Saturday, May 23, 2009
NEW YORK: THE BIG STOMACH
I’ve just been in New York doing the kind of things you do in New York, including a lot of eating.
The fanciest, and most old school, meal I had was the $45 mutton chop at Keen’s – and no, it most certainly wasn’t dressed as lamb.
The newest and hippest restaurant I went to was the John Dory. I had the flounder, which I was fairly sure I’d never eaten before. It was very good if you like fish and chips, and yes I do. My "companion" (do restaurant critics still use that term) was my edtior Geoff Kloske, who ate squid followed by octopus. He's hell on cephalopods, that guy. Best thing about the place was the counter top of the bar, which looked like this.
One thing I was absolutely certain I’d never eaten before was the “pork stomach porridge” I ordered at a Chinese restaurant called Great N.Y. Noodletown. It tasted much the way you’d imagine, and it seems that some bits of pork stomach are way more appealing than others, but we probably knew that already. “Frog porridge” and “beef and fish stomach porridge” were also on the menu; but I saved those for another time.
The most all-round fun meal I had was lunch at Tom’s Restaurant on Washington Avenue, in Prospect Heights, a fairly gritty bit of Brooklyn and even grittier at night than at lunchtime. Tom’s Restaurant stays shut at night.
Some authorities say this is the place Suzanne Vega sings about in Tom’s Diner, though they’re almost certainly wrong. But somebody definitely should write a song about it. I think it was the friendliest eating establishment I’ve ever been to. This was my first visit but Gus the owner treated me like family. I was there with my pal Michael Kupperman who’d been there a few times before and they treated him like a long lost son. My pastrami came with about a pound of potato salad, and I didn’t really need to eat again for the rest of the day, but somehow I forced myself.
This is the thing about New York. Of course I ate too much while I was there. It’s hard not too when there’s a deli or sushi bar, a pizza joint or hot dog stand on every street corner. There are those who say this is absolutely what’s wrong with America, that we’re becoming ever more overfed and obese simply because we overstimulate our appetites. We never really get hungry but we still want to eat all the time because there are so many enticing options all around us. As with drugs, pornography and gun crime, New York got there first.
On December 6th 1980 John Lennon was interviewed by the BBC and extolled the virtues of New York. He said, “I can go right out this door now and go in a restaurant. You want to know how great that is?” Two days later he was shot dead. Curiously enough he hadn’t been out to a restaurant. He’d been at the recording studio and had hurried home to see his son Sean before he went to bed.
Of course, one of the reasons New Yorkers eat out so often is because they have such crappy little apartments with even crappier little kitchens. It’s not so much that they want to eat out but that they can’t bear to stay home.
Below is the best food sign I saw in New York, in the window of a restaurant on 23rd Street called Live Bait.
My sentiments exactly.