A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Apr. 3.



Lunch
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2nd Ave. Deli - 156 2nd Ave., East Village
Matzo ball soup, Corned beef sandwich on rye
$22.44 (if they'd let me pay)

My parents have about as much interest in food as I have in the Olympic sport of curling, so I was concerned when they suggested having lunch in the city for their anniversary. They rebuffed my suggestion of the $25 prix-fixe at Fleur de Sel, which only heightened the Outback and Applebee’s fears going through my head. But somehow, we stumbled onto a happy medium, when they threw out going to 2nd Ave. Deli.

I love both Katz’s and 2nd Ave., giving my slight edge to the former because of its huge space and the carnival-esque buzz always pervading the air. But both are part of a New York I adore, the smells of chopped liver and hot double-decker sandwiches as mythological as the needle on the Chrysler Building, the Jewish families arguing loudly in the caring but mildly annoyed way all Jewish families argue, the complimentary slaw and bowl of pickles adorning all the tabletops.

I liked my matzo ball soup and corned beef sandwich so much last time that I had to order them again. Thankfully, both were still superstars. The matzo ball in the soup was bigger than a fist, and its salty taste and airy texture made my mother’s efforts in the kitchen pale. The chicken noodle broth was also great enough to make me wish I got colds more often. It’s no wonder the restaurant refers to it as Jewish penicillin.

The corned beef sandwich was also fairly formidable. The meat was a little fattier than I like, but the warm, juicy beef was delicious. My parents also got the same sandwich to split and they enjoyed it even more than Katz’s pastrami. (I again give Katz's the slight edge.) They also shared an order of three large blintzes, one cheese, one cherry, one blueberry, and they loved these too. My father at one point even said they tasted like the ones his grandmother used to make in Babrujsk.

Even with everyone enjoying their meals, we found enough things to argue about of course. What are you going to do with my life? What are your plans for the next five years? Do you need any money? Have you met any nice Jewish girls? I looked around at the other diners and saw similar conversations taking place. Our friendly waiter shot me a knowing look as he cleared our plates. But if you’re going to get a guilt trip anyway, I guess the logic goes, you might as well as do it at 2nd Ave., where the comfort foods can all provide real comfort. 8/10

Update, 1/10/06: In a very disappointing turn of events, the Second Ave. Deli is now closed.



Tia pol and Chickpeas

Patatas and chorizo and Tortilla

Lamb and Hazelnut cake

Dinner
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Tia Pol - 205 10th Ave., Chelsea
Two orders of patatas bravas, fried chickpeas, tortilla Española, lamb skewers, ham croquettes, chorizo with chocolate, chorizo in sherry, calimocho, hazelnut cake (complimentary), pitcher of sangria
$43.86

Great food can transport you. It can trigger memories and evoke settings with more potency than a therapist’s couch. That’s what happened at Tia Pol, a long sliver of a tapas bar that’s been racking up rave reviews in Chelsea. As the small plates of potatoes and meats started congregating on our table, I thought back to warm peripatetic nights in Madrid, untangling the secrets of alleyways and sidestreets, ordering tapas at random in noisy cafes from beautiful sun-darkened girls. I thought of my first clumsy attempt to behead a gamba a la plancha, I thought of my first bite of a spicy chorizo sandwich, I thought of the woozy, sangria-impaired stumbles back to the Metro stop.

I tried my best to recreate this magical month here but the tapas bars in town only reminded me of what I was missing. But at Tia Pol, this finally changed. The food wasn’t just as good as what I’d sampled in Spain. It was better.

Vince and I started with patatas bravas, potatoes spiced up with squiggles of tangy aioli. The crispy potatoes would have been great on their own, but with the sauce, they became unbelievably good. Simple yet confident, these patatas wowed us so much that we had to traverse over many other appetizing possibilities to order another helping. Another favorite among favorites was the fried chickpeas, a crunchy and addictive snack that could easily replace pretzels or popcorn as a craving-crushing finger food.

Next, we split the two chorizos, the more traditional hot version cooked in sherry and the fascinating cold version on bread and bittersweet chocolate spread. Both were terrific, though if I had to pick, I’d go with the chocolate for the more creative approach. Our waitress, who was great with recommendations and decisions, made the same call.

Of course, it’s not too challenging to make strong recommendations when you’re working with such a consistent menu. In fact, everything we tried was delicious. The tortilla Española was just right, with its light and fluffy texture. The lamb skewers, which were impaled on a chunk of bread, were intensely flavorful. The ham croquettes, three fried balls of ham and cheese, were a last minute call, and just as much of a highlight as the first things that attracted our attention.

Even the short list of dessert options didn’t disappoint. I chose the special, a hazelnut cake, which I was told they’d just run out of. Disappointed but resolute, I settled for the intriguing calimocho, a glass of Coca Cola and a scoop of red wine sorbet. It’s a play on the Coke and red wine concoction that’s all the rage with clubbing Spanish teenagers. It was one of the most unique and unexpected desserts I’ve had in a while, which was largely why I enjoyed it so much. Also invoking the spirit of Spain, our waitress kindly brought over a slice of the hazelnut on the house, which it turns out they still had a little left of. It too was delicious and well-made, though in a more classical sense.

Leaving Tia Pol, I was already trying to memorize every detail. Because as formative as my Madrid month was, I could now finally add a worthy addendum to the experience. Zigzagging across avenues and streets from my apartment to the restaurant on a mild spring night, the white noise of construction crews and frustrated car horns giving way to the murmurs of fifteen relaxed conversations, gulping the sweetness of fruit-laced sangria, and of course, tasting some of the best tapas in or out of Spain. 9/10

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