Thursday, November 20, 2008

NYC foodie comments

My blog is by no means intended to fill up with restaurant reviews, but if I have a wonderful experience I might not be able to keep it to myself. This is the case today; I am writing two days after a trip to New York City and I am still thinking about my lunch in the real Little Italy.
Before I talk about the lunch, let me set the scene. Upon arriving in midtown Manhattan I had a list of prospective eateries to check out on this particular trip, some of which were recommended by The Frugal Traveler of the NYtimes. I had taken the bus from Philly for an interview, but my side project was of course to eat. I must say though, that some of the iconic names in NYC eateries are both over priced and too touristy for good quality. I easily managed to pass up the trendy burger and cupcake offerings, as I have seen too much of the same thing come about in Philadelphia. I did find it somewhat comical that within 5 minutes of deboarding the bus I saw a combined burger and cupcake joint. Especially because a recent 30 Rock quote said that New Yorkers were off cupcakes and back on doughnuts.

I went to the first place on my list for my first lunch: midtown's mozzarella bar OBIKA [as a cheese lover, I had to see it to believe it]. It was affordable for midtown, and especially for the quality of service and food that I received. I was surprised how quickly the fresh mozzarella di bufala and Sicilian caponata filled me up!

Perhaps I started off on too high of a note, because my next experience at Katz's Deli was not as I expected. I love a good old delicatessen, but my sandwich at Katz's was just not worth the money. Either I didn't know the right way to order it or, as with the cheese steak places of South Philly, tourism has taken its toll on the quality. I had a brisket sandwich, but I found it to be less than exciting despite a good helping of meat. My friend ate a reuben, which I also tasted and found to be a bit over priced. It was fun to try out Katz's Deli, but now that I have been there I probably won't return since I know what I can get at Carnegie Deli, which remains a favorite. I also, reluctantly, tried two even more touristy places for late night snacking--it had been a long time since I had either NY Cheesecake or a good slice of pizza, so I gave it a shot. The cheesecake at Lindy's was good, not great, but it did have a pleasant lemon zest note that a classic NY cheesecake should have. The problem here was Manhattan pricing; cheesecake and a cup of coffee amounted to the same price as my mozzarella lunch! Next, I tried a slice at Famous Ray's (the Original, you know). I couldn't help it! I was curious. The verdict: it was pizza, but nothing better than what you would find at a suburban mall's food court. Philly seems to be playing with the big boys of NYC on this one; I put Lorenzo's right up there with Joe's Pizza for the best late night snack for the buck.For one of the last activities of the NY trip I wanted to venture into the Bronx, past Yankee Stadium, to the Belmont neighborhood around 187th street and Arthur Avenue. Despite the great offerings of cheese and cured meats around Manhattan, I had to head up to what my grandfather always called the REAL Little Italy. It seems nostalgic for my whole family; everyone knows about Arthur Avenue. And it is nostalgic for me too; I remember seeing it as a kid, eating at Dominick's restaurant and Mario's (where apparently my mother once saw John Gotti dining). Arthur Avenue is full of Italian American culture, especially the old world foods from the poor province of Calabria, in southern Italy. After buying hot sopressata and a scamorza, both of which were made in-house, I set out to find lunch. Dominick's is closed on Tuesdays (I seem to remember ordering without a menu at that restaurant and I must return another day to try eating there). The other restaurants had similar lunch specials and I received a "They're all good!" recommendation from a local shop keeper. Enzo's was decided on, primarily because the lunch menu included chicken calabrese and I am currently very into learning about my family's roots in Calabria.

It was the best lunch I have had in a long time. We started with fried meatballs with onions, hot peppers and garlic. There was a plentiful basket fresh bread on the table (I like to use it as a utensil). The generous, Italian grandmother sized portions came to the table and we were happy with our decision to visit Arthur Avenue even before taking the first bite. My chicken calabrese was succulent braised chicken, bone in--skin on, soaking in a rich broth of tomato, lemon, pepper and magic. The chicken was accompanied by perfectly tender potatoes and little nuggets of rustic Italian sausage. It was a perfectly comforting stewed dish for a cold day and I couldn't resist having a glass of Chianti to help it go down. My friend Justin ordered a basic chicken parm dish, which although widespread is easily ruined with thick, dry chicken and cheap, scantly sprinkled cheese. This place had thin, scallopini style chicken; tender and delicious with a perfectly crispy breading. The cheese was generous, covering the entire dish of chicken and burnt to perfection on top (just enough burn for a little crispiness and extra flavor). Last but not least, the dish was served with fresh, sweet tasting marinara and a little side of pasta. Mangiavamo. The meal was outstanding, molto bene, and the best deal I have seen in NYC--only $11.95 for the lunch special. Ordering the fried meatballs kinda did us in though, I felt like I was waddling out of the restaurant.

Now that I know how easy it is to get to NYC's Arthur Avenue (we took the D train into the Bronx, followed by a short walk) I plan on returning for a meal each time I visit the great city.

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