Some lessons are more painful than others, like the one about hydration in extreme heat. Let me tell you, the concrete-and-steel radiator that is New York can be unforgiving to those who try to survive on the usual coffee-only morning routine as the mercury pushes into triple digits. Coffee is not just for closers; it’s for cold, cold offices, far away from Manhattan’s griddlelike sidewalks in summer. I feel faint just recounting the episode.
Other lessons I took home from my week in the Big Apple and upstate New York:
* Don’t try to eat late in Manhattan’s Financial District, even on the weekend. You’ll end up at a Marriott sports bar, staring at old movies and ESPN, while passing around plates of calamari. Conversations will be as fractured as the food.
* The bomboloni at Sullivan Street Bakery in Hell’s Kitchen might be the perfect breakfast pastry: light, fluffy, not cloyingly sweet, and, if you want, with seasonal fruit filling piped inside. Best of all, it’s small, no larger than a Parker House roll (and just as airy). Unless you order them in blocks of four, like sliders at White Castle, you can keep the calorie count down.
* Excessive heat is sometimes a good thing: The spicy radishes I ordered at Terroir on the Porch — the patio outpost on the High Line — were dusted with freshly cracked black pepper, adding another level of piquancy to the dish. Heat, after all, is not some element fixed to a certain thermonuclear temperature; it can be applied in layers that are detectable and delightful to the tongue.
* Restaurants need to offer seasonal wine menus. Too many lists are stagnant, particularly during the warmer months when heavy reds are about as appealing as a cup of hot cocoa in a sauna. I’d love to see a much wider selection of roses during the summer.
* The new surf and turf: At two separate meals — one at Michael White’s Marea near Central Park and the other at David Chang’s Ma Peche in Midtown — I ordered a seafood dish (red wine-braised octopus at Marea, striped bass at Ma Peche) that came with a sauce or broth thickened with bone marrow. Both dishes were, in a word, spectacular.
* At more than 100 miles away, Hudson, N.Y., has become a defacto suburb of Manhattan. The latest evidence: Two former chefs from wd~50 have opened a modernist restaurant, The Crimson Sparrow, in the town of 6,700 residents.
* The latest evidence that Hudson has not become a suburb of Manhattan: The Crimson Sparrow is open for dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays only.
* Drunk food is, and always will be, just drunk food. A visit to a White Castle on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel proved, once and for all, what a lecherous old troll my palate becomes after a few drinks. It’ll let anything slide down its throat, including greasy little burgers that, when assessed while dead sober, will sit in your stomach like spoonfuls of Crisco eaten straight from the can.