When it's freezing, you don't want frisee.
"People generally don't eat Nicoise salads at ski lodges," says Bloomberg's New York food critic, Ryan Sutton. "They drink hot chocolate and eat chili dogs." Even off the slopes, in cold weather we tend to crave heavier fare -- soups, stews and curries. And given the range of food Sutton samples daily, he's interested in dishes that achieve the same rib-sticking effect as traditional comfort foods in novel ways.
Where to go, then, for those who don't have the time or inclination to whip up a cassoulet?
"I would get the short ribs at Craft," the restaurant of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, Sutton says. "The nice thing about them is that he crisps them up, so it reminds you of what a steak would taste like."
Sutton is just getting started -- and, for out-of-towners, has ideas about Boston, Chicago and San Francisco (skip to bottom).
There's also Kin Shop, in Greenwich Village, and Pok Pok, in South Brooklyn. "Kin Shop is a French-American love letter to Thai food," says Sutton. "They serve a really good salad with ground-up duck with mint chilies." A warning: "It's one of the hottest things they serve. I was literally out of breath when I tried it." The pork salad at Pok Pok is less complicated. "It's just a big pile of chopped-up pork," he says. "I can think of few better things to eat over the winter. You snatch it up with sticky rice."
Sutton fondly recalls Cafe China's ma po tofu with pork: "It's soft cubes of tofu with Szechuan pork. It gives you that numbing spiciness, and the tofu acts as a foil to the heat of the dish."
There's also the rogan josh at Tulsi, a restaurant in Midtown East that boasts a Michelin star. "It's a Kashmiri-style, farm-raised goat, and it's just one of those dishes where when you eat it you have to dot your brow with a napkin," says Sutton. "It gives you a lingering, inner warmth that seems to last for minutes."
For those who take less comfort in piles of meat, Sutton recommends the clam and oyster chowder at Alder, in the East Village. "The crackers are made out of pureed oysters, so when you bite into them you get a burst of briny, metallic flavor," he says. "It's the perfect dish to lean over the bar with both elbows, mop it all down and polish it off with a beer. There's your winter evening."
Out of town, Sutton is equally enthusiastic. “I was in Boston on the first day of the blizzard,” he says, “and I was one of maybe five guests in the dining room of Menton.” He describes a dish of raw New Zealand venison, part of the restaurant’s $95, four-course prix fixe meal. “It has that gently musky flavor that you expect from game, and it comes with these beautiful flageolet beans and a juniper sausage that carries spice," he says.
In Chicago, Sutton recommends the goat empanadas at Girl and the Goat. “When I think comfort food, I think about meats that have a lot of flavor, not just beef, but goat,” Sutton say. This dish, served with feta, pickled golden beets and tzatziki, has a combination of “musky meat and heady cheese.”
Then there's the $248 tasting menu at Saison, in San Francisco. The dish in question? A brassica soup with wheat, barley, rice, wild seaweed broth and a poached quail egg. “It’s like an umami bomb,” says Sutton. “It has savory flavor, and you could swear there’s pork in it, but it’s vegetarian.” About that price tag: “Yeah, it’s expensive. But good food costs good money.”
If you can't make it to these places, don't fret -- you can find similar options all across the country.
"Chefs put out heartier dishes in the winter," Sutton says. "That's just human nature."