Eating New York

By Beacon Staff

When it comes to restaurants, New Yorkers are a no-nonsense bunch. If a restaurant’s offerings aren’t good or the service is poor, usually they’ll be out of business in less than a month. The exception, of course, are the ubiquitous chains and fast food joints that open up their factory-style dining emporiums in and around Times Square.

And having lived in New York City twice in my career, I am reminded every time I go that with the exception of the food and that anything you want is available 24/7, I really don’t miss it. I’m happy that I don’t live there any more.

Nevertheless, at least once a year I make the trek to New York to visit family and friends, do a little business and – very high up on my list of things to do – I eat.

Last week was no exception. Eating in New York is a never-ending adventure with new restaurants opening all the time and long-time restaurants closing to re-invent themselves. The fact is there is great food to be had everywhere in New York. Every cuisine in the world is available in New York. And most of it can be delivered to your apartment or your hotel room.

As a rule, I generally don’t go to restaurants owned by celebrity chefs. Usually, they never cook there; they are always crowded; and they are, without fail, wildly overpriced. But I was invited to a dinner party at Colicchio & Sons, one of several restaurants owned by the celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. If you watch the show, “Top Chef” on Bravo, then you also know Tom Colicchio as the head judge.

The restaurant operated for several years as Craftsteak by Chef Colicchio, but the concept aged quickly and so he decided to reinvigorate or reinvent the restaurant and made the decision to shut down the place, re-do some, but not all of, the interior, re-do the menu, and re-do the concept. I never had the opportunity to eat at Craftsteak (there is still a version of it in Las Vegas), but New York-style steakhouses are a dime a dozen these days – they’re expensive; everything is a la carte; and while the meat is usually very good, there’s no longer anything very special about them.

In my opinion, Colicchio & Sons brings back the “special.” One of the objectives in reinventing the place was for Chef Tom to get back in the kitchen. With his very heavy schedule of TV appearances, I don’t think he’s in the kitchen as often as he would like to be and he certainly wasn’t there last Saturday night. But the food was outstanding from start to finish. The service was flawless – not overly solicitous or imposing.

Now as great as this dining experience was, I was on a separate food mission on this trip. To be sure, there are great restaurants in almost every city and town in this country and there is great food to be had in cities other than New York.

But there’s one thing that New York has that cannot be found anywhere else on this planet – and believe me, I’ve been looking.

There is nothing in this world like a full sour kosher dill pickle and I’ve been trying to explain this to my wife for as long as she and I have known each other. In certain neighborhoods in New York there are stores devoted only to pickles. I have not been able to figure out what it is they do to achieve that taste and texture. But ever since I left New York, I’ve visited delis in every city I’ve been to looking for New York-style full sour kosher dill pickles.

Every place my wife and I have gone where a pickle is served, she asks me if “this is it.” It never is.

So this time, I went to a pickle store. I bought two full sour kosher dill pickles. I asked for extra wrapping and I put them in an air-tight insulated food container. I put that in my carry-on bag and stowed it in the luggage compartment above my seat. I guess it doesn’t matter how well you wrap a New York-style full sour kosher dill pickle. The aroma gets out.

And when you see people sniffing the air, you know that they know that someone has “it.”

On my trip to New York I definitely had more than the two food experiences I wrote about in this piece. I thought you might like to know about the two that were the most memorable.

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