No one knows food better than Mimi Sheraton. The longtime New York–based restaurant critic and author—who recently praised the pastrami sandwich in DEPARTURES—wrote the ultimate guide for the global gourmand with last January’s 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die (Workman), a 1008-page tome that covers everything from French boeuf bourguignon (“If you think of beef stew as a somewhat mundane dish that is characteristically short on finesse, you have probably never tried the authentic, richly complex creation of France’s Burgundy region”) to Japanese soba (“Among the world’s most cherished noodles, Japanese soba is one of the most unusual forms: a silky, toasty, spaghetti-like stick made from buckwheat flour”). Each description contains a pearl of wisdom or new discovery for even the most familiar of foods, as well as suggestions for further reading and an occasional recipe.
But what keeps us returning to the book for dining inspiration are Sheraton’s discerning restaurant recommendations, included with most entries; other items are entirely devoted to imploring the reader to visit a beloved establishment. One year later, we were curious to know what additions, if any, the food writer would make to her list. Turns out there are three—and all in New York City.
“Mapo tofu,” Sheraton says, "which is one of my top three favorite comfort foods in the world—the other two being fried eggs and linguine with white clam sauce, both in the book—is something I just forgot to include.” The famous Sichuan preparation of soft and slightly dried tofu with ground pork, chili oil, and soy sauce was actually one of the first Chinese dishes she thought of when drafting the book. After pruning the list down to 1,000 from almost 1,800, mapo tofu was the single item that fell through the cracks. “Though I’ve said I’ll never write another book,” Sheraton explains, “I feel like I could do a slim volume on mapo tofu. To me it is the quintessential dish by which a Sichuan restaurant can be tested. It should be very spicy, and it should be lovely, custardy cubes of tofu. Nowadays they offer it with or without the ground pork because of vegetarians, but the ground pork is essential. The name of the dish actually means ‘my auntie’s pockmarked face,’ and the thing that makes it pockmarked is the ground pork against the tofu.” And the best place to try it outside of the Sichuan Province? “It’s absolutely marvelous at Wu Liang Ye, on West 48th Street. ” (36 W 48th St.; 212-398-2308; wuliangyenyc.com)
Sheraton's book; the soft-cooked duck egg served over polenta at Charlie Bird.
While not as storied, another dish that Sheraton can’t live without is served on the lunch menu at SoHo’s Italian-leaning Charlie Bird (5 King St.; 212-235-7133; charliebirdnyc.com). Though the restaurant opened in 2013, Sheraton first visited this past spring when she stopped in for lunch with a friend. Outfitted with cheery yellow booths, and an outdoor café in warmer weather, she describes it as a lovely, quiet place for lunch. The dish she favors is the soft-cooked duck egg served over polenta with crispy cracklings of duck skin and hazelnuts (pictured, above). “I always want to order something else—they have very good appetizers and a wonderful crisped-chicken main course,” Sheraton says. “But I can never get past this one dish. The yolk has to break and run into the polenta; that’s part of its charm.”
What other restaurants might have made the cut? Justin Smillie’s Upland (345 Park Ave S.; 212-686-1006; uplandnyc.com), which opened in late 2014 in the Flatiron District, has not one but several dishes that earn praise from Sheraton. “I have been blown away by everything Smillie prepares there,” she says. Of particular note are his spaghettini with bottarga, crispy duck wings, slow-roasted porcelet (pictured, top), and his cioppino. According to Sheraton, the very best dish on the menu is his slow-cooked lamb neck, which is served with potato, pimenton, and Bulgarian feta.
For anyone who hasn’t already read 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die (which makes a perfect gift for anyone interested in food culture), now you’ve got 1,003 suggestions to get through—so you’d better start eating.
Image Credits: Courtesy Upland; Workman Publishing; Courtesy Charlie Bird.