I realize this post on Valentine’s Day is coming a couple weeks late. I’ve been busy with school, and the site was experiencing technical difficulties this week. Empanada Boy has successfully gotten us switched to a new server, and things seem to be running smoothly. It is in honor of the capable and dedicated EB, my Valentine, that I rewind a bit to recount the fantastic day we had on February 14.
Originally, we weren’t planning to do anything for Valentine’s Day because we’re poor and can’t afford the lavish dinner we would have wanted. But EB got the great idea of spending the day doing a list of some of the top cheap, but great, things we like to do together. After a morning class and lunch at home, EB and I took a long walk across the George Washington Bridge, which towers immediately north of our apartment building. the relatively mild, clear weather made for a good time and great views as we trekked across to Palisades Park in New Jersey. (We saw about 10 deer there.) We then walked back and took the train downtown to Astor Wines & Spirits. This East Village wine shop is a major destination for anyone looking for a great deal on a swath of interesting and well-selected wines. It reminds me very much of the Wine Discount Center, where I worked in Chicago. Thanks to the discounts we got with an in-store member card, we walked out with nine bottles for around $90.
EB carried those in his backpack as we hopped on the train again to head down to Chinatown. In his even poorer student days, EB frequented the Vietnamese restaurants here. He always ordered pho, beef noodle soup, because it’s cheap, delicious and totally irresistible. We walked in to ThÃ¡i SÃ³n, which was completely packed and which EB was sure he had visited at least once. It seems that many other dinersâ€” both in couples and in groupsâ€” liked the idea of a cheap Valentine’s day. We were seated quickly and immediately zeroed in on the meat combos we wanted in our pho. I require fatty brisket and tendon in my soup. EB agrees and usually adds tripe to the mix. Neither of us is a huge fan of meatballs, and lean brisket is hardly worth the time.
We also ordered salad rolls. These are an addictive combination of chewy noodles, tender shrimp and fresh herbs and are stellar when dipped in the accompanying peanut sauce. Typically, the soup came before the rolls, and we had to remind a random server that we were expecting them. But the soup was beautiful when it arrived. Unlike other places, which completely submerge the thinly sliced raw meat in the broth to cook it before it gets to the table, ThÃ¡i SÃ³n left some pink pieces on top that we could plunge into the broth ourselves. This gave the meat a freshness and prevented it from becoming too cooked before we tasted it. I tossed in the basil, bean sprouts, lime juice and jalapeÃ±o slices, along with my typical douse of hot chili sauce and sweet hoisin. The soup hit the spot. The heat of the chilies, the variety of the herbs and the comforting warmth of the whole ensemble made it the perfect metaphor for a relationship filled with romance.
Astor Wine & Spirits
De Vinne Press Building
399 Lafayette (at East 4th St.)
New York, NY 10003
89 Baxter St.
New York, NY 10013