Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Summer in New York

I got back to California last week after 3 amazing months in New York interning for a casting company. While there, I was able to hang out with my best friend on an almost daily basis, explore the city with friends from school upon their move out there to do the actor thing, and, obviously, eat amazing food.

Because I have now lived in New York for an entire season, I think it's safe to say: the number of amazing restaurants in New York is incredible. I think there are somewhere around 48,000 restaurants. Hearing that statistic, my jaw dropped while making me really excited to continue exploring New York even more once I'm there for good.

The below restaurants are more of a summary of some of the best restaurants I ate at. These all had some sort of special occasion around it like having friends in town, parents in town, or birthdays. List is short, passion and love for these new finds is anything but.

While my parents were visiting with my sister and doing the college tour thing, we ate at Felidia on Saturday night and Perilla with my best friend in tow on Sunday night. Both were incredible, though I think I slightly favored Perilla.

Felidia, owned by Food Network's own Felidia Bastianich, was a truly gluttonous meal. We ordered 4 of every course (one for each of us) but ate almost everything family style. 4 salads, 4 pasta dishes, 4 desserts later, we were stuffed and waddled our way back to their hotel. We literally couldn't finish everything there was so much food (my family likes to order a lot and try everything, but many of the main courses, particularly the pasta, can be split because it's A LOT). Some of the highlights of the meal included wine from Lidia's own winery in Italy (which is both good and bad since they really do push her wines) and the coffee truffle risotto, a special for the night. The risotto was really interesting, and just confirmed that though I am a foodie, my palate is not quite up to par with the elite food community. I think truffles taste like dirt. Seriously. This risotto was no acception. I think my dad was the only one in the family to like it (it's been two months so my memory isn't as vivid as it could be). Overall, the meal was an adventure somewhere in the same vein as Babbo (just realized Babbo has NOT been addressed in my blog yet...see below) though not quite as out there. Definitely a keeper if you're looking for a nice Italian meal that isn't your typical Little Italy fare.

243 Est 58th Street
New York, NY

Perilla, on the other hand, was so much fun. The items of the menu were some of the most creative I've ever seen and the price tag on everything isn't atrocious. Perilla is probably best described as American fare with inspiration from all over the world. To start off the meal, they have some really great cocktails, but the absolute highlight of the night (I'm skipping straight to main courses) was the farro risotto (uhh...can you tell we like risotto in my family?). Literally, if you gave me a popcorn bucket of this stuff I would be scraping the bottom of the barrel within an hour it was that good. Another great side was the creamed corn...never a bad idea. One of the more quirky items on the menu was popcorn popped in duck fat. The dish my dad got had this on the side, otherwise we would have ordered off the bar menu just to try it. They were good. Interesting, rich and delicious. Dessert was a collection of 5 desserts (BFF was with us, and while she's not a dessert person, if she wants to eat out with our family we make her order dessert...I think she's becoming a dessert advocate finally) the star being the souffle (a special that night) and the raspberry jelly doughnuts. No one in our family is much for doughnuts, but these were fresh...and pretty darn amazing. My mom ate one and went back for a second one, ending her doughnut fast of 20 years they were so good.

9 Jones Street
New York, NY

One of my good friends Blaire popped into New York for a night before heading upstate for summer stock. She knew one of the hostesses at Mexicana Mama Centro just south of Union Square and wanted to say hi so we wound up eating there too. Holy Mother of Mexican Food, this place is INCREDIBLE. After eating there with Blaire, I kept trying to nudge friends to eat there with me again and finally succeeded once my friend from home, Vince, came into town and he and BFF and I went to play catchup. Both times I ordered the Tostada de Ave which is the PERFECT size if you want a good size meal that's not Cheesecake Factory sized. In addition to that, chips, salsa (made fresh there!) and their daily margarita special (Cantaloupe the night Blaire and I went) you will leave more than full. For a really amazing Mexican place, the prices aren't too bad. My tostada is $10 and a burrito runs around $12.75 (not quite Chipotle priced, but WAY better!).

Mexicana Mama Centro
47 East 12th Street
New York, NY

BFF turned 22 my last weekend in town which allowed me to add two great locations (one not so much a restaurant) to my list. For dinner, we went to Via Della Pace on the Lower East Side for some killer Italian with a really laid back staff. When scouting out the place, they had no problem making a reservation for 30, reserving their whole wine celler for the 30 of us, prepping the cakes we bought, and just allowing for a great evening for all in attendance. The bruschetta list is about a page long and while I was trying out the vegetarian thing that week and opted for your standard bruschetta, they had some amazing looking kinds with goat cheese, meats of all sorts, you name it. My main course was pasta and while this wasn't anywhere near as adventurous as Felidia's it was cozy and homey. I got the ravioli di carciofi...raviloli with asparagus and parmesan inside in a sage sauce with sun dried tomatos. What's not to love about all of that? Oh, and if you go, get the red sangria. Epic.

Post dinner we went to a dive bar then do a club, Arlo & Esme which is a bar upstairs and a club downstairs. Cover charge was $5, which is nothing compared to some of the other clubs in Manhattan and this place is so much fun. By the end of the night, the music was a little to loud (my ears were bleeding for like 2 days afterwards) but I wasn't sure if it was sobriety rapidly arriving, fatigue setting in, or the DJ being a jerk. Regardless, it was a blast. If you want a really great show at the end of the night, make sure you're one of the first people out of the club when they kick everyone out and watch all the sloshed girls in 4" heels panic as they realize they have to descend 2 steps to get to the sidewalk once they're out the door. This is me being totally candid right now, but a guilty pleasure of mine is observing the trashed of the trashed.

Via Della Pace
48 East 7th Street
New York, NY

Arlo & Esme
42 East 1st Street
New York, NY

Right, so back to food...

CUPCAKES! I am so into this cupcake thing (really great blog entry about cupcakes and why cupcake bakeries are so amazing here). I've had them all: Crumbs, Sprinkles, you name it. But Pinisi's cupcakes top everything. Hands down. We're talking red velvet to die for, almond cake with chocolate ganache, and my FAVORITE: lavender with cream cheese frosting. Can we pause for a minute while I drool at the thought of one? My friend Jeremy was with my when BFF took my Pinisi virginity and had brilliant idea: twist off the bottom of the cupcake and put it on top of the frosting. Cupcake sandwich! Brilliant! Much less messy. :)

128 East 4th Street
New York, NY

I seriously cannot believe I haven't brought up Babbo yet. It's right off of Washington Square, and my family has eaten there twice now. Once with a good friend's family upon moving her into college and once with just the family. This is one of Mario Batali's restaurants and it provides some very, very adventurous Italian food. We're talking lamb's brain in your pasta, beef cheeks, and beef tongue, but there are absolutely more normal sounding dishes here. If you want to eat at Babbo, you have to call one month ahead of time by the date otherwise, I wish you the best of luck in getting in when you want. Seriously, call when they open or you won't get a table. This restaurant is on the pricier end of things, but if it's a night to celebrate all things Italian and creative, drink wine, and leave with food baby twins definitely put this on your list. The Mint Love Letters and the Sweet Potato Luna raviolis are my absolute favorite. My family actually bought the cookbook and made these last winter break because we missed them so much. Order a handful of dishes to share because they're so rich. That makes it more fun to taste thing anyways. :) They also have this side that is grilled corn or something. Get that too. You'll want a whole plate to yourself. But be nice and share.

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY

And while we're on the Batali note: Po, another restaurant of his in the West Village, is great too and much more afordable. This is much less adventurous than Babbo, but much easier to get a reservation.

31 Cornelia Street
New York, NY

Now for three bars. One more club, one wine bar, and one classy dive bar if you can even call it a dive. No, it's not a dive. It's just amazing.

Happy Endings was the location of a birthday party for a friend of mine. It's way down on the Lower East Side and when we got there, the awning said Xie He Health Club and we all went, "Uhh...where are we GOING? A health club with bouncers? This is bizarre." It was great fun though and incredible use of space. They took an old health club and made it into a bar/club/lounge. We had a private area for the birthday party and it was in an old steam room. No joke. So much fun. The DJs were great and the bartenders were super nice. I'm personally not one for crazy clubs (Note: Arlo and Esme was nuts, but fun because we had such a close group dancing together) and Happy Endings was great before about 1AM when the huge crowds started rolling in. That's just me, though. If you like dancing with an outrageous amount of people, 1AM is the time to arrive.

Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome Street
New York, NY

Lastly (though I may very well add to this list in a week when I remember more), Sweet Afton in Astoria is a darling little bar off of 30th Ave. The wood walls make it super cozy and the drinks are well designed. I've heard the food there is good, though haven't personally experienced it. If you like pickles (I don't, but you might) they have a pickle juice cocktail that I've heard is quite fun.

Sweet Afton
3009 34th Street
Astoria, NY

Lastly, a wine bar I fell in love with despite some really interesting company that night. Ha. Aria is located down in the West Village and boasts a wine list of solely female vintners. Huzzah for that. But aside from loving that little tid-bit, the atmosphere is quite lovely. Wine glasses are only $6-$8 and they have a large table that is great for groups or to make friends with your neighbors. I believe they close at midnight or so, but if you're there before closing and just keep the place alive late into the night you might be treated with some bar food like meatballs (delish ones at that) while the staff closing up shop. ;)

117 Perry Street
New York, NY

That is all for now. I'm sure I'll add some more within the next week or so granted I have time between moving back to school, auditions, crew meetings, and class.

Happy eating!