Bribing your way into a restaurant

When going to dinner on a Saturday in New York, one only has a few options: eat early, eat late, or eat at home. Last night we were confronted by Williamsburg Saturday-night economics, four restaurants in a row with over an hour wait, and I was reminded of a story that I read ages ago entitled Pocketful of Dough. The author, Bruce Feiler, is paid by Gourmet magazine to bribe his way into restaurants:

Curious, I hatched a plan. I would go to some of the hardest-to-penetrate restaurants in New York armed with little more than an empty stomach, an iron-clad willingness to be humiliated, and a fistful of dough. Most people (including the editors of this magazine) assumed I would get turned down at half the places on my list. “You’ll never get into Daniel,” said one. “Union Square Cafe?!” said another. “Forget it.”

My plan was to show up between 8:15 and 8:30 on varying nights of the week. I would go with a different companion each night. I would try to get a reservation by telephone that afternoon and go only if I were turned down. And I would carry a twenty and a fifty in my left pocket, and a hundred in my right pocket. I did have an incentive: I could eat at any place I could successfully finagle my way into.

What results is a classic piece of journalism that I cite at least twice a year. That is to say, I am only referring to it, not a practicing bribe-maker. Since the cat has been out of the sack for over 7 years now, I wonder what effect Bruce Feiler has had on wait times in New York? Next time I go to Williamsburg on a Saturday night, I will definitely bring some dough and report back on the timeliness of this technique.

January heat wave

It’s going to be a scorcher today in NYC, by early-January terms. The estimated highs in Central Park are ranging from 65 to 70 degrees, which means a high likelihood of breaking the daily record (65 degrees, set in 1998), and close to the January record (72 degrees, set on January 7, 2007).

In a related topic, I find it amazing how quickly the city adapts to warm weather. Yesterday, my local fruit stand reappeared after a month of absence, and the Rocking Horse Cafe had not only setup their outdoor seating, it was full!

My favorite cocktails in Manhattan

Over the past year I have had some amazing cocktails. As I head into Health Month, I’d like to reflect on some of the cocktails I’ve had over the past year in Manhattan which are probably among the best drinks I’ve had in my life.

  • Eastside Cocktail (gin, cucumber, mint, lime juice, and simple syrup) at Little Branch
  • El Diablo (tequila, homemade ginger beer, Cassis and a taste of citrus) at the Flatiron Lounge.
  • Presbyterian (whiskey, ginger ale and club soda) at the East Side Company Bar.
  • Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) sitting outside at the Maritime Hotel.
  • Greyhound (fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and vodka) at Passerby.
  • Bloody mary (tomato juice, vodka, and tasty sundries) at Cookshop.

Until February, this is Cameron’s alcohol palate singing off.

San Francisco guide to New York neighborhoods

So you’re moving from San Francisco to New York. You liked your cute neighborhood and tasty burritos and you hope to replicate this existence somewhere in the Big Apple. Well kiddo, that’s impossible. Everyone knows there is no such thing as a good burrito in NYC.

This was the fate of a friend of mine a few weeks back. When she described her desires to a broker, this broker responded with, “you’ll probably like Williamsburg.” So this friend gets in the broker’s car and heads over a bridge to another part of town. Her reaction, later over email: “I expected it to be cute. Williamsburg is not cute.” Yes, Williamsburg is definitely not cute. It’s sort of like the Mission, and I’m sure almost anyone from SF would agree that the Mission is also not cute.

In response to this unfortunate misconception, I have constructed the San Franciscan’s guide to New York neighborhoods1. What follows is a socio-cultural mapping between cities, from my perspective. The fact that Murray Hill and the Marina are connected is entirely related to the number of white, greek-lettered hats you would find there.

San Francisco vs. New York
San Francisco vs. Manhattan

San Francisco New York
Financial District Midtown
North Beach Little Italy
Chinatown Chinatown
Union Square Soho
Soma Tribeca
Potrero Brooklyn Heights
Dogpatch Red Hook
Civic Center Civic Center
Hayes Valley Chelsea
Western Addition Carroll Gardens
Pacific Heights Upper East Side
Noe Valley Upper West Side
Marina Murray Hill
Haight Ashbury East Village
Castro West Village
Mission Williamsburg
Lower Haight Lower East Side
Russian Hill Park Slope
Fisherman’s Wharf South St. Seaport
Treasure Island Roosevelt Island
Sunset Brooklyn
The Richmond Queens
Berkeley Morningside Heights
Golden Gate Park Central Park
Tenderloin Wherever Giuliani put it
Stanford Princeton
Marin Westchester

1.   Of course there’s a lot of need for improvement. I would personally love to see similar guides made for every pair of cities (“I’m an Atlantan in Chicago. Where’s Little Five Points?”), but that’s a big task for one person with limited knowledge.