Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Obviously, you could spend any number of lifetimes in NYC and not try everything it has to offer on the food front. But, given the fact I was there for less than I week, I did not think I had done too badly.

I had managed to break out of Manhattan which is something all too few visitors do and all visitors ought to do if they are interested in food and I had filled my time and my stomach with some of the best NYC has to offer.

The last couple of days were no different.

Friday came and I had plans to try again to have breakfast at Barney Greengrass. When I arrived on the Monday, it had been closed. For years, when I had stayed in this neighbourhood for business, I had walked past this shop where Mr Greengrass proclaimed himself the self styled “Sturgeon King” and had eaten there before. I had not been overwhelmed by it and had never seen the need to return.

It is however, as quintessential a NY store as you are ever likely to find and I thought it was worth another go if only to confirm how blah it had been the first time around.

My companions this time were not to be native New Yorkers but some fellow travellers from London, Gavin & Anny who happened to be in town at the same time as I was. We had already planned to have lunch together, but agreed that a bit of eggs and onions in the morning might be a good start. Unfortunately, a late one for them before meant they were running behind schedule in the morning. I was the first customer through the door when the shutters came up and was greeted by a message from G&A saying that they were going to be half an hour late.

Did I wait patiently so I could enjoy breakfast with my friends? Did I bollocks like? I ordered.

The place was already filling up by now with locals who are, as all New Yorkers incredibly specific in their ordering demanding their food in detailed and very specific ways. It is impressive to listen too, but you can’t help thinking that in most cases they are doing it because they can, not because they could tell the difference if it came any other way.

Still, my order, given in a much more deferential British style

“may I possibly have some lox, eggs and onions please? Ooh, could I have a bialy too. I want to try one of those”

was taken promptly and the food arrived soon after. It was better than I recall with the eggs less dry than on my previous visit and the fish actually having some taste. I rather liked it. The bialy just struck me as a bagel without the hole, but perhaps I am missing something.

By the time I had done eating, my friends had still not turned up, so I left a message for them at the counter and headed off to fill my morning. As soon as I walked out of the door, I bumped into them crossing Amsterdam Avenue and they looked most put out that I had not waited. As I explained to them, in this crazy business of EAT MY GLOBE, you snooze, you loose.

I was planning to meet them later anyway for lunch, so we went our own ways until our planned meeting time at Noon.

One thing that I never fail to have on my visits to NYC is a huge, enormo, fuck off steak. There is something about a NY steakhouse that just can’t be replicated. The hubbub, the waiters in ill fitting dinner jackets and the ludicrous portions of meat. Of course other places in the US have great steakhouses, but there is something about those in NYC that draw me to them like a moth to a flame.

Above all others in New York is Peter Luger’s Steakhouse in Brooklyn. It is, for many, The Holy Grail of steaks and there are plenty of New Yorkers who will stop talking to you if you even suggest that any other place in the city or the country comes close. Mind you, in some cases that would be a good thing.

I waver on the supremacy of Peter Luger over others. This was to be my fifth visit. So far it had been a draw. I had been subjected to two dreadful meals there, but had also experienced two meals when I began to see what all the fuss was about. It was time to break the tie.

As I arrived, Gavin and Anny were already there, trying to make amends for their inexcusable lateness early I guess. Now it was my turn to make them wait as, before we sat down, I did what I always do when visiting this famous institution. I sucked down one of their unfeasibly large and vaguely competent Martinis.

By the time I had got a nice buzz on, it was time to head to the table. There is only once choice here for the visitor who does not have the opportunity for repeat visits, the porterhouse. Given that Anny would not eat vast amounts, but Gavin and I would, we plumped for the order for three people with some chips.

Appetizers here are actively grim, but eating strips of fatty bacon and crappy tomato salads help pass the time while you wait for the main event which in this case was, I am pleased to say, well worth waiting for.

We devoured the huge slab of meat, cut into large chunks and served with its own juices, in rapid time while sinking more martinis (in my case) and beer, for Gavin & Anny.

I was pleased. I want to like this place and the fact that it had let me down on other visits was a disappointment. This was not. This was as good a steak as it is possible to get and I gnawed at the bone much to the distaste of my companions.

By mid afternoon, I was already bushed, so headed back to Sanjoy & Evelyn’s flat for a quiet night.

The next morning was much the same. I took it easy, partly in anticipation of an early start to Mexico the next day and partly in anticipation of a fun afternoon at the glamorous abode of my chum, Cathy.

Now, Cathy is a smoker. I don’t mean she likes to puff on a ciggie, although in her private world she may well do. I mean she loves to smoke stuff. In her small but perfectly formed garden, she has A Big Green Egg, a rather fearsome looking beast in which she smokes hunks of meat for long periods of time.

Over the years, Cathy has smoked any number of bits of animal for me to try, but now she raised the bar by ordering a 40lb hunk o’ hog via her work in the restaurant trade, having it cut up and smoking it for god knows how long in preparation for a “Thank the Lord he’s leaving New York” party in my honour.

At the prearranged time, I arrived with Sanjoy & Evelyn in tow along with another dear friend, Jeanette who I have known for ever and who had gladly agreed to come along for the porky ride.

Cathy had invited about 20 other people, I think, and, as I helped her bring the slabs of meat up from the garden to be pulled apart, others arrived bringing even more food.

Sandy Levine arrived bearing a Shaker Pie, which is made by baking slices of lemons and sugar in a pastry case. Another friend, Meredith, gelato maker to Don Mario Batali, came with two tubs of her incomparable ices and yet another person, whose name totally escapes me, sorry, arrived with a tray filled with “Mac & Cheese”

Normally, those words fill me with as much horror as the word “pizza” and I steer clear of it whenever it is used as a threat against me. However, it actually looked good and smelled better. I tentatively took a small portion and, after sniffing it again, had a bit. What can I tell you? I am a convert. It was so good I went back for seconds and thirds until I was pulling crusty bits of cheese off the bowl in desperation normally reserved for crack addicts.

The pork was good too, but then I knew it would be. Particularly after offering my expert help pulling it apart into fatty strands

It was a triumph, as indeed was the whole evening. Much food was eaten and much wine and scotch drunk. The desserts vanished in seconds as if someone had announced that there was going to be a sugar shortage

I was sorry when the time came to leave. Not because it was just the end of my time at this particular joyful party but because it was the end of my time in New York and, not being in publishing anymore, I was not sure when my next chance to return would come.

It is a city of people to whom I give hell for their blind loyalty to a place with huge numbers of failings. It is a city that could never possibly live up to its own publicity as the greatest place to eat on Earth and it is a city that has the capacity to bewilder and annoy at every turn.

For all that, it is a city I love to bits and have not tired of, even after a hundred visits. It is a city that is filled with people I love to bits and who had gone all out to make this section of EAT MY GLOBE a special one. They had succeeded.

With their help, I had been to the ends of the boroughs in search of amazing things to eat and the city had not come up wanting. I was full up to the brim in so many ways and already thinking of what I would do when I returned.

One thing I did know was that it would include seeing my friends, Cathy, Sandy, Beth & Peter, Jeanette and all the rest. Above all, however, it would include, God willing, spending time with Sanjoy & Evelyn, my other parents without whom New York would never feel the same.

The next morning, I realised that I had left the party in such a rush, I had forgotten to collect my favourite woolly hat tucked down the side of a chair at Cathy’s place. A shame, that hat has been around the world with me many times.

Mind you, I did not think that I was going to need it where I was going next.

I was off to Mexico


Cathy said...

Wooly hat?? It's probably a testament to my slovenly housekeeping that no such beast has surfaced since you left.

Or maybe the mammoth cat took it as a memento of your visit. I'll look.

Very nice, m'dear, despite the hideous pix of me. ;-}

Cathy said...

The m&c was brought by Carey, who is (among other sterling qualities) the queen of mac 'n' cheese. And the pig was supplied by Jennifer and Mike, the wonderful couple who raise heirloom breeds at Flying Pigs Farm.

Sandy said...

Cathy, you have no cause for complaint. Take a look at the film of me in the previous post!

Bagels and bialys are both round. There the similarity ends. The doughs are different. (I'm describing authentic, traditional breads, of course.) Bagel dough is sweetened just a bit with malt; not so the bialy. A bagel is supposed to be shiny, with a relatively hard crust. This is achieved by boiling the rings before before they are baked.

Bialys are not boiled, and have onions in a center indentation. They are softer, with a much more open crumb than bagels.

The next time you're in town, we'll do a side by side test of the best of each and you'll never embarrass yourself again.

Sandy said...

I love that new travel map.