After our very full day of visiting both the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Centre, we were ready to sit down, relax and eat well. The Noho Star on the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette Streets in the East Village had been recommended to me by my sister who lived in the area for seven years. You can’t go wrong with a local recommendation!
We freshened up in the apartment then walked through Washington Square and up past NYU to walk along Lafayette Street until we found the restaurant. It was of no surprise that this venue too was covered in scaffolding – third consecutive dining experience where the premises are obscured with metal bars.
Compared with other places we had eaten in, this is a large restaurant. You can’t book and so on this Friday night we were relieved they had a table available. In the warmer months you can sit outside beside rows of pretty flower boxes but we wanted to soak up the inside atmosphere and so asked for an table indoors.
The restaurant is very ‘New York’ with a bar where you can sit while enjoying a drink; banquettes, booths, low-lighting and with a relaxed, informal vibe and great atmosphere. The building is old and full of charm with pressed metal ceilings, lots of floor-to-ceiling glass and a polished marble floor. The diners look like smart-set creative types who are dressed stylishly but casually and most are sitting in groups.
Arabella, Pete (yes, he was still with us), and I were shown to a banquette and seated at a table for four. Our young and good-looking waiter approached and he had a formal air but was very knowledgeable. He asked us what we’d like to drink and when Pete ordered a gin and tonic and I ordered a glass of wine, he said he’d need to see some ID. I just sat there while Pete pulled out his passport but then the waiter turned to me and said, ‘And I’m going to have to see some ID from you too, mam’.
I was shocked but thrilled and said, ‘Oh, aren’t you lovely’.
‘We need to see ID from anyone who looks under 35’. Now I’ve said there was low-lighting and that the waiter was formal and knowledgeable but clearly he was also blind. After being forced to disclose my true age I was very ready for my wine which I hoped was a generous pour.
The menu is American nouveau with Asian dishes. This is not a blend of cuisines; the two styles sit side by side on the same menu. Although we weren’t sitting at the bar, we asked if we could share one of the bar snack items as an entree and ordered the buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce. For the price, this was an enormous serving and I was glad to be sharing it between the three of us. The wings were piping hot, juicy and flavoured with a spicy sauce that was cooled by the ample sauce.
There’s a lot more to the menu than burgers but that’s what Pete and Arabella wanted. Pete ordered the Noho Burger with guacamole, tomato, watercress, 2-year old cheddar and maple bacon. This was another very generous serve but Pete managed to get through it, loving the height of the meat pattie and how it was cooked as he ordered it, rare.
Arabella ordered the Dublin burger with curried sour cream, bacon, scallions, and cheddar. She said this was the best burger she’d had in New York.
I ordered one of the specials, Crispy Spiced Chicken with Peanuts and Chillies. I asked our waiter how the chicken was cooked and he launched into a lengthy and detailed description of the entire cooking process including telling me the chicken is put into a 300-degree wok with all the spices, peanuts and chillies so all of the main ingredients become infused with the spices. I was impressed. He also recommended a glass of Californian Rose to compliment the dish (now that we’d established I’m older than 21).
This chicken dish was the best dish I had during the entire time I was away. It was amazing and as I looked around the room I could see it was a very popular choice with other diners. The chicken has some heat (from being infused with the chillies in a ‘300-degree wok’), but you can leave the chillies to one side if you don’t want to take the heat to a new level. I managed a few of them but as you can see, couldn’t quite clean my plate. The chicken wasn’t dry or rubbery, was definitely crispy and had incredible flavour from all the Asian spices like star anise, cassia bark and five spice powder. I could go back to New York for this dish alone.
During our meal we had seen beautiful looking desserts being placed in front of other diners and so we knew we wanted to try them. Pete ordered the affogato that never photographs well and was very reasonably priced at $8.00.
Arabella went for the Hot Fudge Sundae that was beautifully presented in an elegant glass with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge and toasted hazelnuts. Because of the Chinese influence, it was topped with a couple of fortune cookies. I don’t know how but Arabella managed to finish this.
I ordered the Passion Fruit Sorbet that was also served in an elegant glass and arrived with lots of colour from the fresh fruits and berries. The sorbet had a strong passion fruit flavour and was very refreshing after the heat of the spicy chicken.
When our waiter came to clear our table we started chatting and he mentioned he had only recently moved to Manhattan. I asked him where he was from and he said, ‘I’m from a small town; it’s near a place called Wisconsin but you probably haven’t heard of Wisconsin’. I said, ‘I certainly have heard of Wisconsin; I’ve even heard of a town called Racine’. And he nearly fell over. That’s exactly where he’s from; a town of around 75,000 people on the edge of Lake Michigan. He couldn’t believe someone from all the way downunder had heard of Wisconsin, let alone Racine. We thanked him for looking after us so well (he could describe in detail every dish on the menu and give you the notes on every wine on the list) and asked for the check.
As we walked back through Washington Square on an incredibly warm summer’s evening, Pete said, ‘that’s the best food I’ve had since I left Sydney’. And I had to agree with him.
Noho Star is situated in the very trendy part of Manhattan known as the East Village. The restaurant confidently serves American Nouveau alongside modern Asian cuisine in a stylish, upmarket and comfortable setting within a great atmosphere. The food is interesting, well-executed and very reasonably priced. With the beautiful walk through the park to get there, the stylish setting, wonderful service and exciting menu, this was my favourite night out in Manhattan.
Verdict: Why did we only dine there once!
The Noho Star: Cnr Bleecker and Lafayette Streets (330 Lafayette Street), New York 10012
Ph: (212) 925 0070