New York City, baby.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Brooklyn Is The New East Village

Standing outside J&R Music World last night, we needed to transform from Manly-Boyfriend-In-Charge-Of-Stereo-Shopping to Sophisticated-Boyfriend-Who-Knows-Great-Place-For-Dinner.

We couldn't help but notice the vicinity around the World Trade Center wasn't awash with cute Italian restaurants. We needed to formulate a plan quicker than the Republicans had to pull the president's new feel-good ads that included an image of a flag-draped body at ground zero.

Hm, perhaps this wasn't the ideal block to have our adorable, romantic dinner.

The epiphany came. Take the A train to Spring Street. From there we were golden: Bread. Lovely Day. Casa Del Portal. Rice.

Our dinner plan was flawless, but a greater vision called to us, challenging us to act daringly this Sunday evening.

Our mission was as unmistakable as it was hazardous: leave the safe confines of our self-imposed prison, to escape our personal Below 14th Alcatraz.

Sure, waiting in possible defeat was the devestating self-contempt only a foodie boyfriend who has stupidly taken his non-foodie girlfriend to an ill-fated new restaurant can appreciate. But we couldn't let the fear of a dining catastrophe stop us. To hell with the risk.

Not knowing if this was the biggest mistake we could make, if we were sabotaging a perfectly nice weekend with a last-second Grady Little blunder, we boarded the train to Williamsburg.

Upon exiting the subway, our feet touching the sidewalks, The Blubox Intern deadpanned: "So are we hip?"

We asked some young people standing outside the subway where we could find the main strip and -- God bless their little worn, miss-match fashioned hearts -- they told us to walk down to Bedford Street.

Getting there meant navigating dimly-lit streets, eerily quiet for New York, foreign in feel and look, and sketchy enough to wake the senses, but not cause Blubox Intern go into a full panic.

We came upon Bedford Street and there was a moment of celebratory relief, the kind that a traveler enjoys when he steps back into civilization just as he begins to wonder if he'll ever see it again. The joy of stumbling upon.

Walking down the bustling, funky, illuminated street, we felt a slightly out-of-control and vulnerable intoxication brought on by the mystery and freedom that a newly discovered neighborhood offers. You will never see something for the first time again.

And then we did what we would have done if we were wandering around a Tuscan village or a Spanish city. We asked a perfect stranger -- in another life, a friend of a friend -- if she could recommend a place for dinner. "Mexican... French... Italian?" she asked. An encouraging response.

We told her Italian and she told us about a local trattoria called Acqua Santa. It wasn't far from where we stood.

Before we parted ways with the stranger, she said there was a chance she'd be at the neighborhood eatery later with friends -- and we shouldn't think she's stalking us.

True to her word, she did arrive partway through our meal, a lovely memory held together by a pleasing and affordable bottle of Pinot Grigio.

The warm and inviting dining room accomplished the rare feat of not attracting too much attention to itself -- in the East Village this very act is considered an almost unpardonable sin -- while the homemade pappardelle was heavenly.

The only negative: the owner-chef -- or so we presumed -- sat at the table beside us with a group of boisterous Soho-shopping, poker-player types, talking about nothing except his Ferrari, which was parked out front for all the neighborhood to admire.

After finishing our meal (is there a more excellent surprise than finding yourself on a date with a girl you've been dating 11 months?) with cappuccino and tea, we took the L train back to Manhattan. And neither of us could think of a reason why we had never done that before.

And then departing from the low-key manner a New Yorker should always possess, we openly discussed how there was no reason we shouldn't do that again, going so far as to compare the number of subway stops from her place to Williamsburg and the number of subway stops from her place to Chinatown or Uptown or the Meat Packing District or Below Delancey.

It's all been one big illusion! How did we get caught up in the myth of our own lives, so restricted by the confines of an exhausting routine? Mind-blowing! Simply fuckin' mind-blowing!

But then you're reminded, as we were last night, of what is so great about this city and why you came here in the first place -- your whole world can grow in a single evening.

And sometimes all you have to do is take the subway in a different direction.


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