Sunday, October 15, 2006
I have always been surrounded by restaurants I want to try but never make it to. Then, when the restaurants close before I've had a chance to try them, I feel guilty. I always think to myself "if only I had gone in there! Maybe I would have loved it, and it would have become my favorite spot. I would have eaten there every week and kept the place afloat!"
Then I mix myself a cocktail, drowning myself in gin and regret.
As traumatic as that kind of scenario is, what really gets me is when one of my favorite restaurants closes. I feel particularly responsible when that happens.
I was recently telling a friend of mine that for me, a restaurant closing is like being dumped romantically - especially when it happens unexpectedly. I'll be walking down a familiar street, about to pass by one of my regular haunts, when suddenly I am confronted with the sickening clues: dark windows, grey metal shutters and iron gates down, all in broad daylight. It's like my lover just packed up and left me in the middle of the night.
Sometimes my lover leaves a note, in the form of a large posterboard sign. "Closed. Thank you for your loyal patronage." Other times, I am just dumped, heartlessly and with no explanation whatsoever.
Sometimes my lover packs all his belongings before leaving me, but other times he just disappears without a trace, abandoning all the furniture and appliances, causing me to wonder if foul play was involved.
No matter how it happens, it's just terrible. The feelings of hopelessness and despair are overwhelming, and I often want to drop to my knees and beg "for God's sake, don't do this! I'll do anything if you'll just give me one more chance! I'll visit you five nights a week if I have to!"
I've had six restaurant-lovers dump me over this past year. That's SIX. Six times in one year. I'm about at the end of my rope.
How can I go on like this? What am I supposed to tell my out of town guests when they arrive, expecting to be wined and dined in fabulous New York style?
I hate taking people to places I haven't tried multiple times, places that have not yet survived the rigors of my scrutiny. Places where the server doesn't yet know the fury that will be unleashed if the food arrives before the beverage. I always keep in my restaurant repertoire about ten standbys that I can either take people to myself, or direct them to when they request dining suggestions.
It takes months or even years to develop a reliable list of restaurants. And in one year, I lost half my repertoire. The mere thought of it exhausts me.
I don't even remember the order in which the following tragedies occurred, so I will just recount these various horrors for you, in no particular order.
Grange Hall / Blue Mill Tavern
During my New York years, this venue has functioned as two separate establishments. The point to this place was never the food (classic American-Continental) so much as the ambiance. It's done in an authentic art deco style, and features a lot of WWII era posters and that sort of thing. It's also located on just about the cutest, coziest street in the West Village. Mindy June chose this as the place to have dinner on her birthday, which is how I found out it had closed, again. While I don't necessarily mourn the Blue Mill Tavern as a particular establishment, I'm terrified that whoever takes it over will gut the space and ruin it.
Second Avenue Deli
Part of my soul died when I found out about the sudden closing of this New York standby.
Second Avenue Deli, located in the heart of the East Village, was New York's very best kosher deli, plain and simple. I never had one morsel of food here that didn't melt in my mouth. I'm incredibly particular about my corned beef hash, and this was the only place I know of in New York that did it right. (If anyone dares mention Carnegie Deli or (God forbid) Katz's to me, I swear to God I will go crazy on your ass. Don't you dare try to put them in the same league.)
The waitstaff here was fabulous. I was once telling a waiter about how my Norwegian grandpa would never order hash in a restaurant because he was sure they just scraped up all the leftover meat off the customers' plates to make it. The waiter replied, in all seriousness, "oh, we would never do that here. Only the Chinese do stuff like that." (George appreciated that remark.)
As a bonus, you were always presented with a plate of fresh homemade pickles the moment you sat down.
Diary of Not a Rice Person series, Banana Leaf was another local Tom & George standby. We spent many a lazy Sunday night dinner here, and George regularly chatted up the owner-chef, whose menu was pan-Asian with a heavy Malaysian bent. The chef was such a nice guy that we had decided to invite him over for dinner some time.
The food at Banana Leaf was nothing short of spectacular. And cheap, cheap, cheap. Manhattan quality and style at Brooklyn prices. Hard to beat.
We usually started with a succulent roti canai, a fried Indian pancake served with a savory chicken and potato curry dipping sauce. We would follow that up with a green papaya salad in a tangy vinaigrette, and were never disappointed by any of the entrees such as black pepper steaks, seared scallops, or curried prawns, served over coconut jasmine rice. I invariably rounded out each meal with my favorite dessert, a sticky raisin cake with an essence of mango, served with a delicious fruit chutney and topped with caramelized sugar.
I'm starving just thinking about Banana Leaf, despite the big breakfast I just finished.
A standby for tasty and affordable Scandinavian comfort food. They were Swedish, but I didn't hold that against them. Ulrika's was a charming, cozy space on the Upper East Side, where cozy and affordable are not so easy to come by. Thank God we now have Smorgaschef to fulfill many of my needs in this regard.
This closing will be especially bittersweet for Mindy since we just had her birthday there in July. This was the standby for late night dessert and general hanging in the West Village. It was a large, casual place, kind of a classic coffee house environment consisting of two wide rooms filled with mismatched antique tables, chairs and sofas. The service was unbearably slow, but that didn't matter because you went there to hang out and spend time with your friends. It was most popular for coffee and fancy desserts, but the regular menu of sandwiches, salads and continental entrees was delicious as well. And they had a full bar, with which one can never go wrong.
In all seriousness, I honestly don't know what we're going to do without this place. There is no dessert place comparable in Manhattan that I know of. There are smaller places that have a nice environment and good food, but Caffe Rafaella was unique in that there always seemed to be a table available that you could use guilt-free for three hours if you wanted to.
Thank you all, Gentle Readers, for indulging me in my soulful mourning of these lost delights, these true loves of mine. My heart has begun to heal, but it will take time and patience.