Lauren Scala can tell you New York is, in fact, a city that sleeps. The New York Live correspondent and Today in New York traffic reporter knows because she starts her days for WNBC at 2 a.m. “There are no fancy coffee spots open in the middle of the night when my ‘day’ begins,” she says. Her mornings may mean Café Bustelo at home, but her afternoons are often spent eating some of the best food in the city. This week, she stopped by Benno, popped into Ribalta, and snacked on a slice from L&B Spumoni Gardens, all before heading home to Long Island to finally learn how to make her family’s meatballs. Read it all in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Thursday, October 31
My alarm clock punched me in the face at 2 a.m., like it has almost every single weekday for the past nine years. I always head straight to the kitchen to make myself the “2 a.m. special” — a cup of Café Bustelo with hazelnut Coffee-Mate. I think this started with my roommate in my early 20s. She was the Coffee-Mate person, and I will tell you my chef friends make fun of me that I have it.
I drank about half while blow-drying my hair, got dressed, and arrived at the studio a little after 3 a.m.
During the live show — 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. — I drank another three-fourths of a cup of coffee from the coffee machine at the office. It’s not very good, but it’s definitely better than nothing. I was still full from an eating extravaganza the day before, but it was Halloween, after all, so I cracked open a mini Mr. Goodbar I had scored a few days earlier in the judges’ suite at Beat Bobby Flay.
Around 9 a.m., I ran home to change for my New York Live shoot. Breakfast ended up being a slice of an L&B Spumoni Gardens pizza from a pie I had picked up the day before on another shoot. The breakfast of Italian champions.
My shoot for the day was at some of the new restaurants in the city that were just given their first Michelin stars. First stop was Benno at the Evelyn Hotel in Nomad. I sat down with Jonathan Benno, the chef, to chat about the restaurant and taste some of his signature dishes. He prepared a caviar dish with tater tots from the snacks menu, along with a Greenmarket salad, two pasta dishes, and, for the main event, the Cacciucco. It’s a fresh bowl of seafood heaven with Maine lobster, shrimp, littleneck clams, mussels, cuttlefish, and scallops in a tomato-saffron broth. We’re always on such a tight schedule, and while I would have liked to eat more, it was a quick taste of each and on to the next location.
Our next stop was at Le Jardinier in midtown. The chef, Alain Verzeroli, chose a sampling of about five dishes for me to try, plus two cocktails. I am always up for tasting new cocktails, especially ones with tequila, so I was excited about the Mi Tierra, which had tequila, mezcal, green Chartreuse, and lime. Dessert was quite memorable as well. Pecan-praline mille-feuille with huckleberry sorbet. I headed home after a long day with a happy belly and feeling very spoiled after getting to dine in the company of such talented and decorated chefs.
I got home around 5:15 p.m., and even though the sun was still up, I was ready to face-plant into my bed. The gym was not happening, so I lay in my HigherDOSE infrared sauna blanket for an hour to sweat and get my heart rate up. Best invention ever for someone like me to at least attempt some kind of balance after working a 15-hour day.
Friday, November 1
2 a.m., alarm goes off. Rinse and repeat. Had some Bustelo with hazelnut Coffee-Mate and then off to the studio. The commute was really bad that morning, and being that I had to memorize and ad-lib 25 live traffic hits during the show, I was drained afterward. So I grabbed a Starbucks chai latte, extra hot, then popped up to the building cafeteria for an egg wrap during Today show cut-ins. I used to hate Starbucks; I was always a Dunkin’ girl. I think there’s a trend of sweet coffee, and I like their chai latte. It’s sweet. I don’t know if it’s part of the sugar rush of my day or what.
I had an afternoon meeting, but it got rescheduled so I ended up spending the day in front of my computer doing research for something else I’m working on. Mid-afternoon, I ordered my go-to custom kale Caesar salad from Sweetgreen. (lt’ll make me go broke if I eat it too often.) Add some spicy broccoli, hold the cherry tomatoes. I don’t like cherry tomatoes in salads. I don’t like the way they pop when you bite into them, and then seeds. No thanks. But extra-spicy broccoli, please. Truth … it took all my willpower not to dig back into that L&B pie, but … balance.
My schedule just really doesn’t allow for normal dinners, and on Fridays, I’m always extra tired so I was down for the count by 7:30 p.m. I laughed when intermittent fasting became the latest diet trend, because I have been doing it for years and I had no idea! (I usually don’t eat between the hours of 5 or 6 p.m. and 9 a.m.) It works for me, though, but only because of the bizarre hours I work.
Saturday, November 2
Six-thirty a.m., alarm goes off. Kept the Bustelo in the closet and pulled out the Lavazza Gran Aroma with — you guessed it — hazelnut Coffee-Mate. I was hungry when I woke up, since I didn’t have dinner the night before. I made myself some scrambled eggs with some Dr. Praeger’s Spinach Cakes and sprinkled on some Truff hot sauce. I never knew I needed Truff until I had it. Now I put it on anything that makes sense to put hot sauce on, which is a lot!
I like condiments. I’m kind of a Sir Kensington’s girl. I like their special sauce. I have a lot of condiments at home, nothing too out of the ordinary. More than food, there’s the whole entire fridge door.
I never have to work on Saturdays, but we had an all-staff newsroom team-building-type meeting at 30 Rock that day. Popped into Starbucks before I went in for a chai latte. Need extra caffeine on the weekends. We broke for lunch around 1 p.m.; they had it catered. From the sandwich-platter options, I opted for half a tuna wrap, some Rold Gold pretzels, and a Diet Dr Pepper. I like a Diet Dr Pepper once a year.
Meeting let out at 3 p.m. I went home and took a nap and later on met my friend Kyle, who is the head of the baseball division for Roc Nation, for dinner at Ribalta. Did I mention that I love tequila cocktails? My favorite cocktail in the city is the tequila Old-Fashioned from Fine & Rare. You pick the type of smoke they use in the drink, from mesquite, bourbon oak, cherrywood, applewood, or pecan.
I kicked off dinner by ordering a cocktail called No Pineapple on Pizza. It was quite tropical, both in flavor and the copper pineapple it came in. It was big, so I wasn’t able to finish it before the meatballs, prosciutto, and mozzarella came out. I switched over to a glass of Montepulciano for the second half of the meal, which was a paccheri-pasta dish with eggplant and burrata.
I can rarely finish a full dish. My eating habits are a product of the job. After covering food for eight years with huge spreads of food in front of me at various restaurants multiple times a week, my life has become one giant tasting menu. I like it that way, though.
Sunday, November 3
Woke up at 6:30 a.m. without an alarm. Thanks, Daylight Saving Time. I never eat cereal, but I poured myself a bowl of Puffins, got back into bed and caught up on trash TV. It’s my favorite. Mostly reality shows: Jersey Shore, Below Deck. I don’t have to think much when I watch, and after cranking so hard during the week, I don’t like to think much on the weekends.
I had plans to go to my mom’s house on Long Island later that morning because she was going to teach me how to make the family red sauce and meatballs. I am 37 years old and was raised by Italian women that cook well. I guess growing up, I just got used to eating well, and that’s what carried with me into adulthood: having other people cook great food for me! Ha!
I ran out to the grocery store, Brooklyn Fare, around 10 a.m. to pick up chopped meat and some other ingredients. I was getting hungry waiting in line, so I grabbed a chicken-cutlet sandwich on whole wheat and scarfed it down, then hopped in my car and headed out to Mineola. Mom’s a good multitasker. She taught me how to make everything with my 18-month-old niece in her arms. I must say, my sauce came out great — meatballs even better, in my opinion.
I ended up eating a few, of course, right off a fork. I have been doing that since I was a kid. Meatball lollipops. I got back to the city in the early evening, and before I knew it, it was bedtime once again.
Monday, November 4
Two a.m., here we go! Bustelo reappears to give me that Monday a.m. jolt.
After the morning show, I went down to the concourse below 30 Rock to grab a Plain Jane on a sesame-seed bagel at Black Seed. Sesame bagels are my favorite, but I can’t eat them during the show. Seeds in your teeth and live TV don’t pair well together.
I made a pit stop at home to change and then drove down to Macdougal Street for my shoot. I was doing a profile piece on Ariel Arce and the four restaurants she has opened on that street. We started with an interview and Champagne toast at Air’s Champagne Parlor, then made our way downstairs to Tokyo Record Bar. It’s a Japanese speakeasy where guests choose the music playlist for the evening off a “vinyl menu.” My pick: “Fu-Gee-La,” by the Fugees.
We then walked down to Macdougal and King to check out her other two spots, Niche Niche and Special Club. All four restaurants have a different vibe, but the common thread is the focus on great wines and good food. At Niche Niche, which is meant to feel like a giant dinner party every night, we had the duck breast with potato purée and vegetables, along with a charcuterie plate and, of course, some wine.
We finished the day at her newest spot, Special Club, a sit-down live-music venue, sipping Negronis with a few more dishes (one was raw Montauk fluke with Cara Cara oranges and crispy-rice pearls) and a divine chocolate cake with lemon-vanilla whipped cream.
As usual, my day was front-loaded with all the eating, so I came home, did some more work for a shoot later in the week, and once again went to sleep with the sun.
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