Five Years of the Second Avenue Subway
A Gen Z friend and I shared an Uber a few months ago, and she asked me what New York was like 10 years ago. (“You should have seen it in the ’80s,” our snowy-haired driver interjected.)
I can hear eyeballs rolling across every borough, some international borders and even time and space. But I bring it up now because, well, I moved to New York exactly 10 years ago this week.
Though my institutional memory is little more than a blip in this city’s long history, it’s mine and it’s real. I remember hunkering down during Hurricane Sandy. I remember Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd in the Canyon of Heroes, Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” Eric Garner. I remember when Milk Bar and Shake Shack were still local spots. When subway arrival times were between the M.T.A. and God.
And I especially remember the excitement surrounding the opening of the Second Avenue subway line, a pivotal moment for restaurants on the Upper East Side. Here are some new or noteworthy dining stops near its three still-gleaming stations.
A handful of cuisines completely shifted my idea of what food can be, and Thai is one of them. There are so many wonderful options across the city, but if you’re near 72nd Street, try the three-year-old Up Thai on Second Avenue. The extensive menu features the classics — pad see ew, pad Thai, crab fried rice — but the specials are the draw: warmly spiced panang curry with tender short ribs and sweet potatoes, mango salad under small, deep-fried soft-shell crabs, brussels sprouts and pork belly in soy-garlic sauce. And if you drink alcohol, try any of the inventive cocktails, most especially the Seedless Sophie, with a watermelon spear pointed up at the low ceiling.
For cuisine you’re more likely to find along the Mediterranean — more specifically, that of Morocco, Israel and Lebanon — there’s Lashevet on First Avenue. This tiny restaurant has been open only a few months, and the service is as warm as the fresh pita. Go for the baba ghanouj with lush pieces of charred eggplant, and for the cumin-spiced lamb meatballs in cherry tomato sauce. Get the lamb, chicken and falafel kebabs over rice, with a just-spicy-enough jalapeño dipping sauce, and the heaping bowl of chickpea-fritter-topped “jewel” rice flecked with cranberries, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. (Bring a friend.) Leave a single grain of rice, and you will get a sweet-but-firm talking-to from one of the owners.
Then there’s Kaia Wine Bar. It’s not new, it’s not on or east of Second Avenue, and there are plenty of wine bars in this city. But I hadn’t tried South African food until recently, and I’m betting I’m not alone. Last year, the New Yorker columnist David Kortava wrote that it was the only restaurant of its kind in the city, an incredibly rare distinction. Start with the viskoekie fish cake slider. Order the elk carpaccio, and get your dining companion to order the Gatsby sandwich stuffed with garam masala pulled chicken, pickles and French fries. If you feel overwhelmed by the extensive South African wine list, the servers will happily point you in the right direction.
And perhaps 10 years from now, I’ll be writing about dining along the Brooklyn-Queens Connector or the new Metro-North stations in the Bronx. But, again, that’s between the M.T.A. and God.
In Other News …
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