I am so excited. One of my dearest friends and his wife are visiting NYC over the holidays. We’ve set up a time for a skype call and I’m going to help him plan his trip.
<Bijish calling><Answer with video>
I have reviewed his itinerary and sent him my comments, and he has sent back his comments on mine. We are just going to fine tune the plan and should be done in 15 minutes tops, right? Wrong. We spend a good part of the morning re-figuring what we had already figured out. I have a three options, I could join them either for
- a standup comedy show
- the Greenwich Village food tour which they were so keen on doing
- Phantom of the Opera
Phantom of the Opera is something I want to take the husband to, and since he wouldn’t be able to make it that is out. The standup comedy sounds promising but that I could always go to, so that gets put on standby. The food tour however is something for which I might be hard pressed to find company.
The day of the tour is finally here. In NYC’s sea of black coats it should have been easy to spot Bijish in his bright yellow jacket, but I admit it took me a few moments. We joke that he should give it to our guide Barri, and make it easy for the group to keep track of her.
The tour starts with a slice of Joe’s thin crust pizza. They call themselves a Greenwich village institution. While the dough was chewy and the sauce had just the right non-sugary sweetness to it, and is great for the New York roll/fold and eat style, I do wish the crust had been crisper though, so that it would be easier to fold. As it is, it lends itself more to rolling than to folding. The next tasting is at O&Co. Olive Oil shop. Believe me, they have some good stuff in here. Try their truffle oil on popcorn and you’ll never want butter on it again. Our hosts predict a sharp rise in olive oil prices for the next 2 years owing to some worm/insect attack on the trees in Europe. They advise to stock up, you can do as you please. Moving on, a few doors down is Faicco’s Italian Specialties. We wait outside as Barri pops in and comes out with a box of humongous rice balls called Arancini. I find the fried mix of rice and cheese a little bland by itself, but I imagine it would get its flavour from the sauce. More on Italian sauce later.
We walk down the narrow street, and get a little perspective on life in the ‘hood in the old times, and walk back to our next stop, Pesce Pasta which is right next door to Faicco’s. Faicco’s, by the way is a great place to pick up pork, and is where Pesce Pasta gets their meat from. At Pesce Pasta, I content myself with steamed veggies, which felt like they were in the freezer moments before they were put in the steamer, while the others dig into their meatballs with gusto. Bijish and Jisha tell me that the meatballs are really good. Pesce Pasta is the only non-vegetarian tasting on the tour. The tour is very vegetarian friendly.
We’ve eaten quite a bit by now and it is only fair that we do some walking before we eat some more. We walk a couple of blocks to the lovely Rafele Ristorante. Here we are served Eggplant Rollatini. The eggplant slices are superbly thin and I really like the taste as well as the place. Barri tells us we could get a drink for $12 more and there are some specials for the tour. We get the Sangria and it’s good.
Now we’ve tried four Italian dishes on tour and common thread in three of those has been the tomato based sauce. When I make pasta at home, the husband says my sauce is not real sauce, it’s just tomatoes, but here’s the thing, if today’s tour is anything to go by, that’s what Italian sauce is – tomatoes and basil. The secret is the tomatoes. They use San Marzono tomatoes. I can’t tell if these are available fresh in NYC but you get them in cans at Faicco’s, and perhaps at other delis/grocery stores as well.
For desserts, we pop over to Milk and Cookies down the street across the avenue. I love choco-chip cookies, but these just don’t cut it. We can taste the sugar crystals. We walk around the area a little and are pointed out the supposed inspiration for O’Henry’s Last Leaf, among other things. We have learnt by now to distinguish between different styles of houses and the periods in which they were built. We head over to Murray’s Cheese Shop to try out some of their gourmet cheese. Their cheese-straws are something I would definitely like to serve at my next wine and cheese soiree. Murray’s has a cheese bar to help you with pairings and offers cheese classes to make you the cheese authority of your circle.
Our last and final tasting is at Pasticceria Rocco – the place to go if you are craving cannolis in West Village. Most places pre-make their cannolis, causing them to become soggy by the time they get to you, but not Roccos. At Roccos, we are assured, cannolis are freshly stuffed – stuffed after you order them. I can tell you the ones we got had crisp shells and were really fresh.
The tour was fun in all, but it would have been nicer if in addition to giving us insights to the restaurants and area, our guide had also provided some guidance on what to look for in each tasting -the smell, the texture, the broad flavours, the subtle hints, the key ingredient of each dish. She did do this for the first tasting, so I was able to appreciate what I was eating better and will be able to discern a good New York style pizza from a horde of posers. If this could be done for each tasting, I would be more likely to recommend this tour.
The tour is 3 hours long, but all the stops were within a circle of 30m radius or maybe even less. It’s not hard walking, but please wear comfortable shoes and be weather appropriately dressed.