Eating New York

“Wait,” said my friend Scott a couple years back when I mentioned I’d never been to New York, “YOU have never been to New York??”

It was as if I had told him that I’d never seen a sunset or walked on a beach.

He was astonished that I — being the avid traveler and food and art lover that I am — had never been to the food and art capital of America.

“I’ve never had much interest in New York,” I said, which elicited a further jaw-dropped gape of astonishment.

The truth is, it always seemed that there was someplace more exotic and interesting to visit than New York. My impressions, perhaps outdated, were that it would be hot, gritty, ugly, loud and crowded. Plus, as a native Angeleno, I was born into a certain disdain for gruff accents and Yankees paraphernalia of any sort.

“If you love New York so much,” I used to suggest helpfully anytime I’d see an “I HEART NY” bumpersticker in Los Angeles, “why don’t you go back?”

Immy at work at the Airbnb in Brooklyn

“It’s become much more user friendly,” my other pal Alex, who resided there for many years, aptly offered recently.

So, when we accepted our friend Jon’s offer to again visit his family’s Adirondack lake house and began structuring our East Coast vacation, and my wife said, “Why don’t we go to New York?”, I figured it was finally time.

My impressions were indeed outdated, my inherited West Coast prejudices unfair. I quickly discovered that I, too, did indeed HEART NY. Albeit with the objective, skeptical eye of the cowboy.

Our Airbnb apartment was on a charming stretch of 5th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, a tree-lined neighborhood filled with trendy restaurants and cute shops.

A slice of margherita and glass of Montepulciano at Patsy’s

“You have to eat at Patsy’s!” our pal Monica, a native of Queens, insisted. I glanced out the window of our apartment, and there, emblazoned on the brick side of a nearby building, was the name: “Patsy’s. Since 1933.”

It would be our first meal in New York. We slumped into a dimly lit leatherette booth and grasped the massive leatherette menus. It was not exactly the fine New York dining I’d imagined. But it was a distinctly New York experience — the Brooklyn pizzeria. And much to our surprise, the pizza and pasta (especially a fine carbonara) were superb.

The next morning, we endeavored to try a beautifully branded, upscale donut shop we noticed across the street from Patsy’s. The Doughnut Plant featured such trendy flavors like tres leches, peanut butter and blackberry jam, matcha green tea and red velvet. Two donuts — the oatmeal cake, and the crumb coffee cake — were among the best donuts I’ve ever had. Also good were filled donuts, a chocolate hazelnut and a strawberry rhubarb.

Takeout from the Doughnut Plant

Among other iconic New York dining experiences I was determined to try was the bagel. I’d listened to decades of transplanted New York griping about the difficulty of finding a good bagel on the West Coast. Close to the apartment was a typical-looking Brooklyn bagel joint with a line out the door — an encouraging sign! I got half a dozen and a couple cream cheese varieties, and headed back. The bagels were good — about the same as Noah’s Bagels, no better than our own standard back home, Western Bagels. Perhaps the stereotype of inferior California bagels was no more accurate than my impressions of the Big Apple.

Wait, okay — New York was hot, gritty, loud and crowded. But it was not ugly. In fact, it was quite beautiful in places — sometimes not in spite of but because of its rough edges. I was reminded somewhat of Paris, a comparison my wife (who lived in Paris) confirmed. There were many different characters to the city, found in the distinctly different personalities of the neighborhoods, each of which promised unexpected discoveries as you emerged like a gopher from the subway into the light.

Venezuelan girls rocking the dogs on the High Line

In the different places we emerged, we found a kaleidoscope of food options: beautiful temples of three-star dining, hole-in-the-wall ethnic joints, dazzling markets. We had incredible Venezuelan hot dogs and Italian panini at food stands on the High Line, sensational crepes and Japanese “tacos” in the Chelsea Market, and a world-class fried clam sandwich at Coney Island.

One of the best meals we had was sitting on a curb outside MOMA eating shwarma from the Halal Guys.

Urbanspace at Grand Central Station

“L.A. doesn’t have such a diverse food culture as this,” my wife suggested as we sat at the bustling Urbanspace food market at Grand Central Station eating lobster rolls, Korean Korilla rice bowls and white chicken ramen, and I quickly corrected her. Much of the current food culture in New York actually first emerged in Los Angeles and the West — upscale Mexican-and-mezcal, Korean and Japanese experimentations, cultural crossovers (Korean/Mexican, Japanese/French), the rustic, honest nose-to-tail cooking of Portland (Oregon, not Maine). What New York does that is not possible in our expansive, open-sky cities of the West is to incorporate it into the very fabric of life. It is everywhere you look, wherever you are, all the time.

Coney Island fried clam sandwich

There were many dining experiences in New York that, because of time and budget constraints, and traveling with young children, I would not be able to have. (Eleven Madison Park, Blue Hill, Le Bernadin, etc.) But I did make a commitment to get to Ivan Ramen, which I correctly assumed would be fun for the whole family.

Located in the still-gritty-but-transforming-as-we-speak Lower East Side, the New York flagship of Tokyo’s most unlikely ramen superstar, Ivan Orkin (watch the Netflix “Chef’s Table” episode on Ivan if you haven’t yet) is a narrow galley of a restaurant with a bar and a handful of tables. It was cozy at our table for five in the back, the staff friendly and welcoming (“I’m from L.A. too!” the young hostess gleefully informed us).

Ivan Ramen Tokyo shio

We ordered Ivan’s signature Tokyo shio ramen — a lighter-than-most chicken and dashi stock with pork belly, an egg, chewy rye noodles and a roasted tomato. It was, as expected, as tasty a bowl as I’ve had. But even more surprising were the two appetizers we had — a fried chicken with garlic caramel, togarashi chili and shiso ranch dressing; and a “seasonal special” of grilled corn with a miso sauce.

All that, beers, yuzu “lemonades”, tax and tip, and we were out of there for around $125. As happy, I supposed, as had I added another zero to the end and dined at Le Bernadin.

Grilled corn with miso sauce

“It’s fun to do a food and drinking adventure,” pal Alex had added to his endorsement, “But that’s more of an adult thing. Hard to do with kids in tow.”

I was sure he was right. And I could imagine returning and doing the adult edition, logging a bit more time in the bars and gastropubs, the dives and the distinguished dining destinations alike.

But for our first visit, I’d have to say we had eaten New York well.

The family at Ivan Ramen

 

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amanda
    Aug 02, 2018 @ 20:18:39

    What all was in the fried clam sandwich – that looked very interesting…. : )

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Aug 02, 2018 @ 22:16:14

      Oh man Amanda… pretty much everything fried. 😍
      had some lettuce, some kind of tartar sauce or something. Pure artery-clogging bliss.

      Reply

  2. Michelle
    Aug 07, 2018 @ 00:30:52

    I admit I haven’t been there many times since the great Brooklyn food renaissance, but I have to say that as much as I love NY (and I do I do I do), I’ve always found the food overrated. Sounds like you did it up right, and it’s about time!

    Reply

  3. threegirlstravel
    Aug 10, 2018 @ 22:17:56

    Thanks for sharing! we are going to New York in a few weeks!

    Reply

  4. frejatravels
    Aug 16, 2018 @ 15:59:57

    aha… you are like me. I never have any interest to visit New York or any other American cities but my husband love it. So we will go there in a couple of months time – first time for me and I wonder what it looks like:) Btw, yes I been to USA before but just never find it interesting. I also find other destination more exotic.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Aug 16, 2018 @ 16:40:20

      There are many interesting destinations in the US — though perhaps not that “exotic”. Although Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Alaska certainly couldn’t be more different. I like the cultural variety in the US. Come to L.A. sometime and eat some tacos in East L.A.! cheers

      Reply

      • frejatravels
        Aug 16, 2018 @ 17:00:42

        Yes, I have been to Hawaii. I actually registered to study in Hawaii University but after arrived there I do not like it and decided to moved out from there. ha..ha.. It is just me, I prefer European countries than USA.

      • scolgin
        Aug 16, 2018 @ 17:02:42

        You are a Eurocentric! 😂
        I do love European cities, can’t beat Rome, Paris, Athens etc. for history.

      • frejatravels
        Aug 16, 2018 @ 20:32:59

        Oh yes, those are my favourite countries to visit, but I personally do not like Paris, not sure why. I tried 3 times but still do not like it. ha..ha.. it is just me:)
        Btw, Denmark has plenty of history as well and danish people are very proud of their culture and history:)

  5. prettocouture
    Aug 29, 2018 @ 12:48:58

    Cool

    Reply

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