My trip to New York started with a favorite brunch spot going down the tubes and ended with a brunch spot that I loved so much, I went twice. That spot is Lafayette and it’s located, as the name might suggest, on Lafayette Street just south of the Astor Place stop on the 6 train and north of the Broadway/Lafayette stop on every other train. My first visit was with my friend Alex who you can see above modeling a $14 basket of pastries so good, we pretty much devoured the whole thing. Going to Lafayette and not ordering the pastry basket is like going to Disneyland and not riding the rides. You just can’t avoid it.
One time in grad school for dramatic writing, a teacher tore into me and called the play I was working on “sophomoric” and “juvenile.” Classmates called me afterwards to console me, and though I’m pretty much over it, sometimes I look back at that moment and wonder if she was right. In all of my efforts to be taken seriously, perhaps I was at my best when I made the Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake? Or Condoleeza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction?
Take, for example, the dinner I had last week with friends in Brooklyn. I couldn’t get over the fact that two of the friends I was eating with were named Cara and Dara and we were eating at a restaurant called La Vara. Cara and Dara at La Vara. I told everyone I knew; I Tweeted about it. I told the waitress and the chef. At a certain point, you’d think I would’ve gotten over it, but no sirree. I find the title of this post endlessly amusing. In fact, I could just end it here but then you wouldn’t get to see the absolutely amazing food that we ate.
Pull up a chair, I’m going to tell you a funny, though slightly depressing, story.
See, on Valentine’s Day, I was alone in New York. Craig would be coming a few days later and, in the meantime, I decided to spend the night seeing a play I’d always wanted to see: David Ives’ “All In The Timing” at 59E59. (A terrific production, by the way.) I figured seeing a play by myself on Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be a big deal; once the lights go down, who cares that you’re alone? The real issue was getting food before the show started. Eating out alone on Valentine’s Day, now that’s a different story.
When I lived in New York, I swore off brunch. “Brunch is for idiots!” I declared. “You wait forever, you spend a fortune, and for what? Food you can make just as good at home for way less money.”
That’s why there are so many entries on my Breakfast Recipes page: I mostly make brunch at home. But while in New York, this last time around, I ate two brunches so good, they put me in my place. I couldn’t make food THAT good at home.
I want to tell you about a sandwich. It’s a very special sandwich. You get it at a place famous for another special sandwich, but we’re not going to talk about that other special sandwich. We’re going to talk about the original sandwich I was trying to talk to you about earlier. Seriously, will you stop changing the subject?
Before I returned to New York this fall, I started a little folder in my browser called NYFood. I read my EaterNY, my Grub Street, and then bookmarked in my special folder any place I felt like I had to visit. Most prominent among my selections were Mission Chinese Food and Pok Pok NY.
Both restaurants are transplants from other cities: Mission Chinese from San Francisco, Pok Pok from Portland. Both are phenomenons. Both have enormous lines. Yet I told myself these were places I had to visit before returning back to L.A. or I’d be forced to hang my head in shame. Now I can go back to L.A. with pride because I Mission Chinesed, I Pok Poked and lived to tell the tale.
The journey to the best bagel of my life was a journey of precisely three miles. It started on the Upper East Side, near 2nd Avenue in the 70s, and ended close to Columbia University, on Broadway near 108th Street. I told myself that I could treat myself to a decked-out bagel if I walked all the way to Absolute Bagels, home of what Ed Levine once called “the best bagel in New York.”
Even though I shipped my cooking gear here to New York before arriving in September, things have been so busy and crazy it’s been difficult to find time behind the stove. When I get back from the west coast leg of my book tour (I leave tomorrow!) I have a lot of cooking I want to do; in the meantime, I’ve been checking many places off my New York “must eat” list. Here’s one of the best.