James Beard Award-winning chef Michael White is the man behind high-end Italian restaurants Marea, Osteria Morini, and Ai Fiori, but lately, he's made an effort to tap into the real New York side of Italian food: this past week, he opened buzzed-about pizza joint Nicoletta. Despite his Wisconsin upbringing, there are some New York staples he just gets: bagels, Thai delivery, and, of course, pizza. Michael shows us all the flavors of his Upper West Side neighborhood in this week's installment of Neighborhood Guides.
Pizza:V&T Pizzeria is the quintessential New York City pizza joint. It smells like tomato, pecorino and oregano: just a good, solid, pizza pie. No frills.
Bagel: There is nothing better than walking into Absolute Bagels and knowing that the everything bagel is going to be crispy and crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, salty, bitter garlicky, poppy seed-y, and doughy hot. I can't wait to buy three—one to eat on the way home, one for when I get home, and one to share with my girls. I buy a quarter-pound of lox spread for the bagel at home. You spread it on the bagel and it melts—salmon, lox, cheese wiz—like magic. Even Frank Bruni agrees with me.
Delivery food: The best delivery food is Wondee Siam V, unequivocally. The way they pack and stack your order is just brilliant. When you order noodle soup, they separate the broth and noodles so it doesn't get ruined. I order the pad see ew with collard greens, sweet soy, beef, and egg. The noodles are charred because they are started in a dry, lightly peanut-oiled pan. They top it with chopped peanuts, scallions and cilantro. The pad Thai is damn good too. I usually eat with my hands, and squeeze sriracha on everything.
Bakery: The chocolate cakes at Silver Moon Bakery are my favorite because they're minis and I can eat them late at night in three bites with a large glass of cold milk. I do a serious slam dunk of the cake in the milk but the milk has to be cold, so I put an ice cube in it just in case. Oh, and the pain au chocolate and croissants shouldn't be ignored either. I don't dip those in milk though.
Breakfast: The Manchester Diner is the greatest place uptown to grab a quick corned beef hash, over-easy eggs, toast and a great cup of coffee. It's also a great place to have a covert meeting to discuss deals. They just renovated the whole space.
Ice cream/gelato: Pinkberry is my go-to. I keep pints in the freezer. My heart belongs to the peanut butter flavor, but it was discontinued, so I stick to salted caramel and peach with toppings: diced peaches, chocolate beads, mochi.
Falafel: The only falafel in my hood is Maoz. I love getting the whole wheat pita with falafel, and then my daughter goes nuts at the topping bar. Nothing says Middle Eastern food like tzatziki, Israeli salad, pickled veggies and hummus.
Late-night eats: After late night boozing downtown, I hail a cab straight to Taqueria y Fonda, take down a torta with egg, avocado, refried beans, onions, cheese, and jalapenos, and then slip a few Listerine sheets so my wife doesn't smell all the calories on my breath. I think I just decided on tonight's late-night snack.
Can't-miss-somewhat-out-of-neighborhood-bounds spot: Charles' Country Fried Chicken is the absolute best. They fry it in cast iron pans so the chicken skin gets golden brown. Charles does 40 pieces at a time. I like all dark meat. The biscuits are unbelievable too. If you're lucky, they'll toss all the fried chicken in the gravy for you and then serve it dipped and delicious.