And were sandwiches eaten on my trip to New York? Why yes, yes they were. Of course, nobody goes to New York just for the sandwiches, but given the general ubiquity of the form, it’d be strange if you didn’t occasionally find yourself eating one. I always feel a bit of a tool taking pictures of my meals (though lord knows nobody else ever seems to have any such inhibitions) but when the sandwich is as beautifully lit as this one, it’s hard to resist.
That is, in fact, a fairly humble grilled ham and cheese, eaten in the Café on One, in the American Museum of Natural History. And yes, those are a couple of raw baby carrots rising up from the salad. And now that I think about it, I reckon that raw carrots are probably my favorite vegetable in the whole world. Especially when, like these, they have vinaigrette on them.
Another picturesque sandwich was the one above, eaten at Bread Alone in Rhinebeck. It’s ham and cheese again, actually ham & brie, and it came with sliced apple and whole grain mustard, and the bread was cranberry almond ciabatta, which frankly I thought was going too far. The bread was so heavy and plentiful that it was in some in some danger of overwhelming the contents of the sandwich. It also tasted like desert. But this is the great thing about the sandwich; if you think you’ve got too much bread, you just leave some of it. Still I was very glad a had a glass of Hurricane Kitty to wash it down. It's a local brew, made in Kingston, New York.
But the most extraordinary sandwich I had in New York was at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Now, again, nobody goes to the Oyster Bar for the sandwiches. And like everybody else I was there for the Montauk points, the Yakutats, the Fanny Bays, and the Naked Cowboys, among others. But when you see a bouillabaisse sandwich (yes really) calling to you from the menu, you have to answer the call.
As far as I can see, they must have a pot of bouillabaisse simmering gently in the kitchen, and when somebody orders the sandwich they just slap a ladle (or perhaps a slatted spoon) full onto a roll. It was strange and strangely wonderful. A soup sandwich. And again you could argue there was too much bread but you actually needed a fair lump of the stuff to soak up the liquid.
It’s a funny old place, is the Grand Central Oyster Bar – it’s on all the tourist routes yet it’s not in the least bit tourist-friendly. There are surly, harassed, servers, a great amount of noise, you probably have to sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers at one of the long, free-standing “bars.” The place is confusing and chaotic, and it’s not cheap. You see tourists wandering in, looking around, failing to find a friendly welcoming face, or even a way of understanding what’s going on, and then they wander out again. Of course, once you get the hang of it, this is the very reason why you love it. It’s serious and uncompromising, not for wimps: very, very New York. Also, since it’s built in a vault I always get the feeling that even if a nuclear bomb went off at street level you’d be pretty safe down there in the restaurant, at least until the oysters and the Pinot Grigio ran out.
The place also has some very cool toilets (above). This is the waiting area, a vestibule actually within the toilet, a place where a man might sit for whatever reason, though if you try (like I did) to take a photograph, you do get some very funny looks. But what the hell, this is New York: I’ll do what I like.