The Dining Dish blog is Dara Bunjon's take on anything food, both national and in her hometown of Baltimore. Warning: this food blog can be harmful to your waistline.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The People in the Know

A trip to New York City is always about the food - at least to me it is. My restaurant choices are always the center of my angst; I can only read so many reviews and sort through so many before I'm hungry and have to make a decision. With the 2006 International Summer Fancy Food Show on my calendar for July, I started in April contacting people I consider 'in the know' for their restaurant recommendations. Why do I consider them in the know? They live in the cement jungle known as New York City as well as being food professionals of high regard.

One thing my friends will tell you about me, I'm not shy but just the opposite: outgoing, loquacious, and willing to talk to a crowd - if they will listen. I sent e-mails and made phone calls. This past year afforded me an opportunity to work twice with the King of Cakes pastry instructor, James Beard Award-Winning cookbook author Nick Malgieri (A Bakers Tour). I styled food for Susan Spungen, author of the IACP Award-Winning RECIPES cookbook and former food editor for Martha Stewart Living. Susan was unavailable to dine but gave me a list of restaurants. Nick was able to meet for lunch at his favorite restaurant in Chinatown.

Susan's Suggestions

I wasn't looking to strip my savings account at restaurants like Per Se or Jean George - you get my drift. Susan contemplated my financial restrictions and offered up a plethora of choices. In her e-mail she wrote, "You might want to try Cookshop-it's casual but really good, and not too far from the Javits Center - 20th at 10th Avenue. A Voce is hot right now, and also Country, downstairs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Barbuto, in the village/meat market area is a favorite-on a nice night-it's open air. People love Fatty Crab, also in the meat market area, but I haven't been there. Gusto is nice for Italian food and a swanky atmosphere. You can eat dinner at the very comfortable bar without a reservation. Momofuko is great but know that it is a counter only - lunch or dinner - fantastic food."

I let my friend Judy make the choice from Susan's suggestions. We went to Cookshop and at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening it was quite busy. The patrons had the feel of being locals versus tourist. The service was good, the menu diverse, and the food quite admirable.

Nam It Is!

Saturday evening's choice was Nam in Tribeca, chosen by my traveling partner for the day, Jeff Spear of Studio Spear . Jeff had dined there the year before and I trust his taste in food. Nam is a subdued restaurant, very minimalist in decor, and priced well for the pocketbook. The food offered fresh, clean flavors traditional with Vietnamese food. Being at a table with four food enthusiasts, we all tried each others food choices along with some awesome martinis.

Jeff and I had walked approximately 60 blocks earlier that day, through Union Square, Soho, Canal Street, and then back up the east side. The evening had me walking a mile to meet him and the owners of Texas Sassy Products. After dinner we walked from Nam in Tribeca up to Canal Street, Canal up to Little Italy through Mulberry Street, and through Soho to Broadway and Prince, where I raised the white flag and surrendered to fatigue. I kept telling myself, "You're burning calories," but finally Self said, "Calories, smalories - get off your feet!" I caught the next subway train up to Central Park South.

Lunch with Nick

Monday was my day off from the FFS, a day to meander the streets of New York, and most importantly have lunch with Nick Malgieri at the Great N.Y. Noodletown on the corner of the Bowery and Bayard Streets. My friend Judy and I arrived only minutes before Nick and were seated at the tiny table in the very back. When Nick arrived, he was greeted with great honor and directed to a nicer table where we joined him. We deferred to his knowledge of food selections on the menu. In a New York minute, he ordered a sampling plate (not on the menu) including poached chicken breast with ginger scallion sauce (very similar to Millionaire's Chicken), baby roast pig, and roast pork. He then ordered Singapore Mai Fun with Shrimp (spicy), Shrimp with Eggs, and Chinese Flowering Chives with Shredded Roast Duck. I asked Nick how he happened upon this place. Now understand my brain is working on only 4 Mb of RAM, so this is sketchy. The unofficial mayor of Chinatown, Eddie Schoenfeld, told Nick's journalist friend about Great NY Noodletown.

Nick travels the world, so talked about his recent trip to Australia and Thailand where he was a guest chef during a big culinary shindig. He talked, we ate, and we were plump little Buddhas after all that food. Nick had Thai food on his mind and we proceeded down Bayard where he purchased Asian produce, then into Udom Corporation, a Thai Grocery (81 A Bayard Street). The owner is quite friendly, the ultimate salesman, always upgrading and making suggestions. Nick probably has enough red curry paste to last a couple of lifetimes. As I perused the crowded shelves at Udom, I found white lime paste and for only $1.25 I bought it thinking it would be a fun item. Turns out it is used wrapped in betel leaves and chewed like tobacoo, and turns your mouth and teeth red. I have put it up for sale on e-bay.

Nick was weighed down with bags of groceries but managed to hail a cab although our afternoon food odyssey was far from over. My friend, Milena Perez at HarperCollins suggested we find Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard. Their regular flavors are what I would call exotic: durian, green tea, taro, and lychee. Check out all their flavors on their website, along with videos. I had a yummy lychee sorbet.

On the Bowery we strolled the aisles of at least four restaurant supply houses and then proceeded uptown to Bridge Kitchenware to their new location, 711 3rd Avenue (entrance on 45th). I was surprised at my restraint in not purchasing one thing for my kitchen, probably because it is so full at the moment not one more thing can fit.

Calle Ocho (8th Street)

This story is not complete. The last big dinner for the trip was at Calle Ocho, a touch of Little Havana on Columbus Avenue. This was Monday night, and the beginning of restaurant week. The bar and restaurant were packed. Suzanne Fass, an editor, joined my friend and I for a great meal in what seemed to be a cavernous room. As we arrived, my friend Jeff and his associate were just leaving. Jeff pointed out a dish with foie gras--he knows what I like. Unfortunately it came with three corn cakes, which I don't like. I opted for the restaurant week special of ceviche, rockfish in casserole, and dessert for $30.00 The ceviche was ethereal. This was the last meal of the trip worth mentioning. I grabbed dinner near where the day bus picked me up for the ride home. The word disgusting gives it praise! Maybe I'll send that comment in to Zagat.

If you are a true foodie, you always want to know where to go for a good meal. Dining Dish may not be the yellow brick road, but neither will it lead you astray.


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