Recently, I spent almost a week eating and drinking my way across the island of Manhattan. I justified it all by saying that: 1) I'm on vacation, and 2) all this walking will balance out the extreme intake of calories in the form of food and wine.
Upon arriving in Manhattan, it was 102 degrees. I thought, my God, Memphis has followed me! Regardless of the heat, when in Manhattan I walk or take the subway, so my companion and I just dealt with it.
One of the first places we happened upon was Morrell (One Rockefeller Plaza, morrellwine.com), a side-by-side wine shop and wine bar. The retail shop was very tiny but in a cozy, comfortable way with a vast array of wines that rarely, if ever, make it to Memphis. The wine director helped me find my way around the store and pointed out wines that I have been curious about for some time. Fellow wine lovers will recognize the names: Soter, Saint-Cosme, Hirsch, and so on.
After walking out with my purchases, we went next door to the wine bar to cool off with a couple glasses of dry rosé and a plate of charcuterie consisting of paté, cornichons, Dijon mustard, duck and pork rillettes, and brie. It was the perfect pit stop to refuel so that we could continue walking around in the sticky heat of the city.
Dinner on the first night was at Perilla (9 Jones St., perillanyc.com). Being fans of the reality show Top Chef, we had to see what season one's winner, Harold Dieterle, was up to. The restaurant is tucked into a quiet side street in Greenwich Village. We stopped in a bit earlier than our reservation to have a drink at the bar and survey the scene. The menu is small but absolutely delicious. We had the cheeks of the day (that evening they were halibut), spicy duck meatballs with raw quail egg, ravioli with fiddlehead ferns and truffle butter, and seared duck breast with farro and honeycomb.
What better way to get a feel for a region than through what its soil can produce? There are wonderful farmer's markets all over Manhattan. One of the best for fresh local produce, dairy, and people-watching is the Union Square greenmarket (E. 17th St. at Broadway). I passed a memorable salumi stand selling handmade pork products that had the most amusing sign I've ever seen (pictured below). Union Square's greenmarket is a mélange of produce stands, but the most interesting part of the greenmarket is the multitude of ethnicities that are selling and buying products.
After seeing a performance of Hamlet in Central Park one evening, we left hungry. We made our way down to the East Village and to the Spotted Pig (314 W. 11th St., thespottedpig.com), Chef April Bloomfield's version of a British gastropub. The restaurant is tiny — tables very close to one another, exposed brick, and a central bar that looks straight out of one of Memphis' very own dives. The food doesn't match the surroundings at all. I love it when what you see is not what you get. I ordered a glass of Pol Roger Champagne, the smoked haddock chowder, and spinach and ricotta gnudi. Gnudi are basically ravioli without the pasta wrapper — a dumpling of the delicious ravioli innards. It was amazing to see how bar food could be elevated to another level while still satisfying in that post-imbibing way.
Lunch is the perfect time to dine at a celebrity chef's restaurant. The prices are lower but the food is still exceptional. Jean-Georges (1 Central Park West, jean-georges.com) is one of the most revered restaurants in New York, if not the entire country. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has gone on to open up restaurants all over the globe, so we weren't so foolish as to think he was actually in the kitchen. No matter.
We'd initially made reservations for the casual dining room called Nougatine but upon arrival asked the host if we could switch to the formal room. They were booked up but made room for us without a second thought. The lunch menu is priced at $28 per person with a choice of two plates from the lengthy list. Each additional plate is $12. Not bad for a world-famous restaurant. One of the best dishes I've ever had the pleasure of eating is prepared here. It was a sort of foie gras brûlée. Foie gras was folded with wild strawberries, sitting atop a housemade brioche, and topped with a sugar and spice mixture that was torched to a golden crust and drizzled with 25-year-old balsamic vinegar.
You can't go back after eating this dish. Food just isn't the same. I feel like an addict "chasing the dragon," trying to re-create the feeling of that dining experience. I guess I'll have to wait until my next trip to Manhattan.