This article is part of a guide to New York from FT Globetrotter
Although I moved to London 17 years ago, New York will always be a part of me. I spent my formative years in the Big Apple, having moved to Manhattan for university — and I learnt just as much outside of the classroom as I did doing my coursework. I marvelled at masterpieces in museums, meandered aimlessly through Central Park and danced all night in trendy nightclubs. But what I enjoyed most was eating and drinking my way around the city that never sleeps.
There is always something new to discover in NYC, which is what keeps me coming back for both work and pleasure. One of my favourite spots at the moment is the underground Jazz Club at the new Aman hotel in Midtown, which opened in August this year. At a secret back door, guests are vetted by a bouncer and then escorted by elevator to a seductive sleek cavern with dim, honey-hued lighting, sultry live jazz and comfy banquettes. The acoustics are excellent, aided by a state of the art Meyer Sound Constellation system. The sonic perfection is best enjoyed with one of the bar’s signature cocktails, many named after the luxury brand’s global outposts. I recommend the Alpina, a sexier version of a Negroni, enhanced delicately with an aromatic sprig of nepitella — a zesty herb with notes of oregano and basil.
Also new to the scene is Jōji, part of chef-restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s empire, which offers a unique omakase experience nestled in the basement of a nondescript office building opposite Grand Central Station. The restaurant, which seats only 10 guests at an immaculate blond cedar-wood counter (there is also an eight person private dining room), is helmed by executive chef George Ruan, who serves an exquisite sushi dinner with graceful panache and a bit of relaxed humour.
Omakase meals can be rigid, practically religious affairs, but at Jōji, Ruan takes a more informal approach. The majority of the fish is sourced from Japan and is delectably fresh. But what truly sets the meal apart is the perfect rice preparation: each small mound is pressed just enough to stay together, yet deftly preserves the integrity of each grain. All of these elements combined make for the most heavenly sushi; the full omakase includes five ample starters and 15 pieces.
Aside from trying buzzy new places, I always make time to revisit old favourites too. One such place is Fresco by Scotto, which has been serving excellent Tuscan fare with flair in Midtown since 1993. Fresco shines with personality and it is a family affair, with sisters Rosanna and Elaina Scotto at the helm. Their thin-crust grilled margherita pizza is legendary — crisp, light and so satisfying — though I usually order the clam capellini: skinny spaghetti tossed generously with garlic, studded with sweet juicy clams and accented with umami-filled oven-roasted tomatoes. Elaina, who works front of house, elegantly glides from table to table; she knows most of the patrons by first name and makes guests feel like family even if it is their first time. You can dine indoors or in the heated garden.
As for real old favourites, a trip to New York is never complete without satisfying a few nostalgic cravings — the foods I have loved since I first visited the city as a teenager.
The first is a chewy, hot and crusty “everything” bagel with schmear (cream cheese), lox and topped with a slice of tomato and red onion. H&H Bagels was my go-to when I was a student, and luckily it is back in business on the Upper West Side after shuttering for more than 10 years. The new location is shinier than the original, and you can also pick up a black and white cookie or a bag of authentic rugalach.
My second serious NY craving is Chinese-American food. Classic dishes such as egg rolls, chicken with broccoli and moo shu pork are unheard of outside of the US. For these plates, I tend to go old school and head to a good greasy standby such as Empire Szechuan, where sometimes I’ll just order four crispy fried egg rolls for delivery. (Eating inside is rather uninspiring.) What is an egg roll, you ask? Think of it as a more satiating version of a spring roll, but with a thicker middle and wrapper. It’s stuffed with shredded cabbage that’s speckled with fluorescent red bits of pork, eaten with your hands and dipped decadently in sweet and sour duck sauce. It is one of my favourite comfort foods (and an ideal hangover cure too).
Lastly, I cannot leave the city without noshing on a good slice of pizza. I am loyal to Two Boots, a thin-crust institution since 1987. Here corn meal is mixed into and scattered on the bottom of the dough to make the crust extra crispy. This, with tangy tomato sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese spread on top, is one of the most satisfying bites in the Empire City. Like many a local, I’ll usually fold the slice in half and eat it while walking down the block — in a very New York state of mind.
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