What does a bon vivant do when she ends up in New York on her own? Well, if she's like me, she plans her eating and drinking and is 100% willing to put in the effort to make sure she gets the job done. Dublin has absorbed so many influences from cities like New York and London recently that you're left wondering what's still left or undiscovered. While New York has a scale and energy that's all its own, by the time I left I was happily convinced that Dublin is currently up there with the best that NY could do.
I had a short list of things I absolutely had to accomplish on this trip, which included shopping in Century 21, cocktails at the Dead Rabbit and a trip to one of David Chang's Momofuku venues. I got myself down to Century 21 shortly after it opened at 8am and I spent the next few hours happily browsing rails and digging through shoes. But eventually, my stomach started calling so I hailed a cab to head uptown to Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Momofuku Ssäm Bar, 207 2nd Avenue, New York 10003
Momofuku Ssäm Bar is reservationless, except for certain dishes, and I wanted to get there early to be sure of a seat. In the end, the restaurant turned out to be mainly empty and I parked myself at a counter seat. I ordered the famous spicy pork sausage and rice cakes dish ($19), with a plate of fried duck dumplings to start ($12). The dumplings were indeed crispy, but lacked any significant flavour, despite a little broth with pickled cauliflower and some sriracha mayo.
The signature spicy pork sausage and rice cake looked like a bowl of heavenly spiciness when it was delivered to my counter space. Don't be fooled by the words "rice cakes" as what you get here are dense, gnocchi-like pillows of rice that have soaked up the oily juices. Once I got to eating, I could pick up some Sichuan pepper flavours, but they were low key and ultimately not spicy. At this stage, I was questioning my palette, wondering if I had picked up a cold or flu that was numbing my taste buds. After all, this dish was oily and red with bean paste, all things that usually bode well. A quick sip of my wine reassured me that I was tasting just fine. Since eating there, I've found numerous versions of this recipe on the internet, and it really does sound better than the version I tasted. I think I'll be trying it out at home to see if it redeems itself.
Momofuku is famous for their addictive Milkbar desserts, so I rolled the dice one last time with the Thai tea pie served with saliva-inducing tamarind. I simply loved this strangely sweet and tangy dessert with its delicious crumb and vibrant parfait-like layers.
|Fried duck dumplings at Momofuku Ssäm|
|Spicy pork sausage and rice cakes at Momofuku Ssaäm|
|Thai tea pie with tamarind and almond at Momofuku Ssäm|
Empellón Taqueria, 230 W 4th Street, New York 10014
Empellón Al Pastor, 132 St Mark's Place, New York NY 10009
Empellón was another to do item on my checklist. I've been following this creative Mexican group of venues from ex-pastry chef Alex Stupak ever since I came across their blog posts. I had made a reservation for one (not lonesome at all, let me reassure you) and was supping an excellent margarita when I was personally welcomed by both the hostess and manager. Turns out they had seen my tweets and wanted to make sure that I enjoyed myself. I was genuinely gobsmacked by their warm welcome and the fact that they cared about a single, overseas visitor.
Empellón Taqueria is a sit-down restaurant in the West Village and was nicely buzzing on my visit. Guacamole and chips came with two punchy salsas, one a nutty, fiery arbol and the other a smooth smoked cashew ($12). Let's just say that a mental note has been made to replicate these at home. A dish of octopus, parsnip and pumpkin seeds coated in a smoky, sweet and spicysalsa papanteca ($16, complimentary from the house) was utterly moreish and was followed by two tacos of succulent pork shoulder and roast, caramelised pineapple ($12).
In contrast to the Taqueria, Empellón Al Pastor is a less-formal bar-restaurant on the East Village. You order from a short taco menu at either the bar or taco counter, grab a number and wait for delivery at your table. All tacos are just $4 and once again I had the delicious pork shoulder and pineapple taco, along with a beef and caramelised onion taco. Add in another great margarita with smoked salt ($12) and I was completely rocking a party of one.
|Beef taco at Empellon Al Pastor|
|Pork shoulder with pineapple at Empellon Al Pastor|
Bouchon Bakery, 1 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 10016
The next day, I found myself wandering around 5th Avenue and at the recommendation of several Twitter friends, I called into Eataly. I had heard so much about this Italian food emporium and was curious to see for myself. Intially, I wondered what all the fuss was about, but as I wandered deeper and deeper into the halls, it opened up like an Aladdin's cave of treasures. When I found myself in deep contemplation of a jar of pistachio spread, I knew it was time to stop.
Well, as you can predict, it was time for another pitstop, and I pulled up a seat at the marble counter of La Piazza. Fresh bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls) topped with sautéed spinach and chiles ($14) was followed by nutty, deeply intense arancini flavoured with wood mushroom and Fontina fondue ($9). My only regret is not getting the lift to the top floor roof bar.
By accident, I came across an outlet of the famous Bouchon Bakery (from chef Thomas Keller) at Rockefeller Plaza. As I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, in I went for one of their oversized macaron. I ate the delicious creation outside in the fresh cold air, watched closely by many of the little birds that take advantage of the crumbs.
|Bocconcini with spinach at Eataly|
|Arancini at Eatalyv|
|Macaron at Bouchon|
|A little table guest at Bouchon|
My hotel for this trip was located in Chinatown, and I had repeatedly promised myself a Chinatown dinner. However, instead of dinner, we ended up having dim sum for breakfast at the Oriental Garden, just off Canal Street. Inside, groups of Chinese women were laughing through breakfast, and we started with a selection of ready-prepared dim sum from bamboo steamers on a table side trolley. Shark fin dumplings and classic pork & shrimp dumplings were light, incredibly fresh and gently aromatic. These were followed by a selection of fried plates, cooked to order from the kitchen. All dim sum range between $3 and $5, meaning that our breakfast just creeped over the $20 mark.
|Shark fin dumplings at Oriental Garden|
|Pork and seafood pancakes at Oriental Garden|