When I first moved to New York there was nothing I liked better than trying every new restaurant and bar that I could fit into my schedule. But now that the "new" places feel less new to me (everything seems to recycle itself eventually) I'm becoming increasingly attached to places that I consider neighborhood spots, that one can become a regular at.
Paul and I have lived above Les Halles for years, and for us it is the ultimate neighborhood joint. Cheap (sort of) and cheerful, I know the menu by heart and always order one of two things - moules mouclade (with fries, please) or merguez sausage. And the desserts never disappoint. For those nights when something more casual is in order, we can always count on the Roxy Diner across the street for a good grilled cheese.
But for the longest time I went without a regular spot near my office. Perhaps because in past jobs I didn't go to lunch much, perhaps because office districts often have uninspiring dining options. But now that I work in one of the most culinarily exciting spots in the city and my job performance is improved considerably when I know all of the gossip, which is most effectively gleaned over a good plate of food, I have no excuse not to find a place to make my own.
Novita, a mere three blocks up Park Avenue from my office, has become my home away from home during the lunch hour.
It is a perfect place to bring new acquaintances, as Italian food goes over well with most everyone, and can accommodate most every food idiosyncrasy that might present itself. It is a perfect spot to gossip since it is quiet enough to hear and be heard, but lively enough that the table next to you can't eavesdrop too easily. The crowd is decorous but not stuffy, and you do not get the feeling that the place was conceived of with expense accounts in mind.
The pasta is superb (as winter approaches I will be indulging in the fabulous lamb ragu more and more often), the fish is fresh and uncomplicated, and stalwarts like the veal milanese please even the fussiest of eaters. But perhaps most refreshing of all, the portions are normal, not nouveau. You order monkfish and you get hunks of fish, not medallions. You order a pasta and it is a meal portion, not a pre-entree portion. And I have never been presented with an up-selling waiter, encouraging me to order a multi-course lunch when all I want is a brief bite. In fact, the same lovely, welcoming man waits on me each time I set foot in the place. As it should be at your local.
And now that I've discovered that Mario Cuomo is a regular as well, I feel all the more smug having designated myself as one...