I have made a discovery, dear reader, and it may not be much of a discovery–I’m sure big city eaters have known this for some time–but I’ve come to the conclusion that winter time is prime time for New York dining.
The above picture was taken at The Spotted Pig where I took Patty to lunch on Wednesday (she catsat when we were in Seattle, and I owed her another meal). At night, you can’t get near The Spotted Pig–and that may still be true in winter–but daytime can get pretty busy too. On this day, though, the place was half empty; we practically had it to ourselves. [Incidentally, the dessert Patty is holding is a must-try: a banana tart with dulce de leche and toffee that was surprisingly not too sweet and extremely light.]
Other lunches I’ve had lately in the city support my theory. For example, this sushi lunch I had at Morimoto (it was a business lunch, actually–I’m not usually in that neck of the woods)…
…was consumed in another half-empty restaurant, a nightclub like space that feels eerily cavernous in daylight. The lunch was $24.95 and featured the sushi you see, soup and salad. I found the sushi wonderfully fresh and, as expected, expertly arrayed. Chef Morimoto was making the rounds looking cheerful–though a few days later he’d lose half his fortune.
The lesson, though, is that if you like dining out in New York but can’t stand crowds, your time is now: late January and all of February. There’s finally a seat at the counter at Pearl Oyster Bar (get a bowl of chowder and a Caesar salad, and leave very happy); I haven’t been lately, but my hunch is there’s a bowl of noodles with your name on it at Momofuku–an ideal wintertime salve. And, if you have a little cash put away, now’s the time to endorse a favorite neighborhood gem as Craig and I did last week when we had a spontaneous meal at Palo Santo. Dana Bowen once told me that Palo Santo’s chef’s tasting menu (at $45) was one of the best deals in Park Slope and after consuming a raw scallop amuse, barricuda for the fish course, a rabbit heart course and wild boar for the entree, I have to agree: this is brave, exciting food that surprises and delights well beyond the $45 price tag. And, it being winter, we sauntered right in and we were seated right away.
So fear not, timid New Yorker. The dining scene here can be intense, but winter is your friend. Go out and patronize a hard-working chef and be rewarded with a minimal to non-existent wait. And same goes for you non-New Yorkers, wherever you are: go support local chefs who struggle to fill seats in cold weather.