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Nina In New York: “C” Is For…Oh, Come On!

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(credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

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A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
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If I was writing this as a tweet (which I find myself doing strangely often these days @NinaPajakahem!), I would file this story under #upperwestsideproblems. Or perhaps #germaphobeproblems. Definitely #firstworldproblems.

Any way you lay the hashtag, I’m just devastated.

Allow me to back up. Three days ago, nytimes.com unveiled their latest toy, a fully interactive “New York Health Department Ratings Map.” On it is essentially every food establishment (with some exceptions) in the New York area is represented by a dot in the color corresponding to its letter grade. Roll over the dot, and you get an instant pop-up window which displays the restaurant’s violations in quantity and detail. You can even search by violation type and cuisine. In other words, my life is ruined.

More From Nina In New York: C Is For Cookie…Oh, Not Even Close

Within an hour of going up, the link had been forwarded to me by no fewer than three people via various forms of social media. Within fifteen minutes of receiving the link, I discovered that at least ten of my most frequented neighborhood places have grades lower than an A. And in the case of my very favorite restaurant, it is a . . . I can’t even say it.

They have a C.

Dun dun dunnnnnnn!

I’m appalled and upset. This place wasn’t our favorite restaurant because it’s the best restaurant around. In fact, the service was awful. Laughably so. Sitcom-level bad. I once got into a fight with them over the concept of taking reservations despite their policy of refusing to hold tables for anybody. It was directly out of a Seinfeld episode, only when acted out in real life, it’s less hilarious and more infuriating. But the food was consistently good, and we discovered the joys of sitting at their accommodating bar for dinner instead of dealing with the madcap waitstaff. It became our place, the place where we’d meet on a Friday afternoon after a harrowing week of work to decompress over dirty martinis and brick-oven pizza. It was the place my friend and I liked to spontaneously stop for a glass of Prosecco or three and a cheese plate. The bartender was always friendly, and her charm attracted a stable of other neighborhood regulars whom we’d always encounter when we went.

So imagine my crushing disappointment when I, a total neurotic germ freak, discovered that my neighborhood joint, my refuge, my comfort food establishment, had been busted for mice, improper use of (prohibited!) pesticides, and contaminated food. And not only that, but this has been since November at least, the last time they were inspected! And not only that, but I can only assume that their big, shameful, orange “C” was posted in a less-than-conspicuous spot, because there is no way I would have missed it otherwise. #A-pause-palling.

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It is probably good contextual background to know that Mr. Pajak and I recently had the pleasure of encountering the owner of this restaurant, on an evening when we were lingering after a late meal and the place was nearly closed. He came barreling in, paunchy and red-nosed with a predictably attractive younger woman trailing behind. The staff was shutting down for the night, and he began barking orders like some two-bit king, demanding they bring him wine and bruschetta and flagons of mead and joints of meat. We may as well have been invisible (thankfully), but he took an immediate interest in two ballerinas who were quietly celebrating their 21st birthdays in the corner. He talked loudly about absurdly large real estate purchases he had just made which only two baby ballerinas and a stoned girlfriend would believe, and he made a big show about checking their IDs as he inched his barstool closer and closer to them. It was, in a word, hideous.

So in light of this insider knowledge of management d-baggery, and due to my often-mentioned overdeveloped sense of justice, I did what I had to do after I learned the shocking “C” news. I sent them a strongly-worded letter. It was peppered with phrases like “inexcusable,” “serious management problem,” “frankly disgusted,” and “cannot bring myself to return until you have improved your score.” I am about one strongly-worded letter away from having to trade my computer in for a word processor and officially turning into my late grandmother. But it felt good! Only, not as good as it would feel to have our spot back. I can only hope that piggish owner likes revenue more than rodents and gets his act together. And writes me back to apologize. And thank me for pushing him in the right direction.

Meanwhile, it seems as though the only restaurant in my general vicinity which is clean enough to patronize is suddenly Gray’s Papaya.

I guess it’s time to learn how to cook.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions and follow me on Twitter.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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