About a month ago, my food-loving mum flew in from North Carolina to spend a weekend in New York City with me.
She was in charge of picking activities; I was in charge of picking food.
I wanted her to experience a variety of cuisines and see different neighbourhoods of Manhattan. I also had to account for one “splurge” night — to celebrate her new job — but wanted to balance that out with affordable spots.
Most importantly, I wanted these places to have really good food.
There were a lot of factors to consider, but after two weeks of indecision and second-guessing, here’s what I came up with, from $US4 oats at a tiny oatmeal bar to $US14 guacamole at Richard Sandoval’s elegant Mexican restaurant, Pampano.
After several days of Googling, Yelping, polling people, and making -- then cancelling and remaking -- reservations, I came up with a (tentative) agenda, hence the pencil.
We didn't make it everywhere, but we did a did a pretty good job following through on this aggressively scheduled itinerary.
By the time my mum arrived on Friday, I was already at work, but that was no reason for her to miss out on a cup of NYC joe and a fattening pastry.
I decided to leave my apartment keys for her at the coffee shop a few doors down from my place in Hell's Kitchen: Frisson Espresso. The relatively new shop is charming, with just as charming of a staff who agreed to deliver my keys to the suitcase-lugging-lady arriving at 10:30am.
They also let me pre-pay for a coffee and scone to greet the traveller.
A coworker recommended this lunch spot tucked away on W 22nd street in the Flatiron District. It's one of those places where you enter and immediately forget you're in the middle of bustling New York City; its nautical inspired decor gives it the feel of its namesake town Sagaponack, in the Hamptons.
We ordered on the lighter side, trying to pace ourselves for the caloric marathon we were about to embark on over the next few days, and went with their East End salad and hummus platter. Had we not been pacing, we would have explored other parts of the menu, which offers burgers, tacos, lobster rolls, hot and cold sandwiches, and pasta.
While the food was flavorful, fresh, and exactly what we wanted, the service was a bit slow. I'm all for leisurely meals, but a weekday lunch that drags for over an hour can be stressful.
One of the few requests my mum made was that we get really good doughnuts somewhere. Naturally, I took her to Dough, which is based out of Brooklyn but opened a location dangerously close to my office in the Flatiron district.
If you're craving something sweet, you can't go wrong with Dough. I recommend bringing a friend or two along so you can split a variety; choosing just one Dough doughnut is next to impossible.
Friday dinner was one of the trickier meals to plan out, as Friday was also our Broadway night. Squeezing in dinner between Dough doughnuts and an 8pm show seemed difficult timing-wise and digestion-wise, so I opted for a European-style dinner: Post-10pm, smaller plates, and wine.
We worked up an appetite during Broadway's Kinky Boots, and headed straight to Casellula, an adorably quaint wine and cheese bar in Hell's Kitchen.
We coupled our wine with Malaysian curry popcorn, stuffed peppadew peppers (my favourite dish of the entire weekend), and shrimp tacos. It was the perfect meal for our situation -- light and leisurely, with an exciting array of small platters to choose from -- but if you're ravenous and looking for large portions, this place may not be your best bet.
This was my favourite place of the weekend -- and it was also the cheapest.
Oatmeals screams New York City. It's a tiny speciality shop in Greenwich Village that features all things oats and oatmeal.
I went with the pumpkin pie bowl -- pumpkin purée swirl, pecans, brown sugar, pumpkin spice, and almond milk -- and my mum chose the healthier, Physique 57 bowl -- fresh bananas, flaked coconut, cashews, dates, honey, and cinnamon.
While the prices are expensive for oatmeal ($US4-$US5 for the 'baby bear' size, $US5-$US6 for a 'mama bear,' and $US6-$US7 for a 'papa bear'), it ends up being a cheap (and very filling) breakfast option for pricey New York City.
Price: $US out of $US$US$US on Yelp
We reserved most of Saturday for Brooklyn exploring, which meant a Brooklyn-based lunch.
I settled on Pates et Traditions, a creperie in Williamsburg with outdoor seating, reasonable lunch prices, eclectic decor, and a massive menu featuring sweet and savoury crepes.
After trekking across the Williamsburg bridge, we worked up a mean appetite. Luckily, the portions were huge. We didn't have room (or cash -- it was cash only!) to top off lunch with a sweet crepe, but we eyed several mouth-watering ones at tables beside us.
The crepes were satisfying, but nothing too special. If I were to have a mulligan on Saturday lunch, I would have chosen a light sandwich and salad spot, and then headed to Pates et Traditions to split a dessert crepe.
Saturday was our big celebration night, and I was given permission to choose a splurge restaurant. I limited my search to Mexican -- my mum's favourite cuisine -- and settled on Chef Richard Sandoval's Pampano, a sleek Midtown East spot with two stories and an outdoor patio.
This place was a smash hit. We started with the essentials -- margaritas and guacamole -- before moving onto a variety of mouth-watering dishes to share -- shrimp ceviche, lobster tacos, and a quinoa salad.
We were having too much fun to leave, so we decided to go crazy and order dessert. Staying for the cinnamon-sugar churros and coffee was easily the best decision of the weekend.
Saturday night's bill was steep. We definitely will not become Pampano regulars in the near future, but the entire experience -- the food, the ambience, the company -- was completely worth it, and I have never savoured or appreciated so many bites of food as I did this Saturday night.
We made our healthiest decision on Sunday morning, stopping at the Midtown West location of the vegan chain Blossom du Jour for smoothies. The smoothie was exactly what we needed -- cool, refreshing, green, and not loaded with calories -- but it was not worth the steep price (just under $US10 per smoothie).
We topped off our food marathon in the most fitting way possible for two sweet-toothed foodies: Levain Bakery cookies for lunch in Central Park.
The Upper West Side bakery is renowned for their dense, melt-in-your-mouth treats that more resemble a scone than a cookie, and this place exceeded all of my expectations. We tried the chocolate chip walnut and the oatmeal raisin, and will definitely be returning for the dark chocolate peanut butter chip.
There were several other restaurants that I seriously considered (I even made reservations at a few, only to cancel and replace at the last minute), but didn't quite make the cut.
The honorable mentions went to:
Rosa Mexicano, locations in Flatiron, Upper West Side, and Midtown East
- The Pavilion, Flatiron
- Murray's Cheese, Greenwich Village
- Spoon, Flatiron
- ABC Kitchen, Flatiron
- Room Service, Hell's Kitchen
- The Meatball Shop, locations in Lower East Side, West Village, Chelsea, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Williamsburg
- Sweet Chick, locations in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side
Until the next visit.