Novelist Xochitl Gonzalez’s Grub Street Diet
Gonzalez, a martini, chicken Milanese from Dino, and Birria.
Illustration: Lindsay Mound
Xochitl Gonzalez spent 2022 on the road, touring bookstores, libraries, and colleges in support of her first novel, Olga Dies Dreaming — but she still has trouble figuring out what to eat while she’s traveling. “Nothing gets me more stressed out than trying to find food in an airport,” she says. “I just end up arriving limp.” Even when the food is provided — as it was on a plane ride back from Mexico last week to gear up for the paperback release of her book and work on final revisions of her next novel — she might face disaster, like “a sad protein plate and hideous ravioli.” Back in the city, however, she was able to redeem her diet with, among other things, Cucumbers New Yorkese and steak tartare with a martini. “That,” Gonzalez says, “is my New York happy meal.”
Wednesday, January 25
My dog Hectah Lavoe and I rise early, around 6:30. It’s my last day in Mexico — I’ve been working here for a month and staying with my best friend and her family near Lake Chapala. We signed up for an early Pilates class; I do coffee and half of a pan dulce before we go.
After class we get fresh jugo verde from the supermarket — they make it with tomatillo, it’s delicious — and discuss how ridiculously affordable health and fitness is down here. The entire morning excursion cost us the equivalent of $10.
My best friend’s parents live two hours from where we are staying, and her mom brought us some of her homemade chile con carne and beans when she visited a few days ago. We heat that up for lunch; it’s delicious. We also have this salsa my friend’s Tia Linda made for us this past weekend, and, even though I’m full, I have some pollo asado with the salsa, too.
In the afternoon, we walk over to a little play center near the house and drop my goddaughter off to run herself ragged in a ball pit while we have la hora feliz sans kid. We drink palomas, no snacks.
Wood-fired pizza is apparently a big thing in Ajijic (the best I can surmise is there are lots of U.S. and Canadian retirees here). We found one place — La Serenata — that’s particularly good, with an amazingly lovely staff and a nice patio and a view of the sunset over the lake. We have some sauceless wood-fired alitas, or wings, and share an amazing pizza with Serrano ham and peppers with chile oil. We also split a nice Mexican Cabernet Sauvignon; wine is not a big export for the country, but we’ve had some good ones since we’ve been here.
Thursday, January 26
I have to pack and finish some work this morning before I head to the airport, so Hectah and I again rise early. I’m super-sad to leave. I have tears for breakfast and wash them down with coffee and a half a concha. Later my bestie and I walk to get some jugo verde before my cab comes.
I have a lot of miles, so I got an upgrade on my flight. I’m relieved, because now I can eat whatever they put in front of me on that teeny-tiny tray and not have to worry about scrounging for food at the airport. Today it is a protein plate. After getting the dog through security I have a tomato juice (I don’t know why I always order this on planes, but I do) and later a white wine. The protein plate has baby mozzarella and tomatoes, prosciutto, and hummus with very flaccid cucumbers. I find myself reminiscing about pepino so hard it crunched, served with limón and chile, which we had at the market the other day — and then I remember this diary is about what I am eating, and not what I wish I were eating.
I’m traveling long enough to have another meal on the plane: ravioli. They say we eat with our eyes first, but after taking one look at the dish, I shut my overhead light and find it’s actually pretty good?
Friday, January 27
When I got home, I did a quick run to the fancy bodega to get some staples, so this morning I get up early — I’m on deadline for something — and make coffee. It feels so good to be home to my Bustelo! Eventually I prepare a “sad bagel,” which is Wasa toast with cream cheese, capers, and everything-bagel seasoning. I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up and finally watched Everything Everywhere All at Once, and, I must say, sprinkling the everything-bagel seasoning this morning had new levels of depth. The “sad bagel” is not sad because it tastes bad — it’s delicious — I just always assume the Wasa feels sad that it isn’t a real bagel. In any case, the capers are clutch here; I never don’t have capers in the house. Capers are your bitchy friend who can’t keep their mouth shut: They never sit quietly and always add something memorable to whatever they are a part of.
I find myself drowning in a revision, but I manage to squeeze in a workout and am suddenly starving. I’m starting to do some promotion for the paperback of Olga Dies Dreaming and barely have time to eat before I need to record a podcast — which I realize, a little too late, is also a videocast. I rush to make up for my general unpreparedness by throwing a sweater over my sports bra and fixing it all with what I think of as the Latina Magic Wand: red lipstick. I also throw together a tuna salad of sorts with olive oil and Spanish olives and red-pepper flakes and have it on … Wasa. At lunch, I let Wasa just be Wasa. I don’t think I consciously realized until now what a central role Wasa has come to have in my life.
I head into the city to meet my friend Marcy Blum at Torrisi, which I’ve been wanting to get to since I read about its Cucumbers New Yorkese, which is essentially a cucumber salad dressed with pickle things — dill, some mustard, coriander, and I think some pickle juice. I’m not actually home that much, and neither is Marcy, so it’s fun to do all the “New York” things when I’m here. I’m a little early and grab a martini — my first since I’ve been stateside — and it is cold and delicious. The cucumbers arrive, and they are perfect. Perfect. They make up in every way for the sad, soft cukes on the plane.
Marcy and I have been friends since I was an event planner; she’s a legend in that space and does a lot of work with Major Food Group, so we get treated to a dish off the menu — a fabulous fennel-and-grapefruit thing that is bright and nutty and wildly original. We split the spaghetti with clams, a ravioli you could fuck with the lights on, and the Dover sole. We also have a delightful bottle of Sancerre. The energy in the restaurant is flawless and buzzy, and the place is beautiful, so we get a nightcap at the bar and soak in the vibes before we call it a night.
Saturday, January 28
I wake up with an intense craving for egg salad — like, urgent. An emergency. I brew some Bustelo and boil two eggs while I text with my editor, Honor, about my piece about the Chateau Marmont that just published. I put the egg salad on — surprise, surprise — Wasa bread. I sprinkle some everything-bagel seasoning on it and ponder the existential nature of life.
I spend most of the morning dealing with my laundry, piled up mail, and unanswered emails. My friend is supposed to come by for coffee and to help me record an unboxing video of my paperback (alas, Hectah doesn’t have opposable thumbs), but at the last minute she realizes her young daughter has lice. I’m appreciative that she rain checks, but unsure of how to record the video now. I lose track of time putzing around my apartment until I am suddenly starving. I have a can of Progresso lentil soup for lunch.
Around five, I head to midtown to see my childhood best friend, Yelena, for dinner and a show. Yelena loves two things: eating early and making plans about a century in advance, both of which I’m allergic to, except when going to the theater. So this has become a healthy way for us to live our true natures together.
We meet at Rosevale Kitchen at the Civilian Hotel; our friend who is a theater enthusiast recommended it. In a shocking role reversal, Yelena has not pre-selected what she wants to eat, but I walk in knowing I’m going to get steak tartare. I order tartare whenever it’s on a menu. Yelena has shrimp cocktail for an appetizer, and I decide to start with matzoh-ball soup. It’s particularly good, though I’m not surprised, because it’s such a specific thing to put on a menu that I can’t imagine offering it if you weren’t confident. My tartare is served with shrimp toast, which I love, and it is surprisingly bright with citrus. It’s unusual in a wonderful way. My martini is ten out of ten, and we’re both pretty happy that we’ve found such a solid Theater District choice. We go to see Between Riverside and Crazy, and I have some of Yelena’s M&Ms from concessions. The show is great; Stephen McKinley Henderson’s performance is a true delight.
Sunday, January 29
I decide to get coffee to-go from Playground so I can walk Hectah around a bit before I go home to work — I have an idea for a story I want to get down and a newsletter to write. On weekends, my favorite barista and I usually chitchat about movies, but alas, he’s not there. I get a drip with oat milk and no side of conversation. Then I make a soft-boiled egg over quinoa.
In the afternoon, I meet up with my cousin Danny and we have coffee with Marcy and her partner at Marcy’s place before going on a walk with the dog through Carroll Gardens. We decide to eat Italian cookies for lunch and grab some from Caputo’s on Court Street. I don’t actually like sweets very much, with the exception of seven-layer cookies, which are the most wonderful things on earth. I have two and a sesame biscuit, and it is divine.
Dinner turns into what I would call a very old-school Brooklyn night out, long and leisurely and random. As the mother of any toddler probably could have told me, cookies do not a lunch make. By the time I’m supposed to meet my friend De’Ara for dinner, I am ravenous. We don’t even discuss where to go because we always go to Dino on DeKalb Avenue. I’ve been a regular there since day one. I get there early, get us seats at the bar, and have a crostini and a martini while I shoot the shit with Eva, the manager.
When De’Ara arrives, I order chicken parm with a side of salad and she gets the much healthier salmon. We’re about to eat when, through the window, we spot our friend Erin finishing dinner outside in the shed with her boss, the state comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and some of their colleagues. (Apparently Hakeem Jeffries had just had his Brooklyn inauguration ceremony down the block at Brooklyn Tech.) Introductions are made all around and I find myself (awkwardly) walking Tom DiNapoli through the plot of my novel.
Erin joins us inside for a drink while we eat, and soon De’Ara’s wife, Paola, surprises us too. The great thing about Dino is that it’s this kind of place — you start out as two and end up as four or six or whatever, and they are flexible, and the vibes are great. It’s really like a public dining room in the best way. Pao orders a chocolate torte, and I eat the strawberries and whipped cream off her plate.