Musings + Essays

The Untrustworthy Gossamer of the Past.

By: Jen Shoop

*Mini was probably 20 months old in the photo above, carrying her trusty Lulu (a Corolle mini!) everywhere with her at that age.

Lincoln Center recently announced that it will be transforming its iconic plaza into a green space this summer, and I found myself strangely aghast over the news. Even though I conceptually appreciate and support the fact that the project will “kickstart the arts sector” and “reactivate public space” after a year of dormancy (New York needs this!), and even though the installation is temporary, I found myself quailing at the prospect.

It was perhaps the first time I had contemplated the possibility that “my New York” — the New York that has been my home for the last few years — will disappear when I move this summer. I now have the mounting suspicion that when I return, Jackie O. will stand like a stranger, the streets will be dirtier than I remembered, our little wine bar around the corner–the one with tiny round tables that dot the sidewalk at the helm of a street lined with lovely brownstones–will have closed. I know this is the way of the world. Even while I am living here in Manhattan, the city has been changing under my feet from day to day. Restaurants close; new buildings are erected; contemporary statues are installed; scaffolding appears, then disappears, transforming entire blocks of the city overnight. The city is liquid. Beyond that, my father has continually impressed upon me the importance of forward-leaning momentum in life: “no looking back, Jen.” Still, in spite of the various threads of logic so readily gathered in counterpoint, I had to linger for a minute in my disappointment over the soon-to-be-transformed plaza in front of the Metropolitan Opera house, where, as I wrote recently, “my daughter learned to scoot…and enjoyed countless dripping ice cream cones while gazing distractedly into its dancing fountains.” I suppose the plans served as a facile metaphor: my memories of raising my two babies here will soon be submerged. I will no longer turn the corner and immediately — with no pause, and no strain — see my daughter wheeling down the broad paving stones of the plaza, two and fearless and as precious a pearl. I will no longer envision, with immediacy, the performative kick of one leg behind her in the air as she’d lean over the handlebar, toe pointed, a daredevil in a balletic pose. Now there will be grass — synthetic grass — covering the surface of that memory when we depart in a couple months, and then the 233 miles between our apartment in Manhattan and our future home in D.C. obscuring it further, and then the inevitable toll of time will continue to erode the vision such that one day, that toe point and the minutiae of the tiny human that formed it will shimmer and fade into the lovely but untrustworthy gossamer of the past.

This is life, this is life —

And far be it for me to turn luddite.

But my goodness, I think I will miss this city as I have known it.


In this vein, I wanted to share some (!) of my favorite restaurants in New York, as a snapshot of the city I have known. Several are sadly in various permutations of temporary or even permanent closure owing to COVID. This is a non-exhaustive list that skews towards the one-of-a-kind, exceptional, destination-worthy caliber of restaurants, as there are also many neighborhood-type restaurants we’ve loved for convenient weeknight dining (Motorino for thin-crust pizza, Mermaid Inn for happy hour, etc.) I know I am forgetting many…!

+Prune. Outrageously delicious and festive brasserie owned by celebrated chef Gabrielle Hamilton (Mr. Magpie is a huge fan) and setting for one of my favorite golden moments from my time here in NYC.

+I Sodi. The best pasta I’ve ever had in a cozy but elegant setting. Top top top top notch, and the service is impeccable. (Order the fried artichokes as an appetizer and the ravioli as an entree and immediately enter heaven.)

+Pastrami Queen. Our favorite deli on the planet. The prices are obscene, yes, but a lunch of their matzo ball soup and rye bread piled high with pastrami and spicy mustard will make you weep with joy.

+Bar Pisellino. The chicest and most convenient spot to wait for a table in West Village: aperitivi and bar snacks in a space perfectly designed to accommodate hungry diners seeking a temporary perch and a good cocktail.

+Corner Bistro. Sit at the bar, order a burger and martini, and enjoy the show. (Great people watching in this packed and iconic setting, and a great (!) burger to boot.)

+Super Taste. A no-frills hole-in-the-wall with the best dumplings and hand-pulled noodles I’ve ever eaten. Vanessa’s is a close runner-up — and one we frequent regularly because they just opened a location uptown and how can you beat that convenience?

+Prince Street Pizza. Literally the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. I dream of that pizza.

+Le Coucou. The most extravagant meal we’ve had in Manhattan in one of the most astoundingly romantic and attractive restaurants I’ve ever been in in my life. If you aren’t game for forcemeat and traditional, formal French cuisine like quenelle de brochet and escargots, you might want to skip this one. But oh my goodness is it delicious. Indulgent, over-the-top, beautiful.

+Banh NY. Mr. Magpie and I love — *love* — Vietnamese food. Pho has been a near-weekly occurrence in our lives for decades, and I first discovered the art of the banh mi sandwich out in Eden Center in Seven Corners, where you could score an amazing BBQ pork banh mi for all of $3.25. In Chicago, we’d make a 30-minute pilgrimage to Tank Noodle in the Uptown area every week or two — it was that good and that important to us. In short, we take Vietnamese cuisine seriously. I personally think the banhs at Two Wheels are slightly better than Banh’s but everything else — buns, cha gio, pho — are as good as it gets at Banh in NYC.

+Ippudo Ramen. We’ve probably tried all of the esteemed ramen shops in Manhattan, and this is our favorite. The silkiest, richest broth and the most toothsome noodles. My mouth is watering just thinking of it…

+Wild Air. We went wild over the sandwiches (there was this insane broccoli rabe and cheese melt on the menu when we went that I still dream of…everything about it was perfect from the housemade bread to the cheese) and then lost our damn minds over the donuts, which sell out in a nano-second daily. Worth a trip just for the donuts, but the sandwiches are also exquisite.

+Barney Greengrass. A destination for a reason: the best smoked fish in, probably, the world. Everything bagel with pastrami lox and all the trimmings, pls and thank you.

+Breads Bakery. Babka. Thank me later. Also, I think, one of the best chocolate chip cookies in the city. It’s thin, chewy, and buttery. Everyone loves Levain, but my vote is with Breads.

+Two Little Red Hens. Meep – I think this has permanently closed (!) – but the best cupcakes on the planet, and we’ve tried them all, from Baked & Wired in DC to Sprinkles to everything in between. A really light, fluffy cupcake with perfectly sweet-but-not-too-sweet frosting.

+Marea. A Michelin-starred restaurant presenting sophisticated seafood dishes in a quiet, elegant setting. A great place to take your parents. I also love the location, right on Columbus Circle.

+Orwashers. I love their black-and-white cookies, custom-filled-to-order donuts, and croissants, and I have been on-and-off addicted to one of their bagel sandwiches, The West Coast. It’s embarrassingly simple in ingredients but I cannot resist its appeal, usually once a week: everything bagel, cream cheese, avocado, arugula, and olive oil. I live close to one of their shops and am in here for weekday lunches, weekend bagels/pastries more often than I care to admit.

P.S. New shoes for spring — I think dozens of Magpies will be wearing these amazingly-priced sandals.

P.P.S. A great $25 cover-up or every-day dress, plus lots of other great Target finds.

P.P.P.S. A roundup of chic (!) white dresses — you all loved this Loft find (!) — plus a great white statement top.

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17 thoughts on “The Untrustworthy Gossamer of the Past.

  1. This post tugged at my heartstrings! I saw that synthetic grass at Lincoln Center on Elaine Welteroth’s IG earlier today, and it threw me. Also, I wanted to take a pause to admire your phrase “the untrustworthy gossamer of the past” — so gorgeous!!

    Your restaurant recs could not come at a better time, as my partner and I are planning a trip to the city in early June! We are SO EXCITED … I haven’t been to New York since March 3, 2020 and it’s the longest stretch I’ve been away since birth. I need to start researching some good outdoor dining options, but I was nodding & smiling along with your recommendations of Wildair, Ippudo, and Corner Bistro — all personal favorites! Also, now I have a major craving for babka from Breads. haha!


    1. Oh you will have SO much fun! So many of the restaurants have created (hopefully permanent?) outdoor dining areas by taking over parking spots on the street. I love it, to be honest — it makes all the streets feel so alive and inviting and neighborly. Also, great people watching/spotting while walking Tilly in the evenings 🙂


  2. I think that is such a paradox of New York: it’s a city that is constantly changing and evolving – such that beloved or not so beloved restaurants and little shops and open spaces and buildings change all the time – but it is also, undeniably, New York. This is definitely true in other cities but perhaps the volume of change is the city is just that much greater, and that more deeply felt.

    I’m excited to read about what new moments you and your family make in D.C. although I will greatly miss your musings on NY!!!

    1. I hear you, there is something SO distinctive about New York — you never forget where you are. There are bits of Chicago and D.C. where I temporarily feel transported to a different place entirely (like streets in Chicago that reminded me of Georgetown or even some Southern cities, and then areas of DC that feel nearly suburban), but in New York, it is always, and only, New York.

      More to come on everything!!! Thanks for the encouragement, friend.


  3. I have a lovely mental picture of you and mini — years down the road — on a mom-and-daughter trip to NYC, stopping at that plaza turned greenspace and you painting that beautiful picture for her with your words. Your memories of all those precious moments you’ve enjoyed in the city will live on as part of your family lore – particular, detailed, and extra sweet in nostalgia. I envision a lot of “Remember when (or how)” with Mr. Magpie and “when you were little…” for mini and micro. Cheers to remembering the little things, the very fabric of our day to day… xo H

    1. Thank you, Heidi – I am imagining these conversations just as you worded them and am already treasuring them 🙂


  4. Love the list of NYC restaurants. I’ve been to most of them and agree wholeheartedly with this list. Just 1 small comment: the Vietnamese restaurant is named “Bánh NYC” as in “bánh mì,” the famous Vietnamese sandwiches (not Bahn). I’m Vietnamese and have lived here for decades. I have seen people misspelling this word so often, but still cringe whenever I see this misspell

    1. Hi there! I am mortified – thank you for the correction. Have made the edit and doubt I will ever make that mistake again!

      Glad you agree with these restaurant picks! So many incredible spots in NYC — I have thought of several other places I omitted since writing this post!


    2. I’m sitting at my desk eating a bánh mì sandwich from my in-laws’ Vietnamese restaurant as I read this post! Would love to visit Bánh NYC the next time I’m in the city…though I may always be partial to my family’s own recipes and dishes 🙂

    1. No worries! I was very intrigued by “chamito-semitique” in that context though — you had me googling!


  5. I agree with you about the chamito-sémitique the city. My grandmother lived across the street from Lincoln Center and I can’t imagine the plaza as a fake garden.
    But I’m not very good with change, even when I see that it is a change for the better Case in point – the Metropolitan Museum of Art always gave out metal button clips when you paid admission. We would try to guess what color it would be. When we left the museum, there would be a huge container at the door with all the clips in rainbow layers from the week. Now it’s a sticker. I wish I’d saved those metal clips. I actually found one the other day. I understand that it’s better for the environment, and probably cheaper, but I loved them.

    1. I’m the same way, Adrienne — not great with change either. I am such a nostalgic person and I grow so attached to routines, familiar sights and sounds, etc. Love the fact that you recovered one of those MET clips!


  6. As you so aptly said, “this is life … but I will miss the city as I knew it.” Yes, yes, yes.

    The last summer I lived in New York, they filmed the In The Heights movie in our then neighborhood of Washington Heights. At the time I didn’t know it would end up being our last summer there, and it was just fun to walk around and see the movie trailers (what a pinch me New York kind of moment!). However, once we decided to move away in the fall of 2019, I became even more grateful for it – knowing that we have a movie that perfectly captures the neighborhood as we knew it. We will probably make our children watch it someday so they can see where we lived in the newlywed part of our lives (!).

    On that note, I was in New York for the first time this past weekend since COVID began, and it was so striking to me how much had already changed in neighborhoods I used to frequent. Our beloved neighborhood bar, Coogan’s, has now been closed for a year. In Columbus Circle, where we attended Mass, a huge corner building has been completely demolished. As we walked around the Upper West Side, looking for a restaurant to eat outside at, I found myself hesitating – not sure which places were still open and which had closed because of the pandemic. As sad as some of this is to witness, it was also a great reminder to me of the city’s resilience, especially after such a dark year. New York seems to constantly be in the process of being reborn, and even though I don’t live there anymore, I’m still so curious about what is next.

    1. Hi Megan – Wow, what an amazing way to have your corner of NYC as-you-knew-it memorialized! (On film!). There has actually been a lot of filming for what I believe is Selena’s cooking show close to my apartment the last few weeks — I have no idea why they are filming where they are as all the episodes I’ve seen have taken place inside her CA house, but…! I’m so curious to see whether they capture a corner of my life :). Something to look forward to.

      You are so right on this: “New York seems to constantly be in the process of being reborn.” YES. Someone else wrote this on my post on NYC earlier this week, but NYC has been around for centuries at this point and it will outlast us all, in various unimaginable permutations. The city is truly liquid.


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