Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday Afternoon

Some days I should just shut my phone off.

Today is turning out to be one of those days, so I’m going to talk about yesterday, since maybe that will cheer me up.  We’ll cover today in another post.

I love Sundays.  Yesterday, my dad came in to the city to have brunch with me and Neil.  My dad, who is also gay (I know, this is now the gayest blog ever and all my straight readers are going to abandon me for Daily Candy or Slate or that fat guy dancing to Beyonce in a leotard on YouTube, but please bear with me.  I promise there’s stuff here for you.  If not, I’ll just stick in a bunch of cheesecake pics and a chili recipe.)

Anyway, while it’s impossible to get my mother to go five miles from her house, my dad very willingly comes in to Manhattan every time I ask.  He loves restaurants and theater and stuff at the convention center.  He’s the kind of middle-aged gay man (OK, I’m being generous, he’s 63 and who lives to be 126?  But it’s my blog, so I can call him middle-aged.) who listens to Opera and remembers every show Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli and Bernadette Peters ever did.

I love Sundays, and I get my love of Sundays from my parents.  Growing up, Sundays were my mom making spaghetti sauce from scratch and my dad listening to showtunes.  Yes, this a recipe for gay children and a family-size package of expensive therapy, but it’s not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

So my dad met us on the Lower East Side.  We had intended to go to the Clinton Street Baking Co. for the best pancakes in Manhattan.  Yes, I know it’s always crowded and has gotten too much press and some people think it’s over-rated, but I really like it.  Neil likes the Southern Breakfast, with the sugar-cured thick cut bacon perfectly mixing sweet and salty with chewy-licious pork.  It comes with cheese grits and delicately fried green tomatoes, which are the best I’ve tasted north of Mississippi.  (Yes, I’ve been to Mississippi: prettier than Egypt, with the same chance of a gay Jew getting killed by a religious zealot.  Good fried chicken, though.  It is to die for, and you just might.)

I like the pancakes at Clinton St – they’re fluffy but not too chewy or spongy, and they’re about an inch thick.  You can squeeze an entire bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s into a single pancake.
Clinton St is worth the ordinary hour wait, but because yesterday was the first sunny day in a week, the line ballooned to two hours.  Now, the food is good, but no restaurant is worth that much of a wait.  It takes less time to do my laundry, see a movie, or get a kidney off the UNOS list.

So we depart Clinton St. and head over to The Stanton Social – another LES fave – and it’s here where I have to sidetrack a little on the topic of “small plates.”

I love small plates. 

In recent months there has been an explosion of restaurants turning everything into “tapas” – small plates designed for sharing.  There is a temptation (which Neil has occasionally indulged) to call a restaurant sloppy for simply bringing food as it’s ready; and it is certainly likely that you wind up paying more when you have to order several dishes that look cheap but require you to choose 10-12 to feed a table for four – but I don’t care.  Half of the time I can never make up my mind and small plates allow me to eat a little bit of everything.

It’s been a small plates weekend.  Saturday night we joined our friends Ben and Sebastian at Boqueria, a Spanish tapas restaurant in SoHo.  We recommend the Sangria (lots of it), the cod fritters, the patatas bravas (fried potatoes), the sizzling shrimp, the lamb meatballs, and the mixed grill (which is essentially a bunch of fried, um, things –I have no idea, but they were battered and fried and that was enough for me).   They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait (the sangria makes the wait better.  The sangria makes everything better.)  But, definitely, go to Boqueria.  The flavors are authentic Spanish, there is enough variety for the most varied tastes and the pickiest eaters, and the bill won’t kill you.  We ate ourselves silly, split two pitchers of Sangria, and still got out of there for $100 for two. 

The Stanton Social does small plates, even at brunch, which is my idea of total bliss.  I always have a hard time deciding if I want breakfast/sweet, breakfast/savory, or lunch, and the Stanton lets me have it all.  We started with the bittersweet chocolate pancakes with blood orange maple syrup (the chocolate was so creamy and the pancake so warm, it was like eating the first home-made Toll House Cookie right from the oven.) and some Croque Monsieur Satay (brilliant – I’ll eat anything on a stick.  Shut up.  That was not a pun.  Shut up.)

We then moved on to savory items like the breakfast bruschetta (bacon, eggs and cheese on a crostini – slurp!), and huevos racheros tacos (Ole! A perfect blend of black beans, scrambled eggs, jalapeno and a dash of jack cheese).  A selection of their sliders included scrambled eggs with cheese, grilled cheese and the kobe beef burger – nice, but forgettable, and let’s face it, sliders have been done to death and you still end up comparing them to White Castle (often, unfavorably.)

The sliders slid us into lunch items (groan – bad pun) which included red snapper tacos (excellent, but the best fish tacos in New York are at 202 in Chelsea Market – go NOW!), and an apple and brie quesadilla (I was too full at this point to fairly review anything, and skipped the quesadilla.  However, it’s a quesadilla.  Has anyone ever gone wrong with serving melted cheese?  Perhaps if there were quesadillas at the Last Supper, it would’ve turned out differently.  Can you really betray anyone when you’re weighed down with delicious creamy melted cheese?  No.  You’re just too tired and happy.)

After lunch we walked my dad over to Katz’s Deli.  No, he wasn’t still hungry, he wanted to pick up a pastrami sandwich for dinner.  (14.95!!!) And here’s where I need to say a word about Katz’s, and “institutions” in general.
My feeling about most restaurants that become icons of a golden age – Katz’s, The Palm, Serendipity, Peter Luger – is that somewhere along the line they become caricatures of themselves.  It’s as if the notoriety and longevity combine to simultaneously increase prices and decrease quality.  In equal proportions.  The end result isn’t a bad meal, but – often – a disappointing one, where the mystique and anticipation of the experience is more enjoyable than the reality.  (I know people who would apply the same description to smoking pot, seeing the Eiffel Tower, or having a three-way, but that’s irrelevant here.  Let them write their own damn blog.)

I’m just saying that $14.95 is a pretty high price tag for anything with that much fat to live up to, unless it’s wearing an evening gown and singing “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Plus, Katz’s always looks dirty, and the security guard by the door reminded me of being in Egypt.

We walked my dad back to his car, at which point he bestows upon us an orchid.  Neil, you see, is something of a gardener.  By this I mean he has a collection of plants, flowers and herbs on our fire escape and is engaged in a daily fight for survival second only to that of an ICU nurse.  He and my dad have had conversations (during which I’m generally on my Blackberry) about plants, and my father has recommended orchids because they thrive easily. 

Neil, it should be noted, has killed several plants, among them a cactus. 

Which he broke.  In half.

Saddled with an orchid and two full stomachs, at the complete opposite corner of Manhattan from where we live, we decide not to return home.  (Have you ever dragged a live orchid around the city?  In a Bed, Bath and Beyond bag?  We looked like a homeless Japanese restaurant.) 

We text some friends and plan some late afternoon drinks, meaning we will spend our Sunday eating, buying food, walking to a bar, drinking, going home for dinner (Linguine Alla Cecca – recipe below!), and passing out on the couch.  It ain’t Spaghetti sauce and Paint Your Wagon, but it’s close.

The Last Word:

DO THIS, New York:

Vaya a Boqueria (Go to Boqueria).  Muy delicioso!

Eat at the Clinton St Baking Co.  Go on a weekday, or be prepared to wait.  They’ve got  a pretty good dinner, too, but brunch is the thing. 

Eat at the Stanton Social – a great place for a large group of people, either brunch or dinner.  There’s a great bar scene, too.

Make Linguine Alla Cecca (adapted from Heartburn, Nora Ephron):
Linguine Alla Cecca is a hot pasta tossed with a cold tomato basil sauce.  It’s a great summer dish, especially in September when tomatoes are good and the days are still warm.
Crush one garlic clove and stick it in a bowl. 
Add one garlic clove, cut in half.

Add some olive oil.  Use the good stuff.

Add salt, pepper, and some crushed red pepper flakes.

Add more salt.  You didn’t use enough.

Add a bunch of chopped basil.

Add some chopped fresh tomatoes.

Put it in the refrigerator.

No, longer.

Boil a big pot of water.  Add salt and olive oil.

Add a box of spinach linguine.

When the pasta is done, drain, toss with the sauce (remove the halved garlic clove), serve immediately.   Go ahead, add some grated cheese.  Yeah, more.


DON’T DO THIS, New York:

Skip Katz’s.  You want good pastrami, try Ben’s, Lansky’s or the 2nd Ave Deli (the exception to the rule about iconic golden age restaurants.)

Don’t wait two hours for brunch.

Don’t do a threeway.  You’ll just feel gross.

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