I also Tweeted that “it’s been a while since I’ve been to a scarf-and-barf lunch.” I didn’t Tweet that the wolves are closing in on a junkyard dog. Whenever I go out, it seems required-to-come-clean bloggers dominate the guest list and the same question comes up: How does she get away with it?
Finally, I guess because I’m a bitch I haven’t been invited to a cluster fuck in a while, so I was happy to head down to that foreign country — SoHo — for the party for the most unlikely author of a family meal cookbook. It was quite civilized, but what really surprised me was the crowd. I recognized exactly three faces beyond the author’s and committed an unforgivable gaffe with a fourth I didn’t (Oliver Sacks and I have a syndrome). Flacks’ lists must have really gone bloggy. . . . I took my camera for the first time, though, and just want to say to the young ’un in the silly satin shorts hiked up in her back crack: Be glad I’m not bitch enough to post photos.
I’m starting to worry about myself. First a Holy Foods moves in a few short blocks from my kitchen and I’m not just shopping there but pimping it (maybe locating next to the projects caused a reality check, because the value emphasis is huge). Now I’ve been to the Seconda Venuta and am here to say IWGB. The occasion was the Epicurious anniversary soiree — 15 years, which is 9,000 in internet time — and I’m not just saying this just because they pay me, but it was the perfect place and quite a party. The agnolotti were probably better than I’ve ever eaten in Italy, probably because of the sauce, heavy on the burro. We did get the requisite “do you have any allergies/issues” warning from the waitstaff, which, once again, made me wonder if this country has lost its mind. (Nation of whiners — eat, already.) The place itself was jammed when I got there and still busy at 10:30, when I didn’t have much time to look around. Two things in particular made my evening: Molto’s wonderful dad came over to say hi (oh, we go way back). And a courageous reporter came over to tell me she was responsible for the recent entertainment some sloppy food coverage provided. As I told her, I Tweet because I care. Also, too, because things like sitting on “banquets” eating “diced ginger mushrooms” drive me almost nuts enough to forgive cannelloni beans in the competition.
I also went to a rather surreal party put on by Betty Crocker because I grew up with that cookbook, my mom’s copy from 1956, and I just could not connect it to cocktails. And the one I tried, with sparkling wine, cranberry juice and I think curacao, was not bad. But I needed a glass of wine for the cooking demo, which actually featured mixes. For all the revolutions in cooking, we’re going seriously backward if people need to be shown how to tear open a bag and stir in eggs.
FTC, consider this my bread and butter note: I can now say I have ingested a substantial portion of a sacahuil, something beyond the comprehension of so many in this town who literally cannot tell a taco from a tortilla but refuse to learn from Zarela. And a test kitchen can be quite a party place — I don’t know that so many sweetbreads have ever been seen on one counter before. My favorite part of the latter evening was a discussion about the new transparency rules for bloggers. I can’t win an argument except here, so I will say once again: I refuse to believe readers understand everything that newspaper/magazine writers get for free. And somehow I suspect blog junkies can tell truth from payola more than print readers. They know how to work the Google. . .
Not sure when I will ever learn two parties in one night will always be three too many — remorse all around after the Brasserie/A Voce back-to-back. But the former was worth trekking to for several reasons, starting with the junkyard dog’s stink-eye (must be nice to know they keep you on because “she’s cheap”) and ending with ease of exit, after the Schnorrer did his spiel (which I wondered about until I saw another oldster is doing similar promo work). I haven’t had a kir royale in donkey’s years, but this one was so syrupy I may not again for millennia. As for the retro apps, I missed all the cold ones but succumbed to a foie gras beignet (no one says beggar’s purse anymore), miniature croque monsieur and escargot nestled in puff pastry, all effective as alcohol sponges. Over in the dread TWC, the wine was more wine-like by far and the energy level was far higher. As was the noise level, of course. The most memorable apps were uni crostini. And the most unforgettable image was of the special wine room for the rich boys. Your health insurance premiums at work. . .
Oceana’s sayonara to 54th Street was one of the most heartfelt soirees I’ve probably ever experienced, but I also have to say it was also the closest to a hostage situation I’ve been in in a good long while. It even featured what looked like a video of the victim just before the beheading. The accolades went on. And on. Luckily, the downstairs bartender had an Energizer aspect, and the kitchen kept the really sensational food coming as well. (Each of the three chefs responsible for consecutive three-star ratings did three mini-dishes.) Unfortunately, guests were the untrusting sort and were hoovering as fast as the stuff could be sent out. One snapped at a waiter that food was coming too slow upstairs; one waiter snapped at a guy who summoned him over with a full tray: “I’m trying to get these to people who haven’t had 12 already.” But it mostly felt like an end of two eras in one space. When I was in restaurant school, one outing was to the kitchen at what was then Le Cygne in a city where the only serious places were traditional French. And when RM first cooked at Oceana, we went for Bob’s birthday and had a blowaway meal. Lolling on a banquette in a room about to be abandoned, I could remember exactly where we sat and half of what we ate. My friend who had never eaten there found the space gloomy, but that would be like judging the hotel in “The Shining.”
Everyone’s moving west these days, and I wonder how that will play out. When I got home, I rode up in the elevator with neighbors just in from an anniversary dinner way downtown at a French restaurant who said: “There’s money out there. It’s just not seemly to show it.” Pizza is the new brioche.
Having recently been shut out of one soiree for RSVPing too late (“Maybe you can come back in 10 years”), I was quite looking forward to another and was not disappointed. The booze was free-flowing, and the food just kept coming. No matter that only one tidbit I snared was warm; it was hard to complain while being constantly offered foie gras, caviar, smoked salmon and caviar, crab cakes, grilled vegetables on mini-skewers, etc. etc. etc. But I expected the party to be back in a private room while it actually butted up against the half-full bar. And I found it rather depressing to walk out at 8:07 through a deserted reception area, past doorguys just shooting the breeze and oblivious to departing guests. I would have laid it all down to how the rich are just like us these days, hoarding their pennies. But then I walked to the subway past La Grenouille, where town cars were pulling up and unloading no end of white-hairs to crowd into a jammed and lively room. Maybe I won’t be coming back in 10 years. . . .
My thank-you card to Charlie Palmer for his excellent Gourmet soiree was returned by the post office as undeliverable to the new Aureole address, I guess because the place has not officially opened yet. So I’ll just say here that the move west seems to have gone smoothly, although the successor apparently took a run through the witness protection program. It is seriously sleek and different. Hors d’ and copious wine earned an A, too. But high point of the evening might have been listening to Adam T explain the wine windowbox/bucket while handler clearly knew there were far bigger fish he could have been frying. Aureole has location on its side now for sure. But in the aftermath I’ve mostly been thinking about how far we’ve all come from my first assignment for fledgling Allure, when I was sent off to eat at the top of the food chain in both New York and LA for a piece on how restaurants can make women look more attractive (or not). For all our sakes, let’s just fucking hope the magazine business bounces back big time.
Now, of course, press parties are altogether different, and the one the Big Homme gave at his under-construction latest was worth the journey for sure, especially since it got us within three subway stops of our final destination, Dumbo for the photo festival. The menus were all posted, but even he admitted the food is still a work in progress (only photos of his eminence on a ladder were cleared for publication), so I expect there will be more pizzazz in the sausages etc. in the end. The design looks pretty promising, too, with copper cookware donated by Bocuse et al to create what BH jokingly called “the Hard Rock Cafe for food.” The high point was this exchange with a nice guy as three of us dodged the menace of a ceaseless conversationalist: “She’s about 40 percent sane.” “And about 2 percent interesting.” What was most fascinating about the whole elaborate affair was that I recognized so few old-media people, and at least two of those have more presence online. Then I came home and read the huge laudatory feature in Sunday Business and realized the mission was already accompli.
I was chagrined to think we might have been just catapultees, but my consort and I still had an outstanding time mingling by the fire the other night in an apartment just down the street from the Bloomberg palace. Real critics were there, and at least one real blogger, and a whole cast of other characters I both recognized and didn’t. The super-savvy and always-gracious boss turned up, too, with French journalist in tow, and that made me even more appreciative of the marketing wizardry on display. What better way to signal how nimble your organization will be even if apple carts are cluttering the streets? What better way to instruct hyper-wealthy clients on entertaining at home than DIY in a real home with a buffet of cheese and killer charcuterie, with no waiters beyond the hostess and one supremely efficient bartender? As that superb and agile hostess said, always serve one homemade thing (mushroom soup in demitasse, say) and you can get away with buying the rest. It was one great performance. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether to feel reassured or terrified when the top of the food chain is demonstrably tightening its links. . . .
Mr. Nice Guy and I went to a predictably good cookbook party the other night that was remarkably free of assholes (only two that I could hear), but, as usual, a truly frightening Baby Jane was there to up the celebrity quotient. I always mentally hear Richard Thompson when she’s around, and I never even get close enough to determine if she smells like something fresh from the tomb — I just imagine Madonna in 50 years. Usually I miss her queening around, but this time she doddered up to the door between the dining room and the garden and bellowed imperiously, “Someone come help me!” The P for please was apparently running down her leg; this was shades of Jennifer Jason Leigh shoeless in the airport in “Georgia.” My consort happened to be sitting close by, and before I could stop him he bounded over and assisted the crone over the ledge. But he redeemed himself when he sat back down and said, “Hey, you talkin’ to me?” Whatever you do, if your path is likely to cross hers, do not watch “Midnight Cowboy” again. . .
Thanks to my NRN pal, I now know I am somebody. But I disagree on the imperative of obeying the Big Homme: I saw a number of tables sitting empty on at least one side of the room at that amazing lunch. I’ve only been to the place a few times in the 10 years that have just certifiably flown by, but the food this round really was outstanding. As intended, it made me want to head straight for Vancouver that very evening. As for the redesign, the room will always look to me like the swimming pool at San Simeon. But the graciousness on display more than made up for it. Which is why I stayed on my best behavior, even though I did freak a little when the last of my tablemates to be open-seated turned out to be the head of what I heedlessly refer to as Enron on 12th Street. Luckily, she heard only the word “freelance” when she asked what I do and pretty much paid me no mind the rest of the lunch. Nobody is sometimes a very good thing to be.
Say one thing for Cesare, though: If he had to go out with much less overkill, he was exiting with an abbondanza bang. We were on our way to the subway from my new favorite restaurant when I remembered the invitation to stop by for wine and salame, and so even though we were five minutes ahead of schedule four of us muscled our way in as the party for regulars was loudly winding down. I felt a little like our friend who rang the doorbell early for a going-away dinner in his honor and overheard my behind-on-the-ice-cream consort blurt out: “Shit!” But the herb-scented one’s assistant immediately escorted us into a booth and brought drinks and then the food started coming, much more than promised: the great fried pasta from the bar; cheese and meatballs; steak and shrimp. A waiter dropped off two bottles of wine for the second round, and it was hard to dislodge my friends before we could consume it all — and we had just finished a huge meal. The good news is that the creativity is undiminished: the prosciutto arrived wrapped around watermelon slices. And the better news is that he’s opening closer to us. I just hope he keeps the horse wineglasses. And as one of the accidental crashers with me said: The closing was more fun than an opening.
I also interrupted my gainfully unemployed week to schlep to a lunch promoting Rick Moonen’s new book on sustainable seafood. You can forgive him cooking in the eco-disaster that is Las Vegas when you hear him speak so passionately about voting with your wallet (I went straight to Pescatore across the terminal and bought farmed arctic char for dinner afterward). And he is very good on his feet when addressing seafood for dummies. He noted that when the government gets involved in regulating the oceans, as just happened when the Pacific salmon fishery was shut down for the first time ever, all it means is that it is five years too late. And he did make me very happy that the right-wing crazies who have hijacked this country have had no say over what we eat from the wild. Apparently the environmentally safest fish are the most promiscuous fish, the ones having sex very young, as opposed to orange roughy, say, which reproduce at 40. Regeneration is key, as it is with all the cults we condone. If the ovary overlords had their way, we would only be able to eat immature chickens on antibiotics. Which, come to think of it, is almost the case in this country. And, of course, why no one talks about chicken rubbers.