To quote the former New York Times food columnist William Grimes from his book, “Appetite City”, “New York is the greatest restaurant city the World has ever seen”. Paris has better French restaurants, Madrid better Spanish restaurants, and Tokyo better Japanese restaurants, but no city offers such a variety of national cooking styles as New York. According to city records, New York’s 24,000 restaurants feed each of the 8.5 million New Yorkers and visitors an average of once a week. That’s a lot of Eat Manhattan diners!
So many great places to eat, and a few truly exceptional ones. We hit the streets to find our four favorite Eat Manhattan spots in this eating megacity.
1 Cafe China
Open Cafe China’s doors on 37th street and you step into Shanghai circa 1930. Vintage movie posters, antique typewriters, and old books all conspire to relieve your mind of the modern world outside.
Cafe China is one of a new wave of Chinese restaurants that has finally shed the curious history of American-Chinese food, leaving behind the days of “General Tso” chicken and enormous book-like menus, to focus on Chinese food — you know, the kind of food they actually eat in China.
Cafe China specializes in Sichuan-style cooking. Husband and wife team, Xian Gang and Yiming Wang, left careers in banking to enter the food scene with a vision to bring real Chinese food to their customers. When they opened the doors in 2012 they were food-scene newbies but were quick studies. Now they have three restaurants, each focusing on authentic Chinese food with great success.
I arrived for lunch to a packed room, half of the patrons were Chinese expats and most of the others seeming like regulars, all enthusiastically ordering their favorites from Cafe China’s compact menu. Xian ordered a selection of dishes for me to try. Each featured fresh ingredients with subtle sauces and light seasoning reflecting the Sichuan region. Being served small dishes with different ingredient combinations, is familiar, but the taste is pleasantly unfamiliar. A balance is struck between sauce seasoning and ingredients so that the fresh produce can be fully expressed in a Sichuan setting.
Yiming explains that it’s just home cooking. It’s what’s been going on in Sichuan for ages. What’s changed is that diners in the West have become more outward looking. They’re interested in authenticity, in experiencing another place, and food is a great way to take a trip.
In both environment and cuisine Cafe China will transport you.
2 Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
Nicholas Morgenstern, a pastry chef, decided in 2014 that it was time to reinvent the traditional American ice cream parlor. What better place to hatch his plan than on Manhattan’s lower east side, the place where so many of America’s food traditions got their start, and now a place where a new generation of food innovators is rediscovering them.
Eat Manhattan: “So many great places to eat, and a few truly exceptional ones.”
Morgenstern’s route took him back to basics, fresh local ingredients, small batches, and a passion for detail. That’s a good start to rediscovering the nature of America’s pre-industrial food ice cream parlor.
At its base ice cream is two things, texture and flavor. When you eat ice cream you probably don’t think much about texture but it is really more than half the experience. Too much fat and it sticks to your mouth, not enough and it falls apart. Morgenstern has thought long and hard about perfecting his version. In fact, it’s been somewhat of an obsession since his culinary school days. With the rigor of a scientist, he finally found the right combination of milk, fat, sugar and temperature to create the perfect chilled suspension.
From the start Morgenstern’s take on flavor was adventurous. Many of the options feature ingredients you won’t have thought of in connection with ice cream, such as tahini, curry and licorice. Black coconut ash is all the rage at the moment, especially popular on Instagram. And the menu includes four varieties of chocolate and four vanilla flavors.
Weekend lines are long and well populated with aspiring Instagramers busy shooting selfies, ice cream in hand. It’s very entertaining, especially when summer temperatures soar. But I like visiting in the winter too. A nice cool treat makes it seem warmer outside.
For year-round icy enjoyment, Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream is not to be missed. An Eat Manhattan must!
At the Southern end of Koreatown on 28th Street is a new addition to New York’s dining scene. Atoboy, derives its name from an old Korean saying meaning “Gift”.
Junghyun Park (JP) and his wife Ella moved to New York from South Korea to work with former boss Yim Yungsik in establishing the famous Seoul fine dining restaurant, Yungsik, in Tribeca.
Falling in love with the Big Apple during his stint as Chef de Cuisine at Yungsik, JP and Ella eventually decided to branch out on their own with a progressive Korean food take on continental cuisine.
In case you missed it, Korean food is experiencing a rise in prominence these days. Virtually unknown to the general public a few years ago, Korean dishes such as Bibimbap, Makgeolli, Bulgogi and Kimchi are quickly becoming staples of the US foodie scene.
Atoboy has taken a different direction though. Instead of cooking Korean dishes, they have embraced a more familiar menu but adapted Korean cooking techniques to prepare the dishes. This is JP’s way of integrating his art with his new home and the result is something totally new.
JP tells me that from the beginning they wanted to place Korean techniques at the center of their new kitchen, but to blend them with more locally familiar cooking styles like French and Italian, all to make local fresh ingredients the feature.
They truly have succeeded. Ingredients are seasonal and fresh and if you are a Korean food fan, you will find much that seems familiar. But without knowing Atoboy’s Korean connections you would just think the food inspiring, comforting and delicious!
The three-course tasting menu is “Banchan” style, a typical Korean way of serving where multiple small dishes are presented. To select your meal you just choose an option from each of three sections on the menu.
JP and Ella have adapted a bare-bones approach to Atoboy’s dining environment. They found a space previously occupied by a deli, stripped it down to the bare concrete walls and installed just the basics. With no added color and simple canteen-style table settings, the room appears spacious. And with no other distractions, all attention is directed toward JP’s amazing food.
For a three-course menu, Atoboy comes in at about 36 dollars. For food this labor intense and of such high quality, that’s phenomenal! As they say in Korea “나는 거기에 가고 싶다”, “I want to go there”.
So there you have it, Eat Manhattan, influences from China, Korea, and one closer to home, Coney Island New York. But all in their way distinctively New York.
Some of you may be wondering what happened to 3? Eat Manhattan number three was Kelly & Ping a classic Soho restaurant serving Asian fair. Kelly & Ping was notable for serving consistently great food year after year after year. But circumstances beyond their control forced them to close recently. They are greatly missed and we were sorry they were removed from the Manhattan food scene before their time — and hence removed from our Eat Manhattan feature. We hope they pop up somewhere else for their second act soon.
1 Cafe China: for directions opening hours and to make a reservation go to: www.cafechinanyc.com
2 Morgenstern: for opening hours and directions go to: www.morgensternsnyc.com
3 Kelley & Ping: For opening hours, directions and reservations go to: < www.kelleyandping.com
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