When I think of New York, I think of music. Maybe it’s because there are so many songs about the city. Maybe it’s because I constantly have earphones in to drown out the sound of traffic. But for whatever reason, music features heavily in my experiences there.
I remember the first time I took a bus to the city. It was in 2014 and I was going to see one of my best friends from grad school. I was listening to Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind” as we rounded the bend and Manhattan came into view. That song always reminds me of New York, and it makes me laugh because a friend of mine in France told me that the lyric “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” is actually “I’ve become a wet dream tomato” (to be fair, it does sound like that).
This time, I made my own soundtrack for the trip. I put together a list of songs that I heard, and also songs that came up on shuffle that were perfect for the vibe or moment. I love when the right song comes on at the exact right time.
Also, this song in particular reminds me of my trip. It’s sad and wistful, and my trip wasn’t either of those things. But I love St. Vincent and I think it’s a beautiful song. It’s about loving a place and a person, and, I think, trying to figure out where your home is. Sometimes, a person can be home.
Before I get too sentimental, here is my rundown of NYC food. I mostly hit up spots in Manhattan because I was there for longer, but I also went to a couple places in Brooklyn worth visiting. One features the best pasta dish I’ve ever had in my life.
My friend Allison has been telling me about Parisi Bakery for years. She described a giant sandwich with layers of chicken cutlets, cheese, red peppers, and prosciutto. For some reason, we never went to get it together until Saturday.
I thought that I could eat a whole sandwich by myself because I was pretty hungry, but Allison convinced me that we needed to split one. I’m glad I listened to her. The “Dennis,” as the sandwich is fondly known, is as intense as it is delicious. The ingredients are fresh, the bread is legit, and every bite is better than the last one. I told Allison that I was about to cry and I almost did. “This is the only Dennis I’ve ever loved,” I said.
I added Gottino to this list because it’s so cute. On a nice spring, summer, or fall day, it’s fun to go to the outdoor patio in the back and sit at tables or booths and split a bottle of wine. Allison and I got some red wine and talked and people watched. It was the perfect place to relax after walking around SoHo.
I’ve been wanting to go to Emily for YEARS. I read about it a couple years ago when I was living in D.C. but I never managed to go. They recently opened a new location in the West Village so on Saturday night, Allison and I decided to go check it out.
Emily specializes in Detroit-style pizza, so rectangular with a slightly thicker crust and sauce on top of the cheese. I forgot how delicious Detroit-style pizza is. The slices at Emily were light and pillowy, like little dough clouds. They melt in your mouth.
We ordered a pizza with vodka sauce and another one with spicy honey, pepperoni, and red sauce. Both were delicious but I think the vodka sauce pizza won out in the end. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
I refuse to be in New York and not go to Levain. It’s a love affair that started many years ago, the same year I took the bus into New York while listening to “Empire State of Mind.”
After I got off the bus, I took the subway to the Upper West Side to try the cookies at Levain. I’d read about their dark chocolate chip cookie and I wanted to see if it lived up to its reputation.
Needless to say, I cried. My sisters teased me about it when I told them. “Emily cried over a cookie-LOLZ!,” was I think my one sister’s exact wording. But they haven’t tasted the cookie. The dark chocolate chip cookie is so rich and dense, it’s almost like a brownie. The middle is soft and gooey.
If you don’t eat the cookie right away (why wouldn’t you), wrap it up in the paper bag they give you at the bakery. The cookie will still be warm an hour later (as I found when Allison and I took ours back to her house in the pouring rain). Is it magic? Is it quality? Is it top-notch food preservation? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I want to.
I impulsively went to Mah-Ze-Dahr on Monday because I was in the Village and I was craving a doughnut. Mah-Ze-Dahr has one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever tried in my life.
Their brioche doughnut is soft, light, and flaky, almost like a croissant, dusted with sugar on the outside and filled with a vanilla bean pastry cream. I got a coffee to go with it that came with a cookie and I almost felt bad for the cookie. There was no way I was going to pay any attention to it as long as I was concentrating on the doughnut.
Mah-Ze-Dahr is also a good place to sit and do work for a while. There are booths in front and a long, marble table in the back. Even though it’s in the middle of the Village, it’s relatively peaceful.
Pondicheri has been on my NYC food bucket list for a while. The restaurant, which specializes in Indian fusion, started in Houston and then opened a location in Manhattan.
I ordered the “Aviyal,” or the winter vegetable coconut stew with cumin rice and chili oil, and it was exactly what I needed. It’s the perfect dish to eat after you spend the morning walking around Manhattan on a windy day. It’s warming, spicy, fragrant, and delicious. I wish I could have another bowl right now.
Third Rail Coffee
Third Rail Coffee is a cute little coffee shop next to Washington Square Park. I found it when I was browsing Instagram a few months ago. If you serve good coffee and you have pretty latte art, you’ll show up there eventually.
Third Rail’s coffee was delicious and I liked the vibe. Most people seemed like students or teachers, which makes sense because the coffee shop is right by NYU. They didn’t have free WiFi, which was kind of disappointing. But then I realized that I should probably take a break from my phone anyway. I journaled and watched people walk by outside. New York is a great city for people watching.
It’s hard to put into words how much I love Lilia. If you told me that you were giving me a roundtrip ticket to New York but the stipulation was, I could only spend three hours there and I had to spend all those hours at Lilia, I would do it.
Lilia is a new Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, right across from Manhattan. I’d read about it opening and then, my friend Allison told me to go when she saw it on my food bucket list. “It’s some of the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life,” she said, which was a ringing endorsement. Allison eats a lot of pasta.
I took her recommendation and ordered the mafaldini with Parmigiano Reggiano and pink peppercorns. It was so good that I started tearing up at my seat at the bar. The noodles are thick and chewy, exactly the way I like them, and the sauce was intense and flavorful. I’d never really eaten anything with peppercorns. They add a jolt to an otherwise plain dish.
I also split a cauliflower with spicy soppressata dish with my friend Tanya. The cauliflower and broccoli was slightly charred and caramelized, the soppressata added some flavor, and the dish came topped with some citrus zest. The cauliflower was cooked perfectly. It almost melted in my mouth.
Butter & Scotch
Butter & Scotch felt like a home away from home for me. Located in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, it feels a little off the beaten trail. But, I think its location works in its favor.
At least when I showed up around lunch on Tuesday, it wasn’t too crowded. It has a bar and a diner feel, rolled into one. Classic, old timey songs were playing over the speakers. The bartender was friendly and attentive. The atmosphere was fun and genuine. It kind of felt like walking into a party, just without all the noise.
I ordered biscuits with honey and they were out of control. They were still warm from the oven and almost collapsed in my hand when I picked one up. They were so good that I considered ordering a bunch to go.
Instead, I got their salted chocolate chip cookie. On the menu, Butter & Scotch said their cookie is the best in all the land. They’re not lying. It’s soft in the middle, crispy around the edges, and dusted with flaky sea salt. I got one to go and ate it when I was waiting for my flight. It’s the perfect pick me up.
New York food charmed and surprised me. It’s a lot heavier than the dishes I ate in L.A., but then again, maybe it needs to be. New Yorkers are always on the move. The city has a frenetic energy, one that either lifts you up or wears you down. I feel like I thrived on it, but not without making stops every so often for delicious food.
There are still more places on my list that I want to try. I’m sure I’ll be back soon. Stay tuned.