Writer Alida Nugent is deep into a relationship with her polar opposite. This week, they negotiate the delicate dance of sourcing red meat in two boroughs.
I never wanted to date a picky eater, which is why I didn’t. Still, I knew my boyfriend and I would end up fighting over food when I asked him about his last meal. I am interested in the arbitrariness of food preferences, and also perhaps, conversations about death. And so it went:
Mine: A green salad with fresh herbs. A well-thought out vegetarian plate of nachos, with extra radishes (no cilantro!) and queso. A cheese plate with Castelvetrano olives and hummus. Charred octopus. Homemade pasta. A bottle of sparkling wine.
His: A pastrami sandwich from Katz’s Deli. A bottle of Knob Creek.
We had already been dating for a while before I asked the last meal question, so I already knew his answer was going to be uninspired. I also knew many of our differences already: I’m a former vegetarian Puerto Rican who grew up in Westchester—a writer who makes people uncomfortable with feminist jokes at parties. He works in banking, an Irish-Italian who was raised in Brooklyn and remembers the W train. His loves include The New York Mets, mob movies, and now, unfortunately, me. We were the meat and potatoes of romance. We worked wonderfully together: I would order a knish if I somehow ended up at Katz’s. I like potatoes more; he goes straight to the meat.
This didn’t come up too much, lest we become a marital sitcom a la King of Queens , but it came up sometimes. When looking for barbecue restaurants in Austin, for instance, I only wanted to go to places that had good sides. When we go to a burger restaurant, I go with turkey. You know, little things.
Then, we moved in together.
We live in a small, remodeled building with what a real estate agent would call “quirks”—one hinge less on a door, a lazy Susan in one of the cabinets that does not spin, and a smoke detector close enough to the stove to create an issue. You cannot cook pasta without this thing screaming. We keep a ladder accessible at all times, and wave around towels. If there is one thing that might end our relationship, it is this smoke detector.
Shatter-proof Negronis. Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber
We recently decided to make steaks for a special occasion dinner. I start with Negronis (but forgot the orange peel) in the green plastic glasses my mother gave because “I break things.” I boil spinach and leave it to drain for the creamed spinach. I peel potatoes for the mash. As usual, I fixate on the sides. For my boyfriend, of course, it is about the steak: two bright red NY Strips, lying unseasoned on the wine rack, the butcher paper laid open like a flower blooming.
The conversation about the meat began days before dinner.
“I’ll go to my father’s butcher,” he said.
This means Avenue P, an hour from our house, and absolutely no chance he will get there after work before it closes. What I see before me is a disaster—my boyfriend wakes up on Saturday with no steaks, and I have to make the trek to Sheepshead Bay with him to get it. This does not sound fun.
But he likes this butcher. To him, special occasion steaks mean going to this guy, with the bone in, splitting the filet and the strip into two different parts. He’ll bring home extras as a treat, pickled peppers stuffed with breadcrumbs, or olives, or artichokes. It is more than a think, it’s a tradition.
I suggest another more convenient butcher, in the West Village. This is where we differ in our visions of New York. Even though my parents grew up here, and I live here now, I am still a transplant in many ways. I am enamored by all of our options, by our proximity to literally everything. He is not.
Let’s just try it , I say. I can be bossy in the kitchen, and mostly everywhere else. The “let’s try it” lingers over us as he brings the West Village steaks home.
“It might not turn out as good,” he warns me, or tells himself.
“Two bright red NY Strips, lying unseasoned on the wine rack, the butcher paper laid open like a flower blooming.” Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber
We had purchased a grill pan from Bed, Bath, and Beyond when we moved in. The small building, no doubt wracked with code violations, had a perk; a large kitchen with enough cabinets to start purchasing these kinds of non-essential kitchen items: a little plate that has ridges to grate ginger on for stir-fry, a spatula with a pig on it, Christmas candy bowls, a small deep fryer, and this grill pan. Besides the portrait of the dogs playing poker that hangs above our bar cart, it is the only thing my boyfriend has insisted on.
If you know anything about grill pans, you know that they produce a lot of smoke. And so the second after the steaks hit it, there are massive, massive amounts of smoke. The house looks like it is on fire, and I’m not sure it isn’t.
“Just take it off! We can plug it back in after dinner!” I am raising my voice.
My boyfriend is on top of the ladder, and I am waving the towels at the fire alarm. He gets off the ladder to turn the steaks to form a crosshatch pattern. I am losing my mind, but he does not pause his grilling.
As the house fills with smoke, I realize this is not the time for compromise. He is getting off the ladder to form a crosshatch pattern because, even though these steaks are not the steaks from Avenue P, they need to be prepared the same way as he always prepares them. Heavily salted and peppered. Lying to rest on the cutting board until it’s time to cut them. It is time to get off the ladder to turn them. This is no debate.
The smoking guns—ahem—steaks. Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber
Sometimes, you make compromises. Sometimes, you stay quiet. I knew what kind of moment this was.
We finally sit at the table, the room still filled with the heavy kind of smoke that scratches your insides. My favorite part of the meal is the creamed spinach, which I eat with a spoon directly out of the serving bowl. But the steak is good. So good. Melty and buttery and delicious, and I—the former vegetarian—eat the whole thing. And it’s from the West Village , I say!
But this is not why it is so delicious. For the first time this evening, we agree.