When you eat out as much as I do, summing up a year of eating is excruciatingly difficult. It's one of those "tough jobs, but someone has to do it." So here goes: a baker's dozen of things that made my 2013.
RedFarm's Pork Chops
Everyone knows that RedFarm's Joe Ng is New York's greatest dumpling chef, but with the opening of the new UWS Red Farm location, it's clear that in working with restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld he is now New York's most talented and skilled Chinese chef working in any medium. Take these pork chops marinated in soy, papaya juice, and various spices, incredibly moist and tender, streaked with grill marks, sitting on top of grilled peppers (whichever are in season at the greenmarket), scallions, and sometimes leeks. Somehow these pork chops are both Vietnamese-thin and new American-juicy.
How does Joe do it? His partner Ed says it's the combination of the marinade and a quick dip of the chops in hot water before he marinates them. However he does it, it's a monumental food achievement.
Fairway's Potato Chips
First Fairway mastered popcorn and now they have conquered the potato chip. Thick, dark brown, just salty enough, these are potatoes that bring back the old "bet you can't each just one" commercials. The only caveat: The chips are sold in bags above the hot steam table items at the 74th and Broadway store, which is where I buy them. As a result they can sometimes get soggy from the steam below. The answer to this problem: try one when you grab the bag, and if it's soggy, tell someone at the store.
A runner up: Rick Bishop's potato chips sold at his Mountain Sweet Berry Farm greenmarket stand at Union Square are thinner and smaller (they're not made with Russet potatoes like Fairway), but they're just as addictive.
Grom's Dark Hot Chocolate Affogato
With espresso ice cream and whipped cream, it's decadent and supremely chocolatey, not too sweet, and affordable considering its indulgence. This is such a rich concoction that a small definitely does the trick, unless you're with someone you care about a great deal, in which case you can share a large. More Grom »
Yes, the wait can be interminable at this 100 year-old latticini still presided over by the DiPalo clan. But if you time your visit for 1:30, about when the porchetta is just out of the oven and resting next to the incomparable fresh mozzarella, you won't have to wait too long to buy a hunk of the crispiest, juiciest, porkiest porchetta on this side of the Atlantic.
Balaboosta's Cabbage Salad and Chicken Schnitzel
I eat at Balaboosta often for business lunches, and I'll invariably ask my lunch companion to share two dishes: chef-owner Einat Admony crispy cabbage salad made with crispy noodles, mint, and the optional grilled chicken (you will want the usually insanely juicy grilled chicken), and the ultra-crispy chicken schnitzel made with a corn-flake crust. I think of it as Balaboosta's version of Chicken Two Ways. You'll just think of it as two damn good plates of food.
Landmark Pancake House's Bacon, Egg, and Cheese
I know not the provenance of the egg, bacon, or cheese used on this sandwich at Landmark Diner, but what I do know is that they get it right every damn time. The egg is perfectly cooked soft (no easy feat on a griddle), the bacon is deep-fried to order, and when they're both put on a slice of cheese already sitting on half of a well-toasted English muffin, you end up with the egg sandwich of your dreams, no more and no less.
Asparagus and Mushroom Croissant at Balthazar
Filled croissants are invariably a soggy, disappointing eating experience. That's why it was such a delightful surprise to bite into Balthazar Bakery's asparagus and mushroom croissant: light, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside croissant dough filled with just the right amount of al dente asparagus and mushrooms that taste like they have been sautéed in really good butter. This croissant is the perfect walking lunch.
Cheese Roll at Maison Kayser
I admit—I'm a sucker for cheese rolls. I miss Madge Rosenberg's cheddar rolls at the recently shuttered Soutine more than I can tell you. Then to my rescue came Eric Kayser's cheese rolls at Maison Kayser. They're small and roundish, filled with pockets of Gruyere cheese, but what elevates them to near mythic status is that most of the time they'll be a round frico-like disk of baked, crunchy cheese on the bottom. I eat that first, because who wouldn't?
Original A Pizza at Paulie Gee's
I'm more than a little embarrassed that 2013 was the first time I had actually set foot in Slice commenter turned pizzaiolo supreme Paulie Giannone's pizzeria (I had previously had his pizza brought to me as leftovers in the SE office), but I'm man enough to admit it, and now wise enough to know that Paulie has learned from the all the pie men he has come into contact with and developed his own pizza style. He uses a thin but pliant crust, unique topping combinations that invariably make perfect sense, mozz that's creamy and fresh, and simple sauce that Paulie is smart enough to know is just a vehicle for the other aforementioned elements of his pizza.
And now, with the announcement that our own Adam Kuban is going to open a Paulie Gee's in Portland, I'm more bursting with pride than ever about Paulie's success and Adam's finding of his calling. I am partial to the off-the-menu "Famous Original A pie", which Adam himself has described perfectly on the site: "The Famous Original A is nothing crazy or super unique—in fact it's pretty much Paulie's "Brian DeParma" (sauce and Parmigianno-Reggiano) with a dusting of Romano and then sausage and onion added."
The man is being modest. It's fucking awesome.
Hot Dog at Epicerie Boulud
Caramelized onions come on the hot dog at Daniel Boulud's sandwich and take-out shop along with mustard, ketchup, and frisée, but if you ask for the crispy shallots that normally go on the Banh mi dog there and skip the frisée, which has no place on a hot dog, you will end up with one swell hot dog. Yes, it's $8 (which means you can get four hot dogs for the same price at Gray's Papaya nine blocks away), but the juicy natural-casing beef and pork hot dog is twice as big, and when you throw in the toppings mentioned above, it's worth every penny. The sticker shock increases when you pay and realize you also have to pay the tax. Such are the indignities we sometimes suffer in search of greatness.
Bagels and Bialys at Fred's at Barney's
With Hot Bread Kitchen, Kossar's, and Fred's the unjustly neglected bialy has been reinvigorated and restored to its former glory. Mark Straussman's bialys are small, onion-y, and ready to eat right out of the bag. No toasting required. Note: they only make them on Sundays for pick-up. Call ahead by Friday to reserve yours.
Babka, Cheese Straws, and Olive Sticks at Breads Bakery
There's the heavy, usually dry babka we all grew up with and tolerated, and then there's Israeli baking whiz Uri Scheft's babka at his Breads Bakery in Union Square, which basically redefines this classic Jewish baked good. Light, moist, bursting with flavor and character, and not tasting of cheap cinnamon, this is the babka of all of our dreams. And while you're there get some equally transcendent cheese sticks and olive sticks.
A Can of Diet Barq's at Nolita Mart
Until someone tells me a place where they sell diet Barq's in either 20-ounce bottles or the 12-ounce longneck glass bottles, I have to be thankful that our friends at our local coffee and noshing bar Nolita Mart go to the trouble of picking up cases of 12-ounce Diet Barq's cans in New Jersey and bringing them back to their beautifully curated store, located a mere half-block from Serious Eats World HQ. The only other place I have seen Diet Barq's is in those space-age multi-flavor soda dispensers at certain movie theaters like the Loew's on 84th Street (that's the one with the insanely comfortable seats) and at the Steak and Shake Signature location at 53rd and Broadway. Chasing a Steak & Shake classic cheeseburger with grilled onions and their salty fresh-cut French fries with a Diet Barq's is a quintessential midtown eating experience.