Sunday: So This Is the Appeal of the Diner

Some people looovveee diners, you know, those little local joints that sell photo(2)omelets all day, serve bottomless cups of coffee and use a lot of  processed cheese food — those individually-wrapped single slices by Kraft, etc — and that are usually run by a handful of people who have been there for years and years (and sometimes look like it, too)?

You know, the setting of Edward Cooper’s “Nighthawks” painting? That have an atmosphere and customer loyalty that places like Denny’s are trying to emulate, the same way that Subway longs to be a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop?

Well, I’m not one of them. I like diners okay, but it’s a rare day that I’m craving that sort of food, specifically. I think I’m an anomaly, because on any given weekend between the hours of, say, 11 am and 3 pm, nearly every diner you walk by in the city will be full or nearly full, with crowds spilling over onto sidewalk seating in the warmer months.

photo(3)I think I figured it out today, the “why” part of the appeal of diners, as I was enjoying my plate of fries and my tuna melt (which was not so melted. Better when the cook throws the slab of tuna salad onto the grill itself so that it crisps and browns a bit, heats through and melt the cheese).

For those of us who generally eat well and don’t need to eat fast food, (that is, unless by choice) — diner fare is our riff on fast food. It’s cheap, service is efficient, there’s an emphasis on sandwiches and other dishes that involve some sort of fryer or griddle, comfortable in that familiar way.

[ED NOTE: As I think about this more and more, maybe I have it backwards. I think fast food evolved from the culture of diners, a la Chapter One of Fast Food Nation. Good food for thought.]

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Saturday: Love at First Bite (aka the “Brunch at The New French” Post)

Since The New French first came on my radar via pleasantly-surprised,  upbeat reviews such as this one in New York Magazine and this one in the New York Sun (both have far superior photos of the interior), I have been very, very curious.

photoTurns out, with very good reason: Absolutely everything about The New French is just right, right down to the quirky, playful character doodles by Maria Kalman that populate a mural on one wall and sneak onto other materials, such as the paper placemats and menus.

The New French is as serious about its food as Kalman is playful in her drawing (which is not to imply that there isn’t an element of play in The New French’s food, or that Kalman isn’t a serious artist. Both swing both ways). From start to finish, the meal I had here vaulted The New French straight into Tier One brunch territory. It went something like this:

photo(12)The first thing I noticed when I sat down was the bowl of rough-cut sugar cubes, which I absolutely adore. Inspired, I ordered a latte. What showed up a few minutes later (along with a 4-minute egg timer by which to judge when my friend’s French pressed coffee was ready to be pressed) — what showed up a few minutes later was one of the best lattes I’ve ever had: Frothy, creamy, a bold espresso flavor, but not so bitter that it made me wince, temperature hot but not scalding.

I’m an occasional coffee drinker, not a habitual one, but this latte was something really special. It would have paired absolutely perfectly with the toasted baguette, served with jam and butter ($3.50, not pictured), that I ordered, but showed up with the food with strawberry preserves and cold butter — a pet peeve of mine. Very minor details.

Anyhow, when my steak and eggs ($12.50) arrived, my first impression was: What a gorgeous salad! This was no afterthought side salad, like the petite pile of greens mounded on so many brunch plates; no, this salad of vibrant mesculn greens tossed in a French-style vinaigrette with ultra-thin slices yellow and red beets was a key player.

photo(13)Proportion, on a whole, was perfect; I hate when a flat wasteland of homefries/toast/other carbohydrates completely dominate the plate. Here, the plate was shared agreeably between the salad, two fried eggs, over medium, which were laid on a bed of chopped, homefry-style potatoes — that were oh so much better than your average breakfast potatoes, being fried up with slivers of garlic and diced spring onions.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of the steak. Initially, I expected to see a larger cut, or at least not simply six slices laid on top of my eggs, but in actuality, it made my job eating easier, the presentation was gorgeous, and the steak seasoned so well that all it didn’t need any salt or pepper. As a habitual salt-and-pepper shaker, I wasn’t even distressed that the table didn’t have shakers on the table, the food was that good.

Don’t wait a year-and-a-half to get over there; I certainly won’t.

Dinner: A Slice from Joe’s

IMG_0212I think this is my first on-the-go slice post, which is shocking. Apparently, since starting this blog, I’ve eaten an all-time low number of slices. (For those of you who have asked me have my eating habits changed since starting this blog, there you go. Maybe?)

Slice details: Plain cheese, from Joe’s Pizza in the West Village. A moment of silence in appreciation of this classic.

Dinner: Le Bacon Cheeseburger, with Fries and Salad

As this blog can attest, I love a good burger. But, for me, eating a burger is not synonymous with eating french fries.

photoIn fact, most often I’d prefer the burger to come with a nice side salad … and maybe a dozen fries. But you can’t order a burger, with a side salad, and get a dozen fries. You have to get a whole separate side order of either fries or salad. And so I usually skip the salad and just go for the fries because even though I won’t eat them all, the ones I will eat I want more than the salad. … Although for nutritional balance, I would have enjoyed the salad more. 

Le Bacon Cheeseburger at A.O.C. is the answer to this vicious cycle of indecision. At $14, it’s not cheap, but it’s a great burger — always cooked to order, generously seasoned with cracked pepper, spices, and served on a fluffy French roll — that comes with a generous side salad and a heaping mound of pommes frites.

Problem solved.

Sunday: Roasted Suckling Pig and Garlic Sauciness

photo(7)I think I’ve only seen suckling pig in cooking shows, and/or travel food shows, where the small pig is served whole, which makes for quite an impressive presentation.

It’s the only thing I can think of to explain why I was somehow surprised that the suckling pig entree we ordered from Havana Alma de Cuba (“Lechon Asado al Estilo “La Floridita,” $18), looked basically like, well, pulled pork. It was delicious, ultra-tender, slow-roasted pulled pork, but headless nonetheless. A classic Homer Simpson “doh!” moment. 

photo(6)Another winning pick was the calamares appetizer ($10), pan-seared baby squid served in a lucious garlic sauce we ended up pouring over everything. At one point, the side of cassava that came with the pork was outright turned into the sauce, giving the bland root vegetable a whole new reason to be eaten. Such a lovely and simple meal for a quiet Sunday evening.

Dinner: Tue Thai Food on This Rainy Night? Perfect.

photo-35

Nothing like sinking into a couch with some Thai delivery, good company and a couplea movies to while away a rainy Friday night.

We tried some Thai classics and a couple of specialty items from Tue Thai Food — I am no Thai food expert but the flavors were really vibrant, alternately sweet and tropical, spicy, fresh.

The order, clockwise from top: 

Moo Ping, marinated grill pork in skewer;
(barely off top of photo) Hor Mok, steamed fish, thai herbs with curry paste;
Gai Yang, grill marinated half chicken with Thai herbs;
Look Chin Ping, grilled pork balls in skewer with sweet chili dipping sauce;
braised short rib broth noodle;
Som Tum, Papaya salad mix with string bean, peanut, tomato in lime dressing.

Now, back to the movies!