Sunday, April 19, 2009

Going Local/Going Abroad

The reason I love the restaurants I love (generally of the seasonal ingredient-driven sort) is not because the politics line up; not because they have a super relaxed yet lovely vibe; not because I imagine the people in the kitchen have more fun, learning how to make new things all the time, even though all of that is true.  It's that I love not knowing what I'll find there next--the menu changes with each day or week or season, and I am surprised every time.

I haven't yet written about Back Forty, Peter Hoffman's downscale East Village joint, a place that despite not always getting it right, has made it onto my short list of loves.  The first time I went was last summer, on one of those sunny and amazing days--the pork jowl nuggets were not my thing; the lobster roll couldn't hold a candle to all the classic lobster roll joints we have going these days.  But other things were excellent, and the beers were carefully chosen and crisp and cool.  And the waitstaff was friendly and the vibe was excellent.  So I have returned and each time I get better at ordering and each time I have things I adore.

Last night the toasted fregola salad was off the hook and there were ramps everywhere--which I am gathering must have been brought up from the Carolinas.  Chicken liver mousse with pork cracklins, amazing rosemary french fries.

I am off to Asia in a few weeks and I needed some good travel guides.  I am terrible at pre-trip reading.  In fact, I have never visited a travel bookstore before.  I was running errands in Chelsea this past sunny Saturday and the map on my iphone led me to Idlewild Bookstore on 19th street. The store is a quiet 2nd floor haven, replete with cute bookish sales guys, Tom Waits tunes and a lovingly curated selection.  I love the way it's organized--it reflects an interdisciplinary style that I've long favored as a tutor.  Categorized by country/region, there are, alongside the traditional travel guides, related fiction and non-fiction titles mixed in.  Also, over by the travel writing, cookbooks.  Also, they sell globes.  I got 2 slim Singapore guides and a Nell Freudenberger short story collection set in Southeast Asia.  24 hours of plane ride to kill, and now, 3 books to read!