Category Archives: Restaurants

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 Williamsburg

South Williamsburg is bundled up in wool pants and black jackets. The umami of sweat smell, like leaded gasoline, fogs the sidewalk, humid and dense. The Hasidim must suffer from New York summers—but you will never hear a complaint. The men just drip, tight-lipped behind tangled beards, and the women are speechless despite the discomfiture of bottlebrush wigs. I regularly run through the neighborhood, cross country shorts flapping high on my thighs, sweat soaking through a mesh t-shirt. We pass on the sidewalk without eye contact. There is a palpable hostility that dissolves in the air like a bitter lozenge. Then again, the hatred and fear do not only circulate between the Hasidim and intruders: smiling and casual conversation are discouraged. Men walk side-by-side, heads bent together, beards growing together, twining like vines and tree limbs forced together from lack of light, whispering, peyes bobbing like synchronized springs. Their wives keep a watchful eye on children from balconies, or push strollers and scold their babies, or conduct serious tribunals on their stoops. Surveillance is reciprocal; purity is maintained within a system of implicit discipline. Gangs of children, all toddlers and adolescents, roam untethered, but never fear, no Clockwork Orange shit here. Chaos boils inside a latex bubble, elastic and capable of absorbing violence. The occasional rupture—child molestation, a kidnapping, race riots—is incorporated back into the membrane and dampened into a silent ripple. History becomes the stuff of nightmares, never discussed or remembered during the day, but a constant threat when the ladies let their real hair down—or run their fingers through air, because many shave their skulls short. Continue reading

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Journey to Brighton Beach

My most restful nights have been by the sea.

I can sit on a vinyl recliner and let the air wash my face. The sea air is delicious and full of extra oxygen. It is especially nutritious and satisfying to breathe. The wind lifts ancient minerals off the waves. They trickle through the nasal epithelium and tickle the brain. My lips tingle. My most restful nights have been by the sea.

If you start from Coney Island and follow the sea you will eventually find Brighton Beach. Last Saturday looked Moscovian. Gray and white clouds dwarfed the sand and sucking waves. Highrise apartments were flat prints on the skyline. The subway lurches across metal stilts and shelters beneath its pantaloons a romantic avenue of liquor stores, groceries and restaurants and fruit markets, Soviet electronics, cell phones, CDs and VHS tapes, souvenirs, dance halls and nightclubs, cheap insurance, doctors, etc. An alternative universe has budded off the train and dangles, contained by its own surface tension—two blocks away from the umbilical bubble, you are in dark uterine trenches, suburban, overgrown and peeling like seashore homes tend to during unseasonably cool summers. Even compared to Flushing or Sunset Park, Brighton Beach is glowering and mysterious. With less friendly teenagers and more grumping octogenarians, maneuvering through the barricaded shops can be stifling. Frankly, if you are young and hanging out you considered a threat to general order and unwanted. Although we encountered  welcoming and interested faces, we also met rude clerks who wanted nothing to do with a few Russian Jews strung out along a genealogical strand. When exploring this neighborhood, the intrepid cosmopolitan must prepare for the best: confusion and outright hostility. Continue reading

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Journey to Bay Ridge

Bay Ridge is an infinitely long and mysterious neighborhood, and before this weekend I never thought to visit. Or the prospect of a long ride on a slow machine diverted my route to closer destinations. Now that I live in Crown Heights, the only plausible excuse sounds something like, “With so many interesting restaurants down the street, why should I journey to other, equally alien lands?” For the sake of exploration, ethnography, and the forces of evil, of course. And after a run across the Williamsburg Bridge and back again, my brother wanted breakfast food of a more traditional bent, which is not to say that the salt fish at Trini-Gul is unpleasant, but one can only eat Caribbean food so many days in a row. We decided on Anopoli Ice Cream Parlor and Family Restaurant, two blocks from the Bay Ridge Avenue station. The street stretches South, shrinking and thinning around the edges as it reaches the horizon, and yet the assemblage of Chinese massage parlors and pubs, Irish and German, cafés (including Aloha Grounds, a Hawaiian coffee shop and barbecue restaurant), grocery stores, bodegas, vintage clothing outlets, and bakeries upon bakeries upon each other and redundant, is still visible. Anopoli sits at the beginning, and after brunch it would be easy to experience buyer’s regret. An ambitious eater might require two years to sample the food options thoroughly. Here a Polish restaurant, Polonica, there a bagel shop, Sam’s; those with small eyes will find them bigger than the biggest stomachs. At Anopoli, we ate gyro on eggs with a stack of buttered toast. We sat in the backyard on plastic lawn furniture, sunning ourselves like black cats. Three Greeks smoked and gossiped while we ordered ice cream. The double-scoop sundae looks three or four scoops too much, hidden under a hillock of whipped cream and hot fudge. Two flavors, maple walnut and chocolate chocolate chip, were enough for me, and I staggered out to the register almost too full to speak. I managed to squeak a thanks and drop a tip. Continue reading

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Recollecting Little Italy: Parm and Hip Red Sauce

Little Italy has not been a good place to eat, at least in recent memory. The encroachment of Chinatown on Italian territory, rising rents, dying families, and changing immigration patterns set an expiration date on the neighborhood. As classic restaurants closed up shop, only the most vulgar and bawdy tourist destinations survived. Those palaces of forgetfulness prostituted themselves to the lowest bidders—cheap spaghetti in canned red sauce? Louche lasagna, too sweet with cottage cheese? Floozy pasta e fagioli? All for sale on Mulberry Street. Although many tourist traps maintained a pretense of earnestness until the end of red sauce seemed inevitable, the best restaurants, the dim leather salons and family kitchens where regular customers kept the food honest, disappeared long before the neighborhood’s current decline. Today, however, hipster aesthetics have inflected mainstream consumer preferences. It’s hip to be square. So red sauce is back, baby, in all its kitschy glory. For be not mistaken, hipster isn’t campy. The aestheticization of lower middle class custom and culture does not transform life into style. Ordinary experience fails to and perhaps cannot achieve transcendental aesthetic value. Instead, the supposed disclosure of aesthetic value in ordinariness is a patronizing power play, an attempt to appropriate, rehearse, and eventually perform class difference as social fetish. Hipster red sauce cooking, alias Torrisi Italian Specialties, is the latest incarnation of an old school bourgeois impulse: “slumming it.” Continue reading

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