Today my husband and I joined our brilliant friend Ben Schmerler for a day of walking
Ben is a champion of the sport of long distance walking and endurance eating. When we joined him at 4PM, he had already put in a half dozen miles walking up and down Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues and had a backpack full of cured pork.
We met at Black Iron Burger where we found it difficult to stop at just one unctuous Iron Horse Burger, cut into thirds, but we reminded each other that we had miles to go and many more delicacies to sample. A double patty with horseradish cheddar and grilled onions on a soft, toasted sesame bun, this was quite possibly the best burger I've ever had, and set a high bar for the day. The server told us they order their chuck from New England Meats and grind it fresh daily. The meat was moist and deliciously fatty, cooked to the perfect medium rare, and required no ketchup. Superb. A steal at nine bucks.
Next we went to Rai Rai Ken for a bowl of Ma Po Tofu Ramen. The grizzled chef there was slightly grumpy about serving one entree to the three of us, but when you are competitive walker-eaters you are not out to make friends. You are out to walk and eat as much as possible. This was a great version of the classic, with the perfect amount of heat and a deliciously rich broth that was just the right side of too greasy. I plan to have another bowl tomorrow, when I go there to retrieve my sunglasses.
Just down the street, we grabbed a soft serve vanilla ice cream from Chikalicious. I've never been a huge soft serve fan, but this was nice, with specks of real vanilla bean. Nice but nothing to write home about. I regretted not trying the cupcakes, which were beautiful, but being a walker-eater is a brutal sport. Choices must be made.
Next we grabbed some stools in the window at the attractive Macondo, owned by the nice people who brought us Rayuela. We'd heard raves about the avocado and mezcal smoothie, but this turned out to be a bit watery and disappointing. Ethan's gin-pineapple-carrot juice cocktail was slightly medicinal. My muddled corn with sage and aguardiente was the best, perhaps because it was the only cocktail with strong acidity. The sage was a nice subtle note in this drink, and the corn gave it a good mouthfeel, but my verdict was that these drinks were overly ambitious.
Not so the cocktails at Mayahuel, the new tequila-focused bar by the Death and Company people, named after the Mayan fertility goddess. I was immediately seduced by the beautiful space, which had the cool, dusty smell I associate with my grandmother's basement. Ben got an oddly salty but otherwise yummy pomegranite sour. My Cabeza Pequena was a smooth and potent blend of tequila, amaro, grapefruit-infused Punt y Mes, and Maraschino. But the best drink was Ethan's choice, a highball with lapsang souchong-infused blanco tequila, lime, agave nectar, and tamarindo soda. It was scrumptious. We wandered out into the sunshine, in a mildly altered state.
The gentlemen agreed when I suggested buying some cigars to smoke while we walked over the Williamsburg Bridge, since nothing encourages gluttony like a nice Cuban.
Upon our arrival in Williamsburg, we tucked into some small plates at Dressler, one of my very favorite restaurants of all time. I told Ben that the older I get the more I care about service over food. I can cook food that tastes good in my own home; if I choose to go out, I want to be around beautiful, warm people. This is always the case at Dressler, largely thanks to the gracious host Paul. We loved the sticky BBQ ribs, lighter-than-air gnocchi with fresh morels, and baby octopus, all washed down with an earthy sparkling rose from the Loire.
Sad to say, the last stop was a bit of an anti-climax. Service-wise, it was certainly a let-down, our drinks arriving only after we were nearly finished eating, and, while the crust on the lauded Motorino pizza was well-structured and tasty, the Pugiliese pie came topped with burnt broccolini, whose bitterness overwhelmed all the other ingredients. Ethan: "I'm not sure I understood what they were going for there. I would have rather had a slice from Pizzatown."
Amen, my friend. But sometimes, in the hard life of a competitive walker-eater, defeat must be endured, if only so that we may survive to walk and eat again. There will be other pizzas, other afternoons.