When Maw and Paw Manhattan tell me they are coming to visit, two things usually happen: 1) I am delighted, which is then followed quickly by 2) a stab of fear in my heart. I don't worry for their safety, I don't worry for their ability to get around, I worry what restaurant I am going to take them to.
This sounds incredibly insane, and it definitely is, but at least let me explain. I love my parents so much, as we all do, and I want nothing more than when they visit to give them a positive experience. There are so many restaurants in New York, and so many quality ones to choose from. They deserve the best in my opinion, so if a restaurant doesn't meet their standards--which, admittedly, are not very high: does a place have good food and a comfortable atmosphere? That's it, that's all they care about-- it almost feels like I haven't done right by them. Like after all these years, after all they've given me, I still couldn't get my shit together and find something worthwhile. Insane, right? And much too deep, they tell me every time the come visit. "Uh, can't we just go get a burger, Lyss?"
When my parents go out to eat in Florida, where they live, they have a circulating stable of places they pick from, and every so often they'll branch out. They like good Italian food, good French food, good Chinese food, sandwiches, occasionally Greek, occasionally Mexican, and they've recently gotten into Korean and Thai food. They're not especially adventurous eaters, but they also know tasty, thoughtfully-prepared food when they have it. They don't have to be impressed with kale or unpronounceable vegetables or farm-raised this or organic that or locally sourced whatever. If it's delish and it's not too complicated, they can get on board. And when they come to New York, they're on vacation, so they don't need to get fancy every night (one night, sure; every night, no).
All that being said, the one thing my father asks for whenever he comes to New York is a choice Italian place. (That, and a trip to Nancy's Pig Heaven for some incredible spare ribs). I have not yet, though, been able to deliver on this request. I don't regularly eat Italian food, so finding a spot that's worthy when I haven't been there is a challenge. I have tried bring M & P to some spots but none ever cut the mustard, as it were. Paw likes a down-home kind of restaurant, where the tablecloths aren't white linen, where there are paper napkins, where you don't have to make a reservation and if you tried to they'd look at you funny. He also likes bolognese. I've seen him order it with every kind of pasta from gnocchi to spaghetti and in true connoisseur fashion, tries it whenever it's available in whatever restaurant we go to.
Recently, though, I was able to find one restaurant I think will be a good fit. Though he had had a long day at work and neither of us said we were going to be eating too many carbs any longer, SE let me drag him to Celeste on the Upper West Side. We were easily able to grab a table when we rolled into the unmarked, brick-walled restaurant at around 9pm, flanked on either side by a couple finishing up their tiramisu (which looked incredible) and a woman enjoying a nice dinner to herself (what turned out to be spaghetti alla vongole, or spaghetti with clams). We ordered one of their signature wood-fired pizzas, (Margherita) made in a brick oven, and a dish of their homemade pasta (Paccheri Vesuviana, medium-length tubes of pasta topped with ricotta and tomato sauce). And everything was unbelievable. The mozzarella cheese seeped into the tomato sauce which seeped into the bread and all melted into my mouth at once. I had one of those moments when you finish a slice of pizza and suddenly you're so happy there's one more there waiting for you. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the ricotta and tomato sauce spilling from the tubes and happily onto my fork when I cut into them. When we ate all the pasta, we dipped the bread into the sauce to sop more of it up, unwilling to let it go. We didn't get to try the bolognese, but there's always next time. The waitstaff was kind, the manager was friendly, and we didn't feel rushed during our meal. It was one of these moments of simple pleasures, delicious food in a quiet little brick restaurant, no need for splash or glitter, something perfect after a long week. The next time M & P come to visit, I hope they will feel the same.
502 Amsterdam Avenue at W. 84th St.