Travel Tips

Padma Lakshmi’s New York Foodie Favorites

Locations in this article:  New York City, NY

You can watch Padma Lakshmi travel the world trying out gourmet food as the host of Bravo’s Top Chef. Now find out where she eats when the knives have been packed and she’s back home with her 3-year-old daughter in New York. Lakshmi invited us to ride along to three of her favorite New York spots for eating out and picking up the essential supplies for cooking at home.

A real New Yorker’s favorite foodie spots can’t just be about going out; there has to be something to bring home as well. As part of the Visa #GoInSix campaign, Padma Lakshmi shares favorite New York restaurants with accompanying food shops. Follow along to find out her New York favorites with recipes you can recreate back at home.

1. Start with a Little Cheese

A Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar, Artisanal  smells “a little funky” upon walking in, but the welcoming odor of fondue is how chef-proprietor Terrance Brennan separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to real foodies. Lakshmi has been visiting the bistro for over a decade; its one of her favorite spots for late supper in the cheese cave after a Knicks game. Artisinal offers curated wine and cheese flights, but one of Lakshmi’s favorites is the grilled cheese with cheddar and apple. In addition to eating out, the restaurant’s cheese shop is her neighborhood store, where she often stops by to pick up cheese for a dinner party and then transforms the leftovers into a gourmet grilled cheese.

The counter is a curated experience. “Any cheese from this counter is amazing,” Lakshmi says.

This trip she had something more ambitious in mind than just picking up a few cheeses…she’s setting up a cheese tour through her personal history. The first cheese she selects is a Moliterno al Tartufo, a creamy cheese with black truffles added in the mix. The earthiness of the cheese and the terroir of the truffles are reminiscent of having the sand between her toes in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, where she spent summers in her 20s as a model. Don’t overlook Sardinia, she cautions. It’s a beautiful, earthy food landscape that’s less known than other parts of Italy.

Careful to mix sheep and cow cheeses, the next cheese Lakshmi selects is a Spanish cheese. She studied abroad there and she believes the country does sheep cheeses the best, especially the harder, brinier, saltier aged cheeses. The cheese she picks, Cana de Cabra, is not as wet and salty as some Spanish options but still has a deep funk, like a French Boucheron.

Lastly, Lakshmi chooses one of her favorites, a creamy French Epoisses. It’s the “deep, sinus-clearing, horse radish, caverns of French cheese.” This is not for everyone. In terms of potency and funk, there is nowhere to go beyond here except to a Stilton. The gooey Epoisses leaves a rich, memorable taste behind.

Bring Lakshmi’s Artisanal experience home with a “high falutin'” grilled cheese. Start by sauteing mushrooms with a sprig of thyme, a pinch of Kosher salt, a teaspoon of shallots, butter and olive oil–always use a larger pan than you would expect so the mushrooms don’t steam. Then take crusty Artisan bread, add the mushrooms and use thin slices (not a big chunk) of the Molerno al Tartufo (four slices is ideal). The harder the cheese the slower you want to melt it. Start in the oven and then finish it off in the pan to get a good crust.

2. Swap Stories with the Fish Monger

Originally a neighborhood fish monger, Wild Edibles Seafood is now half shop, half restaurant. Back when she first shopped there, Lakshmi developed a quintessentially New York routine. She would place her order, pop out to finish her errands and return for the fish, which would be delivered cleaned and with all the nasty bits separated out and brought home to make a quick fish stock. When it comes to making stock, don’t forget the bones.  “You want the cartilage to melt down to add that gelatinous, beautiful, sexy texture to your bouillabaisse.”

Wild Edibles has become a resource for Lakshmi for advice, suggestions when writing her cookbooks and even reassurance. Once when cooking a piece of supermarket fish for her daughter, Lakshmi noticed small worms. She called the store and the staff was able to reassure her that the issue was quite common for a certain type of fish and was able to offer up a safer alternative for future meals.

On this trip, the wild shrimp, filet of sole and soft-shell crabs caught her eye. For this foodie, it’s not about farmed or wild seafood. Instead, she wants to know which farm and which ocean…and at Wild Edibles the staff can answer. Having a kitchen in the shop also lets customers sample the food at the restaurant before bringing it home to their own kitchen. This visit, Lakshmi ordered fish and chips and took time out to share a picture on Twitter…who says real foodies don’t Instagram their food.

Recreate Wild Edibles at home by snagging some soft-shell crabs and sauteing them with chilis, garlic, olive oil and butter. Add quartered tomatoes to the pan just until they start to wilt and get wrinkly. Toss the mixture with pasta. Skip the Parmesan with this dish; cheese and fish just don’t go together. Instead, top the dish with a handful of chopped parsley.

3. Prepare the Pantry

The final stop on our food tour, Kalustyan’s, is an institution for both New York and Lakshmi. Founded in 1944, the store is in a neighborhood is now nick-named Curry Hill, but all the Indian shops and restaurants were built around Kalustyan’s. Lakshmi has been the visiting the store with her mother since she moved to the city at four. Back then, the staff would hand out cashews and dried cherries to kids, though Lakshmi loved the sour, salted Mexican plums.

In the 1970s, there weren’t Indian or really ethnic grocery stores in Manhattan, especially on the Upper East Side where Lakshmi and her mother were living. It was hard to get ingredients like fresh cilantro. “You’d have to go whisper in the back [of a supermarket] and someone would hand it to you like a dime bag,” Lakshmi jokes.

“If I could pick only one place to shop for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be Chanel or Louis [Vuitton] on any other clothing store you could name, it would be Kalustyan’s. You can buy everything here.”

Packed with bulk foods, Kalustyan’s has walls of condiments like La Morena Chipotle peppers, French mustards and “hotter than hell” hot sauces. A personal favorite and pantry staple for Lakshmi, is Maggi Hot & Sweet Chili Sauce,  which is almost like a spicy ketchup and more refined than Sriracha. Eating it on hamburgers and eggs and samosas, this is the, “WD-40 of the kitchen.”

Upstairs is the deli counter, where you can sit down and eat. Full of rotating options the real fixture is the deli-man who has been manning the counter for decades and has the stories to prove it. Try the babaganoush, spicy olives and samosas.

If you’re lucky enough to come to Kalustyan’s, you don’t emerge with one meal. Instead, you come out with a basket full of kitchen staples. Must-have supplies include beluga lentils, Hawaiian salt (where the volcanic soil lends a beautiful taste), a range of chili peppers (layer them as you cook, starting with sweet and ending with fiery hot), capers, Lebna Middle Eastern cheese (it’ll keep forever and can be used as a last- minute snacked spread on toast), Spanish olive oil, chutney, spicy ginger pickle (a perfect condiment to a soft grilled cheese), kefir lime leaf, and Sambar curry powder.

Text by Lily J. Kosner for Photos credit Marc Serges

*Personally curated, one-on-one culinary tours like the one we experienced are auctioned off several times each year to raise money for the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which Lakshmi founded alongside World Renowned Advanced Gynecological Surgeon Tamer Seckin, MD.

**This tour was part of Visa’s #GoInSix Campaign. You can share how you’re living what you love using six-second videos, six photos or six-word storylines. Use hashtag #GoInSix to be entered into a daily drawing to win a $50 Visa gift card.