For many New Yorkers, a refrigerator is place to store condiments, leftover takeout, cocktail mixers and unsorted mail. Preparing one’s own meals at home is an activity stigmatized by the micro-kitchens found in most Manhattan apartments. This is not to say that knowledge of how to cook is lost on us, for how can one send a steak back to the chef without being able to provide specific instructions for its fine-tuning?
Part of what makes living in New York so great is the unending variety of restaurants and cafes that are used in place of home kitchens to keep us nourished and sustained. New Yorkers have uncovered primal instincts locked deep inside of our ancestral DNA that allow us to forage all about the city, finding hidden food sources in unlikely places. Any seasoned local knows at least five meatball sub shops that are off the grid and no more than two street meat carts that will not induce regret. This knowledge comes over time and sometimes at a price paid in antacids and emergency visits to Starbucks restrooms.
One of the downsides to this utopia of culinary delights are the types of people that frequent certain establishments. I enjoy a good meal just as much as anyone, but after several years observing various trends in dining behavior, I have come to the conclusion that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to enjoy oneself while eating out.
A well presented plate of food is a delight to the eyes as well as the stomach. Many restaurants in Manhattan, and even some parts of Brooklyn now, have perfected the art of laying out food on a dish in such a way that it almost seems a shame to disturb it. A shame as it may be, food is meant to be eaten, not gazed upon. This realization that life is but a fleeting series of ephemeral moments should not spoil one’s appetite, nor should it be cause for documentation.
Very few things, aside from a fussy child or a marriage proposal, ruin the ambiance of a delicious meal as much as flash photography igniting flickers of lightning at inopportune moments all over a dining room. The idea of photographing a meal is something that seems akin to a very sad kind of homemade pornography, for what is the appeal of seeing a perfectly grilled salmon steak on a bed of mediterranean risotto that I did not have the opportunity to experience for myself? It’s like reading a cookbook only for pleasure, which I find to be a rather hollow and ungratifying experience. I’d be very disinclined to meet a person who actively seeks out photos of his or her friends’ weekend meals to fill the sad hours of an uneventful life.
The biggest offenders used to be young white women from general studies programs at NYU with rhinestone encrusted fingernails, but now the disease has spread to grown men and women who really ought to know better. Now, every restaurant patron may be under the false impression that he or she is the next Ansel Adams of crème brûlée. This behavior is unacceptable and should be stopped.
You Are What You Don’t Eat
Every few years, a new trend in voluntary food restriction sweeps the movers and shakers of the New York dining elite. One moment, it is the highest fashion to abstain from wheat and the next it is consuming dairy only from cows who are sung to sleep by opera singers in the better regions of Long Island (far enough away from Fire Island not to be kept awake by electronic dance hits and lingering fumes of amyl nitrate). Ultimately these practices come and go, but the communities of wretched people who adopt them stay the same.
It is disconcerting to go to a diner only to see a newly printed menu highlighting the vegan mozzarella sticks, paleo health shakes and gluten-free bagels with free-range lox and tofu schmear. No thank you. This is not what New York is all about. Such crimes against the culinary arts should be confined to Los Angeles where they originated. One does not become noble for choosing to omit a perfectly fine source of nutrition from his or her diet. Abstinence from baked goods never made anyone interesting. New York was built on pastrami on rye and kosher franks. Glorifying yourself by bragging about that which you do not eat is not something to celebrate, it is a topic of conversation to be avoided.
The Ball Jar
Some fashions in dining can start small, and spread virally, like the subway bed bug infestation of 2010. Unlike bed bugs that cause irritation without being visible, other societal ills can be seen with the naked eye. One trend that I have observed taking hold over the last several years, most likely originated in Brooklyn (and I’d bet money on Williamsburg, specifically). It was a small regional outbreak at first, which escalated rapidly. Now, every “cute” bar and cafe from the Far Rockaways to Chelsea to the Marble Hill serves its beverages in old-timey Ball jars. If you are unfamiliar with Ball jars, they are the glass containers in which rural-American grandmothers store their homemade jams and jellies. They should not be used as serving vessels for $16 cocktails.
If one is spending $16 to $18 on a watered down drink with a column of hand-carved ice occupying the majority of its volume, it is insulting to have it served in a container worth 25 cents. Idealistic young people who yearn for “simpler times” they never witnessed (à la the great depression or the glamorous days of war rationing) find it charming to be taken advantage of in this manner. These are the same people who believe that online petitions can affect broad social changes. If I wanted to drink out of re-purposed containers, I could just stay home and drink alone, which would save a great deal of money. It is because of this, that I opt to stay in most evenings and enjoy my own company.