11 December 2009

The Micro Family Does NYC Day 2

Let's cut the BS and get right to it. The first stop on our Saturday itinerary was Shopsin's located in a little corner of the Essex Street Market in the LES. After a bit of exploring we found it tucked away in the back and immediately I recognized Kenny Shopsin sitting in a chair against the wall taking a break.

I also immediately noticed that the place was full and there was already a standing line. So we busied ourselves perusing the unholy mammoth of a menu posted on the wall. I'd looked it over many times online but that didn't make the task any easier. I can't even fathom how a chef could commit all of those recipes to memory and have the ability to put out any dish on there at the drop of a hat. After physically being there and witnessing firsthand just how small the kitchen is I also cannot comprehend where he keeps all of the ingredients to make all of those dishes. There must be some secret passageway to a cavernous stockroom. Who wants to go spelunking?

I'd read online that the must-try items on the menu were the mac & cheese pancakes and the slutty cakes(more on those later). So I ordered a half order of the mac & cheese panckes for us to try and the slutty cakes as my meal. I recalled a rave review of the banana ebelskivers by chef Aarón Sánchez on an episode of 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate' on Food Network. I love banana so that was a natural choice for dessert. Nikki wasn't trying to eat very heavy because of the imposing culinary tour we had planned for the day so she ordered the Saxelby with avocado and bacon.

Let me take this opportunity to say that this is EXACTLY my type of food/cuisine. In my opinion the most rewarding aspect of cooking is when you take a bunch of ingredients one would never think to put together and make them work harmoniously in a dish. This has to be Kenny Shopsin's mantra because it is exactly what he does. I mean come on, mac & cheese pancakes? But oh sweet fancy moses they work and they're freakin' delicious.

I can't even begin to guess how they make these things. They're pancakes formed from a batter that I can only describe as a mash of spongy overcooked pasta and cheese. I managed to grab the monstrous squeeze bottle of house-made hot sauce I saw floating around and squeezed out a healthy pool onto the plate. It was freakin delicious. The hot sauce tasted like what Frank's hot sauce must've tasted like when he perfected the recipe in his own kitchen. It was fresh and potent and paired perfectly with the pancakes. But the best is yet to come. I speak of course of the slutty cakes, quite possibly the most delicious pancakes ever conceived by man.

Slutty cakes, slutty cakes, slutty cakes, slutty cakes, SLUTTY F'IN CAKES. I can't say it enough. It's like Kenny Shopsin telepathically read my mind and found out all of my favorite ingredients and put them into pancakes. Pumpkin? Yes. Pistachios? Yes. Peanut butter? God f'ing YES. These panckes could've been such a cop out. They could've been regular pancakes topped with these things, or with them smushed into the cakes. But no, the damn things were MADE of those things. The middle of each pancakes is a gooey mishmash of pumpkin, peanut butter, and pistachios. Fantastic. I wish I could post one of the pictures I have of the interior but they all turned out horribly blurry.

Nikki's breakfast sandwich was also quite good. The ingredients were fresh. Nice fluffy eggs, and crispy bacon. The use ciabatta is usually very risky but here it paid off. This was some of the lightest and softest ciabatta I had come across to date. She gave me a bite and I approved, but it was still slightly overshadowed by the sexiest sluts I've ever tasted.

The ebelskivers were a great way to finish off the morning carbo-loading. They were like doughnut holes with a custardy interior with a slight hint of banana flavor. The sugar dusting on the outside was a great touch and added a little crunchy texture. Here's an interior shot:

My final verdict? Shopsins is a monumental breakfast experience and could quite possibly be the first place in NYC I visit twice.

The next planned activity for the day was a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Nikki had never seen the Statue of Liberty but I had on a previous trip to NYC years ago. So we decided to take in the sights and walk down to the southern tip of Manhattan through the streets of Chinatown. We randomly came across the awesome Mahayana Buddhist Temple on Canal St. and had to take the opportunity and check out the interior:

We also stopped in for a look at St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway:

XI Thou shalt not have erotic fantasies involving pancakes.

Forgive me father for I have sinned.

By this time the wind was really picking up so we happened across a street vendor selling hats and scarves and such and I picked up a banging cashmere scarf for 5 bucks. Just another reason to love New York. So we finally make it down to Battery Park and encounter a nice big sign that says "Crown tickets sold out". So in other words they were still selling tickets to go to the statue, you just couldn't go up into it. Nikki and I discussed this and decided there wasn't really any point in going if we weren't allowed to go up in it. All for naught!

We decided to walk up towards South Street Seaport until we decided what we wanted to do next. I'd been there before as well and it looks disturbingly similar to the Inner Harbor here in Baltimore (i.e. tourist trap). So we just passed it by. We spied signs for the Bodies Exhibit and I since I had raved about it so much after seeing it a few years ago Nikki wanted to check that out. It was no less impressive the second time around.

After all this walking and sight-seeing it was time to grab ourselves a little snack or two. I had our options all laid out for us so we headed for the LES and the much raved about Doughnut Plant at Norfolk and Grand St. Any normal being would be carbed out from breakfast, but not us. We live on carbs, baby. Bring on the doughnuts!

I'd been dying to go here ever since I saw this post on Serious Eats. I mean, who wouldn't want to go here after that much intoxicating food porn? The line exploded shortly after we arrived so we were glad we got there when we did. This shop was bustling with vibrant life in an otherwise quiet and empty block.

It angers me to no end that once again most of my pictures were plagued with blurriness. The damned camera has seen better days I guess. Nonetheless, it's all I got! We finally arrived at the counter so I ordered the peanut butter and jelly doughnut and the much raved about crème brûlée doughnut and sadly after the girl in front of us snagged the last pumpkin doughnut, Nikki decided to order a blackout doughnut. But our luck turned around as right after we received our food the window seat opened up right by the doughnut rack.

MMmmmm blurry doughnuts... Here is the one fantabulous picture I got of our order. Look how GD sexy these things are!

I, of course, went for the little guy first. This was one of the culinary highlights of the weekend for me. Simply fantastic. The crackly sugar crust on top created a doughnut experience that I'd never had before, coupled with the cool vanilla custard inside, wow. I wish I had taken a shot of the custardy interior, but I was too caught up in doughnut euphoria. Moving on to the peanut butter and jelly doughnut, where the crème brûlée doughnut was to be eaten slowly, savoring every bite, the PB&J doughnut was to be utterly devouring in a slobbery gluttonous orgy. The peanuty crust and the light cakey inside and the perfect amount of strawberry jelly filling made this another home run for the tastebuds.

That may look like a skimpy amount of filling but trust me, it was just the right amount. One can only imagine how this would've tasted had it been filled with our household favorite: black raspberry jelly. Maybe I should write a letter? Nikki gave me a bite of the blackout and it was good but nothing special. She took a few more bites and found a molten chocolate center that apparently didn't make it all the way through the doughnut. I took another bite and it was infinitely better with the gooey chocolate core. Here's a blurry picture of said goo:

I was discussing this trip with some friends here in Maryland and I remember someone saying "they were better than Fractured Prune?" And I just laughed. I think I responded with something like "these doughnuts are on an entirely different plane of existence than Fractured Prune". Don't get me wrong, I like Fractured Prune, but they're child's play compared to Doughnut Plant. I think in my letter I will include the offer of my body as a playground in exchange for the opening of a Doughnut Plant in Bel Air...

After our meal at Doughnut Plant we still had room for another snack, so we made our way to Houston Street for some sexcellent salmon and bagels at Russ & Daughters.

We went inside and it was pretty crazy. There were lines here and there and everyone was being helped by a different associate. We loved the old world feel of the place. We made our way to the back where the salmon was located and were presented with a plethora of options:

I had no idea which to choose, as my smoked fish experience is mostly limited to the stuff my dad gets at Costco, which is damn good I might add. Luckily I witnessed a girl tasting samples so I followed suit. I tried a few but none of them really hit the mark, they were either too light or too salty(Belly Lox!!) and I was just about to settle when I decided to try one more, the Irish organic smoked salmon. This one hit the perfect balance of flavor.

I overheard another patron mention scallion cream cheese so that sealed the deal on that front. My order? Sesame bagel with Irish organic salmon and scallion cream cheese.

As you can see they didn't skimp on the salmon. The flavor combination was stellar. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. The bagel was light and fluffy and while it wasn't anything amazing it was more than satisfactory. The scallion cream cheese was super fresh, the scallions adding a nice brightness to the sandwich. My wife concurred. This was one badass snack:

She lovingly left the last bite for me. What a lucky glutton I am.

I think I will leave you hanging here. We have our Saturday night dinner and a show to report on plus our Sunday adventures in Flushing, the highlight of which is without a doubt the lovely dish known as 'liang pi'. You'll just have to keep checking back for all of the juicy details. As always, thanks for reading.

Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
Russ & Daughters on Urbanspoon
Shopsin's General Store (Essex Street Market) on Urbanspoon

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Erin said...

What a great day! You hit two of my favorites (Russ & Daughters and Doughnut Plant) and did a beautiful job describing your experiences. Can't wait to get back to the Big Apple!

Kyle said...

Thanks for the compliments! I'm humbled. I couldn't have been happier with any of the places in this post. These have definitely been the best cheap eats I've had in the city. I plan on making Shopsin's a regular stop in my future trips to the city. I also want to try out the tres leches and the carrot cake doughnut at Doughnut Plant.

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