes like a Crunchy Nut milkshake). Romance, a scenic view and tasty pastry products. What girl could ask for more?
Another great sweet treat I tried were cookies from Beurre and Sel, a cookie emporium situated in the amazing Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. If you read Serious Eats, you’ll probably have heard of Beurre and Sel, it being the store set up by legendary baker Dorie Greenspan and her son. I’m a huge fan of Dorie’s recipes – she specialises in simple, delicious food that can be made from practically anything – so I knew these were going to be good. We bought two cookies – a World Peace Cookie and a Vanilla Sablé. When a cookie describes itself as being so delicious that it could ensure World Peace and Happiness you know you’re in for something good, and it didn’t disappoint. Rich and packed full of chocolate, it was firm and crumbly to the bite, a small piece of deliciousness. However, both Mr. McMc and I preferred the Vanilla Sablé – a sandy shortbread which was exquisite in its simplicity. It tasted of butter, sugar and vanilla and was the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. It is a cookie that I can see myself attempting to replicate in my own kitchen very soon.
I was determined to visit Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side during my time in New York. This legendary deli serves up some of the best bagels, lox (a salted smoked salmon) and ridiculously rich cream cheese you could ever wish to consume. We bought some for a lazy Sunday breakfast and ate them in bed while listening to the football scores on BBC World Service. I also noticed that they served two iconic New York baked products – Chocolate Babka and Black & White cookies. Being a bit of a Seinfeld fan, couldn’t help thinking of the episode where Jerry and Elaine visit a bakery to pick up some cake for a dinner party (Elaine tries – and fails – to buy two different flavours of Babka, and Jerry gets sick after eating a dodgy cookie.) Thankfully for us, when we ate them, we had a significantly better experience than the protagonists of Seinfeld. The Black & White Cookie didn’t exactly like “racial harmony in cookie form,” but it was thick, fluffy and cake-like and covered in sweet frosting. The Chocolate Babka was undeniably the better of the two though – a gorgeous, squidgy slab of yeasted dough enrobed with dark chocolate goo that unraveled into delicious flaky ribbons when cut into slices.
Believe it or not, I did manage to eat some snacks which weren’t comprised of butter and sugar during my time in New York. After wandering around the Lincoln Centre on the Upper West Side, we decided to pop into Épicerie Boulud for a sandwich. Although my Banh Mi was more expensive than it really needed to be (and I found myself paying $8 (!!) for a pint of lager) it was definitely delicious – a thick slab of liver pate wrapped around lovely thin slices of pork and garnished with pickled carrot and radish. Although the baguette wasn’t made from rice flour in the traditional manner, it was still satisfyingly crackly without scraping the roof of my mouth off.
One of the best things I ate in New York, however, was also one of the simplest. It was a Knish, bought from a friendly street vendor near Central Park. A Knish is a little dough pocket which is filled with potatoes, onions and meat and deep fried. I was given a quick education on how to eat mine by a cop who was taking a break from directing traffic by eating numerous hot dogs in quick succession. You should cover your Knish with onions, mustard and tomato sauce, and eat it in the fresh air while drinking in the noises of the city bustling around you. It may not have looked like much, but my Knish was a warm slab of carb-filled comfort; a perfect example of New York street food at its finest.
Not everything I ate in New York was amazing, mind you. I had a terrible meal at a restaurant called Macondo which featured frozen empanadas, over attentive staff and being short-changed by $10. And the less said about Pabst Blue Ribbon, the better (seriously hipsters, why do you drink this stuff? It tastes like barely malted water). But I liked the fact that you didn’t have to spend lots of money to eat like royalty. And for me, that’s what a holiday should be all about.