In a recent post, I mentioned that we will be moving overseas again but haven’t publicly shared where we’re going. Today I’m going to give you a big hint: it’s somewhere in Europe that’s east of Germany and north of Greece. Any guesses? (No giving it way if you already know!)
To give us a little taste of what to expect in our new home, we recently hopped up to New York City and sought out the cuisines of Northern and Eastern Europe. We sampled everything from Jewish deli sandwiches and matzo ball soup to caviar-topped blini and veal stew. We reveled in the flavors, some familiar, some tantalizingly new. Here’s a rundown of the cafes and restaurants we visited and the flavors we most look forward to finding in our new home.
We were very keen to sample Scandinavian food so the first reservation we made was for Aquavit, Manhattan’s premier Nordic restaurant once helmed by Top Chef Masters winner Marcus Samuelsson. We took advantage of the prix fixe lunch menu, US$42 for three courses, a relative bargain for a Michelin-starred meal.
Aquavit’s nondescript exterior gives way to a crisp white dining room filled with elegant yet refined decor. The resident sommelier discussed our wine selections (my white Côtes du Rhône was said to be a beautiful choice!) and the quick-footed staff served up a basket of freshly baked bread and sea-salted butter which hubby contemplated eating alone once the bread ran out.
The prix fixe menu offered a choice between two appetizers and two entrees so naturally we tried them all and shared. I started with the lemony Dill and Cucumber Salad and was wowed by the presentation as buttermilk, frozen with liquid nitrogen, was spooned over the bowl. While the salad was refreshing and fantastic to behold, I preferred the Shrimp Skagen, a deceptively simple shrimp salad atop a nutty rye bread.
For the next course, I devoured every heart-warming morsel of the traditional Swedish Meatballs served with a velvety-smooth potato puree, earthy chanterelle mushrooms and tart lingonberries. The other choice was Scandinavian Bouillabaisse, a frothy stew of the freshest fish and seafood. I thought the broth was a touch too salty but hubby deemed it perfect and likewise left an empty bowl.
The dessert option was Caramel Panna Cotta and it was spectacular. The thick custard was topped with chunks of white chocolate and pistachio bark as well as bits of freeze-dried raspberries. Equally satisfying was the dollop of dark chocolate and blueberry sherbet, which really needs to be packaged and sold for home consumption.
A New York institution that celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, Katz’s is THE PLACE to go for classic Jewish delicatessen fare. Don’t be deterred by the line stretching onto the sidewalk; we put our name on the list for table service and were seated within 15 minutes. (You can also order from the counter and find your own seat in the cavernous space.)
Hubby opted for the no-nonsense pastrami on rye while I went all out with the Reuben, a towering feat of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. It was messy, no doubt about it, but also the best Reuben I’ve ever tasted.
Russian Tea Room
When I lived in NYC, most of my money went towards paying rent; afternoon tea was a luxury I could not afford. Now that exorbitant housing costs are a thing of the past, I’m able to indulge myself from time to time… to time. One of Manhattan’s most iconic tea spots is the Russian Tea Room, opened in the 1920s by former members of the Russian Imperial Ballet.
We opted for the classic afternoon tea set – sans champagne – and were each presented with our own three-tied tray of savory treats. The waiter recommended we start at the top, with the tiny blinis topped with two different types of American caviar, and work our way down from there. Each bite was seemingly better than the last, though standouts included the shrimp salad with rémoulade, smoked salmon with chive cream cheese and cucumber, and Roquefort bleu cheese and pear with walnuts.
Our jaws dropped when the table was cleared and new towers of sweets arrived. This time we were told to start with the warm scones on the bottom and eat our way to the top. My favorites in this bunch were the vanilla cupcake with rich and slightly salty dark chocolate frosting and the chocolate truffle.
Having recently fallen head-over-heels for the zesty cuisine of Hungary, we were delighted when our online research turned up a highly-rated Hungarian restaurant on the Upper East Side. Although Andre’s appears to be little more than a bakery from outside, the menu is awash in classic dishes like the ones we first sampled in Budapest.
We started the night off right with a bottle of Bull’s Blood wine and Korozott in Paprika, an enticing blend of feta and cream cheeses with paprika and other spices served with bread and tomatoes. Remembering our favorite meals from the summer, we went straight for the Chicken Paprikash and the Veal Goulash, the meat so tender it practically melted. Both came with mounds of delicate noodles and scrumptious sauces. As we were enjoying our dinner, the proprietress walked by with a freshly-baked cherry cake which sealed the deal for dessert.
Moishe’s Bake Shop
You can’t throw a rock in the East Village without hitting a Jewish bakery. We walked by several on 2nd Avenue specializing in cheese blintzes and potato knishes, enticing smells wafting out onto the sidewalk, but were so full from our lunch at Katz’s Deli that we couldn’t imagine eating another bite. Then I saw Moishe’s Bake Shop across the street and it was as though I were caught in a magnetic force field. I just couldn’t stop myself from crossing the street and opening the door to Pandora’s cookie jar.
After savoring the heady fragrance of chocolate for a few minutes, we got a pound of apricot and raspberry jam-filled sandwich cookies dipped in dark chocolate. And we ate every single delicious one on the bus ride home the next day.
Aquavit Address: 65 East 55th Street, New York, NY Pricing: US$42 for three-course lunch
Katz's Deli Address: 205 E Houston St, New York, NY Pricing: Hot sandwiches cost US$14-19
Russian Tea Room Address: 150 West 57th Street, New York, NY Pricing: US$50 for the standard Afternoon Tea
Andre's Cafe Address: 1631 2nd Avenue (near 85th Street), New York, NY Pricing: Dishes range from US$8.50 to US$19.95
Moishe's Bake Shop Address: 115 2nd Avenue (near 7th Street), New York, NY Pricing: US$9.50 per pound of cookies
Have you been to NYC? What are some of your favorite restaurants? Which of these dishes would you most like to try?