Originally published on November 27, 2013.
There are streets in Manhattan that have yet to be completely overtaken by chain restaurants, though they are further and fewer between than they were 10 years ago. These patches of resistance are little, rabbit-warren-like spaces, crammed with wood-grain Formica two-tops and tiny black chairs. They’re dimly lit and decorated with tchotchkes reflecting the cuisine served: a skyline of Barcelona in a tapas joint, a small statue of Ganesh in an Indian buffet, a delicate arrangement of bamboo in a Chinese dim-sum house. Cooking scents perfume the air: cilantro, or onion, or curry, or schmaltz. In the winter, you avoid sitting by the windows because their poor weather stripping lets in the cold from outside. In the summer, you angle yourself toward the air conditioner precariously perched into the window above the main entrance. Outside, empty cardboard boxes are piled up by the curb, next to bulging Hefty bags filled with trash.
Maybe it’s not romantic, but it’s the New York that I loved and lived in before moving to the Greater Rochester area 12 years ago. A born and bred downstater, I wasn’t quite sure I’d be able to make the transition to Upstate New York life (nor the transition from single to married; from having no children to being a stepparent to two).
On my first visit to the area, my then-fiancé — now husband — took me to Park Avenue for dinner. It was night: streetlights shone amber, and many of the storefronts twinkled with Christmas lights strung in the windows. The buildings, only a few stories tall, reminded me of the West Village. Cars were parked bumper to bumper on the streets. And just like home, there were a jangle of tiny, independently run restaurants, including Esan Thai,where we enjoyed dinner.