Monday, March 15, 2010

NYC Food Hat Trick

Three great meals in two days:

Shake Shack (Upper West Side)
This was my first time having a burger at the Shake Shack - I've had frozen custard via the "express lane" a few times at the original, but have aborted the mission every time I've tried to visit the UWS location (too crowded).  It was still jammed when I went this time, at noon on a weekday, but the line hadn't yet spilled onto the sidewalk and the wait was surprisingly short.

I went with the classic pairing, a cheeseburger and a shake (putting me in mind of the longstanding Midwestern chain - and Roger Ebert favorite - Steak 'n' Shake*).  The burger was pretty much as good as everyone says it is, and I can't emphasize enough how important the bun is to the success of this place.  You might think that if you find yourself thinking about the bun after eating a burger, the burger must not be very good, but in this case you would be wrong.  I got the burger cooked to the default medium since I couldn't get my preferred medium-rare (rare, medium, or well only at the Shack, which makes sense when you're dealing with thin patties and super-high volume), but I might try rare the next time just to see how it compares.

The shake was a "Fair Shake" - a vanilla shake with presumably Fair Trade coffee blended in - nothing like consuming a milkshake and a cup of coffee simultaneously to get a person all jacked up for the afternoon ahead.  I just wish I'd been there the day before when the custard flavor of the day was "Coffee and Donuts"!

As a sidenote, if you happen to be visiting Danny Meyer's hometown of St. Louis and want a burger, I'd recommend Carl's Drive-In on Manchester Road, a bit west of the city limits.  It's like a particularly good location of A&W, when A&W was in its heyday and served amazing root beer, before it became an interchangable fast food module that could be combined with a Long John Silver's or a KFC.  Go to Blueberry Hill for the live music and to the check out the memorabilia, not for the food.

ZuZu Ramen 
At this newish noodle place on the Park Slope-Gowanus fringe, I ordered the dinner special, cold spicy noodles with beef tongue.  The noodles were coated with a some-kind-of-red-pepper-based sauce, and the roughly rectangular blocks of tongue were tender and liberally distributed among the noodles.  The dish also had (I'm going from memory here) bok choy and peanuts tossed in, but everything worked together - big flavors, plenty of heat, a winner.  I've been to ZuZu a few times now and never been disappointed, but this was easily the best thing I've had there.

Barney Greengrass ("The Sturgeon King")
I surprised even myself by effortlessly polishing off a corned beef/chopped liver double decker on pumpernickel at this oft-overlooked UWS classic.  While the corned beef was pretty good and in good proportion with the liver (about 1:2 corned beef-to-liver), three slices of bread was one too many for my taste, though I understand that the middle slice is there to separate the meats and create the triple decker effect.

Still, it would be hard to screw up any sandwich that contains this chopped liver.  The liver at Greengrass is top two in the city for me, with only Russ & Daughters edging it out (I had them both within a week's time, so I'm pretty confident in comparing them).  If chopped liver was labeled like peanut butter, both R&D and Greengrass would fall into the "chunky" category - they share a looser texture, with visible chunks of egg, and everything less fully incorporated than, say, the smooth, uniform, but also very good liver at 2nd Ave Deli.  And like peanut butter, chunky vs. smooth is a personal preference - if smooth is your thing, you'd probably prefer 2nd Ave's liver (and they give you a lot of it).

We also had some latkes for the table (I don't think they're a regular menu item, but are frequently available on weekends).  Greengrass' latkes are fairly large and mounded rather than flat, almost like big falafels, giving them a nice contrast between crispy outside and soft center.  Highly recommended.

*I'm pretty sure we were on our way to a Steak 'n' Shake (in Ebert's old stomping grounds of Champaign-Urbana, IL) when some friends and I were pulled over and surrounded by multiple carloads of shotgun-wielding police.  Turned out that the Ford Taurus we were traveling in matched the description of the getaway car for an armed robbery that had just gone down in the area.  Thankfully, they soon realized they had the wrong Taurus and let us continue on our way with our appetites undiminished (and probably enhanced) by the experience.

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