New York

bacaroWe ate some wonderful Venetian bar food at Bacaro last week. Tucked away on adorable Division Street that runs on a slant between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Bacaro unwinds down the stairway from the busy bar to the brick vaulted dining spaces below.

Dining in Venice can often be disappointing because so many of its restaurants are shamless tourist traps. It’s been that way since before the Renaissance. It’s the only town I’ve been to in Italy where there are more bad restaurants than good. But the crafty gourmand can eschew restaurants completely and eat and drink quite well in the many wine bars around town. They serve snacks on little plates — cichetti — along with a small glass of wine Venetians call un ombra, a shadow. I think the reference is to the art of taking the edge off the day.

Bacaro celebrates this particular style of Venetian eating and drinking — it’s bar food, but a bar with a very good kitchen in the back.

Sardines in saor is the classic cichetti. Bacaro’s version with its sweet and sour sauce napping the fried sardines and wine-soaked raisins makes your mouth immediately call for another glass of Verdicchio. The same with the spicy fried meatballs, which I mistook for fried olives on first taste. That shows what an educated palate I have.

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manana.jpgFor 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.

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painchocolat.jpgMy father has a way of making everything unforgettable.  He’s loud, temperamental, incredibly passionate, and a romantic to the core.  So it seemed completely natural to me when he took me to Paris for my 14th birthday so that I “would see Paris for the first time with a man who truly loved me”.  He showed me the sights, took me out to fantastic meals, and I left Paris with two promises to myself – that I would find pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) as delicious as the ones we devoured for breakfast every morning in Paris and that I would one day return to Paris with the person I was madly in love with. My father was absolutely right about Paris being a city to only share with those you love.

It took me 16 years and many pain au chocolat experiences to finally discover what I’d encountered on my birthday trip to Paris.  In the midst of Manhattan, in the Upper East Side at Payard’s, a charming French patisserie and bistro, was the perfect buttery flaky croissant filled with rich chocolate.  Who was making such delectable pain au chocolat? Only a French man, of course!

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NathansHotDog.jpg My dad was a two job guy.  We lived in a representative, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, which was to me, the paradise of the world.  Representative I learned years later meant not just Jewish people, like us, but an equal mix of almost everything else.  The working class is obvious.

My dad worked at a brokerage house on Wall Street as a runner from 9 to 3.  That was his first job.  His second job was at the Morgan Annex branch of the US Post Office, in mid-town Manhattan.  He had started at the PO as a teen-ager, and was in it for the longest possible haul, a modest pension being the carrot at the end of his rainbow.  His hours on that job were 4 pm to mid-night.  He rode the subway to work.  He never owned a car.  Once in a long while he got driven home. 

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shakeshack_lg.jpgI 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."

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