Escape to New York…the Usual Gluttony…and then Something So Meaningful.

JH and I visit his brother and sister-in-law at least once a year in New York. We usually go on Family Day weekend in February, but this year because his brother was in the process of moving, we pushed the trip back to May.

I absolutely love New York. New York was the dream place I always wanted to live and work in for awhile – for even a co-op term, straight out of school, daydreaming throughout my ‘first company’, now so even in my ‘second company’ (I have only ever worked full-time for two companies). Something just never worked out – I’ll not bash myself right now but it’s whatever I did wrong that never got me the chance to get there. Still today though, I think it’s the city I am meant to live and work in; maybe where I can magically fix myself. I fall in love with it every single time. I also come back home hating Toronto even more every single time.  I then wistfully look forward to the next time I can go back. I also wistfully wish that one day something will work out so I do get to live and work there for some period of my life…because I think/know New York is meant to be my city…not Toronto. But time is running out. Okay, okay – Let’s just move on with the story.

Anyways, back to the story, every time we go, we eat a lot. I try my hardest to make these impossible reservations – even when the restaurant has been “it” for a year already, and the hype technically should have died down. This time, it was not any different. The restaurant we really wanted to go to I could not even get a reservation for, so we ended up showing up at the restaurant open, and were lucky to grab a table outside on their patio because it was a warm day.

On this trip, we went to the following restaurants (mostly in Brooklyn):

Okonomi 

Okonomi was a last-minute add-on. JH and I had binge-watched the second season of Master of None last week, and Okonomi was one of the restaurants from the season. I think we technically wanted the brothless ramen (mazemen) from the show, but we enjoyed the traditional Japanese breakfast set meals we received instead. Ramen is only on offer in the evening, when the restaurant actually converts into a differently named restaurant (Yuji Ramen).

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The place is really small, so we waited 45 minutes for a table around 12PM when we arrived from the airport. The front-of-the house takes your name, and you basically wait out front (there are two sets of benches); they locked away our suitcases in their office while we ate. It was hot that day, but the 45 minutes went by fairly quickly. We shared a table with another couple communal style. There are only two tables of four, and I think around six seats at the bar. All the staff are crammed around an open kitchen, and there is only one front-of the house, who acts as one of two waiters. He looked swamped, and it took us a little while to get service. But once we ordered, the food came fairly quickly.

Everyone essentially gets the same breakfast set, but you get to choose between three types of cooked fish. You can also add on egg and / or uni for extra. I chose fatty tuna, while JH chose bluefish (the last option was porgy). JH added an egg to his portion. The breakfast set comes with tamago, pickled vegetables, raw asparagus (I have never had raw asparagus before), purple rice and miso soup. The portion did not look large, but we both felt relatively full after. I thought everything was pretty delicious. We paid around $57 for the both of us – gratuity was not required.

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JH somehow made a mess.

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  • Location: 150 Ainslie Street, Brooklyn.
  • Dress Code: None.
  • No reservations; everyone waits in line.
  • Atmosphere: Quiet, mostly a little noise from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen.
  • We paid by cash.
  • Instagram

Lilia

This was my favourite meal of the trip. I had seen these hypnotic pictures of peppercorn mafaldini (noodle pulling) and sheep’s milk agnolotti (sitting there looking glorious) for over a year now. I subsequently read that Lilia was the hype restaurant in Brooklyn in 2016. Even now, it is so popular that reservations immediately fly when they open up 30 days in advance. The chef – Missy Robbins – holds Michelin stars for some of her previous restaurants, and has been nominated for James Beard Best Chef awards. Her pasta is pretty amazing.

I literally suck at the whole waiting up for midnight to make a reservation that is sometimes impossible to get when billions of people are up doing the same thing. It didn’t work for Osteria Francescana, it didn’t work for Sushi Nakazawa, etc, etc. Thank goodness we went to Eleven Madison Park before it became number one in the world – though I fully intend to eat there again one day.

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Memories – Flashback to 2014 – Dinner at EMP

We tried to get a reservation through AMEX concierge but failed. So, JH and I went 30 minutes before the restaurant opened and waited for a table at the bar or outside. We opted for outside given it was a nice summer night out versus the bar. The restaurant inside is really beautiful (white, minimalistic and rustic), but as noted, it was a nice enough night out in the shade. We were able to get a table immediately, but minutes later, all the tables filled up.

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We were seated at one table at first. Our first waitress was a bit ‘odd’, that’s all I will say. But subsequently, we were moved to another table so that they could put two two-seaters together for a table of four. To coax us to move, the hostess offered us a complimentary drink – JH ended up ordering some girly, foamy pink drink.

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We loved our new waitress – she was friendly, quick and observant. She gave us a bunch of recommendations which lined up with what I read. We ended up ordering:

  • Cacio E Pepe Fritelle ($7) – Deep fried cheese balls. These were gooey, cheesy and delicious.

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  • Grilled Clams, Calabrian Chilli, Breadcrumbs ($16) – JH is usually off put by seafood, especially clams, mussels, and shrimp. But he didn’t mind these clams at all. They were a bit tangy and spicy. The breadcrumbs added a nice crunchy texture.

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  • Rigatoni Diavola ($18) – This was probably my least favourite of the pastas. It was not because it was not good, but because it just tasted like a regular red-sauce pasta. The rigatoni and the mafaldini were a bit al dente for our tastes, but not so bad that we had to send them back. It was still a beautiful dish to look at, and a good portion.
  • Malfaldini, Pink Peppercorns, Parmigiano Reggiano ($19) – Though a bit al dente, this dish was addictive for me. I know it’s just a noodle, but I love malfaldini. It’s just like I really like pappardelle. It has nothing to do with the sauce though, I don’t know if it’s just that I like fringes on pasta, or really wide noodles. The peppercorns were not overwhelming, thank goodness. It was a really good pasta.
  • Sheeps Milk Cheese Filled Agnolotti, Saffon, Dried Tomato, Honey ($23)  – This dish was just perfection. The pasta was not al dente because it needed to be rolled out thin for the filling. It was soft, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth. The dish was also vibrant and beautiful to look at. I could not get enough of this.

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We were basically dying just a little afterwards, so we did not have dessert. Our waitress forgot to comp JH’s drink, so she really nicely comped our fritelle as well (around $20 comped). We paid around $105 after tax and tip. I walked away loving the meal.

  • Location: 567 Union Avenue, Brooklyn.
  • Dress Code: None.
  • You can make reservations on Resy 30 days in advance at midnight.
    • If you cannot get a reservation (or fall into a cancellation), you can wait for a bar seat or patio seat (if warm enough) just before opening. They have a cafe next door (open all day) if you don’t want to swarm the front door.
  • Atmosphere: I could not get a sense of what the inside was like since we sat outside, but the patio was bustling with a good vibe.
  • We paid by cash.
  • Instagram

Le Coucou

Le Coucou recently won the 2017 James Beard award for Best New Restaurant. I believe in all these things that make a restaurant hype (James Beard awards, Worlds 50 Best lists, Michelin Stars), so I knew I wanted to try it out. The timing of the trip plans did not work for us to go for dinner, so we settled for brunch there with friends. I would however be curious to try their dinner. Brunch is not usually the best indicator of how good a restaurant is unless it is all the restaurant does.

The restaurant is beautiful (especially the bar right at the entrance), though a bit dark for my tastes. We sat by a window, but it was a cloudy day, and their large chandelier-ish light fixtures were set at red mood lighting. The restaurant is French, and the overall vibe is antique and traditional. The tables are white linen, and service felt very formal and structured (if a bit mechanical). It’s generally fancy – they fold your napkin when you leave for the bathroom, and comb away the crumbs on your table.

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We shared a pastry basket ($17), which consisted of some butter, chocolate and cheese croissants. They were all really well done – warm and fluffy.  The boys each had Bloody Mary’s. Me and my girlfriend shared a pot of french pressed coffee.

  • I ordered the Oeufs Coucou ($16) – This ate like an eggs benedict except with potatoes as the base versus bread. It tasted fine but it was nothing spectacular.
  • JH ordered the Galette de Sarrasin ($24) – This was a buckwheat crepe with egg and lobster. This dish just looked strange to me, but maybe because I am used to a conventional looking pie-galette. I never actually asked JH what he thought of the dish.
  • Our friends ordered Le Californien (avo toast with poached eggs – $18) and Couer de l’entrecote “dix par dix” aux foie gras  (thinly sliced ribeye with foie gras – $30)
    • I think my girlfriend liked her avo toast (they had been before and she had ordered this previously). Her fiancee’s dish was a bit ridiculous though – really small, and looked a bit unappealing for $30.

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I am not sure if I really loved this experience all that much, but I wanted to go out of curiosity. As mentioned, I think dinner would probably be a better indicator of what the James Beard award is all about. We might go back but New York is ever-changing, so by next year, there may be other restaurants that we have to try, and we will just have to pass.

  • Location: 138 Lafayette Street.
  • Dress Code: The girls wore simple summer dresses. The boys wore button-up shirts, jeans and slightly dressier shoes. There is good people-watching here apparently; not so much when we went.
  • You can make reservations on Open Table. I am not sure how hard it is to get a dinner reservation but the restaurant is fairly large.
  • Atmosphere: The restaurant was fairly quiet even though most of the tables were filled.
  • Our friend paid by credit; we paid him by cash.
  • Instagram

Olmsted

I am not actually sure when I started reading into Olmsted. It was awhile ago; probably around the same time I started looking at Lilia on social media.  Olmsted was another restaurant that really hit its peak in 2016 (yes, I am behind, but not my fault, I do not actually live in the city).  It is located near JH’s brother’s house. JH’s brother said it always looked popular. I love farm-to-table, and really rustic restaurants. I decided I wanted to go.

This was another really hard restaurant to get a reservation for. It turns out they also recently switched their reservation system from Open Table to Resy, and decided to continue honoring their old reservations from Open Table. We tried using AMEX concierge; also failed. So I signed up for Resy, and turned on notifications for cancelled tables. JH, his brother and I ended up getting a last-minute cancellation for 5:30. This would be the first of two dinners that evening.

The restaurant is long and narrow, but it did fit a lot of tables. The hostess put us near the back at first, but I asked for us to be moved to the front so we could get better natural light for photos. Her facial expressions / reactions were not that friendly / receptive, but she allowed us to move. We also ended up leaving after 40 minutes anyhow, so we allowed them to have a quick table-turn.

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JH’s brother had already been (the same week….), so he had a pile of recommendations. We chose some of what he recommended, and decided to pick something new (the Hake and Pork Collar). We ended up ordering:

  • Stinging Nettle Crab Rangoon ($14) – This was like a fried dumpling. It came in kitschy little “chinese take-out” boxes. You could taste the fresh crab, and it was a good bite.

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  • Carrot Crepe with Littleneck Clams ($15) – This was a stunningly beautiful dish. I am not sure I really tasted the clams that well in each bite, but it felt really fresh, and was my favourite out of all the dishes. It is their signature dish.

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  • Hake Poached and Frittered ($14) – The hake came as a fried fish ball, and then flaked up in this dill sauce with shoestring potatoes for texture. The fried fish ball was really pasty. All three of us were not huge fans of that texture. I was fine with the ‘other way’ but JH and his brother thought it was too salty. I guess I tend to like more salt in my food.

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  • Grilled Pork Collar – Raclette, Broccoli, Mustard ($23) – The pork was cheesy and very tender. I think the meat was a bit too fatty for my liking, but both men seemed to enjoy the dish. I also thought it did not look too attractive with the plate they chose.

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JH’s brother ordered a rhubarb drink, and JH ordered some weird pea drink, where there was a sphere of frozen peas in the middle of the drink.

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Because we did not order a full dinner, perhaps I did not experience the full effect of what Olmsted has to offer. Given the stress of getting the reservation, I am not sure I loved the restaurant all that much. Service was great though – our waiters were really nice and quick (with the exception that we asked that all dishes arrive together, and they came separately). The restaurant was also very rustic and pretty, so I can see the appeal. It is probably a restaurant though that we will never end up going back to.

  • Location: 659 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn.
  • Dress Code: None.
  • You can make reservations on Resy. Reservations open up 30 days in advance at 9AM EST.
  • Atmosphere – bustling; it got pretty noisy, but we didn’t need to shout.
  • My brother-in-law paid by credit; we paid him in cash.
  • Instagram

Sushi Yasuda

JH’s brother (DH) had talked about Sushi Yasuda for years. It is his favourite restaurant, and every time we have been to New York, he has made mention of how good it is. When we went to Sushi Nakazawa, Sushi Yasuda still prevailed. So finally, after six or seven years, we finally said yes to a reservation there this trip with him and our sister-in-law.

Our reservation was late (for me – 8PM), so I was incredibly glad that the restaurant was brightly lit. We sat at the bar, and had our own sushi chef who served us and just one other couple next to us. The window for our reservation was until 9:30PM, and we pretty much left with five minutes to spare.  The meal was an omakase – where you pay by piece. The chef asks you if you have any dislikes or allergies, and then every few minutes, you get a delicate piece of sushi. You don’t eat with chopsticks, there is no soy sauce – every piece of fish is delicate and absolutely delicious on its own. I think we ate about 12 to 13 pieces each, and the bill came to $150 per person. Expensive, but not the worst damage we have ever done. It was also worth it – the fish was really good; and the ratio of rice to fish was perfect. DH and our sister-in-law convinced us to go to Japan one day. It’s on the list; we have just had other priorities come first, and well JH refuses to do the around-the-world in 90 days fantasy I often day dream about (sacrifices). I am pretty sure I know what each piece is, but I think the pictures speak for themselves.

  • Location: 204 East 43rd Street.
  • Dress Code: None, though I did see people dressed nicely. I think we were probably the most casual people there.
  • Atmosphere – Quiet, but everyone in the room was speaking at a normal level.
  • DH called in for a reservation.
  • My brother-in-law paid by credit; we paid him in cash.

Llama Inn

This was our last meal out for the trip. We went with DH, our sister-in-law and our two nephews. Our sister-in-law had mentioned she wanted to try Llama Inn before. I was curious about the menu, so they made a reservation for us to go to brunch. The restaurant is located close to Lilia. It is also a big, beautiful space. You can see into the huge kitchen, there are many tables, and natural light falls into the restaurant beautifully.

I do not know Peruvian food at all. When I went to Peru with my dad in 2008, I was barely into food then (I think we ate all tourist food), and then in Toronto now, there are not too many Peruvian options at all. Once again, I am not sure I can evaluate the the restaurant on brunch alone, since it does dinner as well. I liked the things I ordered for the most part, but DH and our sister-in-law were more “eh” on what they ate and if they would go back.

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JH and I ordered three things:

  • Tamal, Crispy Pork Shoulder, Fried Egg, Sweet Potato, Salsa Criolla, Rocoto ($14) – I thought the pork was a bit dry, but if you ate it with all the components together, it was delicious. I thought it was a good portion, but we did also order three dishes between us (with a little bit shared with his family).
  • Fried Chicken Thigh, Picarones, Chancaca Honey, Pickled Chillis, Fermented Hot Sauce ($16) – DH and our sister-in-law ordered the same thing. The chicken was boneless which was good, and it had a good crust. It ate really well with the hot sauce. Our sister-in-law loved picarones when they went to Peru. I never tried them while I was in Peru, so didn’t know what they were. They are these squash or sweet potato fried donuts. Anyhow, she said these were not nearly as good as the ones in Peru. I guess I would have to go back to Peru to find out for myself.
  • Brioche French Toast, Banana, Chancaca, Creme Fraiche ($11) – Not sure the relevance of this dish to Peruvian cuisine, probably just moreso something to add to the brunch menu. The bread tasted a bit stale, but I liked the bites with banana and the creme fraiche. I think the creme fraiche really made the dish. We shared a bunch of this with our nephew who wanted the bananas.

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Once again, I am pretty sure we probably will not come back because next trip there will be new restaurants. But all in all, I thought it was a good brunch; nothing spectacular, but nothing too wrong.

  • Location: 50 Withers Street, Brooklyn.
  • Dress Code: None.
  • Atmosphere – There was a little bit of music playing, but it was generally quiet as the restaurant was just starting to fill up as we were leaving (we were the first reservation).
  • DH called in for a reservation.
  • My brother-in-law paid by credit; we paid him in cash.

Dear Evan Hansen

JH and I did not just spend the entire weekend eating (just a majority). We ended up seeing the absolutely amazing Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, starring Ben Platt (from Pitch Perfect). I love musicals (and ballet, the symphony, orchestra), but I have never watched anything that literally made me feel so emotional. Maybe if mental health issues didn’t matter to me so much now, I wouldn’t be so evoked, but being able to experience this show, and every meaningful theme and story it was trying to capture meant so much.

I wrote a few weeks ago about some thoughts on 13 Reasons Why, and how I thought it completely missed the point/mark of capturing mental health issues, and (maybe unintentionally) glorified suicide (especially since they changed it from the book). TV is TV, and of course it’s different from something like a Broadway musical, and of course neither will ever capture the full 100 percent magnitude of someone experiencing mental health issues, or someone going through an attempt, or anything beyond that so tragic. But I felt that Dear Evan Hansen hit similar issues like suicide and loneliness (social anxiety most of course), but dealt with it more honestly, delicately and authentically.  It was so raw, honest and beautiful, and Ben Platt’s portrayal of a person with extreme social anxiety just gave me chills. It was all in his mannerisms – fidgety hands, picking at his sweater, sweating, veins bulging out of his forehand and voice cracking when he had to give a speech. And then there was just his words. There’s this one scene where the main character (Evan Hansen) tells his mother, “you don’t know how broken I feel…and all you try to do is fix me with drugs” (story of my life nowadays), and his voice breaks, and I just unraveled (after being unraveled already). I want to get to that point where I can feel safe enough / ‘better’ enough to be an advocate in my own ‘community’ for mental health issues, but having a wide-spread ‘medium’ like a Dear Evan Hansen is so important for people who experience this every day….and to provide much needed awareness to people who don’t understand, who don’t want to understand, or even know that there are people experiencing this every day. I honestly cannot wait for the show to come to Toronto (I hope it does) because I am definitely going to see it again, and certainly encourage all the people I know to see it too.

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Author: Roro

Home baker. Sugar obsessed. Casual traveller. Fighting a fight. All photography and content are copyrighted by Roro @thechewishkitchen unless otherwise stated and referenced, and cannot be used without permission.

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