Sunday, March 25, 2007

    Changes and Chow

    A few months ago, I made a big career change: I left publishing to take a non-publishing “day job” that allows me more time and energy to write. Fittingly, two New York Magazine articles by Jennifer Senior played a large part in my decision-making process. Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness, published in July, inspired me to seriously reassess some key details in my life. Can't Get No Satisfaction was published the same day I began my new job, and it reconfirmed that decision to the nth degree.

    After burning out of living and working in Chelsea for the last six and a half years, I now commute downtown. My new office is on Wall St., which gives me a giggle, as I gave up on balancing my checkbook 10 years ago but now work in a neighborhood full of financial whizzes (I’d like to imagine that some of them are rebels who also don’t do checkbooks).

    The Financial District is one of the few Manhattan neighborhoods I hadn’t explored well, so I’ve been enjoying getting lost and finding new historical sites and restaurants in this high-security, high-priced, fast-paced, windy, cobblestone-lined area. I also am happy to be so close to the water and the West Side Highway park path.

    Here’s a handful of my favorite lunch spots from the last few months.

    Though I read the book in college, I've always remembered the scenes from Caleb Carr’s The Alienist that imagine sumptuous meals at Delmonico’s steakhouse, which is said to be the oldest restaurant in the U.S., circa 1827. Lobster á La Newberg was invented there by a man named Ben Wenberg. The story goes that he had a falling out with the restaurant’s owners, so they changed the dish’s name from Lobster á la Wenberg to Lobster á La Newberg.

    At the end of my first week of work, my boss took us to Delmonico's for a celebratory lunch, and I ordered old man Ben's creation. Imagine a fresh, generous portion of lobster meat lovingly surrounded by butter, cream, cognac, sherry and pepper, served with toast points for sopping. Lobster Newberg is like the rich great aunt of food: you enjoy seeing her--but only once a year--as the diamonds dripping from each finger, the subtle but deadly hint of expensive, foreign perfume, and her less subtle yet slyly placed references to social class are only palatable for a short while.

    On a more affordable scale, right now I'm in the habit of going to Niko Niko at least once a week (in between the PB&Js I bring from home). Niko Niko is high quality Japanese fast food. Along with the pre-made sushi and the sashimi salads, I like the soba noodles with shrimp tempura. I order them spicy, which gives just a little heat to the warm soup broth. I love how hearty and chewy the noodles are, and the tempura's crunch provides the perfect contrast. Last week with my soba, I tried an onigiri for the first time. I'd never seen or heard of it before, but it's the perfect little snack: seaweed is folded into a triangle that contains a thick pad of rice filled with salmon, tuna, beef or shrimp. Niko Niko is consistently above average, quick, and has ample seating.

    I was surprised and happy to find a Ruben’s Empanadas around the corner from my office. There's one in my neighborhood that I pass often but never go to, so I've adopted this one instead. I prefer arepas (especially the ones at Caracas) to empanadas, but Ruben's are firm yet crumbly and stuffed to the gill with combinations like Chopped Broccoli with Mozzarella and Ricotta or Ground Beef Stuffed with Onions, Raisins and Spices.

    Whenever I'm catching an after work flight, I grab a sandwich for the plane at Pret a Manger. It's a chain imported from England that makes preservative-free sandwiches with fresh, tasty ingredients that happen to come perfectly boxed and ready for flight. I think LGA and JFK should consider putting in Pret counters! One of my longtime favorite sandwiches has avocado, parmesan, toasted pine nuts, basil, tomato, and arugula. A recent frequent order is the turkey and avocado with bacon, tomato and baby lettuce.

    More restaurants to come as I continue to forage.

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