Sorry in advance for the frequent use of the phrase “finger foods” in this newsletter. As a society, we have got to come up with something more appealing. Hand cuisine? Digit diet? Those two options are even worse.
“Finger food” also minimizes just how enjoyable and engaging it can be to eat food by hand, especially when it comes to dining in a restaurant where service is at a premium. There’s something charmingly disarming about just digging in.
Duck Necks, Hand Rolls and All the Mozzarella Sticks You Can Eat
Take, for instance, the confit duck necks at Falansai in Bushwick. This is a restaurant with a certain level of formal training behind it — read: confit — and yet, when the waiter placed this dish on my table, he said we should put our utensils aside: The only way to really tuck into these duck necks, smothered in a sweet, sticky sauce, was by hand, minding the bones at the center of the tender, fall-apart meat. With each bite, I set aside those little neck bones like discarded oyster shells and tackled the next.
Other fine dining-addled brains might short circuit, but my first thought was, “Now this is eating!”
A few weeks later, I sat down to dinner at Mari in Hell’s Kitchen, which I would call “fancy-fancy” — we’re talking about a $125 tasting menu. But the restaurant’s specialties are hand rolls inspired by Korean street food. And so for courses three through 10, you will be using only your hands to pick up the gim-wrapped slivers of salmon, spicy tuna, A5 Wagyu beef and more — even though they’re presented on an embellished brass platter that closely resembles the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal.
You can consume another kind of finger food at Teranga, the West African restaurant from the chef Pierre Thiam in East Harlem. Sure, you can dig into your jollof and harissa-rubbed salmon with a knife and fork, but there’s no getting around the fufu. As my colleague Ligaya Mishan wrote in her review of the restaurant in 2019, “You tear off pieces and wield them like spoons, bringing earthiness to every bite.” It’s how people in the African diaspora have consumed fufu, and other starch-based swallows, for millenniums.
And perhaps you’ve heard of the recent Midwest-ification of New York City restaurants, a dining trend that’s wrapped in gossamer sheets of nostalgia. And where there’s nostalgia, there are finger foods. It’s why you can now enjoy $5 happy hour chili dogs at Hi Hi Room in Cobble Hill, deep-dish pizzas at Emmett’s on Grove in the West Village and mozzarella sticks galore at Bernie’s (Greenpoint), Penny Bridge (Long Island City), Carne Mare (South Street Seaport) and the original Emmett’s (Greenwich Village).
At any of them, the waiter is well trained, the chef has been cooking for a decade or two or three, there’s a curated wine list, but you’re eating with your hands. A kind of cognitive dissonance starts to build. But all you can do is embrace it, wipe the corners of your mouth and think, “Now this is eating!”
In Other News …
This week, Pete Wells reviewed Dar Yemma — a new Moroccan restaurant operated by an Algerian in Queens’s Little Egypt — where parts of the menu are uneven, but the simmering tagines always deliver.
Openings and a closing: The chef John Fraser’s latest restaurant, La Marchande, opens in the financial district on June 7; Singlish, a new cocktail bar with a focus on Singaporean street food, is now up and running on East 13th Street near Union Square; and Bessou, the Japanese comfort food restaurant in NoHo, will permanently close on June 18.
The Summer in the City newsletter is back: To kick off the season, Julia Carmel, Michael Gold and Korsha Wilson, who occasionally writes for the Food section, have put together a bucket list of New York City must-dos, including steam rice rolls in Chinatown and Nepalese food in Jackson Heights. Sign up here.
Drag brunch? At Taco Bell Cantina? Erik Piepenburg reports on “arguably the most mainstream marriage of drag and dining yet.”
Kate Bernot reported from Missoula, Mont., about United We Eat @Home, a program that allows refugees to share their food with locals while earning valuable income.
And though the Brooklyn bakery Whimsy & Spice has now closed, Ligaya Mishan was still able to get its world-class recipe for chocolate chile biscotti.
Last week’s newsletter misstated the location of the restaurant Nikutei Futago. It is in SoHo, not the Flatiron district.