Eating Across New York, Part I
New York City makes me feel acutely aware of the human condition. Just last week, even before the doors of the airplane opened to release us to the outside, it seemed that the entire cabin drew in a collective breath. Our eyes narrowed. Our chins lifted. One could almost hear the sound of armor being gathered, of shields clinking into place. And then, suddenly, we were thrust into the roiling mass of humanity, a potent Darwinian stew that contains at least one representative from every single country and ethnic group in the world.
The drive to Manhattan is a maze of concrete and brake lights. The sprawling, blocky outline of Queens suggests insolence and dogged determination. The heart of the city, when it comes into view, is not so much majestic as defiant. Weaving through its gargantuan grid of streets and avenues, one doesn’t look up so much as forward and down, so as not to step into a hole or a garbage bag or a street vendor. It is a gritty, sprawling, un-pretty city, where you might realize that your teeth have been clenched for hours on end without you being aware of it.
It is positively wonderful.
Especially if you like to eat.
And eat we did, for one extra-long week. We traveled from one end of the city to the other, asking everyone for tips on where to go and dialing reservation lines with our fingers crossed. It was exhilarating, though full of difficult choices, as there are far more wonderful places to visit than we had time for. I did discover this: that wine lists and tomatoes are very different things in New York and San Francisco. East Coast tomatoes, even farm-fresh heirloom tomatoes, do not taste even remotely like the red and yellow sun-candy that I regularly enjoy in California. And wine lists, even those at very swanky joints, are not what they are in the Bay Area. We are indeed blessed to be within stomping distance of some of the best grape juice on the planet. Thankfully, there is much else that is divine.
Over the course of the week, we devoured enormous corned-beef sandwiches and a bowl full of crunchy pickles at Carnegie Deli, and laughed when the waiter said, when I requested a few of the pickles to take home, "but you already ate all-a-those!";
We sucked down an entire glassful of Frozen Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate at Serendipity, which tasted even better after an hour-and-a-half wait;
We ogled Sarah Jessica Parker and her man while we waited for our table at Babbo, which helped to make up for our bewilderingly blank, passive server who spoke in a monotone and who, when asked for suggestions, shrugged his shoulders like a surly adolescent being interrogated by his parents;
We felt immediately warm and happy inside the Gramercy Tavern, filled as it was with aromatic herbs and flowers and a fun, witty staff;
We had a charming dinner at Café Boulud, made even better by the fact that I was invited back to tour the kitchen (so big and white! so many people! such a young chef!);
We enjoyed a lazy, mid-morning repast of tea and croissants at Fouchon (not at all like being in Paris, but still ever-so enjoyable), and scurried back later in the week for dark chocolate bars and sucre candi.
And that is not all. There were other meals savored and other personalities of note spied upon and whispered about, but I shall save the meal I enjoyed the most until Part II, when I will write about the flavors and scents that I am still dreaming of.