The Rest Of The World: Inspirations From New York City

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On Modern Dining in New York City
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Yes, Buffalo Chow is dead. (See the now-legendary Olive Garden tweets for details.) But when we decided to discontinue regular updates here, there were still a few items left on our "to do" list, and since the archive will remain online for the time being, we didn't want to leave the site without the benefits of that information. So today, we're presenting the first of a very small series of "last articles:" a brief look at some of the more inspirational things that are currently taking place in the New York City food scene. Western New York isn't Manhattan, but there are lessons to be learned from its culinary examples.

We start with several pictures from our visit last week to Per Se, Thomas Keller's famous New York City outpost. These are just a few excerpts from the chef's tasting menu at the world's 10th highest-rated restaurant - a beautifully decorated, crisply staffed, and universally well-regarded dining establishment. As you might guess from the pictures here, the success of Per Se depends upon talented chefs rather than just premium ingredients, but it unifies both to tremendous effect.

The top picture above shows a gorgeous plate of Tsar Imperial Osetra Caviar atop a buckwheat crepe with smoked salmon gelee, followed by New York State Green Asparagus, and Wildflower Honey Glazed Pekin* Duck, served with a slice of nectarine and burgundy mustard. Below, a Maple-Sour Mash with a maple syrup ice cream, carmelized puff pastry, and wonderfully delicate chocolate elements, followed by a mindblowing final dessert course including macarons, cocoa powdered hazelnuts, a frozen cappuccino gelato, truffles, and more. Dinner lasts roughly two and a half hours, longer if you linger with all those treats at the end. [* Per Se's (correct) spelling; not Peking Duck but a breed of duck often used in the famous Chinese duck dish, and others.]

Our full Per Se photo gallery is on Facebook. We'll leave the rest of the details to your imagination.

Per Se on Urbanspoon

Inspired by Modernist Cuisine, our current project is to master Espresso Vivace-caliber coffee making. In New York City, as in other major cities, there are now dozens of places (such as Culture Espresso, shown) that serve cappuccinos this way - using latte art and sophisticated techniques that The New York Times noted last year have made a "striking" difference from what was available in the city before. Around here, you'll be lucky if you can find a Spot Coffee barista who can pull this sort of drink off; we've seen it twice here in the last three years. Within two weeks, we'll be doing this at home.

Here are a few shots from David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar. That's the Momofuku Ramen Soup. A plate of awesome smoked chicken wings. Momofuku's famous and unbelievable Pork Buns. Soju slushies and other items from our Momofuku Noodle Bar photo gallery. They're all things that you can't find here, even though there are items with similar names on local menus.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Here's a Banh Mi sandwich from David Chang's Ma Peche. It was awesome - the baguette in particular was the Vietnamese-idealized form of the French baguette that makes for a crispy but delicate outside with a soft interior. You can't find those here anymore, either.

Ma Peche on Urbanspoon

The trickle down benefits of having a guy like David Chang cooking in your city are things like this: Crack Pie™ and Cereal Milk® soft serve. Sold at the several Momofuku Milk Bar dessert shops alongside other pie slices and cake truffles, Crack Pie™ demonstrates what happens when someone with talent and a sense of humor is in charge of a kitchen. Chang took a simple pie recipe that only jokingly be called addictive like crack, gave it memorable name, and got everyone talking about it. Crack Pie™ is tasty like caramel, graham crackers, butter, eggs, and sugar should be, but it's not, in fact, addictive like crack. Still, you'll never forget the name. That's smart marketing. And Cereal Milk® ice cream tastes like corn flakes mixed with milk. They sell it in jugs to drink, too.

Momofuku Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Milk Bar (Midtown) on Urbanspoon

Here are a few pictures from Momofuku Ssäm Bar, another Chang restaurant. This one's the #40-ranked restaurant in the world. Look at the photo of the place - it's not particularly fancy; it's just tastefully decorated, and people eat on benches and stools. But the food's great. This was the best tripe we've ever tasted, alongside a bowl of spicy pork sausage mixed with glutinous rice tubes and crisp-fried onions. After two decades of failed "fusion" experiences wrought by bringing light Asian influences into otherwise American dishes, Chang is offering the real deal - he has actually succeeded at creating compelling multi-ethnic fusion dishes by focusing on great flavors taken from food tours around the world. (Additional Momofuku Ssäm Bar photos are here.)

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

By contrast, we weren't thrilled by the food at Wylie Dufresne's famed WD-50, although the chef was on site and the restaurant was very cool. The crazy murder scene dessert was the single coolest dish on the chef's tasting menu there, mixing ricotta ice cream and chocolate ganache with long pepper and a heavy drizzle of beet sauce. But then, like the celery ice cream and frozen verjus dessert, most of the dishes had weird little things going on, as if they were designed to be a challenge to enjoy. Some worked better than others, including the elaborately sous vide-prepped poached egg with an edible clay shell, served with a clean caesar dressing and bean sprouts. Again, there's a full WD-50 photo gallery on our Facebook page.

wd-50 on Urbanspoon

Other side benefits of visiting New York City include access to internationally developed foods that you won't find here. Such as Bonchon's Korean fried chicken. Go! Go! Curry's Katsu Curry. Robata yakitori-grilled Japanese vegetables and meats at Yakitori Totto (yes, that's a set of three big enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon). Totto wasn't as excellent as on our prior visit, but like Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Western New York restauranteurs could learn a lot just from the ambience and decor of the place, say nothing of the grill.

And then there's Eataly. Transported from Italy to Manhattan, this uber-Italian grocery store also houses 12 different restaurants that prep their meals using ingredients that are also available for home purchase. The seafood, meats, cheeses, beverages, and desserts here were unbelievable, making local red sauce Italian restaurants look like a joke. We enjoyed a particularly outstanding meal at Eataly's Birreria, a beer house and restaurant that was on Eataly's rooftop, 15 stories up; the salumi plate's sopressata and cacciatorini, the probusto sausages, and Maitake mushrooms were particularly superb. Our full Eataly photo gallery is here.

Eataly on Urbanspoon

Here's a quick look at Trader Joe's Wine Shop. This is how the well-regarded national supermarket chain has dealt with the ridiculous and corrupt New York State laws barring supermarkets from selling wine: it opens a wine shop right next door to its supermarket. The selection's not incredible - it's barely expanded over what you'd find at a good Trader Joe's. But it gives consumers the option to buy what they want with convenience. Imagine that.

Last up is Xi'an Famous Foods, which was certainly the most overhyped and disappointing place we visited on this trip. Much has been made of the hand-pulled Liang Pi noodles, lamb burgers, and other seemingly exotic Western Chinese-inspired specialties at this small chain of New York City restaurants. We were utterly unimpressed: the Savory Cumin Lamb Burger tasted like a mix of ground beef and Ol El Paso Taco Spices, and the bland Stewed Pork Burger didn't even have the questionable value of Mexican-style seasoning on its side. Other dishes, such as the Concubine's Chicken Hand-Ripped Noodles, or the Spicy & Tingly Lamb Face Salad - sounded a lot more interesting than they actually were. Heavy on the soy sauce, sometimes on pepper, cumin, and other mild spices, they wouldn't have been out of place at low-end Buffalo Chinese take-out restaurants; apart from the intriguingly dense, wide-bodied noodles, which had more texture than flavor, they were entirely forgettable.

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Even though it's easy to dismiss Xi'an as junky, the fact that it exists at all in Manhattan is just one more piece of evidence that the gap between what's available there and in Western New York is widening. From low-end to high-end dining, there's so much creativity and variety on display in New York City that it's hard to return to the Buffalo area without wondering just what has happened to the chefs around here. Restaurants that used to be great here are nosediving. Closing. Or just slowly fading away. Have many of our brightest stars left the area? Stayed here but abandoned their kitchens? Or just given up entirely on trying to do more than just the same old tired menus that seem to be trotted out again and again at ostensibly "new" or "re-opened" restaurants?

We have a couple of other pieces left to publish before closing Buffalo Chow's doors. Stay tuned.

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