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Noah Galuten: Return to Gotham

Return to Gotham

Since moving back to Los Angeles with Jackie, I’ve been missing New York City quite a bit. Between great friends, useful public transit, much later last call, a communal atmosphere and a whole different range of foods from LA— there’s a lot to miss. So when Jackie’s NY-based sister was getting married earlier this month, it was the perfect excuse for a return visit. Here’s how all the eating went down:

Pizza Mecca

DiFara’s in Brooklyn/Midwood. It’s the standard answer to the question “Who makes the best pizza in New York?” (and thus, likely, in the country). People can argue the merits of that one way or the other, but its hard to argue that it isn’t at least right near the top.

Domenico DeMarco has been standing behind that counter for decades, doing one thing, six days a week, for lunch and dinner— making pizzas. His commitment, frankly, is astounding, and so are his pizzas.

This was actually my first trip to DiFara’s, so despite the urges of my NY pals to order the square pie with pepperoni, we went with the classic. It did not disappoint— though I’m eager for a return.

New York Has Edible Mexican Food?

Yes. After the wedding at City Hall, we headed over Cabrito for a post-wedding lunch. I drank quite a few Dos Equis and ate some really enjoyable steak tacos, cooked medium rare and topped refreshingly with crema. When I go to NY, I tend to refuse to eat Mexican— but this place was a very pleasant surprise.

Gotham’s Golden Boy
Dara (the reason for the sudden upgrade in photograph quality for this meal— though you’re not really supposed to take pictures in here and the lighting is not ideal. It’s to Dara’s credit that these pictures even came out at all.), Kevie and Natalie took me to NY superstar David Chang’s restaurant, Momofuku Ssambar. I’ve been before, but the menu changes constantly— in fact, there were only a handful of dishes remaining from my last visit. Here’s what we had:

(For full restaurant menu, click here)

Steamed buns with pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallion: Maybe the best bun I’ve ever had? Belly was extremely fatty/delicious. Perfect dish when squirted with sriracha.

Santa Barbara uni with beet tapioca, whipped tofu and scallions: Exciting dish. Really good uni. Beets had texture like salmon roe, but tasted definitively of beet.

Fuji apple kimchee with smoked jowl, maple labne and arugula: Yes, yes, yes. This dish is right in my comfort zone. Sweet, salty, fatty, porky, spicy and soothing. More please.

Country ham (forget which one): Salty, delicious…but best when used with:

Bread with butter and lardo: Tasting lardo and butter, side by side with fresh, warm bread is a delight. But when you throw a slice of that ham on top, look out.

BBQ Rib sandwich with red onion slaw: Nothing really bad to say about this sandwich. But it didn’t stand out. A lot of Chang’s food is a variation on SE Asian street food, but this one wasn’t quite varied enough or transcendent enough on its own. For me, if you’re going to charge 12 bucks for a small sandwich at an “It” restaurant in Manhattan, it’s got to be special. This wasn’t.

Crispy pig’s head with lime pickle and frisee: A good dish, but not a great one. Desperately needed the lime and frisee to survive its heaviness.

Asparagus and burgundy snails with market greens and onion dashi: Gets a thumbs up just for existing. I may not want a whole bowl of it for myself, but enjoyed it in moderation. Big range of flavors, but totally under control. Impressive.

Grilled Hudson Valley Duck Hearts with chicory and salsa verde: A salad with very tender duck hearts. Good heat on the back end, balanced out with nice acidity. Very good dish.

Two excellent desserts— the details of which escape me, other than to say that the purple one used goat milk and the other is Thai iced tea flavored.

The Smoke Monster

Best smoked fish I’ve ever had at Russ & Daughters. Pictures are severely lacking here. But the sturgeon is out of this world. They also make some great chopped liver.

More David Chang
(apologies for picture quality)

We went to Momofuku Noodle bar (joined by Car Accidents Bernstein) because I’d heard great things about the kimchee stew. Unfortunately, it had disappeared from the menu. Overall, the meal was disappointing. We had:

Chili poached prawn with ramp mayonnaise, hard boiled egg and fried capers: This would make for the best picnic salad ever. Also: fried capers are a great thing.

Kazakh noodle with pork neck and spring onion: Favorite dish of the evening. Thick, tough, hand made noodles, shredded meat and a very soothing broth. Reminds me a little of the pasatelli at Fraiche in Culver City.

Roasted chicken leg with smoked chicken breast, rhubarb and snow peas: A tasty dish that’s deceptively more complex than it comes off.

Momofuku ramen with pork belly: A solid bowl of ramen, but if that’s what you want, you may as well go to Ippudo.

Spicy cold noodle: Very spicy. A surprisingly potent dish, covered with candied nuts. A truly unique dish that I enjoyed and one I’m glad I tried— but not one I think I’ll be craving any time soon.

Get Your Flush On

This was my favorite day of eating in NY. I trekked out to Flushing with my old pal Ultimate Manilow to hunt down some really delicious Chinese food. It’s amazing how much beautiful stuff is within a literal stone’s throw from one other.

Things started off at Nan Shian Xiao Long Bao for the best soup dumplings I’ve ever had. Makes me eager to go on a soup dumpling voyage in San Gabriel Valley. Anyway, these suckers were perfect. Stuffed with a layered, complex broth, pork and crab, this is a dish I could eat any day, any time, anywhere. I’m legitimately in love.

We also munched some surprisingly tender and tasty spicy bamboo shoots, and gorgeous, fluffy and crispy scallion pancake.

After that, we got invited into an Irish bar by the Irish part-owner, who demanded to buy us Jaeger shots. I also may or may not have made love with a 50 year old Italian-American woman.

Next up, we shot down to Little Pepper for one of the more highly regarded Szechuan places in the area. Nothing was too spicy at all (the chef’s son promises that they didn’t dumb it down for us), but the flavor of the heat was off-the-charts tasty and complex. We had:

Spicy braised fish: Very tender, very flavorful and amazingly, the sauce did not dominate the fish at all and barely seemed to penetrate the interior.

Ma Po Tofu: Different from any version I’ve had before. It had very dry heat and flavors— similar to the difference between the taste of lemon zest vs. lemon juice. A real pleasure.

Pork dumplings in hot sauce: The simplest of the three dishes, but a great counterpoint to the stew-y consistencies of the rest.

Oh, we also drank a lot of Tsingtao over the course of this day. After, we wandered around the Flushing mall, walked into the men’s room and found this:

A Craving Satisfied: Three Years Later

Gray’s Papaya is one of those thing you take for granted until its gone. It’s to this day, probably my favorite finish to a night of drinking. $4.50 nets you two delicious dogs and a tropical beverage. Somehow, I never wound up going when I last lived in NY, but this time I demanded it. The last time I ate a Gray’s dog had been 3 years earlier. As you all probably know by now, I live for my cravings— and this one, finally, has been taken care of. Mission accomplished.