How do you discover new restaurants? I have, at a conservative estimate, seventy-million different ways of discovering new restaurants at my fingertips. Offline, I read the New York Times, New York mag, and hundreds of fashion magazines (usually New York-centric, with tips on where to eat and what to do). Online, I read everything I can get my greedy eyes on - blogs, guides, listings, articles, etc. On my phone, I have an entire folder of apps titled 'Eat'. It's full, and contains some of my favourite, most used apps - The Scoop, UrbanDaddy, UrbanSpoon, Evernote Food, and Eat Street*.
Despite this, I still go back to my favourite places time and time again, and can be relied upon to draw a complete blank any time someone asks me to suggest somewhere we should go. This is for two pretty basic reasons:
- Fear of the unknown, especially if the unknown means you may end up with unsatisfactory food.
- Fear of causing anyone else to have an unsatisfactory dining experience.
In short, it seems obvious I have some silly fears around food, made even more ridiculous** by the fact that none of them are based around the truly concerning subjects of 'not having enough' or 'food poisoning'.
I bought H1 a deck of cards called City Shuffle as part of his Christmas present, partly to rectify this and partly to give us something fun to do over the coming year. It's a cool concept - there are 52 cards in the pack, each with a different restaurant on it, a price guide, and a description. The cards are arranged by neighbourhood, and each card gets you $10 off the food bill. The $10 off is nice, of course, but the main beauty in the pack is how it both opens up your options (cuisine type! Neighbourhood! Price!) and shuts them down at the same time (only 52 cards!)
We used it for the first time on a recent Friday night, limiting ourselves to the Upper West Side, as it was (as it has been for approximately forever now) freezing, so neither of us wanted to be too far from home. Choosing a card at random got me a French restaurant named Picnic. It was further north than we usually wander, and its website wasn't the greatest (design matters, people!) but it was Michelin-recommended, and, most importantly, the deck had told us to go there. So we went.
Dinner was fantastic. I'm a big fan of French food, and eating in this place was just like eating in any good bistro in Paris, only with American-style service****. It wasn't the coolest place in the world - don't send your foodie-hipster friends there - but the food and wine were excellent. Even the salad was good.
Best of all, it was somewhere new, in a place we don't usually go. By the way, that place we don't usually go, because of its northern-ness? It's an incredible ten or so blocks, packed with many friendly-looking, adorable neighbourhood-style restaurants. I'm excited to go back - if City Shuffle sees fit to send us that way, of course.
*Map of food trucks in NYC on any given day. Not always the most reliable, but always fun - more so in summer, when going on a walk to find a food truck that may or may not be there seems more entertaining than annoying.
**Not as ridiculous as, say, having a fear of hippopotami would be***.
***In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that my feelings towards hippos are not overly positive.
****Not a good thing or a bad thing - just a thing. When it comes to service, both places have their flaws, and both places have their good points.