Here’s a little secret for those who don’t know me very well: I’ve never been crazy about New York City. I grew up and attended college in Syracuse and spent my first 6 years out of school in Los Angeles. When I moved to NYC for grad school, it was supposed to be temporary. I had been coming to the city my whole life for various reasons, and never could see myself living here. But, I thought I could at least manage two years, and then it would be back to warm weather, blue skies, and laid back attitudes.
Here I am 14 years later, living in Brooklyn with my wife, two kids, and a fairly large circle of friends and family. In other words, coronavirus or no coronavirus, I ain’t going nowhere. I’ve been in denial about this since the day I arrived, and, in fact, it wasn’t until about a year or so ago that I stopped telling people I’m just here on business (if asked, I would say the business of having a career and raising a family).
Of course, I’m being somewhat facetious here. New York has so much to offer. Some of the best parts of my time here have revolved around trips to Kalustyans, Eataly, Le District, and other New York institutions that make finding obscure ingredients and produce a cinch. And, obviously, the city has amazing food — including many Michelin-starred restaurants.
Most of those restaurants and stores are completely shut down now. When will they reopen? Will they reopen? If they reopen, can they survive? I know that right now fine dining seems like a trivial extravagance, but these are businesses responsible for an entire financial ecosystem. Chefs, cooks, servers, dishwashers, maître des, reservationists, florists, farmers, butchers, importers and others all depend on NY restaurants for their survival.
Of course, I also miss hosting get-togethers. The last time we had friends over was in late February, a couple weeks before Covid-19 became a reality for us. We had invited Maya’s classmate and her parents — who have become friends of ours — over for dinner. Since we are all transplants to NYC and share a love of dining out, I recreated a few signature dishes from Michelin starred restaurants in the city. I’ve held off on writing about that evening, but I thought now would be a good time to celebrate those restaurants and remind people how special they are.
Our first course was the signature dish at Annisa, Anita Lo’s West Village restaurant that had a remarkable 17 year run before closing a couple of years ago. The dish is an elevated take on the Chinese soup dumpling, filled with a silky broth and foie gras, and served with a balsamic-Chinese black vinegar reduction. While our kids played together, us adults drank champagne and caught up in the living room.
Next up was a parsnip soup with coconut foam, lime froth, and mint. This has been on the menu at Jean Georges’ three-starred flagship restaurant for years and is emblematic of his pioneering ability to fuse classic French technique with Asian flavors. With it we drank a Finger Lakes riesling by the highly-esteemed producer Kemmeter. His wines are made in small quantities and are hard to find, so this was a real treat.
Jean Georges has few peers in his ability to create timeless dishes that inspire, but Eric Ripert is one of those chefs. The tandoori-spiced hamachi with pickled cucumber-mango salad from Le Bernardin is beautiful to look at and equally delicious. Matching wine with Indian food can be tricky, as the spice can overwhelm the nuances of the wine, while the alcohol can exacerbate the heat. Choosing something with a bit of sweetness and high acidity is clearly the way to go, and a Huet demi-sec was a no-brainer here. This vintage was particularly celebrated, so it was difficult to find a bottle. In fact, I had to travel all the way to upstate New York to find it. 49th Street and Fifth Ave, to be exact. Yep, anything above 14th street is upstate as far as I’m concerned.
Italian-Americans have made an indelible mark on New York history and culture, especially when it comes to food. Local chef Michael White is well-versed in the classics of Italian cuisine, but the most famous dish at his one-starred seafood palace, Marea, pushes the envelope with its unique rendition of surf-and-turf: fusilli with octopus and bone marrow. Surprisingly, my girls got a kick out of seeing the whole octopus; our babysitter, who unwittingly received the delivery, not so much. A Sicilian wine from Mount Etna producer Tenuta delle Terre Nere complimented this wonderfully, with a deep, round texture and hint of black pepper.
Of course, any meal focusing on the great restaurants of New York has to include Eleven Madison Park. Their lavender and honey glazed duck is unquestionably chef Daniel Humm’s signature dish, and it demands a serious wine. It happened to be La Paulee week, New York’s annual celebration of all things Burgundy, so I broke out a 2010 Premier Cru Pommard. In a way, Burgundy wine is like NYC. Both are immensely popular and involve incredibly expensive real estate, meaning prices are astronomical. Both are also unpredictable, inspiring moments of frustration, as well as those of ecstasy.
For dessert we had a favorite at Daniel Boulud’s Mediterranean-inspired Boulud Sud: grapefruit givré with halva and rose. It was the perfect dessert — light and refreshing, but exotic and incorporating the relatively new trend in NY of infusing Middle Eastern flavors into French and other cuisines.
Looking back, this small get together seems like a scene from a bygone era. In just a few weeks, our lives have been turned upside down. What I wouldn’t give to simply browse the aisles at Kalustyans, or drink at a bar with a few friends. But if there’s a silver lining for me, here, it’s that I’ve finally come to appreciate New York. The daily 7:00 PM applauses that roar throughout the city in support of essential workers, or the myriad of ways the city has come together over this, is just inspiring. Just the other day, I went for a walk and saw an elderly woman whose electric wheelchair broke down in the middle of an intersection. Putting my own health at risk, I suppose, I stopped to fix her chair and get her on her way. As I began to head back home, a masked woman yelled to get my attention. When I turned to face her, she had her hands up, apparently applauding me for my actions (yay, me). When I got home, however, I realized that while I had been wearing a mask, I forgot gloves. I started to think maybe the woman wasn’t applauding me after all, but scolding me for not wearing those gloves. The funny thing is, either one of those scenarios would have been a quintessentially New York reaction, and I was okay with that.
Sure, the past few weeks haven’t been easy. I’ve been slammed at work, managing multiple projects while constantly excusing myself from Zoom meetings because my daughter needs me to flush the toilet for her. Every morning there’s a struggle to get my kids to at least put on pants for their daily class Zooms. The girls are constantly fighting, and we’re always behind on cooking, cleaning, laundry, and dishes. The stereo is blasting Who Let the Dogs Out? on repeat, and, it’s all done within the confines of a 1,100 square foot apartment. In short, it’s utter mayhem. But that’s the thing about my apartment these days that I’ve just begun to realize:
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.