Thursday 7 May 2015

My Hot New York Tables

I was in New York again last week. First as a guest speaker at the 2015 Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs program at ICE in New York (Institute of Culinary Education). Then two days later at the Glucksman Ireland House, speaking about the role of Ballymaloe in the Irish food renaissance.

It was a great opportunity to see the ICE and meet the students there and see Glucksman Ireland House and the wonderful work the Foundation are doing.

For the Glucksman talk two and a half times the amount they were expecting showed up so they had to move to bigger room. People were delighted to hear that the image of Ireland as the land of corned beef and cabbage, colcannon and champ - delicious as they are - in no way reflects the Irish food scene as it is now.

This trip gave me the opportunity to check out what's happening on the New York food scene, and even though it was only a couple of weeks since my last visit, I made some great new discoveries.

El Rey Coffee Bar and Luncheonette in Stanton Street in Nolita is doing really interesting contemporary American food using superb ingredients. Head Chef Gerardo Gonzalez is really one to watch - friendly, talented and still refreshingly ego-less at this time. 

Image: El Rey website

He does lots of small plates where vegetables take centre stage. The chargrilled radicchio with housemade ricotta, hazelnut, lemon and aleppo honey that I had was truly delicious. As was the flat bread with avocado, pickled onion and chimichurri. Put this on your New York list... but you'll need to get there fast, because New York magazine has just written a super positive piece about him. They also do great pop up curry nights on the weekend - so be sure to check them out.

The hot new opening whilst I was over was the Dominique Ansel Kitchen on 7th Avenue South. Ansel is a hugely talented pastry chef with very little ego, which is rather rare in New York. He shot to fame a couple of years ago when he created the cronut (see my post on it here) in his tiny premises in Spring Street (where they're still queuing round the corner). 

I went along on the day he opened his long anticipated new place and joined his many fans, plus several television crews that were documenting his first day. I was number thirty two in line so I gave up, despite the tempting oohs and ahs from the others sitting around me enjoying his creations like this sticky toffee pudding served like a Christmas cracker!

I also checked out Russ and Daughters - a fifth generation Jewish deli which now has their own cafe serving lox and bagels, pickled herrings, chopped liver, potato latkes, caviar...

I tried a couple of fermented drinks - the beetroot and plum one was thirst quenching and delicious, as well as the halvah ice cream with a salted caramel sauce for which they are famous. 

I met Josh, the fifth generation owner, who told me he's longing to come to Ireland - we're hoping he'll come to LitFest next year.

Another great place is Mission Chinese Food (171 E Broadway). If you haven't already discovered it, then this is definitely another hot spot to add to your list. As long as you don't mind queuing. It opens at 5.30. Like many other restaurants now they don't take bookings - so just resign yourself to standing in line and enjoy the experience - I guarantee it'll be worth it!

And then there's Ristorante Rafele (7th Ave S near Christopher Street), a little Italian gem that Madhur Jaffrey and her husband Sanford introduced me to.

I would never have found it on my own, it's the sort of restaurant you would walk by without a second glance. But it's my very best new discovery - thanks Madhur!

The other place I went to amazingly for the first time is an amazing ingredient shop, Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue, which has floor to ceiling shelves packed with ethnic ingredients from around the world. I bought barberries, Ceylon cinnamon, piment d'esplette and the best Telicherri peppercorns. 

Established since 1944, there were three generations working the shop floor that day - here I am with two! 

Another find was Breads Bakery. They had superb coffee, delicious little sandwiches and gorgeous breads, pastries and chewy, chunky breadsticks with gouda and green olives. I loved the cheese straw split in half filled with cream cheese, cherry tomato, coriander and avocado. 

Don't miss their speciality - chocolate babka - a Polish sweet bread swirled with chocolate and hazelnut that is truly irresistible. They're located just off Union Square and are well worth a visit.