I've been eating a lot this weekend. I mean, a LOT. Some of my weekends are just like that. From 10am until 10pm, my body craves sustenance in whatever form I can find it. Other weekends are frugal affairs, where wine takes precedence and hunger pangs don't even regsiter because my bloodstream is full of nicotine and I'm having too much fun. This one was one of the former.
It started with a trip up to City Island, a venerable rash of seafood retaurants and charter fishing boats. The wife's cousins, Martin and Angie, had been going up to CI since the late 70s, and they were to show us what all the fuss was about. Knowing I would fall in love instantly with the fresh sea air, the hospitality, and the briny seafood pulled from the cold swathes of Long Island Sound just that day, we buckled up and sped up the FDR to Pelham Bay Park, about 30 mins north of downtown Manhattan. There we chucked a right, crossed a toll bridge and suddenly found ourselves in a very laid back neighbourhood, with charter fishing boats either side of the bridge and restaurants boasting the freshest seafood. Martin and Angie know THE place to go, and he swung the car into the car park of the Crab Shanty. Originally a movie theatre, then a post office, the Crab Shanty was converted into a restaurant in 1977. Like I said, they are regulars, and once I had sat down, I understood why. The service is excellent. Their Long Island Iced Teas come in a half-pint glass, filled with ice, two jiggers each of each spirit and given a slight colouring with some Cola. They were wickedly good. I actually plumped for a Red Stripe, hopelessly trying to recreate some sort of Jamaican vibe, despite being just outside NYC. The best seafood I had eaten until now, had been in the Caribbean and I felt it was the right thing to do. Martin repremanded me, I saw the error of my ways, and he ordered one for me right away. Too good. Our first course was 2 dozen clams on the halfshell with the standard accoutrements. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to raw seafood, and I wolfed a couple down 'au naturel', savouring their metallic brininess. I tried a couple with a squeeze of lemon. Very good too. I tried my final two bivalves with a splash of Tabasco sauce, and I swear I actually saw the buggers wince when I coated them in sweet heat. Now that's fresh! We were kinda celebrating Serena's birthday and Martin encouraged us to order whatever we wanted from the menu. Both the missus and I ordered lobster and king crab legs. Martin and Angie ordered just two lobster tails, grilled, with some jacket/baked potatoes. I thought that was very reserved, considering we were in seafood place, and then it became all too evident what we had done when our main courses turned up. They are seafood pros, and we are seafood novices. Theirs looked like a normal-sized entree. Ours looked like the entire contents of one of those fishing baskets from Discovery channel's 'Deadliest catch'! Tying a plastic bib around my neck, arming myself with slim fork and lobster tongs, I went into battle feeling slightly outfaced. That seafood tasted so good. Easily the best I have eaten in NYC. Or anywhere else for that matter. The lobster was very tender and cooked to perfection, grilled with fresh breadcrumbs and cheese, the crab legs sweet and easily broken open to reveal moist pink morsels of flesh inside. Everybody pointed out what a good time I was having when they alerted me to the fact that I was covered in bits of lobster, gallons of melted butter, breadcrumbs and lemon slices. With a mouthful of seafood, I could only nod in agreement. After wiping myself down with a damp cloth and polishing off the remainder of the last LIIT, Martin tipped the waiter generously, and we were on our way back to Manhattan, feeling great and reminiscing after a wonderful night out.
The next night, Saturday, was a trip out to a wonderful authentic Mexican place, Alma in Brooklyn. The rooftop of this great little place overlooks Battery Park and the financial district on Manhattan. Together with our friends, Chris and Kay, we watched the sun go down and the twinkling lights of Manhattan punctuate the darkness behind the BQE. They offer 'traditional' Mexican food with friendly service and a fabulous Margherita menu. We arrived at about 7pm, grabbed a quick Martini and headed up the two flights of stairs to their rooftop. We were offered menus and we quickly finished the drinks we bought downstairs as we were eager to work our way through the multitude of tequila-based drinks. Cucumber, peach and raspberry were on the hit list. We ordered two traditional with salt, one cucumber and one peach. I wish I could have had them all to myself. To kick the proceedings off, I tried to bag a plate of temales del dia, with beef, Cotija cheese and scallion, but they were clearly a popular choice and they had run out entirely, leaving me salivating at the table and wondering what to go for as second choice. We were slightly pressed for time, so we headed straight for the entree. Enchiliadas were a big hit on our table, all stuffed with poultry and melting cheese, but I felt like I had not had a steak for a while and when the waiter breezed past with a steaming hunk of beef on a plate the choice was obvious. I order it medium rare, with ancho chile sauce and corn-studded mash. Tremendous. It cut like a hot knife through butter and had a depth of taste I had not experienced before from beef. Perhaps Alma had been able to get their hands on a rare (and probably illegal?) batch of steak from Argentina? Fed entirely on pampas grass, it is truly superior beef, up there with the stuff from Japan. As it was Chris' anniversaire, Kay had had a sneaky word with the waiter and he span up with a fine chocolate cake and cream for Birthday Boy. The cake had a devilishly rich liquid centre and it was entirely moreish. Within seconds it was demolished, leaving nothing but smiling faces and chocolatey smears on spoons strewn around the table. We had the pleasure of a ride back to Park Slope in the walnut and leather splendour of Chris' Jaguar XK8, a luxurious end to a fine evening in a place with stunning views.
I awoke with the merest touch of heartburn this morning to an overcast soaked city and a grey feeling inside. What I needed was some eloquent brunch action with new NYC arrivals, Grant and Kate. They headed over on the subway from Battery Park and we headed out under cover of umbrellas to Sette, on 7th Ave and 3rd St. in The Slope. A rather swanky establishment. I noticed yesterday that they had a sign outside promising to deliver fine brunch fair, muffins, coffee and unlimited cocktails for just $14. Who can argue with that? We chose to sit under the plastic awning they have on the side of the place so we could listen to the soundtrack of the thundering rain and feel smug as we watched drenched people scurrying by. Our lovely waitress Samira brought us menus, a plate of warm fruit muffins with butter and jam, some mimosas and offered us coffee before returning to take our order. I went for the beetroot-walnut-goats cheese salad, followed by the egg panini with fennel sausage and Caciocavallo cheese. My fellow brunchers went for granola with honey and blueberries, prosciutto with melon, grilled salmon with watercress, past al forno, eggs benedict. Everything was brilliant (I managed to pinch small spoonfuls of everyone's meals) but I especially favoured my panini, the fragrant fennel in the sausage cutting through the rich egg and cheese and adding aromatic notes to each creamy mouthful. We were topped up liberally for the 2 hours were in there too, pomegrante mimosas, splendid white wines and coffees. The bill arrived, and we half-expecting some surprises as we didn't resally believe we could eat and drink all that for $14, but they promised and they delivered. A fine brunch destination. Hell, I might even pay the $2 and 40 mins subway ride from Midtown to come here, but fortunately I don't have to. I've booked a table for next week already.