Dinner is fabulous but when we travel, and do the tourist thing during the day, tasty but quick lunch spots are a must. In a city like Manhattan, restaurants are a dime a dozen, and unlike dinner, you don’t want to waste your afternoon in a restaurant eating lunch when you can be shopping and seeing the city. Fortunately for us, we knew where we wanted to eat while in New York City; like our dinner reservations, our lunch spots were perfectly planned. We do not leave food to chance!
We quickly stopped at Macy’s, very quickly because Diva #1 gets overwhelmed with how large and packed it is and becomes instantaneously murderous. The NYC Library was a must-stop-spot, Henri Bendel for jewelry, Barnes & Noble to add books to Diva #1 and Sweet Pea’s leather-bound book collection, etc. Though we spent tons of time walking around NYC, we aren’t the most observant of girls, the EmpireState building could be clearly seen outside the closest Starbucks to our hotel. Every morning we would leave our hotel in desperate need of coffee and drag ourselves to Starbucks for fuel. But we only noticed that we were underneath the Empire State Building on our last day in NYC.
Lombardi’s Pizza does not take reservations, so sadly when the whole gang showed up for lunch, we had to sit separately. Diva #1 sat with Vegan Vixen, Sweet Pea and Whitey, and Bellatrix and her four girls sat separately. Lombardi’s was very accommodating and we arrived at noon which was not a moment to soon because by 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon there was a huge lineup going down Spring Street in the trendy SoHo neighborhood.
Lombardi’s holds the title as the first pizzeria in the United States. In 1897, an Italian immigrant brought the Napoletana pizza to New York City. In 1905, Lombardi’s was licensed by the City of New York, becoming America’s First Pizzeria. Over 100 years later, Lombardi’s is still known as one of the US’ best pizzerias. The restaurant is cash only and its most famous pizza pie, which we did not have a chance to try, is the Clam Pie Pizza made up of hand shucked clams, oregano, fresh garlic, grated Romano and black pepper, and fresh parsley. As a little side note, the menu states that the clams may contain shell and sand, this just adds to the authenticity of the pie.
We started our meal with their homemade freshly brewed unsweetened tea. Diva #1 and Sweet Pea enjoyed it unsweetened, whereas Whitey and Vegan Vixen had the peach and raspberry flavouring which was natural and delicious. We were a bit rushed because we had tickets to see Chicago on Broadway, but Lombardi’s is a quick stop for lunch. With the long line forming at the door, they didn’t want us pouring over the pizza longer than necessary.
In Bellatrix’s words “in New York, you are always eating; you can be walking around and crave a meatball so you stop and eat one on the go.” We aren’t sure if anyone else eats meatballs on the go, but meatballs are to Bellatrix like poutine is to Quebecers, or hot dogs are to New Yorkers: it is her go to quick food delight.
So we sat down and ordered Grandma’s Meatball as an appetizer. Two huge 4 oz meatballs made up of pork and beef were topped with Grandma’s Sunday Gravy and thick shavings of Romano Cheese. This is Italian grandma’s gravy so it is tomato sauce, not American gravy. These were by far the most tender meatballs that we had ever tasted; the meat was so moist and juicy that we couldn’t understand how these meatballs so easily rivaled every other meatball that we had ever had. The tomato sauce was perfect, and we grew eager to soon taste it on our pizza, and the fresh Romano cheese was perfection. This was not topped with grated cheese but thick shavings. Truly the perfect Italian appetizer!
At Lombardi’s, you can get your pizza with tomato sauce or as a white pizza with olive oil and ricotta. Once you choose your pie you can add premium or regular toppings: premium toppings are 4.00$ each and regular toppings are 3.00$ each. Premium toppings are: pancetta, pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, meatballs, anchovies, ricotta impastata and extra fresh mozzarella. Regular toppings are: coal oven sweet roasted red peppers, sautéed garlic spinach, sliced tomatoes, red onions, Kalamata olives (may contain pits), fresh wild mushrooms and extra tomato sauce. If that isn’t enough you can also buy Lombardi’s pizza sauce at their restaurant, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, house vinaigrette dressing, coal oven sweet roasted red peppers and their Kalamata black olives.
By the time the pizza arrived, we were salivating as we kept seeing the huge pizza pies going by on elevated cake trays. Diva #1 and Sweet Pea shared an original Margherita with fresh mozzarella, fresh crushed tomato sauce and Romano cheese with fresh basil. We added two premium toppings, pancetta and fresh mozzarella. Vegan Vixen stayed vegetarian with Whitey and ordered the Margherita pizza with sautéed garlic spinach, fresh wild mushrooms, and Kalamata olives. The olives came with a warning, “may contain pits,” which added to the rusticity of the restaurant. Both pizzas were wonderful, very cheesy, perfect thin crust, fresh tomato sauce, and quality ingredients. Bellatrix and Whitey were arguing as to what was the best pizzeria in New York, and next time we will have to try Whitey’s favourite pizzeria which is Garibaldi’s in Brooklyn. But so far we were very impressed with Bellatrix’s favourite!
We left Lombardi’s pleasantly stuffed and ran off to see Chicago near Times Square. This was Diva #1’s third trip to NYC and each time she has visited, she has gone to see a Broadway play. She was really happy that Sweet Pea and Vegan Vixen were also interested in going. Diva #1 found it hard not to break out into song but she had her two great friends on either side keeping an eye on her before she got rambunctious. We walked through Times Square to show it to Sweet Pea who had never seen it before, and truly appreciated our great day in NYC.
Diva #1 knew that while she was in New York City, she had to go to McNally’s Balthazar restaurant. Our dinners were all booked so she planned to go there for brunch / lunch on a Sunday afternoon. When we called the week before we were told that the restaurant was fully booked but there was some room for walk-ins. Diva #1, Sweet Pea, Vegan Vixen and Whitey happily went to Balthazar, a Parisian brasserie in SoHo, New York. Famous and popular, few have gone to New York City and not stopped at Balthazar. Their restaurant even boasts an adjoining bakery that had delicious pastries such as maple-pecan and sweet potato pie, chocolate bourbon pecan pie, and so many more.
If that wasn’t enough, their hangover drinks sounded fabulous, especially at the end of a long weekend filled with alcohol. Though we went for brunch, many of their lunch plates sounded appealing such as the chicken liver and foie gras mousse, and their steak tartare, which if it is anything like Pastis’ (another McNally restaurant), we would have swooned over. The fact that they have an after hours menu further makes it a Diva-type of place, and Diva #1 already regrets not ordering their patisserie panier with an almond croissant, chocolate croissant, cinnamon bun, brioche, and homemade donuts. For once, we kept our stomachs in line and it got us to miss out on a delectable little basket of goodies.
We started our meal with freshly squeezed orange juice and grapefruit juice. We had already fueled up on coffee while we waited the 45 odd minutes to get the table and we were ravenous. Balthazar restaurant even has a cookbook that Diva #1 had to buy; after reading the introduction and commentary from McNally, it only made her yearn to return and try more dishes. So far we had been to McNally’s Pastis and now Balthazar, but there were more of his restaurants to try.
Even during brunch, we require an appetizer to begin our meal. We chose the cheese platter which offered a selection of cheeses of the day. We opted out of the glass of CroftRubyPort with our cheese plate: the only acceptable brunch cocktails are mimosas and Bloody Marys, and we just couldn’t do it. We were also a bit hung-over from the action packed weekend. The cheese plate arrived with a blue cheese, a brie or camembert creamy cheese, a spectacular goat cheese and a magnificent tomme de savoie. We had never tried tomme de savoie before and we fell in love; good ol’ Whitey even discovered where we could get it in Montreal. The cheese platter was plentiful and came with some dried fruit and country bread; it was a great beginning to our brunch.
Diva #1 couldn’t decide between all of the inventive plates. There were scrambled eggs in puff pastry with wild mushrooms and asparagus, or eggs meurette, which are poached eggs in a red wine sauce with mushrooms and bacon lardons, amongst others. In the end, she chose the poached eggs with blood sausage . Of course she had heard so much about Balthazar’s hollandaise sauce that she had to order a side dish of the sauce which was perfectly matched for her smoky blood sausage and rich poached eggs. Diva #1 isn’t sure why they don’t always serve this dish with hollandaise sauce, it was a perfect match! The blood sausage was well cooked and a generous amount, the poached eggs were perfection, and the potatoes underneath heavenly. The dish was topped with mixed greens in the lightest vinaigrette that did not add too much acidity to the dish. This was one of the best breakfast dishes that we have ever had!
Sweet Pea opted for a sweeter breakfast. She too couldn’t choose but this time she wasn’t sure between the sour cream hazelnut waffles and the brioche French toast with smoked bacon. Thankfully, upon the recommendation of our waiter, she opted for the sour cream Hazelnut waffles served with warm berries. The waffles were decadent, not too sweet but very nutty which is what she really wanted. Served with warm berries with some pooled juice on top and sour cream on the side, it was a wonderful dish. She opted to add the tiniest amount of syrup to each bite, but these were not the kind of waffles that needed a heavy layer of syrup to add sweetness. The sweetness of the berries was perfect and the maple syrup was just added for flavour, although she could have easily done without.
Vegan Vixen opted for the eggs Norwegian which consisted of poached eggs with smoked salmon and hollandaise. Diva #1 apprehensively tried the plate because she is very picky about smoked salmon and as a Canadian, she didn’t really think that Americans knew much about smoking salmon. This was not the case at Balthazar’s: the hollandaise sauce and poached eggs were exceptional, and the smoked salmon very fresh and strong tasting. Diva #1 had tried variations of this dish before but Balthazar’s had perfected it. She won’t be such a Canadian snob next time!
In a rare moment, Whitey decided to eat healthy and chose to order homemade granola with fresh fruit and yogurt. For anyone who knows Whitey, you know that this is not her usual style. The homemade granola was delicious and sweetened with honey, the fresh fruit plentiful and the yogurt tart. In the end, Whitey could not keep up the façade for long and threw some sugar into her bowl to make up for the tartness of the yogurt. Good for her for trying to be healthy, but we don’t buy it Whitey!
We left Balthazar’s eager to return for dinner, but with not enough remaining days to do so. Balthazar’s is a brasserie; once again, unlike at dinner, it is meant to quickly serve patrons and have quick rotations to maximize the amount of people they serve and to allow people to go on with their day. As we were leaving all we saw around us were these huge tiers of seafood that were high on many tables. This is definitely something that we would return for as they looked so fresh, and everyone digging in looked quite pleased with themselves.
Balthazar was our favourite lunch spot in NYC; ever since Diva #1 got the cookbook she has wanted to make some of their appetizing dishes. Keith McNally owns other restaurants in New York City and our love of Pastis and Balthazar makes it imperative that we go to them on future trips.
Momofuku Milk Bar
Diva #1 and Sweet Pea have never been on a trip where they didn’t get lost searching for something at least once, whether it is finding our hotel on Milos island in Greece after getting off a boat at midnight, a map store in Paris that Diva #1 had heard about, or even a street in Ottawa to find the Artist. At one point, on every vacation, Sweet Pea and Diva #1 get lost and in New York we brought Vegan Vixen along for the ride. Sweet Pea’s cousin had recommended Momofuku Milk Bar, and as a pastry chef, we trusted her, although we didn’t bother getting directions online, we simply asked the concierge of our hotel to direct us. Momofuku Milk Bar has multiple locations but unfortunately we did not know that and instead went to look for the one on 13th street, which we later found out was the tiniest one and not as close to us as the other locations *sigh*
We had already had a large lunch but after walking around for hours, and an unsavory experience in the NYC metro, we made it to Momofuku Milk Bar, deciding to stick to cabs for the remainder for the trip. Whereas Bellatrix would have opted for a meatball as a snack, we wanted something sweeter. Their menu was short and sweet, with soft serve flavours like toast and jam twist, and other fun sounding desserts. Besides desserts, they even sell Momofuku Milk Bar cookie mixes and their cookbook.
Sweet Pea’s cousin recommended three things and we bought two of them. She recommended the cookies which came in a variety of odd flavours like confetti, corn, cornflake, compost, etc. The Cake Truffles which came in some fun flavours too like B-Day cake, chocolate chip cake and German chocolate jumbo cake. We didn’t have a chance to try the cookies, but the cake truffles were tasty, heavy and doughy like raw cookie dough. This bakery definitely stood out amongst rustic Italian and fancy French pastry shops; this place was more hippy-like and fun.
Out of the desserts that we tried, our favourite was the Crack Pie. Addictive like crack, or so they said, we agreed after we took our first bite. It was a buttery sugar pie that was not too sweet and almost a bit nutty. We ordered a slice, we feared finishing the whole pie, and really enjoyed it with our coffee. Stopping by Momofuku Milk Bar was lovely; Vegan Vixen even met some girls outside who recommended us places to party in Meatpacking. There are so many places to stop at in NYC, but Lombardi’s, Balthazar’s and Momofuku Milk Bar are definitely worth your while.
Our Rating: Always on Thursdays
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