Thursday, October 13, 2016

To Live and Eat in NYC

Walk down any street in our fair city and you'll find food options a plenty. Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, seafood, fast food, diners, etc. etc. -- all the usual culinary suspects are present and accounted for ad infinitum all over town. Even some of the more obscure, off beat, less obvious choices -- like Korean Cajun or Afghani food -- can be found here as well. To live in NYC is to eat NYC, if you catch my drift. 

One thing that NYC does very well, even our city's biggest detractors would agree, is deli. This is a town where you can get all kinds of great soups, "sammiches", and other tasty Jewish inspired fair. Some delis, like Katz's, are world famous -- even infamous. (The food at Katz's is so good that it made someone have an orgasm in a movie.) Another revered deli is the Carnegie, also made famous in a movie (Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose). And yet, like so many old-school institutions in NYC these days, the Carnegie is fated to close. On December 31st it will shut its doors. 

Now this blog is nothing if not nostalgic. I harp on and on about how this town has become gutted by money, the old and wonderful being replaced by the new and cheesy. But I cannot include the Carnegie Deli on this list. First, the Carnegie is not a victim of gentrification and rising rents -- the owners simply wish to close it. Second, even its biggest fans agree, the Carnegie long ago stopped being a real grubby New York joint and became a complete tourist trap. Third, and this is just my humble opinion, the Carnegie was never really that good to begin with. Yes, it had NYC "cred" (for a while at least); yes, the great comics and writers and showbiz types hung out there; and yes, the sandwiches were huge. But really, it was overrated. The tables were cramped, the waiters were rude, and, while the meat in the sandwiches was first-class, the bread was bad and the lettuce was cheap. Even though the meat was good, there was so much of it that eating the sandwiches was more of an ordeal than a pleasure. Who in their right mind can or wants to each that much meat in one sitting? It was ridiculous and not charming. So while I'm sad, in theory, that the Carnegie is closing, it does not mark for me, at least, a great loss for the NYC culture.

That said, Rao's, the historic East Harlem Italian restaurant, is a great piece of the NYC food culture. The impossible-to-get-into "joint" serves some of the best Italian grub that I've ever had -- the lemon chicken, the meatballs, and the cheesecake are outstanding. The original NYC Rao's is 120 years old but now there are locations in LA and Las Vegas that are very popular, and you can also buy their sauces in grocery stores and their cookbooks online and in bookstores. Vanity Fair has a huge article this month about the history and lore of Rao's and it's worth checking out. I've eaten there twice (one of the lucky few) and it really is a fun place. If this place ever closes, I'll actually be sad.

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