There are a lot of reasons I left New York. The food was not one of them. So this summer, when I flew from L.A. to Philly, knowing I would land at Newark at 8 am, I found a way to squeeze in a 12-hour layover in Manhattan and still make the last bus to Philly. My goal? To eat.
After a quick stop in Brooklyn to see my friend Iz’s new baby, my friend Al and I met for lunch at Parm, the low-fi version of the owner’s better-known location, Torrisi Italian Specialties, next door. I count on Al, manager of an established Manhattan restaurant, to know what’s hot. Years ago, he was the first to tell me about Torrisi. I kept meaning to go there with an ex-boyfriend (now Torrisi seems like a symbol of that relationship, of all the things we didn’t do). Maybe I’ll go there one day, but for now I’m content with my experience at Parm.
If you’re thinking about going, you might read this excellent review by Pete Wells. I didn’t read it ahead of time, so instead of ordering the turkey or the meatball sub (though I consider myself a meatball sub connoisseur), Al and I split the veal parm, richly layered with eggplant and veal, it was a cheesy, sweet-tomato-flavored hunk of a sandwich. Suffice it to say, I’m glad this place isn’t on my street because if the meatball sub is as good as the veal parm, I’d be eating there several times a week.
We also ordered a watermelon salad with basil and peppers and olives. Sounds weird, right? It worked. We got the pickles and the cucumbers, too.
No rest for the gluttonous
After lunch I turned to Al, my eyes heavy and my back still in pain from the red-eye, and said, “I need a martini.”
Al, naturally, knew just where to go. We hopped in a cab and went uptown in order to position ourselves closer to dinner and the bus stop. Then we wound our way through the lobby, sneaked through the dining room and on past the bar to the library of the NoMad Hotel. Here we were waited on like royalty. Though it was probably because of Al’s status in the NY restaurant world, I like to think she just really liked us.
Al was treated to a glass of aged Pappy Van Winkle bourbon which apparently no one else but the NoMad can get their hands on right now. I’d recommend a drink but I can’t remember which ones I ordered. What does it matter? They were all good. And they did the trick. The red-eye and the back pain disappeared as we drank the afternoon away. I knew I’d had enough when I disappeared into the bowels of the hotel looking for the restroom and found myself spellbound by the metallic hummingbirds pinned to the wall: was it me or were they moving?
Al knows me well. I was a David Chang fan before Ssäm Bar opened, before Momofuku expanded. Before David Chang was simply “Chang.” Before Chang, I fell in love with Korean food at Dok Suni’s in the East Village where I had my first Bulgogi and my first Bibimbop.
“Where should we go for dinner?” I asked over cocktail #3.
“I’ve been meaning to try this Korean place that got a Michelin star last year,” said Al.
And off we went to Danji. We waited at the bar until my friend Mercedes joined us. I ordered another martini, with shiso leaf for garnish. Then we sat and blew through the menu: we got the pancakes, the pork, the sliders – basically, anything our server advised us to get. It was all over too fast.
Believe it or not, Al and I made one last stop for a drink at Casellula on the way to bus. By the time we said good-bye on a Hell’s Kitchen street corner I was happy, sated and high on a New York.
When I lived in Sweden I used to talk about going to New York to get my “fix,” as though it were a drug. Whenever daily life in Sweden became too “logom,” too predictable, I knew Manhattan could be relied upon to shake things up. But then I moved to an 8th floor apartment smack-dab on East 34th St., and the street came to symbolize the relentless pace of my life and work. By the time I left there was no love lost. The outside world was a well-needed reprieve.
Finally, and perhaps only because I live elsewhere, those old feelings returned. Because so much has changed, the city felt mysterious once again, the way it did before I knew it too well. The day felt touched with romance. People everywhere seemed to smile at me. Each destination glittered with little surprises – the hummingbirds in the hallway, the comped drinks at the bar, the gift from the manager at Casellula. And to top it all off: the food was as good as ever. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait for my next fix.
Photo credit: All photos in this post except the one below were taken by Allen Stafford, aka., “Al.”