Pickled In New York

New York is a town packed with culinary delights and, believe me, I delighted in many of them while I was there. I didn’t really anticipate that I'd be blogging about pickles as I remembered my trip back east, but they played such an important part in a number of the meals I had, I thought it worth a mention.

On our first night there we dined at a French restaurant called Benoit owned by renowned chef Alain Ducasse. Walking through the door, we were taken from a grungy New York sidewalk, into a noisy, vibrant brasserie that could have been anywhere in Paris. As we were seated, we heard most of the staff and many of the clientele around us were speaking French and we knew that this was going to be good.

The highlight of the meal for me was a pate en croute that was shared as an appetizer. The thick slice of pate arrived at our table, swaddled in a thin layer of aspic and an outer layer of flaky, pale pastry. The piece de resistance for me, however, was a huge crock of cornichons and pickled onions that was set on the table next to the pate. The contrast between the tiny, tart, briny pickles with the rich, mouth coating pate was perfection. The seemingly bottomless crock allowed me to repeatedly grab the delicate, wooden tongs and dig in to my heart’s content, and dig in I did, all through the meal.

Another great pickle experience came during lunch one day while dining at Momofuku Ssam Bar, one of four restaurants owned by David Chang, the hot chef of the moment in NY. Among the numerous dishes we ordered I, not surprisingly, insisted upon ordering the seasonal pickles.

They arrived on a large plate, in a bright rainbow of colors and featured 11 different types of pickles, each with their own distinctive flavors. There were simple, lightly brined slices of pickled cucumber, earthy, zesty pickled shiitake mushrooms, and deep, red pickled beets flavored with a hint of clove. There were also some amazing tart, puckery tomatillos scented with cumin and vinegar, crunchy jerusalem artichokes and crisp, green papaya pickles. Pickled carrots, turnips and green chard were also unique and fantastic! The final two pickles, a daikon radish kimchi and an extra spicy cabbage kimchi, showcased Chang’s flair for incorporating foods from his Korean background. The pickles were each interesting and delicious on their own, but provided an extra element of depth when eaten along with the other dishes that we ordered for lunch.

My final pickle experience came about on the lower east side at the Jewish deli Katz’s. Housed in the same spot since 1888, this fast paced, old school deli does everything as it has since it opened. Upon being seated, a waiter abruptly came to our table and slapped down a small plate loaded with pucker inducing sour pickles, crispy, mild, half sour pickles and, my favorite, pickled green tomatoes. Nothing beats a bowl of pickles for cutting through the rich, fatty texture of a pastrami on rye and nothing beats a pastrami on rye from Katz's!

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