You have to break the rules sometimes when traveling to get to the good stuff. When I’m in New York, I typically refuse to head above 72nd Street unless I’m in the Park. There’s nothing up there for me really. The last time I ended up in Harlem was because Yonathan convinced me there was good food to be found, and he wanted to explore his new neighborhood, and like the good brother I am, I gave in. All we found were over priced plates of mediocre food, rain on our heads, and leftovers from the set of Precious. As much as I used to love Harlem, it’s not the same. It’s so far from Alain LeRoy Locke’s Harlem, Malcolm’s Harlem, Maya, Nina, and Sammy’s Harlem, and closer to Alexander Hamilton and JD Salinger’s Harlem. It’s just not the Harlem I loved in 2008 when squatting on 142nd and Lennox. So, years ago, I stopped going above 72nd street. This trip, I broke the rules for good reasons.
I rarely get to see my buddy, Long, a fellow Bison practicing Medicine in the city. “I’m in town,” I told him. And right before I could follow up with “let’s grab a bite,” he hits me with “Come uptown to 88th & 2nd and let’s eat. I know you’re hungry.” We’re both firm believers that whoever proposed the meal pays for the meal, and going a few extra blocks and avenues for a free meal may not be so bad. Admittedly, it took a while to convince myself to leave the hotel because, thanks to my amazing friend, Andrea, I was in the financial district, and the Upper East Side seemed like Never Never Land.
I always end up in New York during Restaurant Week. We copped squats at Café D’Alsace, a dope little French spot with a wine list the size of a Cheesecake Factory menu, and a Prix Fixe Menu. Always opt for the Prix Fixe menu if you eat as much as I do.
After the half bottle of Armand de Brignac Rose Champagne, I took down a whole Soft Shell Crab for an appetizer, Lobster Risotto for the entrée with huge chunks of lobster claw and tail meat, and of course the Crème Brulee for dessert. It’s not commonplace for me to eat this well and extravagantly when I travel since I’m usually on a tight budget, but when your friend offers to pay and you know they can spend it without blinking an eye or shedding tear, you go.
I walked out of there, down the Upper East Side streets, remembering all the reasons I love New York City more than I love Los Angeles. The summer nights are warm, the walks, no matter where you’re going, are full of interesting little things like kids laughing at nothing, women arguing loudly on their phones with their boyfriends, cops harassing the homeless, and a strange man dressed in a mermaid costume, crawling down the sidewalk pretending to be out of oxygen. New York, even when it seems the ocean is pouring from the sky, is a beautiful place.
The more I walked and remembered, the more the train back to the hotel seemed unnecessary. The east side, though I’ve lived there for stints, is full of wonder and undiscovered territory. I walk a few avenues to see the wall surrounding Central Park and the museums across the street. Grand Central is always pushing people out and pulling people in. Lovers walk, talk, kiss, and hold hands down the street. I slow down and take photos of them.
Many thanks to my dear friend, Long, for making me break the rules. And Kudos to anyone who can now get me to come above 88th Street.
Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.