Part Two Best Diner Big Nick’s 2175 …

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Part Two

Best Diner
Big Nick’s
2175 Broadway (betw. 76th & 77th Sts.)
362-9238
The Kids at I.S. 44 Wouldn’t Steer You Wrong.
We were only 13, but
even then we knew that someone in the public school system was ripping us off
at lunchtime. Hotdogs boiled in water, french bread so stale you could hurt
somebody with it, cake icing direct from a Jersey chemical plant. Enough! we
screamed, as we ran across 77th St. toward Broadway and a real meal.

Big Nick’s
was new back then, but it already looked like it had always been there. Then,
like now, it was a crowded diner, with newspaper clippings taped everywhere,
along with glossies of various “celebrities” hanging on the walls.
The collegiate boys would shove their tweed elbows into our empty stomachs as
we lined up for the garlicky pizza and cheeseburgers dripping with grease–and
taste. It was a food paradise.

It’s nice
to know that some things don’t change. Big Nick’s Burger Joint still
serves those cheeseburgers, but now, for the more sophisticated West Side palate,
there’re also avocado burgers, Grecian burgers, Texasburgers (with an egg),
Madrid burgers, Boston burgers (served with baked beans) and–you can’t
make this stuff up–ostrich burgers. But there’s more, much more, than
just burgers. The paper menus advertise spinach pie, onion soup, pastrami melts,
broiled swordfish, charcoaled prime ribeye steaks, chili con carne with corn
bread, linguine carbonara, Virginia ham steak and roast turkey dinners. There’s
fried jumbo shrimp, shell steaks, moussaka, lamb gyros and every conceivable
pizza.

For those who
don’t consider a meal complete without dessert, try anything from the “Sweet
Box”–blueberry crumb cake, hot pecan pie, rice pudding, banana splits,
sundaes. The mystery is where they store all this food. Big Nick’s is a
small place. But everything’s fresh, all the time. This guy (yes there
really is a Big Nick) has got it down to a science. The tv used to play silent
movies, which was annoying. But recently they’re showing The Jackie
Gleason Show
. Much better. The service is friendly and quick. If you like
a beer or wine with your meal they’ve got that too. If it’s pouring
rain, they deliver. They do everything for you but chew.

Best Mexican
Restaurant
Mexican Radio
19 Cleveland Pl. (betw. Spring & Kenmare Sts.)
343-0140
Ganador, y Todavía el Campeón.
Looks like they stuck a bicycle
pump in the door of the pequeñito old Mexican Radio on Mulberry St.,
gave it about 70-80 thrusts and then moved the whole enterprise over to Cleveland
Pl. The new outpost has exactly the same charm and festiveness as the old place,
the similarly delightful staff and–the smartest thing–the same menu.
What’s different is that the new place is bigger, and we now enjoy the
superlative Radio Nachos with our elbows edging off the table instead of trussed
in at our sides; polish off the succulent, fiery chorizo appetizer and an order
of our favorite chile rellenos, then stretch a little bit before our plate of
magnificent crispy flautas–or perhaps the incomparable chicken enchiladas
con mole–arrives, instead of sitting hunched over the table, dodging passing
purses and backpacks. And best of all, unlike the old spot, we don’t have
to wait a seeming eternity to get a table and order a plate of carnitas, Mexican
Radio’s amalgam of shredded pork with oranges, lemons, limes and garlic,
plus some spicy sauce, served with white corn tortillas. (Waiting isn’t
always bad, mind you: allows time to savor a frozen or other specialty margarita,
maybe some of their knockout sangria or–a real rarity in the city–a
draft Dos Equis.) This time, bigger is not only better, it’s just as good.

Best Frozen
Cosmopolitans in Chelsea
G Lounge
225 W. 19th St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
929-1085
Squishies for Big Boys Who Say “Fabulous.”
Lately we’ve become
fond of ambling down 7th Ave. with a friend or two after work to take comfort
in a deliciously smooth frozen cosmopolitan at G, prepared effortlessly by the
bartender. We casually sip the fuchsia-colored, fruity drink while making ourselves
comfortable on the plush banquettes lining the front room. What we love most
about G’s frozen cosmos is their Slurpee consistency, coupled with the
smoothness that makes us forget we’re drinking alcohol. The lighting here
is low and romantic, with small candles on sleek, silver tables, just enough
to see who’s had too much surgery or spent too much time on Fire Island.

We’re
also fond of planting ourselves atop a stool at the oval-shaped bar while the
good-looking bartenders deftly mix drinks and take orders from the usually diverse
crowd of guppies, Chelsea boys, EV hipsters and a few women. More often than
not, this minimalist lounge lives up to its name and delivers the goods that
we can’t get at most gay lounges: a mixed crowd, enjoying the rotating
cast of DJs who pump out house and techno, from Honey Dijon to Carlos Pedraza.
During happy hour (4 to 9 p.m.) we slurp our frozen cosmos–from the big
straw, of course–for just $5 a pop. We always leave G very satisfied–two
cosmos are enough to make us a little loopy–and ready for a long night
of dancing and debauchery.

Best Brooklyn
Wine Shop
Big Nose, Full Body
382 7th Ave. (betw. 11th & 12th Sts.)
Brooklyn, 718-369-4030
And If She Rubs Feet, We’ll Marry Her.
This new South Slope wine shop
is the most pleasant establishment in which to purchase wine that we’ve
come across in New York City; so much so that its existence has rejuvenated
our interest in a beverage that the Foodie Era, with its fetishisms and its
descents into preciousness, had mostly eradicated.

A lot of what’s
good about this minuscule shop has to do with its minimalism. Bottles, and not
an overwhelming number of them, either–because Big Nose, Full Body seems
to have come to the admirable conclusion that purchasing a bottle of alcohol
needn’t become an exercise in taxonomy and logistics–are racked along
three walls under descriptive placards of the sort that the old salesmen at
a place like, say, Sherry-Lehmann would smirk at. Which is exactly the point,
and which is exactly why, when it comes to our wine-shopping, we’ll avoid
the Upper East Side and stay local.

Most of what
differentiates this store from its competition, though–for in fact Slope
Cellars, right down 7th Ave., is also a nice wine store–are enthusiastic
co-owners Charles and Christy, neither of whom looks old enough to own a graduate
degree, much less a wine store. Charles, who we’re told is in the process
of earning a sommelier’s certificate, is easily the friendliest guy ever
to know his wines; and his partner Christy reigns, we’re sure, as Brooklyn’s
most charming merchant. The store’s back corner contains one of those industrial-cylindrical
contraptions in which it’s diverting to submerge, for super-rapid chilling,
bottles of wine, the head of any one of the neighborhood’s burgeoning class
of precocious preadolescents or–for sporting purposes–the occasional
furry varmint, which you might be able to order from the pet-supplies store
down the street.

Tastings are
offered every Saturday afternoon at 4; and while the shop, to its credit, seems
to avoid stocking ponderously expensive big-ticket wines, we’re sure that,
if you’re compelled to ship a case of Médoc to your uncle this Christmas,
the proprietors will steer you in the right direction.

Best Chef
Luis Bollo
Meigas
350 Hudson St. (King St.)
627-5800
www.meigasrestaurant.com
Looks Like Spain.
We’ve been through it all, and we’re cynical.
Every imaginable way of preparing food, from East African to Southeast Asian.
But then along comes a truly magnificent restaurant like Meigas, and an authentic
savant like Louis Bollo, and our attitude is adjusted. Who would have thought
that Spanish–a cuisine formerly consigned to the purgatorial zones of boring
paella and unctuous sangria–would have been triumphantly revived to become
the new rage, the laboratory?

Besides, we
adore the whole Spanish attitude, which is less fussy than the French, and less
preoccupied with mama mia nostalgia than the Italian. Plus, they cook
the food (one up on the Japanese), and the ingredients are generally recognizable
in their essential form and integrity (one up on the Chinese). And, the Spanish
make some phenomenal wine, which their food elegantly companions.

But best of
all, they cherish their fish and their meat, and they, like the inhabitants
of Provence, enjoy eating the unspoken-of parts of various beasts. People have
been saying for years that Catalan and Basque chow is the cat’s ass, and
now we believe them. The food magazines have been trumpeting Ferran Adria (of
the now-mythical El Bulli, north of Barcelona) as the world’s greatest
chef, extolling his mad-scientist ways with “foams” and other culinary
wackiness–and now we believe them, because Meigas’ Bollo is a disciple.

But an immigrant
disciple, it must be pointed out. Meigas’ early menu, featuring stranger,
more experimental dishes, has been reformed and is now just a document crammed
with glorious food. Roast suckling pig is the star, but Bollo’s touch with
myriad other unfamiliars is equally compelling. We had (and keep in mind that
the menu is changing for fall): homemade bacalao, which comes with a side of
stewed squid and onions; grilled monkfish, with clams and mussels; and roasted
loin of rabbit wrapped in bacon. Appetizers: pimientos del piquillo rellenos,
peppers stuffed with marinated tuna and served chilled; txipirones calamares,
baby squid in its own ink, with Basque rice on the side; and the incomparable
falda de ternera, a breast of veal stuffed with veal sweatbreads, squid and
onions, served topped with onion rings and surrounded by a sauce of Rioja and
squid-ink that took loaf upon loaf of Meigas’ stellar bread to sop up.

Best Newish
East Village Gay Lounge for Hipsters and Their Friends
Fat Cock 29
29 2nd Ave. (2nd St.)
946-1871
Girthful Merrymaking.
Fizz Jizz. Flaming Fuck. Those are just two of the
many special drinks that anyone can order up while lounging in maroon leather
banquettes and sofas and chatting with friends. We found ourselves at Fat Cock–or
F.C. 29–as the sign reads, a month ago. We arrived a little before midnight,
early by New York standards, but the place was packed. Lots of attractive men,
some couples, a fag hag or two thrown in, and plenty of cruising. The advance
buzz on F.C. 29 was that it boasts the “world’s largest porn screen.”
The lounge, owned by Mario Diaz, has a cool jukebox and is open from 6 p.m.
to 4 a.m. daily.

It was a weird
sort of trip to look up and see 70s porn flashing above us, looming there on
that screen. It was pretty intense. We’re talking guys with mustaches,
big muscles and flared pants. Construction workers, gloryholes in the bathroom
stall, extreme closeups of come shots and anal sex. Our friend Michael enjoyed
F.C. 29′s pornos the most, exclaiming “That’s hot” more
than once to anyone who would listen. We enjoyed the stimulating conversation
that’s possible at F.C. 29, since (unlike other EV gay lounges) they don’t
blast the music to glass-shattering levels. Another patron of F.C. 29 recently
remarked to us that upon leaving the lounge one night during the week, he was
so horny that he was shaking. That’s what fat cock usually does to us,
too.

Best Downtown
Bagel and Lox
Murray’s
500 6th Ave. (betw. 12th & 13th Sts.)
462-2830
242 8th Ave. (betw. 22nd & 23rd Sts.)
646-638-1335
Love’s Labor’s Lox.
Sometimes, and we acknowledge that this is
a horrible thing to say, but sometimes we get the feeling that some of the most
celebrated purveyors of smoked fish in Manhattan don’t really love lox.
There’s nothing wrong with that in itself–almost no one who didn’t
grow up knowing slimy, salty fish products as the most special of all possible
weekend-only treats could understand the nature of the delicacy. And after a
few years of dealing in the stuff, handling it day in and day out, one probably
grows rather sick of it. Then quality starts to slip. And it’s not until
a newcomer who also happens to be a true connoisseur comes along that it becomes
clear what has been lost.

That loss is
Murray’s and all true lox-lovers’ gain. With Essa lulled into complacency
by overpraise of its (admittedly superb) bread product, and quick-service-king
Pick-A still lagging in the quality department, Murray entered a field where
laurels awaited anyone dedicated to the topnotch smoked-fish-sandwich experience.
Despite occasionally slow or inept service, Murray’s fits the bill. Murray’s
two locations are downtown’s best places to enjoy premium Scottish lox
(venerable Russ & Daughters also stocks the real thing, but it offers no
seating).

Murray’s
offers reliable alternatives for the lox-weary: excellent sable (smoked cod),
whitefish salad and smoked sturgeon make appearances on the rotating menu. At
other bagelries, these secondary fish often spend far too long in the display
case, but Murray’s deals exclusively in grade-A stuff. If he’s selling
it, it’s as good a slab of smoked fish as you’re likely to find. The
bagels are quite good, too, yes. But if you don’t get some tender, oily,
smoky prime sea-meat in yours, you might as well be eating wheat bread, as far
as we’re concerned.

Best Beauties,
Worst Pick-Up Conversation
The Other Room
143 Perry St. (betw. Greenwich & Washington Sts.)
645-9758
Trois-Way.
This tiny beer- and wine-only bar in the far West Village is
always full of attractive, chic, fresh-scrubbed men and women who are young,
yes, but not outrageously so. Friendly, efficient bartenders and a surprising
lack of attitude make this a great spot for a drink if we’re adequately
dressed and groomed and can reconcile ourselves to imbibing Chimay or wheat
beer all night. As usual, though, the prospect of action requires us to put
our pride aside, rather more dramatically here than elsewhere.

Recently we
were seated next to a striking couple–he, a Dutch model naggingly familiar,
we realized later, from the sides of various buses around town; she an actress
originally from Montreal. They were deep in debate, and turned to us to resolve
the conflict. Seems that in the Netherlands it’s customary to exchange
three cheek-kisses upon greeting, alternating sides, while the Quebecois
kiss only twice. Which nation’s custom was more to our liking?

Naturally,
we were only too happy to weigh in on such a topic, but as the conversation
foundered (they were serious about this, you see), we decided we’d have
to go home with our virtue intact. But we’ll be back.

Best Place
for a Bartender to Hit on Your Boyfriend
The Village Idiot
355 W. 14th St. (9th Ave.)
989-7334
She Said She Was a Bartender, But I Don’t Remember Payin’!
It’s
their job, goddammit, but we must admit to preferring the Hogs & Heifers
technique for getting men to part with their money–humiliation–to
its sister bar’s more hands-on approach. (That’s not what we meant
by rimming the glass, girls.) And so in the world of Coyote Ugly Texas theme
bars, Hogs is damn near preaching women’s lib. Although it’s worth
the porn videos they screen at the Idiot to have control of the music via a
well-stocked white-trash jukebox. Sorry Hogs, but after that third round of
“Devil Went Down to Georgia,” not even matching leather bras or naked
fat girls dancing on the bar in an attempt to work out those night-before-the-wedding
jitters could make us stay. Most importantly, the Idiot is the only bar in town
we’ve actually tried to get kicked out of and failed. If you throw a glass
on the ground at this honkytonk, rest assured that the management will be over
in seconds–to pitch one at the wall.

Best Restaurant
for Surprise Birthday Dinners
Gramercy Tavern
42 E. 20th St. (betw. B’way & Park Ave. S.)
477-0777
You Guys Are the Greatest.
Gramercy Tavern is on a very short list of our
all-time favorite restaurants, anywhere. If Danny Meyer closed down his other
operations tomorrow we wouldn’t be all that discomfited, likable as they
are, but if Gramercy were to shut its doors a certain light would go out of
our world. It’s the gestalt of the place–the food, the setting and
perhaps the finest staff in the city, combined to create what has been a memorable
experience every time we’ve been there–and we’ve been there a
fair number of times. So when our significant other was approaching a significant
birthday and the family wanted to cook up a surprise dinner, Gramercy was the
first place we called. We’d booked a big to-do for the family patriarch’s
75th birthday in Gramercy’s private room once, and were so impressed with
the staff that night that this smaller birthday wingding seemed a natural. And
once again, the staff was so professional and cooperative that it went off beautifully.
Family trickled in from all around the country and were seated early. When we
were led to the table and they were all there, champagne glasses ready for the
first toast…well, the look on our other’s face was priceless. And dinner,
as always, was great. Another Gramercy night we’ll never forget.

Best Bar
We’re Glad Is Still There
288
288 Elizabeth St. (betw. Houston & Bleecker Sts.)
260-5045
Hey, How You Doin’?
We like to pretend that in our maturity, we’ve
eased up on the boozy lifestyle. God knows we don’t hang out at 288 all
the time like we did in our youth. But in reality our maturity has brought sloth:
we don’t get to 288 so often after work because we’re too lazy to
make the trip. And we don’t visit at night because our maturity has also
brought fatigue: we’re too old and tired to go out late, to fight the crowds.
But when we do go out late, when we entertain out-of-towners, it’s to 288,
because it remains about our favorite bar. And when we go in, no matter how
packed, they all remember us–Jo and Nick, Michael, Doggie, Linda, Brian,
Ruthie and everyone else–and seem pleased we’ve come by. We’re
glad they’re still there, an oasis among all the annoying places and people
that continue to dominate that neighborhood.

Best Downtown
Soup
Oliva
161 E. Houston St. (Allen St.)
228-4143
Bisque and a Good Woman’s Friendship.
Soup’s a relaxant, and if
it doesn’t effect the chemical reaction that terminates in doping our blood
with serotonins, we might as well be eating a turkey club. We attended this
good newish Basque restaurant in the presence of a female friend with whom we’re
involved in that postfeminist institution known as a romantic friendship–see,
it works for us–so we can’t accurately establish what proportion of
the well-being with which we left was a function of the soup, and what of her
emotional massaging. But with all due respect to her, we’re willing to
assume that some of it had to do with the soup.

To be specific,
with the crab bisque with Armagnac a waitress slid before us while we elicited
our friend’s commiseration for a romantic complication that had dicked
around with our tender heart. Deep maternal cream spiked with the masculine
effluvium of sea brine, shot through with the tonic of brandy; textures playing
off each other, the hard alcohol counterpointing the thick dairy; a minor essay
in the interarticulation of gastronomic timbres, and yak yak yak. Good soup,
though, served with good bread, and probably reassuring on a wretched winter
night.

Best Wine
Store
Crossroads
55 W. 14th St. (6th Ave.)
924-3060
Shabby as Hell, But Still the Boss.
There are times when we wish Crossroads
would just give up the whole throwback hole-in-the-wall vibe and pull a St.
Mark’s Book Shop–that is, move into some snazzier digs (or at least
some roomier ones). Something with recessed lighting and glistening wood the
color of honey. It’s nuts, really, all those unopened boxes of wine piled
to the ceiling, and the general impossibility of negotiating the premises when
more than, oh, say, half a dozen people are browsing.

But still,
we know these things will never change. Crossroads is Crossroads, and dickering
with the square footage seems foolish when you take into account the staggering
variety–and quality–of what they’ve crammed in there. Commonly
acknowledged, even by West Coast oenophiles, as one of the best wine stores
not just in the States, but in the world, Crossroads is one of the places you
go in New York when you’re trying to track down the best and the most exotic.
On a frustrating recent quest for Ligurian Cinque Terre, only Crossroads really
came through. We’ve lately gotten interested in German reds, and we know
that Crossroads will be the first destination on our journey down that odd road.

There’s
no lack of superlative domestic juice squeezed into the shop’s confines;
admirably, they’ve already devoted precious space to an enticing lineup
of California experiments in Italian varietals. Very promising. And very Crossroads.
Don’t let the seedy liquor-store vibe fool you. Treasures are tucked within.

Best Dramatic
$12 Pyramid of Food that Looks Great But Is Impossible to Finish
Fresco by Scotto
34 E. 52nd St. (betw. Madison & Park Aves.)
935-3434
Timber!!
At Fresco by Scotto there is a fried potato, zucchini and Gorgonzola
concoction that is about 10 inches high and looks great but rapidly becomes
wearying to eat. Only order it in a party of at least six. All the dishes at
Fresco are indecently vast. If you’re about to go on the next Survivor
island seance, eat there for your last supper. You won’t need food for
a week.

Best Chinese
Takeout
Shanghai in Soho
77 W. Houston St. (Wooster St.)
614-9550
It’s Not Slop.
Shanghai in Soho isn’t a lesser of evils when it
comes to calling in Chinese, not one of those places you call by default, or
when you’re hungover and craving greasy Chinese. It’s a place we order
from with forethought.

The Peking
duck is an exceptional entree we’d get for company. They send a big dish
of moist meat, topped with slices of crispy skin and a pile of fresh crunchy
scallions. Slather the hoisin sauce on the accompanying pancakes, load ‘em
up with the above and you’re feasting. Other standouts are the pork and
pickled cabbage soup: lots of cabbagey broth with crunchy slices of the leaves
plus juicy morsels of pork; and the kung-pao chicken: real poultry, and–at
last–spicy enough to earn its name. All the vegetable sides we’ve
tried have been fresh, never overcooked, and the different rices and noodle
dishes maintain their integrity, failing to turn into mush.

Shanghai’s
claim to fame is the size (enormous) and scope (ditto, including sushi) of its
menu. In fact, New York Press fan-club president Alan Richman is quoted
on the takeout menu: “Where you’ll also find a massive menu of dishes
not offered at your local takeout.” We’re embarrassed to say we haven’t
been so adventurous in ordering; haven’t tried the jellyfish with turnip,
the duck tongue in wine sauce, the pig belly with pickled cabbage or even the
yellow eels in hot pot. We were going to have the dry fish stomach with
pork sinus last week, but we’d had it for lunch.

Best Midtown
Hotel Bar w/Vue
Pentop Bar
Peninsula Hotel
700 5th Ave. (55th St.)
956-2888
What Are You Drinking, Hunchback?
Of course, you’ll be doing your drinking
with Midwestern tourists, traveling salesmen and wedding parties, but when you
live in New York City, once in a while you have to act like a tourist to enjoy
some of its offerings. The Pentop is perched like a watering hole for gargoyles
on top of the grand Peninsula. The bar itself is actually tiny, but the charm
here is the outdoor spaces. An intimate balcony faces north, with a magical
nighttime view up 5th Ave., glittering like a necklace of diamonds, with Central
Park looking dark and woodsy as Sherwood Forest next to it. A much larger balcony
offers a view of the theatrically lighted busyness at 5th and 54th St. Flags
and pennants flutter, clouds scud by behind the Midtown skyscrapers. On a balmy
summer evening it’s an awfully romantic place either to start or wind up
a Midtown date. Naturally, you pay through the nose: a mixed drink can set you
back $15, a price as stunning as the views. But hey, you’re on a date.
Don’t be a fucking cheapskate or you’re not getting any later. (If
the weather isn’t cooperating, a drink down in the lobby is an elegant
alternative. And don’t forget the Monkey Bar, a coconut’s toss away
on 54th.)

Best French
Toast
Blue Ribbon Bakery & Cafe
33 Downing St. (Bedford St.)
337-0404
And the Blue Ribbon Goes To…
It can become a pretty tight squeeze in Blue
Ribbon if you decide to swing by for a weekend brunch, but there’s a simple
reason for that. They offer all sorts of things–cheese platters, egg dishes,
sandwiches–but nothing can top their french toast.

We’ve
had french toast all over the city–overcooked, undercooked, usually made
out of Wonder Bread slices. Once we were convinced, for some reason, that our
french toast had been fried in bleach. But after sampling what Blue Ribbon has
to offer, we need look no further.

Starting with
a choice of challa or raisin walnut bread, and accompanied by warm butter and
a small pitcher of warm maple syrup (or a choice of other toppings), the results
are perfect–crispy around the edges, soft but not soggy in the middle.
And mountainous.

Add further
to the mix an attentive and friendly waitstaff, a bright atmosphere, hours set
up to accommodate the club crowd–and a big pitcher of powerful coffee left
in the middle of the table for you–and you’re all set. And since it’s
right around the corner from Film Forum, it’s just the place for a pre-
or postscreening bite.

Best Storm
Viewing
One & One
76 E. 1st St. (1st Ave.)
260-9950
Ion the Prize.
Boy, we’ve really come to enjoy One & One. Perhaps
it’s their bangers ‘n’ mash, their thick, hearty soups and their
shepherd’s pies–all cheap and consistently good gut-fillers. Or it
could be the relief they provide from all the French-, Italian- and Israeli-owned
restaurants in the neighborhood. Not that we’re xenophobes or anything
(One & One is an Irish joint, after all). There’s just something anti-exotic,
almost pedestrian about the place–clean, tv tuned to sports, frat-ish,
style-free clientele–that appeals to us of late. We glom to it the same
way we find ourselves clinging to the first native English speaker we meet in
a foreign country.

Which is all
well and good, and we heartily enjoy One & One, weather or not. But get
yourself here for a storm and you’re in for something special. Owing to
the width of Houston St. and the considerable expanse of the 1st Ave./Houston
St. intersection, the strip of sidewalk tables that lines One & One’s
1st St. flank is privy to an unencumbered skyward vista. On the right days we’ll
spot a roiling, low-slung nimbostratus gathering force over Jersey City. We’ll
call up Guinness number four, sit back and track the peevish gray mass as it
rolls eastward over the Hudson and toward us. A few minutes later our beer arrives,
accompanied by a disturbance in the ground-level air mass. The branches of the
trees along 1st St. start swaying, dust and debris form twisters above the pavement
and the air turns sweet with the metallic, come-scented tang of static electricity.
Soon, umbrella-less pedestrians are scrambling across 1st. St. for cover. Though
we can’t see them, we know that charged ions are colliding around us, teasing
the synapses of dogs and babies, raising an agitated symphony of growls and
barks and yawps. Oh yeah, this is gonna be good!

We watch our
settling beer. The eggshell-colored head cascades into its rich, black body
and the first drops of rain pelt the awning overhead. A jagged bolt strikes
to the west of us, followed by a booming, spine-rattling thunderclap. CRRRLAAAACK!
Soon, a gushing. We observe how in the wet, graywashed cityscape, the more muted
hues transfer their energies to points of greatest density, leaving all else
dull and monochrome. Our eyes draw involuntarily from the soft colors of cars
and buildings all around us to a tiny blue neon sign in the window of Burkina
on the far side of Houston. All the greens of oak leaves and the tans of the
slick, glazed sidewalks are gathered instead in the bright red light of a model’s
lips on a passing bus siding. Tires go skimming by, slicing up the avenue. A
siren wails in the distance.

And more lightning.
We time the gap between lightning and thunder. The storm is almost directly
overhead. Thick, heaving sheets of rain slant in under our awning and lick at
our feet. The rain pours down for about five minutes and we nurse our beer,
making it last until the storm is passed, leaving in its wake a trickle.

A brief, false
calm. Time enough to order up another beer. Better make it quick, though–there’s
a big black one looming out over Hoboken.

Best Waiters
We Can No Longer Afford
Lucien
14 1st Ave. (betw. 1st & 2nd Sts.)
260-6481
And I Won’t Be Your Waiter Tonight.
We walk into Lucien, which used
to be our local place, and drink our glass of merlot at the bar by ourselves.
Before the place had been touted as the best new brasserie in town, the owner
employed a number of young and virile things to run the restaurant, and we briefly
dated one of them. He had just returned from modeling in the Paris shows, and
we took him out for drinks but ate by ourselves because he said he didn’t
want to “look puffy” for his “casting” the next day. Then
he invited himself over to our house, motioned toward our kitchen table–and
lifted us on it. His friend, the DJ-cum-waiter, met and slept with our friend
that night, then later bumped into us at a cafe and asked us out while his date
was waiting for him outside. Another waiter propositioned our friend and her
mother at another friend’s own birthday dinner. Who’s to say
if Lucien hand-picks his charges with talents other than waitering in mind?
Or are these boys just doing their bit to return sex to the once-muscular strip
of land flanked by 1st Ave. and Ludlow St.?

Then, last
time we checked, Lucien and his boys had changed. Evidently we were no longer
good enough for them. The butter was no longer served to us in little crocks
with an L embossed on it, but rather was replaced by greasy tin packages. And
the staff was no longer interested in us. Our beautiful bartender was now serving
drinks to a cluster of aggrievedly single women who clearly had more disposable
income than our salaries. They were waiting to be flirted with, and he obliged
with his best Parisian: “You’re leaving so soon? You’re breaking
my heart!” After a few more glasses of “this one’s on the house,”
they were sticking their bony clavicles out at him, and we skulked out of there
before we could watch a hastily transcribed number make its way into any number
of purses.

Best Smith
St. Restaurant
Restaurant Saul
140 Smith St. (betw. Bergen & Dean Sts.)
Brooklyn, 718-935-9844
We’ll Take the Odds.
There are way too many restaurants on Smith St.
for Smith St.’s own good. We’re honestly baffled at how they all stay
in business.

Restaurant
Saul is an exception. We anticipate that it will grow old with its patrons,
which is to say that it will be around for a while, because its patrons are
all youngsters. Named after chef Saul Bolton, who has cooked at Bouley and Le
Bernardin, Restaurant Saul has imported to Brooklyn the kind of cuisine that
knowledgeable uptowners typically like to eat: lushly prepared food of illusory
simplicity. The roast chicken with garlic sauce is legendary, but the pork chop
they’re making there is about the best in town, served with a nice slab
of potatoes on the side. Arctic char is delicate and flavorful and laid on a
dusky puddle of lentils. The menu changes every six weeks or so, but we’ve
no doubt that everything to come will be as good as what we’ve sampled.
The wine list is brief, skillfully assembled and to the point, and there are
plenty of selections available by the glass. The ambience is soothing and genteel
without seeming stuffy. It’s both cozy and sort of cool. We look forward
to inhabiting it for years to come.

Best South
Brooklyn Tavern
Ruby’s Bar
Coney Island Boardwalk No Phone
The Heart and Liver of Coney.
Owner and namesake Rubin Jacobs–one of
the warmest, kindest men you’d ever want to meet–passed away last
April, but his spirit lives on in Ruby’s–one of the warmest, kindest
bars–not only in Coney or South Brooklyn, but in all of New York.

With a wide
open front that looks out across the boardwalk, beach and ocean, and positioned
next to a hotdog counter, Ruby’s couldn’t have a better location.
And with walls festooned with hundreds of photographs capturing Coney’s
magical history, a jukebox that can’t be beat and some of the nicest old
bartenders you’d ever want to buy a beer from, Ruby’s has the kind
of atmosphere that just makes you want to spend all your days there.

We suggest
skipping the crowds, though, and going during the off-season. Once the tourists
have all gone home, you can pop into Ruby’s, punch up some Dean Martin
and get yourself a seat at the bar. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll
get a more accurate portrait of Coney Island life and culture than you could
ever get from a hundred rides on the Cyclone and a dozen Mermaid Parades. The
regulars–a remarkable cast of barflies and beach bums–pop in and out
all day, giving reports on what’s going on up and down the boardwalk, trading
old stories, talking about characters long gone.

It’s relaxed,
it’s beautiful, it’s one of the few places left in New York that proudly
keeps its own history alive. And what’s more–Ruby’s maintains
what are undoubtedly the scariest bathrooms in the city. But once you’ve
had a few, that in itself just adds to the charm.

Best Armagnacs
Le Perigord
405 E. 52nd St. (betw. FDR Dr. & 1st Ave.)
755-6244
Like Whiskey, But No One Kicks Your Ass. Le Perigord is no one’s idea
of a rowdy, rustic, hootin’-and-hollerin’ kind of restaurant. The
average diner at this east side veteran is rich, quiet, old, well-born and probably
uninclined to order up a healthy jigger of Kentucky sourmash with which to finish
off a meal.

Armagnac, for
the uninitiated, is essentially a more rough-and-tumble version of Cognac: less
perfume, more mouth-burn. We love it, as it reminds us of the Bourbon whiskey
we were raised on (our parents had loose morals and got a kick out of watching
us get all sloppy after they had spiked our Froot Loops). On a recent visit
to Le Perigord, after a stunning meal, we were given the opportunity to sample
not one but three Armagnacs. Each provoked a satisfied shiver, an oscillation
in the spine. We got well and truly trashed. We stumbled home and passed out.
We were happy, and we had Le Perigord to thank.

Best Onion
Rings from a Twee Hotdog Stand
F&B
269 W. 23rd St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
646-486-4441
Danish Dogs?
There’s enough about F&B that annoys us that we’d
never go if it weren’t for the fine onion rings and fries. Conceptually,
a “European” hotdog stand, in New York City, is just wrong,
wrong in so many ways it boggles the mind. It’s kind of a violation of
the natural order. A hotdog stand just isn’t supposed to look like this,
all Euro-arty, moderne and stainless steel, like the employee canteen at an
Ikea or a photo shoot in Flaunt. And it’s a completely inefficient
hippy-dippy operation, with a needlessly complicated ordering-and-delivery system
that ensures that half the time they fuck something up and the other half the
time you’re waiting 10, 15 minutes for your damn french fries. The dogs
aren’t anything special, yet they cost an absurd $2.35 and up. Yes, they
serve beignets, a decent gimmick, but frankly a hotdog stand on W. 23rd St.
ain’t exactly the Cafe du Monde, and something is lost in the translation.
We don’t eat beignets in New York, we eat zeppole. Let us put it this way:
This is a hotdog stand that serves wine, okay? Way more self-conscious and yuppie-pretentious
than any hotdog stand has a right to be, F&B is the Fringe Festival of hotdog
stands, the Angelika of hotdog stands, the Fashion Week of hotdog stands.

But we stop
in once in a while and put up with all that for the fries and especially the
onion rings. Naturally, F&B calls them “frites,” which makes us
want to punch somebody in la bouche, but anyway. They use some Belgian system
that leaves them wonderfully grease-free and crisp, almost a tempura. They’re
great. But lord, the foppery you have to wade through to get them.

Best After-Work
Bar Crew
Triple Crown
330 7th Ave. (betw. 28th & 29th Sts.)
736-1575
Justin Who?
How can you mend a broken heart? We didn’t think anyone
could replace our beloved Justin, who won not only our hearts, but last year’s
“Best Bartender” award as well. He went back to the homeland. Then
we got all palsy with Tom, his replacement, until he shipped himself back to
County Claire, too. Yet they left–we’re quite happy to report–an
All-Star bar crew in their stead at Triple Crown. Willie at bar right, Wayne
down at the other end, Martin pacing the floor and some bar backup that rotates
nearly daily make us feel welcome and–oh, all right–special, when
we slump in after a hard day only to be faced with either slavering sports fans
or Springsteen concertgoers, depending on what’s doing at the Garden that
night. Ready with our regular, happy to see us (or so we convince ourselves)
and finding us seats among the throng–we t’ank Jaysus for ‘em.
Easy on the eyes, too.

Best Salvadoran
Restaurant
Bahia
690 Grand Ave. (betw. Graham St. & Manhattan Ave.)
Brooklyn, 718-218-9592
¡Sí a Bahia!
The sign promises “Comidas Típicas
Salvadoreñas,” but that’s qualified with the subhed of “Spanish,
American and Italian Food.” We’re not sure about the American and
Italian grub, as we’ve mostly stuck with the Spanish/Salvadoran end of
the menu, but we are sure that Bahia has rightly become a regular stop for us.

Start with
the distinctively Salvadoran appetizer of pupusas: cornmeal pockets stuffed
with a variety of ingredients, such as zucchini and cheese, or pork, cheese
and beans, then flattened and pan-fried ($1.25 each). Then, the avocado salad
($4), or maybe some chicken enchiladas ($5). Move on to the fantastic bistec
ranchero ($10) for him, the pechuga de pollo al limon ($7.50) for her. Or maybe
the delicious shrimp ceviche ($9) and the parrillada de mariscos (assorted grilled
fish, $15). Enjoy it with a side of chimol (diced tomato, radish, lemon and
cilantro–essentially, pico de gallo, $2), and when you’re done, ask
for a few chicken tacos to go ($2 each): they hold up quite well as leftovers.

You’ll
also find some basics on the menu, those things that a restaurant needs to survive
out here. A burger here, baked clams there. You know, that kinda stuff. But
such is what makes this place so good: it’s an unpretentious, neighborhood
dining spot. (They also serve breakfast from 7-11:30 a.m., but we haven’t
yet tried it.)

Bahia has only
been open since June, and don’t yet have their liquor license, so we bring
our own. Be understanding when they ask to keep your bottle hidden behind the
counter: they’re a little nervous about the appearance of having served
liquor without that license. It’s a m

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