Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Monday, April 18, 2005

No Sleep 'Til Berkeley

As Dorothy put it, "There is no place like home." Except that, perhaps, the gas prices at home are so phenomenally expensive that it makes you realize that your quads and calves are a less bank-breaking alternative. Anyway, I need to get in shape for the wedding! More about that soon. . .

First, the last day of New York. I said goodbye to Katy over a Murray's Bagel, supposedly one of the good bagel places in NYC. I've heard stories for years of New Yorkers having family members carefully package and ship bagels to the West Coast. Why? Because, apparently, there are no good bagels on the West Coast. (Ever tried Katz's Bagels in SF or Santa Cruz's The Bagelry?) I'm irked by the anti-California sentiments but understand where they are coming from. We've got so much to offer in the way of food and wine that it's easy to see how the rest of the country could feel sleighted.

That said, I give a vehement thumbs down to Murray's. I've heard it's an insult to New Yorkers to ask for a bagel to be toasted. The bagels are so fresh, so darn delicious, that they don't need it, right? Wrong. These bagels were so chewy that they could have used a bit of toasting to freshen them up. And the shmears? They were nothing to write home about. Certainly not something to get shipped home!

Speaking of home. I only had a few more hours to loll about in Manhattan, so I decided to walk to the Strand bookstore. I didn't have the patience to sift through the books, nor did it make sense to pack my suitcase heavily with things I could easily find on Telegraph. But I did want one thing: a Zagat guide for NYC dining.

I have to admit that I had never been fond of the Zagat. My first and strongest association with it is from the movie American Psycho. The protagonist is a sociopath who, in striving to be the "perfect" guy, cannot stray from the cultish word of the guide. But after recently seeing the Zagats on an episode of the Japanese Iron Chef, I felt a certain warmth for them.

They're kind of a cute, chubby couple, with palates and minds open enough to try the sometimes dubious delicacies that are generated out of Iron Chef stadium. That alone is impressive. Having a less stifling association to the guide, I've begun to notice that a rating by the notorious skinny red paperback means a restaurant is not-so-bad. It doesn't, however, mean it is good enough to spend the extra greenbacks you're saving up for gas in California!

Case in point: In the middle of the fight on my last trip to New York, hunger overcame us, and we choose to duck into a moderately expensive Spanish restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. The food was awful, and I tried to hide from the wait staff that I was crying all the way through dinner. The restaurant hadn't been rated, and there was a reason for that. Had we had a little help being a bit more discriminating, maybe we would have reconciled our tiff a little earlier, too.

Let me be clear that it isn't on its way to becoming my bible. Only a reference for a few words on the closest place to get decent sushi when you're standing outside of St. Mark's church, on the north side of Central Park, or by the WTC. I know that the only way I'll amass a stellar reference guide of eats is to correspond extensively with local friends (especially foodie friends) and to have oodles of time to walk around and taste something in every corner of New York. (Somebody, please, pay me to do this!) Afterall, Souen, my favorite macrobiotic hotspot, not on the empire of Zagat's list, was a "Paul & Katie Rated" find.


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