Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NYC: Cats, fish, wolfmen

What better way to follow up a week of pastoral relaxtion in England--and, for that matter, a summer of gentle laziness--than a full-on three-day yomp around New York City?

That was our weekend, thanks largely to my friend Amy, who generously offered us the use of her lovely home on Roosevelt Island. The welcome committee comprised of her three cats.

Poptart is the sweetly affectionate one--the kind that catfood marketers suggest your feline will become if only you open the correct can:

Oreo is the extremely friendly one: "Hey, what're you doing? You're in the shower? Cool! I'll come in too! No? Okay, I'll just sit on the sink and watch. Hey, now you're eating! Can I thrust my head into your cereal?"

And then there's Ruby, who kept out of the way for most of our visit, so appears in no photos.

Highlights of the trip:

Esca (aka The Place that Does All the Fish)
We'd wanted to try this place since we read a 2005
profile of owner Dave Pasternack in the New Yorker. Finally, this time, the stars lined up and we got a table.

The food? Oh, my.

Largely southern Italian, almost completely fish-based (not seafood, but actual swimmy-finny things), and fresh, fresh, fresh. The house specialty is the crudo, a selection of raw appetizers. We went for the king salmon, which was lovely, and the heretofore unheard-of opah.

Which. Was. Mindblowing.

Imagine a white dinner plate, the slightly indented center of which is covered with a layer of fish the color of pink grapefruit, sliced thinly enough to be almost transparent, flecked with black pepper and finely chopped chives. Imagine being able to cut a piece of this raw fish with a gentle pressure of the side of your fork. Imagine it in your mouth: rich, creamy, a texture of avocado. Yes, avocado. One of the most incredible things I've ever eaten.

All the dishes were fresh, simple, carefully constructed--especially the grilled sardines with pine nuts and sultanas, and the Amalfi-style fish soup (a rich tomato base with big chunks of monkfish and sea bass)--and the service was attentive but low-key.

The only strange thing was the music which, instead of the expected compilation of opera standards or classical faves, was a mix of everything from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to Guns & Roses' "Sweet Child" to Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing." It was as though somone had forgotten to turn off the '80s station at the end of the cleaning shift ...

Coney Island!
It's been a lifelong dream of mine to visit Coney. So we did. A good 90-minute subway ride out on the F train, but the rewards are great if you're into fried food and freaks.

We got both.

First, a stop at Nathan's, the redoubtable hotdog place. I'm no dog conoisseur, but these were markedly better than I'm used to: a slightly tighter skin, smoky meat and a bright tang of sauerkraut in relief. They should be good--they certainly cook up enough of 'em.

Then a wander along the boardwalk, a peek inside the
Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark and a stroll out onto the pier, where Asian and Hispanic families held elaborate picnics and occasionally checked on the fishing lines bobbing in the ocean below.

And then into
Astroland Park, the latest in a series of amusement parks on the boardwalk, and home to the 80-year-old Cyclone roller coaster. And the Wonder Wheel.

(Just so you get the whole picture: only the white cars at the top of the wheel are stationary. The others--some shown here toward the center of the wheel, some on the outside, some halfway between--are sliding. Depending on where the wheel is in its rotation, they'll roll along the iron rails at perilous speeds.)

The Boy's, um, disdain for unsafe heights being legendary, I did not expect him to agree to a couple of rotations. But, much to his dismay, he did. He was a brave soldier, and afterward decided he did not need to experience anything taller than a Pimm's Cup for a while.

But even this worrisome experience was quckly forgotten when we found the freaks. Carnival shows have long been a part of Coney Island history, and the
Coney Island Circus Sideshow keeps the dream alive. For six bucks (transacted by a cute, marginally tattooed girl), and with beer in hand (served by a cuter, more tattooed girl) you get a show that's not quite a ten-in-one, but close enough.

Show rules prevented photography, so you'll have to believe me when I say we saw:

A man drive a nail into his skull, followed up with a Black & Decker drill chaser
A woman whose body was filled with electricity
A woman (actually the same as the above) perform a slow dance with a 15-foot albino boa
A woman with a tattooed face eat fire

And ... and ...
Chuy the Wolfman!

(After the show, I was waiting for The Boy to come out of the bathroom and Chuy was striking the set. He smiled at me. My life is complete.)

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