The Sybarite’s Survival Guide: Riding Out Hurricane Sandy, Chapter 1

TIME's office gourmand surveys the threat of Sandy and runs into the harsh culinary economics of a city preparing for catastrophe.

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Just after 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, a sustained gust of wind interrupted my walk on 57th street, barging from east to west on the elegant skyscrapered funnel bounded by Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Bulgari. It was not the strongest gust I have ever had to walk through — there have been astonishly powerful ones, unattached to named hurricanes, that nearly felled me. But the blast was a warning that the much-heralded Hurricane Sandy was on his or her way. Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered all public transportation shut down beginning at 7 p.m. Indeed, I was on the streets because I had finally decided to join the panic and was on my way to accumulate calories in the event my favorite restaurants had to close for two or three days. I am the proverbial Manhattanite in extremis: I live alone, I do not cook and I do not have a working refrigerator. If eateries and take-out service shut down, I starve.

I passed a large huddle of European tourists on the plaza that enshrined the all-glass Apple Store cube. In their parkas–all shades of blue, black and brown–they looked exactly like a large family of seals, basking in the sun. Except there was no sun, a condition impressed upon me as I plucked a serrated autumn leaf that had stuck to my glasses after I strode straight through a whirlpool of wind where 5th Avenue met 57th Street. Please consider a hotel, I wanted to tell the visitors. But they spoke in what sounded like a Nordic tongue. Perhaps this passes for temperate weather for them.

Finally, I arrived at the restaurant of my choice that afternoon: Fred’s on the 9th floor of Barneys. It was bustling, if only 4/5ths full. Not bad business for the eve of catastrophe. Aggie–who is the den mother of the staff–immediately gave me a hug. She remarked (but did not quite compliment me) on my rather voluminous rain jacket, which was the color of a New York City taxi cab. She said there were others here  — “fun people” — who said they wanted to ingest their final meals here. She said she laughed and told them that the end of the world ain’t coming till December–so say the Maya prophecies. I said it had to start sometime and then headed off to order food.

I settled down at the bar and asked for Fred’s spaghetti, a wonderfully comforting combination of asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. The crunch of the asparagus is echoed by the al dente pasta to almost hypnotic effect. Hassan, the most aristocratic-looking bartender in the city, knew what I wanted. I order nothing else. He said the staff was going home an hour early because the subways and buses were shutting down. Very civil of management to do so. But the disruption to the city’s economics (apart from my eating habits) is severe. My friend Simpson Wong, who owns the delicious fusion restaurant Wong down in Greenwich Village, told me that he had to cancel his weekly Balinese pork roast because almost his entire staff depends on public transportation to get to and from work. I jokingly said I’d be willing to walk the 80 blocks from my apartment to his restaurant if they were open but it was not feasible in terms of his business.

All Starbucks outlets in New York City were closed through Monday. But my colleague Josh Sanburn, who lives in Brooklyn, reports that the well-reviewed Asian fusion restaurant Talde in Park Slope was serving customers on Sunday evening: two big yellow and green neon signs declare “Yes We’re Open” and “Frankenstorm Punch: $8.” But I can’t get there from here.

Later, a friend at another restaurant informed me that managers told the staff that they’d have to come in on Monday — when the storm is supposed to be even more severe. None of the staff in that restaurant lives in Manhattan; subways aren’t expected to re-start until Tuesday. I was glad for the intel: it is never good to be at a restaurant with vengeful waiters. I’m glad I got a large order of lechon asado at my neighborhood Chino-Latino restaurant as my back-up for Monday. There’s enough salt and fat in that to withstand the lack of refrigeration–for a day or so.

At Fred’s, I finished my meal and told Hassan and Aggie to get home safe. On the way back to the office, I saw that the colony of seals–the Scandinavians–had dispersed, hopefully to safer climes. Bergdorf’s had put up wooden planking to protect the department store’s ornate display windows. The winds were circling on 57th: and I was walking back to the office to help prepare TIME for the perfect storm.

Chua-Eoan is the News Director of TIME.

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