A West Coast Food Guru Shows Us Her Big Apple Favorites

For Claire Thomas, ABC's Food For Thought host, the first rule of food is that it should "taste good." Well, duh! But when Thomas, who also helms the wildly successful food blog The Kitchy Kitchen, as well as a cookbook of that same name, says something tastes good, we take her word for it — no questions asked. That's why when the charming host took a break from her West Coast digs for a big city visit, we jumped at the chance to get the inside scoop on her favorite grub spots in NYC. We got the exclusive tour of her top eateries, beloved stores, and of course, some eating tips. Click through and then chow down.
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"I'm always on the prowl for great tabletop props, and Fishs Eddy is one of my favorite spots for vintage inspired bowls, plates, and flatware. They also have the cutest coasters and salt shakers, which make fantastic last-minute gifts."

Fishs Eddy, 889 Broadway (at 19th Street); 212-420-9020.
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How do you dress differently in NYC than in other cities?
"I was born and raised in Santa Monica, so New York always offers the novelty of weather. I have to check the weather report first! Rain, wind, snow? Who knows how I have to be prepared. So I always pack 'power outerwear,' like a badass trench or blazer or leather jacket I can pop on top of any outfit. Also, comfortable, yet chic shoes are a must. I love walking, and I try to walk at least a few miles a day when I'm visiting NYC, so comfy flats or motorcycle boots usually win."
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What is your cooking specialty?
"I'm constantly tinkering in the kitchen, so it's hard to zero in on a specialty. If I had to describe my style of cooking, I'd say it's simple, but sophisticated food with a fresh twist. I'm big on flavor and spice, so herbs and sriracha are never far off in my kitchen."

Photo: Courtesy of Fishs Eddy
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What is your favorite junk food? Favorite Health food?
"Double Stuf Oreos and french fries. No question. My dad makes the best homemade french fries, so those are my favorite indulgence.

For health food, I shop at the farmer's market every week and try to load up my diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. Dave's Korean at the Brentwood Farmers' Market makes the BEST tempeh and healthy snacks. I always load up on their goods for easy, quick bites straight from the fridge throughout the week. My favorite healthy snack is this smoothie I make most mornings for breakfast: frozen banana, kale, parsley, apple, and almond/coconut milk. It's light, but still filling, and I get my greens in, too."
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"Sauce is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It feels like it has been there for a million years, but it's a recent fixture in the LES. Frank, the chef and owner, is so passionate about every detail of his food, and I love catching up with him and seeing what awesomeness he's been simmering for hours. The polenta board is my favorite, layered with bolognese, olive oil, and parm."

Sauce, 78 Rivington Street (at Allen Street); 212-420-7700.
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Who did you look up to as a child and who do you look up to now?
"If I'm honest, as I child, it was head-to-head between my mom and Ann Margaret. At five, I was convinced that Elvis was my boyfriend, and Ann Margaret was my everything. Now, it's hard to say. I find myself inspired by intelligent, compassionate, and ambitious women. Alice Waters, Nigella Lawson, Michelle Obama, and my mom all come to mind. Being a director means I'm working in a male-dominated industry, and I'm always striking that balance of owning my role on set, but staying true to my very feminine self. My mom showed me that being a competent and creative person was what gets you the job; being a fabulous lady on top of it makes it fun."
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Describe the perfect meal — who are you with? What are you eating?
"I actually had my perfect meal last Sunday with my family. My little brother Henry made some amazing pizzas (I'm including them in my cookbook, they're so delicious). I helped with the salads and appetizers, my mom made a pavlova, and we all just hung out drinking wine, talking about our week. Family dinners are really important to me. I grew up sitting at the table every night, playing "High Low," where we share our high point and low point from the day. Food is a point of connection for me, so getting to eat with my family is my perfect meal."
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Describe your personal aesthetic — how do you dress for the show and in real life?
"For the first season, I had to go out and buy a new wardrobe because everything I owned was black or white. I'm not kidding, I had like…one block color dress, but that's it. But, folding color into my wardrobe has been a fun challenge. I find myself drawn to classic silhouettes, but in fresh feminine colors and textures. Madewell and J.Crew are some favorites of mine, and I have to agree with Jenna Lyons — leopard is a neutral."
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"Reformation is my favorite shop in New York. There's one in L.A. as well, but for some reason I find myself in the Lower East Side location more than any other. The girls who work there are so sweet and helpful, and I love the blend of vintage fabrics, sexy cuts, and sense of humor that Yaya Aflalo brings to her designs. I can't rock the more scandalous designs, but I love layering their deliciously comfy sweaters with their perfectly-cut skirts and worn in jean shorts."

Reformation, 156 Ludlow Street (between Stanton and Rivington streets); 646-448-4925.
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How do you spend your "free time" — any favorite activities?
"Reading! I got a Kindle for Christmas and I've just been reading up a storm. It fits in my purse, so when I'm in line at the grocery store or I have a down moment on set, I can catch up on my favorite books. I love historical non-fiction, so I recently finished Bill Bryson's "At Home." Such a fun, conversational take on the history of domesticity."
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What's your biggest food "turn off?"
"Pretentiousness. The first rule of food is that it should taste good. No, great. Food should taste great. Yes, if it looks lovely, that's wonderful as well, but it all comes down to taste. Emulsions, foams, obscure ingredients, all of these can be amazing tools to a great chef, but if they're just there to gild the lily, it kind of makes me roll my eyes. I love homey, cash-only holes-in the wall, mom and pop stands, or even an amazing five-star. Really any place that serves delicious, thoughtful food."
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"A major source of recipe inspiration for me are vintage cookbooks. I'm a history nerd at heart, and food history is actually how I originally got into food as a passion. Vintage cookbooks are a fantastic window to how people used to dine, entertain, shop, run their house, and basically do anything at all domestic.

Bonnie Slotnick is my vintage cookbook soulmate, in that we both love cookbooks on American regional cuisine from the '30s and '40s, and etiquette books from the '20s and '30s. Not only is the content fabulous, but the graphic design and bookmaking is inspiring as well. Her store is small, but well organized, and I haven't made a trip there without having to ship at least four books back. She's a wealth of knowledge and such a great source on all things vintage cookbook."

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, 163 West 10th Street (at Seventh Avenue South); 212-989-8962.
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How does food determine your mood?
"I am such an emotional eater. Whether I'm eating for comfort or eating comforts me, I'm not sure, but a great meal can turn my day around."
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What are your favorite on-the-go foods?
"I'm not a juicer, but I'm such a ridiculous snacker that I've used juice to replace my terrible snack habits. Instead of reaching for the salt and pepper chips, I reach for a Pressed Juicery Greens 5 (my new favorite!). I always have a few in my fridge, and I love using them as on-the-go snacks to tide me over between meals."
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What is your personal motto?
"There's a Teddy Roosevelt quote that's been tossing around my head for a bit: 'Comparison is the thief of joy.' Such a true sentiment, and a great reminder to work hard and be generous."