This article is part of a guide to New York from FT Globetrotter
A meal kit from a high-end restaurant may sound like a desperate bid to maintain a dribble of revenue during the pandemic — or a very expensive way to make dinner at home.
But the shiny boxes that come from some of New York City’s best restaurants contain pleasures that are distinct from both home cooking and restaurant eating.
There are two tricks to this: ingredients of a quality that even a skilled shopper would struggle to assemble at a store, and careful sustainable packaging that makes the preparation feel more like opening a series of presents than slaving over the stove. Open a bottle of something nice and the whole experience is a blast . . .
I adore rich food. Eleven Madison Park’s chicken dinner ($275) tested even my limits. The almost spherical, deep-brown chicken came with truffles, foie gras and brioche breadcrumbs stuffed under the skin. A stout jar of butter was included to coat the bird before roasting. (I did not find the suggested timing helpful — it took much longer than specified — but the kit helpfully includes a meat thermometer.)
During the pandemic, Eleven Madison Park has transformed its kitchen into a commissary, providing means to community centers in New York City. The chicken dinners each fund 10 meals. And the dinners have proved hugely popular. “I think we have just scratched the surface with this,” Chef Daniel Humm told me.
His success here is no surprise. The smell of the bird in the oven was divine. After we’d ripped into the flesh (tender enough to cut through with a fork), the four of us were dizzy and full. We only had a few bites of side dishes that went into the oven while the chicken was resting: pommes duchesse (potato purée over creamed leaks) and a big, amphibious-looking oyster mushroom with smoked butter (we made most of the latter into pasta sauce the next day. Yum). Bitter winter greens were a nice contrast.
Could we manage the hazelnut tart? We soldiered on, and after a few bites, my son said: “This is the best food I’ve ever had.” We left our plates sitting on the table, too dazed to load the dishwasher.— Robert Armstrong, US finance editor
I am 10 minutes into Daniel Boulud’s Basque chicken recipe and starting to sweat. My kitchen comfort zone is more plongeur than chef de partie, and I am struggling to keep up. After 45 minutes of mise en place before the Zoom lesson that accompanies his $175 meal kit, I had been pleased to discover that our first task was to make a cocktail. But there is no time to sip it.
Boulud, the Michelin-starred owner of New York’s Daniel, is serenely cheerful as he talks us through each step. “You want to ’ear a little bit of music in the pan,” he tells us as we sear our chorizo slices. “Oh la la! That’s going to really make the chicken ’appy.”
Soon the chicken is seared too, fennel wedges are going into the pot, and we are somehow supposed to have started a pilaf. As my daughter whisks the egg whites we need for our chocolate mousse, I begin to picture life in Boulud’s kitchens: he is no combustible-chef cliché but he demands speed and perfection. Before I know it, he is lifting his poulet basquaise out of the oven and declaring “Voilà!”
It has been a frenetic hour, and my kitchen is a disaster. But, as we tuck into a meal that makes me think I will never cook chicken without chorizo again, the sweat gives way to a satisfied glow. — Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, US business editor
Cote Korean Steakhouse’s Butcher’s Feast ($205 for four) is simplicity itself: four cuts of meat, plus trimmings. The steaks are rib-eye, a Wagyu strip and a neatly trimmed hangar, followed by a packet of marinated rib meat off the bone, known as galbi. The quality of all four is superb. I never quite realised how inadequate floppy, over-moist meat from my local butcher was until I handled these dense, fatty, aromatic cuts. The first three had dramatically different flavour, from the funky rib to the faintly metallic, liverish hangar. All three cooked beautifully in a cast-iron pan — though with a lot of smoke — and the directions provided by the restaurant were clear.
I lopped each up on a board in the middle of the dinner table, and my children snapped them up like alligators, wrapping them in perfect leaves of baby red-leaf lettuce, and smearing them in an excellent ssamjang (fermented soyabean paste). Four jars of pickles (cucumber, daikon, cabbage, fennel) and a light-pink four-salt mix completed the box. My wife and I drank a $20 bottle of burgundy and felt like royalty. No dessert; we didn’t need it.
Chef Simon Kim of Cote told me that the meal boxes “have blown up” and the product will be part of the business after Covid has passed. Part of the success, he thinks, is pricing it reasonably: “we wanted to price it so people can enjoy it not just as a once-a-year thing, but a once-a-month thing. We see it as a chance to market the brand.”— Robert Armstrong, US finance editor
I’ve long dreamt of dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, chef Dan Barber’s celebrated farmstead restaurant. The commuter train to the Westchester farm (around 30 miles north of Manhattan), the meal personalised to your tastes based on small talk with the waiter, the mid-dining field trips to the greenhouse or the bakery. I thought I’d have to wait even longer, pandemic and all. Until a version of it came to me.
The Blue Hill meal-kit boxes (from $75) are mammoth, with carrying handles and breathing holes, packed full of fresh meats, vegetables and other provisions. I received the three I ordered on a day my oven was broken, so I shuttled them to a friend’s, who asked if I had brought food or cats. Each box was distinct and all were delicious, simple, delightful and taught us new cookery skills.
The Soup Box was a one-stop meal: homemade bread with miso butter to start, the platonic ideal of a rice pudding to end, and in the middle, a hearty and complex soup of three meats and four vegetables. Warm it all up, bring the thick broth to boil, whisk in the secret ingredient — a horseradish vinaigrette — and ladle together. Twenty minutes, two pots, a different journey in each bite.
A cultural experience arrived in the Residency Box, a collaboration with a visiting chef around a certain style of food. In January, Philadelphia-based chef Shola Olunloyo brought diners to Nigeria. The box included an egusi stew — “the most soulful stew in Nigeria” — which I refused to share. My two dining companions raved about the hen broth, spiced with impossible cosiness — garlic, cinnamon, clove, allspice, cumin — and swirling with chicken and vegetables.
The Grocery Box, which included an assortment of produce, was possibly the most fun. Each ingredient came with a suggestion from the chef. Sauté half an endive, keep the other half raw, and toss it with the sesame Caesar dressing. Lightly toast an unfathomably spongy sandwich bread made with Japanese amazake porridge and top with a sweet, whipped lard. Griddle the parsnip cake with butter and serve it with maple syrup (the biggest hit of the night). Brown the pears. Eat the cheese. Devour the “duck” chips. Yes, yes, yes. — Lilah Raptopoulos, US head of audience engagement
I’ve enjoyed broadening my kitchen skills over the course of the pandemic, but at this point I could use some inspiration and a bit more fun. Casa by Colonia Verde delivered just that with its meal kits (from $15), offerings born out of necessity that have reached cult status among the fans of this beloved neighbourhood restaurant in Fort Greene.
My order included a selection of Mexican favourites: carnitas with fresh tortillas, tuna tostadas with all the trimmings and the ingredients required to mash up a perfect guacamole, enjoyed with the restaurant’s tasty totopos (homemade tortilla chips). Dishes that, with a conventional delivery, would arrive soggy or cold. But instead were easily assembled, full of texture and flavour, and conjured up memories of Mexico City.
I was particularly impressed with how we transformed the carnitas from their packaged state to a crisp and flavourful course so moreish that a serving for four people was happily devoured by the two of us. The tuna tostadas, a creative combination of flavours that would normally be difficult to recreate at home, were equally appealing: marinated fresh tuna, watermelon and fresh mint sat atop a crispy tostada, smeared with spicy mayo.
The thoughtful packaging included a warmly written letter with QR codes for heating and assembly instructions. Freshly mixed mescal cocktails arrived in 8oz glass bottles, and the generous portions of various salsas (verde, al pastor) came in reusable glass jars.
The extensive pan-Latin menu on offer gives reason to order again and again — until we can enjoy this charming neighbourhood spot in person once more. — Nessi Erkmenoglu, head of US revenue, luxury & B2C advertising
The brimming box from The Smith, a popular American brasserie, landed on my doorstep like a UN aid package for a family of over-entitled, but locked-down, New York diners.
Inside was the Steakhouse for Two ($140): Caesar salad with finely flaked croutons, a lobster “cocktail’ comprising an entire lobster, succulent and pink, two intense, dill-packed crab cakes, one New York strip steak, one filet mignon, crispy potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and s’mores in a jar for dessert.
The Steakhouse package required simple assembly (cook the steaks, heat the veg). But The Smith had thrown in a ricotta gnocchi kit (doughy pasta that managed to seem both firm and weightless, coated in a truffle cream sauce), spicy salmon tartare on crispy rice cakes with sriracha aioli, a vanilla-bean French-toast kit and french fries. My kitchen was transformed into a volcano of boiling pots and flaming burners.
The only thing missing from the box was a trained chef. One of my French toasts had a blackened crust that wasn’t in the photograph. But the rest of them were stacks of concentrated sweetness, such as caramelised bananas on a dusting of powdered sugar glooped up in maple butter on vanilla- bean-soaked brioche — a combination so explosive it prompted my seven-year-old sous-chef to declare that he could eat it forever (diabetes notwithstanding).
In short order the magnificent spread was reduced to an empty shell, steak-juice puddles and smears of green peppercorn sauce. One of the many benefits of eating out of a box is that the family can slip quietly into a food coma without trying to navigate the route home.— Peter Barber, US Weekend news editor
Have you tried any meal kits from New York restaurants? Share your best tips in the comments
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