As Day Two of this epic undertaking dawns, Day One leader and overall event favorite Robert Sietsema thinks through his breakfast move. It's a new day with a fresh bushel of points to be won. Like all remaining contestants, he's got a fresh $10 in his pocket (unused funds do not carry over from day to day, per the official rules). He is in New York City, the food capital of the world. Possibility lies everywhere.
Until it doesn't.
"Today I decided to exercise the fruit cart option for breakfast," he writes, as my computer screen shatters into a thousand jagged pieces and the blood runs off my desk. "The plum was a revelation, so sweet and tart, bursting with juices. The banana was... a banana." (-1). Meanwhile, in Harlem, Day One phenom Vince Dixon also makes the fruit cart move, ingesting one banana from his newly purchased stash of three (-1 and counting). So hooray for Daniela Galarza, who begins her Day Two with an orange procured from a local fruit stand along the Williamsburg/Bushwick border, earning her +1 and the respect of millions.
Putting aside for a moment the bizarre over-reliance of The Contest players on a fruit that's only useful as an emoji, another Day One concern of mine centers on Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt. She finished the day at a lowly +2, last among players who reported all three meals. And, tbh, her Day Two is not getting off to the most promising start. For breakfast, she downs a cold leftover sesame pancake from the night before ("I'm feeling some real Eater's Remorse on this one"), then plots lunch: "I am considering blowing a majority of my $10 on the salad bar at Maoz, but I worry it's not a creative enough choice for the judges." (Concern: reasonable.)
Although, credit to Kludt: she's still in the game. With the morning filings we now have confirmation that Helen Rosner and Hillary Dixler both have been disqualified from The Contest for breaking the rules last night. I'd written a rant about it but have seen the light and realized that all participants in The Contest are special and wonderful people who dare great things. And Helen and Hillary, though they can't win this thing, are sticking around and playing in what I'll henceforth refer to as the Consolation Bracket. Helen's morning trip to Prosperity Dumpling on the Lower East Side feeds not only her (pork and chive dumplings, +5 Deliciousness) but fellow dropout Hillary (plain sesame pancake, +2).
And look who else we have here in the Consolation Bracket: Eater Drinks editor Kat Odell. Kat was disappointingly absent on Day One of The Contest (as were Eater critic Ryan Sutton, Eater news writer Khushbu Shah and Eater mad genius Nick Solares; c'mon, you all knew you were getting called out eventually for failing at this chapter of life.) That's a shame, because Kat is one of the most intrepid culinary explorers on the good ship Eater and would, I think, have had a real shot at winning this thing. Check out her on-point breakfast: an amazing-looking cheese straw from Breads Bakery on East 16th Street (+5). Ah, what could have been.
Final bit of breakfast scorekeeping: +3 Deliciousness to Sonia Chopra for a sugar-topped paczki that also keeps her on her vegetarian theme.
What's that principle that says you're never going to get what you want if you don't ask for it? "I'm really hoping the judges award me points for my dedication to dollar pizza," writes Jarret Meskin, who today hits a different East Village slice joint and, just like yesterday, downs three plain ones for lunch. It cannot be denied that plain slices make a quintessentially New York lunch, and I am intrigued by Jarret's pizza-centric theme. Let's hold on points for now as we take the measure of Mr. Meskin's commitment as the week rolls on.
Across the board, a far stronger lunch game today than on Day One. Here come the points: +5 to Vince for seeking out the "tamale lady" of 145th Street and scoring two tamales "sold from a cooler inside a shopping cart from a street corner in Harlem!" +5, too, to Daniela for what looks like a mighty delicious cuban sandwich from Princesa Bakery in Bushwick. And +4 to Devra Ferst for the classiest lunch move of the day, a plate of scrambled eggs and greens at Court Street Grocer, the points tamped down a tad because of the slight paltriness of the serving size.
I'm not sure what to do with Sonia's increasingly desperate lunchtime heartbreak; I feel for her, but can't in good conscience award points for a meal of pastry eaten at 2pm. As for our leader, Sietsema drops Jackson Heights knowledge with unsettling ease, so I can't help but think that settling on vegetarian samosas was not his perfect move here. Still, to be fair in the ways of deliciousness, +1.
Neighborhoods play a big role in The Contest. (Speaking of, can someone check if Jarret has ever left the East Village?) Eater editors live all over the five boroughs, but they've been converging on the cheap eats capitals of Chinatown, Midtown West (home of Eater HQ), and, increasingly, Jackson Heights in Queens. Sietsema breezed through the hood at midday, and tonight we find Sonia and Greg Morabito walking its byways. Might it have proved a worthy strategy to only dine in Jackson Heights for the entire week? How about one block of Jackson Heights? The mind boggles.
Let's get to the action. For the second night in a row, Sonia pulls the meet-up with another player move, this time rendezvousing with her friend Sam Kim, an Eater contributor who's playing The Contest too. For my (non-rule-constrained) money, this looks like the meal of the night. It kicks off with a Bangladeshi snack; rolls into a special $4.99 iftar box being sold for Ramadan; and finishes with ube (purple yam) ice cream sandwiches — a three-course feast procured from three separate Jackson Heights establishments. If that's not a +10 dinner, what is?
Elsewhere in Jackson Heights, Greg unwittingly retraces the steps of Sietsema earlier in the day, buying samosas from the very same establishment (and earning the very same +1). It's the end of Greg's dining adventure that really captures the imagination, though. If you missed it the first time around, be sure to see his picture of the worst chicken kebab in the history of the world, a "steamy orange poultry tube," in Morabito's inimitable prose (+1). Our Eater NY leader goes on: "The texture was disturbingly flaky, kind of like plywood that's been warped by months of heavy rain. I chucked the second half and ate the last two bananas I'd purchased the day before. Bananas! They provide little joy, except for the relief that you feel by putting something in your mouth that's not hot garbage." (+5 One-Liner, -2 Bananas).
If you know me, you know my love of Balthazar. If you know me well, you also know my love of Lafayette. Though owned by the rival McNally and Carmellini clans, the two restaurants are kindred spirits, Balthazar the best version of "French" in New York in 1997 and Lafayette the best version of "French" in 2013. That the two coexist mere blocks apart, each doing what they do so well every single freaking day, is a glory of our city. And tonight, it is the glory of Daniela, who actually pulls off the Balth-Lafayette twofer. Her intake at each restaurant — bread and butter at Balthazar, a single macaroon at Lafayette — are just as inspired, capturing the essence of each restaurant in a single bite. Ahhhh, it is The Contest's first true bit of Whimsy, and a dreamy +20 to Daniela.
Rounding out the night, +5 to a resurgent Amanda Kludt for cleverly justifying her phoning-it-in-so-far Contest strategy and scoring a good looking bite at Bahia in her home neighborhood of Williamsburg; +5 to Sietsema for a gooey Chinese-American dish with a side of NYC history; and +5 to Vince Dixon for a great-looking chicken platter with white sauce from Rafiqui's truck. Then Vince, who started the day as our rising star, makes a surprise monster maneuver, dropping his final dollar on Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins. That move scored +10 yesterday for Hillary — and now will score an automatic +5 for the duration of The Contest — and so +5 to Vince tonight.
And remember, competitors who are still in the running get +1 just for showing up in the morning.
That puts Vince at a two-day point total of 26. Very impressive — and only seven points behind Robert Sietsema, whose meteoric Day One gave way to a decent Day Two and a total point tally of 33.
But atop the standings? Daniela Galarza, with a whimsy-induced 34!
(Is it fair for Whimsy to play such a potentially large role in The Contest? Let's address this question in more detail on Day Three scoring. See you then.)
THE CONTEST STANDINGS AFTER DAY TWO
Daniela Galarza 34
Robert Sietsema 33
Vince Dixon 26
Sonia Chopra 20
Greg Morabito 10
Devra Ferst 10*
Amanda Kludt 8
Jarret Meskin 5
* No dinner report filed; tap-out in play.
Hillary Dixler 13
Helen Rosner 6
Kat Odell 5
More info: Read more about the rules of The Contest, or go here to read more about how it is being judged and to read Day One results. Eater editors are tracking their Contest meals here while Eater readers are tracking meals on social media and in the forums. Hashtag, as ever: #thecontest.