I know I’m not the first (quasi) food journalist to weigh in on this topic, and I certainly won’t be the last, but here are some of my thoughts on the great Brooklyn vs. Manhattan dining debate. In the past decade the folks in Manhattan and our neighbors down in Brooklyn have been engaged in what can only be described as a full-fledged war. It’s largely media driven, and after careful examination, I think I’ve gotten to the bottom of the story. You see, Manhattan is the epicenter of the universe. Everyone wants to live here, particularly the highly cultured elite. And due to basic economic principles of supply and demand, the price of living in Manhattan skyrocketed. So all of the sudden smart, well off, successful people could no longer afford to live in Manhattan in the style of living they were accustomed to. You see, it’s really, really hard to be rich in Manhattan. In order to be rich, (i.e. big apartment, kids in private schools) here you have to make (or have) A LOT of money. Like rap star money. After all, the price difference between a one bedroom condo and a two bedroom condo in Manhattan is a million dollars. No joke. So if you want to live here and say, have another kid, welp, better be able pony up a cool mil.
(This is not to say you have to be rich to live in Manhattan. If you are cool with having a bathroom the size of airplane lavatory, walking up three flights of stairs to your apartment, and storing toilet paper under your couch then you can enjoy a very happy existence here. And yes, all of those things apply to me.)
But I digress. After all, real estate monitoring is only a hobby, cooking is the real reason we’re here.
Imagine all these fabulous and cool editors, writers, photographers, actors, that have done really well for themselves and want to be able to live like a fabulous and cool person should. So all of these cultured and wealthy (by all standards except those in Manhattan) people moved to…you guessed it, Brooklyn. They were tired of walk-ups, tired of windows overlooking alleyways, tired of the ever escalating rent and real estate prices. So they left, and when they got off the D train, what did they find? Space! Trees! Closets in every bedroom! Decks! Bathtubs! It was magical, and the Brooklynites rejoiced. Finally, finally, they had escaped the perils of the Third World country standard of living known as Manhattan apartments. They were full of joy and rapture! Until…a dark cloud settled over their world. They might have 3,000 square feet of space but they lost something priceless in the process. The “it” factor. That’s right children, they realized that they were no longer cool . Gasp!
Here is where our story gets interesting. They put their little hipster brains together and realized hey! were editors, writers, photographers, and actors. We have the power to make Brooklyn cool. And that’s just what they did. Now you can’t pick up a paper in this town with out reading rave review about another Brooklyn restaurant.
So when New York Magazine called Brooklyn the “New Manhattan.” The very wise (albeit fictional Sex and the City character) Miranda Hobbs, glibly retorted that “whoever wrote that…lives in Brooklyn.” After the mass exodus to Kings County, the displaced media power players began unabashedly and habitually favoring nearly any restaurant to pop up in their hometown borough. This became so ubiquitous in culture sections of every New York publication that the term “Brooklyn Bias” was coined. The Times food critic and his editor call Brooklyn home, and I would be willing to bet that the better part of the writing and editorial staff of TONY, New York Magazine, The Post, and The Daily News all hail from the “little brother borough” as well. Being the avid foodie that I am, I read the dining sections of these publication daily and there is an overwhelming representation of Brooklyn dining joints which are always touted as the most amazing restaurant to ever exist. And it drives me crazy! I start reading about this incredible, homey, well-established, not too over priced bistro with a roast chicken that will change your life and transport you right to the Champs Elysees in one bite. I scan down to the bottom, my mind racing for any reason to go out to dinner that night. Then I see it…the address. I can tell immediately because the street name is unrecognizable and yup, there it is…Park Slope, Brooklyn. Damn!
So the other day I was on one of my “why are all the good restaurants in Brooklyn” rants. Matt calmly looked at me and said, “Ya know Liz, we can go there.” WHAT?” “We can go to Brooklyn, it’s only a subway ride away.” But wait, no, we moved to Manhattan and pay out our ears for our apartment because Manhattan is the place to be! And it has everything! We can’t just leave! (Even if it was only for dinner.) I just couldn’t wrap my head around leaving the island and submitting to the manufactured “Brooklyn cool.”
But somehow Matt convinced me that going to Brooklyn for dinner is something that “a real New Yorker” would do. Plus, I had been dying to try al di la in Park Slope. So one Friday when all our friends were out of town, we donned some flannel shirts and skinny jeans and stealthily slipped out to Park Slope. On the train I felt like I was cheating on Manhattan, but once we arrived at the cozy Italian eatery, I slowly started to let my Brooklyn guard down. Then we ate. Beef carpaccio with sharp Parmesan Reggiano. Rich, wild boar ragu over pillow-y gnocchi that was better than I had had in the heart of Umbria. A swiss chard gnocchi with a brown butter sauce so intoxicatingly fragrant that you almost want to face plant in the big heaping bowl. And the tangiest, spongy-iest polenta you can imagine. The best part? It was cheap! Well by Manhattan standards anyway. I left full and happy and little less angry at the bias food writers that populate New York. Because at least in this instance, they were right. al di la was more than worth the trip. Sorry for the fuzzy photo, but cozy also means impossibly dimly lit.