A life lived through dining

Even when eating out is out, dining can still be wonderful.

Like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, I often feel as I have measured out my life in — coffee spoons — restaurant coffee spoons, that is. As regular readers of WAG may have seen in my potted biography at the front of the magazine, I began my “professional” career at age 6, when I invented a game called Restaurants, played at English teatime, in which I would “order” cheese on toast or scrambled eggs, which my late mother would then patiently cook and serve. She was a good as well as gracious cook, a rare combination indeed, and she doubled as a pretty waitress, smiling contentedly with a mother’s love and indulgence when the precocious budding critic within me awarded the restaurant 10 out of 10 — which he invariably did.

Around the time I turned 9, we took a family vacation to Spain. At a restaurant in Seville, one of those rather dispiriting “tipico” restaurants designed for tourists, where the laminated plastic menu appeared in several languages, each indicated by its national flag, the typically Spanish entrées featured fish and chips and roast chicken. The chicken came in two portion sizes — either a whole chicken or a half. “I’ll have the whole chicken,” ventured squeaky-voiced, obnoxious little me, without having even been asked. “Jeremy,” my father said gently, looking down at me querulously through his black-rimmed specs, “is that wise?” He reasonably suggested that a whole chicken might turn out to be overly large. Wouldn’t it make sense to start with half a chicken? Then, if I was still hungry,  he would happily order me another half. Eminently fair and sensible, but little Jeremy did not agree. “I want a whole chicken,” I said, my voice becoming a little squeakier and my little foot stamping under the table.

“Let’s just start with a half, like Daddy says,” put in my mother, in that annoying way parents have of making it sound as if they are the parent and you are just a child. “No,” I said, “absolutely not. It must be a whole chicken and, if not, I’ll… I’ll….” In fact, I did not have a clue what I would do, but suddenly, inspiration grabbed me by the collar of my little pastel blue polo shirt and I jumped up, out of my chair, ran the length of the room and out of the restaurant and into the black Andalusian night.

I don’t recall how I was reunited with my family but I do know that I came to no harm and my tantrum was quickly forgiven. I also know that, forever after, when I was in a restaurant with my parents, and chicken was on the menu, I would be asked whether I intended ordering the whole bird or just the half.

Key moments in my life have been punctuated by restaurants. My first paycheck, earned teaching English during my gap year at a firm of French aeronautical engineers, was blown at La Grande Cascade, the glorious 19th century restaurant located in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. It was a dinner I will never forget.

When I arrived in Oxford, England, as an undergraduate — lonely, nervous, knowing nobody — I passed a glorious, circular neoclassical building at dusk on my first day. There through the ground floor windows I could see what looked like people dining, each table set with a beautiful table lamp — such a magnificent setting. “Aha,” I thought to myself, delight replacing anxiety, “with a restaurant like this right in the center of town, I am going to get on just fine in this rather daunting place.” The following day, I learned that the building was in fact not a restaurant at all, but the Radcliffe Camera, the magnificent reading room which is now a part of Oxford’s famous Bodleian library.

I met my future wife in London’s famous Ivy restaurant, when we found ourselves seated next to each other at a charity dinner. And in July 2000, we marked my appointment as restaurant editor of Condé Nast’s Tatler by ducking into a newly opened restaurant — Alain Ducasse at the Essex House on Central Park South in Manhattan — to dine. The prix fixe lunch for two, which included a bottle of white wine from Long Island but did not include tax or tip, came to a monstrous $540. “Long Island, but short finish,” I remarked wryly on the wine, in my first Condé Nast column, and those last two words were also nearly ascribed to the length of my career on the magazine, when my managing editor saw the size of the lunch bill.

Restaurants have always been there for me, a major part of my “professional” career, but also, as for all of us, as places to celebrate special occasions and to buoy us up when we are feeling, as the Italians say, sotto. Until March of this year, when suddenly, restaurants were no longer there, at least not as we knew them. With the arrival of the pandemic, a temporary measure allowed restaurants in the tristate area a window to open with some restrictions, such as additional spacing between tables, but that window was short-lived. No industry, however, is more resilient or more resourceful than the restaurant industry, and now with virtually all establishments prevented by law from serving guests on the premises but permitted to sell takeout food, scores of restaurants in the region — some of my favorites among them — are selling food and restaurant dishes to go.

Here are seven of the best:

273 Kitchen — This charming Greek restaurant in Harrison, does — guess what? — a whole lemon chicken to go. For me, it’s a no-clucker, sorry, no-brainer. 273 Halstead Ave., 914-732-3333, 273kitchen.com

Roc-N-Ramen’s gyoza dumplings, steamed gua bao buns and ramen all lend themselves to takeout and successful reheating at home. And the community-minded folks at R-N-R just couldn’t be kinder or more accommodating. 19 Anderson St. in New Rochelle, 914-365-2267, rocnramen914.com

If you’re hankering for Italian, Rosie’s Bistro Italiano in Bronxville is offering a complimentary bottle of house wine to go with your vodka-laced Penne Russo, succulent Vitello di Martini, or any other of the myriad dishes from its long menu, for curbside pickup evenings except Tuesdays. 10 Palmer Ave., 914-793-2000, rosiesbronxville.com

Indian cuisine is the best food for takeout in my opinion, as good the next day as the evening before, and the tandoori plates, gluten-free curries and wonderful breads at Navjot Arora’s Indian restaurant, Chutney Masala in Irvington, never disappoint. 76 Main St., 914-591-5500, chutneymasala.com

Curbside pickup and delivery are available all day at Hartsdale stalwart, O Mandarin Chinese Cuisine. The Sichuan hotpot tastes as good at home as it does in the restaurant. 361 N. Central Ave., 914-437-9168, omandarin.com

Cantonese meets contemporary in this 1840 Tarrytown townhouse. While now is not the time to enjoy the elaborate interior, the Goosefeather’s dry aged beef potstickers and whole roast duck, from the restaurant’s reduced menu, are terrific takeout dishes. 49 E. Sunnyside Lane, 914-829- 5454, goosefeatherny.com

Walter’s Hot Dogs is open for business, via Uber Eats, GrubHub and Doordash delivery, in White Plains at 186 Mamaroneck Ave., 914-397-9406, as well as at the original Mamaroneck site on Palmer Avenue. waltershotdogs.com

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