Monday, January 30, 2006

Other Planets

Within the past 3 days, I experienced two of them. One was Saturn—the other was the Upper East Side.
Last weekend, I told you how I’d been playing ping pong in a basement Village dive. It was a little funky, a little grungy… not what you’d call upscale. This weekend, my plans took me to the Upper East Side, which feels like a whole different world.
First, I picked up my friend at the apartment where she was staying, in a luxury high-rise post-war building. The apartment was a studio at least 3 times the size of mine, and a bargain at about $2,000 a month, rent-stabilized. Unfortunately the person who lives there really can’t afford it because although she employs a cleaning lady and eats out every night, she makes less than $40,000 a year, and won't ask her wealthy family to help her pay her credit card debts—I didn’t know whether to see that as a sign of hope amid the dysfunction. But I think it is driven by wimpiness rather than responsible independence.
For dinner, we managed to eat cheap by finding a BYOB Afghan restaurant, where entrees were about $11-12 including salad. (Tip from the wine shop: Riesling is an excellent choice with Afghan food.) Afterwards, we went for a little walk to get dessert. When you stroll along Lexington Ave. in the 70s, you can get this feeling that money is just in the air, and this is not even the ritziest zone up there. Lots of elegant boutiques and antique shops and restaurants—it’s hard to say why it feels wealthier than, say, Brooklyn Heights, but it just does. We ended up at a very crowded French bakery & chocolate shop called Payard. Just staring in the windows would be fun—they’re probably especially colorful now because of Valentine’s Day but I’m sure it's always a show. We had some delicious little meringues and a yummy éclair. It was probably the best éclair I’ve ever had—but it was probably the first time I ever paid $6 for an éclair. All things considered, though, Payard is not that much more expensive than any other café if you’re just having coffee and pastries—but I think a box of chocolates could do you some serious damage.
The next night, I went out with a different friend in Brooklyn, and had another rich and chocolatey dessert—it cost less but was not as satisfying as the éclair. There are two relatively new places that have opened in Park Slope, both of which specialize in chocolate and wine. So far, I think the Chocolate Room on 5th Ave. is much better than Cocoa Bar on 7th Ave. But I may have to go back to both of them quite a few times to make a proper determination.

As for Saturn? There was a guy on 7th Ave. with a telescope. We saw him on our way to dinner, and on the way back decided we had to stop and join the line to take a peek. I was as excited as a little kid when I looked through the eyepiece and saw Saturn and all its rings, small but clear as anything. My friend's take on the subject? “That guy said he’d been standing out there for 4 hours letting people look through his telescope. I would have charged them a buck...”


Caitlin said...

As far as I know Boston only has one Afghan restaurant and the food is so great. But it's so popular there is almost always a very long wait and it's a little on the pricey side (though probably quite reasonable in the spectrum of "really good boston restaurants") I used to go there once every couple of months when I worked near by, but haven't been in at least a couple of years.

Now I'm craving afghani food. sigh.

Anonymous said...

I like Payard, have the tried the tea nazi on 5th street between 2 and bowery? Don't really know the name of the place, but it's a cute little shop with lots of children's books.

Anonymous said...

payard is one of the most $$$ bakeries in the city (their cakes that is...smaller items aren't so bad) but is very good.