Our third and last day of visiting NYC began a little slow, as the work dinner party from the evening prior had eventually spilled out of the hotel banquet room and migrated up to the rooftop bar, where nightcaps (probably a few too many) were enjoyed by all. After a fortifying buffet breakfast, Mrs. H. and I began a long walk northbound along the Hudson towards the Village, our ultimate destination being the Meatpacking District (near 13th and Greenwich Street) and Spice Market (403 W. 13th St.) for lunch. Once grimy and utilitarian, this part of town (like many others in lower Manhattan) had recently transformed into a trendy playground of upscale stores, insanely-expensive lofts, and hipster dining venues - naturally, Spice Market (Alsatian Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's tribute to Southeast Asian street food) fit right in. Our friends Adam and Ellen have eaten here many times and have never been disappointed by the kitchen staff's reliable (if not spectacular) versions of Indian curries, Thai dishes, and Vietnamese noodles, covering a large chunk of geography in the process. When first arriving, I was immediately awestruck by the design of the space (no accident, by the way - clearly, the restaurant's look was key to the owners), which reminded me of a Buddhist temple inserted in the middle of a 1940s colonial mansion.
According to the website, the former warehouse now sports teak flooring from a 200-year old "Bombay palace", antique wall carvings, and other "Eastern exotica", all of which must have cost a small fortune to acquire and reconstruct here. In keeping with the, um, sensual vibe, I noticed that the outfits for the servers (burnt orange, flowing, and yoga pantsuit-like) were pretty much backless if you were female. In spite of the distractions, the 3 of us (Adam had also joined us today) persevered and ordered up some appetizers/cocktails to get started.
What you see above in the background are fragrant mushroom egg rolls with a galangal (like ginger, but more peppery) emulsion (which arrived at our table by accident, so they let us keep them, much to my chagrin) and a batch of heady spiced chicken samosas plus some cilantro yogurt for dipping.
We also tried a plate of tempura bass steamed buns garnished with crispy herbs and chopped peanuts, a terrific combination of flavors and textures.
Adam said that the ginger fried rice was a can't miss item and, although they ruined it with a fried egg on top, I was inclined to agree in the end.
We followed these with a couple of entrees served family style, a snappy copper bowl filled with pork vindaloo (featuring crispy herbs, leeks, and lemon yogurt) and a Vietnamese grilled salmon filet served cha ca la vong style (with rice noodles and tumeric peanut broth).
As tempting as it was, given the quantity of grub just consumed and the excesses of the past few days, we opted out of dessert and bid adieu to Adam, partaking in another extended walk through lower Manhattan to hopefully reset our systems before the next fantastic meal. We had made arrangements to dine that evening with Mrs. Hackknife's boss and significant other at Annisa, an elegant establishment on a mellow street (13 Barrow St., to be exact) yet again in the middle of Greenwich Village (I definitely spent a lot of time there on this trip).
A complete contrast from the bacchanalia that is Spice Market, Annisa is a place where Chef Anita Lo uses subtle Asian influences to enhance classical French cuisine in an environment that can best be described as "chill". The dining room is compact, elegant, and done up in soothing yellow cream, the perfect atmosphere to experience some first-class cooking.
My first dish was a terrific plate of 3 soup dumplings (served with a large spoon to contain the escaping hot broth, thus keeping my shirt from getting soiled) topped with jicama and seared bits of foie gras, an inventive marriage of East and West.
Mrs. Hackknife opted for a bright lotus root salad with spring pea puree and hon-shimeji mushrooms.
When dining in high-end restaurants, I tend to avoid ordering chicken since you can usually find more decadent-sounding menu items; however, in this case, I put my complete trust in the hands of the kitchen to prepare a knockout pan roasted chicken with a sauce of sherry, white truffle, and pig feet, plus some fresh chopped asparagus. I also suspect there might have been a little butter in the sauce (not more than a pound, I'm guessing).
Although it looked good both in print and on the plate, Mrs H.'s entree of duck and spring vegetable garbure (a French stew normally made with ham and cabbage) with foie gras and pickled verjus grape toast was a tad underwhelming when compared to my chicken (she wasn't suffering, mind you).
After all that rich French-Asian fare and a couple of bottles of red Burgundy, our table still managed to consume the house specialty dessert of pecan and salted butterscotch beignets with a boozy bourbon milk ice on the side, which was the ideal ending to a very fine meal. I'd have no problem recommending Spice Market to a large, energetic group for brunch or dinner, but Annisa would be my preferred choice for no-nonsense dining...