Tomato Dreams

Tomato Dreams
Miss summer? Take your tastebuds back.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Can't Get Your Kids Out on the Town (with you)? Try this.

I dunno about you, but it's getting harder and harder for me to drag my guys to all of the things I think they "should do" or "should be exposed to" in New York and other cities. All I have to do is mention the word "museum," utter the word "concert," or raise the specter of a walk past historic monuments and the eye rolling and groaning that ensues is enough to make me pull a Marie Osmond on all of them.

There is one strategy that does seem to work, however.  It, of course, involves food. For lack of a better name, I've come to call it "Food Hunting." Here's how it works.

I'll wake up one weekend morning with a bee in my bonnet and declare, "We're going into New York today." Ben will bitch that he has too much homework. Noah will warn me that he has lacrosse at 1 PM. Husband Paul will slink out of the room. At which point I will allay their worst fears and put it right out front that no museums, shows, or concerts are involved and that we can leave for the city whenever they so desire and come home whenever they please.

The Mission: Come up with some food that someone among us is dreaming about--tacos al pastor, doughnuts, pickles, Cuban sandwiches--then pinpoint the spot in New York that dishes up the very best. This usually involves a mass scurry toward laptops, with me and one or two of the boys Googling things like"best taco stands in New York" or plugging search terms into Chowhound or FoodNetwork.com. Eventually we come to the table, argue for our contenders and ultimately agree upon a destination--usually a decision based on a combination of  location and overall vibe, in addition to culinary raves.

Then, it's off to the city--no dress up, no big formal itinerary, no clock ticking. If we don't take the train, we'll usually park uptown at my mother-in-law's--the object isn't to park right outside the door of our destination but to wend our way toward it. That might involve a few subway stops. A long walk. Even a ferry ride. We arrive, devour, and then....

Something great happens: The day--the City-- unfolds around us. We find ourselves in a neighborhood we might never have deliberately visited. With their bellies happily full, the guys are game to wander into quirky shops, fiddle around with guitars at a hole-in-the-wall music store, even pop into a gallery or two with me. We might hang out and watch a sidewalk chess game. Or pick up star anise at Little India grocery. In short, an immediate and tasty goal gets them motivated.Yet they end up discovering the spontaneous treasures of New York that no deliberate game plan can deliver.

During our food hunts, we've aimed for enormous sub sandwiches at Faicco's in the West Village. We've scarfed down the fries with Vietnamese pineapple mayo at Pommes Frites in the East. There's been fresh mozzerella on Arthur Avenue. And toasted marshmallow milkshakes near Union Square. We've chased after culinary booty in other cities--from the best ham and cheese croissants ever at Tartine in San Francisco's Mission District to the kick-ass steak tacos at La Super Rica in Santa Barbara. Have all of our food hunts netted the best of the best foods? Who really knows. Have all the neighborhoods been enthralling? Of course not. But one thing is for sure:  It's one great way to get your family up off the couch and out into the fray. Give it a try and let me know what you find.