Thursday, November 15, 2007

The City

Sushiya - 2 stars

28 W 56th St.

Pret a Manger - 3 stars (for the brownie)

630 Lexington Ave. (at 54th)

The Oyster Bar - 1 star

Grand Central Station

Growing up in a suburb of New York, it was just "the city." This may be true for people growing up in any suburb of any city, but for New York, the greatest city in the world, it seems especially appropriate. As a child, I always assumed that when I grew up I would live in Manhattan, because that's what you did when you grew up.

I did live in Manhattan, for a brief two years after graduate school. I doubt I will ever live there again. Driving across the Triborough Bridge on Wednesday morning on the way to LaGuardia and seeing the skyline of Manhattan unfold on my right, I remembered how much I loved the city, how much I missed it, and yet how familiar it is to me. The drive from Chappaqua to the city is one I can feel in my bones and my nervous system, from years of going to and from Juilliard every weekend. But in many ways Manhattan today is not the city I knew growing up - so much richer, more fashionable, and less threatening than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Back then Grand Central was a place you raced through on the way to catch a train; this evening there were long lines of expensively dressed people waiting to get into the restaurants that were put in as part of the renovation in the late 1990s. The New York I remember was much more like the endless, gray, non-descript sea of buildings that you descend into on the Queens side of the Triborough Bridge, or the tangled interchanges I got lost in in Harlem on the way back to my parents' house on Wednesday night. It was a bustling, dirty, commercial city built for ordinary people, not the international shopping mall that now blankets much of midtown Manhattan.

For lunch I flashed back only ten years and went to Sushiya with my college roommate Curtis, who now works at - where else? - a hedge fund. When I worked at McKinsey, Sushiya was one of the reasonably good sushi places that one might order dinner from when working late. And it was reassuringly satisfying, the eel not smothered in sauce, the rolls allowing multiple distinct flavors to come through, the fish as soft as butter in the mouth.

My mid-afternoon snack was from a welcome addition to the new Manhattan - Pret a Manger, the British chain that readers will recognize from the previous post - where I had a chocolate brownie that was absolutely to die for, for only $1.49, a meltingly soft yet dense square of pure chocolate goodness, not overwhelmed by sugar.

And dinner was a relic of Manhattan past, with my high school friend Fred in the Oyster Bar in Grand Central - which was once probably the only restaurant in what is not a massive food court. The lobster stew was decent, and the martini was a little small, and I'm sure the crowd was much bigger than it used to be, but it was still distinctly New York.