Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Day in the Deuce, the Ribbon, the Crossroads of the World

I wandered into the large café of my new office building. In the heart of Times Square it is nice to be high above the madness, and in this case the windows look out 16 floors up on the snow falling on millions of illuminated light bulbs and heavily bundled and befuddled tourists. I looked outside and pondered the blue-gray, snowy sky swirling around the skyscra....Oh, look, I found the oatmeal!

At my old job I was quite possibly one of three who would dig into the shallow bowl of porridge each day, but here at the new job in a 30 story office building there are crowds of people humming around the bagels, and fruit, and coffee, and yogurt, and breakfast sandwiches, and...oatmeal. A long line of five or six people waited patiently, like the cast of Oliver Twist played in white collar and ties, for their turn to scoop boiled oats into sturdy cardboard bowls. It was like they found my secret breakfast, and I felt no longer unique, but one of the great unwashed. Yes, billions of people over the centuries lived on porridge, but I was the only adult I used to know who ate it regularly for breakfast. After this morning I realized that I am not alone…there are others. This new café, taking up most of the floor, is quite large and I do appreciate that instead of just brown sugar (which I never take), and my beloved raisins, there is also granola to add to the oatmeal!

Lunch, however, proved to be more tricky.

Lunch was a few blocks north and as I navigated Times Square it was hard not to think of Holden Caulfield tracing the same steps. I only thought of that since I heard today that J.D. Salinger passed away.

I had lunch with a good friend, and client, and because of the awful weather this morning, she rightly suggested a place across from her office.

Gallagher’s Steak House.

Gallagher’s, on 52nd & Broadway, has been a New York / Times Square institution since 1927. The most distinguishing feature is that the meat locker is located in the front of the restaurant with large windows on the street, and in the foyer looking in on racks of hanging slabs of beef carcasses. To a meat lover, it is gorgeous; to a vegan, it is repulsive. To me? Well, I feel a little like August Gloop eyeing Willy Wonka’s chocolate river for the first time. Actually, it was not that tantalizing, sadly Gallagher’s is far down on the list of great steakhouses in NYC, and I prefer the décor of Gallagher’s over the food (although the Gallagher's in Vegas I hear is quite excellent). Besides, I was not there for the meat!

I have had some great sessions at the Gallagher’s bar, and some so-so steaks. Go inside to view the history, look at the walls, and the mural, and perch yourself at the center bar and have a jar. Waiting for my friend I first sat in one of the original, vintage Yankee Stadium seats bolted to the floor at the entrance, and then sat in one of the salvaged bleacher seats from the Polo Grounds (for my UK friends – two baseball stadiums long gone that comprise, perhaps, 50-70% of all the greatest history of our national pastime). There are pictures of every great sports celebrity in the history of New York City on the walls. In its day, Gallagher’s was the steak joint. Even Grace Kelly enjoyed a few meals here in the 1960’s. You’ll still find the dwindling number of old school businessmen sitting at the checkered tablecloth tables with their white hair and spider-vein, bulbous noses. They eat the steak out of tradition and drink the scotch out of necessity. It really is a visual splendor of old NYC.

I ordered a plate of steamed vegetables, and my friend the Cobb salad which looked quite good. As an afterthought I asked if there was a soup special. “Yes, Lentil.” I was excited since it is rare to find a non-meat, cream, or fish soup at regular restaurants. The soup came out and it smelled fabulous, the first taste was excellent. But, I looked down and amongst the lentils and vegetables I noticed these tiny, amber –colored icebergs dotting my bowl. “Sir!” Apparently, according to the waiter, this lentil soup is made to perfection with slices of hot dog thrown in it. Yes, tasty soup indeed, but it will have to go back. Sad. The large vegetable platter came out, and it was just as expected – decent. Vegetables lose a good number of their nutrients when steamed, and especially boiled, so it is healthier to eat them raw, but steamed is sometimes better tasting.

The tomato came out caramelized in cheese. Sigh, take that back too! I hated being “that guy,” and I did not fault a steakhouse one bit for throwing meat in the lentil soup, and cheese on the tomato. The broccoli, asparagus, button mushrooms, and spinach filled me up fine…well, a couple of handful of nuts back at the office made it perfect.

My friend runs the Heineken advertising business so the entire walk back to the office I was craving a nice cool glass of Holland's brew…I replenished that urge, however, with a cup of decaf at my desk.

I am sure Caulfield would famously call me a phony, but, I am not. I am merely following a goal that I cannot accomplish by eating and drinking as I have this past decade.

Speaking of non-phonies. I stopped off at the Marriott Marquis for a shoe shine. Here I found another tiny sliver of authentic New York. The man said he was 89 years old and has been shining shoes for 75 years. Love the stories, and with guys like this the truth is irrelevant. When I asked for polish in Ox Blood color for my burgundy shoes I thought he was going to rip my head off. "Whatchoo want that for?!" Well, is there any alternative? He then went on a tirade against old Kiwi shoe polish. I protested that Kiwi has been shining shoes for over 100 years. "Well," said he in a scowl, "they been ruining shoes for 100 years!" How do you argue with a professional shoe shiner? The shine was twice the cost of others on the street, but it was twice as good, and the experience of authentic New York surrounded by its phony Disneyfication was priceless!

Changing my lifestyle so radically may have been much easier in places like Portland, Oregon, but it would be less than 5% the fun of doing it here in New York City!

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