Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NYC v. Denver: The Five Senses (part 1)

When I think about some of the changes in my life occasioned by my move from Brooklyn to Denver, beyond missing my friends and my wonderful job many of the differences seem to gather around sensory experiences.

Yes, the Big Apple tastes different, and life Out On the Range is a heckuva lot quieter.

How do they stack up? Well, let’s start with two of the senses today: taste and sound.

New York City, the gourmand’s dream, is chock-full of restaurants and bars and street carts and food trucks serving anything you can imagine. There are thousands of self-proclaimed foodies, and innumerable culinary blogs.

One can eat like a king, without having to fork over a princely sum.

Fierce competition in the gustatory category tends to push out the drab and the flavorless, and the constant influx of residents from the world over guarantees variety. As illustration, years ago a friend visited me for a week, and we achieved our goal of eating a different national cuisine with every meal. Granted, we counted Mars 2112 as Martian food, but nonetheless we could have continued this challenge for weeks without having to revisit a country we’d already tasted our way around.

Some of my personal favorite places included Venezuelan arepas, Vietnamese pho, Belgian beer (and Flemish, and Norwegian, and German, and English, and you get the point), vegetarian Tibetan, and weekend brunch (here, here and here). And yes, in New York brunch is a food category all on its own.

In contrast, apart from the benefit of Mom’s Home Cooking, I am finding the Denver food scene less enticing. Following so many of my meals here I feel I’ve visited only one foreign locale: the Sahara. For some unknown reason, many Mile High restaurants seem to overdo the salt. My theory was this was due to a less versatile skill-set with spices; my father proposed Denverites need a salt lick to help them retain some water in this desert environment.

Salt Lick
 I’m also finding that restaurants in Denver tend to suffer from a direct relationship between cost and taste: the tastier the food, the more expensive, and vice versa. While there are clearly exceptions to this Colorado rule, this problem is rarely the case in New York.

The one cuisine for which New York can’t hold a candle to Colorado is Mexican, for which I am immensely grateful. If I’m stuck with only one national cuisine that is both tasty and affordable, Mexican is the ideal choice. Consolation for the stranded foodie.

And to add insult to injury, I haven’t been able to find my favorite beer anywhere in the Denver Metro area. Wostyntje Mustard Ale, people! Keep your eyes peeled!

Verdict: New York wins this one. Pass the potatoes.

Ah, the lovely sounds of a warm summer weeknight. Lying in bed, slowly drifting off to sleep and hearing the sweet lullaby of SCREECH! HONK HONK! WHAT THE H*LL, YOU (deleted expletive)! RING RING! HEY, MIKE, THROW DOWN THE KEYS! TIFFANY! TIFFANY! COME DOWN HERE! *Sounds of autotune-abused pop music BLARING out the windows as a car passes down the street.*

Yes, the summer sounds of my block in Brooklyn, usually around, oh, 10 until 2 in the morning. It would generally get quiet after that, only to pick up again with the 4:00 a.m. drunken flirting, catcalls and fights that inevitably followed the closing of the neighborhood bars for the night.

Ah, the barely-awake calls to 311, complaining about noise pollution...to which the police generally never responded, because they are given somewhere around 8 hours to address a noise complaint. Yeah, right.

A few weeks before moving, I had one of those act-before-you-think New York moments, wherein I stuck my head out the window and yelled down to the guy parked at the curb blaring his stereo, “Are you SERIOUS? It’s 4 a.m.!”

As I woke up a little, I realized maybe this might not have been such a good idea. After all, he can tell which apartment I’m in. And my screaming at him is not going to sweetly convince him to let us all sleep. Fortunately, he just stuck his chin up at me in a gesture of defiance, leaned against the car, and sat out there with the stereo going until 6:00.

Neighborhood jerk: 1, Laura: 0.

Granted, this was only a summer phenomenon, and more prevalent when the high school kids were out on vacation. Winters tended to be serene and tolerable.

And yes, you may argue, there are neighborhoods that are much more peaceful and less obnoxious than Williamsburg, however I will counter that with “HONK HONK!”

What? That wasn’t someone you knew blaring their horn as you were walking peacefully along the sidewalk? Of course not! They were honking at the cabbie cutting them off...you just happened to be standing close enough to jump out of your skin.

And in contrast, in Denver I am occasionally woken from the absolute silence reining over the wee hours by faint, ghostlike sounds of train whistles coming from several miles away.

It’s a beautiful reminder of the history of the city, and although I know they’re freight trains, I can’t help but envision women in bustles and lace and silk, sitting in a train rolling into Union Station, waiting to meet their mining millionaire and begin their life at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. And then I fluff my pillow, turn over, and go back to sleep.

Verdict: Denver

Total count: This one’s a tie! Check back soon for how NY and CO compare with the rest of the senses.

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