York Up This Town
Regina eateries, I have some Big Apple ideas for you
by Aidan Morgan
What do I know about New York City, beyond a few Paul Auster novels and the third act of King Kong? If I add up my trips to Manhattan, I’ve spent less than two weeks wandering around the streets and accidentally discovering tourist attractions (Hey! There’s that bull!).
But there’s something about the details of New York City life that forge an instant attachment with the place. The eye-watering miasma of the East River, piled-high garbage bags and the general stink of midtown, 3:00 a.m. lineups at the halal food carts, downtown streets turned into gorges by blocks of gothic gargoyled buildings — the totality of Manhattan hits you so hard that you feel as if you belong there (until you pay $15 for a glass of beer).
And that’s why, based on a very small set of middling to incredible meals I’ve eaten on the overcrowded island of Manhattan, I’m going to offer some wildly implausible advice for Regina’s restaurants.
I realize that NYC is slightly older, larger and more populous than our city (heck, it’s like two or three Saskatoons piled up on top of each other), but maybe my experience can be diced up and examined for worthwhile traces and auspices and whatnot.
Otherwise it’s just a ghastly pantomime of meaningless gestures repeated unto death, and that doesn’t sound like fun.
MAKE TIME FOR RESTAURANTS
Every summer in New York City, when the combined might of the sun and the Atlantic join forces to turn the air into a sort of aerosol broth, restaurants entice the brave with something called Restaurant Week. A 20-year-old institution that now spans 20 days, Restaurant Week gives diners a chance to try insanely expensive meals for a fraction of the usual cost.
The prix fixe menu offers a three-course meal for $24.07 (lunch) or $35 (dinner) at over 150 restaurants throughout the city. If you know what you’re doing, you can find astounding deals at some places. Bear in mind, though, that the more prestigious places may be booked up well in advance.
You should also come prepared to pay for the extras that, in some cases, turn out be the material on which the restaurant has built its reputation. At the Russian Tea Room, you can have a great $35 meal, but the caviar comes with a $16 surcharge.
Would a Restaurant Week work in Regina? I’d have a great time, but I’m not sure how many restaurant owners would be willing to slash prices. When margins are slimmer than a centipede’s leg, a few weeks of discounts might mean the difference between a successful summer and a “Closed for Renovations, wink wink” sign on the door.
Besides, the term prix fixe feels a bit pretentious in a Prairie city that maintains a healthy suspicion of ideas with frou-frou names. Pree fee? Pricks fix? Let’s go get some ribs.
Anyway, we already know what the ideal version of a prix fixe menu is: a buffet.
GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT
On my last trip to New York City, when the heat and humidity turned me into a shambling sweat-soaked wreck, my life was saved several times by the air-conditioned bliss of the W 53rd Street Deli. It was a 24-hour joint that sold absolutely everything I could think of. Groceries, coffee, headache meds and sewing thread, hot and cold buffet-style stations where everything went for seven bucks a pound, and a wall of cold, perspiring beer bottles.
On one long night, after all the bars had finally closed and even the food cart guys had shuttered their fronts, a couple of friends and I wandered into the deli to grab a sandwich and squeeze a few drops more out of the night. I noted the guys at one table drinking from bottles semi-concealed by paper bags.
I checked my phone. 3:30. Screw it, I thought. I picked up a bottle of Negra Modela from the back and took it to the cashier.
“Can I, you know, drink this? You know, in here?” I said.
The cashier looked at me, looked at the bottle sweating on the counter, and then, in one smooth and graceful action, pulled the bottle towards him, popped the cap and slid it back to me.
“You go right ahead, man,” he said.
New York , I thought, I love you.
Now I’m not sure that would work in Regina. But it’s lovely to think of.