New York City: Work hard, shop hard, eat well

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New York City has always been about three things for me: Work hard, shop hard, eat well. I was in town for only 3 nights on a business trip, so I had to pack a lot into just a little amount of free time. Fortunately, NYC is a good place for that.

I visited a few key restaurants and hit up a few key sales, deciding not to waste my time with stores that were even remotely touristy or similar to the ones I could find back in San Francisco. I was shopping with a purpose, no browsing here. And I wanted to hit up a few key eateries that were sure to please.

Here’s a recap (but by no means a “Best of” list):

Uniqlo – I arrived early enough in the evening to hit up their new 5th Avenue flagship store before closing time. The place opened less than a week ago and in the daytime, there were still plenty of people lining up just to get inside the 3 story building full of H&M-esque Japanese fashions. They were promoting a lot of cashmere (in 25 different colors), puffy jackets, and $10 jeans (on sale), but I was more interested in their undergarments and leggings. They’re a great deal and good quality.

Halal Cart http://53rdand6th.com (53rd St. & 6th Ave.) – Their famous Chicken and Rice platter with white sauce is frequently named as one of the best street food eats in town. I’m lucky because I usually end up staying at the Hilton which is right next to the cart. And after arriving in NYC just a few hours before, it was the perfect low-key meal to take up to the room and eat while unpacking. Although, I suspect this meal tastes much better after some club hopping and you’re looking for something hearty to suck up all the alcohol in your system.

Ess-A-Bagel http://www.ess-a-bagel.com (831 3rd Ave.) – Just like NYC pizza, you can’t get a bagel anywhere else like the kinds you find in the Big Apple, and Ess-A-Bagel is the perfect place to get the perfect bagel. It’s been around since 1976 and is a NYC institution. I went with the standard lox and cream cheese with some red onions and lettuce on a toasted everything bagel and it was the perfect breakfast. The bagel itself was perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like you’d want it to be. Why is this so hard to find anywhere else?

Lupa http://www.luparestaurant.com (170 Thompson St.) – This Mario Batali eatery is the lower key version of his famous Babbo restaurant, though many think it’s actually better. It’s casual and low-key, which I liked.

My friend and I shared the Salumi Platter which included slices of Prosciutto Di Parma and house-made Coppa Cotta, Testa, Speck and Lingua, among others. It was the highlight of the meal. For entrees we ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which was solidly good, but nothing to write home about, and the Skate with Lentils and Greens, which had a bright citrusy flavor from the grapefruit in the dish. And it was perfectly cooked. For dessert, we splurged with the Lupa Tartufo which both looked and tasted like a huge Ferrero Rocher chocolate, except with a decadent ice cream filled center. There was hazelnut and chocolate all over this huge thing. It was delicious and definitely enough to serve two. The service was friendly, attentive and unpretentious.

The Jill Sander Sample Sale – This event happens twice a year in NYC from what I can tell, and it’s a popular sale with locals. Eventhough my pregnant self can’t fit into any of the clothes that were 85% off, I found handbags and shoes. You can’t beat getting a pair of patent leather flats and pair of neutral slingbacks for just $140, altogether (including tax). They originally retailed for over $400 a pair.

Prune http://www.prunerestaurant.com (54 East 1st St.) – Before I talk about the food, I have to get my Jake Gyllenhaal sighting out of the way. The dude was waiting for a table just like anyone else, so that was refreshing to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to get all TMZ on him so I didn’t snap a picture.

Anyways, this famous restaurant is a favorite among chefs like Eric Rupert and Anthony Bourdain, and obviously, celebrities that like to wander in without an entourage. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has become a bit of a celebrity herself in recent months with her culinary accolades, bestselling book, and personal life. All that aside, the food was surprisingly simple but beautifully executed.

We ordered the Rock Shrimp Roll with Old Bay Seasoned Fries and the Duck Breast with Beets. The shrimp was some of the freshest we’d ever tasted. They were so tender and sweet and tasted like they were just plucked from the water. The duck breast had just a touch of sweet smokiness and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was simplicity at its best.

Laduree (864 Madison Ave.) – I have been in love with this legendary Parisian macaron giant since my first bite at their Champs Elysees flagship store. Everything about it is over the top but their macarons stand up to the hype with their wonderfully delicate cookie (crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside) and their fragrant flavored fillings. I HAD to make the trek to their new outpost in NYC. This is their first and only store in North America. I’m happy to report that the macarons taste just as good as they did in Paris…except just a tad sweeter (to fit the American palate, unfortunately). They come in a myriad of flavors and colors, but my favorites will always be Cassis, Orange Blossom, and Salted Caramel. Yum…

Pizzarte http://www.pizzarteny.com (69 West 55th St.) – It’s hard to find a distinctive place to eat in the heart of Midtown that’s not touristy, overpriced, or unimaginative. Enter Pizzarte. Though it wasn’t the New York-style pie I was craving, it didn’t disappoint. Their Neapolitan-style Margherita pie had that perfectly charred and chewy crust with a fresh and tangy tomato sauce. And the Warm Burratta with butternut squash and broccoli rabe appetizer my friend and I shared was creamy and comforting.

The interior was clean, stylish and contemporary, and the food was of surprisingly great quality and preparation, which was a great surprise given its kitschy location.

Botkier Sample Sale – My last present to myself came in the form of a beautiful plum handbag that retailed for $600 at Nordstrom, but ended up being only $200 at their company’s sample sale. There were clutches for less than $100, and many bags were only $150. Incredible steal for a designer leather bag. I’m glad I went.

Besides Jake Gyllenhaal (which frankly would’ve been enough), I shared space with Gayle King and the Reverend Al Sharpton earlier that same day. Craziness. I was hoping I’d bump into George Clooney by dinnertime, but no such luck. I think my luck was already pretty good, so I didn’t complain. :)

This is LA: Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza

Venice Beach

I recently made a quick trip down to LAX for a video shoot with BlogHer CEO, Lisa Stone. We were invited to do a funny tongue-in-cheek Super Bowl video for Network Solutions with the legendary Cloris Leachman. It’s been over six years since I’d set foot on a television set, but it felt like old hat. And Cloris and her son/agent, George Englund, were an absolute hoot and kept us in stitches all day.

I realized that although I only live one hour away by air, I hadn’t been to Los Angeles in over 11 years! Crazy, I know. So since I don’t get down there very much, I wanted to make sure I went to at least one restaurant on my “must-try” list.

So I made a reservation at Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza. I always got the impression Batali’s restaurants were impressive, regardless of his celebrity. I was eager to see if this was true.

My friend, Rene, and I decided to go family style and order a variety of things. We started with the Crispy Pigs Trotter (pig’s feet), and the Burrata with Leeks & Mustard Breadcrumbs. We weren’t sure what to make of the pig’s trotter since neither of us had eaten it before, but we enjoyed it. It had a creamy, rich, smooth mouthfeel and a savory, meaty fat flavor. The closest thing I can think of to it in flavor and mouthfeel would be bone marrow, since both are very fatty. But I’m glad I tried it. And I loved the amount of crispness in the breading. It was fried to a perfect golden brown and crisp without a touch of grease.

Burrata w/Leeks & Mustard Vinaigrette

The Burrata and Leeks were a delight. I’m curious as to how they got the leeks to this soft texture and regret not asking our server. And the dijon vinaigrette had just enough tang to cut through the buttery leeks and smooth creamy cheese. The breadcrumbs on top, of course, added texture. It was a very well conceived dish.

For our pasta course, we shared what was to be my favorite dish of the night. It was the Ricotta and Egg Raviolo, which was just one large housemade pasta pocket with a soft egg on top that oozed its orangey yolk when you cut into it. The ricotta was creamy, light and airy, and it all sat in a small pool of browned butter. It was awesome and far and away the best pasta dish I’d had in a while. It was rich and decadent yet clean and simple. Perfect.

Egg & Ricotta Raviolo

We ended on the meat entree: the Grilled Beef Tagliata with Parmigiano and lightly dressed arugula on the side. The aged balsamic they used on the arugula was sweet with the flavor of grapes and had a little tang, just like a quality aged balsamic vinegar should taste. It also graced the beef tenderloin giving the meat a slight peppy, zesty flavor. It was grilled a perfect medium-rare, flavorful, juicy, and expertly prepared.

The decor for this large space is slightly industrial with it’s high ceilings and large wrought iron light fixtures, yet intimate enough with its dim lighting and comfortably spaced tables. It was sophisticated but not overly warm or pretentious, which helped the mood. It’s a great place for a special occasion or date, but not stuffy, which is perfect for LA. The place was packed all night and we were lucky to get seated earlier than our reservation.

Though our meal was wonderful and certainly memorable, I’m not in a rush to return. It was a great dining experience, just not a regular haunt that I’d crave. I think I’ll head to Batali’s equally buzzed about, Pizzeria Mozza, just next door, on my next trip down South.

Osteria Mozza on Urbanspoon