Friday, May 30, 2008

My Ten Favorite Deals in Manhattan (Part 5 of 5)

9) Shun Lee Palace - $24.07 for three courses

I have been a huge fan of Chinese food since my first trip to the Great Wall Restaurant for my very first birthday party. I was placed in my high chair and given a bowl of rice to eat, as my palate wasn’t yet ready for the likes of moo goo gai pan.

I must have not appreciated the beauty of white rice yet (i.e. it’s great when you want to eat 2000 of something) so I decided I’d test out its value as a projectile. I proceeded to toss the rice every which way but into my mouth and soon there was a small mess in our general vicinity.

After throwing my stash of grains all over the restaurant from my assassin’s perch, the waiter, not-so-kindly, came over to our table and asked my family to leave immediately and never come back.

We heeded their warnings, but have sampled many other Chinese restaurants since. After hundreds of meals, in easily over 100 Chinese restaurants from Hawaii to Prague, without question, the best several Chinese meals of my life have been at Shun Lee Palace on 55th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues.

Shun Lee has a mixture of familiar Chinese-American staples (Sweet and Sour Pork, Orange Beef, Lemon Chicken) as well as several dishes not found anywhere else I’ve visited (Szechuan Style Alligator, Slippery Chicken, Sweetbreads with Black Mushrooms, Ants Climb On Tree). The significant difference between Shun Lee and everywhere else I’ve tried has been the ingredient quality (impeccable) and skill of the kitchen in letting those fantastic meats and vegetables shine.

As can be expected, Shun Lee is a pricey restaurant where one could easily spend $50-70 a person for a three course dinner. Luckily, those in the know can go for lunch, where a delicious and filling 3 course lunch will only run you $24.07.

I highly recommend starting off with the Chicken Soong, a lettuce leaf filled with diced, stir-fried chicken and vegetables in a fantastic sweet and savory sauce. This dish is so good in fact, that I now make my own version at home at least once a month. It’s quite tasty, but I still haven’t matched the perfect mixture of crunchy vegetables and balanced sauce that Shun Lee manages to create.

While you really can’t go wrong with any of the entrée choices, the Peking Prawns are particularly memorable for their ability to frame the succulent crustaceans in a slightly spicy and savory sauce that manages to work as a foil to their sweetness without overpowering it.

For those who love lamb, the Hunan Lamb is one of my favorite preparations I’ve had for this flavorful meat. Very tender and juicy slices of roasted lamb are slathered in a piquant, flavorful sauce that works very well with the natural flavor of the meat. Other good choices I’ve had include the Mo-Shu Pork with Chinese Crepes (just plain fun to eat) and the Heavenly Fish Fillet (while not divine, pretty damn good).

Dessert is your choice of either fresh pineapple (refreshing and light) or ice cream (go for the pistachio).

Every time I’ve gone to Shun Lee I’ve walked away feeling very full and happy and feeling like I really got a great value for my dining dollar.

Insider’s Tip: There is a second location on West 65th Street and Broadway, but this location does not have the lunch deal. They do, however, serve a mean Dim Sum that the east side branch does not offer.

10) Gray's Papaya Recession Special ($3.50 for Two Dogs and A Papaya Drink)

Whether or not we are in a recession is a matter of constant public debate.

One fact that can't be disputed is that Gray's Papaya's recession special is one of the great deals in New York City.

Though the hot dog may have a humble pedigree, Gray's and a few others in the five boroughs (Nathans, Papaya King, et. al.) take this simple sausage to a new level.

By using high quality meat, seasoned perfectly and cooked correctly, these hot dog palaces churn out frankfuters so delicious that people don't laugh when Papaya King proclaims their weiner to be "tastier than filet mignon."

Gray's Papaya cooks their franks on a foil covered griddle. This allows for the dog to have maximum contact with the heating element, giving the weenie its signature flavor and snappy crunch that could never be achieved by boiling a frankfurter würstel.

In addition to two delicious dogs, your recession special comes with the truly refreshing eponymous 14 oz. papaya drink; a match made in dog heaven.

Like a beer and a burger or red wine and steak, the sweet, milky papaya beverage is a perfect foil to the spice of the hot dog. You'll wonder why you've never had this drink at a cook-out before.

Best of all, sampling two of New York's finest edible canines and one of it's signature drinks will only set you back $3.50. Recession or not, that's a special deal.

Insider’s Tip: There are three Grey's Papaya locations (539 Eighth Avenue at 37th Street, 402 Sixth Avenue at 8th Street, and 2090 Broadway at 72nd Street) and each is open 24 hours a day. That means you could be eating there right now. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gluttony Weekend

My little brother (who at 6”6, 250 lbs is actually not so little) was in town this weekend. Being a food lover runs in the family, so I tried to show him both a good time and a few of the vittles that make New York City justifiably famous.

In trying to feed him a little of everything he "needed" to try in his 48 hours in the city, we ate everything in our path, which isn’t surprising since we set our path based on where the good food was. Here’s an exhaustive list of everything consumed this weekend. 

Please don’t try this at home.

Shake Shack
Shack Stack – Cheeseburger and Deep Fried
Cheese and Onion Stuffed Portobello Mushroom on Potato Roll


Spiced Lamb Ribs Yogurt, Pickled Tomato

Lamb Belly Snap & English Peas, Tendrils, Leaves, Goat Cheese

Gruyere Cheeseburger, French Fries, Greens

Green Hornet - aviation, citrus, wild ramp leaves

Coal Oven Pepperoni Pizza

Radegast Beer Hall
1 Erdinger Hefe-Weizen
1 Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weisse

Oven roasted beets, fresh robiola drizzle, chive & walnut crumble

Truffled cornmeal fries, gorgonzola sauce

Seafood Salad - shrimp, scallop, calamari, farro, cucumber, tomato, garlic-oregano dressing

Pizza - spicy sausage, roasted peppers

Fettucini Carbonara - crispy bacon, caramelized onion, pecorino

Glass of Nero D'avola cusumano, sicilia 2005

Grilled veal skirt steak, crispy bliss potato,pickled vegetable salad

Pistachio Crunch Gelato

"Solids" - Cuba Libre, Ramon Gin Fizz, White Russian

Agua Verde - Tequila, Tomatillo, Habanero, Cilantro

Margherita Slice
Artichoke Slice

American Cheese Omelet, French Fries, Pickles, Cole Slaw

Steven Tannenbaum’s Apartment
1 Hamburger
1 Hot Dog
Way too many Ranch Doritos

Nice (New) Green Bo
Steamed Tiny Buns (with Pork)
Fried Pork Dumplings
Scallion Pancake
Hot & Sour Soup
Sesame Chicken
Hot & Spicy Shredded Beef
Eggplant with garlic sauce

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Ten Favorite Deals in Manhattan (Part 4 of 5)

7) $28 Prix Fixe Lunch at Jean Georges

One of the great features of New York's dining scene is that a lot of difficulties that arise in sampling the city's best places simply go away when you choose to eat lunch rather than dinner at these places. Table availability, service and most importantly price tend to improve if you are willing to eat earlier in the day.

Many famous restaurants have prix fixe lunch specials ranging from Subway to Joel Robuchon.

While all three of the city's three Michelin Star restaurants (each also received 4 New York Times Stars) have prix fixe lunch menus, their prices are vastly different.

See where I'm going here?

Diners get to select from the same courses available to dinner patrons (who pay $98 for three courses) and construct their own perfect lunch.

You can sample some of the most highly regarded food in the world, for not much more than an entree at a very average midtown restaurant costs.

High end food doesn't always have to be high cost. This is a perfect example.

Insider's Tip: Another spectacular deal is available in Jean George's bar area, called Nougatine. A 3 course prix fixe meal is $24 and is both significantly easier to get reservations for and available on weekends (Jean Georges is closed for lunch on weekends).

8) Soup and Sandwich at the Bar at Gramercy Tavern ($14)

In keeping with this post's theme of sampling a bit of "the good life" for a reasonable price, this deal allows you to sample some of the Gramercy Tavern's three star food for a fraction of the price of a dinner there.

The restaurant has a beautiful, comfortable bar where patrons can sit with friends, chat up the bartender or relax with a good book while sampling some of the city's best food. When dining at said bar, the option exists to indulge in the daily Soup and Sandwich Special.

Both the soup and sandwich options change on a daily basis (usually one soup and two types of sandwiches are offered).

Some of the delicious soups I've sampled include Spring Pea with Mint and Creme Fraiche, Smoked Tomato Cream, and Roast Carrot.

Past sandwich choices I've enjoyed have included Rare Roast Beef on Grilled Focaccia, Roasted Rabbit Salad (basically a hare-brained version of the best chicken salad you can imagine) on Country French Bread (that had been soaked in olive oil and grilled) and a BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich.

Sitting at the bar in the warmly decorated Tavern area and enjoying perfectly prepared food made with top notch ingredients is one of the true pleasures I've experienced in the city.  I think you will find the experience is well worth the (relatively) meager cost.

Insider's Tip:  The menu changes daily and is not published anywhere.  Give the restaurant a call and ask the hostess what the day's options are.

Friday, May 9, 2008

My Ten Favorite Deals in Manhattan (Part 3 of 5)

5) The Secret Lunch Take-out Menu at Pamplona

Created as a "courtesy to the neighborhood" (though they don't exactly check ID's), this New York Times two star restaurant is serving up Sandwiches ($5.95), Salads (Price varies depending on ingredients) and Soups ($3.95) that are far better than your standard deli fare.

Sandwiches may include Roast Chicken and Avocado, Grilled Steak and Manchego Cheese and Roasted Vegetable with Guindilla Pepper Aioli (spicy mayo in layman's terms). All are served on crispy, flavorful grilled focaccia bread that gives the right frame for the wonderful ingredient picture painted inside.

Salads can be constructed using the various seasonal ingredients of your choosing. Traditional Spanish treats like manchego cheese and piquillo peppers replace the tired options from the ubiquitous deli multi-plexs of world cuisines that feed the automatons in business suits who populate midtown during the day.

Soups have included winter warmers like Chorizo and Chicken or fresh takes on classics like a Green Gazpacho with bits of Cabrales cheese and fresh vegetables, depending on the mood of the chef.

My favorite is the soup and half sandwich combination that lets you enjoy a couple of delicious treats for only $5.

Now if only I worked in the neighborhood...

Insider's Tip: The menu is not posted anywhere and changes daily, so simply ask the hostess for the Take-out Menu when you arrive.

6) Four Course Dinner at Sonar Gaow, $7.95

Manhattan is full of "districts" where one can find dozens of stores selling the exact same items, all in one particular area.  There is a diamond district (47th St), a garment district (south of Times Square), lighting and restaurant supply districts (the Bowery), and not one but two Indian restaurant districts.

Lexington Avenue between 26th and 29th Streets contains no less than 25 Indian restaurants ranging from fast food to high end fine dining.  The land that these restaurants occupy has historically been called Murray Hill.  Today, everyone knows that stretch of real estate as Curry Hill.

A second Indian restaurant district exists on 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  Affectionately known as Curry Row, this one block is home to approximately 14 Indian restaurants.  As there is incredible competition for your dining dollars, these restaurants all try to outdo one another with various perks including live music, ostentatious decor, BYOB policies and multi-course fixed price menus that are cheaper than single appetizers at many restaurants in the city.

My favorite deal of the many on Curry Row is at Sonar Gaow.

Sonar is a BYOB (with no corkage fees), has friendly, if not fast service and gives you the following for $7.95:

Mulligatawny soup
Choice of appetizer (I'm partial to the Meat Samosas)
Choice of entree (Chicken tandoori is a reliable choice)
Naan, Rice Pilaf, Dhal, Cabbage, Kasundi (onion Relish),  and various Chutneys
Mango Ice Cream

I've been no less than 10 times to this electric chili-pepper bedecked establishment and have always come away full and happy.  Bring a bottle of wine (or several), relax and know that you're getting the benefit of market capitalism in action, and it tastes delicious.

Insider's Tip:  This is a great location for birthday parties and the staff is happy to accommodate.  Just call a couple hours ahead of time and let them know your party's size so they can prepare for your arrival.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Ten Favorite Deals in Manhattan (Part 2 of 5)

3) $1.75 Slices at Naples 45

To someone who knows nothing about Manhattan real estate, Naples 45 would be a baffling establishment.
If you sit in the dining room and consume their personal 10-inch pizza, it will cost you approximately $16.

If you buy the same pizza, but have it delivered, it will run you $7.50-$10.

If you purchase the pizza acreage equivalent of said pie (2 large slices) at their take out area, it will run you $5-$7.

Finally, we come to the deal.

Any one of their slices (Im partial to the funghi, pepperoni or roasted vegetable) will only set you back $1.75 if you can hold out until 2 P.M. The deal also runs until 8 P.M. if youre looking for an easy early dinner.

This is no average slice either.

The dough is properly thin, crisp and chewy. The San Marzano tomato sauce is slightly sweet and matches perfectly with the creamy fresh mozzarella and salty, meaty (even when they are veggie) toppings. The deal is somewhat well known, but in this case, that’s a good thing. This means fresh pizzas are coming out every few minutes ready to sate the cheapskates.

The real estate lesson here is that taking up space in Grand Central costs a lot of money. Great pizza doesn't have to.

Insider's tip: Due to its extremely thin crust, this pizza loses heat very quickly. If you like your pizza hot, I'd recommend eating at the bar set up for doing just that in the take out area.

4) Happy Hour at Sapa 

(WARNING - SAPA is set to close in June 2008)

There are lots of great happy hour deals around the city.
Unfortunately, most of them are at dive bars or less-than-hip places that need the deep discounts to get people in the door.

Sapa, a French-Asian restaurant on 24th Street and 6th Avenue, has beautiful people, attractive decor (from my favorite design firm AvroKo) and an interesting and delicious happy hour menu.

I've had everything on the menu and there's not a disappointment in the bunch. My favorite are the potato knishes which are fried in duck fat to give them a crispy, flavorful crust surrounding warm creamy mashed potatoes. Best of all, the various small plates will run you only $3-$4 a piece. Raw oysters are only $1 a pop, which isn't much more than the price you'd pay at a seafood market.
In addition to the fun and tasty treats on the happy hour menu, Sapa has drink specials including $3 beers, $4 wines and $5 martinis; very reasonable prices given the price of alcohol at most establishments of Sapa's ilk.

The happy hour menu is available from 5:30 to 7:30 every weeknight. Its a great way to start an evening on the town.