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Forget the baked potato, haricots verts, and creamed spinach. Today’s restaurants put as much emphasis on creating creative sides as they do on rolling out an entree list–and as a result, those accoutrements often steal the show. Head out and give these five a try, a sampling of some of the most innovative accompaniments in the city.
Edamame Salad, Mighty Quinn’s, 103 Second Avenue
At Mighty Quinns, tender brisket, ribs, and sausages are transcendent and not to be dethroned–but they find an ideal foil for their richness in a cup of edamame and sweet pea salad. These plump emeralds, an assortment of blisteringly crisp peas and denser lobes of edamame, mix with sweet, caramelized onions for a tingle of heat and goat cheese, which adds silk and tartness.
Vegetables on a Fence, Blue Hill, 75 Washington Place
They look like garden variety vegetables, but each is so exquisite that it stands on its own–each pearl of onion, marble of radish, curl of carrot, and bulb of cabbage is spiked individually to a wooden board and meant to be enjoyed solo–and after you savor every bite, we guarantee you’ll think of vegetables differently. One caveat: This side dish is not a permanent fixture on the menu, though it appears frequently, showcasing legumes harvested just days–or even hours–before. Chef Dan Barber rotates the selection based on seasonality.
Sticky Rice with Bang Bang sauce, Khe-Yo, 157 Duane Street
Who knew that Asia’s favorite starch could hold its own as a star? Khe-Yo’s Laotian staple of sticky rice astounds when it’s given treatment from Laos-born Soulayphet Schwader, but it’s the condiments that really bring this side dish to life. Bang Bang sauce combines perky red chilies, cilantro, a heady dash of fish sauce for a much-needed funk and a brightening squirt of lime for a balance of spice and acid. Equally haunting is the coarsely ground eggplant, bound with even more fish sauce. Dunk as many bits of the rice–pulled from the mass with your hands like bread–as you’d like (this dish comes complimentary to each table), but save room for the rest of Schwader’s menu.
Dogana Potatoes, Carbone, 181 Thompson Street
No list of side dishes is complete without potatoes, and few spots produce more nuanced spuds than this Greenwich Village Italian-American outpost from Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick. The crew bastes thinly slivered potatoes in olive oil and crowns them with pickled green tomatoes, scallions, and olives. Whole cloves of garlic are strewn throughout, and the Tuscan-inspired dish is worth every penny of the steep $15 price tag.
Pork Fat Ddukbokki, Hanjan, 36 West 26th Street
Technically, this isn’t a side, but Hanjan’s gastropub-esque approach means you’ll consume a number of tapas-sized dishes–and you’ll almost certainly eat these rice cakes as a complement to something else on the menu (skewers of fresh-killed chicken, for example). Chef-owner Hooni Kim’s modern take on the starch lovingly veils the cakes with sticky, caramel-tinted pork fat. With an added kick from Gochujang (Korea’s favorite hot sauce), these slightly chewy pillows also make an excellent hangover cure.