Finding Heaven in Hell's Kitchen
I'm in love! And it's not with the handsome, appropriately tattooed bartender I met the other day (although there is potential). I'm in love with my neighborhood, Hell's Kitchen. Apparently other people share my passion, because it was just named as the neighborhood with the "Best Food" by Time Out New York in the recent “The Best ‘Hoods” issue. Lucky for everyone else I'm not the possessive type, and am willing to share.
TONY hit the nail on the head with many of its restaurant mentions, but I thought I'd throw a few more out there. I'm new to the nabe – a good friend of mine from French Culinary and I found a place here after graduation. We've been doing thorough restaurant (and delivery) research, but any longtime Hell's Kitcheners please weigh in!
I typically start my day off at Amy's Bread (672 9th Ave btw 46th & 47th), which serves delicious Illy espresso drinks to go with the sumptuous array of bakes goods. The Parisian Breakfast – steaming cafe au lait in a bowl, a crusty baguette, butter and BonneMaman jam – is reason enough to get out of bed in the morning. There are two other Amy's locations, but the original store in Hell's Kitchen still feels like a small neighborhood bakery.
Another, more exotic spot to indulge one's sweet tooth is Kyotofu (705 9th Ave btw 48th & 49th). Generally I don't think of a Japanese restaurant when I want dessert, but the soy-based sweets are divine. In the cupcake craze New York Magazine voted Kyotofu's chocolate souffle cupcakes as the best in the city.
Working backwards from dessert, Hell's Kitchen is packed with eateries in which to linger over a meal or grab a quick bite. I agree with TONY that Wondee Siam and Breeze serve up excellent Thai, but I'd also like to give a shout out to Pam Real Thai Food (402 W 47th btw 9th & 10th Ave). It's cash only, but the inexpensive, authentic dishes are worth the trip to the ATM.
Besides Thai I adore good kebab, and La Kabbr (683 9th Ave btw 47th & 48th) is my staple. Items like shish kafta (ground sirloin) are perfectly seasoned, the rice is fluffy and aromatic, and the Middle Eastern spreads are a meal in themselves on toasted pita. When the occasion calls for something more hearty than baba ghanoush, I head for Orchid (675 9th Ave btw 46th & 47th). The menu is a combination of Caribbean and Soul cuisine, with offerings like seriously spicy jerk chicken alongside mac and cheese. I get homesick for Caribbean food, so I go for the curry goat roti – succulent stewed goat wrapped in a homemade flat bread. The meat is marinated for 24 hrs before being cooked in curry, so there's not a hint of gaminess.
The neighborhood has more wine bars than Starbuckses, and it's hard to decide where to enjoy a glass of vino. Something a little different is the 9th Avenue Vintner (669 9th Ave btw 46th St & 47th), a wine shop with an adjoining restaurant/market that sells a bounty of cheeses, cured meats and beers from around the world. You can sit in the candlelit back space and enjoy a sandwich or cheese plate along with a brew, or uncork the bottle of wine you purchased from next door.
The other dominant dining theme is Italian, but to be honest I haven't ventured in this realm beyond a special occasion trips to Esca (402 W 43rd St btw 9th & 10th Ave). This Italian seafood spot is a partnership between Batali, Bastianich and Executive Chef David Pasternack. The array of seafood is dazzling, beginning with a lengthy list of crudo where pristine sea creatures are served raw with only the most delicate preparation. For those who prefer their fish more cooked, one might try spaghetti with lobster, mint and chilis or a gorgeous branzino baked in a sea salt crust. Whatever you order, there's no going wrong.