“Have you ever been to Eisenberg’s?” This question from my daughter, Alison. “Shannon and I went after the gym the other day,” she says. “Best Reuben I’ve had in a long time. You should check it out.”
Yes, I should – for a couple of reasons: Eisenberg’s is an iconic New York sandwich shop and I – being a sandwich-oriented human – should indeed check it out; secondly, just hearing the word Reuben sets my taste buds atwitter – sweet/salty meat piled with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, slathered with Russian dressing on grilled bread – what’s not to like? Eisenberg’s motto, printed on their T-shirts and cards is, “Raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929”. No kidding.
Eisenberg’s, despite its name, is not a Jewish deli. There are no salamis hanging from the ceiling. And what self-respecting Jewish deli would offer – with pride – a Tuna Melt, which is the single worst excuse for a sandwich since the Earl invented the form back in the 18th Century. A Tuna Melt takes already fully cooked tuna and cooks it again under a grill until it’s rendered as tasteless and hard as cardboard. And then they put cheese on it. Cheese on fish is an abomination.
For someone who considered “nursery food” buttered tortillas with Jalapenos or cheese enchiladas, it is with more than just a foodie interest that I seek out Mexican restaurants wherever I live. It is an emotional imperative! I am not Latino, for if I were I would probably have had a far more sophisticated concept of comfort food – Enchiladas de Mole Poblano for example– but being raised in Southern California coming from Texas roots, it is natural that Mexican food was a staple in our family’s diet. Well, more to the point Mexican restaurants were a staple in our weekly routine. I could count on my buttered tortillas with jalapeno bits most Thursday and Sunday nights.
So, to find the muy cool Mañana just off Madison Ave on East 61st Street, less than two blocks from our apartment was reason to rejoice. While Mañana has a decidedly un-traditional look, the subtle and authentic flavors filled my heart with memories of Puebla, Mexico City, Vera Cruz and my local storefront café in Toluca Lake. Greenies will enjoy the eco friendly décor and if you are of a mind, there is a tequila and mescal menu, which includes a Don Julio 1942 at $650 and the old standby Amateur del Mexcal, “Fresh green apple muddled with Canton liqueur, fresh lime. Juice, guanabana fruit shaken with Del maguey crema del mescal and scorpion mescal completed with a cactus and lemongrass salt rim” neither of which we ordered.
Going to New York is always a treat. Like everyone else, I love
walking around the city. A leisurely stroll through Central Park when
the flowering trees are in bloom is one of life's great pleasures.
A visit to a museum is also a must. This trip we went to MOMA, where special exhibits by Marina Abramovic and William Kentridge were causing a stir, especially Abramovic's use of nudes as an element of her performance pieces. For myself, I never tire of the permanent collection with its iconic works by Van Gogh and Matisse, among other masters.
Since I'm not in the city as often as I'd like, I look forward to visiting my favorite places to eat: Gray's Papaya (Broadway at 72nd) for the $4.45 Recession Special (2 hot dogs with everything and a medium Pina Colada), Piada (3 Clinton Street below Houston) for a panini and espresso, and the salt and pepper shrimp at Nha Trang One (87 Baxter Street below Canal).
A friend who is an expert on the food scene, highly recommended several dishes, especially a salad, at a new restaurant in the East Village called Northern Spy (511 East 12th Street between Ave. A & B, 212/228-5100). The unassuming space has a country feel that immediately makes you feel at home. Locally sourced produce and meats are put to good use in refreshingly simple and inventive ways.
My new best friend, Laraine Newman, recently took me to Carmines here
in Los Angeles, an old school Italian joint that was once the stomping
grounds of the Rat pack. From what I heard, there was quite a lot of
stomping that took place there. Not only rich in City of Angels
History, it has terrific food and a staff eager to please. If you ever
feel the need to step back in time and slip your butt into a comfy old
red leather banquette that boasts the resting places– at least temporarily –
of such legendary butts as those belonging to Dean Martin, Sammy Davis
Jr., and Frank Sinatra, this is the place. A history of Carmines is
available on this site, written by Laraine, and is well worth the read.
However, my Carmines story involves the other coast. In the early 90’s, Godfried Polistanna and partners opened what was the first new ‘Family Style’ restaurant in maybe fifty years on Manhattan’s Upper West side. Designed to look like it had been there for ages, it was also as ‘old school’ as a new place could be. A huge space with lots of dark wood, simple tables and white linen, it was adorned with mismatched chandeliers and lamps, its walls covered with old photographs of every conceivable Italian looking man, woman, child and family. It was a revived Don Peppi’s in Queens, a throwback to the Italian joints on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and it was a huge, huge hit. Most nights the wait for a table was two hours, maybe more. People couldn’t get enough of it.
My boyfriend and I have next to no private time. Much to our chagrin we both are currently back in our parent's houses and our date nights generally consist of holing up in his childhood bedroom trying to keep the TiVo at a reasonable volume. Then he got his driver's license. Although this freedom arrived for my suburban friends at around 16, as a native New Yorker being able to drive still seems novel. Clearly we wanted all of our dates thereafter to be road trips.
We thought for our first evening we'd venture out to Coney Island. I had never been, and it seemed there'd be an appropriate balance of kitsch and delicious hot dogs to make for a good time. Naturally our first stop was Nathans. After ordering what seemed like one of everything you can do with a hot dog we settled in at our counter. No sooner had we done this then a young boy who had been stabbed came running in to the open-air restaurant. Panting, he shouted that someone had "knifed" him and that he was being chased. I seemed to be the only one who wasn't aware that this was an everyday occurrence here in South Brooklyn.
Winter on the Upper West Side of New York is a strange time and place to open a lobster shack. Where’s the beach, for example? Where’s the sun? The seagulls? It’s hard to conjure up seafood by the seashore when you’re standing thigh-deep in slush. But open it did – Luke’s, that is – on Amsterdam, between 80th and 81st and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I’m an actor; I can pretend it’s summer.
Luke’s first shack opened on the Lower East Side in 2009 and with its success, added two sister shacks uptown – Upper East Side and one smack in the middle of our Culinary Wasteland. Luke’s story has already been well documented: born and bred in Maine; working as an investment banker in New York; his father runs a seafood packing plant in his hometown in Maine; he decides to partner up with his dad and bring the true Maine lobster roll to New York City. The rest is history, which means to say that Luke’s lobster roll is considered if not the best in town, certainly one of the best.
There have been quibbles, of course. I read all the blogs:
There are many foods I will not miss about New York City: street cart hot dogs dressed in a syrupy mess called “onions,” over-priced dry pasta from ancient red sauce joints in Little Italy, the thousand dairy-free sugar-free fat-free ice cream substitute Tasti-Delite variants, which taste like glue after the first lick. But I long for Café Orlin, the Middle Eastern-inflected diner on Saint Mark’s Place where I think I spent a quarter of my income the past two years.
My standby meal in college was Diana’s Breakfast, hummus drizzled with olive oil, chopped tomato, and onion; tabouli; and two eggs any style (I had mine sunny-side up). I ordered extra pita and a side of homemade harissa and I constructed two little Middle Eastern tacos of the various ingredients and nibble at them slowly. My then-boyfriend and I ate this meal almost every day, with coffee (Americano with milk in undergrad, skim cappuccino during the pursuit of my Master’s degree). Once, when I was home in Chicago, he called me during breakfast. My mother told him I was eating “hummus with eggs and tabouli,” then passed the phone to me.
Call out the riot squad! Barricade the streets! Lock up your daughters! The Three Fat Unemployed Actors’ Lunch Club is on the loose again — this time in the far reaches of Queens at the wonderful Trattoria L’Incontro. Our boys met at noon at the downtown #1 train, transferred at Forty-Second Street for the N and rode that to the very last stop on the line – Astoria — Ditmars Boulevard. From there, it’s just a short stroll to L’Incontro at 2176 31st Street.
There’s a moment when you first walk into a restaurant – and catch that first whiff from the kitchen — that can make or break the whole meal. That moment sets you up; it keys you into the kind of experience you’re going to have. And it’s not just the smell – although the smell is crucial; if you walk into a restaurant that has no smell, turn around and walk out – but it’s also the look, the sounds and the faces of the people who greet you. Some people innately understand hospitality, some don’t; you can’t fake it. Trattoria L’Incontro understands – it has it all – great cooking smells, a spacious, unpretentious room, the tinkle of glass and silver and the wonderful sense that you are in the hands of consummate pros who will not only please you, but take enormous pleasure and pride in pleasing you.
I have always wanted to eat at Balthazar. After many years of
fruitlessly trying to go to Balthazar, I finally succeeded. Maybe it
was the way the restaurant teased me over these past few years that I
had become thoroughly intrigued: The restaurant’s Parisian frontage and
the crowds of diners seen through the windows beckoned me. Maybe it was
the promise of la vie Bohème. From afar Balthazar has that
je-ne-sais-quoi look, but from up close it seems just a bit faux and
overdone. I think the restaurant tries too hard to look authentic with
its crackled mirrors, dark paneling, and dim light fixtures.
To make sure I got in this time, I made reservations almost three weeks in advance, but I still could not get the specific time I wanted. Still the eventual time was suitable enough for a stress-relieving Friday night out this past week with my friend Amanda of the Undomestic Goddess. When we arrived, one of the many hostesses confirmed that indeed the reservation was made, but then told us to wait for the maître d’ to direct us to our seats. A little confusion followed in which we were stormed by a large group coming from the bar area and then another group entering. We almost didn’t get served—a somewhat sordid start to an evening meant for relaxing.
I didn’t miss him all winter. Everytime I spoke to our mutual friends, who I guess he got custody over as I was limited to phone time with them, they would tell me he was being cold, sort of erratic, he was being exceedingly difficult. In some form or another he was costing them all money. He was not as exciting as he used to be. But now that it’s summer, I noticed a change in their voices. They’re all clearly laughing with him again, enjoying his company, discovering new aspects of his personality.
I am not jealous, per se. I do have someone else, someone way more suited to my personality. Someone who’s made me a little bit blonder, and a little bit tanner, and a hell of a lot healthier, but there’s still a separate heartbeat consistent for my first true love, and sometime in the middle of the night, when I know he cannot hear me, I’ll tell him: “New York, I miss you."