week 19: things i miss about nyc

Being in New York last week--roaming the frigid yet crowded streets, seeing friends and family, stepping in and out of restaurants and cafes, of taxis and subways--heightened my awareness of things I miss about home. Above all is people; if you're reading this, I probably miss you. But even if every one of you moved here, I'd still miss:
  • Roast pork buns from a restaurant-bakery on Walker Street at Baxter Street (an intersection that to the untrained eye would appear to be on Canal Street, but, astoundingly, isn't) whose pork buns I've eaten in 4 different decades, but I've never had any idea of the name of the place.
  • Doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle at the Odeon. 
  • A porchetta sandwich at Il Buco; fresh-from-the-oven bagels; salt-baked soft-shell crabs at New York Noodletown; good sushi pretty much everywhere; fennel-dusted sweetbreads at Babbo; breakfast at Balthazar; the fatty duck at Fatty Crab; a gooey, chewy slice from Ray's on 6th at 11th Street; chow fun from wherever.
  • Crowds everywhere, all the time.
  • The 8 minutes the separates the placement of an order with Excellent Dumpling House and those dumplings' arrival at the door.
  • The subway; unlimited-ride MetroCards; Sam's impersonation of a conductor, "Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a problem up ahead."
  • The West Village in the snow; Duane Park in the spring; the terrifying anarchy of playgrounds with water spraying willy-nilly in the summer; the Central Park Mall in the fall.
  • Soho House, aka Daddy's Office with the Swimming Pool.
  • The DVR; a virtually unlimited supply of syndicated sitcoms; and (I'm surprised to have discovered) the NY1 theme song.
  • Walking from TriBeCa through the civic center and then Chinatown and then the Lower East Side all the way to the absurd tennis courts under the Williamsburg Bridge.
  • The view of the skyline from the Kosciuszko Bridge.
  • Coffee bars where you can sit for a full day: Think Coffee in the Village; Cafe Cafe in SoHo; Pecan in TriBeCa; Grounded in the West Village.
  • Rampant casual profanity. (I'm in an Upper West Side hardware store, first thing last Monday morning, to buy a small screwdriver. "Whaddya need it for?" the guy asks me. So I can open the boys' new walkie-talkies, to insert batteries. The guy nods, purses his lips, says "Kids' shit" as a clarification, then shrugs.)
  • The spectator and participant sport (if you do it right, it can be a cardio workout) of celebrity-spotting. 
  • Wallowing in my hypocrisy of loathing Duane Reade yet spending money there every other day.
  • Taking the boys on a post-dinner run to the Mr. Softee truck outside Washington Market Park.
  • Corner pizzerias (more on this follows).
a recipe: chicken parmesan

There are so many things that are great about corner pizzerias: the comforting reliability that you're never much farther than a block from one, and it's almost guaranteed to be open; the inexpensiveness of everything in the formica-clad shop; the uniformity of the experience; the portability of a slice (especially if you follow the Mike Carner custom of absolutely prohibiting the counterman from reheating it). All in all, bang for buck, it's tough to beat a slice of pizza. 

Or a chicken parmesan hero. I miss chicken parm, whether it's an utterly unwieldy hero from Mariella's on 2nd Avenue, or a heaping paper-plate arrangement with pasta from Maffei's in Chelsea, or even the $25 entree at Patsy's (if someone other than myself is paying). But I haven't come across chicken parm here in Lux. To re-create that true pizzeria delicacy, I believe you have to (1) skimp on the Parmigiano--just a dusting, like an unpredicted snow flurry--because this should really be called Chicken Mozzarella; and (2) make a sweeter tomato sauce than feels natural (I believe that's how the pizzerias get the kids addicted). Of course, if you live in New York City, you'll probably never make chicken parm yourself. Why would you? Me, though, I have to. 

olive oil
1 small onion, minced
tomato paste
1 small can of San Marzano tomatoes
salt and pepper
sugar, possibly
chicken cutlets
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
unseasoned breadcrumbs
grated Parmigano-Reggiano
mozzarella, sliced thin

First, make red sauce: heat a bit of oil in a small pot over medium flame. Add the onion and cook until wilted but not colored, just a few minutes. Stir in a couple tablespoons tomato paste and let cook for 1 minute. Pour in the can of tomatoes, bring to a vigorous simmer, and let cook for a half-hour or so. Taste for salt, which you probably don't need, and pepper, which you do, and sugar: remember, you want a sweeter-than-normal sauce, but don't add more than  a teaspoon, tops; this is not dessert. Add some more tomato paste if you want it more tomato-y. Using a blender, a food processor, or an immersion blender, whiz this till mostly smooth. Return it to a low simmer until ready to use. 

Preheat the oven to 350 (or, frankly, whatever the hell you want) and start to make the chicken, which is roughly the same as making schnitzel. In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons olive oil over medium flame. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In 3 shallow bowls, put (1) flour, (2) the beaten eggs, and (3) breadcrumbs. Dip each chicken cutlet in the flour, then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess of each coating. Place the coated cutlets in the hot oil, and cook for a couple minutes per side, until lightly golden; the chicken doesn't need to be cooked through, so don't try, or you may end up burning your coating unnecessarily. Replenish the oil as needed, between batches, and wipe out the pan of any fallen-off coating, which will burn if left in there; make sure the new oil you add gets hot before adding new cutlets.

Now, spread a film of tomato sauce on the bottom of a roasting pan that's big enough to hold all your chicken in a single layer, which you'll now arrange in that that single layer. Top with more tomato sauce, spreading some between the cutlets as well, but not utterly smothering them--you want some crispy breaded chicken to remain un-sauced. Sprinkle lightly with Parmigiano, then generously (but, again, not completely) with mozzarella. Slide the pan into the oven, and let cook until the mozzarella begins to bubble and ooze and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes before serving, or, in the style of the pizzeria, serve it immediately with no warning and make everyone burn the roofs of their mouths in unison.