Everyone knows that NYC and Chicago are different cities. They look different, they feel different, They live hundreds of miles away from each other (790 actually, I googled it) and, much more importantly they are both known for their immense range of restaurants and restaurant quality.
There has always been an argument in the industry about which cities are the biggest food meccas in America. This, in my experience, boils down to three cities, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Not in that order.
Recently The Conde Nast Traveler Named Chicago the best food city in America over LA. Which is great but I haven’t been to LA so I think I would have a hard time commentating on that. But I did just take a sweet trip to NYC and I’ve got some pretty solid thoughts on what makes the two cities so different and unique.
I grew up listening to Mr. Frank Sinatra, and NYC is much like his song New York, New York. It’s big, It’s loud, It’s tough and there are restaurants everywhere. It feels like every block has four restaurants, a couple of coffee shops and at least one bodega selling rolls, not to mention the army of food trucks and food carts that littered the sidewalk (especially in Manhattan).
Space in NYC is notoriously in short supply, so a lot of these restaurants were incredibly compact, we’re talking anywhere from four to 20 seats. It was incredible for me to see people go out of their way to use every inch of the space they have. This manifested in a really interesting style that was thrust on them due to the nature of New York.
There are also incredibly large restaurants. These are monsters that go the extra mile to make sure that space isn’t an issue. you find a lot more of these in lower Manhattan and they are made to look larger. They have huge ceilings and lower couches so the space just feels big. it’s a great way to utilize space and make people more comfortable. these also tend to be very nice places, if you get my drift.
it also made for some interesting experiences. Everywhere I went had an incredible identity to them. Everything from the glass beer board at Torst (the o is slashed but I can’t figure out how to computer) to the shelves and shelves of preserved lemons and wine at Upland. Restaurants in NYC have style and they need it. There are eight million people in New York City. There are only two and a half million in Chicago.
(Torst’s awesome bar)
In order for any restaurant to survive in New York, they have to be special, especially the medium to high-end restaurants. If you’re going to spend a couple of hundred bucks on dinner,you’re going to go to the place that has a great space, service,and food. And to make it worse there are a lot of choices.
There’s this electricity when you walk into a restaurant here, and it jolts when you walk into a kitchen, especially the upper-mid to high-end restaurants. People who work here do not fuck around. They are crisp, clean and focused. There is no mincing words, there is a lot of direction. And if Chef talks to you, you probably fucked up. There is an intense drive and dedication to the craft. It’s lovely to be around.
You can feel it when you walk in. They’re also very curt and professional. They want you to have the best time with the least amount of interaction. This is something that is common in ultra-fine, high-end restaurants, but it trickles down in New York and it shows in almost every restaurant or bar.
The way menus are written is very different from Chicago. The restaurant tends to stick to a certain style of food (The spotted pig has a very english menu, Daniel’s menu is as french as it gets, That kind of stuff) They don’t really play outside of their style, but they do incorporate different ingredients to flare up their dishes, and technically, the food is on point.
New York also has the luxury of being able to get incredible produce and protein. There are multiple huge farmers markets throughout the city (most notably green market) and restaurants all over the city drive to stay as seasonal and local as possible. There are so many restaurants, the demand means that you can grab incredible quality ingredients for less.
So here in chicago, or most of America for that matter, if I want USDA Prime porterhouse, I’m paying a lot for it, because there aren’t a lot of restaurants that use it, so it’s special. In New York there is a large demand for USDA Prime Porterhouse. So the prices are naturally cheaper.
The prices in NYC are a lot more expensive. Appetizers tend to be a little over ten bucks, and entrees are usually between twenty and thirty bucks. A decent amount of restaurants also have some showstopper. Really large-scale dishes for anywhere from fifty to one hundred dollars. These are impressive and delicious ( Think Whole Bronzino, Lamb Steak, that sort of thing).
I’m completely fine with these prices and I hope that restaurants around the country follow suit. The reason that menu prices are going up is because of the rent, for one, and more importantly New York is working on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2018. So prices are still going to go up, and that’s ok by me.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get cheap eats, There are still pizza shops everywhere, you can get a slice for like $3, China town is known for cheap delicious food, food trucks have great food and are cheap as well. What I’m saying is it’s around.
(Joe’s Shanghai- I would make this picture of Eugenio bigger if I could)
The diversity in restaurants in new york is amazing. You can wake up and grab some killer soul food, run down to china town for soup dumplings, grab some Moroccan food, and then have a some late night indian food to finish off your day. The best part is that it’s easy to find authentic, well made foreign food that hasn’t been tampered for american palette, because it doesn’t need to be. It’s made for that community that migrated and wants to be able to go and get a dish their grandma used to make.
Finaly, the bars in NYC are tops. I mostly just hit some dives. They all kind of felt a little run down, there were a lot of christmas lights and old wood with one bartender hanging out. Cheap beer, beer and shot deals, cool bartenders who chat with you and give you shit. completely my vibe. Even better, They are hidden all throughout New York, so ones always pretty close. (Booby Trap is pictured at the top)
NYC is an amazing food city. Now that we have a good idea of what I think about NYC we’re going to break down chicago in a similar way in pt.2, Then in pt.3 we’re going to throw them against each other. I’d prefer if you’d imagine the two cities transforming into city sized robots, then going all fisticuffs on each other.