Sherman's Food Adventures

Shake Shack (Madison Park)

Of all the things I planned to eat in NYC, one of the more pressing needs was the Shake Shack.  Yes, that's right, I was looking forward to burgers and shakes more than anything else.  But this is no ordinary burger joint as the Shack Shake belongs to the foodie empire built by Danny Meyer.  We decided to hit up the original location in Madison Park due in part to its awesome outdoor location and also it fit our schedule.  Not sure about the aggressive birds, squirrels and occasional mouse though...

For the kiddies, I got them one each of the Shack Burger with cheese and Shack Burger with bacon and cheese.  These were decent in size but hardly large - perfect for them.  The most noticeable thing about the burger was actually the soft, "conforming-to-the-ingredients" bun.  This is actually an important feature of a good burger since a hard bun means all of your ingredients fall out with every chew and overly soft means everything will fall apart.  Second, the burger patty was moist, a bit crumbly and appealingly meat-tasting.  Add in some meaty bacon and salty cheese, the whole thing was delicious!  The kids agreed as they dusted them off.

For myself, I had the Shake Stack which was a cheeseburger topped with a breaded portobello mushroom and the usual lettuce, tomato and condiments.  This was really good with the same qualities as the cheeseburger except with more textures including the cold crisp lettuce and the crunch of the buttery and Earthy mushroom as well as the creamy muenster cheese.  However, my favourite burger of the bunch was the Smoke Shack which again was a cheeseburger with applewood smoked bacon and chopped red cherry pepper.  The red pepper was the star of this burger adding a noticeable and tasty sweetness to the savory burger.  Every bite was a burst of flavor.

Viv had the Chick'n Shack featuring a whole fried chicken breast.  This was also very good where the chicken was tender and moist while the outside sported a light, yet crunchy batter.  The whole thing was flavorful on its own, but the addition of creamy buttermilk herb mayo added a mild flavor to the sandwich.  On the side, we had one each of the Fries and Cheese Fries.  Nothing particularly interesting other than the fact they were crinkle-cut and really crunchy (almost like crisps).  I found the cheese fries to be nothing more than melted American cheese on crunchy fries.  At the very least, the fries held up to the moisture.

My son went for the Cookies n' Cream Shake (not pictured) and it was definitely creamy and rich.  However, it was also very drinkable.  Of course the flavor choice meant it was sweet and somewhat chocolatey from the bits of cookie.  Even though it was sweet, it wasn't overbearing. On my visit to Boston, I was able to grab a Red Velvet Concrete which was also thick and firmly creamy.  It was pretty sweet, but tolerable while spiked with the extra sweetness of red velvet cake.  So was a chain burger joint worth sacrificing a meal in NYC?  Absolutely.  The burgers were on point and satisfying while the frozen custard treats were sinfully rich.

The Good:
- Meaty and moist burger patty
- On point bun that is just soft enough
- Rich frozen custards

The Bad:
- Fries are nothing special
- Can get pricey   

Best Bagels & Coffee

It is not lost upon me that there are many good bagel spots in NYC, in particular Manhattan, however, due to our tight schedule, it was not possible to get to them all.  Since we had a good amount of food lined up anyways, we couldn't dedicate time to travel for bagels.  Fortunately, one of the better places was located across the street from us being Best Bagels and Coffee.  Costanza pointed out that in the movie Elf, the "world's best coffee" wasn't really a good indication.  I did consider running into the place and congratulating them on the "best bagels & coffee" though.  Not.

So for breaky, I decided to brave the fast-moving lineup and got myself a Bacon, Egg & Cheese Everything Bagel as well as the Poppy Seed Bagel with Salmon Lox.  As much as putting in the order was seemed quick, it did take a bit of time for my bagels due to the preparation of the egg and bacon.  I found the everything bagel to dense, chewy and slightly sweet.  There was a considerable amount of fried scrambled egg, crispy bacon and American cheese.  This was quite substantial as a breakfast sammie, so I split it with my son.  The poppy seed bagel had the same qualities except a bit drier on the outside and slightly crispier from being toasted.  They weren't conservative with the thick cream cheese which contained a significant chunks of buttery salmon.

On another morning, I got a Sesame Bagel with just plain butter and I enjoyed this for the simplicity of it all.  The crunchy exterior gave way to a chewy interior that was again, rather sweet.  There was a good amount of melted butter to moisten the denseness.  Not the "best" bagel I've ever had, but considering the circumstances, these were good and did the job.  Now for the coffee, again, let's just say they are not the best.  

The Good:
- Large, appealingly chewy bagels
- Didn't skimp with the filling

The Bad:
- Rather sweet though
- Not the best coffee
       

Momofuku Milk Bar (Midtown)

So our dinner at La Bonne Soupe was not exactly a touristy thing to do (as there are much more well-known spots around town), much like our lunch at Mercato the before.  However, we got right back on the tourist bandwagon and took the one block walk over to Momofuku Milk Bar located on 36th in Midtown.  Um...  We actually walked right past it since the frontage was fairly non-descript.  Lucky for us, we seemed to have hit a lull where we didn't have to wait for our treats.

We ended up trying their popular Cereal Milk Soft-Serve with crunch.  I found the ice cream to be light and creamy but incredibly sweet.  Add in the sweet crunch, it was even more sugary.  I did like the textural contrast of the cereal though.  My daughter went for the twist with chocolate chip and again, the whole thing was really sweet.  I'm not sure what the appeal is, but I've had better locally in Vancouver with many of the soft-serve spots with creamy and less sweet concoctions.  I guess it is definitely subjective as the cereal milk is very popular and well-known.  So what do I know?

We got 3 of their cookies as well including the Blueberry & Cream, Confetti and Chocolate Chip with corn flakes and marshmallow.  These were super sweet as well!  Texturally, they were chewy and soft though.  I thought the blueberry was the most bearable as it had a pleasant and impactful flavor.  The confetti could not be eaten by itself without a glass of water or milk (I guess that is how it should be eaten anyways).  Surprisingly not as sweet, the Crack Pie was buttery and aromatic.  It was heavy though and finishing a slice would be a chore.  I personally didn't prefer it, but I could see how some people would love it.  I guess that would be the same sentiment for Momofuku Milk Bar since people love the place, but not for me.

The Good:
- Creamy soft-serve
- Um...  If you have a sweet tooth, this is your place

The Bad:
- Too sweet for me
- I prefer a thicker soft-serve
   

La Bonne Soupe

As mentioned in my previous posts, in a perfect world, Viv and I would be dining at Per Se if we weren't with the kiddies.  However, with children in tow, we were limited in where we could eat.  There were suggestions of lame chain restaurants and the standard Chinese food, but in the end, we had to find something more original.  Since we were heading to Momofuku Milk Bar for dessert after dinner, we ended up at the nearby kid-friendly La Bonne Soupe.

As there was a kid's menu, my daughter ordered the chicken strips to my dismay.  So much so, I didn't bother taking a picture of it.  Shockingly, it was my son who went off the board and had the Croque Monsieur.  He dusted the creamy and cheesy thing off.  It came with some really crunchy frites which he also finished.  He cleaned the plate!  For myself, I had the Steak Pomme Frites which also came with the same crunchy frites.  As for the steak, it was nicely seared and seasoned.  It was a perfect medium-rare being juicy and really tender.

Viv had the Duck Confit with crunchy potatoes and greens.  Featuring relatively rendered skin, the duck leg was not overly salty.  There were some tender and gelatinous portions combined with drier parts as well.  Loved the crunchy potatoes as they emulated the frites, but just in a different form.  Elaine went for the Egg White Omelette and it was soft and well-made with chives, onions and ham. Pretty simple, yet at the same time it was fluffy and light.  There was some mild flavours going on which was fine by her.

Costanza's 2 boys ended up with the Lasagne a la Francaise which was a crepe filled with bolognaise and bechamel sauce and baked with mozzarella.  As you can clearly see in the picture, it was a whole lot of mozzarella and sauce.  Hence, it ate rather wet with only thin crepes separating the meat and cheese.  It was meaty and mild-tasting with more cheese flavour than tomato tang.  Although the food at La Bonne Soupe was hardly the best French food we've ever had, it served a purpose and it that job well.  Our 2 families felt comfortable in the relaxed and classy ambiance while having the kid-friendly options available on the menu.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Attentive service
- Kid-friendly 

The Bad:
- Decent, but have reasonable expectations 

Joe's Shanghai (Chinatown)

The last time we visited Joe's Shanghai in New York's Chinatown, we came away mildly happy.  You see, since we are spoiled silly by the great Chinese food in Vancouver, everything else pales in comparison.  To be fair, we've had some really good Chinese food elsewhere, but in general as a whole, the best we've had is in Vancouver, specifically Richmond.  So this time around, Joe's Shanghai was not on the itinerary.  Yet, as things turned out, we ended up at Joe's Shanghai since it was convenient and the kiddies were missing Chinese fare.

So the one dish that Joe's Shanghai is famous for is the Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings).  We got 3 steamers since the kiddies love them.  Much like our last encounter, we found the dumpling skin to be on the thicker side, especially at the top.  With that being said, it wasn't doughy or anything like that.  There was a considerable amount of soup which was slightly sweet and savoury, but no other distinguishing flavours.  The meat filling was tender and moist.  We also got the Pan-Fried Dumplings which were seared up crispy on the bottom.  They didn't ease up on the grease though.  I found the skin to be thick and doughy though.  Again, the filling was good though being moist and tender.

We decided to get a mix of cold appies as a plate of 3 options.  These included Soya Duck, Vegetarian Duck and Jellyfish.  Meaty and nicely gelatinized, the duck was on the saltier side, but not devoid of other flavors.  We found the texture to be on point while the skin was fairly rendered.  The bean curd skin of the vegetarian duck was a bit on the chewy and harder side, but okay.  Inside, the abundance of shiitake were sweet and buttery, yet everything fell apart.  With a buttery snap, the jellyfish was well-marinated being balanced between sweet and savory.  Since we were devoid of veggies in most of our meals, we went for the Sauteed Pea Shoots with Garlic.  These were good being crunchy and nicely seasoned with whole chunks of garlic.

We ended off the meal with 2 noodles including the Shanghainese Soup Noodles and Beef Noodle Soup.  I enjoyed the former more as the soup was flavorful with a certain meatiness and silkiness.  The thick noodles were al dente and had soaked up some of the dark soy flavours.  On top, the mix of meat and cabbage was on point with crunch and tender meat.  The beef noodles were okay, but the biggest issue was the meat itself.  They used sliced beef shank rather than specifically made meat for the dish.  It just wasn't substantial enough or robust.  Noodles were okay and soup was pretty mild.  So did this visit change our feelings about Joe's Shanghai?  Not really, but it is still decent.  We just don't believe it is a must-visit for out-of-town visitors.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Okay pricing
- Fairly good XLBs

The Bad:
- Indifferent service
- Decent, but not great  

Momofuku Noodle Bar

While we were in Toronto, there was a moment where we considered visiting Momofuku.  However, we saved that for our visit to the New York City location with Costanza and Elaine.  We made our way out to their location in East Village to find out that the wait was over an hour long.  Sure, we expected as much, but with a group of 8, it didn't look promising.  So we ended up splitting our group into 2 tables of 4.  Since we didn't feel like standing around for 1+ hours, we did dessert first at the nearby Veniero's Pastry.

Finally seated and after a slice of cheesecake, we started with the Scallop Crudo with ginger, charred corn and crispy chicken skin.  This was completely on point and a delight to eat texturally and taste-wise.  The buttery and sweet scallops were lightly complimented by the smoky sweet corn and background ginger essence along with a light tang.  The crunch of the skin was a necessary texture.  We also got the Smoked Chicken Wings with pickled chili, garlic and scallion.  I found the wings to have unevenly rendered skin, but for the parts that were good, it was on point and flavourful from the glaze.  It was a combination of sweet dark soy with a touch of spice and light tanginess.  I didn't get much smokiness and I did find the wings a touch mealy.

The best thing we had by far were the Shrimp Buns with spicy mayo, pickled red onion and shredded lettuce.  We found the bun quality to be excellent being soft and warm with a slight elasticity and chew.  Inside, the shrimp patty was absolutely delicious.  It was buttery, sweet, cold-water crunchy and well-seared.  The spicy mayo provided a creamy kick while the lettuce brought it down a notch.  Yummy.  Now onto the Momofuku Ramen, we found the noodles to be on point and probably some of the best we've had.  They were chewy and al dente with a nice rebound texture.  As for the broth, it was indeed flavourful and meaty, but really salty.  The pork belly was very lean and smoky from the sear.  It wasn't as buttery as expected.

Our last dish was the Chilled Spicy Noodles with Szechuan sausage, Thai basil and candied cashews.  We were warned that this was a spicy dish and boy was it ever.  There was a kick that lasted and lingered, yet at the same time, we could taste the meatiness of the sausage and sweet crunch from the cashews.  Again, the noodles were on point being appealingly chewy.  Overall, we found our visit to Momofuku Noodle Bar to be okay.  I guess it was over-hyped in our own minds, so it might've been a bit unfair.  Yet at the same time, we've had better versions of some of the dishes elsewhere.

The Good:
- Some uniqueness compared other spots in town
- David Chang (yes, the name)
- Baos were good

The Bad:
- Ramen too salty for me
- Not worth the wait

Mercato

For all of the recommendations I received from various sources, sometimes the restaurants we end up visiting while in another city are based purely on circumstance.  It could be that some places are just not kid-friendly while others are not located nearby where we would end up.  Hence, most of the spots we visit may not be the "usual" nor overly sexy.  This brought us to Mercato, which was somewhat near our hotel, for lunch one day.  This lil' Italian spot sure seemed homey and just the right place for 2 families.

We began with the Frittura di Pesce which was a bounty of fried calamari, shrimp and cod.  We found the batter light and crispy while totally not greasy.  The calamari was large and tender while retaining an appealing chewiness whereas the shrimp were meaty with a firm snap.  As for the fish, it was buttery and flaky with even less batter then the calamari and shrimp. I particularly liked the mild tomato dipping sauce.  Next, we had the Spinaci Salad with raisins, apples and goat cheese.  This was lightly dressed which allowed the ingredients to be heard such as the sweet apples, even sweeter raisins and creamy gamy goat cheese.

For my main, I had the Orecchiette Cime di Rapa e Acciughe (broccoli rabe, anchovies, bread crumbs, garlic and olive oil).  This was a drier concoction with firm pasta coated with bread crumbs.  It wasn't particularly flavourful until mixed in with the crisp rabe since the anchovies had adhered to them.  Together, the flavours were good.  Viv ended up with the Gnocchi with beef and pork ragu.  The tender nuggets of potato pasta were a good balance of soft and firm.  Hence, there was a nice bite to them.  The rich ragu had body and depth while not subjected to much salt.

Our kiddies had the Lasagna with b├ęchamel and beef ragu.  Due to the b├ęchamel, the whole thing was creamy and rich.  However, the hearty ragu added a real meatiness while providing body to the dish.  What brought it all together was the mild, yet flavourful tomato sauce which had a cheesiness to it.  Costanza's kiddies had the Spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil.  As simple as this was, the execution was on point.  Featuring al dente pasta and an abundance of flavourful and tart chunks of tomato, the whole thing tasted fresh and bright.

The best dish of all was the Seafood Linguine which was the beneficiary of an array of seafood including calamari, shrimp, mussels and clams.  The sauce was impactful with the taste of white wine and briniess from the shellfish.  Even though it seemed too saucy, the pasta was well-flavoured and the seafood was on point. As I mentioned in the intro, sometimes the best places are the ones off the beaten path.  I'm not sure if Mercato qualifies as such, but it was definitely not on our radar.  I guess it should've been from the start.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Nice people
- Priced-right

The Bad:
- Seating is a bit tight