Thanksgiving in NYC: The Rent Stabilized Model

A WHILE back, I organized the odd thanksgiving for NYC transplants and itinerants, aka “orphans.”

Turkey with all the trimmings beckons from inside...
Well, there must have been a lot of subsequent adoptions because this year, beau and I found ourselves to be the only orphans without invites in town. So we decided to do as the rent-stabilized might and the rent-controlled do, and seek out some turkey action at a local diner.

But to work up an appetite, why not bookend a Thanksgiving meal with a bit of New York starchitecture, conveniently served hot and happening along the Highline? 

See that gobletty thing wedged between the buildings? That's Thomas Heatherwick’s "Vessel," a honeycomb-like structure made of interlocking staircases, soon to be populated by thousands of bodies, aka the gum-chewing, selfie-snapping public. Like Calatrava's Oculus, it looks like it's elbowing for room in a subway car between those adjacent towers, but that's New York for you.

There are also a bunch of art installations flanking the Highline. Here's one of the “sculptures” which I mistook for discarded construction pipe waiting to be coiled up and cleared away:

Sheila Hicks
Hop, Skip, Jump, and Fly: Escape From Gravity
And so to the diner. Nearby at a fave restaurant, the Thanksgiving prix fixe was ~$50 plus tax and tip. At the modest Chelsea Square Restaurant (aka diner), a 4-course Thanksgiving meal was advertised at $31.95. How bad could it be? How hard is it to execute - reasonably well - a meal people have been executing for centuries?

So in we went. You'll have to excuse the blurry photo below.  which I borrowed temporarily from, as I wasn't in a selfie-snapping mood on entry, but that little table is exactly where we sat.

Outside, a homeless man stood asking for $2 for coffee. Inside, there was lots of coffee and a few cozy booths. Let’s give it a whirl. Here's the menu...

\And here's the deal. Gad, there’s even duck on the menu. Again, how bad can it be?

The bread basket consisted of challah and a pumpkin raisin loaf interspersed with soup crackers. And real butter pats, not margarine. Things are looking promising...

The chicken noodle soup was actually pretty good - with a strong suggestion of both chicken and noodles.

The beau had matzo ball soup - a kind of white meat stock with small planet made of a thousand crumbled Ritz Crackers bobbing in it. It wasn’t great - a bit mushy, but you’re talking to an Asian dumpling connoisseur here.  I suspect a great matzo ball has a certain sponginess and flavor, right? Please, could Jewish matzo ball gourmands weigh in?

David Meltzer, a fellow cyclist and matzo ball aficionado, did indeed weigh in: "Matzoh balls come in two distinct brackets - "Sinkers" and "Floaters" I am a sinker fan - but am likely in the minority. Come to the Canarsie Ride Sunday - Lunch stop is Mill Basin Kosher Deli - and their chicken soup ROCKS!"

Suddenly, we notice the homeless man is now sitting inside behind us. He’s being brought food. Nice to see a bit of largesse prevailing on Thanksgiving. A bit later, he sticks his foot out and trips a server. "Your homeless friend is wearing a North Face jacket," notes a pal on social media. Ah, but you've no idea what the thrift stores in Manhattan are full of...

Waiting for the main course, we gaze up to see a big advertisement to come back for breakfast - a captivating array of cereal boxes. Above those is a constellation of signed photos of obscure celebrity with the exception of Frank Sinatra. But they weren’t playing Frank. They were playing Jay-Z. 

Now here's where things start to fall apart. Vegetarians please read no further... 

I admit I made a mistake. I casually commented that I (like most Asians) prefer the dark meat. A lot of Asian restaurants have substituted breast meat in dishes that should have dark meat (like ginger claypot chicken), proclaiming "white men don't eat dark meat." This capitulation is an expensive mistake - it  utterly ruins the dish.

The server must have communicated my comment to the kitchen because this is what landed in front of me...

Now before you think I ordered the Turducken,  this is a hybrid shot our shared plates. In the foreground is dark meat turkey, looking like it's been masticated then regurgitated (but I assure you not by me). Immediately behind is half a Long Island duck. Fricaseed bill ‘n’ all. The menu said roasted. I suspect it was plunged in the deep fryer, because it's faster.

And so to the sides: mashed turnip, gravy, spinach and garlic, fries, candied sweet potato. 

I originally ordered the asparagus. The server came out and said, “no asparagus. You want broccoli gratin?” I said, ok, broccoli gratin. The server came out again. “No broccoli gratin. You want mash turnip?” I said, ok, mash turnip.

The dessert was a slice of pumpkin pie or coconut cream pie, which we ate half of before I got a chance to shoot it. But you know what they look like, and it's probably the thing diners like this do best.

And the after dinner mint? A stroll by a portion of the old High Line that has been preserved in its messy, unkempt, and weedy state. It shows us how it was before the starchitects and hipsters moved in with their aperitifs, tofurkey, duck confit and Martha-Stewart magazine-perfect Thanksgiving dinners...

This was not one of them. But I'm still thankful. I think.


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