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Taste of NYC


  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2007
    The town serves contemporary food with local flair.
  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Shave ice is another local favorite.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    The original island cuisine is the Hawaiian plate.




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The last time I was in New York, I was on a quest to find a restaurant to replace the shuttered Payard as one that my love and I could call our own.

We think we found it in a humble brasserie, Jacques at 20 Prince St., a place where we could entertain friends in the city or sit on the sidewalk all afternoon and enjoy drinks and moules frites and watch the world go by.

This time, I went with no agenda, although I serendipitously found a second place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at the Chocolate Room, where I could bring Manhattan friends who have little time to explore their own territory. There, they can escape the city and enjoy the wonders of rich brownie sundaes topped with real mint ice cream and the best chocolate chip cookies ever, as well as lactose-free, gluten-free, organic chocolate sorbet if so inclined.

Then, a lobster roll changed everything.

I had spotted an advertisement for a lobster roll, and that set off a craving. After that I couldn’t help but notice lobster rolls prominently listed on menus posted in restaurant windows or chalkboards.

“There’s your lobster roll,” my sweetheart would say. “Want to go in?”

But the ubiquity made me gun shy. I didn’t want to have my memories of the city scarred by a mediocre one.

A friend told me to check out Pearl Oyster Bar, but I felt compelled to do more research, finding Pearl in the running, along with Mary’s Fish Camp (created by a defector from Pearl) and Luke’s Lobster.

For my preferences, Luke’s seemed the best bet. Reviewers gushed about its large chunks of all-claw lobster meat with no heavy dressing or mayonnaise, and so I set out for the Upper West Side, one of Luke’s three locations. That lobster roll ($15) was so amazing that after polishing it off, I immediately wanted another.

Now, I hate compiling restaurant lists because one list never suits. A sensible list would have to take into account a person’s taste, food history and experience, health factors, quirks and such. But after my lobster roll experience, I started thinking of my own quintessential New York gastronomic experiences that could help other harried visitors get the tenor of the city and make the most of their short time there.

Then I started thinking about the quintessential Hawaii experiences, and not a moment too soon, as I came home to email requests from summer visitors asking for a list of food must-trys for their island stays. I’ve kept the list rather generic, because neighbor islanders will have their own favorite restaurants, though the types of food that are ingrained in our culture would be similar.

NEW YORK

Lobster roll: Luke’s Lobster; for locations visit www.lukeslobster.com.

Artisanal: Last time I wrote about New York food, I was chided by some readers in New York for my Manhattan-centric view. They suggested getting out of Manhattan and checking out Brooklyn, a petri dish for new food trends. The Williamsburg Smorgasburg quick overview of the do-it-yourself, artisanal fervor that permeates the Burg can be had at this outdoor food fair that takes place every Saturday at the East River Waterfront. There you’ll find a taste of everything, from what’s billed as the freshest tempeh in New York to rich porchetta sandwiches and homemade ice cream sandwiches. The idea is smaller mo’ betta. Even David Chang of Momofuku has his own little Milk Bar + Friends there, serving up ice milk and his famous Crack Pies.

Brasseries: Along with the aforementioned Jacques, I like Balthazar (80 Spring St., 212-965-1414, www.balthazarny.com). Brasseries permeate the city, and you’ll find many worthy of your time. The research could keep you busy your whole trip.

Cheesecake: Upon arriving in the city, I spied the Junior’s Cheesecake truck and had to have a slice of the heavenly, velvety cake, with the raspberry “topping” swirled directly into the cake (www.juniorscheesecake.com). For toppings on the cake, try Lindy’s (825 Seventh Ave., 212-767-8343).

Chelsea Market: What started in the 1890s as a baking complex now offers five blocks of shops and food purveyors, home to everything from a Morimoto restaurant to the Chelsea Wine Vault, Fat Witch Bakery and the seafood market, The Lobster Place. (Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave; www.chelseamarket.com)

Falafel: Abounds in carts around the city.

High end: There are any number of big-name chefs in the city, and all offer tasting menus to showcase the best of the season and their capabilities. After reading in the New Yorker earlier this year about a pop-up called What Happens When, it was the one restaurant I wanted to try. Alas, it closed due to liquor license issues the first week I was there, but chef/proprietor John Fraser has an Upper West Side restaurant called Dovetail (103 W. 77th St., 212-362-3800, dovetailnyc.com) where the food is sublime. More details about his current tasting menu are at my food blog, Take a Bite.

Low end: The masses flock to the Shake Shack (multiple locations, www.shakeshack.com) for burgers and shakes, and Gray’s Papaya (2090 Broadway; 402 Avenue of the Americas; 539 Eighth Ave.) for crispy-skinned hot dogs. I hate standing in line for food, but waited about an hour for a Shake Shack burger. What I liked more than the burger, though, was its frozen custard. Sweet corn was the flavor of the day when I was there. A newer dog option is Bark, in Park Slope, Brooklyn (474 Bergen St., 718-789-1939, barkhotdogs.com).

Ladies who lunch: I always make a trip to Bergdorf Goodman’s fifth-floor BG restaurant (Fifth Avenue at 58th Street, 212-872-8977, www. bergdorfgoodman.com), if nothing but to enjoy a wonderful soup and salad and bask in the old-school grace and leisure of the monied class.

Pizza: New York style is a lesson in simplicity with its thin crust, tomato sauce and gooey, mozzarella splendor. Its oversize nature means most people order it by the slice.

HAWAII

Bakery treats: There’s a reason Leonard’s Bakery malasadas are at the top of Foodspotting.com’s list of Hawaii food finds. Locals have a sweet tooth, and these malasadas are airy, sugar-coated delights. Best when hot (933 Kapahulu Ave., 737-5591, www.leonardshawaii.com). Another must for any visitor: Liliha Bakery’s chocolate-filled, chantilly-topped Coco Puffs (515 N. Kuakini St., 531-1651, lilihabakeryhawaii.com).

Contemporary: Town restaurant in Kaimuki (3435 Waialae Ave., 735-5900, www.townkaimuki.com) is the template for artisanal culture, inspiring next-gen chefs charged with keeping Hawaii viable as a serious food destination.

Food trucks: The plate lunch trucks that for so long were a part of the landscape have evolved into specialty food trucks with niches that include Korean tacos, Jamaican jerk, soul food, grilled cheese sandwiches and more. Social media has made it possible to find these mobile edibles on a daily basis. But for the biggest bang, Eat the Street hosts a Food Truck Rally the last Friday each month. For updates, visit www.streetgrindz.com or follow @streetgrindz.

Hawaiian plate: The original island cuisine takes the form of laulau, kalua pig, luau and haupia hard to find anywhere but home.

James Beard noted: Pacific Rim-inspired cuisine put Hawaii on the culinary map. Hawaii’s award winners in this prestigious organization’s search for the best are Roy’s (multiple locations; www.roysrestaurant.com), Alan Wong (1857 S. King St., 949-2526, www. alanwongs.com) and Chef Mavro (1969 S. King St., 944-4714, www.chefmavro.com), all early proponents of the farm-to-table and proto-locavore movements.

Poke: Being surrounded by water, naturally we enjoy seafood on our plates in both cooked and raw glory. One ahi poke dish can be found on just about every major restaurant menu, but Sam Choy is the established poke king, and Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab (580 N. Nimitz Highway, 545-7979) has three options: shoyu style; “Before Capt. Cook” style with inamona, limu and Hawaiian salt; or marinated, fried and sprinkled with furikake. Supermarkets are also a major source of the prepared shellfish and fish.

Saimin/ramen: Our plantation history meant that people didn’t have much to spend on food, and a bowl of soup noodles was a warm, gratifying way to fill one’s belly. These are enjoyed with a few pieces of teriyaki beef on skewers. Over the years, ramen has risen as a favorite choice for hot noodles because of the variety of flavors and toppings offered to a generation that loves choices.

Shave ice: Hot weather means people want a shortcut to cooling off, and shave ice hits the spot. Most people cite Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa (66-087 Kamehameha Highway, 637-4827, www.matsumotoshaveice.com) as the go-to spot, but for those who don’t want to make the drive, Shimazu Store at 330 N. School St. (371-8899) will reward you with fluffy ice and a growing roster of cool flavors, from red velvet creme to mojito and buttered popcorn.

Shrimp truck: In a car culture, many find joy in going for a long, weekend drive. Kahuku’s shrimp trucks provide the excuse. Those with no car might head to Andy’s Kahuku Shrimp at 745 Keeaumoku St. (944-4040) for garlic or Korean-style spicy shrimp.

Zippy’s: I would venture there are few people born in Hawaii who didn’t grow up eating Zippy’s chili, bentos, fried chicken or spaghetti with meat sauce. Even those who outgrow these dishes still manage to wax nostalgic about them. With 26 locations statewide, Zippy’s is the quintessential Hawaii restaurant (www.zippys.com).

Discuss among yourselves.

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