By Brooke Jackson-Glidden, MUSE Food Editor
It’s official. We’ve been back from spring break for more than one week. Still feeling the effects of withdrawal? Got the mid-semester blues? Luckily, Brooke Jackson-Glidden, MUSE Food Editor, can look back at her spring break with more than just a forlorn feeling. And in typical foodie fashion, she looks back with her pleasantly rumbling stomach. Read on:
This spring break, I was lucky enough to spend a week in one of the great food capitals of the world: New York. As tough as it is for me to admit as a Bostonian, there’s just no place in the country (excluding maybe San Francisco) where it’s more fun to be a foodie than in The City. Chefs like Jean Georges Vongerichten and Mario Batali, restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernadin, all call New York their home. The food coverage in The New York Times is some of the best in the country. James Beard winners, 25+ Zagat ratings, multiple Michelin stars litter the windows of restaurants that line the streets from Chinatown to Hell’s Kitchen.
It’s not my first time in New York. I’ve visited a couple of times in my life, but the experience I’ve had with New York in my restaurant research makes each visit feel much more familiar than it may be in reality. I couldn’t get you from NYU to Lincoln Center on a subway, but if you’re looking for burgers in the West Village, I can name at least three places referenced in Bon Appetit. I came to my friend’s apartment with my usual long list of restaurants, excited to visit the sandwich shops, noodle bars, pizza joints and sushi spots I found in the pages of the food magazines I love.
And then I ran out of money.
So, maybe I spent the last five days of my vacation eating packaged ramen three meals a day. But that didn’t keep me from recording my foodie highlights for my fellow Boston University foodies who see a trip to the city in their futures:
Sushi Yakasa – Upper West Side
This tiny Sushi spot hidden in plain sight serves inexpensive yet luxurious, melt-in-your-mouth hand rolls and sashimi. Now, Sushi Yakasa is no frills. They’re not trying to impress you with emulsions and panko crumbles. They offer the basics: simple yellowtail, eel, salmon, tuna, and either cucumber or avocado. And yet the fish is so fresh and cut so impeccably, you’ll remember why you fell in love with sushi in the first place. Also, don’t miss the miso soup – it’s only two dollars and as multifaceted as a good miso soup should be.
Xi’an Famous Foods – Queens, East Village, Brooklyn
Xi’an is far from a foodie secret at this point. Since they opened in Brooklyn, Xi’an has exploded into a frenzy of press praise and street recommendations. Anthony Bourdain loves it, Andrew Zimmern loves it, and, most importantly (duh), I love it. Every time I’m in New York, I have to stop by at least twice to get either the spicy and tingly lamb face salad, the spicy cumin lamb soup or maybe some Mt. Qi pork noodles. All the noodles are made in house, served dripping in spicy, oily broth. Xi’an’s unique flavor palate apparently has very traditional roots, but I have yet to taste anything like it at the Chinese restaurants at home or in Boston. An evening in the Village is not complete without a quick stop at Xi’an.
Empanada Mama – Hell’s Kitchen
I have a very special relationship with Empanada Mama. When I first arrived to visit my friends from home in the city, I had big plans to head straight for my personal favorite pizza place in New York, Bleecker Street Pizza. Nonetheless, my friends would not allow me to spend one more minute in New York without trying Empanada Mama. I begged them, but they would not yield. They told me they went to Empanada Mama so much they had transformed empanadas into their currency (For example, one of my friends said she didn’t want to go into the Village because it’s “two whole empanadas to get downtown.”) So, to my chagrin, we went to E.M. at about two a.m. They were as busy as ever, patrons munching on their tiny pockets and dipping them in bright green and red sauces. We ordered one of each for the table, and I wish I could adequately describe to you how great they were. I cannot even recommend one because they were all so good. I went back two more times that weekend.
Il Cantucco – Greenwich Village
Il Cantucco is my favorite sans-research discovery. I was walking down Christopher Street (of the stonewall riots), minding my own business, when I noticed an adorable Italian bakery on the corner. I stepped inside and was smacked in the face with one of my favorite smells from childhood: sweet, baking apricots. A woman at a small table in the corner had a small plate of biscotti samples, warm from the oven. In traditional Italian style, she picked one up and shoved it in my face – and I’m so glad she did. It was soft and sweet dough, beautifully juxtaposed with the tanginess of the whole chunks of apricot baked into the center. I decided to get one with one of their Nutella lattes. When I ordered my Nutella latte, I imagined a latte made with, I don’t know, chocolate and hazelnut syrups. Instead, I got a glass completely brown on the inside, smeared with nutella. That breakfast, dipping my biscotti in the smooth, sweet latte, rubbing the cookie against the glass to get a little ribbon of Nutella, and people-watching in one of the most interesting neighborhoods of New York – that breakfast helped me discover why being a foodie in Manhattan is unlike being a foodie anywhere else. There is no experience quite like walking right off the street into a restaurant, completely blind, and having an unforgettable experience. So my number-one recommendation for any foodie visiting New York is to take a risk and try something completely new. It’ll make you fall in love with the city as I did.
Bearburger – West Village
This all-organic burger joint’s exposed brick, print-covered clay bear heads, horribly ironic taste in music (did I just hear Daughtry?) and variety of sustainable ingredients make it a classic hipster hangout, but don’t be fooled – the food is up to snuff. The chocolate milkshake is dark and sultry with dark chocolate nibs, and the extensive menu with alternative protein and bun options made this restaurant stand out. The Californian (chili verde, avocado, watercress, sharp cheddar and tomato) tastes absolutely delightful with one of their beef burgers which, as they promise, taste much more wild and flavorful than the patties you get from a non-organic farm.