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Not only am I still sussing out the Financial District lunch scene, I’m also figuring out office eating etiquette. Like do the women actually eat, do people take full hours, are these expense account steak folks or Subway buy one get one free coupon types (the latter, it turns out), are there brown baggers in the house, is desk eating ok or a gross out. Personally, I like getting something relatively cheap and eating at my desk so I can use the time to visit mindless internet sites. The major hindrance so far is that I don’t have a desk, which is getting peculiar since I’m going on week four as of today. I imagined the situation would’ve been rectified by now but since on any given day someone is working from home there is usually a random desk and computer available. There hasn’t been any sense of urgency.

Being a refugee, I feel weird about eating in near strangers’ workspaces. I try to leave during lunch and stay gone for an hour (so far I’ve discovered the weirdo fried chicken udon at a Korean deli and Bento Nouveau. At both places I just wanted plain hacked up chicken like my old favorite from midtown’s Yagura, yet was presented with broth filled with chunky chicken nuggets. I like fried food but you’re getting the calories with none of the crispness from the skin so it seems like a waste. I also think the $6.45 lunch special at Taste of Tokyo is great value but it’s take out only so it doesn’t solve my midday seating problem).

Last week I was careful because I was sharing a space with my supervisor and I suspected she was a particular person and possibly vegetarian. I’m good at gauging who’ll be sensitive to food smells (usually the skinnier the more stringent). But she was out one day and I was feeling abnormally hungry and wanted something more substantial than sushi, soup or salad, my three big S’s.

I decided to check out Alfanoose, a popular Middle Eastern (technically Syrian-Lebanese but I don't add more specific categories until I have at least two restaurants to tag and I'm not sure that I have other Syrian eateries–I'll have to check) place, not all that near the office. I never spend $9 for routine lunch and it’s been paining me to break the $5 barrier but it was my first payday so I went wild. And even soup breaks that budget, it seems.

I was more impressed than I thought I would be. I expected Alfanoose to be rattier (not literally rat-filled, though I don’t quite get all the recent vermin hullabaloo) and more of a take out joint but it’s slightly more welcoming. Good signs were in place, like a case with homemade desserts (I’m curious about what looked like butterscotch pudding with a rectangular cookie placed flat on top like a sinking raft) and snacks like spinach turnovers and kibbeh. If someone’s taking the time to bake and concoct, they must care about their offerings. I’ve never set foot in Pita Grill, closer to my office (there’s also one in my home neighborhood) but it doesn’t seem like they’d whip up goodies from scratch on a daily basis.

I get nervous about lunch time heavies with long lines and regulars because I’m impatient, myself, and don’t want to mess up the ordering flow with clueless questions. That’s why I’m a big scrutinizer of online menus pre-meal. Normally, I would opt for a sandwich, but since I was starving I couldn’t resist the platter, my nod to temperance was ordering falafel instead of meat (I’m not sure if fried chickpeas have any health advantage over grilled lamb).

That’s the easy part, then come the questions. Hummus, baba ganouj or tabouleh, then I was confused by a choice of three grains which you could see through the glass. I think there was a reddish tomato rice, a rice with lentils and couscous with lentils, I went for the latter. I always agree to “everything,” it’s easier. That includes sliced red onion as well as sweet carmelized onion shreds, tahini and hot sauce. People are very particular about the amounts of condiments, lots, less; I got into the spirit of things and asked for a few extra squirts. Oh, and there is a sprinkling of those beet-stained pickled turnips that I could eat a small plate of, plus regular pickle shreds too. You also get a large pita rolled and wrapped in foil that doesn’t manage to maintain heat. It’s a lot of food, practically a whole cup of hummus and too much starch which is way better than typical filler. The couscous and lentils were soft, chewy and cohesive. I never got bored like I tend to with pasta and grains and had to force myself to stop eating the entire serving.

This looks like crap because I'd been carrying the carton sideways for seven blocks.

I brought my bounty back to the office and attempted to furtively eat in peace but the aroma of my Alfanoose styrofoam platter elicited “what is thats” from numerous people and then prompted, “you picked a good day,” implying that that the person who’d normally be sitting ten feet from me wouldn’t be as tolerant of the scents. I’ve never been bothered by food smells but I’m also chronically stuffed up.

The only time I took issue with unwelcome odors was when I moved into my first NYC apartment that had been occupied by an Indian family of five. I always thought curry was a pleasant scent but after a month the madras powder situation (and severe roach and mouse problem) still hadn’t dissipated. And matters weren’t helped any by my using their left behind mattress for three years because I couldn’t afford a bed (they’d been using two on the floor for all of them so I figured I was better off in some inexplicable way). It was as if cumin, turmeric and grease had seeped into every surface, and I don’t know if it ever went away or if I just got used to it.

But enough about work (and soiled mattresses) I don’t want to ruffle any feathers if someone inexplicably decides to Google me (I do work in the research department). Next time, I’ll get a sandwich instead of the full on platter and go late enough in the afternoon to snag a seat at the restaurant. I should take advantage of my full hour anyway and stop being a desk eater. Computers probably contribute to brain rot anyway, that’s why I can’t write a concise, non-meandering critique.

Alfanoose * 8 Maiden Ln., New York, NY

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