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Artist / Baker Lexie Smith Shares Her Favorite Food Experiences In NYC

Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.

This week we’re in Manhattan, where artist, baker, and writer Lexie Smith is taking us on a tour of the borough’s culinary delights. Our host is a true creator — a maker of intricate breads, wooden utensils, and bold works of imagination. Her latest passion is a project called Bread on Earth — “an initiative to preserve and share bread traditions and recipes from around the world, focusing primarily on regions of conflict and marginalization.”

“It is a place for the crusade for wheat and against the demonization of gluten,” Lexi explains, “all synthesized through the conversation of bread as a universal comfort, necessity, societal linchpin and politically charged icon. It will offer an explanation of the conflict and history of the region [the bread comes from], and present still lifes featuring each of the recipes. Prints will be for sale with proceeds going to charitable organizations focused on civil liberties and human rights.”

Interested in getting involved? Sign up on Bread on Earth’s site to be notified of the upcoming launch!

Now let’s check out Lexie’s fifteen favorite food experiences in NYC!


PIZZA

Scarr’s Pizza

While his spot is a relative newcomer to the NY pizza scene, Scarr himself is a real pizza master, a very good human, and mills his own flour on the premises. For me, little more needs to be said.

TACOS/MEXICAN

Lalo and Amaranto

I call Lalo “new age” Mexican. Though slightly biased due to my involvement with the opening (as resident Pastry Chef), I feel firmly that what Chef Gerardo Gonzalez (a San Diegan Mexican) is doing there is really important. He’s got a no kale, no avocado policy which in itself points at the creative, surprising choices on the menu. It’s a little confusing, and as such, enlightening. He’s at his best when he feels like he’s making food for his friends, so make sure you say hi.

For more traditional Mexican I love Amaranto, a quiet, clean, family-run place in Bushwick. Totally unassuming and offering fresh, regionally inspired dishes unlikely to be found at the innumerable Mexican joints dotted around the city. Father, mother and sons are all on deck there, and you can tell. The patriarch circles the floor, encouraging everyone to try something besides the eternally popular burrito. Listen to him!

ASIAN

Bunker

It takes a trek to get there for most (it’s out there in the industrial border of Ridgewood and Bushwick), but you’re rewarded with honest and creative Vietnamese food in a cozy, casual environment. A couple of shared dishes and some sake here leaves little to be desired.

STREET FOOD

Chinatown Fruit Stands

Chinatown fruit stands are piled high with fruits and vegetables year round, like rambutans, persimmons, dragon fruit, lychee, and more familiar offerings likes avocados (the cheapest you’ll find), citrus, pomegranates, and plenty more. Grand St. has some of my favorite stands, but there are plenty sprinkled all over the area (between Little Italy, Financial District and the Lower East Side). The little shops jammed together on the sidewalk behind them often have endless baskets of anonymous dried mysteries — fungi, roots, fish, etc. The exchange is brisk and efficient, just how it should be.

SWEET FOOD

Té Company

This is a cult favorite, the kind of place that everyone who knows of thinks of as their secret. Secret has been out though, with their cookies making best-of lists for a while now. You don’t need excessive options when the ones you have are perfectly executed.

FINE DINING

Buvette

My version of fine dining is very different than some others (I avoid the more traditional definition), but is loosely defined by a place that serves snails, would be vaguely inappropriate to wear a sweatshirt, and has candles on tables so small that if you’re not careful, may light your hair on fire when leaning a little too heartily into your Burgundy (not speaking from experience, or anything). Buvette serves food late and encourages indulgence of all kinds.

CASUAL DINING

Achilles Heel

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Oysters warmed in butter for cold winter nights

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This is my favorite place in Brooklyn. It feels simultaneously like a saloon and a friend’s living room, should that friend live in the woods rather than Greenpoint. Lee, the chef at the helm and excellent butcher, is always evolving the offerings, though they tend to already feel worn in and just right when they hit the table.


VEGETARIAN

Bunna

This is vegan Ethiopian food in Bushwick — a strange amalgam of potentially polarizing culinary ideas that somehow produces an always-bustling, always-delicious food experience. Sometimes a waiter will roast coffee over a fire in the middle of the room, filling the whole place with smoke from the beans, while everyone goes on shoving their fingers into their food. You don’t have to make a lot of choices here if you don’t want to — just order the feast (for one, two, three, four….), and be presented with a table-sized piece of injera polka dotted with piles of vibrant, exuberantly spiced vegetables and grains.

You’ll leave that perfect kind of full — almost unable to walk but still smiling.

BRUNCH

Union Square Greenmarket

Sure it’s not technically a brunch spot, but brunch in New York will make quickly leave you resenting each and every person trying to eat in the tri-state area, so I tend to stay outside. Saturday is the market’s best day — all the vendors bring their A games. You can find everything from bread, to yogurt, cured meats, flowers, and all the best produce you could ask for.

I like to bring a predetermined amount of cash, spend it all, and tear everything up with my hands on a bench in the park.

ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY

Russ & Daughters

The best for obscenely expensive but ultimately worth it bagels with lox, capers, onions, cream cheese and cucumbers. Don’t skimp. They’ve also got halvah, for when you’re done with your healthy breakfast.

ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE

Ukrainian in Brighton Beach

Take the Q to Brighton Beach and hop into all the little Ukrainian provisions shops you can find. I’ve seen parrots sitting on ladies’ shoulders at the meat counter, gorged myself on extra-syrup soaked baklava, and found the cheapest caviar all within one block. I’d recommend buying a bunch of greasy, gravy laden mystery lumps and eating them by the ocean or on a dirty stoop with plastic forks. They taste good either way.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Arcade Bakery

As an ardent singer of the bread gospel, the carbs here are not the guilty part of this pleasure. It’s more that it is rare to be able to choose just one treat, and then just as difficult to not eat all of whatever treats you do choose, even if that includes a whole loaf of bread. It’s tucked away in the lobby of an old-school New York office building, swimming in marble and often manned by the master baker himself, Roger Gural.

I like him because he’s out there at the register, despite being more comfortable handling flour than he is with people — a guy after my own heart. Get everything.

HANGOVER FOOD

Roman’s

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Spaghetti with lentils. #felicjuso

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Not to be an obvious Tarlow loyalist (this is the second of his on the list!), but sometimes Roman’s feels close to perfect. It’s the ideal hangover cure for me in particular because mine (though few and far between) tend to hit at around 5pm, right when this place opens. Like many, I indulge in the carb-heavy catharsis of a plate of pasta after I’ve tied one on, but unlike some I don’t want to feel even greasier than my previous night’s revelry has made me. Roman’s is home to my favorite sourdough in Brooklyn (now produced in much larger quantities offsite under the name She Wolf) to begin the sopping-up process, and perfectly executed house-made pastas that are rich but not overbearing, balanced and served in reasonable portions.

The staff is also lovely and not often anxiety-inducing, even with a crowd. When I’m a bit worse for wear, this is an important component to dining out.


DATE NIGHT

dinnertable

Dinnertable is hidden in the back of a busy bar in the East Village, The Garret East, giving it a somehow not-too-cute speakeasy energy and making it intimate enough for a legitimate date night. Not to mention its convenient proximity to lots of liquor, should the night call for that. Keep in mind — it is tiny, so if you don’t know each other well when you get there you may feel a good bit closer by the time you leave. Once you get through the door the din of the bar recedes and you’re gifted with one of the most nuanced and creative meals available downtown.

There is nothing on the menu that feels superfluous — it is food and beverage that is constructed with harmony and intention.

RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND

Laila’s House

If I’m being honest, my favorite places to eat in the city are the homes of my friends, and at the top of the heap is Laila Gohar’s. She is a cook who focuses on catering events and installing her strange brand of large-scale food design experiments. But I think she’s at her best in her little kitchen in Nolita where she makes us fish, meat and veggies that are burned, drenched in olive oil, piled high with herbs and tricks and treats out of little glass bottles, all inspired by her Egyptian and Turkish upbringing.

I’ll always encourage eating with friends in a New York style living room-kitchen hybrid, cramped and hot, full of dialogues running over each other and plenty of wine.

Thank you Lexie, for taking us on a culinary tour of NYC!

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.

See you next week!

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