Happy New YearBy Larry Levine –

I love writing these annual reviews that recall special meals from the year gone by. They are reminders of how fortunate I am. For as I remember the meals and the experiences I remember, also, those who accompanied me on this journey in my third career, while the second one still is active. No one is a more constant presence than my partner in life, Jennifer. She was with me at every one of the meals shared in this article.

This year’s standouts are completely East Coast centric, gathered during our May meanderings from South Florida to my old hometown of New York City.

We spent considerable time in many of our standby favorites in the greater Los Angeles area, the Pacific Northwest, and New York during the year, but it’s the discoveries – the new foods and restaurants and experiences that come flooding back as the calendar readies for another flip.

Here are some of the year’s highlights in alphabetical order:

BARBARA JEAN’S EASY SOUTHERN DINING on St. Simon’s Island GA – Surrounded by folks who speak southern, we got a look at what hopefully is the harbinger of the new south. A bunch of white kids were the waiters – blonde young college age women and men – and they were serving a restaurant in which half the diners were black. And the food they were serving was true southern – dirty rice, with sausage, chicken, bacon and peppers; jumbo, buttermilk fried shrimp with sides of red beans and rice and steamed cabbage. After dinner we took a walk to the nearby pier, I felt a special kind of contentment, not just for the meal we had eaten, but even more for the experience of having eaten it in a fully integrated restaurant in the Deep South. https://www.tabletalkatlarrys.com/index.php/2013/05/travels-with-jennifer-and-larry-chapter-4-great-food-and-progress-in-the-deep-south/#sthash.43mEUU2m.dpuf

HIGH COTTON at Kitty Hawk NC – America’s food …? No, it isn’t the hot dog or the hamburger. It’s barbecue. There is virtually no corner of the U.S. that doesn’t have its own style of BBQ, and within each regional style there are sub-regions and as many variations as there are pit masters and back yard grillers. This year I realized a long-held goal of tasting authentic North Carolina BBQ. I learned that the Q in Eastern NC and Western NC are not the same. The moment came at High Cotton on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, just a short hop from where the Wright Brothers launched their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk. https://www.tabletalkatlarrys.com/index.php/2013/05/travels-with-jennifer-and-larry-chapter-5-bbq-americas-food/#sthash.PxCNqFIO.dpuf

JIM’S STEAKS in Philadelphia PA – I had a cheese steak sandwich on South Street in Philadelphia for the first time. The Red Cap at the railroad station said it’s the only place he goes. I couldn’t make myself have it the purist way – with cheese whiz. Instead, I had it with provolone. https://www.tabletalkatlarrys.com/index.php/2013/05/travels-with-jennifer-and-larry-chapter-7-sandwiches-sushi-and-ice-cream-in-philadelphia/#sthash.bAdxqGQ6.dpuf

LE BERNARDIN in Manhattan – If there is a Citadel among fish restaurants on this planet, this must be it. The three-star Michelin restaurant opened in Paris in 1972 and moved to mid-town Manhattan in 1986. We dined here our first night in New York. Our four-course prix fixe menu featured fish, fish, and fish. Pen Shell Clam sashimi … charred octopus … monkfish with morels. The room is elegant; the waiters are helpful, with just the right balance of professionalism and friendliness; and was the couple over there really getting engaged in front of the whole restaurant? The company of our cousins Barry and Beverly made the night even more special.

NATHAN’S FAMOUS HOT DOGS at Coney Island in Brooklyn NY. It was a warm sunny Memorial Day and the lines were 15 and 16 deep all weekend at the newly-reopened Nathan’s. Take that, hurricane Sandy. Still my favorite hot dogs anywhere, with just some mustard and kraut and a side of those thick, crinkly fries. There were a million people on the beach and boardwalk at Coney Island and I felt like a kid again.

READING TERMINAL MARKET in Philadelphia PA – At this converted railroad terminal in there are food booths of almost any ethnicity imaginable, produce markets, fish markets, meat markets, cheese markets and just about anything else one might want. I was in a daze at what was on offer in the meat and fish cases. https://www.tabletalkatlarrys.com/index.php/2013/05/travels-with-jennifer-and-larry-chapter-7-sandwiches-sushi-and-ice-cream-in-philadelphia/#sthash.bAdxqGQ6.dpuf

SARDI’S in Manhattan – History lives here in the form of 90 years of dining before and after shows in the New York theater district. My mother hung out here with Broadway columnists and celebrities during her time as a big band singer in the 1930s. I scanned the room, imagining where she might have sat.

SOFT SHELL CRABS on Chesapeake Bay MD – We had just crossed the mid line of May and I already had eaten six Maryland soft shell crabs, cooked four different ways in four different restaurants. Then I tasted Yuengling amber lager produced in Pottsville PA at America’s oldest brewery, founded in 1829. https://www.tabletalkatlarrys.com/index.php/2013/05/travels-with-jennifer-and-larry-chapter-6-soft-shell-crabs-and-yuengling-beer/#sthash.1QsJ1Jt3.dpuf

THE MODERN at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. This was our second night in New York. There’s the bar room and the main dining room, two totally different feelings. A fabulous meal in a beautiful setting. And for this Californian it was a “get-out-of-foie gras-jail free” card. Once again, cousins Barry and Beverly were our tablemates.

TIELLA’S RESTAURANT in Manhattan. The restaurant is at the foot of the Queens Borough Bridge on the Manhattan side. It’s a great neighborhood Italian place, where I got roast quail stuffed with foie gras. Sometimes the world just seems to want to make me happy. Our friends Anne and Jeff introduced us to the restaurant after an afternoon spent on Roosevelt Island.

As I read back over this list I’m struck by the eclectic nature of the selection – everything from hot dogs to Michelin stars. It’s been a long trip from the streets of Brooklyn, where I grew up eating Jewish home cooking and deli food, to where I am today. Or has it?

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