A week in New York

Wednesday, June 27th , 2012

new-york 3648 central park lake-crop-v2.jpg

I arrived in New York at the end of a June heatwave, with the temperature over 100F (38C), sweltering even late at night. Fortunately some thunderstorms cleared the air, and I was luck to experience some lovely sunny days with the temperatre in the mid 80s (around 30C). This allowed me to explore Central Park (pictured), surely one of the most attractive urban parks anywhere in the world (designed by Englishman Calvert Vaux, and completed in 1873).  I was also able to walk along a rather more recent addition to New York’s limited park portfolio, The High Line (also pictured). This was an abandoned railway line, now over a mile of wild flowers and park benches thanks to a grass roots community effort in the teeth of opposition form the City Hall. It is rather wonderful as you walk along one storey above all the bustle of the streets. 

On the food front, I was able to try a couple of New York’s most fashionable tables. Nomad is the sister to Eleven Madison Park, and is already bursting at the seams with trendy New Yorkers. It is an attractive space, and has a menu to match, the chicken with truffles the highlight of the meal. It did feel a bit frantic and noisy, but then this is New York.

Brooklyn Fare offers a no-choice tasting menu (no choice means what it says “no allergies will be accommodated”), the diners sitting on stools around a central area, rather like a Japanese “kappo kaiseki” counter experience. The meal had a lot of Japanese touches, with plenty of sashimi courses before moving into some very skilful cooked dishes. The lengthy list of things that you are allowed to do (pretty much eat and pay) and not allowed to do (plenty else) here is rather grating, but the quality of the ingredients is very high and the cooking was genuinely top drawer. It was a place I was not expecting to like, but the food is about as good as anywhere in New York.

Corton, by contrast, was a triumph of presentation over flavour, with a long sequence of artfully constructed dishes that had numerous clashing flavours, and some downright bad ideas (roast chicken ice cream and asparagus milk, for example). I will not be rushing back here. The lunch I had the next day at a simple yakitori bar called Tori Shin was about a tenth the price of Corton, but by no means less enjoyable.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
is the country cousin of the Greenwich Village original. Set on a working farm north of the city, the menu highlights the vegetables grown in the region, perhaps a little too much. There was a seemingly endless set of raw vegetables at the start of the meal: fennel, a turnip, some carrots, etc which seemed a little fetishist to me. When the cooking finally began, however, there were some excellent dishes, and the lengthy wine list contains some high end bargains.

Finally, Al Fiori was a pleasant if hardly dazzling experience, with good pasta the highlight of a meal that I remember as much for the tiny portions as for the food, which is probably not the idea. The dining room is attractive and the service slick, but I couldn’t get excited about it.

The blog will again be slightly off its usual schedule next week, due to some more travel coming up after a brief spell back in London. I will be updating Twitter regularly, for those interested.