Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Favorite NYC restaurants

When I travel, I try to visit new places along with old favorites. I typically skip chain places and opt for ma & pa type places. I've found that people who have struggled to build their businesses from the ground up instead of taking over an established franchise seem to work harder to give me good food and excellent service. My recent trip to New York City proved that theory.

Take for instance, New Ivoire, a Spanish Harlem restaurant focusing on western African cuisine. Despite the fact that my visit came at 10:30pm on a Saturday night, the place was packed with locals (always a good sign) speaking their native tongue and the smells of mouth-watering specialties. I always try to get recommendations from my server at places like this because they're the ones who know the food better than anyone. This visit was no different. I asked the owner what he recommended and after establishing what kind of meats I like, he suggested the dibi mouton, attieke and plantains. I'd never tried African food before and was quite pleased with all of it, despite the lamb being a bit overcooked. I really liked the couscous, especially with the hot peppers and bouillon cube crumbled over it. Tiny little restaurant, LOTS of atmosphere and good food.

A favorite stop of mine whenever I'm in New York is the legendary Dallas BBQ. With more than 10 metro locations, locals probably consider it a "chain" but since we don't have them here in Iowa, I make an exception for this place. And trust me, when you taste the cole slaw and hot wings, you will understand why. I cannot tell you how good their barbecue is because I've honestly never had it. I've heard it's good, but you'll have to trust other people's reviews on that. I'm a hot wing girl, through and through and that's all I get. It's what I go for. If I ever move to New York, it'll be because of these wings. They're always steaming hot and the sauce tastes incredible. It's a cross between spicy and sweet. I believe the sauce is a mix of Frank's Hot Sauce and brown sugar. I've recreated it at home and it's pretty spot on. Now, if I could just perfect the texture of those giant chicken wings and the sauce they use on their cole slaw, I'd have it made! The cole slaw can't be found on the "side orders" menu. Why? Because I swear they give you half a head of cabbage in that bowl. For $2.99, you get a giant, heaping bowl of it and you'll struggle to finish it by yourself. The only tips I have about eating here is to take lots of wet wipes. The wings are dripping with sauce and you'll have it under your fingernails for days. The photo below, btw, is a "Full Order" of 10 full sized hot wings.

Another New York original we visited this trip was Keen's Steakhouse on 36th. While this isn't normally a place we'd consider because of cost restraints, we thoroughly enjoyed everything and when you consider the sheer amount of food you're served, the price really isn't too out of place. My friend Jenn and I shared the mutton chops (are you noticing a trend with me?) and hubby ordered the prime rib, a favorite cut of his. When I say there's a lot of food, I'm so not kidding. But it's all so delicious, you can't help but clean your plate of every delicious bite! I also tried raw oysters for the first time (hooked!!) along with old favorites like crab cakes and shrimp cocktail. We finished off our meal with dessert (key lime pie, creme brulee and affogato). It was unbelievably delicious and the atmosphere was historically appealing, too. I also noticed that the restaurant and attached bar was filled with successful businessmen. Bonus eye candy! There's no doubt why Keen's has been in business for almost 130 years.

Given that my family members aren't much for Thai food, I don't get to order it much when I'm at home so whenever I'm in New York, I try to find Thai at least once. At the suggestion of a friend, I decided to try Wondee Siam (or maybe it's called Q2 Thai now?) in Hell's Kitchen. It's a small little place on 9th but extremely economical with great-tasting food. I'm glad I went! The lunch specials through the week are unmatched. I was able to not only get the food I wanted, but I didn't have to break the bank to do it. $8.95 for Drunken noodles, a salad and an appetizer. Love it when I find a good deal! I would've loved to try the Tom Yum but I stuck with the special and was pleasantly full by the end of my meal. The vegetable dumpling wasn't all that great, but I'm still in the process of deciding what I like when it comes to dumplings, so don't take my word on that. It could've been great as far as veggie dumplings go and I just don't like veggie dumplings. Who knows? The drunken noodles, though, were fantastic!! The texture was good and the flavor outstanding. It's hard sometimes to find a place that doesn't overcook the noodles, but these guys nailed it. The salad had a delicious ginger dressing, too. It's definitely a place I'll visit again when I'm in town.

Another stop this trip was the Playwright Tavern. Usually, I avoid Times Square because of the sheer number of people that inundate the restaurants there. But since TSQ is where we stayed this trip, we indulged and boy are we glad we did. Hubby got the salmon and I opted for the mushroom ravioli. Sweet baby Jesus, it was ALL delicious! Restaurant ravioli can sometimes be overcooked or the dough may be too thin for the filling, but this was the perfect consistency and the flavor was amazing. I'm also not much of a salmon person, but even hubby's fish was good! It was a little overpriced, but that's typical for Times Square restaurants. All things considered, it was a good decision.

Another great stop in New York City for me was the Galaxy Restaurant and Diner at 9th and 46th. I met up with my friend Todd after he got off work and we headed to this 24-hour diner. (I love 24 hour places!) Believe it or not, I didn't take any pictures of my food. I'm wishing now I had because it was definitely photograph-worthy. But it was late and we got caught up in conversation and I simply forgot. Todd suggested the fried chicken and I didn't even bother looking at the menu for anything else. I trust locals' suggestions when it comes to what restaurants are known for. I rarely look beyond that unless it's something I don't eat. It was about $15 for four pieces of fried chicken, a salad and an order of fries. Worth. Every. Penny. Great food, decent atmosphere and convenient location to Times Square, it too will be a place I visit again.

The last stop for me before I left this wonderfully culinary city was a place in Brooklyn called Pies and Thighs. Again, I was too caught up in conversation and good company to take pictures, but it, too, was photo-worthy. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to try out their pies, but I did get the catfish box and it was DELICIOUS!! Normally, fish isn't the first option I go for, but since my friend Chanda talked about how great it was the whole way to the restaurant, I felt it would be sinful to choose otherwise! I'm glad I ordered it. The soul food place has numerous "southern" type options, including sides of grits and greens, but I stuck with fries. The fish had a perfect texture (some catfish I've had is a little too soft for my taste) and was golden brown. It was so good!! While it was quite a bit out of the way for me since I stayed in Midtown, it was worth the trip to Brooklyn and I highly recommend that catfish!

Over the years I've visited a LOT of other restaurants in New York and have rarely been disappointed, but I'm always open for new suggestions, so feel free to drop me a note with a place you think I need to try!

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