Besides being criminal, it is socially unacceptable to go to New York and not eat well. This is not to say that I am one of these deluded folks that thinks that the food there is better than the food in San Francisco, but the overall quality of grub is mighty fine indeed, and nothing less than world-class. You know this.
However, the trip that the FMA and I took in December was her first encounter with the Big Apple, so it was only appropriate that the food we would eat would be different than what we could get in S.F. We had proper Tokyo-style ramen at Ippudo, a recently-opened branch of our favorite Japanese ramen joint. Ramen in Tokyo receives at least the same scrutiny that pizza does in New York. That’s not to say that the best ramen in Japan is in Tokyo, but if you go to a place that’s half-decent, you won’t be disappointed.
I first discovered Ippudo when I was living in an improbable gaijin house in the center of Tokyo’s fancy-pancy Hiroo district. On the walk from Hiroo to Ebisu there was one of three branches of the local Tokyo chain of Ippudo. Open until 4 a.m., populated with a typical Tokyo mix of college students, partiers, and the occasional starving English teacher, they were known for their chashumen and their super-strong lemon sours.
The FMA and I ate not once but twice at Second Ave Deli, which is no longer down in the Lower East Side but up in midtown, off Lex. Same people running it, same excellent food. Jewfood is in the FMA’s blood, clearly, by the way she devoured the fried kreplach and the stacked sandwiches and the pickles and the Cel-Rey to wash it all down, and insisted we go back on Christmas morning.
We beat the crowd by 10 minutes.
We savored the divine garlic knishes at Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery, had falafel from a cart near MOMA, had a not-kosher-in-ages meal for three days from the Carnegie Deli. You don’t need a link to Carnegie. Check out 2nd Ave., trust me.
We brought back two months’ worth of bagels from Ess-a-Bagel and ate them in a month and a half. We had morning bagels regularly with craptacular machined coffee near the Avenue M station in Brooklyn, near where we were staying. We had a bartender who was a friend of a friend charge us $10 for $50 worth of drinks, we had two martinis for $5 in Midtown just to say we could. I think they used rubbing alcohol in place of vermouth.
I took the FMA to a nice little French joint on 50th that suffers only from the goofy name of Chez Napoleon, just before hitting her first Broadway show – Spamalot, what else?
Oh, and we had pizza. In New York. Shocking, I know.
Now, for those who know me, I’ve been raised on as much on my Bubbe’s kugel as I have on Tommaso’s pizza. I’m not extremely picky about the pizza I eat: as long as I know in advance I’m getting ghetto crap, I can prepare myself to not be disappointed. Regina’s in Boston has impressed me, and thanks to the recommendation of a friend the FMA and I met while traveling in China, Di Fara’s ain’t too bad, neither. So to speak.
The line at Di Fara’s, near my friend’s place at which we were staying in Brooklyn, took about two hours to get through. The pizza was near-perfect, from the thickness of the crust – neither too doughy nor too crunchy – to the quality of the rich sauce or the ridiculously extravagant toppings the FMA insisted on. The massive leaves of basil were a nice touch, cut by the owner and sole chef Domenico. During the wait, his adult children helped with the prep cooking, but from throwing the dough to pulling it out of the oven, he was the only one to touch the pizza. I could’ve done without the extra layer of oil that he added after the pizza was done, but that’s a small quibble for a pizza that’s worth trekking off the beaten path.
Six months later, I’ve finally worked off most of the extra weight I put on from this trip. I think.