To wrap up our weekend in New York, we ventured onto the island of Manhattan. On the way, we learned the lesson that precision is required when entering an address into a GPS unit. Always make sure you include the name of the borough of New York City, or else you may end up wandering around Brooklyn or Queens instead of your desired destination elsewhere.
Once we made it into Manhattan and found street parking, we made our way to Harry and Ida’s in the East Village. The sign on the sidewalk out front claimed this to be the home of the World’s Best Pastrami Sandwich. Seeing that claim, I decided what I would order before stepping inside the store.
As we walked through the door, co-owner Will Horowitz saw John and welcomed us into the kitchen. Jason and I did not meet Will at the Charcuterie Masters event, where he and John served as two of the judges. After showing us around the kitchen and curing areas of the shop, he suggested that we go around the corner to get lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar. I ordered The Ida sandwich (the “lighter” version of their pastrami sandwich with only 1/4 of a pound of meat) as we passed the counter, letting them know I would be back to get my order.
The size of Momofuku Noodle Bar surprised me. I have been to New York City before and know that many stores and restaurants have small footprints, but Momofuku seemed excessively small. Perhaps it was just the total number of people around the tables and seated at the bar that made the room appear filled to capacity throughout the entire time we were there?
There was a short wait before we sat down, but we took advantage of this time to look at the menu and decide what we would order. The seating at tables has a communal feeling, unless you are a group of six, you share a table with another group or two. Our odd number resulted in the hostess finding a chair for John to sit at the end of table.
We ordered almost as soon as we sat down, selecting buns (a couple Shitake and a couple Brisket), small plates (Kimchee/Pickles and Rice Cakes) to start, and a noodle bowl for each of us (a Momfuku Ramen, a Spicy Miso Ramen and a Black Winter Truffle Ramen). As we each tasted the starters, we concluded that the buns alone would have been worth the wait. The dough was tender and light, but strong enough to contain the juicy and amazingly flavorful fillings. For me, it was a toss-up which variety was better-I could have eaten dozens of each of them.
When our noodle bowls arrived, we were all overwhelmed by the intoxicating aroma of the Black Winter Truffle Ramen. We were not alone, as the people sitting next to us at the table also commented on the rich and earthy scent. I am a huge fan of noodles, and I have had freshly made ramen before, but the texture of these noodles was like no ramen I have ever eaten. The richness of the broth in each of bowls made us realize that these were no regular bowls of soup. There was a decadence to them. I had expected that from the Truffle one, but the pork stock of the Momfuku Ramen and the dashi of the Spicy Miso Ramen were just as rich in flavor in their own way.
After completing our feeding frenzy, we made the short walk back to Harry and Ida’s. While we were eating, Will and his kitchen staff were prepping eels for cleaning and smoking. I had never witnessed this activity before but it was fascinating to see the squirming eels, stunned by being salted, taken to the board where they were skinned and gutted. From there, they were moved into the smoker.
Will finished our behind the scenes tour of his place by guiding us to basement. There we saw his fermenting chamber. He explained that they preserve all of the vegetables on the menu at both Harry and Ida’s and Ducks Eatery, and that they forage for many of them and buy everything else from farmers at nearby markets. After the tour, I picked up my sandwich and we made our way back to the car.
For some crazy reason, I expected that there would not be a great deal of traffic on a Sunday. I was wrong. We drove up FDR Drive along the East side of Manhattan and were in stop and go traffic the entire way. I guess when you are driving in a city with the population of New York, there will almost always be traffic. The traffic did get lighter once we got to the George Washington Bridge.
Once we got into New Jersey, we intended to make our way up the West side of the Hudson River and into upstate New York. We started up the Garden State Parkway, but decided to head for home when we were unable to contact any of the people we hoped to visit. This allowed us to make our way into the sunset on I-80.
I took a break from driving while we made our way across Pennsylvania. That gave me the opportunity to eat the pastrami sandwich from Harry and Ida’s. It was at this point that I learned that the sign in front of their store did not exaggerate or lie. This was the World’s Best Pastrami Sandwich (at least the best that I have ever had and I have tried the pastrami at Katz’s, the Carnegie Deli, Attman’s [Baltimore], Zingerman’s [Ann Arbor] and many other delis). When John and Jason smelled the awesome aroma of the pastrami sandwich, they both asked what I was eating. When I was done eating, I told them all about it. All in all, it was an appropriate end to an excellent weekend.