At age 51, the straight-talking Anthony Bourdain has a belt notched full of diverse experiences. He started out as a hard-living cook and went on to run the kitchen at New York’s noted Brasserie Les Halles. Then he carved out a second career as bestselling author (of the culinary confessional Kitchen Confidential, among others) and television personality, currently hosting the Travel Channel’s No Reservations.
Fodor’s recently chatted with the outspoken Bourdain about his favorite spots in New York City, where he resides with his wife and daughter. He reveals where to go for underground (literally) sake and Tokyo-style snacks, the city’s best lox-scrambled eggs, and splurge-worthy Italian.
Fodor’s: What do you love most about New York cuisine?
AB: I’d attack the question like this, ‘What do we do in New York better than anyone else in the world?’ And the answer to that question is deli. If you have limited time in New York, hit Barney Greengrass, the Sturgeon King, for the classic New York breakfast. You know, smoked fish, a toasted bialy or bagel, lox, or their scrambled eggs with lox and onions. It’s great to go on a Sunday and pick up a copy of the Post, or pick up the Sunday Times. That’s about as New York as it gets. And then to complete your deli exploration, go to Katz’s Delicatessen for a pastrami sandwich. It’s the food that I miss when I’m away, no matter how well I’m eating. Even in places with fantastic food — Singapore, Hong Kong — the food that I miss first is deli.
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Fodor’s: Are there any new or underrated restaurants that people should know about?
AB: I don’t think it’s possible to overpraise Momofuku Ssäm Bar. I think it’s one of the few cases where a place totally lives up to the hype. It’s that exciting. Call ahead and go for the Bo Ssäm, the whole pork butt. They also have a frisée salad with a spicy tripe stew underneath that’s just mind-blowing. That’s one of those places where you just go and eat as much as you can. It is not a home for vegetarians. It is hostile territory for vegetarians.
Fodor’s: Where do you go for a romantic evening?
AB: Definitely Del Posto if we’re looking to put on really good clothes and go out and spend a lot of money on a high-end meal. That’s a special event dinner, and I think it’s outrageously good. I think its genius. I love it. And my wife is Italian, so she’s a very harsh critic of Italian restaurants, to say the least. But she loves it. That’s a good night out.
Fodor’s: Do you usually hang out in one neighborhood?
AB: I’ll go where the food is. I think the Time Warner Center is the ugliest building in the universe, but I’d walk through hell to eat at Per Se or Masa. I just signed a contract for a nice advance for a book, and I’m looking to totally reward myself and do something really outrageously expensive and self indulgent. A woman might go out for an Hermès bag, I go to Masa. That’s also a really good first date place. Take someone to Masa and if they don’t eat absolutely everything, there’s no possibility of a relationship.
Fodor’s: What are some of your favorite bars?
AB: You know, I’m looking for food and drink at the same time. Maybe Sakagura, which has really good sake. It’s sort of an underground joint with a whole lot of different sakes — very Japanese. We’ve been going out for a lot of underground yakitori lately…to little izakayas that are for Japanese only and you eat little bits of chicken on a stick — very authentic, Tokyo-style, super casual places that are built around the whole idea of drinking beer or sake and snacking. Yakitori Totto (251 West 55th St., 2nd flr.) is fantastic. That’s become something of a chef hangout.
Fodor’s: How about street vendors? Are there any you’d recommend?
AB: The Red Hook South American vendors (photo, right), and I know they’re under fire. It’s something to be sadly missed. It’s shameful that beyond the usual dirty water hot dogs, about which I’m pretty sentimental, we don’t have anything remotely similar to what they have in Singapore. There’s no street food that I could enthusiastically say, ‘This is worth traveling for.’ There’s the odd souvlaki or gyro guy that’s okay, and some people get really sentimental about them. Me? Nah. We’re good on the high-end. We’re a place to go for deli and for the high-end.
Fodor’s: Do you ever go out to hear live music?
AB: Never. I don’t care if it’s the Beatles or the Stones with all their original members somehow exhumed and back from the dead. I don’t know which is worse: to be packed in a room with a lot of people half your age, in which case you feel like an idiot, or even worse, go see someone you’ve really loved for a long time, like Elvis Costello, and you look around and see all the other original fans and they’re all old and hideous just like you. It’s a totally depressing experience. I just don’t go out and see music anymore.
Fodor’s: If you have any friends or family visiting, are there any hotels that you’d recommend?
AB: I’m always looking for a boutique-y hotel. When I wake up in the morning I want to know where I am; a place that doesn’t feel like every other chain hotel in every other city. The Mercer has a boutique-y feel to it. People who come in from out of town and stay there give me good reports.
Fodor’s: Now that you’re a dad, where are some of your favorite places to go with your daughter?
AB: Central Park. It’s great. My daughter loves it, and she loves Carl Schurz Park. That’s a very baby-friendly park. She doesn’t walk yet. I stroll her around the park. There are good swings, doggies to look at, and it’s on the river. I’m looking forward to bringing her to the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I like museums and I loved it when my dad would bring me as a kid.
Are you a fan of any of Bourdain’s New York favorites? Share your thoughts on his recommendations.
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Photo credits: (1) Photo courtesy of Anthony Bourdain; (2) Photo by Dan Peng; (3) Photo by David Berkowitz.