Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lunch at El Quijote

Starting this week, I'm trying my hand at a weekly column over at Metro NY on any and all things New York City. For my first essay, it's lunchtime at El Quijote.

Read the piece at Metro here

Lunchtime at El Quijote is a quiet affair. Classical music plays overhead, a series of waltzes, giving you space to hear yourself think. Patrons are gray-haired, hushed, some of them in singles, sitting with white napkins on their laps, not reading, just sitting. No one, not even once, takes out a cell phone. They sit without anxiety, self-contained.

The waiter, dressed in his admiral's jacket, glides silently among the tables, bearing platters of meat and fish, cocktails, and salads. Bread arrives in a wire basket adorned with a paper doily.

At the far end of the dining room, mounted on a wall painted with sky, a group of windmills slowly turn. The dreary ceiling, scalloped in stucco, brazenly shows its age, untroubled by the dark spots and cracks. Dim chandeliers hang by threads. The oxblood booths wear their frayed shoulders with a shrug of acceptance.

"Laugh and the world laughs with you," a man says to his lunch companions, "Cry and you cry alone. Understand? Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry all by yourself," as if the word "alone" is too difficult to grasp.

No one is talking about real estate or technology. No one is screeching with performative delight.

"The Nazis were very, very strict," says a wild-haired woman as she explains her trip to the Degenerate Art show at the Neue Galerie.

"I had a library of 5,000 books," says another man at another table. "But I had to give them up when I moved. I didn't have the space."

The salad is simple and unpretentious--lettuce, tomato, slices of radish. The pork chops are simple, accompanied by a stark smattering of plain peas. Your mother might have served this to you, back in the dark ages of the 20th century. The simplicity and plainness of the food acts as the opposite of a stimulant. Like the quiet, it calms the nervous system. It is just: pork chop, peas, lettuce, bread. It isn't trying to impress anyone. It has been this way for a hundred years and sees no point in changing. Take me or leave me, it says. I am what I am.

"In some countries, people will eat leftovers for breakfast."

"They're all in Bushwick now, the artists. No more in Manhattan."

Lunchtime at El Quijote is a protective bubble. The urban cymbal crash is kept far away, outside. Time slows down here. You are among the New Yorkers, the old guard, the ones who are awake, not locked to a screen's hypnotizing gaze. They know who they are, like the pork chops on the plate, and have no interest in putting on a show.


marjorie said...

Congratulations! Column! Well-deserved.

I couldn't see it, though: Malware warning. I will get a hard copy when I'm out and about later today.

Was the serving of peas actually that tiny?

Needs. More. Peas.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Thank you. Yes, not a lot of peas. Just a lot of meat.

I'm getting the malware warning too, now. Trying to figure out why. Sorry!

laura r. said...

food looks good, envirement "normal" for adults. add the no cell phone, & it could be 30 years ago. relaxing & dining: way to go.

esquared™ said...

Once El Quijote has been glamourized, luxurized, and authentrified, you'd only be getting a single pea. But wait, it's not just any other pea; it's a snap pea that's been sourced from the far corners of the world farmed by Franciscan monks dating back to 5th c. BC. And served deconstructed, cured, smoked, charred, sprinkled with black garlic sea-salt, soy pimentón, beet chutney, kale purée, tarragon vinaigrette, pickled quinoa hoisin, ramp coconut roe, lemongrass pumpernickel dill, beldi olive aioli, and, last but not least, shaved white alba truffles.

Suggested pairing would be The Ibiza Qashqai Mountain cerveza sangria -- light-bodied tinto cider and stout sangria with focused gazpacho flavors, aged with Majorca dry hops and blended with a touch of cascade lemony raw honey and spicy hop and malt chartreuse rebujito flavors. Price for that one piece the next generation for grown-ups pea ? $48. With the pairing? $80.

John K said...

I went by there with friends after Folsom East. The food was as delicious as it always has been. I'm dreading the transformation to a more glamorous, global-elite friendly restaurant.

BTW, is there any way to get people, especially youngsters, not to patronize the endlessly proliferating Dunkins, Subways, Chipotles, and other suburbanizing chains?

Every time I pass one these spots are full of people chowing down. The more people that patronize them, the more the franchisers will keep putting them in empty spaces opened up the greed-meister landlords.

laura r. said...

there was a memorial last night @ el quijote for photographer lee black childers.

DrBOP said...


Anonymous said...

John- its pretty clear that the old school old guard ev types have written off the youngsters as souless cretins here to destroy NYC. I've seen them receive poor service and be treated rudely. Why should they patronize shops that are like that? I don't go to any of the places you mentioned but they just keep expanding.

Anonymous said...

Re: "youngsters" who patronize chains....My children ages 18 - 22 who grew up in NYC are constantly astounded that their suburban-reared friends/friends of friends will almost always go to chains and are unwilling to try anything quirky-looking. They have zero interest. And sadly, these affluent suburban "youngsters" also don't cook but order in routinely, at all hours (and are bad tippers too.) The spread of chains has also created many bad and low-paying jobs. Very sad.

laura r. said...

these younger people are not welcome for a good reason. some places are tranquil others not. screaming on cell phones, constant loud ring tones dont cut it for fine dining. there are sports bars, starbucks, chain restaurants, family style places for that.