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.