Nothing says GU to me like an invitation to a restaurant party that includes an offer of transportation. If I can’t get there by foot or subway (or some combination) it’s not worth the journey. So I feel for the place over in Queens that deemed itself so inaccessible it sent a hired coach into Manhattan for media types. What did that cost a startup? Probably much more than one line of type on the fancy invite listing the closest R stop. Or even a page or two of content on its web site for CrackBerrians to peruse on the long slog in traffic, maybe? At another event last week I got caught up in an animated discussion of how restaurants not quite ready for prime coverage fake their situation by allowing a closeup of a dish rather than a photo of the whole room. I guess if you can’t get the URL location fully locked and loaded, shoot the bus.
Michael Lomonaco always comes across as one of the nicest guys in New York, ever since my consort shot him in the wine cellar on 52d Street years ago. So when a friend and I found ourselves late on a Saturday night trudging up grim Eighth Avenue in the high 50s looking for a nightcap I suggested his latest place, even though it happens to be located in the dread TWC. We walked out $40 lighter after a glass and a half each, but was it ever worth it. Not only was the wine list adventurous (excellent Greek sauvignon blanc, Santa Ynez chardonnay) and the noise level set at “adult.” We actually got to hear two words I thought were obsolete before midnight in New York: Last call. I don’t claim to be a good reader of body language, but I got the strong sense why the grownups were battening the hatches. Barbarians were storming the Stone Rose gate across the mall hall. What made it all worthwhile, beyond realizing yet again what an anti-drag it is getting old if it means you can blissfully avoid that kind of pathetic scene, was that it helped me forgive myself for endorsing a blight with my patronage of a good part of it. It was exactly the kind of experience you would have in a big glassy shopping center in Hong Kong, another seductive city that exists on so many fascinating levels. Those silly people at our tourism agency missed the best slogan ever with all their thrashing around: New York — more un-American every day.
More signs the food world is brutal on the English language: Goodburger is describing its lettuce (iceberg lettuce at that) as “hand-leafed.” Agave, I noticed in walking by, serves “hand-hacked” guacamole (except to Van Gogh, who gets the ear-hacked kind). And just consider the slogan of the new brand I spotted in the dairy case at what the Grocer calls the Food Shitty near me: “Milk from real cows.” As opposed to what? Would the response “udder nonsense” be too obvious?
Also, I got this secondhand from a real restaurant reviewer whose name starts with P: Some joint where he recently wasted a meal on a bad tip is serving “crustiness.” Apparently that is Albanian for crostini.
And I can’t be the only New Yorker who got the (hill)willies thinking about eating steaks carved from animals all descended from one bull, as the forthcoming Primehouse is promising. They have a name for that in Appalachia. It’s called Rudy’s first marriage. Then again, a steak sandwich made with what the new Kingswood claims to be serving might be all right: heir tomatoes. That’s the Wasp way of saying depleted gene pool.
Remind me never to play matchmaker with anything more volatile than avocado and cilantro. The disengaged sideline is the best place to enjoy a party like Zarela’s 20th — I only had to concentrate on keeping my consort upright despite the high-octane margaritas. She does know how to marinate the guests. The bar was like a boozy A train, but we wisely listened when she insisted we move upstairs and then had to take all the crazy sightings secondhand — as someone said, “Where else can you see Gael Greene and Dr. Ruth at the same table?” A rhinestone cowgirl was also there but not throwing her usual “I’m a movie star” pissy fit, at least as much as I heard. My most in-focus memory is of Zarela’s consort helping to ferry the star of the show, a sacahuil, like a washtub-sized tamal made with fresh masa steamed in banana leaves. To this Arizona refugee it was like time travel into the landscape of memory over reality, but it probably went over or under most of the guests who still believe Mexican means fajitas. I skipped the chicken and pork in solidarity with the First World arrogants and had to wonder why the creamy rice with poblanos and corn is always better at the restaurant than when I make it from the cookbook. What was most fascinating was realizing that I remembered being in that space’s previous incarnation, back in another cycle when wine bars were the great white-and-red hope. It’s just too bad the inimitable Seymour Britchky’s last book was in 1991, when there was no Mexican category, only “Latin American.” It would be fascinating to see what has lasted two decades. Will the annoying newish wine bars on Columbus one day revert to real restaurants reflecting the real city?
A sandwich board outside a restaurant in the Garment District the other day was maybe too revealing: “Best Chienese food.” I just hope no poodles were harmed in the making of it.
Given that I have not eaten a Mrs. Fields cookie in 20-some years since learning just one packs 260 calories, I was not surprised to see New York City back off from forcing fast food chains to play by the numbers. The truth hurts the bottom line. A bigger mystery is why the powers that wanna be Big Brother saw fit to commission a redesign of the famous choking poster. The old one was graphically graspable from across a crowded room. The one I’m seeing everywhere lately is all small blurry gray pictures and tiny text; you could stand three inches away and not know the first thing to do if your dining partner swallowed a fish bone and suddenly turned blue. Maybe someone can “update” the old “I Heart New York” slogan with: “This individual standing in front of you talking is experiencing a deep and strong and very abiding affection for the five boroughs and in fact the entire state.” It’s the kind of improvement you expect from bureaucratic bunglers in Washington, not Mayor High-Tech. Plus it must look like a muddy mess on the backs of the staff down at Schiller’s.
The most surreal dining experience I’ve had in donkeys’ years was lunch with our Siamese. In a restaurant. I won’t name it as “now serving cats,” given that the Health Department is on the warpath these days, but the staff deserves huge points for letting us bring Banshee in after we left the vet around the corner right at 12:30. They even chose the perfect table in the front, where we could stow his carrier and still have room to check on him to be sure he wasn’t having a coronary over this second out-of-apartment experience of the day. He seemed mellow despite having his 23-hour nap interrupted, but I was a wreck. For once I could understand those parents who bring babies into noisy restaurants at 10 o’clock at night. It’s totally inappropriate behavior, selfish to the max. But when you gotta eat, you gotta eat. And as Bob pointed out, at least we didn’t take him somewhere where his kind gets cooked.