New York is a great place to eat, walkable, with creative chefs, tons of ethnic dives mixed with tons of insanely high-end dining. You can get anything you want at most hours, and you can get it delivered to your apartment if you so desire. The existence of Russ and Daughters alone ought to render moot every single argument that can be made against New York's food scene.
I enjoy just about every single meal I have when I head back East.
Somehow, though, every time I come home from New York, I'm absurdly happy to be home, back in my beloved Orange County. I love eating here, and following are five reasons why.
1. The produce is better.
Manhattan may have the Union Square Greenmarket, Brooklyn may have the Park Slope Co-Op, but what they don't have is the growing season we have here. Winter in the produce section of a New York grocery store is a long trudge through the imported, and in summer's bounty gets very expensive.
Orange County still has honest-to-God farms; we still have cattle roaming our canyons and being turned into grass-fed deliciousness, and our strawberries are sweet and juicy eleven months of the year. We have a huge contingent of backyard growers who sell niche crops like sudachi, obscure herbs and Asian vegetables to restaurants and, through our wonderful farmers' markets, the public.
2. Outdoor dining is commonplace.
There's something very relaxing about sitting outside on a 75-degree day with pleasant company, good wine and great food, whiling away the time as the wind plays in one's hair. New York isn't conducive to outdoor dining; the weather is capricious (and survival of that humidity ought to be a badge of honor) and space is very tight, even out in the outer boroughs.
Orange County is chock-a-block with outdoor dining; since we're fairly suburban, we can build restaurants with spacious patios. Even inland, the weather is rarely extreme. The result is that there is a significant number of restaurants with primarily outdoor seating.
3. Food is (much) cheaper.
Food is simply cheaper in OC. Groceries are cheaper; restaurants are cheaper. Real estate prices are stunning in New York and rents ditto; these costs get passed on to New Yorkers, the result being that the high-end dining scene is restricted to a smaller group in New York than in OC.
Looking at Gristede's or Grand Union through Orange County eyes is an exercise in sticker shock; meat--even the cheap cuts--is expensive and vegetables are ludicrously overpriced. Restaurants are pretty dear too; $85 per diem for food seemed generous on a recent trip until it came down to finding restaurants to eat in. I got home with my wallet screaming from all the depredations visited upon it.
4. There are hardly any dress codes.
This is one of those things that expat New Yorkers sneer about. "There's nowhere to go and dress up; everyone wears jeans." That's a good thing. California has always been more casual than the starchy East Coast. Ties at work are an increasing rarity, and ties in restaurants ditto. This makes it easier to go out at the last minute without having to stop home and change into a suit.
To be fair, the number of restaurants in New York with strict dress codes is dwindling; it's becoming easier to go out and have a truly great dinner in khakis and a button-down shirt. That said, there are perhaps three restaurants in OC with strict dress codes.
The complainers who bemoan the loss of a sense of occasion in restaurants aren't being prevented from dressing up for the evening. Orange Countians won't judge.
5. It's easier to get into restaurants.
It's possible to be a lover of good food in Orange County and never have to resort to OpenTable. Even when reservations are required, they're rarely necessary except for weekends at popular places, and even then they usually only require a couple of days' notice. It's possible, with certain exceptions, to walk into just about any restaurant in the county.
Making reservations a couple of days ahead in New York is more difficult. There's a lot more of the "5:30 or 10:00" problem, simply because there are so many more people competing for the tables (9 million New Yorkers, 3 million Orange Countians). Some restaurants require two weeks' notice or more for a table, even for non-special occasions.
(Cue the comments from New Yorkers who failed to read the part where I said I love eating in New York.)
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