Travel: Eat your way around New York
Hungry? Ella Walker explores New York via her stomach, discovering emerging food trends, at all hours of the day and night, in the city that never sleeps
MOST people go for the sights: the shimmering upturned ice cream cone of the Chrysler, the razor clam spikiness of the Empire State Building, and the cheesecake wedge of the Flatiron.
As you can probably tell, I've come for the food, and New York does not disappoint. It's the city to live in if you crave Chinese take-out with chopsticks at 3am, if you want to sink your incisors into giant, sloppy burgers, and gnaw on mahogany-coloured pretzels and obscene, orange corn dogs from roadside carts.
Manhattan crams its 22.7 square miles with bagel joints and juice bars, coffee shops and donut stalls, gourmet food halls, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean – the choice is overwhelming.
So how do you decide to what to eat?
This year, all eyes may be on America's politics, but these emerging food trends will be shaking things up too...
Southern American food is in full-on revival mode, so if you haven't time to take in it's homeland, Louisiana's New Orleans, during your US trip, New York will plug the gap.
Promising 'honest Southern food', Root & Bone in the East Village, is all rustic wood, exposed piping and wire buckets of fried chicken, served alongside golden waffles and molten mac and cheese. The rural American grub is so moreish and earthy, I'm still chewing on the salty, lemony chicken bones when a gooey Mississippi mud pie arrives.
At Harlem's Red Rooster, the food is more technicolor – think crimson sauces that match the restaurant's frontage and bold portion sizes – but its fare is no less Southern. We sit on plastic red chairs (everything is red) out on the street, people-watching between trying to stuff humongous crispy bird sandwiches in our mouths. They're massive – filled with half a chicken at least – and dripping with a signature, terracotta-coloured sauce that's tomatoey, without being too sweet. It gets smeared all over your wrists and forearms, no matter how many napkins you grab.
Over near Hudson Square, back in Lower Manhattan, Harold's Meat + Three serves decent fried chicken, but their Southern side dishes eclipse it. I wolf down three nuggety 'biscuits' (like savoury scones, stuffed with sweetcorn, bacon and spring onions, and slathered in butter), before getting started on grilled asparagus spears and traditional creamy grits.
:: Root & Bone, www.rootnbone.com; mains from $19 (about £15); expect a queue if you don't have a reservation
:: Red Rooster, www.redroosterharlem.com; mains from $25 (about £20); reservations and walk-ins available
:: Harold's Meat + Three, haroldsmeatandthree.com; mains from $18 (about £14); walk-ins only
Don't like sharing? Family style – where portions are made for divvying out among your party – might not be for you, but it's only a matter of time before egalitarian scoffing becomes a 'thing' in British restaurants. On the edge of Madison Square Park, away from the hordes that queue for ShakeShack burgers in the middle of the leafy space, is the cosily understated Black Barn. The mentality here is one of farm-to-table, with little faffing in between – and the portions are absolutely colossal.
We feast on platters of barbecued beef ribs, each one as wide and thick as a hardback book, foraged mushrooms on chunks of toast and a bubbling rum and butterscotch bread pudding that pads out my stomach lining, and presumably my arteries. It's hearty, homely fare that makes you feel well fed and well loved, much like at ATRIO, at the downtown hotel Conrad New York, where American chef Gerron Douglas, a former sous chef at the Waldorf Astoria NY, serves hunks of halibut on a mattress of lentils, alongside vats of spaghetti Bolognese, because, he says, nothing "makes you feel at home like spaghetti". He has a point.
:: Black Barn, blackbarnrestaurant.com; mains from $19 (about £15); reserve ahead
:: ATRIO, www.conradnewyork.com; mains from $22 (about £18); reserve ahead
SLEEP AND EAT
Move over hipster pop-ups and standalone restaurants, New York's hotels are upping their game – at a rate that might just make room service defunct. In midtown, surrounded by chain steakhouses and gaudy diners, sits the Clement Restaurant, within the grandly elegant Peninsula, New York. If spending the night, it's easy to be bowled over by the rooftop pool and spa, views down 5th Avenue and staff that remember how you took your tea the day before, as well as beds that are crisp with pillowy white bedding.
But don't forget about the food. Dinner here is good – think beautifully seared sea bass and zingy roast apple salad with goat's cheese. Breakfast is something else! Order the thick, fluffy wedges of French toast crusted in corn flakes, served with individual bottles of maple syrup, or medallions of beef tenderloin (steak for breakfast?!), accompanied by caramel-coloured hash browns that don't hail from the freezer.
Even if you're not staying at the Peninsula, you can still book a table beneath one of the restaurant's stunning art deco-style windows. Just up the road on Park Avenue is Loews Regency Bar & Grill, where the service is less intuitive but the decor has more swagger – all polished wood, glinting mirrors and parades of flashy glassware.
The hotel itself is ideally located for keen shoppers, and runners who want to explore nearby Central Park. Come dinner time, carve through pink strips of salmon and perfectly cooked rib-eye steak, get tangled up in mounds of watercress and be pleasantly harangued by bold, straightforward flavours.
:: Clement Restaurant, newyork.peninsula.com; mains from $34 (about £27); reserve ahead
:: Loews Regency Bar & Grill, www.loewshotels.com/regency-hotel; mains from $38 (£30); reserve ahead
STARRY MODERN INFLUENCES
For dinner that's not quite so in-yer-face-American, head to the fire escape latticed streets of Tribeca, where vintage clothing and liquor stores huddle up besides the likes of one-Michelin-star-restaurant Batard. Part of the Myriad Restaurant Group famed for London's Nobu, Batard dishes up 'new French cuisine' in a pared back dining room that hums softly with lunchtime business meetings, and what looks like an old boys' club of former film directors. (Two courses at lunch is $20, cheaper than at dinner.)
A baton of crumbed, crispy lamb neck on a rich swirl of white beans, leeks and lemony lovage is astounding, but it's the meaty portobello mushrooms cooked with shallots and drizzled in salsa verde that makes my taste buds really somersault happily.
Nearby in the artsy, indie Nolita neighbourhood, The Musket Room – another one star Michelin restaurant – serves up modern New Zealand cuisine while you sit on electric blue leather seats ensconced by rough brick walls. Its a la carte menu reads more like a sparse shopping list than a collection of dishes, but I can confirm that an assortment of quail, blackberry, bread sauce and onion, once on a plate, is pretty ambrosial.
:: Batard, www.myriadrestaurantgroup.com/restaurants/batard; two courses $58 (about £46); reserve ahead for dinner
:: The Musket Room, www.musketroom.com; mains from $29 (about £23); reserve ahead
:: Ella Walker was a guest of The Peninsula New York (newyork.peninsula.com). Rates from $695 (about £573) for a Superior Room per night. Breakfast from $14 (about £11)
:: Stay at Loews Regency (www.loewshotels.com/regency-hotel; +1 212 759 4100) from $343 (about £276) per night, including tax. Breakfast from $18 (about £14).
:: Ella used OpenTable to book meals at Red Rooster, Root & Bone, Batard and The Musket Rooms. The platform has launched a Global Dining Passport, which enables diners to search, discover and make reservations across the globe. Visit www.opentable.co.uk