Category Archives: Dining Suggestions

Journey to Crown Heights

I lived on Park Place for ten weeks in a spacious apartment. We had no furniture other than two folding chairs and a card table that we bought at Target. My brother slept in the first bedroom, next to the front door and the bathroom. Tiles fell off the bathroom ceiling into the tub, which didn’t drain until week nine when the plumber extracted a plug of hair from the drain. The brown and black hair was compressed and stretched into a vaguely phallic shape, like a voodoo charm or a teratoma trapped under a young girl’s left lung, filled with baby teeth and a little beating heart. The plumber left it under the sink. I almost tripped over it.

The kitchen was no better. Two of the gas burners worked properly, enough for French toast or a pot of chicken curry, but certainly not for anything more elaborate. On the Fourth of July, I cooked pork chops, spinach, and sweet potatoes, a meal that just about strained the capacity of the stove to catastrophic failure. Early, perhaps the third week into our lease, we detached the kitchen smoke alarm. I prefer cast iron, and to cook properly in cast iron, one needs to heat the oiled metal till it splutters and blows thin smoke. The sink filled with flies, our milk went sour every Monday after Sunday shopping as though cursed, and I could barely manage to maintain a baseline threshold of cleanliness. No matter how much effort I put into scrubbing the Tupperware we used instead of china, grime seemed to accumulate in the corners with disturbing regularity. A minor tragedy. But in summation, the many minor tragedies of 600 Park Place made normal life a near impossibility. No air conditioning, broken windows, missing light fixtures, crumbling plaster, water damage, and the occasional rodent renter. Like with human cohabitants, the mouse demands a degree of privacy. When encountered in the middle of the night, on the way to the fridge for a sip of spoilt milk or a piss, the mouse darts for his lair behind the plastic garbage can. The intruder, equally startled and embarrassed, sidesteps towards his final destination with a nod of recognition, eyes turned down to avoid obligatory conversation.

The Franklin Avenue Shuttle runs above ground past Park Place. Every morning, I crossed the street, bounded up two flights of narrow stairs and snagged the train on its brief bobble between Prospect Park and Franklin. At night, however, the train still operated with the same regularity, departing in seven-minute intervals, or thereabouts depending on the style of the conductor on duty. Trains really do chug, I learned this summer: they clatter and rattle rhythmically like a predictable jazz drum kit warming up for a solo. Have you ever lived under the train tracks? Eventually, you fall asleep in a hypnotic daze, pounded into bewilderment by the continual crush of steel wheels on steel tracks. It is not a restful sleep, the slumber of those living under train tracks. But like Alvy, Woody Allen’s delicious nebechal who lives under a rollercoaster in Annie Hall, the trauma of mechanical motion becomes a part of ordinary life. I think I will miss the sound of the subway. An empty space will open in my sleeping mind, and something nasty will want to creep in, a hairy ball of waking neuroses. Right now, the train protects me from unconsciously turning daylight horrors about my palms; soon, I will need to face the plumber or the broker banging at the door and demanding to show the apartment to two clients who ‘came all the way from Texas.’  Continue reading

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Journeys to the Bronx

The terrifying thing about New York City is that, unlike Paris, one realizes that the streets are exhaustible, that eventually, one will have seen everything. And it will be time to go. I came to that realization the last two weekends, on journeys to the Bronx. Continue reading

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Journey to Sunset Park

Sunset Park smells like barber’s lather and masa.

I went for breakfast on a Saturday, just as the barbershops started opening for business. Electric clippers, the faintest match strike of a razor strop, rumba on the radio; but I smelled the shaving cream first.

These are my morning smells: black coffee, dried figs, the clean emptiness of yogurt, which has no smell at all, and is intended to fertilize the bowels with cleanliness, and Gillette shaving cream. I am always thirsty for coffee in the morning, as soon as I wake up, and smell someone walking past on the sidewalk with a cup from a corner donut cart. Then, my mouth and nose water and I want coffee. I have not shaved in a few weeks, so I cannot honestly say I miss the scent of shaving cream. I can experience shaving well enough from the voyeur’s vantage point. Continue reading

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Journey to Ganesh Temple

The Ganesh Temple Canteen is a basement annex of the temple proper. Visitors enter through a steel door on street level. Next to a security booth, there are neat rows of sandals and sockless shoes, battered and electrical taped empty sockets. Down two flights of stairs, the canteen smells like a fine dusting of curry powder. As a boy I mussed the tops of pewter curry plants that I grew in tomato planters. The smell of rich yellow would cloud my eyes like a bottle rocket set off on asphalt and brimstone. Although my plants died in the St. Louis summer, even hotter than the immense fiery imaginary sun of India, I nourished their memory in the architecture of my upper skull. My sinus chambers would resonate with the twang of pulluvan paattu. I caught a green snake and smelled my fingers. His dusky skin, shedding on my hand, reminded me of my garden, something grassy and thrumming. Continue reading

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A Letter To My Sister Regarding Upper East Side Sandwiches

Dear [redacted],

I have a confession: I wasted three years on bad sandwiches. Although I visit the Upper East Side once a week—for the museums, not the boutiques!—I have struggled to find acceptable lunches. Dean & Deluca? A dirty water dog? Once, I stooped so low as to eat a cinnamon raisin pretzel from the cart outside the Met instead of wandering Madison for more wholesome options. After the Whitney Biennial, I had a salami and cheese sandwich at Neil’s Coffee Shop. Squished between slices of spongy rye, the soft pink meat (like a little finger sliced open and made pate, or a slimy alien fillet) was no Hebrew National. To my left, a 75-year-old army vet ate a raw hamburger with a fork and knife. The claustrophobia depressed me. I will also admit to the occasional eclair at La Maison du Chocolat. There is no shame in excess confectionary, though the subsequent walk across Central Park induced light-headedness, a mild stomachache, and hallucinations. I saw hundreds of Santas and sexy elves heading down Park Avenue. Later, I learned that a charity encourages people to dress up like Santa and get drunk—a portion of proceeds go to the cause! Three boozy Santas accosted me on the subway. I accepted the ho-ho-hoing and the whole pseudo-psychotic episode as just punishment for poor lunching habits. As you prepare for a move to New York—albeit not my New York, but the New York of my dreams, somewhere south of Columbus Circle, a land Columbia students only know from rumor and rain-soaked copies of the Village Voice—I am writing to caution you against settling for improper and depressing sandwiches. Finally, I have found a paninoteca perfectly suitable for post-museum lunches. Via Quadronno, an inconspicuous restaurant on 73rd Street, will save you years of wasted eating. At the risk of sounding disingenuous or pedantic, I will suggest that Via Quadronno’s paninis stimulate the spirit like a good linger before some Roman sarcophagi. Just as a man, who having lived his hours in solitude discovers true love in the twilight of his years, I now feel immeasurable regret. What lunches I have squandered! Continue reading

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Seven Things To Eat In New York City Over Spring Break

With spring break looming over the horizon—for Columbia students, all mayhem commences tomorrow—I’ve received a number of queries along similar lines:

“I’m going to be in New York over spring break. Where should I eat?”  Continue reading


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Notes from Best Fuzhou, Unabridged

Due to space constraints and certain so-called copy ‘rules,’ my latest column for the Spectator appeared in abridged form. Here, I am publishing the full version. It is not that the Spectator version is inferior—some may find it infinitely more enjoyable—but rather that it is different, both in aesthetic effect and implicit meaning. You will notice that in the Spectator version, all quoted source material has been excised. In this unabridged version, the quotations remain in their original, unattributed form. If you are interested in finding out where the quotes come from, I’m happy to answer any and all queries. Click here for the abridged version.

The tongue is a lean muscle. It swims through linguistic fluid, writhes over benthic riddles, stiffens and retreats like a sea slug crawling across strange corals. Like a pig’s tongue—snuffling tree roots or extended in squeals—the human lingua, from to root to apex, is a fleshy, muscular organ “divided into lateral halves by a median fibrous septum which extends throughout its entire length and is fixed below to the hyoid bone.” Without the tongue, we could neither taste nor speak—the essential consumptive and expulsive functions of the oral cavity would be rendered pleasureless. I feel sorry for the pig who gave his tongue for our dinner at Best Fuzhou. What a dull and inarticulate life! But if the mouth of the righteous is sodden with wisdom, the perverted tongue will be excised. I have personally performed a glossectomy of necessary and delicious ends. Cooked in soy sauce and chilled until dense and gelatinous, my pig’s tongue tastes like curses and corned beef. Continue reading

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