Do You Miss New York?

April 11th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Dave Frishberg, the witty singer/song writer/musician, now an LA resident and formerly a New Yorker, is often asked that question. So he wrote a song: “Do You Miss New York?”. And, the answer, of course is: Yes!! HG/BSK have lived in the Western United States (Colorado and New Mexico) and Canada (Vancouver and Prince Edward Island) for the last 31 years. BSK does not miss New York (or New Jersey). HG has complex feelings. There’s nostalgia, of course. HG is nostalgic about the Upper West Side in the sixties. Movie houses. Street scenes (old Holocaust survivors; junkies; professors; musicians; writers; sex workers; crazies; burglars). Apartments (huge and cheap). Food (Zabar’s, Barney Greengrass, Citarella’s, Nevada Meat Market, Broadway Nut Shop, etc.). Dining (Fleur de Lis; Paramount Famous Dairy; Gitlitz Delicatessen; Tip Toe Inn; many good, cheap Chinese and Cuban joints.) HG got a jolt recently while watching Mad Men. Roger and Joan get away from Madison Avenue and dine at Tip Toe Inn (set designers did a great job). They are mugged after their meal. Yes, that was a possibility on the old West Side before the real estate monsters and condo-maniacs chewed up the neighborhood. Zabar’s, Barney G. and Citarella’s remain. All else is gone. Today’s New York? It’s a place where foreign bad guys hide their money and a family has to earn a million bucks a year to enjoy an upper-middle class life (Condo or coop; housekeeper/nanny; summer home; private school for the kids.) HG/BSK had all of those things on $40,000 (or less) a year. Didn’t have a coop but paid $292 a month for a huge apartment (big living room with view of the Hudson River and The Palisades; separate formal dining room; modest windowed kitchen; four bedrooms; three bathrooms.) Read it and weep. There are things about the New York of 2016 that HG loves. The museums are still great (the new Whitney on the West Side and the Met Breuer on Madison are grand additions). Strolling on the High Line. HG daughter Victoria and husband /chef Marc Meyer’s four superior downtown restaurants: Rosie’s (Mexican); Vic’s (Italian); Cookshop and Hundred Acres (farm to table ingredients, American with Mediterranean flavors). Good value, wonderful food, deft service, joyous atmosphere. Dining with SJ in Flushing (Chinese and Korean) and the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens (robust Uzbekistan cuisine). HG’s annual lunch with Victoria at Balthazar, better than any Paris brasserie. Shopping with BSK at Uniqlo. Gallery and museum hopping with BSK. Wandering (and eating) in Brooklyn, much hipper than Manhattan. HG/BSK mourn that they can’t eat at Oni Sauce, the fabulous Japanese home cooking and Asian sauce stand daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko Sakamoto (and partner) are running at Smorgasburg, Brooklyn’s famous al fresco food court. So, does HG miss New York? Not often, but sometimes.

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Nostalgia Sucks – An SJ Posting

February 29th, 2016 § 4 comments § permalink

Ahhh…Nostalgia. So wonderful and yet so full of shit. SJ here and I must make a rebuttal against HG’s colorful yet ill informed attack against the New York of now versus the New York of HG’s past. As someone that has lived in New York for the most part of my 47 years (and is living here still), I must say that HG speaks some truths: New York has become painfully expensive for middle class and working class people and really anyone who is not making a high six figure income. And yes, many wonderful New York institutions have closed down as rents increase. And finally, it is true that the essentially secular Jewish character of New York is fading while the religious Chassidic population is rising. These are painful truths for a changing city. But, there are many things that have not changed one iota. HG claims that New York has pushed out Mom and Pop stores in favor of chains. Lies! While big chains have arrived in an unprecedented fashion, New York still remains (for the moment) a place of corner bodegas, grumpy news stands, eccentric hardware stores and family run bakeries, delis and food shops. I live in Carrol Gardens, Brooklyn and I have a shop in Chinatown in Manhattan and in this tiny universe generic chains have barely made a dent (with the exception of Starbucks and the actually welcome addition of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods). Now onto food….HG makes a claim that New York restaurants have all become ridiculously overpriced and only serve fussy, so-called “creative” small plates that highlight kale. Well, those nostalgic goggles HG is wearing have become so fogged with BS, that he has no clue what he is talking about. (HG! Time to stop reading New York Times restaurant reviews and actually visit and eat!) While there are many trendy, overly precious restaurants (as there were back in HG’s day — remember “continental cuisine” or that rash of horrible hippy bean-sprout “health food” restaurants that propagated in the 70s?), there are also scores and scores of simply great places to eat that are making food that is honest and delicious and actually responsible with their ingredient sourcing and their investment in nose-to-tail eating. On a mainstream level, we now have restaurants that celebrate regional cuisines from Puglianese Italian to top notch Texas style Barbecue to authentic Barcelona style Tapas — a long way from the very good but very one note Italian and Spanish restaurants of yester-year; furthermore, even outside of ethnic enclaves, New York has exploded with amazing Japanese, Korean and other Asian foods. And, if you want to speak of cheap food, well jump on a train to Flushing, to Sunset Park, to Ozone Park or walk into Manhattan’s Chinatown and you will be flush with $4 chorizo tortas, smokey Xian style Chicken skewers for $1, Thai Sausage for $3 and a plethora of inexpensive vittles to make you smile. And yes, the great dairy restaurants of the past have shut down, but guess what? Now there are Uzbeck kosher restaurants popping up all over with delicious grilled meats and wholesome stews; and if you want to be a healthy Jew who eats like IB Singer, well there has never been a better time for vegetarians in this city both with mainstream restaurants and many serious Israeli spots serving hummus, falafal and all sorts of healthy middle eastern treats. Lastly, when it comes to traditional New York food and specifically Jewish food, there is a renaissance happening: Katz’s may have gone downhill (but their hot dog is still something killer!), but Mile End is making some incredible smoked meats; Russ and Daughters and Kossar’s are fully revitalized and thriving, serving up perhaps the best food of their long careers; Barney Greengrass is packed every day of the week and a new generation of bagel makers, smoked fish lovers and matzoh ball soup mavens are opening wonderful restaurants. And with food blogs popping up everywhere old, great NYC restaurants and shops have been given a new life as can be witnessed in the hours long lines for Casa Della Mozzerella on Arthur Avenue or the incredible community support that kept B&H open after a gas explosion totaled their block last year. So HG, SJ is advising that you take a cloth to your nostalgia goggles and take a second look at a New York that, while changing as it always has, remains an idiosyncratic and uniquely great place to live, eat and wander about.

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The Appetizing Store

October 31st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was an affordable, funky, comfortable city known, then and now, as New York. Among the city’s many amenities was the “appetizing store.” This was a small store that sold smoked fish (Nova Scotia salmon, salty lox, sable, sturgeon, kippered salmon, herring, whitefish); olives (green and black); pickles (from a barrel), cole slaw, potato salad. On the shelves were canned and jarred items such as salmon, tuna and anchovies. Some stores offered dried fruits, nuts and halvah. “Appetizing stores” were omnipresent on every shopping street in the Jewish neighborhoods of Manhattan, The Bronx , Brooklyn and Queens. Today, only two survive: Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side and Murray’s Sturgeon Shop on the Upper West Side. (Yes, there are two big time smoked fish landmarks on the Upper West Side: Zabar’s and Barney Greengrass. But, Zabar’s is a megaplex offering housewares, cheese, prepared foods, breads, sweets, etc. Greengrass is as much a restaurant as it is an “appetizing store.”) R & D and Murray’s have loyalists. SJ insists that R & D has the ultimate smoked fish and salads. Others think Murray’s experienced hand slicers are accomplished artists. HG leans toward R & D but finds Zabar’s sable and red salmon caviar superior. HG has heard that Murray’s has become a bit moldy. R & D, on the other hand, has become reinvigorated with an energetic younger generation that has taken over and expanded the Russ & Daughter’s brand. In HG’s youth, it was HG’s Sunday task to shop at the “appetizing store” on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx and bring home the fixings for the joyous Sunday brunch. It was the job of the father of the household to visit the neighborhood bakery for the essential bagels, bialys, pletzels and rye bread. Moms took care of the cream cheese, sweet butter and sour cream. In the immediate World War Two years, a certain casual jacket became popular among Jewish men. A four button affair, it had a tweed body and camel hair sleeves. It was designed for weekend casual activities. It was known as the “Bagel Coat” because it was the obligatory costume of men fetching those baked (but first boiled) treats.

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Holy Mackerel!!!

August 31st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Watch out Barney Greengrass, Zabar’s, Russ & Daughters. The By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peter’s, Prince Edward Island, is catching up. The proprietor, HG’s favorite fish purveyor, Sheryll O’ Hanley, has added smoked mackerel to the store’s pungent treats which include Nova Scotia smoked salmon and peppered salmon spears, cold smoked in the Pacific style. The smoked mackerel is remarkable. Moist. Full of flavor. Accented, but not overwhelmed, by smoke. HG has enjoyed mackerel in the form of sashimi and sushi (daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko crafts these Japanese treats beautifully.) Gifted Daughter Lesley does broiled mackerel in a tasty Provencal manner. In Paris, HG has often relished marinated maquerau. But, HG has never encountered smoked mackerel anywhere but Prince Edward Island with By The Bay purveying the finest example. Great appetizer with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper. Equally nice on a bagel with cream cheese and sliced, sweet onion. Sheryll told HG her mackerel is caught off PEI and then shipped to a venerable smokehouse in Novia Scotia. Sheryll sells the fish freshly smoked, never frozen. Reminded HG of HG/BSK’s days on historic Nantucket Island. A young man sold freshly smoked bluefish door-to-door. It became so popular he expanded his operations and soon only frozen was available. Sad. It neither tasted the same nor did it texturally hold up. HG hopes that his favorite smoked mackerel avoids that ignominious fate.

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The West Side Is (was) The Best Side

April 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has written frequently about the food heaven that was the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Yes, Zabar’s, Murray’s and Barney Greengrass remain — temples of smoked fish and other delicious treats. But, in the days long before the UWS became fully gentrified there were scores of Mom-and-Pop shops, eccentric ethnic restaurants and corner greengrocers that defined the neighborhood’s culinary bent — all have disappeared, crushed by the real estate steam roller. When HG and BSK lived on the West Side during the 1960s and early 1970s the neighborhood was a bastion of rent control. Vast, affordable apartments were legion. Naturally, this attracted writers, artists, musicians, dancers, intellectuals, etc. The neighborhood had an edge. There were plenty of muggers and drug addicts. Petty larceny was the norm. Crazies, huddled in layers of clothing during the warmest weather, wandered the streets mumbling their interior monologues. At night, hookers appeared. There was a melancholy haze over the benches on Broadway where Holocaust survivors, often displaying their concentration camp tattoos, sat ringed in exhaust fumes and polluted sunshine. The great, Nobel Prize-winning author I.B. Singer, a small, pale man in a dark suit and fedora, would chat in Yiddish with these men and women (when he wasn’t feeding pigeons). Impecunious old European refugees favored the Senate Cafeteria on Broadway near 96th Street where they argued endlessly over cups of tea. HG and BSK lived in The Hereford, a moldering 12-story apartment house between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive (glorious views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades). The building was a repository of the arts. HG and BSK’s dear friend, the composer Michael Small lived with his wife, Lynn, on the fourth floor (HG and BSK lived on the lofty 12th). The Small’s apartment was unusual. Michael’s classmate at Williams College, Charles Gwathmey, the extraordinary architect, had ripped out walls in the apartment creating an exuberant space defined by his beautifully crafted cabinetry. Michael’s grand piano was at stage center. Peter Boyle, the actor (before jumping to fame in Young Frankenstein) lived in the building and joined HG and BSK at a Chinese cooking class. Ted Solotaroff, the visionary critic and editor (founder of The New American Review and lifelong friend of Philip Roth) became a pal of HG and BSK. Here’s a vignette of life at The Hereford: Early one evening Michael summoned HG and BSK to his apartment where he played some of his score to the film Klute (a hit with Jane Fonda as a call girl-in-peril). He went on to write the scores for many memorable films induing All The President’s Men and Marathon Man. After dinner we all went to a literary event at Ted Solotaroff’s apartment. Here, we heard Richard Howard, the poet and translator, read Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess. Memorable. Sadly, Small, Boyle, Gwathmey, Singer and Solotaroff are all gone. Richard Howard is still a figure in New York literary life. And HG continues to remember it all with great fondness.

Sunday Feasting in The Bronx

November 28th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

Read with interest the New York Times interview with HG’s favorite writer of fiction, Philip Roth. It seems Roth has had his say. No more books, no more arduous attention to the brutal task of writing. Sad news for serious readers. (And, why hasn’t Roth been awarded the Nobel? This is an injustice). The last time HG saw Roth it was breakfast time at Barney Greengrass, the venerable smoked fish emporium on Manhattan’s upper west side. Roth looked gloomy. The lox-bagel-cream cheese and coffee combo he was eating didn’t seem to lift his spirits. HG mused that the author was probably thinking that one more day of word wrestling lay before him. These varied Rothian thoughts lead HG back to long ago memories of Sunday-Breakfast-In-The-Bronx-With-Mom-And-Pop. (HG uses caps because this traditional breakfast was always an epic feast). No matter where HG had spent Saturday night, or from what bed HG had arisen, young bachelor HG always called Mom early Sunday to discuss breakfast (yes, the meal began at about 10:30 or 11 so these days it would be called brunch). HG visited the “appetizing” store on Kingsbridge Road and procured Nova Scotia smoked salmon, sable, pickled herring, a robust smoked whitefish, Greek olives, sour kosher dill pickles, potato salad and cole slaw. On that same morning Pop was off to the bakery for bagels, bialys, onion rolls, Jewish rye bread and Stuhmer’s pumpernickel. The table was set with plenty of sweet butter, Daitch cream cheese and sliced tomatoes and onions. Lots of coffee plus a bottle of cognac (both HG and Pop liked to “correct,” as Italians put it, their coffee with shots of brandy. The smoked fish delights lead into a big platter of softly scrambled eggs with fried onions and mushrooms. Danish pastry for dessert. HG worked all of this off in Central Park. Rough touch football. Ah, youth, you magic time.

Young New Yorkers Living in Expensive Closets: Read This And Weep.

October 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Some 48 years ago (seems like yesterday). HG, BSK, their two adorable children, their live-in mother’s helper and their poorly trained but decorative standard poodle, lived in a 12th floor Upper West Side apartment with dramatic views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. A very spacious residence. Big living room. Big, separate dining room. Nice windowed kitchen and pantry. Four bedrooms and three baths (one en suite). The rent: $274 a month (later raised to $292 and a similar apartment in the same building now rents for $15,000 a month). Ah, rent control, you lovely bit of legislation (of course, obtaining this rent controlled paradise involved some bribery, chicanery and corruption). This did not shock HG, a born and bred New Yorker. In those days the Upper West Side was affordable and diverse. There was still a heavy Jewish influence. Big time theater and entertainment folks (Abe Burrows, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern and many more) lived on Central Park West alongside many affluent professionals and business persons. Side streets from Central Park West to Broadway were gritty (except for W. 67th Street, site of the Des Artistes apartment house and many studios of painters and musicians). Riverside Drive and the Avenues and cross streets west of Broadway were filled with intellectuals and creative types who had more brains and talent than money. Forget Greenwich Village. The Upper West Side was the home of professors, critics, novelists, dancers, journalists, composers, actors, musicians and school teachers. Lots of European intellectuals who had fled Hitler and many Holocaust survivors (the little, pale, Nobel Prize winning writer, Isaac Baashevis Singer, who lived on W. 86th Street, often wrote about them). The Heresford (West Side apartment houses often had British names, a touch of Anglophile class) where HG and BSK lived, had much artistic ferment. Among its residents were Peter Boyle (before Hollywood and TV fame); film composer Michael Small, the critic and editor Ted Solotaroff; Gary Null, the health and sex writer, guru and radio personality. There were also some Broadway dancers, the cantor of a major synagogue and lesser artistic lights. The Upper West Side was filled with movie theaters showing art films (the New Yorker, Thalia and Symphony) and plus the first run houses (Loew’s 83rd, the Beacon,etc.). Food was a neighborhood obsession. Zabar’s, of course, but also Murray’s (preferred by some smoked fish aficionados) and Barney Greengrass (unsurpassed sturgeon). Middle European restaurants like Eclair and dairy restaurants like Steinberg’s and Paramount. Gitlitz’ Delicatessen on Broadway and 78th ( much superior in HG’s informed opinion, to Katz’s, Carnegie or 2nd Avenue Deli). The jewel of the West Side was the Tip Toe Inn (on Broadway near 86th Street). A huge place with a huge menu. Everything was delicious and inexpensive (the New York Public Library has a nice collection of old menus….Here’s a link to Tip Toe’s 1954 menu. Be astonished). There was a rotisserie in the Bretton Woods Hotel (86th and Broadway) that barbecued ducks and chickens. Sunday dinners for HG and BSK often featured one of those juicy, crisp skinned ducks and an avocado-sweet onion-sliced orange salad. Chinese restaurants were clustered around Broadway and 96th and they were very good (the first Szechuan restaurant in New York was on Broadway and 95th). There were also some Cuban/Chinese places where you could get good shrimp dishes plus Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice) Fairway didn’t exist but for those who liked to eat at home there were butchers like Endicottt Meats and Nevada Market (where you could get some exotic stuff including bear, in season). Good bakeries. Mom and Pop greengrocers. Citarella’s for fish. Broadway Nut Shop for sweets. Daitch Dairy (79th and Broadway) for tub butter and cheese. Bretton Wood Rotisserie for barbecued ducks. HG and BSK were not plutocrats but could afford all of these good things. Yes, the Upper West Side had lots of junkies, hookers, muggers and burglars. Their presence made West Siders feel superior to residents of the antiseptic Upper East Side. Now, let HG make you young folks really jealous. HG, BSK and family spent all summer plus spring and fall weekends at their Fire Island home. Built atop a dune it had panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Great South Bay sunsets. The family bought it for $40.000. HG’s first Fire Island house (in 1959) cost $4,000 ($1,000 for land and $3,000 for two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room and deck). In 1960, HG added two more bedrooms, another bathroom and additional decking. Cost: $2,000. That’s right. The numbers for these Fire Island properties are correct. Read and weep.

Two More Santa Fe Winners

September 29th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Here are two more Santa Fe dining musts. Gabriel’s is ten minutes north of Santa Fe. Beautiful outdoor terrace and lively indoors. Heed HG. There is only one meal to order and that is great. All else is mediocre. Start with guacamole and chips. The guacamole is mixed tableside and it is sublime. Best ever. Then have the pork carnitas platter. One platter can easily serve two and is a nice example of down home New Mexican cooking. Very good flan for dessert. Wash it all down with margaritas.

A polar opposite is New York Deli at the north end of Santa Fe. Here is where you will find nostalgic New Yorkers reading the New York Times while indulging in traditional treats. Owner Jeffrey Schwartzberg is an ex-Brooklynite (reared in Brooklyn before it became a hipster paradise). He serves all the usual suspects: corned beef, pastrami, matzo ball soup, chopped liver, nova smoked salmon with onions and scrambled eggs, bagels, cream cheese, Reubens, etc. Jeffrey has good standards. He cut out bialys when he couldn’t find any that met his standards. Okay, New York Deli isn’t Katz’s or Barney Greengrass, but if your New York heart longs for a traditional New York heartburn, try this haimish place. You’ll find some old Jews telling jokes: Abe Meets Moish. “Moish, the fire. Terrible.” Says Moish: “Shhh. It’s tomorrow.'”

The Golden Age of Food On The Upper West Side.

December 21st, 2011 § 71 comments § permalink

It was 1963. HG and BSK were beginning their marriage in an artist’s studio apartment on West 67th Street just off Central Park West. Huge high ceilinged living room with north facing floor to ceiling window, small kitchen, small bedroom ( former model’s changing room), big bathroom with enormous tub. Very romantic. The rent: $140 per month.

This was The Golden Age Of Food On The Upper West Side. Gentrification and escalating real estate prices removed the gritty, funky luster. The neighborhood had junkies, muggers, burglars, hookers and bag ladies. It also had tons of artists, writers, academics and free ranging intellectuals lured by big apartments and cheap rents.

Here’s a smattering of the food and drinks establishments that delighted the newlyweds: 67th St. Wines (67th and Columbus): Splits of good champagne for a dollar. Volk’s German Restaurant (78th and Columbus): Bratwurst heaven. Fleur de Lis French Restaurant (65th off Broadway?): Escargots. Sole. Steak frites. C & L Restaurant (70th and Broadway?): Huge, Exceptional apple pancakes. Vast menu. Tip Toe Inn (86th and Broadway). A sister restaurant to C & L with a great delicatessen. Also, notable chicken in the pot. Recently the Tip Toe Inn was featured on the show Mad Men and they were quite true to most of the original details. Zabar’s (81st and Broadway): Need HG say more? Now a New York landmark.

Zabar's Fish Counter

Barney Greengrass (87th and Amsterdam): Sturgeon and eggs with crisp fried onions. Daitch Dairy (79th and Broadway): The best cream cheese. Gitlitz (78th and Broadway): The unsurpassed Jewish delicatessen. A chopped liver and pastrami sandwich for the gods. Nevada Market (80th and Broadway): Steaks. Chops. Chicken. Citarella’s (74th and Broadway): Everything fresh from the sea. Paramount Famous Jewish Dairy Restaurant (72nd west of Broadway): Blintzes. Gefilte fish. Kasha varneshkes. Steinberg’s (84th and Broadway): Same cuisine as Paramount but classier. Very good herring. Great Shanghai (98th and Broadway) Chinese lobster and shrimp dishes. Dumplings. Szechuan (95th and Broadway) Fire on a plate. New York’s first and best Szechuan restaurant. Broadway Nut Shop. (East side of Broadway and 81st): Encyclopedic array of fresh roasted nuts, dried fruits and candy treats from across the globe. Eclair Bakery and Restaurant (72nd Street): Vienna, Berlin, Budapest and Warsaw transplanted in New York. Senate Cafeteria (96th and Broadway): Where I.B. Singer ate his tunafish salad in the company of tea sipping, Yiddish speaking European survivors.

As HG remarked, this is just a smattering. There was much more. Sadly, only Zabar’s, Greengrass and Citarella’s remain. On the bright side: The West Side has added Fairway.

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