During last summer’s stay in New York, I satisfied a toothsome nostalgia for some foods that is sometimes hard to come by in Switzerland. Starting with the first chow-down at a tapas and paella bar in Chelsea on the Fourth of July, the pleasures of the American kitchen (which to me includes all sorts of ethnic foods) were deserving of all those fireworks over the Hudson. Fond memories of seafood and small plates will be with me for a while.
Simple meals, snacks and takeaway can be as soul-satisfying to me as high-end dining (make no mistake, I love a grandee meal from time to time!). In New York, expert guidance from locals coupled with happenstance got me to some fine meals. Sharing good food with good friends just doubled the pleasure. Here is a short list of the best restaurant plates I encountered in and around the Big Apple this summer. There is not a Michelin star in the lot.
Seafood to write home about
Having grown up on the Gulf Coast, I always gravitate to a seafood menu given half a chance. Consequently, fish and shellfish figured large on my summer table, from the evening of my arrival in New York, right through until my late-August departure.
- The Socarrat Paella Bar in Chelsea is an intimate venue with oodles of charm. Gathering around the bar to share paella on July 4th was an ideal way to catch up with friends before heading out to see the fireworks. That the paella was scrumptious sealed the deal.
- A plate of mussels cooked in wine at the Cajun Bayou in Clifton on Staten Island satisfied a craving I did not know I had, and gave me a chance to tuck into a dish I often enjoy in Europe during the cooler months. The meal was a splendid cap to a visit to Clear Comfort, the home of pioneering photographer Alice Austin.
- At Brucie in Brooklyn, a plate of sardines in a fine tomato concasse was just one of the starters served at a memorable birthday dinner. A great choice!
- I sampled fish tacos in three boroughs, but the crispy flounder tacos with chipotle cole slaw and guacamole at Coppelia in Chelsea were nonpareil. They had just the right about of crunch and smoky heat, simply the best I’ve had anywhere.
Small portions to delight in any season
Small plates get their mojo from Spanish tapas and Italian antipasti, and are a marvelous way to sample numerous dishes in one sitting. If I had to choose just one way to eat, most any time of year—but especially in the city, in the summer—it would be bits of this and that.
Dishes served chilled or at room temperature, with a hit of warmth on the side, easily fool my stomach into thinking I have had a full meal. Stand-out dining experiences gave two restaurants the edge in my highly personalized sample:
- The bountiful antipasti bar at Café Fiorello near Lincoln Center was ideal for a light, pre-theater meal on a hot summer night. I’ve read a few less-than-enthusiastic reviews, but on two visits there, I was delighted with both the food and the friendly service. My favorite plate was a trio of grilled shrimp with large white beans, broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic, and roasted cauliflower tossed with dried fruit.
- The vegan appetizers at Café Blossom in the West Village hold their own in any flavor competition, and in the final reckoning Blossom scored absolute tops in my book. Seaweed caviar canapés—served with avocado, white vegan cheese batons and truffle oil on slices of baguette—segued back to the summer’s seafood motif. Paired with a salad of beetroot Carpaccio, herbed cashew ricotta, marinated figs, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic drizzle, it was a party in my mouth!
This is far from a complete list of foodie moments during my stay in New York, just the best in category. Any favorite seafood or appetizer venues you’d like to add to my list?