Greetings from Manhattan, by way of California. We are the nieces of James Oseland, Saveur’s editor-in-chief, visiting New York for the first time to explore, visit our uncle, and, of course, eat. We are 20 years old and hungry. Here’s why New York has left a good taste in our mouths.
Leah Learns to Eat Like a New Yorker
It’s my seventh day in New York, and I have not yet had pizza, cheesecake, or a knish. Last night I had Chinese food for dinner and my very own glass of Sapporo beer. My 20-year-old twin sister and I clinked our glasses in gratitude and then dug into seitan “chicken” in garlic sauce.
We are grateful to be in a place that will happily serve our jet-lagged selves freshly cooked Chinese food at midnight. We are happy to be where we can name just about any ethnicity, and then dine on its cuisine. Most of all, we feel unworthy as hell to be in New York on Mom’s dime. It’s nice to be 20 and dependent and yet sometimes mistakenly served a Sapporo.
Admittedly, eating out in New York has been a little exhausting. Dinner each night is always an occasion. At ten o’clock (that’s 7:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time) we clean up, gather the disposable camera and the MetroCard, and hit the town to find something to eat. We’ve been trying a new street every night. A typical example: Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side. We pass by a homey, rustic American bistro with mismatched gingham napkins and recycled wine bottles that serve as water pitchers. Across the street is Flor de Mayo, a Mexican restaurant recommended by my guidebook. Farther south, we pass overpriced Italian, a hip pizza joint, an intimate candlelit French restaurant. We settle for a “Latin” place that serves a dozen different flavors of slushy. We sit outside under the plastic umbrellas and struggle anew to choose our order.
Perhaps we struggle through blocks and blocks of choices because we are hoping to find the best—yet affordable—meal New York has to offer.
But throughout our dining odyssey, I’ve realized that in New York, you will not find one definitive cuisine. Sure, there’s classic New York food, like New York cheesecake and bagels, but what about the rows of Italian restaurants, and the hot dog stands, and the sushi places?
There’s a place for everything here—and for everyone, indigenous New Yorkers and drop-in tourists alike. We are all a little out of our element at any given time. My sister and I bring our own little story into the melting pot, and we hold onto it as we bite into another exotic meal.
After I realized this, I sat down to my perfect meal: a PB&J sandwich in Central Park. I could finally eat something that wasn’t so exhaustingly exciting. Thousands of miles away from my West Coast home, I bit into something familiar. A Berkeley girl at heart, I finally felt a little bit like a New Yorker. —Leah Tannehill
Sarah Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple
Day one in New York City, and I was 20 years young. Fresh off a six-hour plane ride from the suburbs of sunny California, I was a fish out of water. Smells, sounds, people and more people filled the street with a barrage of human life—much how I would imagine the collapse of a dam, although less catastrophic. I’d arrived in New York with my mouth watering in anticipation of all the food that awaited me. Dorky guide book in hand, I was ready to take on the city one pizza parlor, hot dog stand, and late-night coffee shop at a time.
Jet-lagged and famished, my travel buddy/sister and I ventured out into the streets of Manhattan’s Upper West Side well past ten o’clock. (Thank you, Pacific Standard Time.) Luckily, as I would soon discover, New Yorkers are insomniacs, and within no time the two of us found ourselves seated at a small French cafe amid other late-night chowhounds.
However, it wasn’t just the tenderness of my salmon and avocado tartar, or the warm (and to-die-for) chocolate lava cake we chose for dessert that struck me most about this meal; it was so much more. As I sat down to dinner with my sister, I sat down to dinner with all of New York City. One bite, and I felt the low rumble of the subway train under our feet. Another, and the honk of a passing taxi startled my sister into dropping her fork. As I cleaned my plate, a gentle summer night’s breeze offered us a reminder that not even nature could elude this concrete jungle. The food was delicious, but with everything that was going on around me, I found it almost impossible to separate one sensory experience from the next. New York life was the secret ingredient to this wonderful meal, and I was the lucky connoisseur.
Upon first arriving, I had expected that I would fall in love with the eclectic variety that is New York cuisine (and it’s true that, so far, I have). What I didn’t realize was that I would fall in love with the dining experience as a whole. A meal in New York goes far beyond what’s on top of the plate: it’s the sounds, the smells, the people. It’s one big, juicy apple, and I’m hungry for more. —Sarah Tannehill