Eating on The Lower East Side, Part III: Culinary Giants

By: Ashley Bode

When it comes to food, the Lower East Side is mostly recognized as an area in Manhattan staying true to its immigrant roots, keeping the traditions and history of the city alive. But there's a new, younger crew of LES eaters and restaurateurs that help maintain the neighborhood's relevance and food destination label.

Nighttime down on Clinton Street can almost have a sleepy feel to it, for a Manhattan neighborhood. Only blocks away from the rowdy bar-goers and Houston traffic, the sidewalks are relatively quiet and the shop windows dimly lit. Here you'll find two of the neighborhood's best spots. The first, WD50 is more than noteworthy. WD50 is the award winning brainchild of Wylie Dufresne, a so-called forefather in the molecular gastronomy movement.  The 67-seat eatery shows off the innovation Dufresne is known for, creativity that is a level beyond astonishing, but still approachable for the average diner. There's no pretentiousness found within these walls. Familiar favorites grace the menu, but of course come with a twist. Notable dishes; the Foie-lafel, a take on a street food classic and the eggs benedict, which showcases Dufresne's love affair with eggs.  WD50 is a neighborhood gem that attracts fans nationwide.

Just a block or so north is Frankies Spuntino another popular restaurant built specifically for the quality driven foodie. One of three locations in New York, the Clinton Street spot is cozy and charming. The food is simple, elegant and so good it's hard to stop eating once you're full. Try turning down the roasted beets with avocado and balsamic or pappardelle with lamb ragu and taragon, it's nearly impossible.

Based on the idea of old-school-Italian traditions, owners Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo have created their business through relationships with like-minded businesses, that seek quality through locally-sourced, fresh and humanely raised ingredients. Some might call it simple, but others would consider it the right and original way to cook Italian food. Thankfully, the two Frankies sell their own olive oil and have put together a fantastic cookbook so their favorites can be made at home, should you not be able to make it to the West Village, Lower East Side or Brooklyn.

A quick walk north or an even quicker cab ride will put you in the heart of the east side, in the area now considered to be The East Village. Here is where David Chang's mini-empire sits. Chang, a one-time student and employee of some of the greats, Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Dufresne, too is an alum,) Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio, has created the Momofuku Restaurant Group, featuring his restaurants noodle bar, Ssam Bar, Ko, Ma Peche, Seiōbo, and the bakery Milk Bar, most of which are situated in the East Village. Momofuku Noodle Bar is the original restaurant sitting on First Avenue between 10th and 11th streets. It serves a thoughtful menu of ramen favorites with seasonal touches, that is small enough to manage but still wide in variety. Portion sizes are ample, spice is plentiful.

Momofuku ramen is hard to pass up, with its perfectly poached egg and divinely cut fishcakes, the shrimp, pork or mushroom buns are the best found outside of Chinatown and do not underestimate the soft serve ice cream, no matter how filling lunch/dinner may have been. Similar to Dufresne and his team, Chang and his restaurants are the proud winners of numerous awards recognizing not just the menus' success, but representing the blood, sweat and tears that are shed to keep a restaurant relevant in one of the oldest neighborhoods in "The City that Never Sleeps."

To read Parts I and II of Ashley's series, click here. 

Photo: wallyg and Ashley Bode

For more of Ashley's tips and recipes, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)