When it’s time to show off your hometown to a visiting friend, you’ve got to plan well to be a successful culinary tour guide. Contributor Carrie Vasios tells us how to pull it off.
My best friend and college roommate called me a few weeks ago from Los Angeles to say that she was coming to New York for a four day visit. I was immediately overjoyed. And then I panicked.
I wasn’t worried about what she was going to do while I went to work or if she’d get lost during one of the three transportation changes required to get from the airport to my house. I wasn’t even that concerned about the fact that there was no working radiator in the bedroom in which she’d be sleeping though the temperature had recently dropped below 20?. No, I was panicking because I knew that I had to treat her to at least four spectacular New York dinners.
I hope you don’t think I was just being hard on myself. I’m a proud New Yorker and that definitely applies to the dining scene. Besides, my friend Taryn is from Los Angeles—the land of diet food and pretend-eaters. There is no way I could allow her to leave her visit without thinking, “Wow. New York has way better food. I should move here immediately!”
The problem is that the perfect restaurant to which to bring a visiting friend has multiple requirements. It’s a balancing act between tasty food, moderate prices, and a good atmosphere, with the added necessities of an approachable wine list and proximity to a fun bar where we can get a post-dinner drink. Asking too much? Perhaps. (Though really shouldn’t all the places where we eat out fit that bill?)
By the time Taryn arrived last week, I had constructed a list of possible restaurants but no discernable schedule. And as I’ll admit is all too common for me, when faced with panic and indecision, I became widely spontaneous. In this case, that meant putting all my money on the recently-opened restaurant Mémé Mediterranean in the West Village.
Mémé is technically a Mediterranean restaurant (hence the name), but its menu of small plates and liberally spans the cuisines of countries from Italy to Morocco to places that I might more fairly situate in the Middle East. The night started off well—we walked in to snag the last open table in the house, so I smugly felt both lucky and hip. I gave Taryn the seat facing the large windows overlooking Hudson Street so that she could ogle that foreign substance known as snow. The vintage French posters and a high, pressed tin ceiling helped the space feel warm and cozy against the frigid night.
Taryn and I are on the same page when it comes to food. And one thing on which we heartily agree is dips with pita bread. How could we resist the combination appetizer platter, laden with babaganoush, tabouli, falafel, beets, and the stand-outs of hummus and pickled carrots? In fact, I’d almost go back to Mémé just for those carrots, which were a well-balanced blend of sweet and vinegary and spicy with an al dente bite.
Another victory was the truffle gnocchi in cream sauce. Taryn really loved this dish, so I would have been overjoyed with success even if for some reason I had completely disagreed, but luckily the gnocchi were perfectly pillowy and, despite a heady dose of cream, didn’t skimp on the truffle taste. As an added bonus, the gnocchi came out in a small ceramic bowl, and I honestly appreciated simply how hot they were. (Under-heated food is a major complaint of mine.)
The wine was affordable and decent, though instead of ordering a second glass we skipped over to Dublin 6 (more bonus points to Mémé for being a block away from one of my favorite bars). As a heads up: Dublin 6 has friendly bartenders, great beers both on tap and in the bottle, and most spectacularly, a wine selection way better than you normally find at a non wine-bar bar.
In the end, small plates was the theme of the trip and it’s a great lesson learned: you’re much more likely to score a visitors’ victory if you go to a restaurant where your friends can try upwards of four plates of food. It’s simple odds—if someone orders just one or two dishes, they might have bad luck ordering, or something might not be to their taste. When that happens with a visiting friend, I feel like the whole dinner is a bust and I’ll inevitably annoy everyone by spending hours making excuses for our great city. With small plates, you get the fun of sharing food with the comfort of knowing that everyone will like something.
Of course, the truth is that Taryn’s not keeping score of how many great restaurants she visits here, and I could have brought her to a Burger King and she would have been happy to see me. But, just for the record, I totally won another point for New York.
Mémé Mediterranean, 581 Hudson St., New York. 646-692-8450.