The Last Meal Part II: Last Meal In New York?
Many moons ago J. Burger posted on “The Last Meal,” where she discussed the meal choices of inmates on death row immediately prior to their execution. A recent feature at Eater asks a similar question, but rather “what would your last meal in New York be?” (assuming that you were moving elsewhere, not that you would soon be executed). I perused the responses with a jaded eye, quick to pounce – for we bloggers must always be vigilant for opportunities for snark.
Some responses were predictable:
Per Se, VIP menu
Le Bernadin or Momofuku.
Some responses were trying way too hard:
This totally depends on where I’m moving to. If I’m moving to Sidney, then I’d forgo hitting up Momofuku one last time. If I was going to Shanghai, Bora Bora, Las Vegas, Scottsdale or The Bahamas, I’d skip Jean Georges. If moving to northern California, I’d be able to resist hitting Per Se before I left. Miami or LA? No need to hit Scarpetta or any other Scott Conant restaurant. And assuming we are just concentrating on NYC (because otherwise my last meal would be at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, of course), it’d have to be something like Torrisi or Hearth or Prune or some other homey/chill place that really has a NYC vibe to it and of course great food and drinks.
Some were inadvertently(?) funny:
Why was my “Balthazar” response immediately rejected?
and then there were some others that intrigued me:
Katz’s – Pastrami on rye, stuffed derma, and knoblewurst. Nothing like Katz’s anywhere in the world. Last meal in NYC couldn’t be anywhere else, for me.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Katz’s or “New York-style delis” generally, but this one seems genuine and perceptive – honestly, you probably won’t find a pastrami on rye like this one outside of New York, so why not go for it? Plus it is a New York institution.
And there was this:
A smörgåsbord along the 7 train line.
Now, first of all, points for using the umlauts. For those of you who are not familiar with Queens, what this refers to is the act of “grazing” all the way down Roosevelt Avenue (over which the elevated 7 Train runs), starting in Corona or Elmhurst and working your way toward Manhattan, through Jackson Heights and Woodside and into Sunnyside and (for the truly dedicated) eventually into Long Island City, on the East River. This route contains street carts, kiosks, store fronts and full-service restaurants serving food from all nations of the world. You could walk this route ten times, eating in every neighborhood, and never go to the same place twice, nor experience even half of all the available options. By virtue of having lived in these neighborhoods for 7 years, I have eaten in many of these places, although I have never done “the crawl.” Overall, an interesting and non-traditional choice, if not somewhat strenuous.
So, I pondered what my “last meal in New York” would be. What I soon realized is that my last meal needed to have particular significance to me, it couldn’t merely reflect what I think would be the “best” meal in the city (i.e., Per Se – VIP menu). Although I have poked some fun at the response that tries too hard, there is a grain of truth in there – somewhere like Per Se really isn’t giving you anything you can’t get outside of New York (like, at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, for example). I appreciated Katz’s and the 7 Train food crawl, but neither were for me (the food crawl mostly because I doubt I am going to want to walk for miles down Roosevelt Avenue as part of my last New York meal. I will probably have spent the last week packing).
For me, it would have to be places I have been again and again, in various stages of my life, and enjoyed each time. My “go-to” places, if you will. I would not regret it at all if my last New York meal were at Corner Bistro, even if I had to wait in line. That line is where a beer tastes best. And, once rewarded with my table, I would devour a Bistro Burger, cooked rare,with fries and more beer. Brings back fond memories of late nights in Manhattan.
Another choice would be the curry noodle soup with vegetable dumplings from Mee Noodle Shop in Hell’s Kitchen (and various locations). Nothing more than a clean and efficient Chinese take-out shop, but when I used to work from home I ordered from them every day at lunchtime. They never messed up my order and they always got it to me in about 7 minutes. For my last dinner I would eat in, order some steamed pork buns to start and wash it all down with a few Tsing Taos.
My final choice would be Tournesol, a cute and traditional French bistro just across the river in Long Island City. My wife and I have been going here for romantic dinners since we moved to Queens seven years ago, and it is always charming and dependable for classic bistro dishes – a rich rib-sticking cassoulet in the winter, delicious bouillabaisse, steak frites, foie gras terrine and the like.
So, after some soul searching, these are my choices for my last New York meal, and I would be happy and satisfied by any of them. Maybe that day will never come, but then it never hurts to reflect on these things and, even if I never eat a meal in this city with knowledge that it will be my last, I have some understanding of what food experiences have been most important to me while living here.