Ed Lederman
Home Cooking In Soho’s
Restaurant Paradise

Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine are the co-founders of Big Girls, Small Kitchen, a food and recipe website for twenty-something cooks looking for user-friendly, affordable ways to navigate their kitchens. They are currently working on a cookbook, Cara and Phoebe’s Quarter-Life Kitchen, which will be published by Harper Collins in Spring 2011.

In case you didn’t know the type existed, there are New Yorkers who are home cooks; not everyone here stores shoes in their ovens. Though Soho is chock full of great restaurants, sometimes meals should be an at-home affair—especially when shopping for dinner can be done at the best specialty shops this city has to offer.

Twenty years ago, if you craved a plate of fresh handmade pasta in tomato sauce, you went straight to Mulberry Street in Little Italy. Now, downtown Manhattan is also home to Scott Conant and other restaurateurs who have made it acceptable to spend $24 on a plate of Spaghetti Pomodoro. And yet, in less time than it takes Pepe Rosso to deliver takeout to your door, you can make red sauce and gourmet ravioli if you’ve gone to Raffetto’s (144 West Houston Street).

The quality of food hasn’t changed at Raffetto’s since Marcello Raffetto—ancestor of brothers Andrew and Richard, who run the shop today—started the place in 1906. Behind the counter, the wall is lined with bulk bins of dried pasta, vats of Italian specialty oils, all sorts of vinegars, and shelves of canned tomatoes and vegetables. But the reason to rush there is the fresh-cut pasta, which comes in fifteen varieties including ravioli that can be filled to order. At home, all you have to do is boil water, melt butter, grate cheese, and heat up tomato sauce—and you’ll be cooking Italian with the best of them (Raffetto’s sells to Gotham Bar and Grill and Il Mulino, among upscale restaurants).

Though some are slightly outside the Soho border, several more nearby stores provide ingredients (and shopping experiences) that let you travel far beyond Soho without leaving the neighborhood. It’s a pleasure to visit Despaña (408 Broome Street) for authentic Spanish tapas and Sunrise Mart (494 Broome Street) for everything Japanese, including frozen ramen. Further afield, Russ & Daughters (179 East Houston Street) has the best smoked salmon (yes, assembling bagel sandwiches is considered cooking), and Chinatown (Hong Kong Supermarket, 68 Elizabeth Street) is the place to buy noodles and the inexpensive vegetables and barbecued pork to top them with—at home.