Yesterday was one of those gifts of a day that happens just every so often to break up the cold and grey weather. It makes you feel as though spring is just around the corner, setting us up to get whalloped by an enormous blizzard about two weeks from now. It was the perfect setting to get out and do a food tour of Manhattan. Twenty New Yorkers joined Serena at Seriously Soupy and Sebastian and Hannah from Explorecation (a new site that lets folks find unique and interesting ways to explore cities via any parameter you would like) for a Lower Manhattan Soup Tour to try out some of the city's delicious offerings.
Our first stop was off of a little street in Chinatown. I almost never head downtown to this neighborhood unless it is for a meeting or a food-related reason, so after I practically clawed my way through the locals who were shopping and perusing produce stalls, weaved in and out of the tourists who were dawdling on the sideways looking at knock-offs, and avoided the surreptitious vendors trying covertly to sell me watches and handbags (none of which would be authentic), I was really ready to eat some soup. Fortunately, our tour started at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, Inc.
When the steaming bowls of long, chewy noodles bathed in hot broth and dotted with vegetables/meats/seafood (where ordered) arrived in front of us, collective "aahhhs" rose from the tables. These are the dishes that inspire rabid fandom among New York food-types. The prices were very reasonable as well, with the most expensive plate being that for the seafood version, which my food tour compatriots said had some of the freshest ingredients they'd ever tasted (not a complete surprise with all the amazing fish stands in this part of town). It topped out at about $8.00.
I selected the Fujianese Wonton Meatball soup. The thinly-wrapped, meat stuffed orbs were great hearty bites located within the intense broth, and I think that their fattiness added some extra flavor to the soup and the noodles themselves. The bit of green decorating the sides of the bowl made me feel a bit better about indulging in the meatballs. The noodles were toothsome and chewy and made me want to keep eating more and more of them. As Chinatown isn't located all that far from the courthouses, I could see my next stint on jury duty being a great excuse for my heading over there again to try out other types of their soups and maybe even some of their other noodle dishes.
Our next stop wasn't too far away at Da Nico Ristorante in Little Italy. Their menu has pizza, pasta, and several typical Italian soups to try. Usually, I avoid the restaurants in Little Italy, but this one seemed very charming on the interior and several Italian women were finishing up their meal just as we sat down to sample their soups, always a good sign. I had the Stracciatella alla Romana, and Serena tried the Pasta Fagioli. I've seen many versions of the latter soup, also called pasta fazool in more slangy terms. Hers looked gorgeous with curly pasta covered in tomato broth and a pile of beans located within it. My soup was bright green with bits of cooked egg dotted around it and a very light broth covering everything. It definitely benefited from a dusting of cheese to add a creamy, dairy bite to all the vegetables.
At the end of our meal, we were presented with plates of fritelle. These fried dough things covered in powdered sugar are similar to beignets or funnel cake or any one of a number of different fried dough things that many cultures have. At this time of year, they appear in Italian restaurants and food shops, like several of the ones I visited in Rome, as part of the pre-Lenten indulgences getting everyone ready to fast and make their annual sacrifices.
Our final stop yesterday was the venerable Katz's Delicatessen. The walk from Little Italy to this part of the Lower East Side should have been enough time to digest the offerings we'd eaten at the previous two stops. I'm blaming the fritelle for having pushed us over the edge, but as we all staked our places in front of the steaming counters of meats, soups, sauerkraut, hotdogs, and other delicacies, sadly, no one seemed to have the room left to try their Matzo Ball Soup. I was a bit disappointed, as I'd hoped that maybe between the ones of us who were left, we could have at least tried to share a bowl. I have eaten it in the past, so I can testify to its heart-warming, homey, comforting effects.
Aside from the fact that everyone who reads this site regularly or talks to me for any length of time can attest to the fact that I love eating, one of the other things I really love is that New York has such a great combination of foods from other places, whether they are old-school traditional dishes or newer, more inventive fare. Food tours are great ways to get out there and discover all this richness and deliciousness. I also really enjoy meeting the people who participate in these excursions. We had an in-depth discussion of offal at the first stop and discussed travel stories (and passport issues) at the second one. Despite the fact that we didn't eat at Katz's, we did talk about what dumpling equivalents exist in other cultures and proposed that as a theme for another eating tour for the near future.
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, Inc. is located at 1 Doyers Street in Chinatown, just off of Bowery (no website).
Da Nico Ristorante is located in Little Italy at 164 Mulberry Street between Grand and Broome Streets.
Katz's Delicatessen is located at 205 East Houston Street between Orchard and Ludlow Streets. Note that it often gets very crowded, being popular with both tourists and locals.