New York eats, July 2013.

The best meal I had on the weekend wasn’t the signature meal (or the most expensive), but was from the Food and Wine list of the country’s best pizzerias, which I’m working my way through as travel allows. Ribalta, located near Union Square in the space formerly occupied by Piola, is one of the newest restaurants on the list, and is known for a style of pizza called pizza in pala, where a very high-hydration dough is prepared on a long wooden paddle and cooked directly on the floor of the oven, producing maximum oven spring and a very crunchy exterior, similar to pain a l’ancienne. Ribalta cooks theirs twice, which I assume means once without the toppings and then again with toppings, although they didn’t specify – and, in an odd detail, they don’t use wood- or coal-fired ovens, but use gas and electric. But the results, especially on the pizza in pala, are superb – you get subtle hints of the caramelization of the sugars that have started to appear in the dough around the exterior crust, and it’s strong enough to support a healthy (but not excessive) load of toppings, such as the pancetta and porcini mushrooms on the pizza we ordered. The traditional pizza napoletana we ordered, the “DOC” (a margherita by another name), wasn’t as crispy or strong, and the crust didn’t have as much air in it, but the tomatoes were incredibly bright and fresh and the buffalo mozzarella was creamy and smooth (but there wasn’t quite enough of it). The brussels sprouts starter with, of course, pancetta (i.e., bacon) and pecorino romano was solid-average, but could have used a little more color on the halved sprouts. It’s all about the pizza in pala, people.

Sunday night after the Futures Game, I went to Momofuku Ssäm Bar with a slew of other writers and a few folks from outside the business for a group dinner where we all got the prix fixe bossam menu, built mostly around pork. I was completely fired up to try a David Chang restaurant for the first time, but may have created the unfortunate situation where I was disappointed with a 65 because I expected an 80. Some dishes on the prix fixe menu were amazing – the bark on the giant roast Niman Ranch pork shoulder, served with lettuce for making wraps, was among the best things I have ever eaten, caramelized and crunchy with no off notes that would come from overcooking it – while others were just solid, and the dessert, a cake made of pancakes layered together with raspberry jam as a filling and served with bacon and melted black pepper butter, was disappointing, far too dense and heavy to be edible after such a huge meal. (Or after any meal – pancakes do not keep well at all, and served cold, they have the texture of a used tire.) The pork belly buns, riffing on the Chinese baozi but serving them in the style of a Venezuelan arepa, were superb if a bit messy, and the striped bass sashimi with spicy candied kumquats was bright and fresh with a great balance of acid and heat. It’s an excellent culinary experience, just not a Hall of Fame meal.

On the recommendation of reader Stan, who works in the business, I stopped by a Stumptown coffee shop on Monday morning to get an espresso and some whole beans to bring home. Their roasts are relatively light, not quite as light as Intelligentsia’s (where they don’t even heat the beans, they just show them pictures of warm places) but light enough that you taste the bean first and the roast a distant second. That produced an espresso with a lot of vibrant, fruity notes like tart cherry and blackberry, but with a little bitterness underneath that always reminds me of cocoa. Their beans are quite expensive, again in relative terms, but you’re paying for quality as well as sourcing, as most of their offerings are single-estate, and the results so far have been solid even on my cheap Gaggia machine.

I actually didn’t get to Shake Shack before the Futures Game, but for a great reason – so many of you came out to say hi to me that, by the time we were done, it was just 20 minutes till first pitch. So I took the recommendation of several readers and tried Blue Smoke, whose Carolina pulled pork sandwich turned out to be excellent, in part because it’s about as Carolina as molasses (that is, there’s little or no vinegar flavor). The meat was actually smoked, and came without sauce, so you could see and taste that the pork had actually been smoked rather than braised or boiled or God knows what else they do to make “pulled pork” at most ballparks.

The final stop (actually the first, chronologically) on my New York trip was actually in Port Chester, NY, where I visited Tarry Lodge, a Mario Batali/Lidia Bastianich endeavor that includes an Italian market as well as a pizzeria with a full menu of pastas and entrees, yet another entry on that Food and Wine list. I tried the pizza with prosciutto and arugula, maybe my favorite toppings for an authentic Italian-style pizza, but overall found it just good, not great, with a crust that had a little char on the exterior but was overall very soft. The toppings resulted in an overly salty pizza, although I get that anything with prosciutto will end up salty – this was just too far in that direction. Port Chester’s main drag is cute, and there seem to be a lot of good restaurants there, but it’s far enough off the highway (factoring in traffic and parking) that it’s not an ideal stopping point, especially with Tarry Lodge’s pizza grading out as a 55.


  1. Next time you are there I recommend the following “cheap” eats off the top of my head: Delaney BBQ in Brooklyn (as someone who also had Franklin BBQ in Austin I’d say they’re right up there with them). Also the Meatball Shop is delicious and so Is Bob White Supper Counter, both of which will leave you full and amazed for under $20. Also try Baohaus on 14th. I’m guessing you’ve seen an Eddie Huang article somewhere at this point but the Baos themselves are legitimately delicious.

  2. You have to try Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Probably the best pizza I’ve had in my life. I’ve tried every pizza there and there isn’t a bad choice on the menu.

    • Paulie Gee’s is on the F&W list too, so I’ll get there eventually. Too bad I rarely have cause to get to Brooklyn. Actually now that I look Motorino is on the list too.

  3. I’ve found Batali’s (Vegas) restaurants to be over-hyped and over-priced. I believe his empire has gotten too big to ensure any degree of quality control.

  4. Keith, you were so close to 2 far better restaurants of the same cuisines you mentioned in Manhattan. You should have tried Motorino on 12th street, between 1st and Avenue A, for the authentic neopolitan pizza. I prefer it now even to traditional NYC pizza. You also should have braved the line at Ippudo on 4th Avenue, between 9th and 10th street, for incredible Japanese-style pork buns and incredible ramen. Ippudo has far better pork buns than Momofuku. I just cannot get behind a David Chang restaurant for whatever reason.

  5. Hey Keith. Highly recommend Diner just underneath the bridge in Brooklyn if you haven’t been there before. It’s been raved about extensively over the last few years, but I make sure to stop there every time I’m in town.. it’s just that good. The staff are amazing and extremely helpful with wine, and the food is really out of this world.

  6. The mistake was not trying the Fusili Crazy Bastard at Tarry Lodge. It’s neat that you made the trip up to Westchester though – their market and wine store are even better than the restaurant.

  7. Blue Smoke is where it is at in Citi. I love their fried chicken sandwich.

    As far as Q goes in the city, if you like it Texas style, go to Hill Country by Madison Square Park, right down the street from the original Shake Shack. Call ahead and find out if they have the short rib and wash it down with one of the many varities of Shiner they now have on tap. And don’t skimp on dessert… mmmm… I spent my first Fathers Day there.

  8. Hey Keith, I was at the Shake Shack meet-up but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to say hello. It was pretty cool of you to take the time out to talk to us readers.

    Question about restaurants in NYC; do you have, say, a top 5 of restaurants you want to try in the city? I’m working my way through the endless options and would be curious to hear your opinion on which restaurants intrigue you.

  9. Agree with Jax that the Tarry Lodge wine store and especially market are great. The restaurant is quite good. My experience is that their dishes range from good to excellent but, with the prices they charge, they should always be excellent.

  10. the problem with doing a writeup of NYC is that everyone is going to bitch at you for not going to their place. of course in NYC there are, no joke, 5000 of “their places.” Let me throw my .02 in there. Brooklyn is where its at. Find your way to smorgesburg one weekend, tons of incredible food for “cheap.” pizza you say you like, there is no better pizza than in brooklyn. Paulie Gee’s, Lucali, and DiFara are amazing, and that excludes the tourist trap of grimaldi’s (which is good, but not as good as above, and you have to wait forever).
    Also, make your way to Dale’s (from Top Chef) restaurant in Park Slope, have the korean style fried chicken. Crazy good.

  11. Glad you got to stop at Stumptown. I went there twice when I was in New York in May and thought they were excellent and also purchased beans to take home. They are a bit pricey, especially if you buy online with shipping costs, though. Which beans did you purchase? BTW, single-origin is 100% the way to go.