A fast run to New York City, courtesy of one of those short-notice airfares, and a few casual meals plus one more formal one. That was at Danny Meyer's Maialino, located in the Gramercy Park Hotel, where I broke yet another of the Food Critic Rules: I ate out on Mothers Day. Indeed, I ate brunch. It looks as though the details of that will be on the St. Louis Magazine blog Relish, and when it goes up, I'll post a link.
But most of the time, the meals were partly due to where I happened to be walking at the time, whether alone or with a friend, and partly due to vague memories of something I'd wanted to experiment with when I read or heard about it. Both those factored into a mid-afternoon Saturday lunch at one of the locations of Shake Shack, Meyer's chain of burger spots born out of his St. Louis roots. The flat-grilled hamburgers are really not Steak 'n Shake (or Carl's Drive In) thin, but they're cooked to order; the ShackBurger, available as a single or double, sports lettuce, tomato, cheese and ShackSauce. My single was hot, moist, and not overwhelmed with the sauce, whose exact ingredients are the source of intense discussion at several places on the Web. Mayo based, to be sure, but frankly I thought it fit in so well (and was so hungry) I didn't do the wipe-and-lick that I often do. Passed on the crinkle-cut fries, a personal no-thanks of mine, had a glass of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, the perfect match on a hot, sunny urban afternoon, and topped it off with a coffee shake, rather than a concrete, which they also do. The frozen custard flavor varies by the day, and each month the weekly rotation changes to offer an alternative to the constancy of vanilla. On my visit it was Mexican chocolate brownie, and quite zippy it was with some pepper as well as cinnamon. I was thrilled with the shake, which propelled me uptown to Kitchen Arts and Letters, the cookbook book store.
Extremely casual, family friendly, more expensive than McDonald's (the ShackBurger was $4.55), and very popular, so you'll be lucky if you don't have to wait longer than the time it takes to cook your food.
various locations, including beyond New York City
Poking around in the East Village, I saw Baoguette Cafe. There are several places called Baoguette, sort of like Ray's Pizza came to be, not necessarily related or even formerly related. But the basic banh mi sandwich, the focus of each of the Baoguettes (although they have noodles and pho), was a remarkable $6 sandwich. They grill their sandwich in a light press, put the spicy ingredients on at the wishes of the customer, and thrill the mouth with tender pork, crunchy-spicy pickled cucumber and carrot, and sprigs of cilantro. I'd never had one hot before, but it's like hearing a favorite song in a new arrangement. Also tempting are a fish version and another using a gravy-sauced curry. The other Baoguettes seem mostly to be in areas where they serve (and deliver) business lunches.
37 St. Marks Place, New York
St. Louis doesn't hear much, if anything about Korean fried chicken. I'd been trying to taste some for a couple of years, and finally got the chance. Served primarily as wings and drumsticks, it's double-fried, making it extremely crisp. Most of the outlets in Manhattan are in the Koreatown neighborhood near the Empire State Building, but one of them had branches in several locations, and I just aimed for the nearest, which was on Second Avenue near 51st Street.
Bon Chon is far nicer than anything the Colonel or his friend the sailor man offer in decor. There's a liquor license, a calm decor with table service, and plenty of customers who might have been eating this kind of chicken for decades. The chicken is cooked to order, and can be had with a soy-garlic sauce or a hot sauce. I split my order down the middle, added a pajeon, or onion pancake, and had a cocktail of sparkling wine, a little soju, the korean drink that's rather like a slightly sweet vodka, and a lychee. The pajeon was large, and full of browned onion-y goodness, and could have been a meal in itself. But the chicken made it superfluous. Yes, crisp. Yes, greaseless. I'd expected to prefer the hot wings, whose heat gathered steam slowly and kept the fire down to a point where tastebuds remained alive. But the soy-ginger surprised me with its charm. The garlic had been cooked slowly enough that the minced bits had become sweet, giving a nice contrast to the salty soy sauce. Alongside came cubes of pickled radish, much more approachable than kim chee. The wings are enough to make someone give up the blue cheese dressing and celery sticks and stick with this Seoul food.
958 2nd Avenue, New York