The Reopening Rush

New York is back, baby.

I got my second vaccination shot (Pfizer if you’re wondering) the Tuesday morning before last. And Saarim did, too. We were lucky in that the first dose didn’t really affect us, and figured if we were feeling okay after the second, we should celebrate. So we made dinner plans. Normally I wouldn’t endorse making a reservation knowing that you might have to cancel the day of, because that’s not great for the restaurant. Ideally, you cancel at least 24 hours in advance. But there was a two-top for 7:30 pm in the courtyard at Le Crocodile, which had recently reopened. Kismet? 

That afternoon we were a little fatigued but nothing out of the ordinary. It was a beautiful sunny day in Brooklyn. The trees on our block were blooming white blossoms, the temperature climbed to 70 degrees. We walked from Clinton Hill to Williamsburg, got spritzes at Hotel Delmano, then made our way to Le Crocodile, which twinkled with string lights.

It was packed, but safely so—as crowded as a restaurant can be given the current restrictions. We got drunk on cocktails (two French 75s for me) and smeared earthy mushroom pâté on grilled bread. I marveled over the orzo Cacio e Pepe, made with a mix of black and white pastas plumper than I’d remembered and topped generously with shaved Pecorino Romano. 

Then on the way to the bathroom, I walked past Jeremy Strong, presumably having dinner with a friend after a day on the set of Succession. My jaw dropped slightly in awe. Kendall is my favorite character. 

I was stuffed by the time the main course arrived, but resistance against frites soaked in herby chicken jus is futile. Gail Simmons was drinking a martini at a four-top next to us. Saarim spotted a friend at a nearby table. We ran into another pal, Lisa, on the way out. I hugged her with abandon, maybe too much, but I was so happy.

I’m not naive enough to think that everything is returning to normal at a rapid pace, or that I couldn’t have still contacted Covid that night. Even though I’m immune now, I know that I can still spread the virus. In fact, I’m still not indoor dining and I’m not sure when I will. So long as it’s nice outside, I don’t see any rush. It’ll take a bit more time (and less positive cases) for me to feel socially at ease in dining rooms again. But to celebrate and eat well in the courtyard of Le Crocodile, to run into people like we used to at a hot new restaurant on a Tuesday night, to feel the buzz deep in your bones, to leave with your belly full and your soul ignited... I missed that, so badly. 

Let’s call it the reopening rush. New York is back, baby. 

The next day I saw that Ruth Reichl was there too.


When I was studying abroad in Copenhagen, I’d meet my friend Tabi every morning before school at a nearby coffee shop for the traditional breakfast of rugbrød—Danish rye bread—with butter and jam, a slice of cheese, and a soft-boiled egg. I loved it so much and ever since I’ve wished for a New York bakery that makes excellent rugbrød. I tried baking it myself last spring and it turned out terribly; it’s a tough bread to crack! Rugbrød should be deeply dense and seeded with a chewy, bouncy inside and a hard crusty exterior. It’s intense, not for everyone, and sometimes can be too sour (which I don’t like). Here’s the good news: Mel’s is extraordinary.


We need to talk about bagels again, unfortunately. I’ll be brief. It is out of the question to include oats in everything bagel seasoning. I hate to have to do this, but we’ve discovered not one, but TWO perpetrators of this offense, and they are Bagel World in Fort Greene and Bergen Bagels in Clinton Hill (the Myrtle location). Beware.


My household has become addicted to kimchi, which means I’ve been buying weekly $20 tallboys from Kimchee Harvest, a wonderful stand at the Union Square Greenmarket. Classic, red cabbage, daikon, sunchoke—all the flavors we’ve tried have been fantastic. But we get through one jar in two days and the habit is expensive. I know H Mart sells giant tubs for a much better price, and for that I am grateful. Please send me recommendations for other tasty brands (I have also had, and like, Mother-in-Law’s) and slide into my inbox to let me know if it’s worth trying to make our own. Thank you!


I have a new go-to in Bed-Stuy, the Italian cafe Corto. They serve yogurt and fruit, croissants, avocado toast, and fresh-squeezed OJ in the morning, plus a long list of simple focaccia sandwiches throughout the day, and all types of Italian coffee drinks. Enjoy in the back garden.


The clothing brand Bode opened a tailor shop in what used to be a hole-in-the-wall diner next door to their Chinatown store. Pull up to the window and ask for a cup of freshly brewed coffee, which comes flavored with a hint of cardamom. There’s a hot tip!


Marlow & Sons is currently slaying the weekday lunch game. The pastry case overflows with sweets and sandwiches (including the Scuttlebutt of Saltie yore). And then there’s kimbap and soba salad, plenty of drinks, and pantry items to go. I’d spend a lot of money here if it were in my neighborhood.


It’s always a bit risky to return to a restaurant that was formerly a constant, but which you haven’t been to in years. In my early 20s fresh out of college, I spent many Friday and Saturday nights waiting for tables for 4 or 5 or even 8 at Chavela’s, and by the time we sat down, we’d be ravenous and quick to order guac for the table and a pitcher of margs. I’m glad to report that it’s the same as it ever was. The mezcal margarita is a little too sweet but strong, with a duly salted rim. The guac is served in a molcajete, comes fast, and hits hard when you’re hungry. And the tacos weren’t bad! Keep it on standby.


David’s Brisket House has been serving deli sandwiches to Bed-Stuy since the 60s, although the operation changed hands to Yemeni owners in the 80s. (So the story goes: it was once Kosher, now it’s Halal.) And yet it’s somewhat of a hidden gem. I finally tried their pastrami with mustard on rye last week. The meat was tender and salty, with browned chunks falling out the sides of the sandwich. I appreciate how a small is the perfect size, easy to eat, and costs $11.58—much more reasonable than our friends over at Katz’s. 


I made the honey tahini challah from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person and it came out wonderfully. The tahini gives the bread a nutty, rich flavor. (Shout out to Beirut brand tahini, which requires minimal stirring and tastes excellent). If you like to bake and don’t have her book, let this serve as a recommendation.


I’m headed to Los Angeles on Wednesday for a full month. If you have recommendations for the latest and/or greatest — pop-ups, restaurants, hikes, and all — hit my line!

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Published:

I wrote about my favorite catalog — a mushroom catalog! for Healthyish

This one was fun: I chatted with RAMONA founder Jordan Salcito and her five-year-old son Henry about their baking practice for Garmentory

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A few recommended reads:

Tejal Rao for NYT: What Is Hospitality? The Current Answer Doesn’t Work.

Prep cooks and dishwashers clock out of one restaurant job and head to a second, but still can’t piece together a living wage. Servers rely almost entirely on tips because the minimum wage is so low. Cooks put themselves at risk because their health care is tied to their employment. Diners recognize that workers in the kitchen may be undocumented, and use that to leverage power.

It’s no wonder that, as restaurants try to staff up, there’s a national shortage of workers.

Rachel Sugar for Grub Street: How New York’s Open Streets Program Will Work in 2021

Kevin Vaughn for Vittles: Pizza is Survival

Heather Haddon and Annie Gasparro for WSJ: The New Shortage: Ketchup Can’t Catch Up (let’s hope this gets resolved before summer!)

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I’m @emilyjwils on Twitter & Instagram.