I dodged a bullet. Literally.
On Tuesday morning I woke up feeling a little “off”. I spent the first few minutes trying to pinpoint it, only to have it overtake me. The stomach flu had me in its grip for the next four hours, and it was four hours after that that I could muster enough strength to get off of the couch. Four hours later I could bear the thought of eating a meal.
How is this dodging bullet? Twelve hours after sipping chicken noodle soup and 7-Up, I shuffled onto a plane gripping my Tums and double-checking the seat pockets for barf bags, dismayed at their small size. Had I gotten the stomach flu any later than I did, there would have been no way that I could have gotten on that plane, and our two-years worth of planning to visit New York would have also hit the shitter.
This is how I ended up in New York, the culinary capital of the world, with the worst possible accessory: no appetite.
After checking into our hotel, Steve slowed his pace to meet my trudge along 9th Avenue into Hell’s Kitchen to Eatery, a modern and fun bistro that served sizable portions. While Steve heartily chowed down on his Caesar salad, filet medallions with mashed potatoes, beer-battered onion rings, and malbec reduction followed by pumpkin cheesecake that “tastes like fall,” I picked at my lemon-pepper salmon with brocollini, fennel, and romesco sauce. I sipped at my water, having turned down a glass of wine, appetizer, and dessert. The waiter, I’m sure, thought I was a cheap date.
The next morning we found our breakfast place at Europan Bakery at the corner of 58th and 9th. Our hotel offered a continental breakfast– pastries, yogurt, fruit, juice, and coffee– for only $21.00 a person (a steal, I know), but Europan provided oatmeal, orange juice, a breakfast sandwich, and coffee for about $16.00 total. There I timidly ate my oatmeal, feeling stronger.
This strength did not carry over to our morning walk through Central Park. We passed all of my favorites, food stands selling ice cream and roasted nuts, and I said “No” to it all. After visiting the Frick Collection, the Apple Store (aka. the zoo, there were so many people), and FAO Schwarz, so Steve could look at more toys, we meandered to Rockefeller Plaza, the home of one of my favorite shops, Le Maison du Chocolat, a purveyor of very fine chocolates and macarons, and where I stunned Steve by saying, “Not today.” What I really wanted was some soup.
The Bouchon Bakery across from the Today Show set with its bustling lunch crowd looked promising. We got in line with trendy New Yorkers and tourists clutching their blue Tiffany bags, and the menu made an offer that even my weak stomach couldn’t refuse: the grilled-cheese and tomato soup combo.
The grilled-cheese and tomato soup combo is part of the trinity of comfort foods for me, followed by the open faced turkey sandwich on white bread with mashed potatoes and gravy and my grandma’s oven-baked Kraft Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese with the buttery cracker topping. As a kid I ate so many grilled cheese sandwiches that my granny nicknamed them the “don’t-you-dares” as in “don’t you dare order another one of those grilled cheese sandwiches.” She became more adept at spotting them on a menu before I could, and would utter her phrase in a low voice. I never heeded her advice. I dared.
Recently in the grilled cheese world, the offerings have been rather dispiriting. Everyone it seems wants to put their own stamp on it. Many places use rustic bread or add accoutrements as meats, tomatoes, mustards, or apples. These additions are nice, but they take away from the very nature of the meal. Grilled cheeses should be simple, comforting, and easy to eat; tearing and pulling my way through a crusty Italian loaf is work. I wasn’t sure what Bouchon would serve up, but I took the dare and ordered it anyway.
Readers, it was perfect. Bouchon used fluffy, light white bread that was lightly buttered and browned to a gentle crisp. When I lifted one half, the white cheddar cheese ribboned apart. It was cut on the diagonal– ideal for dipping a corner into the tomato soup. The soup was made with San Marzano tomatoes and had just the right amount of tartness. Like the sandwich, it was simple and unadorned. For the first time in three days, my stomach perked up. I ate the whole thing.
Readers: What is your favorite comfort food? Who makes the best version of your comfort food?