Tag Archives: NYC

Nice save, New York!

25 May

I was in New York this week to launch a new website at Internet Week. Except the website doesn’t exactly exist yet, so I guess I was just in New York.

Meanwhile, Alan was taking a week’s vacation in Michigan to celebrate his birthday. And I would’ve been with him, celebrating and vacationing, had I not been launching a non-existent website in New York.

Does that make any sense? No, it doesn’t.

Which is why I was a bit of a sourpuss when I boarded the train on Sunday for New York.

Alas, great city that she is, New York was prepared to provide some redemption.

I’ll admit, it didn’t seem that way at first – when I stepped out of Penn Station, there was a steady drizzle. I was soaked by the time I arrived at my hotel in Chelsea. After helping set up our space at the event, I had a list of things I wanted to do that afternoon (a “Me Party” of sorts, as my sister calls it) to treat myself to a mini-break before diving back into work.

On my list:

  • Check out the Highline
  • Walk up to the Green Flea Market
  • Scout out the new food hall at the Plaza
  • Hit the TKTS booth and snag a seat at a show that evening

All of that was scrapped when I realized I was not only drenched, but didn’t have proper clothes for zipping around a wet city. I contemplated crawling in bed and indulging in a pity party, but instead, I texted my old roommate, David, from Capitol Hill, whom I hadn’t seen in four years and who lives in Manhattan.

Lady Fortune was with me, because he promptly wrote back and offered to meet at a restaurant near my hotel. An hour later, we were hugging at Markt, David appearing to have come straight from a duck hunt: he was wearing jeans, Wellies, a button down shirt and a quilted vest. It was very Dick Cheney. And he’s one of my few friends who would consider that a compliment.

We parked ourselves at the bar, ordered a bottle of wine, some mussels and a crock of French onion soup, and shrugged off the rain.

As we neared the end of our meal, David looked past me and said, “I think that is Chef Todd English sitting next to you.”

Interestingly, that name would have meant nothing to me only four hours earlier, but in researching restaurants in NYC, I’d noted that Todd English was something of a celebrity.

“No way,” I told David. “I can’t believe you would recognize a CHEF. Who does that?” (Actually, Alan would also do that because he watches the Food Network, but I don’t have a television, so I’m a bit clueless.)

“I’m pretty sure,” he said, doing a Google image search on his phone. “Doesn’t he look like Chef Todd English?”

I verified that the photo looked like the guy next to me, nodding. Then said, “You keep saying his name like it’s officially three words: Chef Todd English. Just call him Chef. Or Todd. Or Chef English. But not all three. Right?”

David shot virtual daggers at me, leaning forward with an eyebrow raised to say, “Chef Todd English?”

Which prompted the guy next to me to look up and say, “That’s me.”

Which prompted me to say, “Oh my gosh. I didn’t even know who you were until a few hours ago.”

Which is a discreet way to say, “Please don’t even begin to pretend you’re the shit.”

Mr. English didn’t seem to know what to make of being both recognized for and denied his celebrity status simultaneously. But I’ve never let an opportunity go to waste, so I decided it was a good time to interview him.

Even though I knew nothing other than that he was the brain behind the Plaza’s Food Hall I’d intended to visit, I rambled off a series of questions.

Here’s a loose one-way transcript of the wine-fueled interview:

I would imagine being a chef is weird, like being an author.

People know your work and respect you, but you’re not easily recognized so you don’t have to mess with the trappings of celebrity.

Do you find that to be true?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Do you like it?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

How would you change things if you could in this regard?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Clearly we just recognized you.

Does that irritate you when you’re just trying to have a beer?

<Don’t need to look at Wikipedia to find the answer>

 

Wait – why are you just sitting here drinking a beer?

<Probably NOT available on Wikipedia>

 

You’re waiting on your girlfriend?

Do you need to go pick her up?

<Still not available on Wikipedia, but his cell phone indicates YES>

 

Don’t let us keep you.

But I will keep asking questions until you get tired of us and leave.

How did you get into cooking?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Were you an only child?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Why can’t your sister cook?

<Answer was probably on Wikipedia until his sister edited it>

 

Is she envious of your success?

<Sister probably isn’t even mentioned on Wikipedia after she’s done editing it>

 

Do you miss playing baseball?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Was it a rotator cuff that sidelined you?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Did you have surgery?

<Answer that you can probably find on Wikipedia>

 

Don’t you need to go meet your girlfriend?

<Yes. End of Twenty Questions.>

 

As it turns out, he’s a nice guy. Especially for someone with three names.

Good save, New York.

(And thanks for brightening my day, David. Next time, though, I expect you to take me here. Though I’m not a fan of ladders.)

Review: In this case, I wouldn’t call the owner The King.

27 Sep

When a restaurant receives polarizing Yelp reviews (all 5 Stars or 1 Star), it’s bound to be an experience. At least, that was my rationale when I struck out for dinner last night. I’d consulted my phone for a recommendation, and found myself seated at Trattoria Casa Di Isacco – a dimly lit Italian place in Hells Kitchen.

The Yelp Review that ultimately led me to try it? “Weird, fun, creepy, but pretty good food. Definitely has character in a Spanish Elvis cooks Italian food in a restaurant decorated for Christmas yet in a February kind of way.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I wanted to know.

First off – the owner is Spanish and loves him some Elvis. I say this not only because his hair was clearly modeled after that famous pompadour, but also because every inch of wall space was occupied by photos and paintings of The King (including more than one black velvet model).

Oh, and also? The television showed Mediterranean Elvis impersonators dancing along to the soundtrack of Spanish/Italian songs. Yep, it was an experience.

The owner – whom other Yelp reviewers loved – irritated me. At least, I assume he was the owner, based on the way he strode around the place as if he owned it. When he approached my table and spouted off the specials, I found myself struggling to decipher the day’s specials because his accent was a bit challenging.

He left me to contemplate my choices, and when he returned, I asked him for a recommendation. “I’ve whittled it down to either the Gnocci Pesto, the Lasagna, or the Veal Marsala. Of those, which do you think is best?”

I’m not sure if that question offended him, or if he’s just generally a prick, but his answer – “I can’t make up your mind for you. They are all good but very different. You decide” – wasn’t exactly the tip I was looking for .

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll take the Veal Piccata,” I told him, mentally high-fiving myself for not saying please. And mentally calling him a CornHole.

When the food arrived, it obliterated the owner’s surly behavior. The veal piccata had been pounded to within an inch of its life and was swimming in a lemon caper sauce that was equally good on bread. I may have just been hungry, but it was easy to clean my plate.

Apparently the owner decided he didn’t like me either, because after he took my order, another guy had taken over the dinner service. He returned to clear my plate, crumb the table, and bring me a complimentary glass of sweet dessert wine.

I could see why the place had received such spotty reviews. I suspect the stars match the mood of the owner on any particular night. Unfortunately, I caught him on a one-star night.

My heart grew three sizes that day.

16 Sep

My parents just got back from their first visit to The Big Apple. They went as part of an organized tour, not realizing that their dates would place them there for the tenth anniversary of September 11. I asked if it had impacted the trip in any way.

“Not really,” my dad said. “Just that we were greeted by the National Guard when we entered the city through the Lincoln Tunnel.”

As someone who has regularly traveled to NYC for work, I could easily imagine what impression that might make to a sweet midwestern group arriving via bus. It also reminded me of my own random experience with the Midtown Tunnel when I was relatively new to the city.

When I was 23, the company I worked for sacked everyone in our NYC office. I was asked to pinch hit for a month, flying up every Monday morning and returning home every Friday night to keep the doors open. (This was before 9/11, so flying wasn’t the chore that it is today; even so, I kick myself for not discovering the Acela earlier.)

As a 23 year-old, getting to explore the city on an expense account was hardly a bad thing, but there was one part I dreaded: having to find a taxi to the airport each Friday during rush hour. There were cabs everywhere, but – apparently due to the shift change – very few would accept passengers. Especially for a one-way fare to LaGuardia.

So imagine me, one Friday at 5:00, grateful to be sitting in the back of a cab, staring out the window as MidTown blurred past. (This was pre-cell phone, so of course I was looking out the window. No phone calls or Facebook to entertain me back then.)

Just outside the MidTown tunnel (our route out of Manhattan to LaGuardia), stood a policeman, redirecting traffic. Cars were temporarily being sent around the block while they did something in the tunnel. My driver followed the other cars.

When we approached the tunnel for the second time, I could see that the cop was generally sending cars around the block again, but was letting an occasional vehicle through the tunnel. My driver must’ve noticed this too, because when we pulled up to the cop this time, he rolled down his window, gestured at me, and said, “Airport fare…”

No dice. The cop just shook his head, blew his whistle, and gestured for us to make another lap. His mistake was in letting the car directly behind us go through the tunnel. That set my driver off, and I spent the entire block hearing him plot out his revenge.

And sure enough. When we approached the third time, my driver pretended he couldn’t see or hear the cop and just kept moving straight toward the tunnel. It wasn’t until the cop pounded on the hood of the car that my driver acknowledged him. And man, I wish he hadn’t.

Things quickly escalated, with the cop and driver yelling at each other. I tried to slouch down in the back seat and be invisible, but couldn’t help but snap to attention when my driver yelled, “Fuck you!” And the next thing I knew, he was sprawled against his own hood, getting fitted with cuffs.

If hailing a cab during rush hour on Friday was difficult, trying to find a new cab outside the MidTown tunnel – where everyone is already en route to their destination – would be impossible. I stepped from the back seat.

“Excuse me,” I timidly said to the cop. “How am I supposed to get to the airport?”

“Not my problem,” he responded. “This cab is impounded. Guy’s a real asshole.”

“That makes two of you,” I thought. But I kept my mouth shut and considered myself lucky to get my suitcase out of the trunk. I settled for mentally flipping off the cop as I walked away, heading back “inland,” away from the tunnel, wondering how I’d manage to score a second cab.

Fortunately, not all New Yorkers are like this cop. About a block away, standing in front of a small Italian grocery, I limply raised my hand, trying to grab any taxi that passed my way. Behind me, looking like a grandfather, the grocer tidied outdoor displays of fresh oranges.

He looked kind of like this.

“What are you doing?” he called with a thick Italian accent.

“Trying to get a cab to LaGuardia,” I told him. “My flight is in less than an hour and my other cab was just impounded.”

He nodded as if that were normal. Then he said, “Hang on. You’ll never have luck like that. Let me get my sons on the job for you — if we can’t get you a cab, we’ll give you a ride.”

Seriously? I heard him whistle, and two guys about my own age materialized suddenly, then – after getting the story from their dad – took off running to opposite corners of the block. They worked the street like high school cheerleaders promoting a car wash, running in traffic, whipping towels above their heads.

I stood awkwardly by, watching. Within ten minutes, they were helping stuff my suitcase into the trunk of a new cab. I held out a twenty-dollar bill to one of the brothers as a thank you tip. “Nah,” he shrugged. The other one, in perfect New York speak, piled on with, “Fuggitaboutit.”

Minutes later, as we pulled past the same cop who had impounded my last ride, instead of flipping him off, I just waved and smiled. He might have been an power-tripping asshole that day, but the real New Yorkers? They were something special.