New York Round-up Part II – by way of Miami
Miami Nice, Miami Vice
All the time I was in New York, I was thinking about the return trip to Miami and specifically my return visit to Yardbird. There’s something about Southern Fried Chicken that really speaks to me and having had it earlier in the year, getting back there had become something of an idée fixe. So it was no surprise at all really that it was the very first place my sister and I went to when we hit South Beach.
And it’s true to say that kale has become something of a joke. A sort of poster green for the knit your own porridge brigade, but here you really wouldn’t even have guessed it was healthy. That’s because it comes with cheddar cheese, crisp fresh apples, (their description, albeit true) cornbread croutons, moonshine raisins and cider vinegar. It was a great foil to the Chicken N’Watermelon N’Waffles we shared for our next course, so good I’m not even going to comment about the N’ abomination. I love this place. I want them to open a branch next door to my house. We went back for brunch too. Because we NEEDED
After the sheer unbridled piggery of Yardbird we felt that a bit of lightness was in order. Ceviche, we thought. And my sister had already tried Ceviche 105 and was keen to give it another try, having, she said, been with someone who over-ordered last time, to the point it was offputting. I believe that there is such a thing. I’ve not experienced it myself.
An enormous menu of vaguely familiar dishes, the waitress felt either felt sorry for us or just got bored with the thousand questions and our pathetic indecision and suggested the ceviche selection. Good idea, we thought. Until we saw the size of it. By then, it was too late to cancel the order of the fried seafood. Another dish for giants. Not even my sister and I could make a dent in it. Anyone who knows us will know what that really means. But both dishes were brilliant and we did our best. I had two extra meals out of the leftovers.
The Cheesecake Factory
I know. What’s this doing in my blog, you’re thinking. Thing is, I have a very big soft spot for The Cheesecake Factory. Not for the cheesecake, mind, though I can generally be persuaded, but for their enormous selection of well made and excellent value food. The small portion of salad was enough for two and cost $10.50. The Vietnamese rolls were the largest I’d ever seen, almost joke-size and they were by no means the worst I’ve tasted. The Cheesecake Factory knows its audience and is consistently full. If they opened in London I know I’d be there.
New York New York.
It was a bit of a jolt, going from 28c to -8c but knowing that there was going to be good food was a consolation. As ever. I’d planned to see my ex-headmaster. I’m not sure I should still call him that, as it’s been some 33 years since he fulfilled that rôle, but old habits die hard and there is literally no way I am ever going to be able to call him by his first name. Ever. Not to his face anyway. So Rabbi Rosen and his wife it was who came with us to Kajitsu, just near Grand Central Station. It’s Shojin cuisine, which is a type of vegetarian cooking originating in Zen Buddhism. Who knew? According to their website, Shojin is the foundation of all Japanese cooking especially kaiseki, which is Japanese haute cuisine.
The restaurant is spartan and peaceful. We had an early sitting, which was difficult to organise, so we were a little surprised to find that the restaurant remained empty for most of the evening. Weather was only one reason. I suspect it’s never actually full. We had a nine-course tasting menu with sake pairing. It’s not cheap. but it is fascinating. It’s not a cuisine I’m familiar with and there is no point in my trying to explain the ingredients but it was delicate and subtle with textures and flavours that were unfamiliar but not outlandish. I really liked it, but it’s not for everyone. The sake pairing was worth doing, especially if like me you have simply no idea. I need to go back and concentrate on the food and not the conversation; something that’s impossible with the Rabbi.
I wanted everything on the menu. Everything. But the menu was enormous and notwithstanding my appetite there is a point at which even I am defeated. The menu is divided into raw bar, table snacks, light & bright, golden & crispy, masa and tortillas, grilled and roasted and rice.
Given that the word crispy appeared on the menu it almost blinded me to everything else, obviously, but I paid lip service to light & bright by ordering roasted cauliflower, coriander and chillies, as well as Florida white shrimp with banana and almonds. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the shrimp but it was utterly brilliant. A sharp lime dressing pulled together the shrimp and banana and the almonds gave it crunch. This was brilliant. In fact is was all so exciting that I actually forgot to take photos for the first part of the meal. Unheard of.
The sizzling prawns with garlic and chilli oil were a good take on a classic combo, but for me the winning dish was the savoury glazed shortrib tacos, with habanero relish and frizzled onion. The tender yet crisp meat fell apart, the relish was hot and sweet but not overpowering and the taco perfect. Love at first bite. The crispy fish tacos with aioli and cabbage chilli pickle would, on any other day have been the star of the show, but it didn’t stand a chance.
They also sneaked in an extra dish: maitake mushrooms with goat cheese and a fresno pepper vinaigrette. Simple sharp flavours, charred mushrooms, delicate goats cheese. I’m not sure I’d have put these flavours together, but I’m glad some one has.
There was no way after that we could do justice to the roasted Maine lobster rice, with fresh basil. I tried. I failed. I regret that now.
I think that this was my favourite place in New York. I loved the whole shooting match: the food, the room and the service. That’s not to say that the food was better than Per Se, but I enjoyed the whole experience more and fine dining? Well, I like to get down and dirty with my food and that wouldn’t go down too well with the starched tablecloth brigade.
And just when we thought it was game over, an email from a friend, encouraging me to try the Tarte flambée at The Modern. Because I might Not have eaten enough. Tarte flambée is, effectively an Alsatian pizza, with fromage blanc, onions and bacon. What’s not to like? And there was lots to like here. It’s right next to MoMA so you could pretend that was the main event whilst rocking up here afterwards. Have the bratwurst too. It was a thing of wonder. And when you’re finished, you can go into the MoMA shop and check out all the things you already have and feel smug and covet those that you don’t.
It will not surprise you at all that I am currently engaging with the stretchier end of my wardrobe and that I am toying with the 5:2. I am also planning my return.