Good Things in Midtown Manhattan

The midtown scene can be pretty dire.  Not to mention expensive. And as much as I enjoy overpaying for sub-par food and drink at impersonal chain restaurants … Oh wait, I don’t enjoy that at all.

Luckily there are a few bright spots scattered about here and there.  Here are some of my faves:

‘wichcraft

Choice #1 for lunch is Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar’s sandwich mini-chain ‘wichcraft.

berkshire pork sandwich with jalapeno and red cabbage

For about $10 you can get a yummy lunch made with quality ingredients. With options like slow-roasted Berkshire pork, smoked turkey with goat cheese and mashed chickpea with roast pepper there’s something for everyone.

Plus: they make good soups and delightful mini cookie sandwiches, like lemon poppyseed with raspberry or oatmeal with caramel cream. A perfect little afternoon pick me up.

Vital Statistics:
Location: various, but I go to the one in Rockefeller Center
Subway: F, M, B, D to Rockefeller
Website: http://wichcraftnyc.com/
Prices: sandwiches $8-10

Macaron Cafe

It looks a little too pink from the outside, but Macaron Cafe place turns out good salads and sandwiches at reasonable prices – like the croque monsieur I sampled this week that came with a little side salad and mustard vinaigrette for $10.

on 59th between Park and Madison

As the name suggests the house specialty is macarons – New York’s new fad food item, giving the cupcake a run for its money. Macaron Cafe turns out a wide variety of flavors including classic (cassis) and not so classic (pumpkin spice). But at $3 a pop these are not the most budget friendly treats ever.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 625 Madison Avenue, entrance on 59th Street between Park and Madison
Subway: 6 to 59th Street or the N, R to 5th Avenue
Website: http://macaroncafe.com/
Prices: sandwiches and salad from $8-10, macarons $3

Zibetto

My go-to for coffee when I’m at work and in need of some caffeine help.  Helps that you feel as though you’ve walked into Italy when you enter.  I like to pretend and say “ciao” and “grazie” to the waiters, just for good measure.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 1385 Avenue of the Americas between 56th and 57th
Subway: F, M, B, D to 57th Street
Website: www.zibettoespresso.com
Prices: $3.50 for a latte, $7 for a sandwich

The Lantern’s Keep at the Iroquois Hotel

As I was bemoaning the lack of good cocktails in midtown the other night at Milk and Honey, bartender Theo told me clearly I had not frequented his establishment yet.  It’s true – some good things happened while I was away in Europe and Lantern’s Keep is one of them.

the Dodd's Cocktail: a bourbon Manhattan with a Fernet rinse

Tucked away in the back of the historic Iroquois Hotel, it features a list of the classics and a staff that can, in good Sasha Petraske fashion, make you exactly you want, even when you don’t know what that is yourself.  And so now I can go out after work and not cry on the inside every time I order a drink.

FINALLY.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 49 West 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
Subway: F, M, B, D to Bryant Park
Website: http://thelanternskeep.com
Prices: $14 a cocktail, plus a menu of yummy snacks ranging from $4 to $19

Lunch in The City Part 2: Street Kitchen

Another bright spot on the City lunch scene is Street Kitchen. Their shiny aluminum tube of a van appeared one day a few months ago outside my office near Broadgate Circle and I lined up the very first day to check it out.

the van

I have since tried just about every dish they make and the main challenge these days is deciding which one to choose! Each day the menu changes and offers three options: one meat, one fish, one veg. Each one is served with a selection of salads like beets, potatoes, greens and kohlrabi. The star might be their take on a chicken Caesar – grilled chicken with nice crispy skin, served over greens and warm potatoes with croutons, bacon and a creamy dressing. But the grilled salmon, pork shoulder, roast lamb and the roast squash and aged Winchester salads are all solid choices.

chefs at work

Plus they make a mean dessert. Earlier in the summer it was Eton Mess with strawberries, and now they’re doing a yogurt mousse with rhubarb or plums and a crunchy crumble topping. It is delicious.

chicken caesar + eton mess

Street Kitchen was started by two London-based chefs – Mark Jankel and Jun Tanaka – with vast and varied experience in top restaurants across the city.  Everything they serve (really, everything) is locally sourced from organic, sustainable sources, and they maintain direct relationships with all their suppliers.  Mark spent a year traveling around the UK to establish the supply chain and he has also founded The Food Initiative which aims to open a permanent restaurant this year that will further promote local, sustainable produce in the London market.

prepping the salads

Sole criticism: it’s a bit expensive. The vegetarian salad runs £5.50, the meat and fish options about £7.50, and the Eton Mess is £4. That said, it’s quality food and you know you’re supporting sustainable farming and local business.  Also, all the packaging and utensils are biodegradable, so you’re being extra friendly to the environment.

Added bonus: the other day as I went to grab some napkins, I coudn’t help but exclaim over the funny looking purple vegetable acting as a paperweight.  “Is that a purple kohlrabi?!”  They were so excited someone had finally recognized it, I got a free Elderflower pressé.  Who knew vegetable knowledge would come in so handy?

the kohlrabi

Vital statistics:
Location: in or around Broadgate circle
Tube: Liverpool Street
Website: http://streetkitchen.co.uk
Prices: about £10 for a salad plus drink or dessert

the menu

Check out Lunch in The City Part 1: Verde & Co.

Lunch in The City Part 1: Verde & Co.

In the wasteland that can be The City lunch experience, I have discovered a few choice locations to help ease the monotony of Prets and EAT.

The first is Verde & Company in Spitalfields, conveniently located about a 10 minute walk from Liverpool Street Station at 40 Brushfield Street.  It makes for a nice little walk to clear your head from that stale office air and fluorescent lighting.  From the outside, it’s not entirely clear what it is – gourmet food shop? chocolate store? maybe possibly some lunch? – but with a line out the door you know it must be good, which is how I discovered one day back in February, wandering the neighborhood in search of something from a non-chain restaurant.  I’ve been a convert ever since.

Verde specializes in salads and sandwiches – the menu is the same for both, it just comes on top of a green salad with sunblush tomates, or between two pieces of bread (brown, white or baguette).  Depending on size and ingredients, they run 5-7 GBP each.  You can also mix and match ingredients to make your own.  Highlights include suckling pig with piquillo peppers, bresaola (which I usually pair with fresh mozzarella) and smoked chicken with guacamole (and bacon if you’re lucky!).  The salads are served with vinaigrette dressing ladled out of a large olive oil tin with the top cut off.  They also serve two homemade soups every day – recently tomato and piquillo pepper served with fresh basil and parmesan – and mini-quiches, as well as an assortment of Bakewell tarts, brownies and other goodies.  There is also a fridge with Pellegrino and Panna water and a selection of fresh juices.

bresaola and mozzarella sandwich

Most people get it to go, but you can also eat in at the handful of high chairs dotted around the tiny interior of the shop.  And if the weather’s nice you can sit outside on one of their bench seats with convenient little table-trays built in for your lunch or coffee.

Pretty much everything you see in the store is on sale – the homemade marmalade on that shelf over there, the fresh pasta in the window, the wooden tea caddy, even the silver teapots.  There’s actually a good selection of specialty and gourmet items – mostly Italian – and they usually have some fresh produce for sale.  The cherries and peaches in the summer were to die for.

The seating area

Jam for sale

But best of all is the Pierre Marcolini chocolate.  If you’ve never had it, you are in for a treat.  Based in Brussels, he makes a range of yummy truffles as well as sinfully rich chocolate plaques (they aren’t really bars) that come in all different chocolate flavors (Zimbabwe, Cosa Rica, etc.) They don’t come cheap but they are worth every penny.

The Chocolate

And to fortify you for the long afternoon at the office that now lies before you, grab one of their fab coffees on the way out.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 40 Brushfield Street, E1 6AG London
Tube: Liverpool Street Station
Website: http://www.verde-and-company-ltd.co.uk/
Prices: £7-10 for a salad or sandwich and a drink

Check out Lunch in The City Part 2: Street Kitchen