MY FAMILY RARELY DINES OUT—in part, because my father can cook. Of course, birthdays, homecomings, and even Sundays after church warrant a lunch or dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in Houston. True to form, when I returned from Paris, my parents and I stopped for Vietnamese halfway home from the airport. Having had more pho in the four months I lived in Paris's Chinatown than I'd had in my entire life, I was adverse to my father's suggestion of Vietnamese rice-noodle soup at Pho (insert number). But it was delicious, half the price of pho on Avenue de Choisy, and, in retrospect, a nice transition.
For me, ordering at a restaurant can be a bit of an ordeal. Maybe it's because I'm on a budget, or I'm easily seduced by adjectives like "pole-caught" (tuna). Or my sister, my favorite dining companion, has a tendency to order for us in the style of Owen Wilson's Francis L. Whitman in Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. Which is fine, because she and I like the same things. Or I'm torn among panini that each contain one irresistible ingredient. Prosciutto di parma, aged ricotta, mozzarella, artichoke hearts.
When I'm faced with this, I remind myself, "Everything in moderation," "This is not your last meal." And it's usually at this point when I realize again that every day we make decisions based on others' words and our associations with these words, our knowledge and memory of what something tastes like. Why the hell does pole-caught tuna sound good to me? It just does.
When I'm in the East Village, I like to go to Tarallucci e Vino (163 First Ave. at 10th St.) for coffee or lunch. For dinner, Moustache.
For breakfast, Tarallucci has a decent "French" Croissant. It is buttery, pleasantly crusty and flaky on the outside, airy on the inside. I don't know much about coffee, but I know that their latté is good, hot or cold. Sit closer to First Ave. and you might be lucky enough to catch some Wi-Fi waves.
For lunch, I recommend the salad of mesclun, fennel, tuna, cherry tomatoes, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil dressing. The cherry tomatoes are sweet and tart from the lemon and go nicely with the bitter mesclun. Drizzled with olive oil, the fennel is so thinly sliced it is translucent white. The tuna is the least impressive part. I'm guessing because it's not pole-caught. For something heavier, I recommend the "Stella" panino—filet of tuna, artichoke hearts, and mayonnaise. Just make sure you specify that you want the sandwich, not a Stella Artois.
From Moustache (269 E. 10th St. nr. First Ave.), an order of the baba ganoush and a leg of lamb sandwich is perfect for a night in, as long as you have cash handy. They may warn you that the lamb sandwich is served cold. Tell them you know, you like it that way.