If you live in Southern California, you can probably hear my stomach rumbling, because we are back on the left coast and in serious dietary deprivation mode. With a trip to NYC just behind us and another trip just ahead of us, something has got to give, and I’m hoping it will be my waistline rather than my skirt seams.
We have a strict rule about walking to and from meals in NYC, but I guess we just weren’t walking far enough for the meals we ate. Case in point, we had a couple of great lunches on the UES this trip. We walked across the Park, hoping to see signs of spring, which, during this trip, were few and far between.
It’s almost two miles from our apartment to 79th and Third Avenue, so I guess we burned about 130 calories each on the way there, maybe a few more given the arctic temps in the city these past few weeks. So we would have been fine if, perhaps, we each had a thimble-full of consomme for lunch. Instead, we enjoyed a glorious repast at our new favorite ethnic restaurant in NYC: a cute little neighborhood place called Beyoglu.
We would call it a Turkish restaurant, but according to a NYT review, Beyoglu “is a meze house, a meyhane”. A meyhane is a traditional restaurant or bar in the Balkans region that serves meze, which is the Mediterranean eqivalent of tapas. We weren’t sure what to order, so we went for a little bit of everything, which turned out to be a lot of everything.
Our waitress was initially wary of the bumbling tourists asking too many questions and ordering too much food. But as our meal progressed amid many appreciative exclamations over the food, she chatted with us a bit. Her name is Nina, and she is not from the Mediterranean but from Georgia. And I do not mean Georgia pronounced with a southern drawl, but rather, the Republic of Georgia, which lies south of the Ukraine and north of Turkey, nestled next to the Black Sea. Nina told us that the best food in the world is in Georgia, and I believe her. The next best food in the world may be at Beyoglu.
We ordered falafel, the best I’ve ever tasted; we ordered cacik, a thick, creamy homemade yogurt with cucumber and garlic – it is food for the gods! We shared a Greek salad, with tender lettuce that was just-picked fresh, crisp red onions, Greek olives, artichokes and deep red tomatoes that tasted like, well, like tomatoes, which is something you rarely taste these days. We ordered a lamb special of the day, char-grilled yet tender. Every bite was perfect and the prices are so reasonable that they have to put a disclaimer at the bottom their menu requesting a $20 minimum for a credit card charge.
If you go, tell Nina that we sent you!
On another frigid day, we trudged across the Park again to the venerable L’Absinthe at 67th almost to Second Avenue. We’d been there before, but not for a few years, and this visit reminded me that we should make the long walk more often. L’Absinthe is where you go for a mini, far more sedate version of Balthazar. It is the petit bistro we searched for but never found in Paris. Minus the crusty, gruff waiters, by the way, as our servers were most gracious. I did not realize that L’Absinthe’s chef, Jean-Michel Bergougnoux, is an alumnus of France’s three-Michelin-starred La Maison Troisgros.
Lunch at L’Absinthe can be as simple as steak frites or omelets or a hamburger. For the more adventurous, there is Foie de Veau Sauté au Vinaigre de Framboise (Sauteed Calf’s Liver with Raspberry Vinegar and Vidalia Onion Compote) or Dover Sole Meuniere. I ordered the Choucroute Royale Alsacienne (Sausage, Pork Loin and Braised Sauerkraut) and it was a great choice for a wintry day. We somehow justified sharing a dessert; we are clearly capable of rationalizing anything. It was worth it – their Creme Brulee is excellent.
After lunch, we walked along 67th Street over to Madison Avenue, where we were approached by a black gentleman in his thirties wearing torn clothes and a pleading look on his face. “Could you spare some change, please? I’m so hungry.”
There is a lot of panhandling in New York City and anywhere else you go. On Fifth Avenue and on Broadway above 60th on the UWS, I’ve seen teams of “homeless” people who sit forlornly with signs bearing scrawled, heartrending messages like “husband died of cancer, alone and homeless, please help”. They work their shift and then apparently pool their earnings and they do not sleep on the streets. Last November, a photo of a New York City policeman who bought boots for a shivering, barefoot homeless man made international news. Now we learn that the man, Jeffrey Hillman, has at least twenty pairs of boots and a rent-free apartment in the Bronx.
According to The Atlantic, in general you should not give money to people who beg on the streets. But there are people who go hungry. In January, I came upon a man sleeping in a grate, his legs wrapped in plastic bags for warmth. I could not just walk by. I dug into my purse and tucked a five-dollar bill next to him. He never stirred. And now, on this March day, having just sated ourselves with creme brulee, who were we to judge? The CE spied a food cart just around the corner from where we stood and said to the man, “I won’t give you money, but I’ll buy you lunch. How about that?”
Instantly, the fellow’s expression brightened. It was a win-win situation. And faster than we could say “shake down”, he spun on his heel toward the food cart, familiarly hailing its owner with a high sign and said “Hey, Tony, I’ll have a cheeseburger and a Gatorade.”
The guy was on a first-name basis with Tony, who clearly sees the same act on a daily basis. Tony arched his eyebrows at us over his glasses and gave us a look that said “You’ve been had”. Yeah, we had definitely been had. What could we do but laugh? In the end, I guess it’s good to know that there is such a thing as a free lunch, even in New York.