9 March 2011

Got Milk?


I'm not sure how I first heard about David Chang or his Momofuku restaurant group. Since 2004 though, Chang has been building a fine and creative restaurant empire across Manhattan, creating a stir worldwide and publishing a book - a brilliantly no-nonsense book, as it happens. A visit to one of the restaurants was always likely this trip and, when you're travelling with a renowned sugar addict, the restaurant most likely to get visited was always going to be Milk Bar.

As the name suggests, savoury items are probably not going to play a major part on this menu. They're not completely absent, and the Pork Buns were every bit as rich, punchily flavoured and addictive as I'd been led to believe, but the main event here is cake, ice cream, cookies and other guilty pleasures.

Ice creams come as soft whipped swirls of eccentric flavours (with sides of sugary cereals and nuts), cakes come as calorie-packed slabs of sweetness(pictured is the candy bar pie: chocolate crust, caramel, peanut butter nougat, pretzels,) cookies are moist and pliable, drinks are either thick and dairy based or alcoholic with amusing names...

And it's all stupidly delicious. You might not be able to look yourself in the eye the morning after - The Cakewalk of Shame, perhaps? - but for those intense, fleeting moments of sugar rushy pleasures, the guilt is a small price to pay. Here's hoping the Atherton dessert bar presses similar buttons when it finally opens next month.

7 March 2011

Burger Joint


There are so many meals to be discussed from the infamous / smug New York trip that it's been quite a difficult decision deciding what goes next. At some point this week I actually need to sit down and write my "proper" article on the trip so I'm saving a lot of the higher end dining for that first (and to trickle down here shortly after). In the meantime, after much deliberation, I decided there can be only one choice: Burger Joint.

Yeah, big flipping surprise. Davey's talking about burgers. Again. There are more to come as well (the exemplary Caprice one, the repeated delights of 5 Napkins, even the delightful little lamb meatball sliders at Locanda Verde) but the stand-out burger experience was to be found in the unlikeliest of settings: behind a curtain in the foyer of the Parker Meridien Hotel on 57th (between 6th and Broadway).

For London eaters, there's an obvious analogy for this experience. You know the Soho Hotel, right? That big foyer, the exquisite design, the bar area, the media types quaffing away, the works of art...? Right. Now imagine #MEATEASY located behind a curtain somewhere off that room. That was exactly the thought Burger Joint inspired.

I was there - at a dash, about 45 minutes before I had to get back to JFK for the flight home - thanks to a tip off from the marvellous Mandy Oser. It was Mandy who'd set up Le Bernardin for us, and kindly hosted us for a couple of beers at her own Hell's Kitchen bar, Ardesia. As with all chats with local foodies, the conversation swiftly turned to other things we should eat and she recommended Burger Joint. She was right. In terms of food, energy, eccentricity, Burger Joint is the sort of place that leaves you beaming and feeling like you very possibly dreamed the whole experience.

The only clue that it exists is a tiny neon sign tucked away at the end of a corridor (or, possibly, at certain times of the day, the enormous queue). Walk towards that and you'll see a handwritten sign on the door frame. Turn right through the door frame and... wow. It's burger bedlam.

A huge counter and grill area takes up the middle of the back wall, surrounded by tables, chairs and a mass of New Yorkers chowing down. Families, couples, friends, random solo tourists (hello) all vied for space in a crammed room that bustled with life. A couple of guys flipped burgers, another assembled the finished sandwiches, a girl took orders while a big poster instructed the customer, in true New York style, not to hesitate. These are your choices. This is how we can cook them. These are the things you can have on it and if you want all of them just say "The Works". This sort of thing probably comes as second nature to New Yorkers used to ordering at deli counters but added a certain amount of pressure to a Brit just trying to enjoy a final cheeseburger. However, I got the order out in reasonable form, handed over a remarkably small sum of money - hamburgers are c. $7, cheeseburgers around $8 - and joined the other queue.

Within a few minutes, I was handed a waxed paper parcel containing my sandwich. With no table available, I balanced it precariously on a ledge to take some (bad) photos, before taking a bite. Like so much of the meat tried in NY - who are clearly on a citywide health kick - it was a little underseasoned but better that way than overseasoned. With a hefty sprinkle of salt, the results were as good as I've had: the crust of the char, the fantastically artificial cheese-like slice melting into the meat, crispy onions giving a sharp boost, very good ripe tomato adding sweetness, while mustard and ketchup and beefy juices oozed into the sturdy, slightly toasted bun. It was over in a matter of seconds. It wasn't a #MEATEASY Chilli Challenge speed, but it certainly didn't take long. As a final experience for this trip, it was great, the perfect encapsulation of the trip as a whole. A little luxury, a lot of great people, and a damned fine, meat-based, handheld snack.