Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dumped


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.



Lento's

This place made the best pizza in New York. A delicious crust that was at once robust and delicate. Wafer thin, and perfect for the carb-conscious pizzatarian. A real joint, too. Legend has it that during Prohibition the place functioned as a speakeasy, and each wooden booth featured a buzzer that could be used to warn the manager in case the authorities showed up. This place was right up the street from our house - perfect for last minute getaways and overnight guests.

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.

Banana Leaf

Seared scallops


Banana Leaf's crab cake with ginger salad and mango coulis


Featured in the first installment of my 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.

Ulrika's



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.

Caffe Rafaella



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.

19 comments:

lulu said...

WHAT!?!? No More Meat Ball Pizza?!?!? No More Huge Gooey Cakes?! I am broken hearted! Those are huge losses. I am sorry sweetie.

I understand the pain of being dumped by an old favorite; just as bad is having a former lover stay open but change management. I don't know if you remember the Daily Bar and Grill in Lincoln Square. I know we took you and George there at least once. It had a great cocktail menu and was the only place I know of where you could order 1/2 a dozen oysters, macaroni and cheese and a martini for dinner without the waiter blinking an eye. It's still open, it's still called the Daily Bar and Grill, but it is now a sports bar. Oh the horror.

Old Lady said...

Maybe the mob was leanin on em!

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I am super picky when it comes to my food and it takes me forever to find places I like. Granted this area is no New York. There are 4 places here I like. One has just been taken over by the kids of the owner and the last few times I went there I was not impressed with the changes.

Melinda June said...

This is very sad.
*mindy weeps*

Dale said...

The only good thing about this terrible situation is that when you and your pals do go out to eat, no matter the venue, you've all got each other's exquisite company. And that's something you can really dine out on.

I want that crab cake. Damn.

Beth said...

While I don't know these restaurants, I feel your heartache. There are still restaurants gone twenty years or more that I still grieve for. One, a little French bistro that was so New York. Here in McCity, most of our (boring, unadventurous) citizens prefer the safety of Applebee's or Friday's. *sigh*

And you've left me so frickin' hungry.

jin said...

I too understand your sadness. I mourn restaurants & coffeeshops of old...replaced by cheap tawdry ripoffs, cookie cutter buildings filled with premade frozen foods & 'self-proclaimed' chefs. :-P
*sigh*

Molecular Turtle said...

Timely Post. I was just talking with someone this week about how important it is to have a bunch of regular restaurants where you know the food will always be good and timely. I too have feel the loss of a beloved restaurant, however it died in a firey inferno. Seems counterintuitive since it was a sushi joint.

PG said...

Although the CP heart has begun to heal, what are we going to do about his stomach??!!

Coaster Punchman said...

Lu, that's terrible about the Daily. That's like having to decide if you'd rather see your loved one maimed or killed.

Old Lady, the mob has already harassed me at one of my neighborhood haunts, which I no longer haunt as a result.

Katy, true, I often count my blessings that I have New York food to choose from.

MJ, *CP weeps with you*

Dale, you always look on the bright side. We don't allow that around here.

Beth, there must be some good Southern cooking down there, no?

Jin, yes, do us a favor and try to stay in business!! Have you ever thought of expanding into a full time store that serves lunch etc.?

Molecular Turtle, hmmmm, a sushi joint lit on fire. I suspect foul play. Maybe it was the pizza pizza people.

PG, I know. Especially now that you're working full time.

CP

Keith Kennedy said...

Your post has inspired me to take the afternoon off and drive to New Orleans and eat at one of my favorite spanish restaurants in the world.

We are fearing closure of so many of our favorite spots since the republican, er, I mean, Katrina thing happened down here.

So thanks for the inspiration...

Tumuli said...

You should be a food critic. Just reading your descriptions gnawed my stomach.

With a dining dilettante like you around, it's a shame I haven't yet visited New York. The places we'd go!

Grant Miller said...

This is a really sad, sad post. The wound is still raw ever since my favorite Thai - favorite anything for that matter - restaurant closed over the summer. I'm completely at a loss.

Thanks for opening a fresh wound.

wonderturtle said...

Ah, but which is worse: having loved and lost, or never having loved at all?

Dale said...

What a bunch of whining losers. It's just food people. Can't any of you cook? Man.

That better CP?

jin said...

Ohhh... I've ALWAYS wanted a little cafe/restaurant. EVERYTHING from scratch, organic ingredients, LOTS of desserts...
Nothing like that in town, either. Bad, bad yucky restaurants. But, I do not have NEAR the amount of capital to start something like that. Plus, being a woman in this shithole town I am CONSTANTLY denied business & personal loans. There are 2 ways for a woman here to get a loan; 1-Have your husband get it or 2- give the loan officer a BJ. I have stories about this...maybe one day on unplugged...BTW I REFUSE to do either.

Mother of Invention said...

A small town version of Starbuck's with entertainment Thurs -Sat. plus open mic night just closed in my town and everyone is very sad. It was like our own Cheers and we all hung out there. We really needed that place. It must be a hard business to be in and risky too. Hope someone buys it and breathes new life!

Bubs said...

I'm hungry. Hungry and sad.

Coaster Punchman said...

Keith, you must post of your travels and show us this restaurant.

Tumuli, name your poison and I will plan it out for you. And it would be fun to write about food, except that then I'd weigh about 500 pounds for wanting to eat all the time.

Grant, having been a Chicagoan at one time myself, I didn't even start on the recent Berghoff closing. I don't know if that affected your life, but it sure did mine. At least I got there one last time with my parents over Christmas.

WT, I think it would be best to have no feelings whatsoever. I've been there, and I liked it.

Thanks Dale, now can you slap me around a little to get me in the mood?

Jin, maybe with your mom's lotto winnings some of your dreams can come true?

Mother, I know, it's really sad and hard for those business owners. My condolences.

Me too, Bubs, me too. I think I'll cry and then eat an Entenmann's cake.