Spring is here!

Plus birthdays, bagels, and stopping Asian hate

Spring is here and I feel happy. As I write this I’m sitting at my dining room table drinking my second coffee of the day, the door is open to my balcony, it’s 50 degrees and brightly sunny, and live blues from the band that plays outside Radicle Wine on Saturdays is wafting through my kitchen.

Soon we’re going outside to walk around and maybe pop into some stores and grab a drink later.

I can’t wait to put away my winter coat until next season, for the lows of my weather app to move out of the 30s and eventually the 40s, to swap baseball caps for beanies and my favorite Sandy Liang vans for Blundstones.

Winter was bleak, but we know this. I’ve watched all the TV shows, I’m tired of cooking, I miss the intimacy of my friendships. And as a freelance writer, it’s been tricky to find meaty stories and stay inspired while my movement out in the world has been restricted. Some things that have helped me stay energetic: morning walks to coffee shops that are at least 20 minutes away, browsing (and sometimes buying) cute clothes for warm weather, shroom chocolates, eating dinner before it’s dark out, making plans, running up hills so that I can run down them. It’s the little things. Truly.

Almost everything else still sucks in this country, and it’s been a tough week. I’m not going to take up space by commenting on the horrific shooting in Atlanta or the anti-Asian hate that’s as despicable as it is pervasive. Others are more suited to write about it. But I will recommend one organization I personally have donated to: Red Canary Song, a grassroots collective of Asian and migrant sex workers whose efforts to decriminalize sex work are rooted in labor rights, mutual aid, and an abolitionist outlook on policing. And I’ll also recommend a few articles that are worth a read below.

I turned 28 on Monday and as is always the case on my birthday, I wanted pasta. I Sodi is one of my favorite places to eat pasta in this city. It’s where I ate dinner on my 25th birthday and also on my 26th. 27 was a bit different, as March 15th was the last day that New York City restaurants were in service before the shutdown. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about having two pandemic birthdays, and being one of the first to experience this, because who cares. What I will say is that there’s always a way to find something nice to do on your birthday so long as you’re set on it, and for me, that was eating at I Sodi. The only problem was that I could only get a reservation for 4:30—until I realized that it wasn’t a problem at all! There’s something quite lovely about eating at 4:30, which is too late to be considered a late lunch and too early to be thought of as an early dinner. We cozied into a café table for two and my left elbow brushed against Saarim’s right as the afternoon light shone through the plastic windows of the makeshift sidewalk setup and our personal heat lamp kept us warm. There was a beautifully dressed green salad, plump prosciutto-stuffed tortellini plunged in an umami-rich Parmesan broth, buttery pappardelle al limone, and a giant plate of perfect peas. We each had two Negronis. The meal felt like stolen time. Dessert was on my couch, several hours later: ice cream from a new pop-up called Bad Habit, which a chef couple (Jesse Merchant and Javier Zuniga) run out of their Bushwick apartment. One scoop of crème brûlée generously flecked with shards of caramelized sugar, one scoop of vanilla bean studded with candied Cara Cara rinds, and one scoop of fluffy banana swirled with coffee-flavored caramel. Very good stuff. Do yourself a favor and order a few pints.

The next day we were hungover (before the Negronis there was a bit of Champagne and afterward some red wine with friends), so we went to A&A Bake & Doubles for Trinidadian rotis stuffed with channa and string beans. You take it home, unwrap the tinfoil like a present, and find what looks like a big, loosely wrapped burrito inside. I like to eat it by opening it up and tearing off pieces of the flakey bread to scoop up the insides. A&A’s roti is dhal puri, which means the inner part of the bread contains ground yellow split peas. When you rip into the thick and supple dough, a cascade of yellow flakes reveal themselves along with a mild earthy flavor. It’s a lot of food, and just the kind of hearty, carby meal (with a hint of spice) that settles the belly as well as the mind after too much to drink.

There’s a new Upside in town on the corner of Mulberry and Spring. It’s got a snazzy look, a cool-kid vibe, and best of all: fluffy, tangy square slices of tomato pie. Go check it out. Or, make a tomato pie a la Joe Beddia at home, so delicious and so easy, so long as you plan to make the dough a day before, which needs to ferment in the fridge for 24 hours.

Winona’s is a new restaurant that sits on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick in the style of the Four Horsemen, meaning that they specialize in nicely composed seasonal share plates and natural wines. I went with my friend Zack on Friday and even though it was a chilly evening, our sidewalk table was toasty. We had a bottle of Jason Ligas and Patrick Bouju’s Sous le Végétal “Livia” (really nice) with burrata and pickled Smallhold mushrooms, little gems with green goddess, minty-lemony fried artichoke hearts, and lamb meatballs in a tomato harissa sauce over polenta. I will be back.

We recently made buffalo wings in the Sohla style and I can’t recommend it enough. Her method calls for a dry brine of baking powder, salt, sugar, and MSG; two roasts; plenty of sauce; and is meant to be used flexibly, for any type of wing flavor.

Did you know that Caffé Panna does custom ice cream cakes? This one is chocolate and hazelnut with hidden bits of Ferrero Rocher and Milky Way and topped with panna (whipped cream) and caramel. They’re pricey but worth it. I had it made for Saarim’s birthday, which falls five days after mine, and he said it was the best ice cream cake he ever had. Better yet, according to Panna proprietor Hallie, they “keep forever in the freezer if wrapped in Saran.”

Believe the hype around the bagels at Gertie. I can’t, on the other hand, speak for those of Courage in Los Angeles, which some say are the best they’ve ever had. New Yorkers were naturally up in arms over Tejal Rao’s controversial headline in the Times last week, but I’m with Dana Cowin one this one, “that bagel taste can evolve and change over time.” In fact, I wrote about this for TASTE last month; how it’s never been harder to pick a favorite bagel because excellent, regional, and in many cases, New York-inspired bagels are being crafted all across the country. (Here’s another good, related take from SF Chronicle food editor Serena Dai). And frankly, that’s a wonderful thing. I’m excited to get to LA soon, try Courage, and report back. Another shop that’s on my radar for future travels is Honey Bagel, which recently opened in Portland, OR and makes crusty bagels in flavors like cacio e pepe and chopped chocolate. I’m partial to Utopia in Queens and Goldberg’s out in Long Island when it comes to New York-style, New York-made bagels, but it’s freeing to embrace a to-hell-with-tradition attitude and it’s rewarding to keep an open mind to the brilliance of bakers innovating with bagels.


The best outdoor tables in NYC, according to me, for Resy

A small ode to apéro hour for Garmentory paired with suggested items to buy if you’re planning to host some friends in your outdoor space this spring


A few recommended reads:

Alexander Chee for GEN: Anti-Asian Violence Must Be a Bigger Part of America’s Racial Discourse

Deanna Ting for Resy: A Conversation with Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate

Alex Wagner for The Atlantic: Our Asian Spring

Ashley B. Wells for Grub Street: Reopening My Restaurant Now Would Mean Breaking a Promise to Diners

Dayna Tortorici for SSENSE: Kitchen Person


I’m @emilyjwils on Twitter & Instagram.