My dreams are back up and running. As I get more rest during the summertime, my mind frequently conjures up mental images about restaurants and begins to break down menu prices in the form of Excel spreadsheets.
It’s easy to fall asleep, but it’s difficult to suppress visions about restaurants, especially when my late night readings consist of cookbooks and dining columns delivered straight to my iPhone.
But I’m perfectly comfortable with these dreams. Now that I’m back and running in New York City, I don’t just think about dining destinations. I eat out every single day.
– Mission Chinese Food –
As soon as I settled down in my new home in the Lower East Side, I met with a family friend from back home. As soon as he let me set the time and place, Mission Chinese was inevitably #1 pick on my list. It’s also three minutes from my house (solid real estate location). When I was residing in Italy for four months, I had feverish dreams about re-igniting my taste buds with spoonfuls of salt cod fried rice.
The menu has expanded since last winter. There are new faces like crispy country fried hamachi collar with hot pepper jelly (split in half and use your hands) and pok pok pig tails, a take on Chef Ricker’s fish sauce wings. Mission Chinese’s interpretation of the pok pok favorite is pretty good, but those Vietnamese wings are a tough act to follow.
My favorite classics at MCFNY are still on the menu and they’re still excruciatingly spicy. Whether it’s the spicy Chongqing chicken wings with explosive chilies or the runny-nose/coma inducing bites of smoky kung pao pastrami, they haven’t lost a step on the mala scale.
But it always keeps me coming back with my friends. Most importantly, I think that the notion of breaking bread (in our case: breathing in heavy doses of szechuan peppercorn) with the people we love is truly endearing. I’d imagine it’s what a runner’s high feels like.
– Maialino –
Although I assured myself that I would never seek after pasta for the next few months, I was back on the trattoria train as soon as I returned to the city.
That night, my friend and I gorged on summer pea salad, salumi, and plates of cacio e pepe, farro orecchiette, and tortelli. Although I never shy away from a classic bowl of tonnarelli with pecorino and generous helpings of spicy black pepper, the tortelli was clearly the winner of the night. The musky scent of pork and chicken liver in the tortelli balanced by the drizzle of balsamic made my head spin.
It’s hard to recreate the spectacles and sensations of dining in Rome. However, Chef Nick Anderer’s pastas are just as magical if not better than many of the restaurants back in the mother country.
After dinner, Chef Nick showed us around the Maialino Kitchen and delighted our eyes with sights of suckling pig and mortadella.
The team is also working on the gluten free pasta program everyday which is exciting for many of my friends who’ll be back in the city. I’m excited to see destinations like Del Posto and Maialino embrace new challenges and take on pastas without regular flour. Instead of finding a substitute for pastas, these two restaurants are taking on new challenges and paving the way gluten-free dining.
– Gramercy Tavern –
My friend and I left Maialino, happily limping, and strolled over to the Tavern room for desserts. We had to get one last bite of Pastry Chef Nancy Olson’s desserts before she headed back home to North Dakota.
I remember my first dessert experience at Gramercy Tavern. It was Chef Nancy’s chocolate bread pudding. The sticky brioche and chocolate pieces melts away sadness at a moment’s notice. To this day, only the sundae at ABC Kitchen and the salted crack caramel at Ample Hills Creamery stack up against the warm bread pudding.
Before Gramercy Tavern turned a new leaf, I had to pay my respects to Chef Nancy’s comforting desserts. My friend and I lamented over chocolate pudding, lemon icebox, strawberry pie, and a killer cookie plate.
Last year, I grieved over the fact that strawberry pie would be gone after the summer season. Now I’m sad that Chef Nancy will say goodbye to Gramercy Tavern. We, as diners, are indeed a part of the boundless cycle of change.
Tonight, I hope that I’ll dream not only about past memories of delicious dishes, but also think about the positive future ahead in my favorite, competent New York City restaurants.
Whether it be new, mind-numbing Chinese dishes at Mission Chinese, gluten-free pastas at Maialino, or dessert creations from Gramercy Tavern’s sous chefs, these creations will be tangible representations to show that my favorite New York City restaurants are increasingly getting better each and every day.