NYC… or how I ate the Lower East Side

This weekend, I dined at Del Posto, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Michelin-rated Italian restaurant in Chelsea. This is not about that luxurious feast.

This is about my head first dive into the Lower East Side — starting with a donut run (natch!).

Doughnut Plant on Grand Street is taking these little deep-fried delights to new heights with flavors like these that we sampled: panettone (a holiday concoction studded with candied orange), the seasonal cranberry glazed, and the ever popular creme brûlée, which somehow perfectly captures the flavors and textures of that dessert.

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The BLACKOUT — a chocolate cake doughnut… filled with chocolate pudding… dipped in chocolate glaze… and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs.

Next up was one of my favorite spots in the city, Cafe Habana in NoLita. Despite the name, and the presence of a mighty fine Cubano sandwich, this little diner is best known for serving the best Mexican street corn north of the Rio Grande. (It’s nearly impossible to visit without ordering a side of it.) This weekend, it was time to try another Mexican classic: huevos rancheros. There’s something iconic about breaking the silky egg yolk into the runny red salsa — no?

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Huevos rancheros and cafe con leche

With first and second breakfast out of the way, it was time to move onto first and second lunch. Xi’an Famous Foods is a tiny noodle shop with several locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. I found one on St. Mark’s Place and promptly ordered the spicy cumin lamb noodles. The cuisine in Xi’an, which I visited briefly in 2003, blends central Asian and Middle East influences thanks to the city’s historic location as the starting point of the Silk Road. The noodles were heavy on chili oil, which had turned crimson thanks to copious amounts of cumin.

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Spicy cumin lamb noodles with chrysanthemum tea

A block away is arguably the best hot dog in New York City (though I admit to also being partial to the simplicity of Gray’s Papaya). My “go to” at Crif Dogs — which I can say with a straight face because it was my second visit — is the Jon Jon Deragon. It’s topped with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions, and all the seeds from an everything bagel. Pure genius. Oh yeah, and when the gal behind the counter asks if you want bacon and hot sauce on it, you man up and say “duh.”

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That’s a dog with cream cheese, scallions, everything bagel seeds, bacon, and hot sauce. The Dale’s was a perfect pairing.

Ok, so it was quite a day, and I concluded it by drinking herbal tea and eating dried cherries as I dreaded the workout I’d have to do the next day (and the next day after that).

But before I wrap up, there’s one more LES stop that bears mentioning: a superb Friday night dinner at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s teeny tiny restaurant in the East Village (seriously, I counted 22 seats, though my math skills may have been off after a couple of bottles of Bordeaux). Chef Hamilton loves to feature off cuts, and few do it better. The sweetbreads with bacon and capers were divine, the roasted bone marrow was rich yet subtle, but the dish that stood out for me was the monkfish liver (which Peter ordered with a simple “yeah, I’m gonna need that”). Lots of great eats this weekend — but none better than Prune.

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Snacking on radishes with fresh butter and sea salt at the Prune bar, drinking an Italian greyhound.