Thursday, February 17, 2011

Full of Reservations

I hate planning for most things in advance. I don't know what I'm having for dinner. I don't know where I'm going to retire. And I really no thoughts about where I'm going to be buried. But after my night out last weekend, I realize a little upfront legwork can be useful.

My wife and I drove our 14 year-old daughter into Manhattan. She was invited to a party and sleepover with camp friends. Usually, a trip into New York is a pain in the ass when you live in the suburbs. But if you can go in at the right time and beat the traffic, NYC can be a stress-free adventure for the bridge and tunnel folk.

And we did just that, making it from home to party spot in 35 minutes on a Saturday evening. Very cool. Most Manhattanites can't even travel within the city that fast.

We dropped off my daughter at a seedy looking establishment in Chinatown located right under an elevated subway line. All 82-pounds of her were wearing high heels, a skirt that just covered her puberty and a tank top. It was 38 degrees outside. Good luck, honey. If you need any money, try hooking.

We took off and headed for Soho - an artsy part of town. We found parking immediately on Mulberry Street and thought this was an omen for a good night.

We walked around the neighborhood taking in the liveliness of the crowded streets. We couldn't help to remark how trendy the area had become since we used to show up there. The hole-in-the-wall apartment on Spring Street near the Bowery (and the old CBGB's) where my good friend lived after graduating college, had become an upscale area.

Back then, it was still a bit dicey to walk around there - day or night. Even my friend's landlord was a bit suspect. He would leave threatening notes to his tenants if they were a few days late in rent. "Rats Die" could be penned on a note in your mailbox sometimes as a reminder.

These days, few of us could barely afford the rent being charged to live in that same shitbox. I hate to think what would happen if someone is now late with the rent.

The evening was getting chillier and we thought we would duck into a local restaurant for warmth and sustenance. The beauty of New York is that there's some type of food establishment on almost every block you walk down. And we found a small, inviting place serving a Middle Eastern fare that was wedged on the street level between two old buildings. The place had a cozy feel. People were standing near the small bar making even smaller talk. And the kitchen was exposed to the street with a big glass window. More importantly, there were a few empty tables in sight. More luck.

We walked in, spoke to the maitre d', and were told the wait was about an hour. I looked around at the empty tables and then back to the man. "Perhaps, a bit sooner. Have a seat at the bar," he said.

We walked over to the bar. Or should I say the wine bar, because that's all they were serving! I was actually in the mood for a bourbon on this cold night. So after a few minutes, we walked out to try our luck elsewhere.

We headed back towards the main thoroughfare of Spring Street and came to the bustling Balthazar restaurant, or a bistro as they like to call it. The place is huge and is known for its wonderful bakery as well as its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. It was hopping inside and a fully stocked bar took up one wall of the place. It was just past 9 pm now so getting a seat should be no problem ...

... if you still lived in the suburbs. It seems 9 pm is still early in Manhattan and a two-hour wait for two was going to be too long!

The ambiance of New York was beginning to wear off. The cold air was not so pleasant anymore, and our hunger was beginning to turn to agitation.

"Let's just head to Hoboken," my wife said. "There has to be a place there."

The thought of leaving the city and heading back across the Hudson was depressing. But Hoboken has really changed and has some fine eateries as well as a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline. At least, we could feel the city's presence from there, have some good food and then get home quite easily.

It only took about 15 minutes to get across, although to my wife who fell asleep during the drive it felt like hours.

"You're a lot of fun," I said.

"I'm hungry alright," she snapped back after popping her eyes open.

We drove by a few familiar restaurants and then decided upon a familiar steak house. The charming thing about Hoboken is that it is filled block after block with old apartment buildings and brownstones. The other thing is that maybe like 22 people have garages in the entire place. Everyone else parks on the street. This means no one really moves their car.

We circled the block that the restaurant was on. We expanded the circle by two blocks, then three. Nothing. We did this for 45 minutes. I had thought about calling the restaurant to place a pick up order but that would've been another 30 minute wait. We would've killed each other by then.

"I can't keep my eyes open," my wife mouthed as if she were on her last breath. And yet, she mustered more energy to bellow, "you should've made reservations."

I was tits up in a ditch. I had failed to find one place to eat in one of the best gastronomic cities in the world. I had failed to find parking in one of the most densely populated one-square mile cities west of the Hudson. I had turned a Saturday night filled with hope and romance into a night filled with hunger pangs and snores from my wife's mouth followed by drool (yeah, I said it).

I thought about this as I sat in the comfort of our suburban diner - the only place open at that hour - located one and a half miles from our home and ate my chicken gyro sandwich with tzatziki sauce on the side. My wife nursed a coffee.

"You gotta go back tomorrow morning to get her," she said.

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