Fridays Under $40: A Casual Date Night

Posted on: July 17th, 2020 at 5:08 am by

Photo: Sara Graham

In our new Friday column, “Fridays Under $40,” contributor Sara Graham hits the streets to find cheap eats and affordable things to do during these weird times.

To introduce some novelty to our routine, my fiancé Chris and I have started weekly date nights—sometimes that’s just a Scrabble game inside or a stroll around the neighborhood. But tonight, we’re going out. I really wanted to knock his socks off by proving I haven’t totally let myself go during quarantine. My hair has yet to be cut and a group of errant eyebrow hairs seem to be making a run for it. The eyebrows I can tame at Rich Nail Spa. They do an excellent job in a relaxed but elevated atmosphere. I’m relieved to see them still in business, though I’m the only one in there.

Total Cost: $7.00
Rich Nail Spa, 199 Hester St.
Hours: 10 am – 6pm

Photo: Sara Graham

Now that I’m fresh-faced, I head to Mott Street. Chris is biking from a job in Brooklyn, so we meet at Silk Road Cafe. For $3.75 you can get any flavor of iced milk tea with bubbles, jelly or aloe. I get the Coconut Milk Tea but end up trading Chris for his Almond Milk Tea (too sweet for him is just right for me). They’re doing curbside orders and pick-up.

Total Cost: $3.75
Silk Road Cafe, 30 Mott Street
Hours: 10 am – 9 pm

Photo: Sara Graham

We find ourselves on Hester Street where we catch a quick show at Front Room Gallery. The show, titled “Shelter, Scatter, Feed,” is by artist Jesse Lambert—his ink and watercolor drawings contemplate our new COVID-19 reality and the importance of safety and shelter. As I take in his large-scale pieces, I feel gratitude in knowing that beautiful images are coming out of challenging times.

Total Cost: Free
Front Room Gallery, 48 Hester Street
Hours: Sat-Sun 12-6 pm and by appointment

Photo: Sara Graham

We’re excited to try a new Chinese restaurant, Public Village, that opened at the tail-end of stay-at-home orders. Their “streaterie” is right across from Seward Park, which offers a serene vibe, even as cars whiz by. We see two available stools and grab them. I go to the window and order Chris a chicken skeleton ($8) and Sichuan chilled noodles for myself ($9).

Photo: Sara Graham

No alcohol at Public Village, and it’s date night after all, so while we’re waiting for our food I go to S & J Grocery, a block away and get a cool tall boy of Budweiser ($2.50!) for us to split. Back at Public Village, I crack open the beer as we people watch and the food arrives curbside in a cute little bag with a Sharpie’d “thank you” and heart doodle.

Total Cost: $2.50
S & J Grocery, 27 Essex Street
Call for hours

Photo: Sara Graham

The chicken skeleton from Public Village comes wrapped in foil and demands a fully immersive eating experience with rubber gloves to match. The dish, which hails from the northeastern Dongbei region, takes a whole chicken carcass, rubs it in cumin and herbs and deep fries it. We get the very last one and Chris says it’s absolutely delicious.

Conversely, my chilled noodles are vegan–no bones about it!— and infused with a spicy vinegar that delivers a punch of “delayed heat.” The kind that slowly permeates your lips and can only be quelled by eating more. And more. In short, the dish is addictive, I leave none for Chris. The spice is perfectly tempered by the crisp chilled cucumbers, nutty sesame seeds and zingy cilantro. The Budweiser proves to be a refreshing pairing. I might as well be a sommelier.

Photo: Sara Graham

Total Cost: $9 (for my noodles—we split the bill)
Public Village, 23 Essex Street
Hours: 11:30 am – 9:30 pm

It occurs to me as we walk home holding hands in comfortable silence that dating someone new in the times of COVID-19 must be really bizarre. Or maybe not. Maybe it forces real, meaningful conversations while delaying sex: a good recipe for budding intimacy. Either way, Manhattan, even with its new look—blocks dappled with shuttered storefronts and brave new businesses hoping for a shot, the pain and promise of it all—is still a great backdrop for romance.

Total Cost of walkabout: $22.25
Costs recorded do not include tip. Tip generously. Wear a mask.

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