For me, travel is all about experiencing the local culture - be it through enjoying the local arts, befriending the locals, understanding the social customs, partaking in festivities, to the mundane, such as traveling via mass public transport to savoring local fare. Especially the "savoring local fare" part.
For someone who stems from a nation of serious eaters, I strongly advocate that "you haven't been to a place, till you have eaten what the locals eat". Earlier, I had posted an entry on some popular local snacks. But NYC, being a gastronomic capital, has so much more beyond junk food and it wouldn't be representative of my travel experiences if I didn't include some of the fantastic restaurants I've come across there.
OK, I fess up. Basically, the above rambling preamble is just another thinly veiled excuse for me to share more of my food pictures. Ha!
Below are some of the awesome restaurants that I have tried and highly recommend to anyone looking for a great dining experience in NYC. Some of the food (mostly Japanese) shown here are not exactly indigenous NY fare, but they are pretty popular dining choices with the cosmopolitan NYC crowd. i.e. no cheesy, glitzy Times Square chain-restaurants type of tourist traps!
I absolutely adore Peter Luger. The restaurant, that is.
I had dinner at its original outpost in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and I swear my dining companions and I were there, bright and early at 6 p.m. But from the looks of the crowd milling about the bar area and reception and those already seated in the dining hall, it looked as though it was eight to nine-ish on a packed weekend night.
I was there on a Tuesday.
I've read that some patrons feel that the decor and ambiance of Peter Luger can be somewhat dowdy. But I disagree as I actually adore the 'old school' vibe of Peter Luger and it seems to befit its legacy as a 100-odd years establishment. It feels like a classy grand ole dame - from its dim, traditional, wooded interiors to the bow-tied, whites and apron-decked servers.
And as a fine-dining establishment, it has none of the poseur airs of its chic, minimalist-interior counterparts and yet, none of the stuffiness of a old, established tradition, but merely retaining a disarming air and casualness about it. So you would not feel self-conscious dining in easy, casual outfits, nor would you be shy about doggy-bagging your leftovers. As a matter of fact, doggy-bagging was pretty much the practice with most diners while I was there.
Dinner kicks off to a promising start with a basket of delicious and warm selection of breads. I especially digged the onion-filled buns.
Starter: Luger's Sizzling Bacon, extra thick, by the slice. Best savored with Peter Luger's own steak house sauce.
The pièce de résistance - the steak for two. A must order. Succulent, char-broiled porterhouse steak, fit for two, or even for three if you are tiny eaters. Do it justice and have it done medium-rare. Truly brings out the carnivore in you!
As service is prided upon here, the servers will portion out the steaks and sides to you individually when they present the steaks at your table. We tried a side of creamed spinach, which is something of a novelty for me and a tad salty for my liking. But an interesting side nonetheless, I can imagine it would go superbly with bread or potatoes.
While we didn't manage to save room for desserts after going carnivore-berserk, we still managed to have a sweet ending to the meal with the generous amount of complimentary chocolate coins given at the end of the meal. Sweet!
Again, contrary to most reports, I actually experienced good service during my visit. Our server, a genial senior of eastern European descent, was friendly, polite and helpful throughout our meal. He was also undeniably honest as he actually returned to us with the excess cash after we accidentally over-tipped him by a hundred dollars! And he did not even bat an eyelid, but instead assisted cheerfully, when we asked to doggy-bag the leftover steaks and even the bread, because we enjoyed them so much. Steak sandwich, anyone?
Note of caution though. Be prepared for sticker shock when dining at Peter Luger. It was an awesome dining experience, but you really do have to be prepared to shell out for it. I suppose with some dining establishments, premium pricing begets quality dining experiences. Oh yes, reservations are a must and it's cash payment only.
Peter Luger can be sort of a destination dining if you're residing in Manhattan, as they only have two outlets - one in Brooklyn, another in Great Neck. But sometimes when you're craving for an all-out New York Steak experience, it's definitely worth the extra trip. For more information, go to http://peterluger.com
I've heard of NYC's impressive sushi bars, that they are of comparable standards to the best Tokyo offerings and offer fresh, authentic sushi. Being a sushi-phile, I planned for a sushi treat to fit into my sightseeing itinerary.
Sushi Yasuda, which sits on 43rd St. , near Lexington Ave, fitted in nicely as a lunch stop after my visit to view the gorgeous Chrysler Building and the Grand Central Terminal. And most of all, price-wise, Sushi Yasuda doesn't intimidate with the insane USD 350 omakase price ranges of Masa - the rarefied NY Sushi institution.
If you're a newbie at sushi, dining at Sushi Yasuda could be a nice initiation into the art of this popular Japanese cuisine. Ask for counter-seats, where you can observe and interact with the affable chefs at work and always, ALWAYS ask for the chef's recommendation. The chefs know best which seafood are the freshest catch of the day and which ones are the not-to-be-missed items.
Of course, the ideal meal would be to go entirely omakase (literally translates to "it's up to you" in Japanese, it's basically carte blanche for the chef to prepare whatever he sees fit), but pretty often, that can work up to quite a hefty bill as naturally, the chef would prepare the best and freshest, which often translates to the most expensive. So for diners on a more modest budget like mine, I recommend that after selecting some of your favorite regulars, or budgeted pieces, leave some room and leeway for at least two or three recommendations/splurge-treats.
Sushi Yasuda chefs seem to be well-informed about sushi and the ways of savoring them and they are eager to share and dispense their knowledge to appreciative diners. As a matter of fact, their website proffers a brief albeit illuminating introduction to sushi traditions.
I had the prix fixe sushi and sashimi combination which comprises of soup, salad, a variety of sashimi and choice of sushi. My advice would be to skip the sashimi and just head straight for the sushi. And if you have no aversion to shellfish and exotic seafood, just skip the common fish variety and go all out for the more interesting and absolutely delicious abalone sushi or the uni (sea urchin) and clam toppings. (as pictured below).
Absolute bliss! Remarkably, I can still recall the creamy goodness and fresh briny taste of the abalone sushi, topped delicately with a pinch of sea salt. Yum! Just thinking about it now makes me salivate. This was one sushi that made me contemplate countless times about returning to Sushi Yasuda despite it being out of way from my place of lodging. I was probably close to dreaming about it.
Sushi Yasuda can be easy to miss as it has a rather nondescript exterior and lack of signage, save for a faint and rather teeny fish print that sits atop its store. So do keep a lookout!
For more information, go to http://www.sushiyasuda.com/home.html
Located in K-town (Koreatown), Todai is an All-You-Can-Eat Japanese Sushi and Seafood buffet. A terrific value-for-money dining choice to ease those hunger pangs after an intensive bout of shopping at Macy's and the 34th Street. Dinner buffet costs around the region of USD 28 before tax.
The buffet mile stretches on and on. I tried in vain to capture the entire line of buffet.
Suffice to say, the buffet variety was astounding and remarkably fresh - ranging from sashimi to sushi to yakitori to salads, to more cooked items and soups, desserts etc.
These substantial and tasty cold, steamed Alaskan crab pincers alone were reasons enough for a trip to Todai.
For more information, refer to http://todainyc.com/
Located in the vicinity of Times Square Theater district, Sapporo is a good dining option for the budget conscious Broadway goer. Or an easy-on-your-pocket dining option after blowing your budget on the more popular Broadway shows. It's cheap and yet authentic.
I can personally vouch that the ramen was as good as the ones I have tried in the actual Hokkaido Sapporo's famed Ramen Yokocho itself when I was there three months prior to visiting NYC.
I relished slurping down the delicious, hearty broth and springy noodles of the Sapporo Special Ramen. The damage? A mere USD 8.50 (before tax).
Sapporo is located at 152 W 49th St, New York 10019. Between 6th & 7th Ave. For more information, go to http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/Sapporo/
When it comes to checking out the dining scene in NYC, I highly recommend browsing New York Magazine's user friendly and highly informative website: www.nymag.com.
The website is choke-ful of useful tidbits about NYC's eateries, with information on location, website, contact details, price range, as well as a brief profile write-up, editorial reviews and reader reviews, dish recommendations and the most useful of them all - menu listing!
Absolutely brilliant, isn't it? Now you can see exactly what the restaurant is offering before you make a reservation and you can even plan your choice of dishes in advance! And best of all, with the detailed menus which also list the price of the dishes, it takes the guess work out of the usual $ to $$$$ types of price range ratings. As after all, individual preferences vary and one may well overspend or underspend the suggested price range, depending on what you order. Of course the menu feature may no doubt not be available for every, single restaurant in their listing, but as far as I've experienced, it generally never fails for most of the popular restaurants.
The website is also a great resource for getting a feel for NYC culture, as it keeps you informed about the latest on-goings in NYC with its interesting feature stories and you can also read up about other aspects such as bars, entertainment, fashion and shopping, in general. Honestly, NY Mag pretty much became my online bible while I was holidaying in NY. That, plus Google weather updates. NY during Spring can be rather unpredictable - weather-wise.