The most recent business at this address was 103 Grocery & Flower; earlier, according to a onetime resident of the upper Upper West Side, "that place was the Olympia Superette for decades." And earlier than that? The neon lights are long gone, and some of the Art Deco lettering has peeled away, but what remains is strongly suggestive of "Hudes."
Snow on the roof: The top of the "baker's muffin" ($4) is broad and crusty. The bottom is crammed with springy chunks of dough laced with apple and cinnamon; here and there you'll encounter raisins and bits of crushed walnut, too. It's just aching to be pulled apart, by two hands or more.
Also shown below: the bakery's summertime cart on the High Line (to the right of the walkway), which sold squares of crisp "green pizza" ($4) with leeks, scallions, and a little mint; and an even more ephemeral warm-weather birdbath.
Usually the setting is far afield, the server, someone whose best language is not yours. You've settled on an intriguing menu item, but your server is wary that you'll take a taste and make a fuss, and steers you away. "That's only for _____ people" (fill in the blank with the name of the hometown crowd) is a common formulation.
"You know that's salty" is a gentler warning. Though the menu says as much, the servers at Barney Greengrass may reinforce the message when you order lox scrambled with eggs and onions ($15, including a bialy with cream cheese). You won't go wrong by ordering one of the tamer scrambles, with nova or sturgeon, but some mornings, salty is just the kind of sustenance your body needs. Often these are the same mornings that your mouth craves something fizzy; Dr. Brown has a variety of cures, such as Cel-Ray ($2.75).
Many menus don't tell the whole story; some don't tell it in more than one language. Squid with rice (lunch special, $8.50), also called arroz con calamares on La Caridad's English-Spanish menu, does indeed feature those two ingredients, which are brightened by the addition of peas and bell pepper. Though La Caridad still serves "comida China y Criolla" and employs Cantonese-speaking waiters, Chinese isn't employed in print. The menu offers no possibility of a revelation a la McCawley, no characters whose explication would help you uncover the true nature of the dish — no way, that is, to divine that its predominant color will be black.
This is no attempt at deception or shock, of course, simply an instance of information embedded in a culinary culture but not expressed in words. Consider all the breakfast specials you've ordered without thinking to ask if the eggs came from a chicken. The use of squid ink, though not universal, is very common in Caribbean renditions of this dish; many packaged-food companies sell the rice, squid, and other fixings under the rubric "calamares en su tinta," literally "squid in its own ink."
At its best, squid ink adds not only color and brininess but also a deep, subtle, complex murkiness. The black pasta at The Daily Catch, in Boston's North End, is one superb example. La Caridad's dish, served with lunch-special speed (it's on the regular menu, too), is not exquisite, but it's more full-bodied and filling than run-of-the-mill rice. The striking color is a conversation starter, too, when your dining buddies peruse the menu but don't read between the lines.
At Grandaisy, you can feel downright sophisticated even when you're eating off a slip of waxed paper. That very simple place setting doubles as a minimalist container to go: During the recent, mobbed Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square, my slab of zucca (butternut squash) pizza was one of the few bites one could easily carry while navigating the crowds.
Also shown (some pizzas seasonal, most slices $3-$4): carciofi, featuring a confit of the namesake artichoke as well as sea salt and crushed garlic, funghi, littered with mushrooms; cavolfiore, topped with roasted cauliflower and anointed with olive oil; grape-dotted schiacciata d'uva; and a lingonberry crostata.
Grandaisy Bakery West 72nd St. (Broadway-Columbus Ave.), Manhattan (shown) Also 250 West Broadway (Beach-North Moore Sts.) 212-334-9435 www.GrandaisyBakery.com
A dining buddy on the Upper East Side had spotted an earlier example of this trend: Korean food served at deli-groceries. Not on Northern Blvd., not on 32nd St., but in demographically mixed residential neighborhoods where a "taste of Korea" might be considered a lunchtime adventure. Among New York taco aficionados, the Mexican grocery that prepares food in the back is a commonplace, but I've seen relatively few examples of its Korean-owned counterpart.
The largely vegetarian cold sampler shown here ($5.99 per pound) might also have been filled out with hot beef, pork, chicken, and rice. Bulgogi, bibimbap, japchae, mandoo, and the like are packaged in advance in take-home containers, though the short-order station can be called into action, too — even if you have a hankering for the old egg-on-a-roll breakfast special.
In Okinawa, "champuru" has the same meaning that "campur" (Cham-poor) has in Indonesia or Malaysia: A featured ingredient is "mixed" with practically anything you please. This serving of goya champuru ($5) featured one of a family of vegetables with bumpy skin (some are gnarlier than others) and a pronounced flavor that has earned goya the name bitter melon.
I don't recall coming across this dish since the closing of Suibi years ago. Unlike the goya champuru at that long-shuttered midtown restaurant, the version served up this day by the chef of JapanCulture NYC wasn't gussied up with bonito flakes. The recipe was simple: just goya, tofu, eggs, and that beloved protein of Okinawa, Spam.
Japan Block Fair and Fukushima Festival Broadway between 93rd and 94th Sts. (one block of an otherwise cookie-cutter street festival), Manhattan www.JapanBlockFair.com (The festival, one in a to-be-continued series of block fairs, was held on October 20, 2013)
The coconut's not for eating, no more than the slices of potato here serving as incense-stick holders. In Hindu practice the shape of the coconut is thought to suggest that of the human head; it's considered symbolic of selflessness, devotion, and, when opened, of the breaking of the ego. Employed in this manner it's called a pooja coconut.
This one had been flung violently down on the blacktop outside the restaurant, where Mughlai had filled several long tables with food for a weekend street festival. Afterward the broken coconut pieces were simply scooted under the grill. A ceremonial delay of several minutes meant that my chicken ($6, with fixings) was blacker on the bottom than it might have been — in fact it was charred — but the meat was still juicy, and those crunchy bits mixed well with basmati rice.
Also shown: dhokla ($2 each), steamed savory cakes native to the Indian state of Gujarat. These, dressed with sliced chili peppers and mustard seeds, were made with "lentils," said the server, though in South Asia that term applies to a wide variety of leguminous crops. In this case, I'm thinking chick peas.