Drag me to Hell(‘s Kitchen)

For the past eight years or so, I’ve lived on the edge of Times Square. Technically, the neighborhood is “Clinton”, or, when I want to sound less like an asshole, Hell’s Kitchen. But, either way, it’s the border where the new, friendly, post-Giuliani New York City abuts against a two-century-old Irish and then Latino working class neighborhood.

On one side, excellent bars and ethnic restaurants abound – the city’s best Thai joints, Italian spots along Restaurant Row, the many new foodie-facing eateries on and around 9th Avenue in the 40’s and 50’s. On the other side, it’s neon-lit Applebee’s, Red Lobster, and the Olive Garden, as far as the eye can see.

At the end of this month, arguably a few years too late, Jess and I are headed uptown, to a quiet block in the low West ’70’s, a stone’s throw off Central Park. It’s pet friendly, so we can finally make Jess ecstatic by buying a dog. And, as it has a second bedroom and a small office that could eventually become another bedroom, we could stay there through starting a family, perhaps all the way up until the first kid hits elementary school, and we both give in to our suburban roots.

To be honest, we both would have preferred to head down, towards the West Village. But there’s way more space for the money uptown, so uptown it is. And, if nothing else, the Upper West Side is full of actual New Yorkers, rather than tourists from St. Louis, Sapporo and Berlin.

The impending move has led me to look more carefully at our current neighborhood, to think about why we might one day come back here. Certainly for Danji, the excellent Korean fusion spot (and the first Korean restaurant to earn a Michelin star) on 52nd St. Perhaps for Delta Grill – New Orleans good enough to win an official commendation from that city’s mayor. And plausibly, if it’s convenient, for Vice Versa (a nice Italian spot), Uncle Nick’s Ouzaria (fun Greek Tapas), or Russian Samovar (now under new, questionable, management, though a mainstay of my misbegotten NYC youth).

But, weirdly, it’s also made me think about the places I’d never go. Every day, for example, my two block walk to the subway takes me past an Applebee’s, a TGI Fridays, and a faux-50’s diner with singing waiters. All of which I’ve never even set foot inside. Perhaps that’s for good reason. Or, perhaps, it’s simply New York snobbery. Either way, it’s occurred to me that if I don’t find out now, I most likely never will, as if I’m not willing to stagger two blocks to Tad’s Broiled Steaks, I’m certainly not about to cab down to it.

So, to memorialize the end of my tenure in the neighborhood, and to reboot my blogging in 2012, I hereby officially kick off Drag me to Hell(‘s Kitchen): Exploring Midtown West’s Most Questionable Spots.

Wish me luck.

January 17, 2012