Back To Our Favorite N.Y. Haunts (Joe, Joseph Leonard, Bar Centrale, City Bakery, Grand Sichuan & The Burger Joint)

I took a tumble outside of Joe on Waverly, the coffee shop that was a second home to me all those years that I lived in the big city. It was kind of embarrassing: rain was beating down, Craig ran inside the front door, and as I approached the first step, I totally slipped on the wet pavement and crashed down on my knee, slicing my jeans open and tearing the skin. I got myself up as quickly as I could but it was one of those disorienting experiences that made me feel like I was a stranger on my old turf: only a tourist slips on a wet New York City sidewalk.

Luckily, once inside, I regained my footing. Here I was: the place where I wrote my first book, where I learned how to make latte art, where I discovered pour-over coffee.


Funny story: for the years that I went to Joe on Waverly I’d always see a man there who’d always read a book or a newspaper. Sometimes we shared a table. It got to the point where we were the Norm and Cliff of Joe and yet we never said two words to each other. For seven years, this went on: it was almost a comedy of New York standoffishness. At a certain point, I almost took pride in the fact that we had a silent relationship. But also I was embarrassed I’d never just said, “Hi, I see you here every day, I’m Adam.”

Well on this trip back after six months away, I think he was surprised to see me. Because the ice finally shattered and I said “Hi” when he sat down and he said, “You’ve been away for a while.” And I told him I’d moved to California and we became best friends and he asked how California differed from New York and I talked about the weather and the people and the food. Oh, and I drank this cappuccino:


After our morning coffee (this was on Thursday), Craig and I met our friends Patty and Lauren for lunch at Joseph Leonard:


I’ve always enjoyed Joseph Leonard for lunch partially for the food, but mostly because of the wonderful light and location. It’s right on the corner of Waverly and Christopher (down the street from Joe) and it feels like a cross between a friendly neighborhood pub and your stylish friend’s house.

For lunch that day, I ordered the banh mi sandwich you see at the top of this post. That usually comes with French fries but I ordered mine with their famous Brussels Sprouts which come topped with Sriracha. Those were super tasty–buttery, spicy–but the banh mi left something to be desired: namely, the vegetables weren’t pickled so there wasn’t the necessary hit of acid. Still, I ate a lot of it.

On Thursday night, Craig and I went to see “Other Desert Cities,” a stellar play by our old friend Jon Robin Baitz (remember that time I had lunch with him?) Beforehand, Craig insisted we have Sidecars at our favorite hidden-away theater district joint, Bar Centrale.

Next time you go to New York, do yourself a favor: make yourself a reservation for pre-theater drinks (and snacks) at Bar Centrale. It’s like a secret club you have to know about; really, you do, because it’s unmarked. Right next door to Joe Allen, and up the stairs, you open what looks like the door to an apartment building and there it is: Bar Centrale.

And the Sidecars there are stiff but expertly made:


To illustrate their attention to detail, they salt the ice they put your carafe in to make it even colder.

We shared a bunch of bites there for dinner–deviled eggs, Caesar salad, potato skins and a very mediocre ceviche (don’t order that)–but the cocktails are where it’s at. And the atmosphere. You never know who you’re going to see there: once I saw Laurie Metcalf, another time I saw Frank Bruni. They were not together.

On Friday night, we went to go see our friend Andrew’s movie “On The Ice” (which you should all go see and support!) at Cinema Village East and, as usual, I got there too early and made a very difficult decision: should I get a cookie at Momofuku Milk Bar or a cookie from City Bakery?

Actually, that wasn’t a tough decision at all. I think City Bakery makes the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had in my life, so I walked over to the one on 1st Ave:


And bought myself a cookie:


It did not disappoint. I know there’ve been articles written about it (like this one by David Leite) but I still think there’s something very secretive about what makes it taste so good. There’s this sense of ground-up nuts in there when you eat it, but there aren’t any nuts. The mind reels; the tummy smiles.

Of course, for dinner that Friday, we had to go to Grand Sichuan. I’m ashamed that we haven’t yet done the San Gabriel Valley thing here in L.A.–where the Chinese food is supposed to be extraordinary–but Grand Sichuan, for us, is all about comfort. We went there as N.Y.U. students, as young newlyweds (ok, we’ve never been wed, but that was fun to say), and now as visitors to our old city. Here are the soup dumplings Craig loves so much (even though you commenters always say there are much better ones in the city):


Here’s their famous Chinese broccoli, which I certainly adore:


Dried saute string beans, which weren’t as good this time:


Gui Zhou chicken which was INSANELY spicy this time around:


And a dish our friends ordered that we’d never had before, Cumin Beef, which I very much enjoyed:


If you’re reading this and adding Grand Sichuan to your list of places to eat in New York, it’s important for you to know that there are good ones and bad ones. The one we love the most is this one, in the East Village (on St. Marks); the one we like the least is in the West Village. It just doesn’t have that Grand Sichuan magic.

Our last dinner in New York was at The Burger Joint in the Parker Meridian Hotel (click that to see pictures; the pictures I took this trip there were awful). We went there after seeing “Merrily We Roll Along” at City Center, the whole purpose of our trip (it was a birthday gift from Craig; “Merrily” is one of my favorite musicals, at least score-wise). We each had a burger with the works and our own individual bag of French fries. Oh and I had a lemonade.

It’s funny, even though I wrote a post called “Where To Eat In New York,” it isn’t until you go away for six months and come back that you really know where you, personally, most enjoy eating in the city–because those are the places you instantly rush back to. With limited time and limited planning, and for better or for worse, these were the places where we ended up. I stand by these choices 100%.

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