I’m at Astor Wines and Spirits in downtown Manhattan, sent by a friend who used to attend nearby NYU. “Go to the back wine room”, my friend had told me, conspiratorially, as though letting me in a secret. “Get the ’95 Roero. The price never changes. It’s always $30—an amazing deal.” I move on to the largest supply of saké in New York City, and therefore most likely in the entire Northeastern United States. Anything in the fridge section with “nama” in the name should be unpasteurized, which, for me, is the holy grail of saké. Never would I snub my nose at a Junmai dai Gingo, but the raw flavours of “live” unpasteurized saké are like raw milk cheeses compared with their pasteurized counterparts - often a world apart. They must remain chilled to stay alive, though, so you’ll either need a refrigerator or be willing to constantly refresh the hotel ice bucket for storage. The latter requires dedication, but for an Otokoyama “Hiyaoroshi,” you should commit.
Astor Wines and Spirits
399 Lafayette St. (at East 4th St.) Website
Once you’re well stocked on sake, head south to Everyman Soho for some of the city’s best-pulled espresso—and people watching. You’ll need to luck into one of the window seats, from which the view onto Canal Street creates the perfect feeling of escaping the urban madness while drinking your shot. Everyman takes their coffee seriously, using Counter Culture beans, but service is far from snobbish. Also on offer are homemade sodas from P&H Soda Co.
While in Chinatown, stop by the Bangkok Center Grocery. This specialty grocer stocks fresh curry pastes in the fridge section and more transportable items for travelers including galangal, banana leaves, holy basil, Thai tea leaves for traditional sweet iced tea with condensed or coconut milk, and fresh Kaffir lime leaves.
All that talk of lime leaves, holy basil, and coconut milk means it’s time for happy hour, preferably on a beach. But as hard as Manhattan tried, tiki bars just couldn’t make it in the big city, with two stellar downtown destinations serving their last mai tais and scorpion bowls last year. The mixologists at The Dead Rabbit—lovers of all truly classic cocktails—don’t mind a bit. They do good business in their establishment’s main floor, Irish-influenced taproom. There you’ll find craft beers, bottled punches, and “pop-ins”—lightly-hopped beer with amari or fruit liqueurs. Cocktail connoisseurs head upstairs to the parlor for possets; cobblers; toddies; juleps; fizzes; smashes with eucalyptus tinctures; sweet, spiced bishops; and creamy flips. Punches such as the Grandieur (c. 1888) with Bois Genever, Varnelli Anis, lemon sherbet, orange flower water and peppermint tea are ladled from communal bowls into antique tea cups. And oysters, scotch eggs, and bangers and mash soak it all up.
On Sunday morning, head to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge and the home of the New Amsterdam Market. On that day only (and even less frequently in winter) the former Fulton Fish Market becomes a public market, complete with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, and a selection of prepared foods: buttery lobster rolls from Luke’s Lobster; fresh ricotta ice cream from Bent Spoon; and raw honey, artisanal BBQ sauces, and micro-distilled New York Honey Whiskey made with honeycombs from the Catskill Mountains. Market organizers are currently campaigning to raise funds to turn the space into a world-class, daily public market like Seattle’s Pike Place or even Barcelona’s Boqueria. But for now the outdoor market is a Sunday-only pop-up of weekly rotating vendors. Cross your fingers for Chef Wayne’s egg and Amish cheddar breakfast tacos; fig and chocolate truffle pie from Pie Corps; key lime pie and passionfruit marshmallows from Fred’s; and Finnish rye from Nordic Breads.
New Amsterdam Market South
Street between Beekman Street and Peck Slip Website
If you’ve never been to Eataly, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich’s enormous Italian fine food megastore, you should probably go. The space combines restaurants, a high-end food court, a bakery, butcher, fishmonger, cheesemonger, wine store, cooking school, and kilos upon kilos of homemade pasta. But if you don’t feel like huge crowds, or if you live in Italy, Tokyo, Chicago or Philadelphia (the first three have Eataly’s of their own, and Philly’s is on the way), or if you’re craving Swedish meatballs and smoked eel (not necessarily together), go instead to the Essex Street Market. Also open daily, the 29 independent take-away counters, restaurants, and fine food retailers make for a much more off-the-beaten-path experience.
Stuffed with Davidovich’s New York-style, plank-baked kosher bagels from the Essex Street Market, you’ll need to find room for Jewish sweets from the new Zucker Bakery. Israeli-born baker, Zohar Zohar, whose CV includes a couple of Michelin-star restaurants, brings the same attention to detail to her sugar-dusted honey-almond finger cookies, her mother’s chocolate shoshanim cinnamon rolls (there’s also a twisted chocolate babka loaf version), and homestyle date and clove rugelach. Any of her creations make for a sweet end to your trip, and a sweet treat for the ride home.
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