Eating Everything But Apples in New York

Chinatown, Brooklyn, Harlem, and Central Park's Iconic Loeb Boathouse

I recently treated our older son, Zack, to a trip to New York for his 24th birthday. While there were lots of things we wanted to see during our visit, such as the Met Cloisters, what we wanted to do most was eat.

We returned to Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown for xiao long bao, the steamy soup dumplings we loved so much during Zack’s last visit to New York six years ago. We beat the crowd to Katz’s Delicatessen for an early lunch of pastrami on rye and matzo ball soup. We patiently waited our turn for a dinner of fried catfish and barbecued ribs at Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem. 

We also had lunch at the famous Central Park Boathouse. People have spent idyllic afternoons in rowboats on the Central Park lake for the past 150 years, but the present-day boathouse didn’t open until 1954. The Loeb Boathouse restaurant opened in 1983.

You may remember this iconic locale from the movie 27 Dresses, where Katherine Heigl’s character has a food tasting for the wedding reception she’s planning there for her boss, played by Ed Burns. In Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character has lunch with Mr. Big at the Loeb Boathouse and, in an effort to avoid kissing him, winds up in the lake. The film When Harry Met Sally features a scene with characters played by Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, and Lisa Jane Persky dining waterside at the boathouse.

But it isn’t just actors who dine at this famous restaurant. I observed a table of stylish elderly men and women who were clearly regulars enjoying a lunch of crab cakes, scallops, and white wine before departing in their chauffeur-driven town cars.

Zack and I began our boathouse meal with the burrata appetizer served with poached asparagus and toasted hazelnuts, then I had the tuna salad niçoise, which was the most “ladies who lunch” thing on the menu.

A French classic, the salade niçoise is a combination of tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies or tuna, all dressed with olive oil. The olives would, of course, come from Nice, France, where the dish originated in the late 19th century. Traditionalists use only raw vegetables and no lettuce, but as the salad spread around the world in the 20th century, many people began adding lightly cooked green beans and new potatoes along with lettuce to the historical ingredients.

The Loeb Boathouse version included gem lettuce, olives, heirloom cherry tomatoes, wax beans, and eggs dressed with a lemon-caper vinaigrette, and the traditional canned tuna was swapped for slices of a seared ahi tuna filet.

I liked their version of the salade niçoise so much that I decided to recreate it. I may not be able to enjoy it lakeside in Central Park, but I can still put on a nice dress and pretend my chauffeur is waiting patiently for me to finish my lunch.

This week’s subscriber exclusives: The Loeb Boathouse serves their meals with fresh bread, but none of the delicious choices they offered seemed quite French enough for the niçoise salad. Enter Gruyere Gougères. These delicately puffed bites of cheese bread are easier to make than you might think, and they freeze beautifully, so you can have them for lunch whenever you like.

You’ll find a full menu of fancy cocktails at the Central Park Boathouse, including the Parasol (St. Germain, fresh lemon juice, mint, sparkling wine), the Jalisco Lemonade (Herradura reposado tequila, lemonade, The Bitter Truth creole bitters), and the Elderflower Cosmopolitan (Grey Goose vodka, St. Germain, cranberry juice, lime). None of them, however, seemed like a good pairing for a salade niçoise, so I’ve created my own: the Sparkling Yuzu Martini. Yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit. The citrus flavor works well with the vegetables in the salad, and the herbs in the cocktail keep it from being too sweet to enjoy with a savory dish.


Ahi Tuna Niçoise Salad

A French classic, the salade niçoise is a combination of tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies or tuna, all dressed with olive oil. The olives would, of course, come from Nice, France, where the dish originated in the late 19th century. Traditionalists use only raw vegetables and no lettuce, but as the salad spread around the world in the 20th century, many people began adding lightly cooked green beans and new potatoes along with lettuce to the historical ingredients.

This recreation of the Central Park Boathouse version includes gem lettuce, olives, cherry tomatoes, radishes, barely cooked green beans, baby new potatoes, and hard-boiled egg, all dressed with a lemon-caper vinaigrette. The traditional canned tuna is swapped for slices of seared ahi tuna filet, also known as yellowfin tuna.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for sautéing
1 clove garlic, mashed into paste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon capers, drained
1/3 pound baby yellow or red potatoes
4 oz. fresh green beans
2 eggs, boiled to desired doneness
1 small head gem, butter, or romaine lettuce
1/2 cup whole black olives, pitted
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
4 radishes, thinly sliced
2 sushi-grade ahi (yellowfin) tuna filets
salt and freshly-ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic paste, and lemon juice. Whisk well until emulsified. Add the capers, stirring to combine.

Scrub the potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Some will need to be cut in half lengthwise, while others may need to be quartered lengthwise so they are all a comparable size, which allows them to cook evenly.) Place the potato pieces in a medium saucepan, cover with cool water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and reduce heat to medium, cooking for 8 to 10 minutes or until pieces can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain and set aside to cool.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Trim the ends off the green beans and add them to the boiling water. Cook for three minutes, then transfer the beans to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Quarter the boiled eggs lengthwise. On two rimmed plates or in two shallow bowls, arrange the lettuce leaves. Top each with half of the potatoes, green beans, eggs, olives, tomatoes, and radishes.

In a skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the ahi tuna steaks, searing on both sides for approximately two to three minutes each, until the outside is lightly browned and the center has reached your desired level of doneness (rare, medium-rare, or medium; remember, it will continue cooking after it’s removed from the pan, and overcooking it will result in tough, dry tuna). Slice it into pieces approximately 1/4” thick and arrange half of the slices atop each salad. Dress with the lemon-caper vinaigrette and season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes two servings.


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This week’s subscriber exclusives:

  • Gruyere Gougères: The Loeb Boathouse serves their meals with fresh bread, but none of the delicious choices they offered seemed quite French enough for the niçoise salad. Enter gougères. These delicately puffed bites of cheese bread are easier to make than you might think, and they freeze beautifully, so you can have them for lunch whenever you like.

  • Sparkling Yuzu Martini: You’ll find a full menu of fancy cocktails at the Central Park Boathouse. None seemed like a good pairing for a salade niçoise, though, so I’ve created my own: the Sparkling Yuzu Martini. Yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit. The citrus flavor works well with the vegetables in the salad, and the herbs in the cocktail keep it from being too sweet to enjoy with a savory dish.