Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pickle Tea at 44 1/2

One benefit of getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the gym is that you have your evenings free for leisure. While I consider the gym necessary for both my physical and mental stability and well being, I don't normally consider it fun or leisure, unless I'm climbing. And even that sometimes can feel like a necessary chore, if it's done inside.

Anyway, I've been trying to explore Manhattan (and especially its eateries) a little more with this newfound free time. That probably sounds a little silly since I spend SO MUCH TIME in the city, but to be honest, that's almost entirely for work and the gym.

When I'm going out for dinner or drinks, my preferences in the past years have strongly tilted in favor of Brooklyn. No lines, relaxed atmospheres, food that is just as good if not better than many "comparable" Manhattan eateries (at half the price), no annoying B&T running me over and pissing me off with their hideous accents and trying-so-hard-it's-painful outfits. Most of my friends also live in Brooklyn so this usually isn't a problem.

However, now that B, one of my favorite dining companions and closest friends, lives in the city, I find that I'm more often thinking about where I want to eat on the island, as opposed to across the river. This is what led us to Tia Pol on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, B and I met up around 9 near his apartment (around 35th and 10th -- I'm not even sure what to call this area. Upper Chelsea? LoHelKit? SubClinton? OnTopo'Tunnel?) and briskly headed northward to a place he had recommended for a quiet outdoor drink and a small bite to eat, 44 1/2, on 10th between 44th and 45th.

I find sitting outside for drinks or food in New York a mixed bag. I hate sitting on a front sidewalk -- people gawk at your plate, cab horns drown out conversation, car exhaust stinks everything up, tables are invariably wobbly, and pigeons peck around your feet and try to mate near your sandals. Gross.

Back gardens, however, are another story. When they're not crowded, they can be serene and lovely and give you a mini-escape from the insanity happening all around you. So anyway, the back garden at 44 1/2 is really quiet and spacious, with candles and trees and gravel and an open sky. It's great.

While it seemed like it could be a scene-y place on the weekend (good looking waiters in kitschy T-shirts with gelled up hair), for a late snack on a Wednesday it was calm and frankly what I was most impressed with was that the waiters were totally nice even though the entirety of our order consisted of a glass of chianti, an iced tea and a $12 thin crust pizza with crimini, black trumpet and oyster mushrooms and a healthy crumbling of some very tasty, earthy kind of cheese. B had already eaten at Cafe Fiorello and I didn't want to pile it on that late in the day, so we kept it very light. Restaurant staff -- lousy ones, anyway -- can make you feel like a "waste of space" if you don't want to order much, and on a busy night, I can understand it. But they were nothing but genuinely nice and accomodating. I'm sure it would have been different at 9 p.m. on a Saturday, but whatever.

Anyway, sometimes food at places like this seems like an afterthought, but the pizza was delicious -- salty and earthy and crispy, generous on the mushrooms and with an unusual but complimentary cheese on the top (sorry, don't know what it was). One caveat: B's iced tea, while sporting a lovely rose hue, tasted vaguely, for some reason, of pickles.

So if you're in Hell's Kitchen and need a late night snack, I endorse 44 1/2. But not the pickle-y iced tea.

Now, back to Brooklyn. The Gowanus Yacht Club is open, and there's no way I'm missing dollar dogs and $2 beers. It's a block away from my house, and I'm thinking of just pitching a tent there for the rest of the summer.

Finally: the heckle index today has hit an all-time high. Ladies, if you're outside, and especially if you're wearing a skirt -- bring a taser. Apparently no matter how white your legs are, you will be harassed, honked at, and endure raunchy "tooth sucking noises" all day.

Catcallers: GO TO HELL AND LEAVE US ALONE! Let us walk down the street in peace.

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