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Adventure vs. Comfort

January 24, 2011

I was in Manhattan recently. There was some eating involved. But really I went down to be with family.

There are two major things that I’ve never done in the city. Surely there are many many more. But there are two things that are really unforgivable. I’ve never eaten my way through the Lower East Side – in fact I’ve never eaten there at all. I have also never eaten in NYC’s Chinatown, which given my love for dim sum and my lack of access to good dim sum in Albany, one might think it would be at the top of my list.

And it is.

But that doesn’t mean that either of those places got worked into my latest trip. They didn’t. Instead, I went with my mother and my sister to the tried and true. We went to a little bit of comfort in midtown. It’s a place for tourists, to be sure. But there, I’m not a tourist. It’s been a regular pit stop for me in the city for over a decade. And that’s the Carnegie Deli.

Tourists fall into the trap of ordering those phantasmagorical sandwiches. But not me. I really don’t even need to look at the menu. It’s a corned beef, on rye, sliced thick. If I’m feeling particularly bold, I’ll ask for it juicy. A Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray and a few extra full sours and that’s all I need to center myself and feel at peace with the world.

It was great to be able to share this with my mother and sister who were incredulous that I could actually finish a sandwich on my own. But I’ve been doing this for a while. I know my limits. Still, I am not as young as I used to be.

Certainly there were other things on the menu that I wanted to get. But there is only so much I can eat, and I abhor waste.

This is the perpetual conflict of my life.

Some of my friends are not as constrained. ADS and La have no qualms about wasting food when it is in the service of trying new and wonderful things. When we found bánh mì heaven at a strip mall in Virginia, they had no reservations about ordering twelve sandwiches just to try a bite of each, and perhaps a second bite of their favorites. But I have a hard time doing it.

And it’s not even about money. When judging the Tournament of Pizza, unless the slice was awful, I generally tried to consume it in its entirety. If only my capacity for food and drink were greater, there would be just that much more that I could enjoy.

So I’m forced into making difficult decisions. Do I seek out something new that is full of potential, or do I stick with the old and the familiar?

Oddly, it seems that when I’m home I try as much as possible to try new things. Really it’s strange. I rarely make it to many of my favorite places. I am lucky to get to Capital Q, Dewey’s Diner, and Garden Bistro 24 every three months. I can’t even tell you the last time I had a pastry from Mrs. London’s.

I suppose part of that is my desire to chronicle all of the good things in the region.

But when I’m traveling, adventure is the furthest thing from my mind. If I’m going back to Miami, I want to visit my favorite places. No trip back would be complete without a visit to Ruben’s Cuban or Shorty’s BBQ. And I couldn’t go to San Francisco without a stop at Blue Bottle Coffee or an egg custard from Golden Gate Bakery.

Maybe if there is time I’ll try something new on a trip. I did stumble into a few new places on the most recent visit to the city. But none of them are musts for future visits. Thankfully.

Now I am curious. When are you most likely to try new places, at home or away? Or are you like Mrs. Fussy, who finds a few places that are satisfying and then rarely wants to try new places at all?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2011 10:58 am

    I ALWAYS want to try something new – home or traveling with one exception. The food of my childhood and youth. My grandparents lived in Jersey City and just before school started, my nanna would take me school shopping. The trip was always the same – Bambergers, Abraham & Strauss, Gimbels, Macys. Then down to Canal Street for socks, underwear – THEN over to Carnegie Deli for a huge corned beef sandwich on rye. I’m drooling thinking about it.

    My favorite Italian food is still the food I ate as a pre-teen and young adult in Middletown, NY –
    Tony Boffas.
    My husband, however, finds a place he likes and wants to go back and always orders the same thing. At Sperry’s it’s chicken liver pate (for 20 years!), at Chianti’s in Saratoga it’s Carpaccio. Well, you get the picture.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 24, 2011 11:10 am

    First off, it’s Cel-Ray. Next time you should go to Katz’s (duh), Gus’s Pickles, and Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes, just to start. Then over to Big Wong’s. Then maybe you can go back to Midtown!

    • January 24, 2011 11:40 am

      Gah! Fixed. My editor will be appropriately flogged when she gets home. I need to start making secret trips to the city just to take care of the gaps in my culinary experiences.

  3. Ellen Whitby permalink
    January 24, 2011 12:57 pm

    The 2nd Ave. Deli isn’t the same since it moved. I agree with Mr. Sunshine on Gus’ Pickles but have never tried Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes. I’ll have to get there. Kossar’s Bialy’s is a great place to stop. Plus Grill Point (in Flushing, Queens, which is still the city) is a stop each time we go to visit. They’ll tell you that the Moroccan couscous is better than Tunisian (not) but everything I’ve had there is delicious.

    Especially if you follow it with a drink of Glenlivet.

  4. Phairhead permalink
    January 24, 2011 1:14 pm

    Life is too short to eat at the same places no matter how yummy

  5. January 24, 2011 2:38 pm

    The good news is Gus’s a/k/a/ Essex St. Pickles – delivers. Choosing the best of Carnegie, Katz’s, or Second (now on Third) Ave., is like deciding which Rockette is the best dancer. (I’m with Daniel on this one but I won’t argue if you disagree.) And as for the safe standby or exploring? My solution is easy – both! . Go explore new places for lunch and dinner! Then a show, and then – more good news – Carnegie stays open till 3AM and Chinatown never closes! You can sleep back in Albany.

  6. llcwine permalink
    January 24, 2011 2:49 pm

    I like Sarge’s Deli…much less crowded or pretentious than Katz’s, 2nd Ave, or Carnegie and they have great food and are open 24 hrs.

  7. RealFoodMom permalink
    January 24, 2011 7:22 pm

    We like to try new places at home, especially if we have received good recommendations for them, or if they sound particularly suited to our needs. Of course, we have our “old reliables” at home, when we have no need for adventure, just dependable sustenance. “Away” actually can be two categories: familiar place, or new place. If it’s a familiar place, we’re much more likely to go to our favorite places for our favorite meals; but a new place is a clean slate (and hopefully, a clean plate) when it comes to finding yummy restaurants.

  8. January 24, 2011 7:23 pm

    Don’t forget Russ & Daughters for smoked fish: 179 East Houston Street New York, NY 10002 | Tel 212.475.4880.

    Also, I am among those who thinks Katz is not as good as Carnegie. Give me the rude ladies with the orange hair over the free “tasting” slice anytime.

  9. January 25, 2011 7:33 pm

    It is hard when you find a really good place far away, ’cause every time you go back, you feel like you should have it again, ’cause you don’t get it often. I tend not to go away to the same places, though, so this hasn’t yet been much of an issue.

    Also, oddly enough, while my boyfriend’s family is Chinese and grew up around Chinatown in NYC, when they get together for dim sum, they go to a place in New Jersey. Maybe Chinatown dim sum isn’t worth the traffic and such. *shrugs*

    As for the food waste issue, I’m totally fine ordering way more than I can eat, as long as I can wrap up the rest and eat it tomorrow. (But I have a feeling that 12 sandwiches wouldn’t keep all that well.)

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