I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get nearly as much great food on this trip as I’d hoped. Some of that was due to my insane schedule and the amount of running around I had to do, and some of it is, I think, due to the fact that the cool little dives which once existed in New York have been priced out of what is now a grim, expensive city.
I was also based a lot of the time in suburban New Jersey, as opposed to what I’d call exurban New Jersey (Jersey City, Newark, etc), although there was a good pizzeria (two, actually) in the town I stayed in, as well as the worst Italian place I’ve eaten at in ages. (Garlic powder in the “garlic spinach” sauce on the pasta? That’s impressive in this day and age!) I had a fine sausage-and-peppers sandwich one day and a slice of pizza stuffed with baked ziti (which would have been better if the red sauce that came with it had been edible) another day that brought back some distant nostalgia.
My first evening’s meal in New York sent me and my friends to the Saigon Grill on University Place, where there were tremendous summer rolls and a mindblowing “Vietnamese bouillabaisse” so full of seafood (including real crab, not surimi) that I almost ignored the sweet-spicy broth. Highly recommended if you’re in the neighborhood, although there’s also a branch of Madhur Jaffrey’s highly successful and mega-tasty Cafe Spice very nearby. Didn’t get there this time.
The next night, although I wasn’t wild about more Indian food since I’d just had some on Air India, I met with some folks at a place called Angon on East 6th St., in the middle of that gaggle of Indian restaurants. I was afraid it was going to be like all of them there, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t unlike them, but it was different. The samosa chaat and the pani puri appetizers were quite distinctive (even if the latter was rather bland), the the khichuri rice dish was another change from the usual stuff.
The next day I met a friend for a really forgettable lunch at a supposed Thai restaurant in the Village. I was already suspicious when the waiter took our orders in Chinese, but soggy pad thai noodles clinched the deal. For dinner, I was with the guy who’d recommended Saigon Grill, so his recommendation of another Vietnamese place, Bao Noodles, was eagerly accepted. Sad to say, they were having an off night, and we were disappointed.
Then it was off on the train to Montreal, fortified with a bagel and coffee from Seattle’s Finest (Starbuck’s hasn’t won — yet), and I’ve already commented on la cuisine d’Amtrak. The first dinner was an amazing cassoulet at my hosts’ place, with an equally stunning wine I forgot to note. The meats were all hand-picked by the legendary M. Yves at the Atwater Market:
Dessert was a selection of about seven Quebec cheeses, which offered stiff competition to any I’ve had in France. Man, Quebec’s come a long way since I first visited in the mid-’70s!
The next morning, I got a long-held wish, which was to taste the legendary “steel-cut oats” I’d read about. I’m no oatmeal fan, but these barely qualify as oatmeal, especially after a long cooking, dressing with warm cream, and maple syrup brul