Tag Archives: local

eater’s digest: northern spy food co.

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

As a food writer, it’s easy to to fall into a habit of extremes, toggling from insatiable to oversaturated. This is typically the curse of chasing trends, following the buzz or, worse yet, a desire to be the first to discover a new, unsung food locale. But then there are the restaurants we discover off-the-clock. The plates that satiate us, without leaving us feeling stuffed. The mouthfuls that remind us why we got excited by food in the first place—which, for me, has nothing to do with standing in line three hours for a cronut.

My food appreciation began with the ingredients at my disposal and the thrill of testing out a new flavor or texture—most especially, those with a specific taste of place. In short, I fell hard for cooking with local ingredients, and the chefs who thrill me most are the ones who revive that feeling of discovery.

Porgy with fava and yellow eyed beans in green garlic broth

Porgy with fava and yellow eyed beans in green garlic broth

In Manhattan, Northern Spy Food Co. is a singular example of this type of restaurant. Over the past year, I’ve eaten there four times—more any other restaurant, except maybe the more casual Co. Pane—yet I never got so far as to write a review. They were meals without ulterior motives, an opportunity to indulge in anonymity. In fact, I ate there the way critics would ideally eat at restaurants: often, and casually, without explicit intentions to review them. The true gems are the places that consistently satisfy and surprise you, steeping over time until they blossom into a story.

Let’s start with Northern Spy’s kale salad. Or don’t, in fact. It’s been raved about so often that it overshadows other dishes on the menu – plates like the equally irreplaceable Elysian Fields lamb or smoked bluefish rillettes. In that spirit, I decided on one rule for this review – if I’ve already eaten it, it’s off the table.

And so it was that I started off with pickled eggs. Normally, this wouldn’t be a dish that I’d choose, as all my favorite egg preparations include a runny yolk. Pink with beet juice, they were certainly acidic but also mildly sweet. The yolk maintained a certain creaminess, if the white was a bit more resistant than I’d usually prefer. But I approached them objectively, and they grew on me with each bite, providing yet again that N’Spy sense of discovery, the same that I’d found before.

Chilled watercress soup

Chilled watercress soup

The rest of the dishes were less challenging, but no less interesting. First up, the chilled watercress soup. The texture of this gorgeous pastel palette of food is nothing short of spectacular, coating your mouth with cool green flavor, without the cumbersome weight of cream.

Then came the strawberry salad with goat milk yogurt and fresh herbs. Tart and sweet, it featured both fresh red and pickled green berries, cut with the funkiness of goat cheese, the refreshing crunch of fennel, and the bright, lemony bite of sorrel. I’ll go right ahead and call it the salad of the summer.

Speaking of summer, I highly recommend the refreshing celery tonic cocktail. I’d been eyeing it for months, and it met all my expectations, balancing refreshment with bitter and vegetal notes. For those who like ginger, the Spy Glass is the spicy, fruitier cousin of a Bloody Mary, and also shouldn’t be missed.

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Celery tonic and Spyglass cocktail

Back to the eats, the warm squid salad arrived all tender coils: squid, carrot and daikon radish, garnished with a streak of dark black ink. Accented with the rich flavor of pork belly, it reminded me of a pork and clam dish I once ate in a bistro in Lisbon, a remarkable marriage of land and sea.

For our first entree, we tried the Porgy special—mildly briny and flaky, but more oily than flimsier white fish. Served in a green garlic broth with favas and yellow eyed beans, it was fragrant and comforting, the tender beans yielding beautifully under the impeccably moist, pink-tinged fish.

Broccoli with cabbage, mustard, pretzel

Broccoli with cabbage, mustard, pretzel

But the real scene-stealer was the sleeper on the menu: the broccoli with “cabbage, mustard and pretzel.” If it sounds like a vegetarian beer hall dish, you’re not entirely off track. Tender stalks, breaded and fried in crisp pretzel crumbs, made me wonder if I ever needed to eat juicy sausage again. Negotiating over who would get to drag the last floret through the mustard and pesto sauces, I couldn’t help but think that this was no mere vegetarian alternative. This was a definitive dish – the kind that can make a chef’s career (kale salad be damned).

Ending on a sweet note, (and still entranced by the pretzel-breaded broccoli stalks) we opted for the pretzel waffle with strawberry ice cream and caramel sauce. A flatter, compact, Scandinavian-style waffle, it brought al dente texture and salt, an excellent contrast to the sticky caramel and creamy, concentrated strawberry scoop. Yet again, we found ourselves bartering for the final bite.

Pretzel waffle with strawberry ice cream and caramel

Pretzel waffle with strawberry ice cream and caramel

If this sounds like a rave review, it is. I don’t promise that each of your taste buds will explode with new ideas or ingredients, but—like a good tea–the dishes at Northern Spy develop as they steep. Rather than being at their best on the first bite, they evolve as you uncover each layer of complexity. It’s the ultimate in “slow food,” in fact. Not only is it local and sustainable, but you’re best eating it at a leisurely pace, lest you let one of the subtler elements pass you by.

Northern Spy Food Co.
511 E 12th St
(212) 228-5100

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au marché: pike place market

While preparing for my recent trip to Seattle, I started having “fish fantasies”. There I’d be, in a yellow rain slicker, steaming cup of coffee in hand, hanging with the Pike Place fishmongers at 5am.

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Needless to say, my co-travelers weren’t having this. But I did motivate them to head to market around 8:30, on a surprisingly sunny day, with the promise of coffee in their near future.

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For all my fantasizing, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew they might throw fish, a quirky gimmick I’d witnessed in the opener for Seattle’s Real World. Given the market’s tv-ready renown, I assumed I was walking into a relatively delicious tourist trap.

First, let me attest that throwing fish is a pretty efficient way to move the product. When we arrived, there were very few other onlookers, so we got to chat a bit with the ‘mongers about their fish flinging style. They also let us taste their smoked salmon (I hate this “word”, but mouthgasm seems an appropriate descriptor), and sold us a bit of salmon jerky for the road, while I wantingly eyed the king crab legs.

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As impressive as the fish was, the biggest surprises at Pike’s were the flowers and fruit. Generously bursting bouquets of cabbage flowers sold for the New York price of a bad bunch of dyed carnations. The range of local,  vividly-hued produce was also impressive, especially the iconic-ly tart local citrus: satsumas. We were also seduced by one vendor’s chili-spiced spin on huckleberry jam. In short, the whole market was a series of sensory revelations.

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If I did have one critique of the market, it would be this: when the other tourists did arrive, few of them seriously shopped. It’s hard to support a market on tourism alone, and you could hear it in the mongers’ banter. “Step right up, anyone with money.” “Someone here who actually wants to shop?”

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It killed me not to have a kitchen. Next time I go to Seattle, I’m cooking for myself.

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catch of the day: soulmate

Back in December, I was raving about a travel start-up called Nectar & Pulse. Rather than reinventing the all-inclusive travel book, N&P founders Carina & Tanja have created an exceptionally curated and designed line of city guides based on a simple concept: soulmates.

The “soulmate” taps into an age-old travel fantasy. You arrive in a strange city where you know no one, but somehow bump into an engaging, charismatic local who eagerly offers to “show you around”.

For those of us who have lived this dream, we cannot imagine traveling any other way. And now, with Nectar & Pulse, you don’t have to – because they’ve lined up a bevy of interesting, creative, enthusiastic locals from across the globe to show you around. Including me.

I reached out to Carina & Tanja after reading about N&P in The Brander, and was thrilled when they selected me as one of their New York City soulmates. Check out my slideshow and interview about all things NYC on their site, or you can purchase a physical copy of my guide for only 6 euros.

A great thanks to my photographer sister, Lauren DeFilippo. Without her, neither this blog nor my Nectar & Pulse photo spread would be half as beautiful.

And of course – you can always check out my “Manhattan” tab for an extended list of my latest and greatest hotspots in NYC.

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