Then vs. Now

Mad Men, spaghetti & meatballs, and more.

I’ve been rewatching Mad Men. We’re on season six. There was much more drinking than there was eating in the lives of 1960s advertising execs, according to the show. Most meals take place at home, in a fancy restaurant, or at a diner. Sometimes the creatives order Chinese takeout if they’re working late at the office. It’s made me realize how far restaurants have come, at least here in New York, and especially over the past ten months. Fast forward 50 years later and we’re living in a pop-up boom, ordering food made from chef’s homes, sitting bundled up in the freezing cold under heat lamps to dine out, eating inside of our cars or on top of them, buying pantry items from restaurants-turned-groceries, picking up pastries from neighbors… in the pandemic era, diners are required to put more effort into eating well. We go out of our way to try new things and make sacrifices to enjoy our favorite dishes. That’s not true across the board, of course—the delivery giants are as pervasive as ever. 

When we talk about how the restaurant industry, both businesses and talent, have adapted to the times, we shouldn’t leave ourselves out of that story. It’s not up to diners to negotiate rent, increase wages, or pass legislation to allow pop-ups to flourish (although we can surely advocate for those things, and should). But buying power is a major factor in which places and projects survive. In being more thoughtful about our buying power, by leveraging it creatively instead of taking it for granted, by questioning where we wield it and who benefits, we become part of establishing a better future. The customer is not always right. The customer can be collaborative. I know that certain diners, myself included, feel more invested in the restaurants they love, are more aware of the industry’s pitfalls, and are excited about the nascent ventures that have sprung up. As the vaccine makes its rounds, I hope that energy doesn’t dissipate.

I suppose spaghetti & meatballs is more of a home-cooked dish, but my favorite restaurant version growing up was from Le Zie, a neighborhood trattoria in Chelsea that still stands. I posted the question of where to get the best spaghetti & meatballs in NYC on Instagram and several people said Emilio’s Ballato, my friend Zoe seconded Le Zie (and here I thought it was a hidden gem), and my other friend Zoë vouched for Lillo, which I’ve yet to try but now it’s high on my list. Where else? It’s all I’m craving right now. My inbox is open for recipe suggestions as well.

Speaking of recipes, here are two quick ones with excellent results: peanut butter & greens sandwich, chocolate olive oil cake.

Last weekend we went hiking in the Palisades. The trail (White Shore and Long Path Loop) was genuinely quite hard and I consider myself in shape. Humble brag, sorry! Then we rewarded ourselves with bubbly sundubu-jjigae and silky sushi rice from So Kong Dong in Fort Lee, NJ. This is a doubleheader I’d recommend. 

My friend Anna told me to watch Flavorful Origins, which is a delightful show on Netflix. Each episode is under 15 minutes and showcases a different dish from China. Up-close shots of quick-working hands and porous ingredients. Squishy, splashy noises. After watching the deep dive on niang pi we ordered stir-fried liang pi from Xi’an Famous Foods, which hit the spot.

File under experiences worth freezing your fingers off for: A few Boulevardiers and a pile of hot fries drizzled in ketchup from The Long Island Bar. Go during the day while it’s still light and layer up.

Drag me if you must but marinara pies don’t get the attention they deserve. At Leo, each warm, saucy, sourdough-y bite gushes with salty umami magic, and a hit of chili oil certifies ecstasy. In some cases, you really don’t need the cheese.

I’m headed to Woodstock today for a week. If you have Catskills recommendations for hikes, food, etc — hit my line!


Nothing new on the published front, except for a cute little piece for Garmentory on becoming a Smoothie Person with three of my go-to recipes.


A couple of recommended reads:

Thanks to Jay Bulger for NYMag, I now know about the Pizza Pusha. What a story.

Jon Bonné considers the salade composée for TASTE

Herbert Buchsbaum on loss and Jewish rye bread in NYTimes


I’m @emilyjwils on Twitter & Instagram.