New & NowRestaurantsAmanda & MerrillInterviews

The Restaurants & Dishes Our Co-Founders Can't Quit

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We're working with Citi and No Kid Hungry for their Dine & Do Good program, which aims to raise up to $2 million to fight childhood hunger in America. That’s enough for 20 million meals for kids in need. Enroll your Citi® card, and every time you spend $5 or more dining out, Citi will donate $1 to No Kid Hungry.

Want to do even more? When you dine out and share a photo of your meal with us using the tag #f52grams from 8/3 to 8/10, you’ll enter our Instagram contest.** We’ll re-gram the winner and donate $1,000 to NKH in the name of the food photographer who made doing good look best.

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All month, we'll be sharing stories about eating at restaurants; today, our founders discuss what they like—and dislike—about New York's top tables.

Our co-founders Amanda and Merrill can be found at restaurants more often than you think. While yes, they cook in on a regular basis, restaurant-going is a part of city—and Food52—life, whether there are off-site meetings to be had, new spots to try that everyone is raving about, or while traveling across the US and globe. Restaurants are places to be inspired, to see how other creative people are approaching seasonal ingredients, and honestly, a little bit of a break from the rigamarole of the every day.

So we asked Amanda and Merrill to share what they've been seeing, loving, and/or remembering at restaurants lately—here's what they had to say.

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Grab an overhead photo of it before you dig in.
Grab an overhead photo of it before you dig in. Photo by Mark Weinberg

What are you seeing in restaurants that's feeling new?

Amanda Hesser: There’s been an interesting and progressive movement toward acids, bitter flavors, and fermented foods. I guess you could say it started with the pickle trend a few years ago and has now evolved into a deeper appreciation of the power of acidity. It’s pretty simple: acid, just like salt, elevates flavor. You see chefs using acids and fermentation in sauces, where a vinegar will take the lead, or in condiments. For instance, I keep seeing dishes with “lacto-fermented hot sauce.” This trend also conveniently coincides with the wellness obsession—pickly things are good for your gut flora and digestive health.

Merrill Stubbs: Yeah, the pickle movement doesn't seem to be losing any steam. I had pickled blueberries in an arugula salad with fresh mozzarella and elderflower vinaigrette recently. That’s another thing I'm seeing: A lot of flowers in dishes.

Is there a dish or ingredient that's stuck with you from traveling?

MS: I just had my first meal at Outerlands in San Francisco—at Amanda's recommendation!—and I had this incredible salad of summer melon, feta, charred shishitos, pistachios, and a creamy dressing with za’atar oil. I literally swiped the plate clean with a piece of bread (their pain au levain is pretty spectacular).

AH: I believe it was at Outerlands on my family's "Seattle to SF" trip that I had an oat kouign amann (pronounced queen a-mahn)—the layered, buttery, and syrup soaked pastry that’s making a comeback. (Cookbook author Yossey Arefi has called it the "sweet and caramelized cousin of the croissant", and it hails from the Brittany region of France.) I also saw kouign amann in Portland and, in New York, there’s Chanson, a whole bakery devoted to kouign amann, which Merrill's single-handedly been keeping in business!

Kouign amann nestled among other various baked goods at Outerlands in San Francisco.
Kouign amann nestled among other various baked goods at Outerlands in San Francisco. Photo by Amanda Hesser

Have you seen any trends in food lately that are coming back around?

MS: Black garlic. I wrote about it for T Magazine as an emerging trend about a decade ago, and all of a sudden it’s popping up again.

AH: I don’t know if I’d call it super trendy, but hash is all over menus on the West Coast. What is hash but a way to take a bunch of good components and make them all crisp and extra good by frying them in a heavy pan? It’s a trend I can definitely get behind.

Big plates or small plates—are you a share-everything kind of person or to each their own?

AH: I like sharing up to a point. I don’t want to feel like I’m at a buffet. I also don’t want to spend the entire meal trading plates and talking about the food; I want to talk with my friends, feel relaxed, and enjoy the couple of things I’m eating!

MS: I agree. I used to want to share everything so I could try as many dishes as possible, but now I find that kind of exhausting. And if I like something, I want more than two bites of it—I want to be able to focus on the dish in front of me and on the social experience, and let’s be honest, I can't really focus on more than two things at once.

5 Bitter Drinks We Wish Were a Bigger Deal in the US
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5 Bitter Drinks We Wish Were a Bigger Deal in the US

Any exciting drink trends you're loving?

AH: I’m so happy that cocktails have moved away from sweet toward bitters and vinegars. I’m all in on shrubs, Campari, Aperol, and amari in my cocktails.

MS: Amanda, you're way more up on cocktails than I am. I just don't drink that many of them. But, you know, I'm getting more into beer, and I feel like some of the trends there parallel what we've been talking about with both food and cocktails—like sour beer, which has become a standard thing on menus.

What's the best-looking restaurant you've been to lately, and why did it stand out?

MS: I love the look of Freek’s Mill in Gowanus in Brooklyn. It's part of an old warehouse, and it’s a long, narrow space with huge, iron-framed windows set into a brick wall separating diners from the street. When the weather is nice they open the windows, which makes it feel even more light and airy. The space is divided in two, with wide wood plank floors and a long wooden bar at the front, and in the back a concrete floor with a white marble counter where you can eat and watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen.

AH: Verde, which recently opened on West 25th Street near our offices, has a modern design that’s not often seen in New York. I’m going to call it 'Mexico City-cool' (the chef, Gonzalo Gout, is from there), meaning that it embraces warm woods, leather, and brass—and Millennial pink, of course!—while still feeling modern, minimal, and streamlined.

5 Reasons Brass is Here to Stay—in Our Homes *and* Hearts

5 Reasons Brass is Here to Stay—in Our Homes *and* Hearts by Olivia Bloom

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Prepare to See (Even) More Pale Pink This Year

Prepare to See (Even) More Pale Pink This Year by Mayukh Sen

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What's one new trend in restaurants you love, and one you hate?

AH: I think the best new trend is the effort improve the reservation experience—and I’m attached to the app Resy, which offers up openings at only the best restaurants in the area you want to eat. (And by best, I mean the most remarkable, not the most expensive.) I like the limited choices, and the app interface is really easy to use, with smart features like the ability to choose the style of table you’re reserving—like booth or bar.

I don’t love how loud restaurants are. There’s so much excellent design happening in restaurants, but very few designers seem to consider that you actually want to talk to your friends while dining!

MS: Yeah, the noise is bad! Or are we just getting old, Amanda? One thing I love is that bread doesn't just come with butter anymore. The other week I ordered biscuits, and a little mini Ball jar layered with cream cheese and homemade pepper jelly arrived alongside them. And if you do get butter, it’s homemade cultured butter with a little dish of hand-harvested sea salt. I now have a hundred more reasons to eat bread.

A New Approach to Restaurant Acoustics Feels a Lot Like Home
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A New Approach to Restaurant Acoustics Feels a Lot Like Home

What's the best fine-dining experience you’ve had recently, the best casual-dining experience you’ve had recently, and why?

AH: There are so many great casual restaurants that, for the most part, I’ve lost interest in going to a high-end restaurant with an endless tasting menu. Instead, I’m looking for an experience. The very best place for this, in my view, is not surprising: It's Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Before you sit down, you can wander around the farm. There is no menu at the restaurant—it’s more a series of wildly surprising and fun courses, some at your table, some out in the “Manure Shed” (not to worry about the name, you’ll want to move into this manure shed), some out by the grill. They make you think about where your food comes from without it seeming gimmicky or oppressive, and the food is all crazy good.

For a casual dinner, there are so many I love! But so that I don’t drag on here, I’d have to say the Hell Chicken and rice cooked in schmaltz at Achilles Heel in Greenpoint. It’s just a bar, really. But, on Sunday nights, they serve chicken that’s been braised and then smoked. The rice is also cooked outdoors, in an iron skillet, so the rice turns into a crisp, golden, glorious cake. It’s all a big, fun mess to eat and they have a great beer list.

MS: I had a great dinner the other week at Spicer Mansion in Mystic, CT. The restaurant is part of an inn in a beautiful historic house (complete with belvedere) and the dining room is lovely and intimate. You choose from either a four- or a six-course menu, but they'll let you go off script if you like. I went with the six-course menu because it appealed to me more and skipped a course so that my husband could do the four-course and the pacing would still work. Everything was seasonal and delicious: homemade pasta with chanterelles and corn puree, the most amazing Wagyu with black garlic (told you!), and an oyster trio that included a roasted oyster with chimichurri, which was probably my favorite thing of the night.

For casual, I'm going to have to go with Daily Provisions. The feel is sleek and warm at the same time; the service embraces the Meyer standard of friendly efficiency; and the menu is simple and perfect. Best dish is a toss-up between the maple cruller (which Amanda and I have discussed in great detail, and decided is basically a maple-glazed canelé in donut form) and the gougère filled with scrambled eggs—spicy 'Wake Up' sauce essential.

We're working with Citi and No Kid Hungry for their Dine & Do Good program, which aims to raise up to $2 million to fight childhood hunger in America by donating $1 to No Kid Hungry every time a Citi cardmember spends at least $5 dining out with their Citi credit card. Dining out to support Dine & Do Good? Share a photo of your meal with us on Instagram from 8/3 to 8/10 by using the tag #f52grams.

**Some terms and conditions apply to this Instagram contest.

Tags: citi, dine and do good program, no kid hungry