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Chef’s Diary: How to Do the Ultimate New York Food Crawl

What does someone who cooks for a living do when they go to New York City? Eat, of course, and eat often. “This is a city of inspiration for chefs—it definitely inspires me,” says Chris Shepherd, the chef and owner of Houston’s Underbelly. “There are just so many styles of cooking, from small family restaurants focusing on specific styles of food to grand restaurants with mind-blowing food and service.” On a visit this summer, Shepherd and his girlfriend embarked on an eating mission to discover the new, the classic, and everything in between. Here’s how it went down.

His perfect, very filling day

Cosme is the real deal—modern Mexican food that is on point plus an amazing mezcal program to go with it. Want a sandwich? Go to Parm and get a chicken parm sandwich. It will keep you full the entire day. Stand in line for Shake ShackIt’s that good. Need a quick snack? Go to Casa Mono for razor clams with enough garlic to last you a week. While you are there, order the fideo with chorizo and clams. It’s damn good with a bottle of sparkling rosé. Need another sandwich? Swing by the newly opened Fuku for a crispy chicken sandwich with Korean pickles.”

Where you’ll find the city’s best chicken

“We stayed at the The Nomad Hotel. In one word: awesome. One of the coolest places on earth is its Library bar, which is only available to hotel guests after 4 p.m. Sit and have some snacks or a cocktail, and grab one of the books that line the shelves. Dinner at the hotel is also such a cool experience. We sat down to a deck of playing cards at our place settings. The cards had a variety of images on them: spirits, ingredients, people. You are asked to pick three, and then the bartender will make you a drink that represents those cards. I chose bourbon, a porch swing (because it’s easy drinking), and the joker (wild card). The cocktail they brought me was absolutely perfect. The chicken is one thing that must be discussed at The Nomad. It is what all other chicken aspires to be and what cooks aspire to make. It’s perfect in every way, with foie gras, black truffle, and brioche stuffing under the skin, served with the leg meat in a cast iron pan alongside. You owe it to all the chickens you’ve consumed in your life to try this one, even though it’s pricey.”

How to mix spicy ramen and frites

“While my girlfriend Lindsey went to the ballet, I went off to have ramen time at Ippudo. There are two locations, but I went to the new one in Hell’s Kitchen. I ordered roasted pork belly steamed buns and a bowl of spicy ramen—always my go-to dishes when I’m in the city. The broth was rich with pork flavor, and the noodles were nice and chewy. After filling my belly with deliciousness, I met Lindsey for a drink at Café Luxembourg near Lincoln Center to end the night with chicken liver mousse and frites.”

Where to get your fish sauce fix

“I need some fish sauce chicken wings in my life, so we headed to Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn. We ordered half the menu. The chicken wings were spot on—super sticky and slightly spiced with the amazing flavor of fish sauce. The laap pet Issan, a chopped duck salad with lemongrass and chilies, also rocked. It’ll set your face on fire.”

Manhattan’s main dining event

“Dinner at Eleven Madison Park was our main event—the meal we were waiting for. Reservations are taken one month in advance (to the day), so do your planning. Right as we were seated, I was given a map of New York City boroughs with options for different tableside Manhattans. I chose the Greenpoint, made with yellow chartreuse. Then the 12-course tasting menu began. Their take on Eggs Benedict was off the charts: asparagus gelle-encased diced ham, quail egg and caviar topped with whipped hollandaise and served with tiny warm English muffins. The carrot tartare was ground tableside and served on a tray with all the traditional garnishes that we mixed ourselves. Asparagus was presented to us in a ballooned pigs bladder and then served with black truffle sauce. It was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in a long time.”

Why he has dumpling dreams

“If you’re down on the Lower East Side, you owe it to yourself to go by Lan Zhou Handpull Noodle. I have eaten more dumplings in my life than most, and I have never had a better one. I have dreams about them. While you are there, walk a few blocks over and eat at Mission Chinese. Just go.”

Photo by T.Tseng (Flickr)