Let’s face it, workloads are hectic, schedules chaotic, spare time fleeting. We try to make better choices for our diets, but meeting deadlines and making appointments sometimes means sacrifice. In other words, fast food has become an absolute necessity in our daily lives, and finding healthy food, in a pinch, poses the ultimate challenge.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the pinch in more ways than one. Suddenly, my system has begun rejecting all things seasoned. A pinch of salt here and there is OK, but I’ve become sensitive to anything that’s sodium-enhanced. And yet when Chris suggested we grab a quick lunch at Arnie’s Manhattan Deli before a meeting, I naturally screamed, “Pastrami and corned beef? Oh yes, please!”
Then reality set in. How could I indulge my craving for ethnic staples like matzo ball soup, latkes, kugel and knishes, when I knew the sodium consequences meant waking up the next morning resembling a large blowfish?
I didn’t want to be difficult, but I knew my diet challenges presented an obstacle. So, I carefully offered what I considered to be a reasonable compromise.
“Chris, how about we go to Arnie’s and you can get your New York deli fix,” I suggested. “Order whatever you like. In fact, why don’t you get what I like, too? That way I can live vicariously through you.” I laughed.
“Then, would you mind if we drive around the block to Pascal’s L’Epicerie, so I can get some crunchy, healthy, low-sodium vegetable dishes that won’t compromise my system?”
“Sure. No problem.” Chris replied nonchalantly.
If I’d known it was going to be that easy, I would have asked for a pit-stop at Bloomingdales, too.
We made our way to Arnie’s and decided to place an order to go. While perusing the menu, one thing quickly became apparent.
“Chris, once I’m over this temporary sodium spell, I’m definitely heading back here to order the stuffed cabbage,” I stated. “Gwumpkies are my grandmother’s specialty, and Arnie’s is supposed to have the best gwumpkies around.”
But that’s not the only standout on Arnie’s menu. Arnie’s smokes and cures the corned beef, pastrami, and ham on site. They also use thick, hand-cut slices of freshly baked rye bread for their sandwiches.
Based on that, Chris ordered a large (10 oz.) pastrami sandwich with homemade cole slaw, and their special pickles. While we waited, we admired the murals depicting New York City life painted by Capistrano Beach artist William Limebrook.
We collected Chris’ order and swiftly made our way down the street to L’Epicerie. As we entered the small but charming shop, I checked my watch and realized we were cutting it close. A stickler for time, I quickly ordered my items like a drill sergeant on a mission–succinct, no-nonsense, and fast as bullets. I’m sure the young man behind the counter was afraid I might tell him to drop and give me 20 if he didn’t cooperate.
“Let me have a grilled salmon filet, the French green beans with slivered almonds and red onion, the roasted beet salad, and some grilled asparagus. May I please try the cous cous?” Hey, even in drill sergeant mode I still say “please” and “thank you.”
I sampled the lightest cous cous I’ve ever tasted, with hints of lemon zest and red pepper. I added it to my order.
Of course, since it’s not sugar that is problematic for me, I had to order a dozen of Pascal’s famous macaroons. I first experienced macaroons at Ladurée in Paris, where they originated, and any time a friend went to visit, I’d beg them to bring some home for me.
“Mmmmm. Just like I remember!” I sighed after taking a bite of a pistachio macaroon. “I’ll gladly drive here any time for these – it’s cheaper than an airplane ticket to France, and I can stop bugging my friends.”
As luck would have it, I was among the first customers that day to try Pascal’s newest macaroon flavor: mint chocolate. Can you say chocolate heaven? Actually, you know what? Forget I said a thing – I want them all to myself.
“You know, Chris, for grabbing food on the go, with specific criteria in mind, I don’t think we could have made better choices,” I told him as we quickly ate our lunch on LÉpicerie’s patio.
“And we made it from New York to Paris in 30 minutes,” noted Chris.
“Not even the Concord can top that,” I grinned.
Arnie’s is at 1660 Dove St. Newport Beach, CA 92660. Hours: M-F 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.. Closed weekends. 949-252-8646.
Pascal Épicerie & Wine is at 1000 N. Bristol, Newport Beach, CA. 92660. Hours: M-S 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. 949-263-9400.
Final Note: As you all know, the Taste of Newport arrives in two weeks. We’ll be going to some of the restaurants in advance to sample their Taste of Newport menu, and we’ll find out what kind of behind-the-scenes-prep work is necessary to serve thousands of people during the three day event. Stay tuned for the ensuing hilarity next week!