“There is a way of walking in New York, midevening, in the big, blocky East Fifties, that causes the heart to open up and the entire city to rush in and make a small town there. The city stops its painful tantalizing then, its elusiveness and tease suspended, it takes off its clothes and nestles wakefully, generously, next to you. It is there, it is yours, no longer outwitting you. And it is not scary at all, because you love it very much.”
That is Lorrie Moore, one of my favorite short story writers, in one of her short stories published in 1988. For many years this is how I’ve come to see New York, my New York. And not just in the big, blocky East Fifties, but also the leafy and genteel West Seventies; the greener still West Nineties toward Columbia; Central Park in April just as the magnolia blooms give way to the first flush of cherry trees; the West Village with its odd-angled streets and quaint beauty (which Michael Cunningham describes, not unbeautifully, as ‘the filtered Jamesian slumber’), the East Village with its well-worn tenements and parks, still deserving of its former Bohemia status; the Soho cobblestones that light up a sallow orange under the streetlights; the boisterous, music-filled, more carefree lower part of downtown; the Pastis-and-Spice Market-colonized cobbles of the Meatpacking district; the brooding brown bulk of Tribeca; the gaudy neon and fluorescence of Chinatown. We haven’t even gotten started on Brooklyn and Queens, entire planets that always give us something to talk about—food we can talk about. Every part of the city seems to be made of a different substance, and such, it seems, is the ideal approach to New York.
My love affair with New York started in October 2001, barely a month after The Day that Shook the World, and two months shy of my 30th birthday. Everything about the city I had learned secondhand—from movies, novels, essays, poems, photographs—came alive exactly as I knew they would, my memory of them so tactile, my recognition of things so precise, as if they had been petrified, as in that brief moment in Sleeping Beauty, awaiting my touch to bring back to life. I felt reborn, as if my eyes had been truly opened for the first time.
Drinking sights and sounds, the wonderful immodesty of the skyscrapers competing against the skyline, the way certain monuments just melted away in the eye, disappearing in the crowded street, I fell in love with everything—the good, the bad, the ugly; the high points, the low points and everything in between. And as with every affair to remember, you develop—cue Josephine Hart—an internal landscape, a ‘geography of the soul’ that only the city can unlock; with me and New York it lies as much in its restaurants as it does with its parks and its streets, its secret chambers and its hidden paintings, its brownstones and its steel-and-glass, its underground music and its poetry. Those restaurants had witnessed, and become part of my rebirth.
And so after a three-year absence—hard to believe, when I’d been going almost every year since that fateful year, 2001—I found myself back in the city, in mid-August, with my daughter, all of seventeen and Brown University-bound, where she will be spending the next four years of her life.
‘But not before a week of eating at some of my favorite restaurants,’ I told her.
‘Sure, Mum,’ she said.
‘Life as you knew it will be no more,’ I persisted. ‘And that goes for the food. Especially the food.’
‘Yeah, Mum, I know,’ she said, not looking as perturbed as I expected her to be. ‘But then again, I don’t know anyone my age who has had an eating life like me.’ (Fair point, I thought.)
So we had a week to eat, plus a few extra days in New York with my husband, who flew in late from Australia to make sure that I did leave and not be one of those mothers who cling on to their kids and embarrass them in front of their new friends. Because there were still not enough days, we had to forgo some of my firm favorites, notably Pearl Oyster Bar, Eleven Madison Park, Sushi Yasuda, Blue Hill, 2nd Avenue Deli and Congee Village in Manhattan, and Roberta’s in Brooklyn.
We also had to put on hold many new restaurants I’ve been dying to try—Gwynett Street, Blanca, Marlow & Sons, Brooklyn Fare and Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn, Sripraphai in Queens, Marea, Acme, Torrisi, Osteria Morino, Perla, RedFarm, Mission Chinese and Lafayette in Manhattan. They would have to be in Part 2 of my New York series.
This is what the week-and-a-half looked like: