Picnics, the late provocateur Christopher Hitchens wrote, are among the four most overrated things in life.
To see a slideshow of the High Line click here.
The folks behind the ambitious concessions at Manhattan’s High Line park would disagree. A cold glass of 1990 German riesling on a hot summer afternoon settles the argument.
Picnics on the High Line tend to be upscale affairs, though without the upscale cost. Table service, American Express and lobster are frequently involved.
It’s a fine setting for casual dining. Much of it takes place on either side of the Chelsea Market Passage, a shady little patch of the park between 15th and 16th streets. It’s bordered by gardens, some strange art (including a giant billboard with super-size fingers wriggling at you), along with tables, chairs and benches.
What follows is a tip sheet on the highlights of a few recent visits.
Terroir: Marco Canora and Paul Grieco run four of these wine bars around Manhattan. A full-service pop-up with a bird’s nest view of Colicchio & Sons, this is the only one quiet enough to enjoy the fare.
Take a seat and order one of 20 rieslings ($8.25-$16.50). You’re not going to drink a big red in this heat are you? The vino is served in semi-classy thin-lipped plastic stems, a caution against theft and wind.
You’ll eat well. Fried lamb sausages with sage leaves are intensely heady and salty. There’s also a $24 lobster roll with insufficient lobster.
Veal meatballs ($12) are too heavy for the season. Stick with the farro, the firm grains zinged with vinegar and mint. Look out over the Hudson and luxuriate in that gentle breeze.
Blue Bottle: Coffee snobbery is out of control these days. When I ordered a cup of Intelligentsia’s joe at the Frieze Art Fair, the staffers denied me sugar. I had to fight the urge to violence.
The Blue Bottle people are nicer to javaphiles with a sweet tooth. The Oakland-based roaster is famous for individually drip-brewing each cup ($2.90-$5.50), which is another way of saying you will wait a bit -- not a problem for mud this good. The right call is New Orleans iced-coffee ($4), served with a splash of milk.
Can I get some sugar with this? “Sure, there’s some simple syrup right here,” the barista says.
The Standard Plaza: Seamus Mullen is the “chef in residence” at this seasonal outdoor restaurant, located beneath the High Line in The Standard hotel’s north plaza. While Mullen doesn’t give us the same pristine precision as he does at Tertulia, which I named New York’s best new restaurant of 2011, he comes close enough with this little gem of a pop-up.
Unhappy with the austere simplicity of cheap tomato bread, Mullen throws a little Iberico jamon on top and charges $17. The result is outstanding -- the ham’s nuttiness comes across as the tomato’s acid cuts through the fat. Skip the ho-hum smoked burrata with watermelon.
Try the lamb “ham steak,” a superbly musky cut that ranges from fatty to tough to tender ($21). It rocks. Chip in $20 for a pitcher’s worth of gin, sherry, lime, ginger beer, cucumber and rosemary -- a Spanish riff on Pimm’s Cup. It’s cheap, watery and plenty for three to raise a buzz.
Taco Truck: There are plenty of great taco trucks in Manhattan. This isn’t one of them.
L’Arte del Gelato. Fans of this West Village denizen exult over the imported fruits, nuts, beans and chocolate used in their luscious cups ($5 and $6). I couldn’t disagree; the tastes -- hazelnut, Valhrona chocolate, coffee, peach -- are unmistakably the real thing. And the servers are willing to mix flavors for you. Even on a single.
Bark: Also skippable, despite the dog pedigree. At a Yankees game, you wait in line, pay, and get your Hebrew National frank. It’s a simple economic transaction. That’s not the case at the cruelly-named Bark, where you queue up, order, and then get a flashing beeper instead of your food.
We waited 10 minutes before the pager went off. Then we waited in line again to claim our frankfurter ($4) and bratwurst ($7). For all that, the sausages tasted like any other.
Northern Spy: This Alphabet City restaurant, which specializes in locavore cuisine (the name comes from a prized New York State apple), grills local cheddar on your choice of bakery breads ($7). Try the deep-ridged, barely-buttery sandwich with a vibrant kale salad ($9) tricked out with carrots, almonds, cheddar and pecorino cheeses.
Add a pork sticky roll -- Northern Spy’s version of that Chinatown bakery favorite, char siu bao. In this case, it’s topped with super sweet parsnip cream.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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