Thursday Night on Mulberry St…

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Sometimes you just need to rant. And rant I will.

Late Thursday night I was walking with my muse, right hand and trusted creative conspirator, Soo Jeong. Hungry and heading toward the dive noodle shop on Grand St. we like to go to for our Chinatown fix, I was in a good mood. The air was cooler than it had been than in the last few nights, we had seen a fun movie and we were looking forward to cheap steaming bowls of brothy noodles. And then the wheels started to come off.

We didn’t realize how late it had gotten as we were greeted by the owner with that resigned look of, “sorry, we are closing”. We thought…hey…this is NY..no problem. A fine thought if we were anywhere but Chinatown on a weeknight where the streets resemble any small town after 10pm…closed storefronts and deserted streets. So we wandered. As we got hungrier we ended up strolling up Mulberry Street. I make it a rule never to eat at touristy places and as the sidewalk hawkers were crowing about their ‘authentic” Italian menus, I was not swayed in the slightest. And then the critical mistake was made.

Soo playfully asked this fire hydrant of a man outside one of the cafes if they had stuffed artichokes. He of course started to wax poetic about how wonderful they were and where we would like to sit. Sitting was not an option in my mind but I could tell by the look in Soo’s face that she had been overcome by hunger, curiosity and the lure of easy eats. Stuffed artichokes are also her kryptonite…so I was resigned to the fact that I was about to break one of my cardinal rules. So we sat.

I made what I thought were pretty safe choices considering I was setting the bar pretty low in terms of expectations. Rigatoni and eggplant with marinara and mozzarella. Rather hard to screw up…especially since this was Little Italy…or so I thought.

I am bothered the bridge and tunnel crowd on date night in The City. I sneer at the cigar smoking wanne be’s on the sidewalk strutting around like they are Gotti in the 80′s. I roll my eyes at the tourists, drunk and loudly proclaiming their love of all things I-talian. My blood begins to simmer as the roving accordion player rocks out “O Solo Mio”, “That’s Amore” and a stirring rendition of the Theme from the Godfather.

What sets me over the edge is bad food and what I find absolutely infuriating is bad Italian food. This food was abominable. To call this Italian food was a disgrace to anyone with even a drop of Italian blood flowing through their veins. Our ancestors who called what is left of this neighborhood home are rolling over in their graves. To see what these business owners are holding out their as our culture, our food and our heritage makes me sick to my stomach.

I left so irritated and physically bothered by the experience that I needed to rant. Please, for the love of all things sacred never…ever…come to New York and visit ANY of the so-called Italian restaurants on Mulberry Street looking for Italian food. I am sure not all of them will serve you food as bad as what I had the other night but the kitsch and triviality of it all is too much to take. You want Italy…go to Italy. You want Italian food…go to a reputable Italian restaurant…or a family owned business…or stay home and make it yourself from a good cookbook with good ingredients. I can recommend places in all 5 boroughs that will at least serve you something that resembles effort and care if not a gourmet experience. Stay out of the tourist traps and the places that treat Italian culture and food like some sort of horrible caricature. Please.

I’d like to say I feel better…but I don’t. I’m just as angry as I was the other night writing this but at least now maybe some of you won’t make the same mistake we made Thursday night on Mulberry Street.

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11 Comments

Filed under Italy, Restaurants, Travel

11 responses to “Thursday Night on Mulberry St…

  1. Wow. It must have been really bad?

  2. I can not tell you how many times I have felt the same way, and ranted. I was brought up in a small Italian Village on Cape Cod. Yes, there were Italian immigrants on Cape Cod. I have dual citizenship and spend a month at a time in Bologna. I know good Italian food! Most Italian restaurants are selling “Nostalgia” and don’t know what real Italian food is. American’s education of what is Italian comes from places like this and places like the Olive Garden. They are so far removed from what is Italian, food and other wise it is horrifying.
    PS: I have been long time friends with Kathleen McElroy and in the last year, Jeremy Zilar who you have worked with.

  3. The same can be said about the food at that street fair that shall not be named. Appalling crap for an appalling amount of money.

  4. I hate when that happens!! What I also hate is when someone recommends a restaurant as “the best” whatever. A friend told my husband about THE BEST Chinese restaurant – which was a good 30 minute drive from our house – and one night we bit the bullet.

    It was crap on a stick. Greasy, no flavor – the Chinese veggies that came with my dish? Just f_cking celery! We glanced across the street and saw an Italian restaurant. I asked my friend if she and her husband had been there and she said “don’t waste your time – worst Italian food we’ve ever had.”

    We took that as a clue and next time went to the Italian restaurant. Holy shizz – gnocchi that were like little pillows on my plate with a vodka sauce that was to die for. Winning!

  5. There’s one exception to this rule—Torrisi and Parm on Mulberry St (both have the same owners, that’s why it’s one not two). They serve absolutely amazing Italian food.

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience but I did enjoy reading your rant. Thank you.

  6. I’ve never been to Italy but I was raised on homemade pasta, homemade tomato sauce and homemade meatballs. My great grandmother came over from Italy in her teens and refused to adapt her Italian taste buds to what was being offered here. I thank GOD I wasn’t exposed to “fake Italian” at a young age or I may have ended up being one of the people recommending Mulberry Street! You’re so right to recommend snagging a good cookbook, some quality ingredients and doing it yourself at home. I almost NEVER order Italian out. We get pizza from time to time but we never call it Italian! Side note, I find it hilarious that in Tuscany there’s a restaurant that sells “American Pizza”… topped with French fries and hot dogs. Just a little hint that we may not be getting it right stateside.

  7. Xochitl Dubach

    Once you find a place with a good menu the next step is to learn to understand it. You won’t make a good impression on your date if you order something and are then shocked to find out what it is when it gets to the table. Decide beforehand what you’re going to order and learn how to properly say it in Italian. Then, find out what Italian food your date likes and pick out some recommendations from the menu beforehand and learn how to say them. When it comes time to order and you’re reading off your selection from the menu like an Italian food connoisseur you’ll really impress your date.`

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