's Sites We Love Saveur Magazine has listed The Skinny Gourmet among its "Sites We Love"

I've been having a great time checking out Nashville's high end dining on the cheap thanks to Groupon. Have you tried it yet? Its awesome. I don't know why I ever hesitated.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Skinny Gourmet in New York

Traveling is always a great chance to check out food trends in new places, and find inspiration in different traditions. For the past five days I have been in New York, which is as good a place to seek inspiration as any. I was there for a professional conference of sociologists, but managed to get some good food experiences in on the side. Along the way I learned the value of trusting your food instincts, taking planning with a grain of salt, and allowing homey comfort food to delight.

Conferences are always a mixed bag of rushing and gluttony. One morning I treated myself to a New York bagel with cream cheese, but mostly it was a quick coffee and cereal and out the door to head to the conference. Lunches at conferences are tricky monsters, because they are often more focused on trying to meet new people or catch up with old friends you've lost touch with. This conference confirmed what I have long held to be an iron-clad rule of social interaction: more than six people cannot make any efficient decision about where to eat. Four people can, within ten minutes, decide on at least a genre of food, if not a direction. Six people can do it, particularly if they know each other well and can anticipate some of the others' reactions. Take it to seven? Forget it. Everything falls apart into people politely declining to express their opinion, or degenerates into one group of three making a totally different decision than the second grouping of four. Sigh.

The first day I ducked out on the social geometry of finding a lunch spot and my husband and I tried to grab a quick sandwich wrap at a Deli. New York has a deserved reputation as the king of deli sandwiches, and in honor of wonderful sandwiches past, we selected a quick deli across from one of the hotels. Bad choice. The chicken salad wrap was completely uninspired, soaked in some mystery salad dressing, and four hours later was the cause of considerable illness. Strike one.

For dinner we went to an Italian place located near the conference hotels in Hell's Kitchen. It had been recommended by a sociologist at NYU. I also thought the name--"Puttanesca"--boded well, as puttanesca is one of my favorite tomato-based sauces. The atmosphere was a bit cookie cutter, some combination of neutral wall paint and exposed brick, but the food on the plates we passed looked good, and the price was a good value for food in New York, so we sat down. I ordered what sounded like a rather interested mushroom ravioli with spicy tomato sauce, our friend Wenona ordered goat cheese and sundried tomato ravioli, and my husband Terry ordered braised lamb shank. Everything was adequate, nothing was exciting. In my head I was already thinking how I could produce these essential dishes with so much more flare at home. When the bill came we were curtly informed that they only accepted American Express. I have no patience for a restaurant that claims to provide elegant dining to have idiosyncratic credit card policies that are only disclosed after the fact. And in my world, accepting only American Express is like a vegan who only eats Pork. If you are in New York, you can easily skip out on Puttanesca.

Twice scorned on the dining scene I became a more savvy consumer. Knowing that New York enjoys a wonderful reputation for sushi both high end and casual, a group of us set out to follow our senses to a reasonable sushi place for lunch. We found a restaurant that offered reasonable prices and showcased a manifestly skilled sushi chef up front. We watched the chef for a while as we waited to be seated. His handling of the beautiful fish was artful, already making my mouth water. I appreciate a value-priced sushi restaurant that puts its fish visibly up front for customers to see the quality in the fish. Firm flesh with natural colors, no detectable fishy odor. This restaurant also confirmed to my rule of thumb for eating in unknown places: go where the locals go, and ideally be forced to wait a bit. This sort of Soviet-era logic of lining up where there is already a line had lead me to some of my most memorable eating experiences in foreign countries.

The two highlights of the trip were both Turkish restaurants. Resisting the urge to be snobby and look down my nose at comfort foods more associated with grandmothers than haute cuisine, I ordered the cabbage rolls. There were divine beyond speaking, with finely seasoning filling of ground lamb, eggplant and spices, wrapped in perfectly cooked cabbage, on a bed of tomato sauce, and covered in warm Greek-style yogurt. Heavenly. I will think fondly of this dish for some time. My friend Natasha's Russian grandmother has an old recipe for cabbage rolls, and I am now determined to learn how to discover and update Babushka Makarenko's cabbage rolls.

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