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Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

Oma is 97 years old. Born in Germany, she escaped the Holocaust and lived most of her life in Manhattan. Today she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and lives with her daughter (my friend Peggy) and her family near me.

Peggy told me her mom grew up loving marzipan—not a surprise for a German girl—and asked me if I’d bring her a little piece of my homemade stuff. Last week I did.

When I arrived her mom was still out at the doctor’s office. Peg walked me around the sunken living room and showed me all of the shelving she’s had to clear off because Oma likes to take things down and move them to new places. We came upon books and knickknacks in odd spots, hand towels and garments neatly folded and set down on the carpeted steps. I put the candy on a higher shelf, figuring I’d give it to her later.

Oma came home and joined us in the kitchen, all smiling wide blue eyes and wispy white hair. She asked who I was. I told her I was Peg’s friend from long ago. Peggy asked her in German if she had found a candy and eaten it, but she didn’t respond.

The candy was, in fact, missing from the shelf. We peered around every table and chair and into every corner of the living room, looking to see if she’d moved it. Finally we found the empty wrapper, carefully folded. Well, she must have liked the candy; it was gone.

I thought about the fact that it was likely her last piece of marzipan, and almost certainly her last piece of homemade candy. (Truthfully? It was the only homemade food I’ve ever brought over, since Peg and the rest of the family keep strictly kosher. But Oma renounced Judaism years ago.) And I thought about the honor of treating a Holocaust survivor to a taste of her youth.

But mostly I thought about this: It’s entirely possible to derive pleasure from a single bite and fold it up neatly and tuck it away into a corner of one’s mind—maybe to be retrieved later, maybe never again. And that later or never is beside the point; the pleasure is the point.

When it was time to go, I asked if I could give her a kiss goodbye, and she nodded.

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My fellow stage-crew friend and I like to eat. And to talk about eating. And, often enough, to talk about eating while we’re eating.* Casey grew up in a family that cooks from scratch—hard core. When they make burgers they start with an actual cut of meat. Then they put it through a grinder and spice it to taste. Yeah. He also has a brother who’s a chef in Manhattan, and his dad’s wife is a pastry chef in Brooklyn. Having a friend like this is wise on all counts.

For a couple of years we’ve been dreaming about a banh mi, a sandwich made at our favorite (so far) Vietnamese restaurant (Pho Le, in Red Bank, NJ). The place only offers it for lunch, and the only time we’re both available for lunch is on weekends. That usually leaves lunch before a Sunday matinee…but most of the time we’re too sleepy to go after working a heap of shows.

Yesterday, before the closing matinee of Peter Pan, we quit whining and made it happen.

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Look at that fat wedge of jalapeño! Tucked underneath like it’s a common dill pickle, humming placidly and gazing skyward! Sneaky little poser.

Pho Le’s classic banh mi is at the top of the page. I have a recipe for one from the long-gone and much-lamented Gourmet Magazine, one that has liverwurst ably pinch-hitting for pork pâté.

This sandwich had the real thing: pâté, roast pork, pork roll, head cheese, cucumbers, jalapeños, cilantro, pickled daikon (a type of radish—pure white and mildly flavored), and carrots.

I’d never had head cheese before, but have always wanted to try it. As a lifelong Laura Ingalls Wilder devotee, I’ve read matter-of-fact accounts of offal preparation over and over, so I’m not especially squeamish about it. I did read up on head cheese as a refresher, though, and learned meat from the tongue, feet, and heart are sometimes added to the flesh from the animal’s head.** Only one complaint about this delicious sandwich: not enough of the pâté and meat. It gave me a little taste of the gaminess I love, but not as much as I’d like.

Casey yawns at squeamish as well; he’s eaten far stranger foods. His sandwich is just above and was more successful. It was a grilled pork banh mi, with avocado, pâté, greens, tomato, and the rest of the lovely vegetables I had in my sandwich. The smokiness of the grilled meat sold us both. And the sandwiches, it must be acknowledged, were served on very fresh, toasted rolls. Concentrating on the fillings and mailing in the bread has almost become a cliché in the food business, but this little place knows it matters. They’re right.

We put these sandwiches away while he told me about the snake-bitten production of West Side Story he did in college. Theatre people never run out of disaster stories, and we’re always ten minutes away from a new one. Then we pushed our chairs back from the table and sighed and headed off to Neverland. Two friends, two adventures, one afternoon.

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*BONUS: I just received a fantastic leftover turkey sandwich recipe, and right now we’re messaging about it. This is surprisingly common.

**Boy, if my mom didn’t stop reading earlier, she sure did now.

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Lombardi’s outdoor sconce, lighting our way at the start of the tourney—an All-Carb Olympic torch.

Porta in Asbury Park, NJ makes a pizza carbonara so good I want to roll in it like a dog. Before I say anything about pizza anywhere else, I need to impress this upon you, because this kind of quality is what I had in mind when my sister and brother-in-law treated me to a pizza tour of Manhattan last October. Porta’s chewy, deliriously addictive crust and buttery, runny, full fat housemade cheese—my mozzarella muse, which I say with precisely zero shame—that’s the taste I had in my mouth, and it’s what NY was up against.

Five pizza places, some new, some very, very old; five thin-crust Margherita pies (tomato, mozzarella, basil) to keep the playing field level; five pies judged for quality of crust, sauce, cheese and overall experience.

Below, a photo essay of our day, and I’ll be sure to unpack my adjectives.

Lombardi’s (below), A.

Often enough, the big-name grandpas of the restaurant world strut their leisure suits and flash grins full of metal bridgework, hoping to convince you that they haven’t lost their mojo. But their best years are usually way behind them. Others, happily, have still got it, and the oldest pizza place in the city is one of them.

Crust: Straightforward with a bit of a crunch, somewhat light hand with the salt.

Sauce: Bright flavor, sweet.

Cheese: Chewy, perfect amount.

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Luzzo’s, A.

Crust: Delicate, thin as a Saltine cracker.

Sauce: Salty, but it worked.

Cheese: Creamy little dairy pillows.

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Luzzo’s beautiful old interior–brick, beam and detail.

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Well worn swivel chairs, bar paneling and vintage tile floor.

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Tools of the trade plus a bit of incongruous Indian corn just for fun.

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Patina in the old tin ceiling.

Motorino, A+. Good and soppy pizza extravaganza.

Crust: Chewy, rustic and doughy.

Sauce: Fresh and sweet.

Cheese: Happily runny cheese pillows.

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Worth a second shot.

Gruppo, B+.

Crust: Paper thin and crispy, somewhat forgettable.

Sauce: Spiciest so far.

Cheese: Plentiful, chewy.

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Okay, next was Grom, because with four pizzas down and one to go, we’d already thrown our hats over the fence, so what did adding authentic Italian gelato matter? Below is vanilla bean and chocolate. I was quite undone by it, and not because I was full from pizza. Out-of-the-ballpark good.

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Co. Pizza, A++ As close to Porta as I could find. We were stuffed and yet still ate two of these pies. Better than Motorino by a hair* (please forgive the indelicate expression; I know we’re eating).

Crust: Drug like. The doughy, pliable kind that stretches a little when you try to pull it away from the other slices. Tip: Everybody pull at once.

Sauce: Fresh, evenly flavored.

Cheese: Oozy, goopy and plentiful.

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More than a little dismaying to think that Co., which offers such outstanding pizza, felt they needed to add a disclaimer such as this to their menu. To the customers that inspired it: Kindly get a grip.

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Reigning champion.

Where’s your favorite ‘za? What makes a pie the best? Don’t hold back—it’s a cold night. Consider it a public service.

*I just grossed out my mom. Sorry 😀

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