As I say in my little "About" blurb, I'm constantly on the lookout for decent places to go food shopping. I live in what's known in the real estate market as SpaHa. Never heard of it, I know. It's short for Spanish Harlem. These real estate dudes will nickname anyplace to make a buck. But seriously (as the stand-up comedians like to say), my neighborhood's fantastic for any Latino ingredients you want -- in the local supermarkets you can find special quesos and quesitos and quesillos and cremas from El Salvador and Honduras and Mexico. There are tomatillos and pipianes, fresh tortillas, and all the mojos and sofritos for Caribbean cooking as well. And our take-out places are great for pernil (Puerto-Rican style roast pork) and chicharrones (crunchy chunks of chicken), or enchiladas and chilaquiles. But it's very hard to find organic milk (or organic anything, for that matter -- I'm trying to be good about the dairy however). And honestly, sometimes the produce is less than spectacular at the local markets, which all seem to have the same astringent-cleanser-covering-decay smell as you walk in the door.
So my choices are limited. I can go 20 blocks downtown, where there's Eli's Vinegar Factory to the east and Dean and DeLuca to the west. G hates these places (which he likes to refer to as "Organic Gringo Unlimited"), mainly because we come out of there feeling as if we're going to have to go into hock in order to bring a few small bags of groceries home. Just for the record, however, I should say that G hates shopping in general, even at places where the prices are more reasonable.
But the East Side is an area where they're looking to soak you for your net worth (in our case, of course, they're not going to get much) whenever possible. So it's become my weekly routine to go to my favorite exercise/dance class on the West Side at noon on Saturdays, and after that to walk a few blocks downtown, do our big weekly shop at Fairway on 74th Street, and haul it all home in a cab, where G awaits me to schlep it all upstairs.
If you're visiting New York and you love food, get someone to take you to Fairway. If you're a New Yorker, and you don't yet know the wonders of Fairway, glory awaits you. Unfortunately, it often awaits you in the form of an elderly lady trying to ram her shopping cart up your achilles tendon so that you don't try to get ahead of her as you reach for your little paper deli number. That's why G hates Fairway, too, not just the yuppified East Side markets. Equal opportunity hatred of markets. I, of course, love it. Ahhh, Fairway. My home away from home. I can find almost anything I want for cooking there, and generally I can find it for less than elsewhere.
So I go almost every week in solitary splendor (well, in exercise gear actually, since I'm coming from the gym) -- but by myself, is the point. That way I can wonder lonely as a cloud, and finger the nascent string beans. I can decide to buy the more expensive French rose garlic, meander through the aisles of fresh breads, olives, cheeses and a wealth of packaged goods from every place imaginable. I can try new artisanal chocolate from Spain without having to deal with sentences like "Did you make a list? How long is this going to take?" It's going to take as long as I want it to, and I can plan meals as I meander, based on whatever looks good. And then G's perfectly overjoyed to see me when I get home, laden with the basis of yummy meals for a week. I can stock up on the sorts of pasta and chicken stock and crushed tomatoes that I like, get a free-range chicken, replenish my supply of Maldon salt, and try those new preserved fruits from France. And at home there's an un-stressed someone who's happy to haul the loot upstairs, and help unpack it. Works for me.