New York

russdaughtersextIf you have been to Russ and Daughters you know that they have 5 kinds of salmon, the best smoked fish, many flavors of cream cheese and then you have to pick a bagel, toasted or not: lots of choices and combinations. I had worked out the fine details of what I would order. I had one shot at it as we were on a tight eating schedule. Not every minute over a 5 day span, a few minutes here and there. I could study all I wanted but until I saw what the various salmon looked like on that day it was only a guess.

We flew into JFK, checked into our hotel and it was still only 9:00AM. Next stop, Russ and Daughters. A subway ride south combined with a brisk walk as our phone’s GPS showed us the way. It started raining but we had an umbrella, then it started sleeting - that was fine, we are made of hearty Maine stock. All of a sudden it started snowing the biggest flakes we have ever seen and it reduced NYC to the feel of a small town. That is until the snow thunder started.

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chicken-wings-300x300The weather turned yesterday.

The air was suddenly, blissfully free of the sodden end-of-summer heaviness and the scent of August — that heady perfume of sixteen million sweaty feet in sandals — receded in favor of the crisp promise of autumn. Hallelujah.

We’ve been dining out a bit — big surprise. We took the kids to Danji on West 52nd Street. I’ve written about Danji a few times before but it remains a standout. Their tofu with ginger-scallion dressing is hands down one of the best bites in town. Their deep-fried ginger chicken wings are no slouch, either.

We met some Upper West Side friends for a casual dinner at Saigon Grill and we were pleased to see that it has returned to its former glory. It slipped tragically there for a while — there was talk of labor problems, changed ownership — but their solid, fresh, tasty Vietnamese food is back in the Wasteland. Good for us. They also deliver — so quickly that it seems the food arrives before you’ve hung up the phone.

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eisenberg-sand1-300x258.jpg“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.

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ImageIt’s Sunday morning, and the last thing I want to hear is a discrete ringing sound, calling out from my computer, to alert me that I have mail. I ignore my computer, throw on my jeans, and catch the train into the city. The first and only thing on my mind, on this day, is an Upper West Side brunch that comes with a wonderful, delectable, cappuccino – I hope.

And it was the best Sunday morning cappuccino since Cafe della Pace nearly three months ago.

It was actually my first cappuccino in several weeks. After receiving a pay check the day before, I felt that it was ultimately time to treat myself. As I neared the restaurant, Cafe Lalo, I took note of several photos outside.

Each photo read “You’ve got mail” and had screen captures of the infamous romantic comedy which starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks nearly a decade ago.

Suddenly, the once annoying ring of “You’ve got Mail” had turned into a welcomed thought. “Oh. I will have a cappuccino where one of my favorite films was shot. At Cafe Lalo how lovely.”

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ImageCall 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.

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