Lately I haven’t felt like writing. Buoyed with joy at having moved to New York and all the eating options, I’ve recently been brought down to earth trying to find a job. I’d been forewarned that it takes awhile and that company’s here are ‘quick to fire, slow to hire’, but was still dismayed at some of the reactions to what I had originally thought was a strong resume. After applying for 29 jobs and meeting with 3 different recruitment agencies, yesterday I was offered a role at my number one choice for company’s to work for in New York. It’s not 100% ideal; it is a slightly different role than I interviewed for and is a 2 month temporary contract, but I am thrilled. If they choose not to keep me permanently after 2 months, at the very least I will have some New York experience and that seems to be the hardest thing to convince people of here; that I have what it takes to work in tough, competitive New York. As a result of the job search, I haven’t felt like writing. I had an overwhelming sense of guilt that all of my efforts should be funnelled into finding a job and contributing to rent – not indulging my hobby of taking photos of meals and writing it up for people to see. Starting Monday I will be back to full time employment and my guilt is over.
So where have I been eating? Largely I’ve shied away from the well known New York must-haves. No cronuts for me (although news that July’s flavour is blackberry may lure me into that cronut line yet, for I absolutely love blackberries), no famed burger at Minetta Tavern, and no pastrami sandwiches in New York, although a Shake Shack session may have quietly snuck in. I will eventually find my way to all those places, but for now I am appreciating the less hyped eateries. Places that even food-obsessed visitors wouldn’t think to visit and I feel like I’ve been lucky enough to eat at some honest gems. I’ve been taken by locals to Decibal; a dive bar in a basement in Little Tokyo that specialises in sake by the glass. I’ve been taken to Casamir, a truly amazing French restaurant on Avenue B, that looked more authentically French than anywhere I ate in Paris and served the most amazing steak tartare and frites, and where the French waiters managed to combine French charm with New York cool. We also found through some Google luck, the cocktail bar Attaboy. Hidden away on a small unassuming street behind a heavy steel door in LES, Attaboy has no menus, just bespoke cocktails created especially for you once you discuss preferred spirits and flavours. Of course the drinks come at a fairly hefty price (a flat $16 per drink), but bespoke drinks, genuinely friendly service and no attitude at the door to get in (something I honestly feared about bars in New York) makes the price totally worth it.
If you’re still reading, I do finally talk about the restaurant in the title. Calexico first came on my radar after reading Bionic Bites’ post. I mentally filed the name away in the back of my head and SPOILER ALERT: my favourite bowl of food in NYC so far has come from here.
Even with the windows and doors flung open, the room is hot. High ceiling fans spin furiously but do little to reach us closer to the ground. A 6 pack of hot sauce sits on every table and to Duncan’s embarrassment, I pull them all out to inspect and take a photo.
Cocktails are ordered. A classic margarita for Duncan and the only non-tequila based cocktail, the El Jardin for myself. Gin based, it’s fresh and grassy with cucumber and a hint of jalapeño that grows more strongly in the back of your throat on the 2nd round.
Not too hungry, Duncan opts for 2 tacos; the Pollo Asado (chicken, avocado sauce and pico de gallo) and the Gringo (crunchy shell, and pretty much all the fixins you’d find in an Old El Paso home taco kit). Surprisingly the Gringo taco is a hit and a second one is ordered. One a second visit a few weeks later, so great is Duncan’s love for this taco he ordered 4 of them and nothing more. Last night when I announced we were having a frittata and salad for dinner, his face crumbled and he looked at me hopefully and said “Tacos? Calexico?”
He nearly won me over too, but only because I was thinking about what I would order. The Baja fish burrito bowl. I much prefer bowls over the usual rolled burrito. Much neater and I prefer scooping up my food by fork. I love every bit of this bowl. I’ve ordered it twice and I know I’ll order it again. Even the rice at the bottom of the bowl is full of flavour. Black beans are creamy but not mushy, the shredded ‘slaw is bright and fresh with just a tickle of spice. The mango salsa adds sweetness. On top are two battered pieces of fish. At a push I’d criticise and say that for a few extra dollars I’d happily pay for a third piece of fish, but I’m fairly greedy. The piece de resistance is the ‘crack’ sauce on top. A chipotle laced sauce, this is stuff of dreams. I can’t put my finger on what makes this sauce so good, but it’s addictive. I scraped the bowl clean to pick up every last trace. On the second visit I ordered an extra portion on the side and it was admittedly a little bit overkill. I’ve learnt my lesson. Less is more.
In case you hadn’t picked up on it yet, both Duncan and I really love Calexico. I’m already scheming ways to get us back there this weekend, but honestly I don’t think it will take too much arm twisting. I may even order something different!
If you’ve made it this far, here are some New York observations about life in the Big Apple:
– I hate the coins here. And the money in general. I feel like I’ve complained about this before but it still irks me. All the paper money looks the same, and none of the coins have a simple number on them. Plus the idea of a quarter dollar is so weird. Whenever I count out coins at a store, I forget the true value and in my mind simply assign it as being a 20 cent, only to end up with too much when I’m done counting.
– I hate the humidity here. It’s unbearable. I grew up in Australia, but 3 years of living in London has ruined me for warm weather. Walking the streets of New York during the day is like walking through a very mild furnace. The sidewalks soak up the heat and it rises around me, making me very cranky and unpleasant to be around.
– There are Australians are everywhere. I hear that distinctive twang of an accent and my whole body freezes. I know I am one, but I’m not a great representative the country – I hate sport, hate the beach (mostly the sand) and despite having grown up there, neither Duncan nor myself have very strong accents. New York seems to be the go-to place for Australians that London was 10 years ago.