Many of my best dining experiences never make it to the page: If an eating establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, point on a map, or paragraph in a feature story, it often disappears. Those fleeting encounters with restaurants are often the most enjoyable. Accordingly, I resolved to keep an informal diary reflecting my unvarnished daily experiences. Here’s the seventh installment and here’s last week’s edition.
I’m always in search of the perfect picnic fare that’s delicious at room temperature that I can eat without utensils in a park like Madison Square. It’s green as hell, with plenty of benches and grassy spots, geometrically laid out in an interesting way in 1870 by William Grant and Ignatz Pilat, disciples of Frederick Law Olmsted. Before that it was a potter’s field, parade ground, and home for juvenile delinquents. Now, call it one of the city’s most enchanting urban spaces.
Where Fifth Avenue and Broadway converge at its southwestern corner stands a sliver of parkland now paved over, onto which Eataly has dragged a shipping container gaily painted and created a pizza operation called Rossopomodoro – a branch of an Italian chain with a larger branch inside the Eataly mothership across the street. If you peer inside the darkened interior of the container, you’ll spot a miniature beehive pizza oven paved with red tiles, and from this oven fly an approximation of Naples-style pies at almost-reasonable prices.
A friend and I met there a recent lunchtime a few hours before he was to fly to Japan, and scored one of the pies, salsiccia ($16). The others, priced from $12 to $14, were marinara, margherita, and cacio e pepe. The salsiccia came thickly strewn with sweet Italian sausage, enough for one person for lunch or a snack for two. It featured that great Eataly mozzarella, though the shipping container oven wasn’t hot enough so the dough wasn’t particularly crisp.
We also grabbed one of two sandwiches with bread made from pizza dough, panuozzo con cotto ($12.90), featuring mushrooms, mozzarella, and thin slices of cooked prosciutto. Not bad, but the pizza was much better. Across the street from Eataly, 200 Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, Madison Square
A love letter to French flan
The West Village is thronged with small places selling pastry, gelati, and other sweets, making it tempting to dash in for a little dessert any time of the day — and usually a demitasse of espresso is also available. There’s Maison Kitsune, a combo clothing boutique and café where one may grab a madeleine or fox-shaped cookie; Gelateria Gentile, where Apulian gelato and wedges of torte are available; and the frankly bizarre Aux Merveilleux de Fred, fabricating frosting-covered snowballs of meringue, in addition to some excellent brioches in various shapes and sizes, some involving lots of chocolate. A line forms Sunday morning.
But foremost for me at the moment is Barachou, a small pink French bakery specializing in tiny cream puffs with a dizzying array of fillings and toppings. I skip over those flavor bombs as being not plain enough for an afternoon snack. Instead, I go for the flan pâtissier ($7), a wedge of custard pie. But just not any custard – the pudding is super-dense for something called flan, yellow without being eggy, and covered on top with a gelatin that stands in for the syrup that underpins the usual flan. Best of all is the crust underneath, and the fact that the thing is only slightly sweet. It’s rich enough it could almost be your lunch. 15 8th Avenue, just north of Abingdon Square, West Village
The best restaurant in the world
It was in 1974 in American Fried that Calvin Trillin, setting the proper facetious tone for the rest of his Tummy Trilogy, declared that Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue in his hometown of Kansas City was the best restaurant in the world. Well, now it’s my turn: Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House in Jersey City is the best restaurant in the world. I know because I went there Wednesday to confirm it.
I found the ordering system had vastly improved over my previous visits spanning 12 years. Before, you approached a counter, placed your order, received a number hoisted on a stick, took it to your table, and waited under the watchful eyes of the elephant god Ganesh. Five minutes later, the counter guy would announce your order by the name of the dish, and a half-dozen customers who had placed the same order would rush up to the counter to try to grab it. Well now your paper receipt has a number and that is what the guy calls.
My usual order lately has been the butter Mysore masala dosa ($10), a long crisp tube fried on a griddle to perfect brownness from a batter of ground and fermented raw rice and lentils — extremely energy efficient. The inside of the dosa had been rubbed with a spice powder, and filled with a potato mixture seasoned with black mustard seeds, curry leaves, and other South Indian spices. To eat it, break off pieces of dosa and use them to pick up wads of potato, dipping each bite in the fresh coconut or peanut chutneys along the way.
Did I mention that you also get unlimited free servings of sambar, a spicy, veggie-studded dal soup ladled from a pot at the side of the room? Altogether, this meal is supremely satisfying and super fun to eat. And there are 68 other dosas on the menu to be explored, and I urge you to try them all. 809 Newark Avenue, near Liberty Avenue, Jersey City