Best New York Bites, Summer 2021

Hey everyone,

Well I’m officially back from my trip to New York (and Provincetown) and I’m ready to tell you what stands out in my memory as the best stuff that I ate on my first trip back to NYC since the pandemic. I know lots of you may be traveling to NY sometime soon (I got your messages) so this here is a list for you to bookmark or print or save so you can eat the same scrumptious stuff that I ate. If you want restaurant information, each entry has a hyperlink to the restaurant’s webpage, so you can see the rest of the menu and make a reservation. Okay, now for the list!

  1. Sheep’s Milk Ricotta-filled Occhi with Bottarga and Lemon at Misi.

    Missy Robbins is the queen of New York pasta right now and I was lucky enough to eat at two of her restaurants this trip (see also: Lilia). My lunch at Misi was totally unplanned: I just played the Resy slot machine, which was an addictive activity during my time in the Big Apple. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Resy is the restaurant reservation app and if you keep entering your lunch time and reloading, sometimes a hard-to-get reservation will pop up… and that’s exactly what happened with Misi.

    I’d been to Misi before with David Lebovitz on my last trip to NYC, but somehow this visit wowed me even more. I think it’s because of my newer awareness of the technique that goes into a dish like the sheep’s milk ricotta-filled Occhi that you see above. The dough was rich with egg yolks; the filling was light and fluffy; and the pasta itself was perfectly cooked: al dente, but not too toothsome. Just perfect. And the sauce — which must’ve had butter in it — was just light and simple enough not to overwhelm the pasta, and then everything was garnished with bottarga — dried fish roe. This was easily my favorite thing that I ate on my trip to New York; something that I aspire to try to recreate someday at home.

  2. Goat Neck Dum Biryani at Dhamaka.

    When the goat neck dum biryani arrived at our table at Dhamaka, I was already in a sweat from the gurda kapoora and the mutton, but then the layers of heat in this biryani were something else. First, there was the presentation, which, as you can see above, was similar to a pot pie in that there was an edible crust on top which the server cracked open with a spoon, revealing layers of rice and meat underneath.

    Once cracked, the spicy steam wafted up under our noses, as the server stirred the rice with the meat and all of the onions and chilies and whatever else made it so aromatic. And the heat, which was subtle at first, kept creeping up on me the more that I ate, until — I kid you not — I almost felt like I was hallucinating, it was so hot. I had sweat dripping down my forehead, snot dripping down my nose (sorry!), and I loved every second of it. Definitely the most exciting thing that I ate on my trip.

  3. Malawach with Soft Boiled Egg, Tomato and Shug at Miss Ada.

    When Lunch Therapy alumn Noah Galvin told me to go to Miss Ada in Fort Greene, I looked at a map and thought, “What a schlep!” But wow, was that schlep worth it. Not only was it one of my favorite meals of the trip, it was one of my favorite days of the trip. After years of returning to the same Manhattan haunts on every trip back, it was so fun and refreshing to spend time in a part of Brooklyn I barely ever visited even when I used to live in Park Slope.

    Miss Ada was so lively on a Saturday for brunch, and then the food… the food! That malawatch — which was like a savory pancake — was salty and crispy and fatty and piping hot. And then this chocolate babka, which we had for dessert, was so tender and moist and chocolatey, I almost married it.

    Instead, I walked with the one I did marry through Fort Greene park and then to Greenlight Bookstore, a perfect Sunday in Brooklyn (with food way better than the food at Sunday In Brooklyn) (I know, sick burn!).

  4. Spicy Chopped Chicken Liver with Pineapple, Thai Herbs, and Roti at Thai Diner.

    When I met Deb Perelman for lunch at Thai Diner, I thought I had some idea of what to expect: a hipstery, well-decorated, trendy hotspot near Soho that all the kids are talking about on their TikToks. Instead, the diner felt like a real diner and the food, which completely took me by surprise, had a bit of a Jewish spin. Case in point? That chopped liver you see above.

    I grew up loving chopped liver, even though my grandmother warned me away from it (“It’s an organ meat!” she’d always say, as if organ meats were pure poison). Admittedly, classic chopped liver is heavy; but this one was something else. Spicy and bright with pineapple, it was heaven scooped on top of the warm, freshly-baked roti; almost like a Thai twist on chicken liver mousse on a warm baguette. But this had so much more going on.

    We were also blown away by the stuffed cabbage, which was so clean-tasting, simple and elegant.

    And as much as these dishes seemed quite labor-intensive, we barely scratched the surface of the menu, which is almost Shopsinsesque in its length. I can’t wait to go back to try everything else.

  5. Confit Duck Necks at Falansai.

    Bushwick is another one of those Brooklyn neighborhoods that I barely visited when I lived in Park Slope, but, on this trip, we ventured out from Williamsburg to eat dinner at Falansai, which Pete Wells raved about in The New York Times.

    At first, we were the only people eating inside the restaurant — the real party was outside, but I forgot to reserve an outside table — yet after an hour, the place was bustling, and we were sharing delicious egg rolls and cauliflower and fried rice and vermicelli. Only, the most interesting thing that we ordered never hit the table. When I asked the friendly server about our duck necks, he realized he’d forgotten to put the order in, and the rest of our party said they were too full to have ‘em. But I didn’t come 3,000 miles to not eat duck necks, so I told him to go ahead and beneck some ducks, and then he came back with the dish that you see above.

    How to describe it? Imagine duck ribs, and you’ll get the idea. The same way that duck is sweet and a little gamey, so were these. And the same way that ribs are fun to gnaw off the bone, these too required lots of work with your hands and teeth. Definitely a dish I’ll think about for a long time.

  6. Cacio e Pepe Frittelle at Lilia.

    I won’t tell you how we got into Lilia, Missy Robbins’s other impossible-to-get-into pasta restaurant in Williamsburg, but let’s just say that our first-born-child won’t be living with us for very long.

    We brought a crew along for the journey, and everyone loved their pastas and vegetables and salads and desserts, but the dish that had everyone going nuts, was the very first thing that we ate: these cacio e Pepe frittelle, which hit the table along with our cocktails, and warmed our souls with their doughnut-like texture and salty, peppery exterior. I’ve never had anything like them but they make total sense: a great way to kick off a decadent night out and totally worth sawing off my right arm for. (Typing this with my left hand.)

  7. Cantaloupe Strawberry Soft-Serve Sorbet Swirl at Leo.

    My first night in Williamsburg, I was keen on checking out Leo, where Craig had eaten a few nights earlier with Mayukh Sen (who I later went with to Gertie, another great spot). The pizza at Leo was delish — loved their clam pie, which felt like a tribute to one of my favorite restaurants of all time, Franny’s — but their dessert was out-of-this world.

    What was it? Soft-serve, only nothing like the soft-serve you normally have when you get soft-serve. This was soft-serve sorbet with cantaloupe and strawberry and, my God, if it didn’t taste like the freshest summer fruit exploding in my mouth with every bite. Amplifying that was a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. A few days later, my friend Ryan went and had a fig and watermelon soft-serve which almost makes me want to book another flight back to NY just to try it. What a great use of a soft-serve machine.

  8. Angel Biscuits at Gramercy Tavern.

    Gramercy Tavern is, and has always been, one of my favorite New York restaurants. It’s the kind of place where, if you live in New York, you probably don’t go that much, unless it’s a special occasion; but if you’re visiting New York, it makes you feel all New Yorky… the kind of place you don’t find in many other cities.

    Lucky for us, our friends Jim and Todd made a reservation and we joined them for dinner there and everything was gorgeous: from the chargers on the table when we sat down, to the warm chocolate chip cookies that they brought out for dessert. But it was these angel biscuits — hot-out-the-oven, served with lots of butter — that stood out the most. Somewhere between a dinner roll and a biscuit, these bready specimens were the perfect beginning to the meal. And because they were one-per-customer, you didn’t have to worry about overstuffing yourself with bread. I liked that.

  9. Endive Salad at Estela.

    This is the dish that Craig talks about in his sleep: the wildly unique endive salad at Estela on Houston, just north of SoHo. When it arrives, it looks like a big pile of endive leaves and you think to yourself: “Twenty bucks for that?” But then you dig a little and you discover that underneath the endive is an almost granola-like mixture of toasted bread and walnuts and anchovies and cheese and olive oil and orange zest and orange juice and salt and pepper and who knows what else. But you scoop that all up on to an endive leaf and the bite that you take will be one of the most sublime combinations of flavors and textures you’ll have experienced in a very long time, maybe ever. And so, once again, we return to Estela for the endive.

  10. Maccheroni with Pork Ragu, Whipped Ricotta, and Fried Rosemary at Hearth.

    You know that you love a restaurant when you get giddy at the thought of going there. And on a rainy night in the middle of our visit to New York, our friends Ryan and Jonathan made a reservation for four at Hearth, and I knew all would be right in the world.

    Marco Canora (who’s also been on Lunch Therapy) is such a beloved New York chef, they either need to build a statue of him or name a street after him or both. The fact that his restaurant is still going strong after eighteen years in the East Village, is a testament not only to Marco’s talent, but to his ability to make people feel loved and cared for when they sit down to dinner.

    That’s how I felt when we came in from the wet, sat down at the bar, and had a perfectly-made Negroni. From there we went to the table and enjoyed heirloom tomatoes with stracciatella, warm summer vegetables with garlic and anchovies, and punchy garlic bread.

    But it was his maccheroni with pork ragu that made me swoon. He makes the pasta in-house with a pasta extruder (I remember when he showed it off on Instagram) and that makes for the most dreamy texture, with little ridges to catch the sauce. If Misi’s pasta floated off the plate, this pasta sticks to the ribs in the most beautiful way. It’s like a hug for the soul.

That’s all for this week, folks!

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Until next time!

Your friend,

Adam Roberts