Viewing entries tagged
restaurant review

Eating New York

Comment

Eating New York

fullsizeoutput_17b3.jpeg

I write this sitting on the flight to New York in stasis mode, having metamorphosed into a sedentary lump.  The invisible but insidious radiation, and the already- breathed air must be to blame for my lack of concentration:  I’ve started five films, and finished one – a saccharine, brainless comedy. And in this reduced state, my thoughts revolve around my stomach (more than usual). The looming flight attendant and her trolley are causing spikes in adrenaline –so attuned to the possibility of food delivery am I that I’m reacting pavlovianally to the click of the locker doors as the meals are unloaded. By flying west, I’ve gained time.  More time equals more meals. I had breakfast and lunch at home, but the grey boredom of airports requires food for stimulation. The pre-flight, Prêt snack ritual has been observed.  But that has not deterred me from munching through the 5pm dinner (chicken, and sticky-toffee pudding - and not bad actually. Better, in fact, than the recent attempt at a repast at The Palomar – see my review). 

fullsizeoutput_14b2.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_16c5.jpeg

In-flight entertainment is clearly not being served by the screen in front of me, but instead by the rotating supply of snacks from the “Wonder Wall”. These fill the flight with purpose: I must try every one of these matte- packaged, faux-healthy snacks.  Initially, I feel pride as I conquer them: a nut-free, oat bar so small that I need to have two just to make sure I document the flavour correctly; a tiny packet of popcorn that is apparently “cheese toasty and caramel flavour” (too weird not to try); some vegan sour sweets (only four in a pack - what a tease, two please); olives; hand cut crisps that promise to be artisanal (I’m sold); two-bite bars of Himalayan salted chocolate that barely register due to their shrunken format.

At 11pm UK time, I’m served afternoon tea (a selection of cakes, a scone, and some mayonnaise-suffused sandwiches). I persevere with these.  There’s no stopping me now.

It’s half an hour until landing, and reality is beginning to set in. I’m surrounded by a shameful nest of wrappers: unequivocal evidence of my greed and boredom.

Pride has turned to nausea.  

-------

After a day of recovery, I launched myself on to the NYC dining scene. I’m mainly vegetarian, so most restaurants set out below are either fully plant-based, or vegetarian/vegan-friendly. This is by no means an exhaustive list but an account of the places that I enjoyed (with one rather off-putting experience).

fullsizeoutput_17fc.jpeg

 

The Fat Radish

Vibe: Vegetable-focused Modern European cuisine in an earthy chic paradise.

Highlights:  Though not vegetarian, the vegan and vegetarian options are numerous and innovative (refreshingly not pasta or risotto). Order several of the sweet pea pot pies which are so good I’ve had to replicate them twice since returning to London. The Macro plate and banoffee pies are also must-eats. Booking is essential.

Lowlights: None. 

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/restricted diets

Where: Lower East Side

http://www.thefatradishnyc.com

fullsizeoutput_1803.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_17ba.jpeg

 

Jajaja Plantas Mexicana

Vibe: Vegan innovative Mexican style cuisine in a vibrant, bustling urban cafe

Highlights: No one at my table could get enough of the nachos with vegan chorizo, fermented black beans, turmeric vegan queso fundito, spicy vegetable relish, and vegan sour cream. The crispy chayote ‘fish’ tacos with chipotle almond butter and pickled red onion are also deliciously different.

Lowlights: no booking, and the tightly packed restaurant mean that you should avoid peak meal hours. Service also slows drastically during these times.

Good for: vegans/restricted diets/casual dining/adventurous eaters

Where: Lower East Side (near China Town)

https://www.jajajamexicana.com/

fullsizeoutput_17b6.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_1816.jpeg

 

Root & Bone

Vibe: rustic-modern take on Southern-American comfort food.

Highlights: The buttermilk biscuits are freshly baked, and so light they melt on your tongue. The side of honey butter just helps them slide down even more sweetly. Crispy topped and golden, with unending tangles of molten cheese, the mac and cheese is amongst the best.

Lowlights: The fried chicken. I may have gone with warped expectations – I had primed myself for strips of chicken breast coasted in thick crispy-crunchy breadcrumbs (especially good at London’s Mother Clucker). However, what arrived was a basketful of dismembered chicken body parts. The rebellious wing bone protruding uncomfortably from the thin batter was enough to put me off. However, this may just be a personal dislike.

Good for: comfort food/family gatherings

Where: East Village

http://www.rootnbone.com/

fullsizeoutput_181e.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_1784.jpeg

Talde

Vibe: Casual Asian-American cross-over cuisine in a dark wooden pub from Top Chef contestant, Dale Talde

Highlights: I’m not a big meat eater, and I never eat chicken wings. However, I make a very rare exception for the Kung Pao wings which are ridiculously sticky and succulent – order many. The Pad Thai puts most to shame with its zingy freshness too.

Lowlights: The bibinkga divided opinion with its eggy coconut texture. I came around to it after the third mouthful.

Good for: inventive cooking/vegetarians/brunch/casual dining

Where: Park Slope, Brooklyn

https://www.taldebrooklyn.com

36137525_10156713536059905_1104418808300306432_n.jpg

 

By Chloe

Vibe: Airy, female-flocking, vegan café (also in London)

Highlights: The salad portions are generous – my favourite is Spicy Thai which, with its kale base, crispy wontons, apricot-glazed tempeh and spicy peanut dressing, is a mouth workout in a bowl - but every mouthful is worth savouring. The tempeh-lentil chia classic burger and kale-artichoke dip are also major hits.

Lowlights: The London branch is not restful as you have to wait for your name to be shouted out to pick up your food. The NYC branch I visited was great.

Good For: vegans/vegetarians/healthy eating/casual meals

Where: West Village

https://eatbychloe.com

36270046_10156713537454905_8630530287874342912_n.jpg
fullsizeoutput_17f8.jpeg

 

Van Leeuwen

Vibe: artisanal vegan and dairy ice-cream served from wholesome butter-coloured trucks and stores around NYC

Highlights: the vegan honeycomb is a sludgy grey but don’t let that put you off. Made with cashew coconut and cocoa butter it is ambrosial. The non-vegan peanut butter and marshmallow crunch and Sicilian pistachio are also sublime. 

Lowlights: It’s addictive – I began to think they were stalking me as I managed to go past at least one Van Leeuwen truck or shop every day… and failed to resist each time.

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/innovatively flavoured ice creams

Where: multiple locations

http://www.vanleeuwenicecream.com/

 

36137544_10156713535554905_7968269304611209216_n.jpg

Black Seed Bagels

Vibe: pared down, fresh out of oven, open bakery

Highlights: multi-everything bagel – get there early in the day to get it piping hot from the oven

Lowlights: Addictiveness – I once ate 4 black seed bagels in a row.

Good for: breakfast on the go, vegans, high-carb gluten-full diets

Where: Nolita, Battery Park City, East Village

http://blackseedbagels.com

fullsizeoutput_17bd.jpeg

Levain Bakery

Vibe: stripped back, no-frills bakery for some straight-to-the-point indulgence

Highlights: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter chip cookie – thick, crunchy on the outside, fudgy inside loaded with an abundance of peanut butter chips – there is a reason it has been named best cookie in NYC. 

Lowlights: Lines for the bakery can get rather long, so go at a strategic, off-peak time

Good for: over indulgence and sweet-tooth satisfaction

Where: West 74th St, Harlem

https://www.levainbakery.com

36298419_10156713537649905_2105831927041753088_n.jpg

 

El Luchador (Tacos vs Burritos)

Vibe: Hole-in-the wall, cheap, simple and brilliant Mexican food haunt. London could do with mowing down its innumerable greasy kebab joints and replacing them with this.

Highlights: the pollo asado burrito. Spicy, fresh, busting with flavour and filling 

Lowlights: None

Good for: late night cravings, fresh Mexican food, done well (a rarity in London), vegetarian, vegan

Where: Lower East side

http://elluchador.nyc

fullsizeoutput_17d1.jpeg

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

The Palomar

Comment

The Palomar

NB. Photos are all my own as the food was not photogenic

Let’s start with the positives – there are only three, and they’re rather brief at that:

1)    The waiter was charming, easy going and knowledgeable.

2)    So buttery it almost made my tongue translucent, yet so sweet and light I could have eaten five of them, the kubaneh bread was sublime.

3)    I’m mainly a vegetarian and rarely eat lamb, but the fact that the minced beef and lamb dish (shakshukit) was palatable, and even rather moreish, signifies a success.

I wish that I could keep the list going.  From online reviews to food-obsessed friends, all I had heard about Palomar was a stream of praise.  So, I thought I would emerge from the restaurant blasting Palomar’s praises to everyone to whom I spoke.  I wanted to have found a mini-haven in the heart of London where I could gorge on the full-flavoured abundance of the Middle East.  

I did not. 

Stop reading now if you don’t want your opinion tainted.  If you are curious, read on.

fullsizeoutput_ab6.jpeg

We squeezed our way past the tight and chaotic bar area, to be seated in the farthermost corner. Dark, wooden, and Spartan, it felt like an old-fashioned train carriage.

Aside from the kubaneh and shakshukit, we ordered an array of dishes, starting with baba ganoush, and “spicy experience”, from the menu section titled “Rip and Dip”. “Pinch and Scrape” would be more fitting.  The baba ganoush was delivered: we were presented with a shallow, hamster –sized plate-let (ie a disk) of the meanest little scraping of mashed aubergine. They must be using tweezers in the kitchen, as it was adorned with just three pomegranate seeds, as if they were in fear of our being trapped, like Persephone, in the Underworld.

The so-called spicy experience promised a roller-coaster of excitement and exotic warmth. What arrived was a confusing, tiny saucer of some possibly shop-bought harissa that had been unceremoniously tipped onto the plate, with a few pickled chillies, also suspiciously jar-emanating, and some charred chilli husks.  Why confusing? Because there was no reason behind it: no vehicle to carry the diner off into the realms of a capsaicin extravaganza. If it were meant to be a condiment, surely it should have been signposted as such, not presented as a starter? Needless to say, it was quickly abandoned. 

fullsizeoutput_996.jpeg

We ordered pitta breads.  I expected them to be the large, puffed up, hot pillows that you receive, on the house, at Maroush.  Instead, they were seemingly imported from the film “Downsizing”, with a diameter barely extending to that of my palm, and £1.50 apiece. 

At this point all the scrapings and scraps and stalks had begun to merge into a sludge on our plates. Like an inverse of the Twits we had only been provided with miniature side plates - as if by changing the proportions of the crockery we would be tricked into believing that the food portions were lavish and abundant. When the waiter showed no sign of refreshing our plates we asked for a change.  A new set of the Lilliputian side plates arrived – without the doll’s house-sized cutlery that would have been appropriate. We asked for regular-sized dining plates, only to be told that “since the tables are so small they usually only give side plates”.  

I understand all restaurants are businesses, running tight margins. However, it is no good thing when a restaurant becomes so transparently business-like that you can see the pound signs twinkling in their eyes.  Tables so small that you need to shrink the portions and plate size in order to squeeze in more people, and thereby maximize margins on your dishes, makes for neither a comfortable nor an enjoyable experience.   Added to that, Palomar is meant to be Israeli–influenced. Aside from the fact that the menu seems to have taken us on a rocky ride from England,  to Italy, to the Middle East, they missed several  key characteristics of Middle Eastern cuisine: generosity, colour, robustly-flavoured abundance and freshness. 

fullsizeoutput_1749.jpeg

The artichokes arrived: three measly, wan halves sitting on an ill-defined scrape of grey puree. These were followed by a tiny sauce boat containing the mushroom polenta.  Polenta can be made delicious, but this dish was incomplete. It lacked crunch to counteract the slushy baby-food texture, the sloppy mushrooms providing no relief. Nor was there any astringency or freshness to counteract the starchy palidness.

The climax was reached with the sea bass, supposedly josperized with herb salad, candied lemons and pine nuts.  I am lazy and not very caveman like (when dining) and prefer not to have to fight my way through bones and skins to eat my food, especially in an ill-lit environment.  I ordered this on the waiter’s promise of it being “boned”.  It arrived splayed, frowning, Tiresias -eyed. The first few mouthfuls were enjoyable, succulent and tender.  I helped myself to more. The next mouthful came with a sharp gift of bones. I plucked them out, and persevered. However, my next attempt at a mouthful was thwarted permanently – it was raw. 

The waitress was fair and professional, removing the fish and a number of other items from our bill.  However, if you’re looking for a Middle-Eastern influenced feast, I would bypass Palomar and head straight to Ottolenghi, Nopi, or either of the Honey & Co. branches. 

Food: 3/10

Ambience: 4/10

Service: 9/10

Loos: N/A

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment