New York

gothamwestI’m obsessed. There’s no way of getting around it. I’m a walking Jackie Mason routine. At lunch, no before lunch, I’m deciding where we will go for dinner. At dinner, I’m wondering if the dessert menu will speak to me or will I just head home to my private stash. I always have a private stash of freshly baked goods. I’m more of a junkie when it comes to food.

I’m going to focus on just visiting New York here because Los Angeles, where I live, is different, and a few nights a week I try to cook. I’m not a very good cook and I’m so lazy that sometimes I pick up one sweet potato, not two, and a salad from the salad bar and call it dinner. My husband will remind me we can afford two sweet potatoes, but I shop at Gelson’s, so maybe we really can’t afford two.

Back to New York, where there is a huge difference in my energy level. All my friends comment on it. From the second I arrive, I’m off and running. First day, my husband had done some research. He suggested we walk to 11th avenue -- Hells Kitchen, where there is now a food marketplace called Gotham West Market. It’s similar to Eataly or the Ferry Building in San Francisco, though on a much smaller scale.

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serendipity cocoTrips to New York City have become scarce over the years.  (Maybe non-existent is a better description.)

I don't have family, friends or business in New York.  All past trips have been purely hedonistic, with food always at the top of my list.

I visit all the tourist traps.  I can't help it.  I am a tourist when I'm there, a downtown poser in every sense of the word.  Every trip has consisted of visits to the Empire State Building, Tavern on the Green, a carriage ride through Central Park and Serendipity 3.

Serendipity 3 reminds of a place you would celebrate your sweet sixteen.  A glorified malt shop with faux Tiffany lamps, long lines, marginal service and so-so food.  However, they won't let you make a reservation for just dessert...you have to eat a meal.  So we would eat....just to get dessert.

There is only one reason I patronized Serendipity 3...for the Frozen Hot Chocolate.  It's out of this world. 

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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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cricketsNestled under a nail salon, down just a few stairs, there lives an outpost of delicate seafood, with a touch of unexpected spice.

The thing most people will have heard of from Chef Andres Figueroa’s Mexican-inspired tapas menu is the crickets. I think most of the conversations will go something like this:

“It’s a new place where you can get crickets!” “Crickets? Really, did you try them?” “Sure did, and they were great, you should totally eat some.”

As the chef told us, it is part of his goal of bringing some of the (unfamiliar to most Americans) flavors and textures of Mexican street food to the streets of New York. Crunchy and salty with a hint of lime, crickets turn out to be an excellent hot sauce delivery vector, and one I hope my local sports bars stock in the future.

Still, a snack of crickets seems to be more a gimmick to get you in the door than an end in itself. And if the gimmick works on you, you’ll be glad it did, especially if you order heavily from Figueroa’s seafood offerings.

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nathans.jpgMy 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.

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