Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The mouth hits the road: NYC

I am meant to be a budget traveller. As a budget traveller in New York, I have failed miserably.

It’s not that you can’t eat on the cheap in the city that never sleeps (nor do its residents’ appetites), it’s more that there is just some really exquisite food to be had. A

nd even more-so when you have friends with local knowledge.

Enter Ajna bar in the Meat Packing district. For me, the Meat Packing district conjures up images of Samantha Jones leaning out her window and screaming at transvestites at 3am in the morning. In reality, I am greeted by cobble stones and warehouse-sized buildings down by the Hudson River. It’s steaming hot, high summer in New York City. Donning my only pair of high heels, I carefully navigated my way from cab to curb, and gratefully had the door to Ajna bar opened for me; if the door was about six times my size, this guy was about triple – after all, they do things big in the US, and even bigger in the Meat Packing district.

Ajna bar, formerly Buddha Bar, is cavernous, a nod to the district’s former warehousing incarnation. At 6pm in NY, it’s still light outside, but inside Ajna, it is dim – skylights above the dining area giving away the bar-cum restaurant-cum club’s

attempt at mysterious and expensive.

Although expensive it certainly is. Three cocktails would have knocked me back US$45 had a local investment banking friend not picked up the tab at the end of the night. While being a Monday night, Ajna managed to almost-fill its dining section, and four to five groups of mostly women came and went from the plush bar-area, where attentive and seductively dressed cocktail waitresses/acting hopefuls serve delicious cocktails, with a fairly standard list of beers; nothing too foreign for the Yanks except a Stella – and does that even count?

So, three exceptionally strong cocktails later and feeling peckish, local friend suggests a place that does "Mac and cheese with truffles". Excuse me? Did I just step out of a Brett Easton Ellis book, or did you just say TRUFFLES with Mac and cheese? We hailed an ever-present cab while the sky, although heavy and dark, treated us t

o a non-threatening light show. To the Flat Iron district, and a non-assuming restaurant: Almond. Although one must pronounce this as ‘Al-mond’. The queen would die of fright at what the US has done to her language.

Almond is a large, inviting restaurant, with a sweet terrace on the street frontage. Although sans-booking (seriously, even on a Monday night?) we are seated almost immediately. We wander in past a fresh seafood bar, and I look up to see where the walls meet with the ceiling – aged with chipped paint, wooden slats crown walls that are a pale blue, and the exposed wood turns yellow like honey, a results of dozens of tiny tea-lights littered through-out the space.

The menu is non-threatening, but does create

a quandary – what to order? Scallops, chorizo, ragus, and the famous Mac and cheese with truffles. Amazing. We settle for an Eggplant three-ways appetizer: babaganoush, croquettes (definitely making a revival) and an almost ratatouille-like concoction. Thumbs up. Mains. Mains were lip-smackingly good. I frown upon lip smacking (so vulgar!) but I swear I almost did. I had chosen a ragu bolognaise with fettuccini. Serving sizes were great – none of this nouvelle cuisine crap, and not your typical ‘stuff them to their g

ullets’ US serving size; in the worlds of the infamous goldilocks, it was ‘just right’. And delicious! The fettuccini had been cut down to a manageable size, so there was no unnecessary and time-wasting fork twirling, when all I wanted to do was get that food in my mouth. The ragu/bolognaise consistency was great – stodgier than bolognaise, but less constructed than a ragu. Did I mention delicious?

Dessert came recommended by a colleague of local friend – the pot au crème chocolat. Basically a thicker than dipping chocolate consistency, topped with cream and topped with roasted and salted almonds. What a simple, but perfect combination. Not too heavy, sweet and salty, the chocolate dispersed by the cream. Needless to say, we took the subway NOWHERE the following day, willing all those calories to disappear magically before we hit the Greek islands in a week. Only time shall tell.

Apologies for shocking photo quality - sneaky snap of pot au chocolat!

While the food was fine-dining quality, prices were relatively reasonable: 2 bottles of wine, two starters, four mains, two desserts and three muscats (don’t judge, I’m on holiday) including tip and taxes was US$240.00 for four people. Of course, I can’t afford to be doing dinners like this all the time, but I’m sure glad I did this one. For those heading to NYC, check out Almond – it’s not hugely on the radar just yet, but get on to it!

And for the record: truffles in Mac and Cheese = win. So astoundingly delicious, and garlicky and perfumed. Would nom again.

Ajna: http://www.buddhabarnyc.com/

Almond: http://www.almondnyc.com/

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