I have been living in the United States almost two generations. I have lived in an apartment structure my whole life, in big cities only: Casablanca, Paris New York, etc…. you get the picture. I am a complete city mouse, don’t drive, and cannot conceive of any viable setting where subways, buses, museums, restaurants, bookstores, are not a short walk away. Needless to say, I have never lived in a house. Same goes for my husband, who often gets teased: “When you go on the George Washington Bridge, do you take your passport with you?” Having found absolutely all I need in the city and then some, I rarely venture out in my daily routine. Besides, I am really spoiled: Everyone comes to me, hardly ever the other way around.
This week I and a few dear friends were discussing where to meet for some fun, when a deluvial rain diverted our original plans to meet at the Park after a lunch I was going to host at my house. They suggested Queens. Wow, Queens. I felt like somewhat like a hick. Yes, a city hick. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse then a New York City hick. Queens, I thought with some trepidation. What do you do in Queens? I don’t think I have been there in some twenty years, the last time being to visit a very elderly aunt of my husband’s who of course has long since passed away, bringing my rare forays into Queens to a screeching and, I thought, permanent halt. A few friends have often told me Jackson Heights is a real Indian spice and fabrics heaven, and of course I was very intrigued, being a passionate cook and dressmaker, but never so intrigued that I decided to take the plunge and go out to the burbs. G-d forbid!
But this was slightly different: These were all dear friends, two of whom lived in Queens, and they always took my suggestions and always did the trek to my cooking demos, rain or shine. Plus my friend Sarah was in town on a visit from Israel, staying with her children…. in Queens. The jig is up, I thought, you’re going to Queens. A little pep talk I kept repeating to myself (How bad could it be? Next time I’ll make sure I will host the meal, etc….) gave me confidence on the way, as I watched each subway stop like a hawk, to make sure I wouldn’t miss my destination and find myself on even more unfamiliar grounds. Getting out of the subway, the skies opened and the deluge blurred my vision, almost making me miss my friend who was waiting in her car, about three feet away from me.
My friend drove me to L’Bella Restaurant, where all our other friends were waiting, and where we had the kind of good time we fondly look back on when we are too harried or haven’t made a date in too long. This looks delightful, I exclaimed, shocked. As I sat at our table, I confessed my parochial attitudes, and my misgivings about coming to Queens, but they assured me I needn’t have worried. Oh sure, they said, we have cold running water Mondays and Thursdays, we have traffic lights, we have a library etc…. My friends then summoned the chef to our table, chef Tony, telling him this is Levana, she is a chef, she has written cookbooks, she gives demos, yadiadiada, and all he could muster was placid politeness. What do you expect, I told them? He is practically a kid, and I am a dinosaur. Imagine our surprise when a few minutes later a stunning plate of stuffed mushrooms with the most fragrant tomato sauce arrived, compliments of same chef Tony! Everything we ordered was delicious: Pizza, eggplant parmiggiana, sushi, salad, penne mushroom sauce.
I was warned NOT to order dessert, as my friends had some big fish to fry. I was driven to a nearby ice cream parlor called Max and Mina. First shock: The retro decor, every square inch on the walls plastered with beyond-funky posters, billboards, pictures, rave praises, etc… which made the place all the more intriguing and endearing than the people working there were mere teenagers. Ha, I thought, so they have heard of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, it happened one night, Woodstock and whatnot. Second shock: The flavors, of which the workers served liberal samples. No end of flavors. Even the tame ones were outrageous. I safely moved way from the garlic scoop and the wasabi scoop and the cholent scoop, which were delicious by the way, and decided to keep some sanity in my ordering. I had no sooner settled on the spicy peanut butter and the caramel crunch that I was ready to kick myself for not ordering the coffee, the pina colada, the …. oh, never mind. I’ll be back, I told them, and I will, with my husband, another ice cream nut, my friends, my neighbors, anyone I can convert. And you know, when I talk about food, people listen!!!! What’s the worst that can happen? Going to Queens more often? Meeting wonderful friends? Enjoying a delicious lunch? Sampling wacky and fabulous ice cream? I could do a lot worse!