This time of year, conversations at Chow Bella meetings tend to turn to who's eaten what -- where. With the summer travel season in full swing, we bring you Food Tours, our writers' suggestions of what to eat and drink out of town.
We will freely admit that we get so weak-kneed at the sight of the Empire State Building that our typical picky-eater status goes out the cab window as soon as we arrive in New York City and we're content -- for the most part -- with a stale pretzel on the street. But on a recent visit, we found a lot to write home about, and even without venturing to Brooklyn. (Next time, Roberta's.)
Slice of Cheese Pizza at Joe's After a New York bagel or perhaps Buddy the Elf's best cup of coffee, a slice of cheese is the most basic NYC staple, and a must-eat. On Carmine Street in the West Village, Joe's is as basic as it gets -- tiny storefront, long line, loud help, great (big, Sicilian, greasy) slice that dwarfs its standard-issue white paper plate.
Sizzling Cumin Lamb Breast at Mission Chinese Food Speaking of lines, the lines really do get unreasonable at this trendy little Chinese spot on the Lower East Side; we got there five minutes after the restaurant opened and had to wait 45 minutes. It was worth it for the sizzling cumin lamb breast alone. Served with watercress, charred dates, and chili-pickled long beans, we were sorry we'd agreed to share this dish family-style.
Onion Tart at Balthazar Ah, Balthazar. Make a reservation well in advance and hope that your celebrity sighting is of someone more exciting than David Spade. This Soho French bistro is well-known for its oyster bar, but from the basket of pastries to the profiteroles, it's a decadent bruncher's dream. Don't skip the onion tart. Our server promised that even people who hate goat cheese love this one -- and she was right. A favorite moment of our trip was asking Balthazar's manager if he'd tried a cronut yet. (Dominique Ansel, the bakery making them infamous, is a block and a half away.) "What's a cronut?" he asked, in all sincerity. Classic.
Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam Filled Doughnut at Doughnut Plant A food-centric friend promised this would be the "best thing you've ever put in your mouth" and she was damn close. Doughnut Plant is a current cult favorite, with flavors like matcha and coconut lime and locations on both the east and west sides of town. We fell hard for the peanut butter and strawberry jam.
Brisket Buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar Another trendy spot in the East Village, you'd best arrive at the door here a few minutes before it opens. You'll be rewarded with a seat at the bar, overlooking the grill. The pork buns were, as promised, delicious, and so were the spicy (and sticky) rice sticks. In fact, the only thing we'd skip next time is the pancake cake truffles. (Because, yes, in New York, they are now leaving the sticks out of the cake pops and calling them truffles. Still gross.) But our favorite must-eat item on the menu was the brisket buns, which we were lucky enough to find offered on the day of our visit. Next time we're bringing a crowd and ordering the fried chicken.
Gold-Flecked Cotton Candy at Curious Candy Stop the presses: Whimsical designer Cynthia Rowley has opened a candy store. Two, in fact, one in the West Village and the other on the Upper East Side. We were in glittered hog heaven with the Wonderland-inspired theme, including candy by the pound and, yes, gold-flecked cotton candy.
Potato Knish at Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery Oy vey, this place sells knishes almost the size of your head! A perfect specimen, the potato knish even held up for several hours before it could be delivered into our greedy little hands -- and made a damn good breakfast the next day.
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Pineapple & Ginger Margarita at the Jade Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel No, there's no salt rim and yes, it's served in a martini glass. Get over yourself. You're not in Phoenix. And there's plenty of tequila going on here, which is all that really matters. Also a killer setting, in the lobby bar of a hotel that -- for once -- deserves to call itself "boutique."
Espresso Martini at the Old King Cole bar at the St. Regis A gorgeous Maxfield Parrish mural graces the wall behind the bar at the St. Regis' drinking hole -- which is hardly a hole except for the one in your pocket after you buy a cocktail. At least they serve bar snacks. We chose the espresso martini -- a shot of caffeine to go along with the booze. Perfect for gearing up for more city walking.
Dulce de Leche Churro at La Churreria We'd love to show you the giant golden confection of a churro we scored at La Churreria in SoHo, oozing with caramel sauce, but to be honest, we ate it before we had a chance to take a picture. You'll just have to go get yourself one.