A series of posts on culinary, bibitory and other ventures whilst back in the states for Christmas and New Year’s. Part one: in which I Resolve To Try New Places.

I’m running around New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Connecticut, and Massachusetts for the next two weeks, and I’m made a resolution to only dine and drink at places I have never been to before. It began quite accidentally, but now I am making a point of it. Aside from a tea at Norther Spy Food Co. in the East Village two mornings ago, I have only been to new places this time around. The best thing about coming “home” for Christmas is that 1) I don’t have any responsibilities and 2) I have lots of opportunities to try new places because everyone is pretty much obligated to hang out with me. Kidding.

Tuesday afternoon started with a late lunch at the Meatball Shop in the LES. The meatball of the day was a Mediterranean lamb, veg was roasted butternut squash with caramelized walnuts and ricotta salata and the salad of the day was romaine and arugula with toasted pumpkin seeds and the cranberry vinaigrette. Everything was delicious. Not transcendent or anything, but it’s equally rare to order about a half-dozen items off the menu and not be disappointed with any of them. Besides the aforementioned, my friend Serena and I also tucked into the classic beef and spicy pork sliders while splitting the two side dishes. The special meatball of the day was truly excellent, however. The lamb was strongly flavored in a way that some may describe as ‘gamy’ but I prefer to simply call it ‘delicious’ and ‘authentic.’ Enriched with raisins and spices, it paired a subtle sweetness with the natural flavor of the lamb and the pesto sauce accompanying the slider. It was a relatively light lunch because we (I) had originally planned on making it to Four & Twenty Blackbirds for pie before a dinner.

When it comes to Serena and myself, it’s all about eating, and next place we’re going to eat. Since I had to go to Economy Candy on Rivington that afternoon anyways, we decided to stop at Sugar Sweet Sunshine down the street for a serving of their transcendent Pumpkin Trifle. SSS layers just-sweet-enough pumpkin sponge cake with fresh whipped cream and ever-so-slightly oversweet eggnog pudding to create a autumn in a four-ounce cup. Each bite washes Indian summer sunshine over your shoulders and fills your nostrils with the smell of an evening hayride. Or at least it distracts you from the ubiquitous slush puddles on Rivington Street for fifteen (or so, give or take) glorious, scrumptious minutes.

Serena had to meet her family for dinner that night, and I had made plans to check out Carroll Gardens’ Clover Club and their weeknight happy hour with few other friends from Wellesley. Somewhat unfortunately, before I could go there, I had to make a quick pit stop in Park Slope for a Christmas/housewarming gift for one of the friends I was planning on meeting. Dashing from the F train on 7th Avenue, all the way down to Union Street, and back again was not the most fun experience in 20-degree weather, and it just made me miss the omnipresent cabs in Beijing. And Manhattan, I suppose. But anyways, back to the drinks. Happy hour is a pretty great deal: selected cocktails for half-off. The Moscow Mule (Smirnoff vodka, ginger beer and lime) is great. I’m not usually a huge fan of vodka cocktails, but the Clover Club version is bona fide, and garnished with an extra-large piece of crystallized ginger. I also had a couple of bites of beet-honey-and-goat cheese crostini, which reminded me exactly how much I love beets (a whole lot).

We wanted to relocate for dinner. Venue fatigue, perhaps? Either way, our next stop was Mayahuel, Phil Ward’s East Village den of tequila and mezcal. My friends had just been to Char No. 4 earlier in the week, and any – we’re not even talking about good or authentic – Mexican/Tex-Mex/Latin American food is hard to find in China, so Mayahuel won out over the other option we had been considering, the (admittedly) much closer Frankie’s 457. I ordered roasted corn and poblano tamales there and a Jacko’s End, which combined arguably two of my favorite spirits (bonded applejack and mezcal) with Benedictine and Peychaud’s bitters. My friend Hailey ordered what we later found out to be Fork in the Road’s top cocktail of 2010, the West of East India (Reposado tequila, Demerara rum, oloroso sherry, Falernum, Amaro Nonino, and mole bitters). Though it was good, certainly, none of us who tried it would deem it ‘best’ of 2010 in New York by any means.

By this time we had been joined by two of my other friends, Jim, whom I had met in China and was now back in New York, and Caroline, another friend from Wellesley. The next and final stop was McSorley’s Old Ale House down the street for a couple of beers as a nightcap to an extremely full (at least for me) day of eating and drinking. Well, all I can say is that I didn’t pick McSorley’s. It has it’s place, in the East Village, though it certainly wouldn’t be out of place say, 20 blocks north either. There’s… sawdust on the floors. And there was that amusing episode where the aging banker spent a good fifteen minutes hitting on my (lesbian) friend. But my loyalty in the realm of dive(y) Manhattan bars is to Corner Bistro. And their burger.

The night finally ended with me curled up on my friend Jimmy’s couch, highball of Laphroaig in hand. A fitting conclusion to a fairly triumphant return to ‘merica.


Next time: the insane breakfast biscuit at Peels