Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Bit of Kitsch

It's a very poorly kept secret that I enjoy a good meal. And a good snack, hors d'oeuvre, what have you. Edible items if you will. But I have to admit that, despite the excellent restaurant options in New York, I do occasionally find myself feeling like I'm having the same meal over and over again, just at different locations.

Pioneered by the indominable Mr. Batali, there is a significant contingent of restaurants that serve rustic Italian food (not to be confused with American Italian of course). They insist on making their own pasta, always have an excellent meat ragu on the menu, and love their $9 contorni (i.e. vegetables which you used to get free with your dinner). Don't get me wrong, I can eat this food all day long, but not all day every day. And at a certain point I start to resent the $24 ravioli.

And there are the locavores. A noble ethos indeed, I can't say I don't indulge in it myself occasionally. But this whole "it's cooked simply, letting the ingredients shine" thing does get on my nerves. I can do that at home! I want complexity, I want fat, I want something I can't figure out how to do at home.

And then there are the pork enthusiasts. Now I was with them in the beginning...pigs are really wonderfully diverse animals from a gustatory standpoint. They're delicious! Thanks for pointing that out, but we all know about it now, we don't need any more lectures on the wonders of the pork shoulder, OK?

Just for full disclosure, although it is getting terribly overplayed, I will love the ramen trend forever. Not the $20 ramen trend, but the $12 one. Ippudo, Rai Rai Ken, I heart you. And will even more now that the weather is cold.

But when I come across something that is distinctly retro, that doesn't even know these trends exist, I rejoice. Fanelli's for instance. A weathered bar and restaurant with chintzy red checkered tableclothes, it unabashedly serves cheap drinks and red sauce on spaghetti. Perfect for those nights when you're in the mood for vaguely mediocre pasta (and oddly I sometimes really am). And it caters to all long-time neighborhood residents, new residents, the celebs who stay at the Mercer across the street...everyone responds to it.

The other night via a holiday gathering I was introduced to another one of these gems that I had been walking by for years, always curious about, but never curious enough to go in. And it has been my loss. El Quijote is officially my new obsession.

Photo credit:

Housed in the Chelsea Hotel,

long a refuge for artistic miscreants, and more recently Ethan Hawke after he and Uma split, El Quijote harkens from the 70s in the best way possible. The decor is kitschy, the prices are low and the drinks are stiff (or as a stiff as a margarita can be).

The staff easily accomodated our group of twelve, the noise level was festive but I had no trouble hearing my dining companions and the food was good. Not great, but definitely good. I had to get the paella, and yes I got it with lobster. The seafood was all surprisingly fresh tasting, particularly the shrimp and the clams, and after I had eaten my fill, and I do mean that I was FULL, I was still left with two takeout containers full of what was to be my next three meals.

We all indulged in one too many margaritas and perhaps more than one too many glasses of sangria, and somehow the bill came to $36 per person. Including tip. I have no idea how this is possible but I'm telling you it happened.

The genius who suggested the location, one of those fabulous New Yorkers who has been paying $50 a month for a two bedroom apartment near Lincoln Center for the past thirty years and knows every hidden gem in the city, clued me into the lobster specials on Monday nights. She tells me you get two lobsters "for like no money". You'll know where to find me any lobster loving dining companions on Monday nights now!


Pinecone Camp said...

Thanks for stopping by Pinecone Camp Laura!
I adore New York, so I have a feeling I'm going to love pouring through your blog this weekend. I was there this past March....too long ago!
Have a lovely day!

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Why oh why do I know live in N.Y. - Lobster Paella & margarita's and I'm there!! Thanks Laura for your kind, kind comments on my blog today. I rang true & I needed that. So glad to have found your great blog. Have a lovely weekend in glorious New York and have a lobster for me!

The Townhouselady said...


Back during my F.I.T. days I had an apt. in Chelsea and we used to celebrate our birthdays by dining here.

It's truly a NYC treasure!!

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

I'm right with you on most everything here, Laura [but I admit, I unhesitatingly sing the praises of pork to anyone who will listen]. And I have my own handful of Chicago places where the food is good, but not stellar, but the place itself is perfect.

Regarding your friend with the $50 two-bedroom apartment, I don't suppose there's any chance she'd adopt Marion and me, would she?

brismod said...

I like how your genius friend is also thrifty. $50 a month for a two-bedder!!

I'm enjoying reading your words.

Laura [What I Like] said...

Sorry, I feel that I should point out that I was being facetious with the $50...I've heard of some fantastic rent controlled deals in the past but they're usually at least a few hundred a month...which is still a fraction of what most Manhattan-dwellers pay!

Mlle Paradis said...

i'm with you laura - if it's only 50 bucks a month there's something v. wrong with that picture. anyway, thanks for a blast from the past! happy chrimble!

Angie Muresan said...

When we eat out with the children they tend to perpetually be in the mood for mediocre food. I totally understand.
Lobster Paella? Oh! I'm in heaven. I just adore the way you write about food, Laura. I'm really hoping you put a book out with recipes, your insights, places to eat, cultural observations. It will be fabulous!

Millie said...

Your fab post had me wanting to book the available flight to NYC Laura! It's one of life bestest treats finding little gems like this - when you mentioned margarhitas I was instantly hooked.
Millie ^_^

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