The almost annual Hot Dinners trip to New York is usually a hedonistic blur of restaurants and bars, packed into an unhealthy timetable. We return to London in need of a detox, but already planning our next trip.
This year, though, our trip necessitated a couple of changes to the usual punishing but enjoyable schedule as we were bringing an 11-year-old with us. My daughter's not a fussy eater by a long shot, but understandably was keener to do the more touristy side of things rather than heading over to Brooklyn to track down an interesting craft beer brewery. So we thought we'd do things a little differently to usual. Instead of relentlessly pursuing New York's newest openings, we'd focus on places that had stood the test of time or had some history to them (with a few new ones thrown in because we just couldn't help ourselves).
Arriving at the Crosby Street Hotel
Our hotel for the first night is downtown. Crosby Street Hotel is part of the British-owned Firmdale Group who've just opened Ham Yard in Piccadilly.
This is their only hotel outside the UK and while the design aesthetic has a distinct British edge, the view from our one bedroom suite is ALL New York. Both lounge and bedroom have floor to ceiling windows looking out over Soho. We sit enjoying the fresh cookies and wine they've brought us, while looking out thinking if we ever had the great good fortune to move to Manhattan that this is just the kind of loft apartment look we'd like to have.
With a mini-bar stuffed with good things, it's hard to leave, but we force ourselves out for our first meal of the trip. Click here to read our full Crosby Street Hotel review.
Dinner on day one is at Rubirosa on Mulberry Street. Opened in 2011, one of the owners, AJ, has pizza in the blood - his Dad being behind the legendary Joe and Pats pizzeria out in Staten Island. We'd come here mainly because of the recommendation by NY bloggers Immaculate Infatuation who had said that it had "one of the best pies in town – a vodka sauce pizza that’s an old family recipe... A perfect pie with paper thin crispy crust, amazing vodka sauce, and fresh mozzarella."
We kicked off dinner with some excellent calamari ($12) and some perfectly fine arancini ($11) - stuffed with mascarpone, prosciutto and fontina - before the huge pizzas came. This is a tiny, dark, rowdy Nolita restaurant so the only way they fit on the tables is by perching on tall metal stands. The vodka pizza ($18 for a medium) was pretty darned good - very, very thin and with a really intense sauce.
With just one disaster - the black kale with crispy onions was insanely, impossible-to-eat, salty - plus some good New York beers this was a great first night dinner. It's loud enough to keep you from falling prey to jet lag but not so crazily busy that it's all a bit too much.
Breakfast - Russ and Daughters
In the morning, we take the opportunity to visit what's a new opening with a historic background - the Russ and Daughters Café. This is an offshoot of the Russ & Daughters deli, smoked fish specialists who are currently celebrating their 100th year in New York.
The café itself looks fantastic - everything you want an American diner to be with fantastic attention to detail - particularly with the immaculately designed menus. It was quite early in the day when we came but we had a chance to try an excellent breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon and potato latkes alongside a vanilla egg cream (milk, seltzer and vanilla). This was the best breakfast of the the trip and left us wanting to come back for a full-on meal (all of the menu looks great). We'd highly recommend based on our fleeting visit and it's worth popping around the corner to look at the original deli too.
Back at Crosby Street, we take full advantage of both the good weather and the residents-only courtyard garden. A glass of Channing Daughters rosé from North Fork on Long Island goes down a treat. But our stopover here is at an end and it's time to move to our secong hotel.
Lunch - Shake Shack
A week after Obama was in town for its big opening, we went to see The National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The two huge fountains in the footprints of the Twin Towers and the underground museum were immensely affecting. We took a long walk to clear our heads and ended up running into a Shake Shack by Murray Street. We were after something good and comforting and this hit the nail on the head.
Arriving at the Sherry Netherland
Way, way uptown - on the intersection by Central Park and Fifth Avenue is the Sherry Netherland. This historic building - back in 1927 it was New York's highest apartment hotel at 38 stories - is easy to pick out on the New York skyline making it easy to find your way home if you've had a few too many cocktails. This was to be our hotel for the rest of the stay.
We loved the entrance lobby which looks like Michelangelo did a bit of moonlighting from his work on the Sistine Chapel. The classical friezes were actually salvaged from the mansion of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.
There's no restaurant in the hotel (it was built during Prohibition, so the small space it does have is now run by Cipriani - guests get a 20% discount on the bill there) which is actually a good thing as you're forced out for your meals. See our full review of the Sherry.
Dinner - The Gander
So this one really was a relatively new opening. The Gander opened its doors in Spring and is the new restaurant of chef Jesse Schenker (who also runs Recette). Part bar, part restaurant, the midtown space has been wonderfully designed by Thomas Schlesser whose work you might know from Ma Peche and Fatty Cue. A welcoming bar with counter dining opens out to a more grown-up dining room.
We were here because of the brisket tots, part of the snack section of the menu which were fast achieving legendary status. Billed as the 'ultimate bar snack' the crispy meat bites served up with mustard mayo ($9) were worth the trip and were pronounced 'amazing' by the 11-year-old.
But the menu served up more interesting fare than just this - spot prawn crudo with pea tendrils and chive oil was as delicious as it sounds and we also loved the Crispy tête de cochon with soubise and jalapeño. But our favourite dish of the evening was from the pasta section - caserecci with braised rabbit, honey mushrooms and green almonds ($22) was probably the best pasta dish we'd had in a year or so. Add to this some good strong cocktails and an interesting wine list and this midtown restaurant is definitely one we'd recommend, perhaps as a clue to how some of London's street or dude food might develop when they move into bricks and mortar.
We may have over-ordered at the beginning of the menu so we didn't manage to make it as far as deserts which is a shame as apparently their pastry chef Christina Lee is really talented - creme brulee semifreddo with whiskey and bacon would be worth ordering if you make it this far.
Breakfast - food court at The Plaza
The food court underneath the Plaza is something we'd love to see a London hotel have a go at. Based on their original food hall opened by Todd English back in 2010, the concept of a European-style food hall was such a huge success the iconic hotel reopened this new, massive version of it in 2012.
It's a bit Harrods food hall in that you can do grocery shopping here as well as eat sushi or grab a coffee to go. We were lured here by the prospect of popular NYC shellfish purveyor Luke's Lobster which has a franchise here, but we also liked what we saw at the Tartine section too. We popped down here for a coffee and ended up having a Russ and Daughters smoked salmon brioche roll for breakfast - as you do.
Dinner - Keen's Steakhouse
This time around we had a real hankering for a steak, never having tried a real New York steakhouse. We asked for recommendations on Twitter and there was a pretty even split between Brooklyn's Peter Luger and Keen's, a midtown steakhouse that's been around since 1885. Keen's is known for two things - one being taken to court by Lillie Langtry (Edward VII's mistress before he was king) who successfully forced them to allow women into the club.
The second is their mutton chops - and we, of course had to order these. They were well worth the advance praise being a surprise combination of absolutely huge and also cooked exactly as ordered. The same can be said of the T Bone. Essentially, you won't leave here hungry.
While the food was undoubtedly good, we do have to admit to preferring London steakhouses these days. You may get an unseemly amount of meat in New York, but we think that both Goodman and Hawksmoor have much better atmosphere and more engaging service. It's worth popping here for the chops and a sense of history, but we think the place could do with some improvement in service. It wasn't bad, just perfunctory - something we never thought we'd say about NYC.
It's not the hippest of venues, but the Ty lounge at the Four Seasons still turns out a cracking Old Fashioned and Cosmopolitan and it's been a favourite of ours for many a year. We were there for the bar's last night before it moved from one end of the hotel to the other to open up in the lounge as part of major renovations going on at the hotel. It'll reopen as Ty Bar any day now.
Brunch - Maialino
Danny Meyer's Roman-inspired trattoria opened up at the Gramercy Park Hotel in 2009 and is regularly picked as one of the city's great places to brunch, not least because of one particular dish on the menu. You might be interested to know that the warm toffee glazed brioche buns (seen here) are about the best way to knock a New York hangover on the head that we've come across. Likewise, the iced coffee with coffee ice cubes helped lift the fog from the night before and the mammoth porchetta and fried egg sandwich finished the job off.
If we had any quibbles it was probably that the service was a little distracted - we were after the kind of welcome we've enjoyed at places like Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park and Maiolino didn't hit those previous heights.
Dinner - PJ Clarkes
This one really is a family-friendly spot. We've long loved the boozy original PJs over on Third Avenue, but this newer one along from the Lincoln Centre - and handy for the AMC IMAX - felt more appropriate with a kid in tow. It's a breezy, friendly place and if there's one reason you should come here, it's for the big-as-your-head portion of onion strings which even three of us couldn't put much of a dent in, despite their deliciousness.
There's also a cracking raw bar, a decent selection of beers and good, unmessed-about-with burgers too.
Lexington Candy Store
Roaming around the Upper East side en route to the Yankee Stadium to catch a Sunday ballgame, we quite literally fell over this landmark New York restaurant. Opened in 1925 it's stayed in the same family for three generations. Stepping inside is like going back in time. We had a bit of a Back to the Future Marty McFly moment here.
We didn't stop for breakfast - but Hot Dinners 2 had the best malted milkshake he's ever had in his life (must be down to the 1940 vintage Hamilton Beach milk shake mixer they use). I in turn had a really excellent, freshly made lemonade - every single glass is squeezed to order and mixed on the spot with sugar syrup and crushed ice. Oh and it featured in Woody Allen's Manhattan. Really, really worth a visit.
Obviously, there are a lot of places we'd have loved to try but just didn't get round to. In fact, we're seriously considering a return trip in early September to put that right - but in the meantime, here are a few places we think are also worth heading to at the moment.
This new opening from Bobby Flay has become an instant hit in Soho. Frankly we'd be happy just heading to the bar here to try the Eleven layer potato but it's another place where we think we'd happily work our way through the menu.
Hudson Eats and Gotham West Market.
It hadn't opened when we were there, but Hudson Eats promises Umami Burger, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, another PJ Clarkes, Mighty Quinns BBQ and loads more. Meanwhile, Gotham West Market has The Cannibal, Seamus Mullen's El Comado, Ivan Ramen and more. If only London food courts were like this...
You can queue for ages at Red Farm, but we'd be much more tempted by the bar below, Decoy, which you can actually book and specialises in Peking Duck.
We LOVED Nomad, so hearing they have just opened the new Nomad Bar which has a separate menu with that amazing truffled roast chicken served as a Chicken Pot Pie will definitely give us a reason to go back.
The Late Late Bar & Spirit
We just didn't have time to try out this interesting modern take on an Irish bar that's only just opened on the Lower East Side. With a playlist by the co-owner who also happens to be Florence and the Machines' guitarist and a live link to O'Dowds bar in Roundstone, Co Galway we quite fancied seeing what they'd done here.
That's just a taster and there's also everything we loved last year too (we'd still highly recommend Empellon Cocina). You can read our 2013 guide to New York here.