For years, New York restaurants were adjusting their menus to include more basic comfort foods—remember that fried chicken boom?—and overall accessible fare. But lately, the celebrated new hot spots of the city are serving dishes that use more obscure ingredients and bolder preparations, and diners are lining up to try them. A lot of these foods are things that chefs traditionally love to eat and cook on their days off, others are retro dishes that have come back in vogue. Here's a list of ten strange chef favorites that are now mainstream hits, and where to go to get them.
10) Oysters Rockefeller: New York's centuries-old love affair with the oyster is still going strong today, and this classic recipe — wherein a nice plump bivalve is topped with herbs and butter sauce, then broiled — is so hot right now. Perhaps the renewed interest in old-timey dining made the dish popular again? For whatever reason, in the last few months we've seen oysters Rockefeller served by the half dozen at places like The Darby and The Astor Room, and buzzy newcomer Fedora even offers one giant oyster Rockefeller as an appetizer.
9) Marrow and Shells: Bone marrow with toast has been a modern steakhouse staple for a while now, but more and more chefs are using the delicacy as a rich, fatty counterpart to shellfish and snails. Michael White's Ai Fiori and Michael Psilakis's FishTag both serve scallop entrees topped with marrow. At M. Wells, chef Hugue Dufour scoops out the bone, adds a few garlicky escargots in the groove, then plops the marrow back on top with bread crumbs and a red wine puree. Soho newcomer David Burke Kitchen also serves a similar dish, called "Ants on a Log."
8) Tongue: Tongue has been a popular ingredient in deli sandwiches and Chinese fare for ages, but lately some of the city's more creative chefs have been working the tender, flavorful meat into exciting new dishes. The first course of Ma Peche's epic Beef 7 Ways is a plate of thin sliced tongue mixed with basil leaves, hot deli Mile End has a tongue polonaise at dinner, and the appetizer menu at Manzo in Eataly includes a warm calf's tongue with potatoes and balsamic. Believe or not, Todd English's new Asian BBQ joint Ember Room even serves an ox tongue skewer.
7) Pretzels: This classic New York treat has been elevated recently by a few restaurants like Bell, Book and Candle and Ardesia, who bake them in house, then serve them with mustard as appetizers. But a few other restaurants are using this bread in even more dynamic ways. Dan Kluger coats his calamari in tiny pretzel crumbs before frying them at ABC Kitchen, Mile End serves a pretzel, garlic and poppy flatbread appetizer, and David Burke Kitchen has a pretzel crab cake starter, that's served with white beer foam.
6) Wild Plants: Whether bought at the greenmarket, or hand picked and delivered by a forager, chefs are using more unusual greens, roots and herbs these days, often times seamlessly blending them into popular dishes to provide a bit of extraneity and kick. Ramps, a wild leek, were the buzz vegetable of spring 2010, the Torrisi boys recently served an insalata di mare with wild shore plants (and no fish), Vandaag now offers a salad of dandelion greens and a bacon dish with sylvetta (a wild arugula) and you can usually find some form of wild greens or herbs tucked into dishes at the Momofuku restaurants.
5) Squid Stuffed with Sausage: Squid, that ugly-looking creature from the deep, has been a chef fave forever. But lately, the city's cooks have been serving one preparation that's a hit across the boards, wherein braised rings are stuffed with house-made pork or beef sausage, so they resembles rolls of manicotti. There's a good interplay between the textures and flavors of the two main ingredients, but the dish is also accessible because you don't have to be a squid-freak to try it, as there's plenty of sausage in there too. Popular versions can be found at The John Dory Oyster Bar, Kin Shop, and FishTag.
4) Rillettes: This French-style meat preparation, wherein pork, beef, poultry or fish are salted, slow-cooked, shredded and then mixed with fat into a paste, is popping up on tons of new menus these days as an appetizer, generally served in a mason jar with grilled bread. It's one of those classic dishes that chefs love, that can be easily adapted to fit the menu at non-Francophile places too — and who doesn't love a creamy, salty meat treat? Versions of rillettes are currently on the menu at trendy new restaurants like Jeffrey's, Goat Town, David Burke Kitchen, and Weather Up.
3) Razor Clams: As Flo Fab recently noted, razor clams are one of the hot ingredients that chefs love using these days. Harold Dieterle mixes these unusual, slightly sweet bivalves into congee with sausage at Kin Shop and Jonathan Benno serves a much-celebrated cavatelli dish topped with the thin clams at his ambitious restaurant Lincoln. They're also served ceviche-style at April Bloomfield's The John Dory Oyster Bar, a "pepperoni" version is available a la carte at Pulino's, and the clams are included as a starter with apple juice and brussels sprouts on the menu at Fedora.
2) The Waldorf Salad: Another blast from the past that's had an unexpected resurgence in New York lately. This salad, created at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel just before the turn of the 19th century, is traditionally made with chopped apples, walnuts and celery that are mixed with lettuce and slathered in a mayonnaise-based dressing. Currently, riffs on the Waldorf salad are being served at big name newcomers The Darby and ABC Kitchen, as well as at smaller neighborhood eateries like Goat Town.
1) Country Ham: A lot of chefs have recently embraced this meat, which was considered for years to be a low-rent sandwich filling or second-fiddle holiday entree. The Momofukus and the Fatty Crew were early adopters, but now cuts of country ham, usually sourced from big name purveyors, are popping up everywhere. At Vandaag and Fatty Johnson's, slabs of the salty stuff are incorporated into the burgers, at places like Peels, Plein Sud and Seersucker it's served sliced, like charcuterie, and at Colicchio & Sons, ribbons of ham even grace the top of a wood-fired pizza.