"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I like restaurants that are named after people.

It is hardly a theory on which to base ones dining life, nor is it a fully realised one, but some of the best meals on this US part of the trip have been in restaurants which bear the owner’s name. Hot Doug’s, Pat and Geno’s and here in NYC, Katz, Yasuda, Barney Greengrass, Peter Luger (more on these last two to come)

On Thursday, I visited two other places that bear the name of their original owner and which, in their different ways represent what New York dining means to so many people when they visit the city.

First of all, a trip to Arthur Avenue in The Bronx with my good friend, Sandy whose knowledge of matters New York is beyond compare.

We met in that most glorious of testaments to NYC’s past, Grand Central Terminal. Fully restored less than ten years ago, it is now, without doubt in my mind, New York’s finest building.

From there, the short train journey our to The Bronx and Arthur Avenue, home of a large Italian community and, arguably, the progenitor of the school of old style cooking we know as American Italian “red sauce”.

Now, just as with Chicken Tikka Masala in the UK and its relationship to Indian food, American Italian has little to do with anything you would find in Italy but is more a creation of the immigrant population for the local community.

Increasingly, I was interested to find out, a new wave of immigration from Albania has hit the area and many of the restaurants are, though still serving ‘Italian” food, owned by the latest influx. We did see one or two Albania restaurants, so I guess, there are now enough of them to be able to support their own restaurants.

After mooching around the stores and stopping for some delicious, meaty clams with a little hot sauce, we dipped into Dominick’s for lunch. It is an old stalwart of the neighbourhood and everything you would expect of such a place.

Hustling and bustling, the tables are communal, menus verbal and charging methods vague (I am told that the bill goes up if you have expensive shoes)

The food too is what you would expect with a pasta coming in a shrimp sauce that was heavy and, while quite tasty, hardly elegant. The same too for a slightly stewed chicken Scarlapino (sp?)

With a glass of what I call “context wine” because it may do the job at the time but, if you had it under normal circumstances, you would spit it half way across the room, the bill was about $40 for the two of us which Sandy thought was over priced.

Was it any good? Not really. I can see why places like these are popular with an older generation, but dying out as a new more discerning crowd push for better. It was, however, interesting to try and as alien to me as any of the food I tried in China or Japan.

I can’t imagine any reason to ever go back there.

That evening, I met up with a publishing chum, Beth and her husband, Peter and they decided to try and persuade me that my long held belief that pizza was “snot on toast” was off the mark by visiting one of their favourite haunts, Patsy’s in the heart (I think) of Spanish Harlem. It is particularly known for having a wood fired oven and decent ingredients

After a large and quite tasty house salad our two pizzas, about the size of a small dining table arrived, one with garlic, anchovies (on my bit anyway) and basil and the other, with ricotta and sun dried tomatoes.

I ate a couple of slices without keeling over and frothing at the mouth and I can certainly see why people love pizza and that these were decent enough examples (with the exception of the sun dried tomatoes which were sweet enough to give you diabetes) but, I am afraid it was no Damascene experience and I still think that pizza is a pretty vile concoction that is best left to Americans who, arguably have done more to promulgate its awfulness than the Italians who should take little blame.

We followed with some desserts that were heavy but not bad (well the one I tried was, the other containing coffee which really would make me fall to the floor in a frothing fit) and, in yet another display of American generosity, Beth & Peter picked up the tab and then walked me all the way across town to the Upper West Side where I was staying.

So, I tried two things that were, as the locals like to say in that annoying way “so New York”

If was fun to hang out with my chums, but I would probably be forced to say “ So What New York?” about these two food experiences, at least.

Next, Barney & Peter, but more of that later

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simon, Simon, if we told you once, we told you a million times that it's a coal oven at Patsy's rather than a wood one. :)

At least you no longer think ALL pizza is snot on toast. Next time we'll go to Waterfront Ale House (aka Pete's) and you can get the tab.

Sunday, October 28, 2007 3:31:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record: chicken Scarpiello, even though it was a very poor renditon. It shouldn't have been stewy at all, just crisply sauteed with lots of garlic (and sometimes, pieces of sausage.) I suspect that it was better for the customers who ate earlier than we did.

And yes -- WAY overpriced. They obviously didn't base the bill on my Payless shoes, but, I suspect, on your camera and "exotic" accent.

Monday, October 29, 2007 2:52:00 pm  

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