I had my London shpiel all thought out. As excited as I was to hit beloved, but now strange, American soil for the first time in two long years, I was fairly confident that London and I had chosen each other, and I would be comfortably defending our mutual love.
London, I would say, has got historic charm; grand Georgian, Edwardian an Victorian buildings nestled around Norman Foster’s Gherkin building; just as many innovative/simple/chic/hipster-paradise food joints around town; and maybe even friendlier people.
Totally abandoned the shpiel on day three. First, New Yorkers are friendly! I never needed to do anything but look lost, and someone would approach me to ask if I needed help. If you’re in an elevator, it’s actually considered weird NOT to say hi to your temporary claustrophobia buddies.
More on culture later… what I want to give you a tour on today is the food. Why do New Yorkers get it so, so right? You can’t find Italian food as good in London, only a two hour flight from the motherland… but fly farther afield and several more hours over to NYC and it’s the real deal. Nothing disappointed and I managed to knock a few (of the dizzyingly many) off my eat-before-I-die (or eat-UNTIL-I-die) list.
Exhibit A: Shake Shack
Humble concept with a smart execution and high quality. You could compare it in theory to McDonald’s, but in practice it is almost on another planet. Quality burgers and milkshakes and root beer floats. I went rogue and got the hot dog — I always go for the underdog, anyway. Feast your eyes on the “Shack-ago” dog — Chicago style “dragged through the garden” with all the toppins’ — onions, relish, mustard. I love the “flat-top” grill technique — rather than roll the cylindrical dog around the grill, it’s split and pressed flat on the grill to get an even char. Simply delicious. To chase I had a nostalgic favourite — the purple cow, a root beer float but with artificially purple grape soda and the requisite vanilla ice cream. Blissful park bench eating on a fine, hot and sunny day.
Exhibit B: The Dutch
Another hugely anticipated visit. It’s the chef Andrew Carmellini’s new joing — Carmellini of Locanda Verde fame, known for sumptuous, rich and fresh flavours. It’s nouveau American, illustrated above — an amazing oyster slider — think adorable mini burger bun, onto which a lovingly battered and deep-fried oyster has been coaxed into and bathed in a mayo-based sauce and topped with a bit of fresh shredded lettuce. Worth the $5 per mini burger; I’d have ordered 4 and made it my dinner. But I ventured to try the tripe stew — brightly garnished with avocado and red onions, and irreverently served with a heap of Fritos — yes, the cheap corn chips of white trash repute. Simple, good grub done professionally and with the best ingredients. Their pies are also famous; I’ve heard rave reviews about their missus pastry chef, Kieran Baldwin. Her banana cream pie did not disappoint. It was chunky mashed, just-ripe bananas with fresh whipped cream on a graham cracker base, kept crisp with a layer of dark chocolate. Served cold, it was a serendipitous finish to our meal.
I’ll leave it here for you to digest… stay posted for more goodies..