Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dining Solo

There are lots of times when Dave's schedule and mine don't overlap, leaving one person or the other to fend for themselves for food. Sometimes I'll try to rustle up a friend or get take-out and eat at home. But when the mood strikes me, I'll go out for a meal by myself.

I've always liked eating out on my own. You get to choose your own cuisine. You don't have to make reservations, wait around for people to gather or worry that someone won't like the food. A solo diner can slip into any restaurant pretty quickly because there are almost always seats at the bar. And when you're alone, trendy new places and popular favorites become a cinch to get into. There is a liberating sense of speed, simplicity, and mobility - you are unencumbered of the normal ritual and dance that comes when two or more diners try to go out.

But there are deterrents to eating alone. For instance, eating alone in the suburbs can be very different than eating alone in the city. I once went to a nice sit-down Italian place in a suburb near Cleveland by myself. The surprised host repeated, "One? Just one for dinner?" Which set the tone for the rest of the meal with my waiter directing multiple concerned glances in my direction throughout the entire evening. Luckily, New York City teems with solo diners, and I have not yet had to fend off incredulity here.

But you can get sabotaged of a tranquil dining experience even in the city. When your friends and family, the people most relaxing to eat with, are all busy, the next most relaxing situation is being alone with your own thoughts. Talking to strangers takes energy. I was once at Ippudo ordering my bowl of ramen at the bar after gleefully skipping a line of diners waiting with their friends for tables. The person next to me noted that I was alone, and asked if I came there often. I answered politely with a measured amount of crispness, smiled, and then turned back to my food. Some people get energized from talking to others, but at the end of a long day, when I am hungry and run-down, making small talk is pretty draining. The slight brusqueness is my equivalent of a "Do Not Disturb" sign, which some people, unfortunately, don't understand. After some time, the person asked if I had ever had the vegetable plate. It felt rude not to chat. So we did, but thankfully, I was near the end of my meal and was able to make a quick getaway.

The brilliant thing is that some people do understand. I was at Waverly Restaurant again for a solo brunch (I got the omelette with ham, tomato, and cheese this time, delicious, with molten yolk of egg scattered throughout, and a croissant instead of the toast, which they split in half and toasted!). I was doing what I normally do when alone - planning my upcoming day or ruminating on some past or future case - when a diner two seats down at the bar offered a section of the newspaper. I accepted, and so we came to share some kind of camaraderie as two fellow New Yorkers enjoying our respective homefries and coffee and peacefully reading through the Times. When I returned the newspaper to him, I thanked him and smiled, and he nodded back. It was a nice way to start a Sunday.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Setagaya West Village

On Thursday I dusted off my bike and got noodles for the first time at the Setagaya outpost in the West Village. I want to call it the new outpost, but I don't know if it's new anymore. On the ride over, I learned that my bike has been so neglected over the summer that the gear shifting had frozen, but the brakes worked and I was okay.

The ramen was as satisfying as I remembered it at their East Village location. But I think they added some yuzu oil or peel to the garnish and stopped adding bonito flakes.

I was just glad to have a break and get some well needed nourishment. And happy that Setagaya is now closer to home.

Ramen Setagaya (West Village)
90 University Place (btn 11th and 12th St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 229-1489

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Waverly Restaurant and Milk Bar

Last Sunday Mabel and I went to Waverly Restaurant for brunch. Classic diner, almost every seat is a booth or counter, corn beef hash is standard preparation, well fried and out of the can with a side of shredded hash browns. Mabel went fancy with Eggs Hollandaise. Coffee is okay. I like this place. It's very comfortable, lots of hanging plants, not hip, good portions, and they've got booths.

It was a really nice day and we took a walk around Washington Square Park afterwards then decided to cab it over to Milk Bar for some cookies and ice cream. I'd been here back in December and didn't have the best impression of the place, but I've changed my mind. I think Milk Bar is fantastic and not just because they have a communal water dispenser. Their cookies are awesome. I've been a huge fan of their marshmallow-cornflake cookies since Mabel brought me one a few months ago. Nice chewiness and caramelliness. Mabel likes their compost cookies which have pretzels in them. I tried their blueberry cream cookies on this visit and they are really good, kind of what I have always wished blueberry muffins would taste like (although I still love blueberry muffins).

Mabel had been obsessed with trying out their cereal milk soft serve for a while so she got a cup of that. It basically tastes like slightly salty corn flake milk (sans corn flakes), and it works. But I don't think I could actually drink a glass of it. Or more than a small serving of soft serve.

I also got their pork bun with egg, even though I just had a full meal because I wasn't sure when I'd be back before 5pm when they stop making it. The first thing I thought when I saw it was that it is the ideal breakfast sandwich. It was very good. On the walk back home we were checking out apartment buildings, and at least I was wondering what it would be like to get my breakfast sandwich from Milk Bar every morning. Only in my dreams.

Waverly Restaurant
385 6th Ave (Btn Waverly Pl & 8th St)
New York, NY 10014

Momofuku Milk Bar
207 2nd Ave (entrance on 13th St)
New York, NY 10003

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


According to Jason O., Ess-a-Bagel makes a pretty good everything bagel sandwich with whitefish, tomato, and onion. I like bagels, although I don't eat them much these days. I grew up eating them all the time - some of my most vivid memories are of toasting supermarket onion bagels and topping them with cream cheese and strips of bacon. When I got my driver's license, I'd make frequent trips to Goldstein's Bagel Bakery (home of the first drive-through bagel bakery in the U.S.) where I once had the luck to get one of their cranberry bagels right out of the boiler/oven; I had never tasted a softer or more chewier bagel.

One day, I was done early from clinic at HJD. It was only 11:30 am and I was free for the rest of the day. It seemed like the perfect time to try this everything bagel sandwich, especially since I was not scheduled to meet with any more patients. Successful patient-doctor interactions require a sweet breath. Thus, everything bagels are, by definition, bad for patient-doctor interactions, and the addition of both whitefish and onion is positively lethal. I figured I'd never have this chance again.

Ordering the sandwich itself was pretty annoying. I am not sure what part of "I'd like an everything bagel with whitefish, tomato, and onion" that he didn't understand, but the counter guy, who was joking around incessantly with the counter girl, asked me what I wanted with my onion bagel, then asked if I wanted butter with my everything bagel, and then forgot to give me tomato and onion.

Anyway, once I got the sandwich and self-applied the tomato and onion, I thought the end result was pretty enticing.

I have to say I agree with Jason; the sandwich is pretty good. Very tasty. Very filling. Maybe slightly taxing on the temporomandibular joints, but worth the effort.

359 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10010