Worth The Wait?
Lately, Partner-In-Dine and I have been experimenting with a specifically New York City phenomenon I’ll call, “Worth the Wait?” I don’t know how or why, but we keep attempting to eat at the same places everyone else wants to eat, at the same time they want to eat there. We know the tricks-arrive at 5pm, party of 2 or 4 only, stand in perpetual eyesight of the host/hostess, but we often avoid following them, for the sake of some other convenience, which quickly devolves into a high stakes game of “This Better Be Good.” In many cases, it is.
The Purple Yam- Though our wait was minimal on a Friday night because of their helpful reservation policy (imagine!), I’m including it here because of the effort to get out to their cozy Ditmas Park location. Honestly, after one visit I was ready to declare this among the “Top 3 Best Meals” for the addictive chicken adobo, that tangy, effusive flavor I cannot get out of my mind, not to mention the thrillingly unique kim-chee of the day, and strangely delectable lumpia, but on our second visit, the New Year’s a la carte menu left a lot to be desired. I will return to this Brooklyn enclave for the food but also for the jolly, ever-present head chef and his wife, both of whom will bus your table, distill your vinegar, infuse your shoju with seasonal ingredients, and then sit down and drink it with you, grinning bemusedly all the while. Absolutely worth a trip out to Ditmas Park.
Prune- ‘When in doubt, say 45 minutes,” is probably the first sentence of every training manual for restaurant hostesses in these high-falutin’ Manhattan restaurants. Luckily, we arrived unhungry on a beautiful, crisp winter’s morn, and were ready for the marathon. The problem with the equation, however, is that Prune’s food just isn’t that terrific. It’s good, and certainly even very good, but not worth giving your day away. By the time we ate our food, 2 hours had passed since we arrived and gave our names. I’m not sure what can be done about this, but by the time you’ve given that much time, no one wants to point out the Emperor’s clothes. The menu items are suspiciously similar to all NYC and Brooklyn brunch menus this year: dutch pancake, potatoes rosti, some fancy rendition of eggs benedict, etc. Remember that I’m weighing the energetic, highly trendy NYC brunch concept against Southern Appalachia’s brunch, which tends to be just as special and delicious, chiefly because it is above all, cheap. Grits, biscuits, oatmeal, potatoes, pancakes, eggs, these are all cheap and hearty foods, yet Prune has found a way to remove the fun and insert pretentiousness at every turn, starting with the waitstaff who really can’t be bothered, all the way to the overpriced breakfast items. Prune is just not worth it.
Earl’s Beer and Cheese- However cheap and diverse the beer menu may be, and however authentic the Kentucky beer cheese, and however exquisite the various grilled cheese offerings, the laws of physics generally negate entrance into this bite-sized, heavily hyped establishment. If you do happen to make it in, get ready for a bonus: there’s a mathematical formula in effect here of bodily proximity+beer affordability+time spent waiting for a seat, ensuring that the random guy next to you at your table will go from stranger to new best friend in record time, so however you feel about that could determine your experience.
Roberta’s- Our first visit to this hipster dream/gentrification nightmare left us happily imbibed, satiated, and relaxed. Finding our way through a maze of random picnic tables, oversized spectacles, skinny jeans and tented firepits, we couldn’t help feeling like we’d arrived at hipster summer camp. Amidst the many dichotomies of this restaurant relative to its location in the heart of recently-desolate Bushwick, is the kitchen staff, a group of young Latino men slinging some Italian Grandma’s version of pizza-pies in a giant, crackling brick oven, on which haute pork toppings abound. The end product is very good, if not great, and some of the smaller plates look even more interesting, if you’re up for some seasonal, meaty midwinter richness. I look forward to giving another hour of life away to wait for a seat once again at Roberta’s.
Momofuku Noodle Bar- How much is your time worth? If your answer is, about a delicious noodle bowl’s worth, then you are in luck. One hour and fifteen minutes is the median wait at lunch on a holiday for a steaming hot bowl of David Chang’s famous ramen revolution. We toughed it out amongst the freezing hordes of pushy Manhattanites and tourists alike for our fair share of savory, inventive goodness. The pork buns were worth the wait alone. These buns were much lighter and fluffier than the average, with high quality hoisin-roasted pork belly accented perfectly by pickled cumbers and sriracha mayo. So many of his choices seem obvious yet rare around these parts: he combines high quality pork cuts with a decent variety of vegetables in his ramen. It’s not rocket science, or is it? Holy Chang, I’d do it again in a second.