Contrary to the outside belief that New York is a cold, isolated city of 8 million people, the reality is it’s really nothing more than a small town. If you’ve been around (the block) long enough, everyone pretty much knows everyone. You’re bound to run into people or be seen by people you know (or know you) no matter where you go. Since most of us dine out at least 3~4 times a week, restaurants essentially become an extension of our living rooms. They are family, lovers, and maybe even a bit on-the-side. Or even on-the-side of on-the-side.
In order to maintain a happy, full stomached NYC life, the key is to know how and where your loves (restaurants, that is) rank in your heart, and how to properly manage each relationship. And being the global rats that we are, many of these relationships end up stretching across the bridges and tunnels to LA, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Europe and beyond. Here is…
DineGirl’s Guide to being Disloyally Loyal
Believe us when we say that years of field experience, hard boozing, dining, schmoozing, a few heartbreaks and many many air kisses have been a part of this research project in order to provide this valuable insight.
Understand also that if you’re new to a restaurant or a restaurant group, you’re probably not likely to get the choice tables right off the bat. It’s the real life equivalent to a ‘day of’ reservation at Dorsia. Cue the cackle on the phone. Just ain’t gonna happen. Over time, as you frequent the establishment consistently (this is key), make it a point to get to know the hosts / owners / managers. You will see the relationship blossom naturally. Tip well, mind your manners, treat the staff with respect and you will make a good impression. Also, make sure you are being valued in return. Why keep going back to a “hot spot” that only gives a shit about your Black Card, treats you like crap and serves up mediocre food? Good restaurants value their customers (they remember the names of regulars), and will make each visit an enjoyable one.
1). KNOW YOUR CORE !! Good relationships take time, effort, and a lot of patience.
A handful of good core relationships will be the foundation to a fruitful life spent feasting. Know where and who you want in your core, and treat these apples as if they were your babies. These spots should stand the test of time, feel like home, and keep you coming back year after year. Timeless, elegant, welcoming and special. True gems these are. Value the core.
2). MAINTENANCE : It’s hard yet enjoyable work.
You wouldn’t let your car go for 100,000 miles without an oil change or tune up. Similarly, don’t let your food foundation turn into a jalopy hodge-podge mess of random spots. Key to maintaining your core is consistency. Minimum once a month visits for your #1’s, and every so often for the other core guys. This will also evolve naturally.
Now that you’ve established a core, here’s how to Cheat Like a Pro!
3). MONOGAMY IS BAD : “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.” Mae West. On the upper east side you’ll find old grannies frequenting equally tired old spots 5,6 nights a week. This isn’t because the food is that fabulous, it’s because the restaurant is on the block and part of the co-op. It’s important to venture out of your comfort zone and seek out some spice and thrill on a regular basis. After all, variety and curiosity are what broadens one’s horizons into new cultures and culinary experiences. Hopping on a plane with a passport is also part of this process.
4). KNOW YOUR FLOOZIES : One and done’s are ok.
So you ventured out and the new place sucked. No love lost here. The twisted logic is that knowing what was bad about a new place will make you appreciate what’s great about your core places. Was it a bad attitude, tired vibe, crappy service, predictable menu or uninspired wine list? Knowing what you didn’t like about the person, I mean restaurant – (just kidding!) will mean avoiding the same traps and pitfalls in the future. Set your own standards for next time, which means time and money saved. And if it was indeed a great experience but just not inspiring enough for round two – that’s A-ok as well.
Just because you’re buddy buddy with this guy, that guy, and everyone in between doesn’t mean that anyone gives a shit. We’ve all got notches on our belts, a Rolodex to match and are in the same rat race hustle. While dining at one spot, don’t openly talk smack or name drop other spots in that obvious way. Appreciate places for what they are, and never point out what they are not. And if it’s not meant to be part of the core, refer to (4). Restaurants keep tabs on everyone, and yes they are listening into people’s conversations, taking notes and will remember pretty much everyone who steps through their doors.
6). ON-THE-SIDE, and ON-THE-SIDE of ON-THE-SIDE : sounds complicated, but not.
These are spots that you frequent sporadically and have some connection to – for whatever reason it may be. They require a small level of maintenance but aren’t necessarily long term apples since chances are some won’t be around in a year. Best to enjoy them for what they are. The “on-the-side” types usually have just one or two appealing things on the menu that keep you coming back, and the rest is just eh. Hence the mild interest level. Maybe they do a good martini on a rainy day or have a nice oyster happy hour. And sometimes that’s all you’re in the mood for. “On-the-side” of original “On-the-side”s refer to diluted versions of the OTS. For example, your original OTS martini spot may reside all the way downtown, so the OTS-OTS would be the somewhat acceptable place in midtown which fills a void but isn’t a full “fix”. And so on and so forth.
7). DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS : shhhh…..
We know a vegetarian who enjoys the occasional Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern. His soul weeps inside but somehow he still manages to wake up the next morning. It didn’t kill him! A miracle! On route back from a boozy business trip to Minneapolis, one of the best experiences for Dine Girl was a perfect Big Mac, fries, and a ‘strawberry’ shake from a long lost friend with golden arches. Whether it’s politically incorrect foie gras, or the questionable dive bar chicken wings, we all have our vices. These dirty little secrets are ok on that rare occasion – just don’t tell anyone and continue to pretend it never happened. Again.
This guide could go on and on, but we’ve outlined what we believe serves as a roadmap for dining out with purpose. With the right attitude and approach – everyone is happy, no one gets hurt, we’re all well fed, and the revolving doors continue to twirl as they await the next batch of hungry hungry hippos.
DineGirl’s Disloyally Loyal Guide strictly pertains to the rules of dining out. DineGirl is not responsible for what happens to anyone who applies the above rule set to other aspects of life. Results of such behavior include – but not limited to: rotten core, no apples, and loss of respect from society (ie. Louis Winthorpe III : “No one wants your drugs here Louie!”). The worst case scenario – a potentially empty stomach, table wine and sharing Buster’s dog bowl and bed.
Weekend Getaway: LA
It’s common knowledge that New Yorkers hate LA, and Los Angeliens (aliens? just kidding) hate New Yorkers. We don’t really despise each other, we’re just pre-wired to think that way. In reality we’re constantly boomeranging ourselves back and forth between the two coasts, and many of us have actually migrated to each other’s cities. It’s just the way we seem to live our lives. I think the key to loving each city is simple acceptance. LA will never be NY, and NY will never be LA, they just are what they are. No need for a huge debate here. I actually love LA! The people are happy and the girls always have nice hair, and they don’t have to deal with the crazies on the subway or lug around 3 pairs of shoes every day. LA is especially great after the holidays when the charm of winter wears off here in New York, and you get sick of wearing thick tights and sludging through muddy snow in about 10 minutes of daylight.
So as another polar vortex drenches New York, it’s the perfect time to put on a happy face, ditch the all-black attire, and head out west for some fun events.
Packing for LA requires a little thought. And being DineGirl, this means outfits must also revolve around some aspect of food. For daytime, outfits that are dressy enough for a sophisticated lunch at Goldie’s or Eveleigh (same owners), yet casual for potential poolside dining (anywhere) are a must. A good rule to follow is similar to the career advice of “Dress for Success”!! Our own rule of “Dress for Your Meal” (trademark pending) means that if you’re always in heels, you’ll never get stuck eating from a truck or drinking from plastic. Hopefully.
In the land of make believe, a little sparkle is always a must. For night, great dresses paired with a little vintage clutch add just the right amount of glamour. Perfect for an old school Hollywood dinner at Dan Tana’s, or late night drinks (well, up until 2am) at new Hollywood classic Soho House or the always fabulous Chateau Marmont.
Bungalow 4 at Chateau Marmont is rumored to have been one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite spots, and still exudes that old Hollywood charm. The 2-bedroom bungalow is decorated impeccably in that sleek mid century modern style, with a sizeable garden and oh-so-fabulous private back entrance. Complete with a SMEG refrigerator and mini stove, the kitchen is surprisingly functional. Despite the fact that the oven racks are completely misaligned, and the lack of equipment (basic pots and pans, no cutting boards or knives) – it actually produced a few tasty meals over the course of a busy drunken Burn’s Night weekend.
Here’s a dish that requires nothing more than an ovenproof sauté pan. Thrown together the morning after a scotch and cigar fueled evening, I realized that literally anyone could add this to their weekend repertoire and have the perfect “morning after” breakfast. (“morning after” is open to everyone’s own interpretation and imagination). Serve with a side of bacon or sausage with a big cup of coffee. As I was putting together this baked bread pudding for our little crew, I could only begin to imagine what Frank must’ve been up to the morning after in that very same space….
1). Prepare the pan – butter the bottom and the sides of the sauté pan so nothing sticks after baking. (this means taking room temp butter and slather the pan with a thin layer)
2). Butter + marmalade each slice of bread on one side only, otherwise it’s too sweet. (do not toast!) Then cut in half or into triangles. Arrange neatly (or messy, doesn’t really matter) into prepared pan or dish with jam side up cris crossing style in the pan. Should be enough to cover the entire bottom in one or two layers. It’s okay if there are gaps. Sprinkle blueberries all over the top. Set aside.
3). In a med size bowl, beat the 3 eggs lightly, then add the milk, 3 tbl spoons of sugar and pinch of salt to form the custard. (If you have vanilla extract you can add a small tspn also). Pour this mixture over the bread, and with clean hands press down on the bread so everything is soaked in a little bit. (it does not have to be completely submerged – you want some bits sticking up so they burn a little towards the end). Let sit for 10 to 20 min (if you have the time) for everything to set together. Top with the blueberries and/or almond slices or raisins.
4). Sprinkle the top with the other 1 tblspn sugar, and dot with some more butter if you want, right before baking.
5). Bake 40-45 min at 350F until top is a little burnt and the custard is all cooked together with the bread. Serve hot or at room temp with the sides (bacon, sausage, coffee) and of course, ‘ol blue eyes in the background!