Every visit to New York begins in the same rather precise fashion but seems to end, a bit like the US election, somewhat more untidily.
I arrive, although not usually at 4.30 am after a delayed flight from Denver, Colorado, and then total incompetence by the officials supposedly in charge of the taxi rank at Newark airport, with a list of restaurants that I want to eat at, plus a few reservations. I leave after five or six nights, having eaten and drunk extremely well, but on each occasion I depart with a longer list of restaurants to try than the one I arrived with.
Certain places are a must. Breakfast at Maialino, a dish of cacio e pepe, softly scrambled eggs with pecorino and black pepper for me, a carmellato, renamed Toffee Glazed Brioche Bun for Jancis, plus a couple of lattes proved an excellent start to almost every day.
As good was a simple lunch at North End Grill, eggs mayonnaise and a bowl of leek and potato soup on a day when the wind was whistling around North End Avenue. We revisited the tavern part of Gramercy Tavern for a reassuringly good dinner and tasted two of the many unusual wines on the list there: Barranco Oscuro, El Pino Rojo 2011, a potent but well-balanced, sulphur-free Pinot Noir from a little Andalucian vineyard at nearly 1,400 m (4,590 ft) elevation ($78) and an Arbëri Kallmet 2103 from Albania ($45). Dinner for a bigger party at Marta matched very typical Italian food with Brunellos from Talenti and Fuligni (2009 and 2010 respectively) as well as a Bovio's 2010 Gattera Barolo.
Aside from two dinners that I will write about in the Financial Times, at Lilia in Williamsberg and the very French Le Coucou downtown, I also selflessly tried several other places. What follows is a round up, a list that will, I hope, be useful for anyone going to New York over the holiday period.
This is Claus Meyer's version of the Nordic Kitchen in Grand Central Station. It is ambitious. A series of units serve various types of Scandinavian food, including soups, salads, savoury porridge, coffee, flatbreads and smørrebrød (stuffed open sandwiches), coffee and much more. Towards the far end there is a more formal dining area and just in front is a series of high tables and chairs with waiter service and a menu from which you can order dishes from all these sections plus a lot more.
I ordered some small plates: beef with bone marrow (although there was too little of the latter for me); the dish shown here based on potato, smoked egg and house-made ymer, a Danish soured milk product; and a tart of sea buckthorn. With a glass of Brooks Pinot Noir 2014 from Oregon my bill came to US$42.69. It was good but I could not help noticing that neither the layout nor the management were either as clear or as demonstrative as I would have expected. This is yet another example of an awkward space that has, in my opinion, spent too long in conception but where not enough time has been given to its execution.
This place will bring a smile to the face of anyone who walks through its front door as it did to mine as I stepped out of the torrential rain from West Broadway.
Sadelle's is the latest opening from the Major Food Group, chefs Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and their business partner Jeff Zalaznick, whose first restaurant Torrisi Italian Specialities I reviewed back in 2010 and who will take over the Four Seasons Restaurant in 2017. This restaurant is their homage to a Jewish delicatessen, the art of the bagel, the craft of the smoked salmon slicer - and plenty more.
The long, deep room begins with a takeaway section, then evolves into tables and chairs while at the back a boxed-in glass booth encloses the staff that do all the hard work, rolling out the dough, forming and shaping the bagels (keeping the holes, for which, as my late father used to joke every Sunday morning, the shop would hand over sixpence for every one returned) and then baking them.
The service too is extremely stylish as a ponytailed waiter served us a raft of food: whitefish salad; a plate of sablefish; plates of their home-cured smoked salmon and Scottish salmon, for comparison of course, served with onions, cucumber, tomatoes and capers; a dish described as a 'Classic Egg Sandwich', stuffed with eggs, bacon and Munster cheese; a bowl of chicken soup with the largest matzo ball I have ever seen; and some very tasty cheese blintzes. In the evening, candles replace the electric lights and the menu focuses on more complicated fish and meat dishes.
But the star of the show is the smartly dressed, young, salmon slicer who stands behind the counter by the front door. He slices the salmon effortlessly and with a perpetual smile.
This new Indian restaurant that occupies a prominent corner site on Spring Street was quite a gamble for its chef Floyd Cardoz. Because of its layout and open aspect, the site was far more expensive than the other one he was considering, he told me, while a neighbour said that it had really only previously worked successfully for drinking rather than for eating - a big difference in this city. But New Yorkers now seem ready for Cardoz's authentic southern Indian cooking.
Certainly that was my view as we walked into a packed restaurant at about 9.20 on a Monday evening full of Barolo after our very successful New York Barolo Night at Tribeca Grill, a few blocks away. The first preconception that I was disabused of was implied by the name, a corruption of Portuguese and Hindi, which originates in the Goan region where Cardoz grew up. It translates as the man who makes bread and then goes round selling it, making his presence known by honking his horn. This had led me to expect something along the lines of Dishoom, the highly successful London-based Indian restaurant.
But Paowalla is more formal than Dishoom and open only for dinner, and brunch at the weekend. I was impressed by the scrambled eggs patia with ginger and coriander; the rice flaked halibut with a watermelon curry; any way Cardoz cooks skate, here served off the bone; and grilled pineapple with vanilla bean black syrup. And, as one would expect from the name, the breads are particularly impressive.
Opened a year ago on E 20th Street by Antoine Westermann, the experienced French chef from Alsace, together with Francis Staub, described in the bottom right hand corner of the menu as a friend and partner but perhaps better known for his range of cookware, this restaurant also has a second name: it is subtitled 'the bistro of beautiful birds'.
This derives from the fact that its main courses are principally poultry: four types of chicken from four different farms, guinea fowl and duck as well as a Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian recipe that incorporates one of these chicken cooked with artichokes, potatoes and tomatoes in a Riesling jus in an earthenware dish.
Eggs play a significant role in the first courses, including an excellent oeufs en meurette. Chicken giblets are important as are egg whites in a first-class rendition of îles flottantes as dessert. This is all evidence that, as is the habit of such a well-trained and experienced chef, nothing must be allowed to go to waste.
And while all this is delivered to the highest professional standards, by chefs who wear extremely clean whites and toques, at the end of our meal there were three significant concerns.
The first goes to the heart of the menu. This is good comfort food, but of a kind that can easily be cooked at home - and even in New York where eating out is the norm, restaurant customers may not want roast chicken more than once a month. The second is the price, at around $100 for a chicken – even for four to share plus a doggy bag – this works out quite expensive (my bill for three came to $280). Finally, there is the restaurant's layout – a U shape with the hole accommodating a staircase to other premises – which leaves the back eating area windowless and rather cold.